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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: May 24, 2008

DOOMSDAY MAY BE CLOSER than everybody thinks, according to the man who first tracked the growing hole in the ozone layer and gave us the now generally accepted Gaia hypothesis — that the world is a self-regulating super-organism. In his new book, The Revenge of Gaia, James Lovelock, 88, scoffs at the notion that individual lifestyles or renewable energy can save the planet. “It’s just too late,” he says, recycling is “almost certainly a waste of time,” and having a “green lifestyle (an) ostentatious grand gesture.”  More than three-quarters of the human race will be wiped out by 2050, he predicts, by which time food will have to be synthesized and our only chance of survival will come not from less technology but more. Nuclear power, he says, is the only solution to the energy problem.

STEALTH-HEALTH is what the restaurant industry is calling its growing attention to (according to Stores magazine)” packing meals with nutritional value but backing away from a hard sell.” Kevin Hagar, director of a Chicago research firm explains: “Using the word ‘healthy’ to describe a new menu offering can be the kiss of death. Consumers hear that and assume it won’t taste good.”

AS PART OF its 24-page section on Universal Health Care, The American Prospect included a table showing that Canada spends less than half as much per capita as the U.S.  and yet enjoys a greater life expectancy. The feature points out that the U.S. is unique in treating health care as a commodity to be bought and sold in the marketplace. Because insurance companies compete by avoiding high-risk individuals, “we have the only health system in the world based on avoiding sick people…(and) Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would retain the central role of the investor-owned private insurance industry as well as the thousands of for-profit businesses it pays to deliver medical services.”

HANDLING WOMEN’S LINGERIE and then choosing between either an immediate reward (money, candy) or a bigger payoff later invariably resulted in men choosing the former says Dutch university professor Bram Van den Bergh who says the results were different with men who handled T-shirts before the offer. “Sexual desire,” the prof. concluded, “leads to a desire to consume anything rewarding.”

OLFACTORY SURVEILLANCE is what it’s termed and what it means is that if a trained dog sniffs you and growls, the police holding its leash has a right to search you. “Who needs a warrant when you’ve got a dog?” asks the Guardian Weekly pointing out that people have been convicted of robbery, rape, and even murder “when the primary evidence against them is, in effect, a bark.” The biologist Lyall Watson, who first explained that there is a general and universal system of chemical communication in which all living things are involved, comments: “The security services want to tap into this primordial information.” Russia has crossbred jackals with dogs for an enhanced sense of smell, and experiments are proceeding with bees and insects to detect odors. GW reports that “the scent of fear” emitted by the guilty is being synthesized to use for training purposes.

WRITING ABOUT the return of American companies to Cuba, if and when the Castros let go,  Fortune points out that U.S. laws require all claims to be settled before trade can be normalized. Easier said than done. OfficeMax, for example, was never in Cuba but it theoretically owns the national electric company through a merger with the paper company Boise Cascade which in turn had bought a Florida company with a stake in Cuban Electric. Similarly, Starwood Hotels bought a piece of the ITT conglomerate which had owned a radio station on the island. And Chiquita Brands bought a firm that owned fruit orchards. Fortune says almost 6,000 companies have made claims currently value at $20 billion.

THE SUPPLY OF teenage workers has been dropping steadily in recent years, partly because of more attention to summer school, and it is the restaurant industry that has been most affected. Nearly a third of Americans got their first work experience in restaurants reports Entrepreneur and about one-quarter of today’s restaurant employees are between 15 and 19. To fill the gap, the mag says, the industry is seeking more seniors.

In his Encyclopedia Neurotica, Jon Winokur defines Monstre Sacre: “French for sacred monster, an insufferable celebrity whose misconduct is tolerated because of his or her charisma or talent or earning power, e.g. Roseanne, Dennis Rodman, Michael Jackson, Mark Cuban, Mike Tyson, John McEnroe, Ted Turner, Howard Stern, Roman Polanski, Barbra Streisand.

THE WILCOCK WEB: After operating for one year, that cheap bicycle rental scheme in Paris announced that 2,000 bicycles (out of 15,000) were never returned, with another 1,200 damaged beyond repair…. Hundreds of thousands of manuscripts in ancient Arabic, dating back as far as the 12th century from the “lost city” of Timbuktu, are being studied and cataloged with an $800,000 grant from the Ford Foundation….What we need is a law prohibiting excess salt and/or sugar in canned goods… An artistically-designed plastic key card at the classier Starwood Hotels also serves as admission to a local museum… What’s another word for synonym?…..GreenFuelTechnologies at Cambridge, Mass. is growing algae — green slime — from which it claims bio-fuels can be made faster and more cheaply than any other source…. Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, will write and contribute a 366-word children’s story to a Scholastic anthology in which all the other stories are the same length…Now that she’s reached 18 and entitled to the $20 million she’s earned from being “the Harry Potter girl,” Emma Watson, has been consigned (by her parents) to a course that instructs young millionaires how to use their money wisely….“Tact” observed inventor Isaac Newton, the 18th-century ‘inventor’ of modern engineering, “is the act of making a point without making an enemy”….. Harvard Medical School researchers are experimenting with a plan to cure blindness with an implant in the brain….  Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power. — Benjamin Franklin  (1706-90)