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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: November 20, 2010

John Wilcock

“In the U.S. there is basically one party — the business party. It
has two factions called Democratic and Republican, which are somewhat different but carry out variations on the same policies. By and large, I am opposed to those policies. As is most of the population.”
Noam Chomsky

IN AN ISSUE devoted to flying saucers, mysterious unsolved plane crashes, and the Bermuda Triangle, Air & Space Magazine ran a six-page story about Area 51, the secretive Nevada base at (dried-up) Groom Lake, 80 miles NW of Las Vegas where the high flying spy planes were born in the sixties (and, more recently, the unmanned drones that wreak havoc in Afghanistan). The story’s author, William B. Scott, wrote that he had been seeking unsuccessfully to visit the base for 40 years but has never gotten nearer than Highway 375 which is flanked by buried sensors that alert security about any vehicle that stops. The other alternative is to climb a mountain that overlooks the base from over 30 miles away. What is known, says Scott, is that maintaining the base costs $1 million per day, which has excessively lengthy runways, which are revealed in a satellite image reproduced in the mag. Fortuitously helping to keep Groom Lake’s secrets, are the many wild tales (but no contrails) about UFOs and alien beings. These are encouraged because they add to the confusion. “Without question,” Scott adds, “black world operators have become masters at such deception to protect their work.”

IF YOUR LIFE has been filled with joyous experiences, says AARP magazine, why spend the rest of eternity sealed in a run-of-the-mill casket? “That’s part of the reason a Singapore philanthropy partnered with the local nursing home to come up with a concept known as ‘happy coffins.’” Among recent commissions of the Lien Foundation is the one shown. The mag says that before designers begin work they discuss with the recipients “their lives, passions, and dreams.”



HISTORY PLAYED “an ironic joke” on the younger Bush Brothers back in 2000 says the Spectator. “The embarrassing brother won the presidency and the responsible one got stuck outside.” They’re referring to former Florida governor Jeb Bush, now 57, whom they predict will be a presidential candidate in 2012 despite ”his relatives’ shortcomings.” Jeb apparently disavows such ambitions but the magazine warns that this is a familiar stance — “the coy fellow who poses as a non-candidate until he becomes one.”

WHAT A BUSY FELLOW Elon Musk is these days. With the launch of his Tesla car and the ambitious plans of his Space X company to offer joy rides into the stratosphere, you’d think he has enough on his plate. But he’s become an irresistible subject for magazine stories about various other activities, and in the latest, he tells Inc. about his ideas for easing the congestion on crowded highways. “The simplest,” he says, “is to use aerospace engineering to double-decker the freeways.” He plans to start a company to prefabricate aluminum risers to erect above the road. “It’s a no-brainer — easily done. They would look quite pretty.”

OLD BONES AND ASHES of dead saints have been the product of phony
sales of religious relics for so long that around 400AD even St. Augustine himself denounced “hypocrites in the garb of monks hawking the limbs of martyrs, if indeed (they were) martyrs.” Today, in scores of religious centers around the world where gullible acolytes gather, slivers of the True Cross (centerpiece of the alleged crucifixion) have always been a best-seller. There are enough of them, wrote John Calvin in 1543, to form “a whole ship’s cargo that more than 300 men could carry.”

The ingenuous explanation for this endless supply is that the cross (where is it?), constantly renews itself, no matter how many splinters are removed. Yeah, and Noah obviously needed an ark the size of the Serengeti. But no worries: should the holy timber ever run out, another popular relic is a “pilgrim’s token,” a clay figure supposedly incorporating ashes of the True Cross.
Famed researcher Joe Nickell confesses that he has one of these, quoting in the Skeptical Reporter some sarcastic comments by Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400) in his Canterbury Tales. Chaucer, if he lived today, would not be surprised by the present economic scene. “Greed,” he explained, “is at the root of all evil.”

A POPULAR CANDY which disappeared in the ‘80s is on the way back: Turkish Taffy, made by the Bonomo company until bought by Tootsie Roll Industries, which changed the formula and eventually closed it down. “A Hershey bar you can eat in 30 seconds; Bonomo’s takes 30 minutes,” explains the founder’s grandson, Wayne Bonomo, about the sticky treat that was known for the way buyers cracked it on the table to break it into little bits. After a long search, the company’s new owners found a manufacturer in Pennsylvania and will revive the treat that once sold more than a million bars a year.

DESPITE THE EXPANSION of the radio telescopes that search endlessly for signals from extra-terrestrial sources, not everybody approves of this enterprising mission. One scientist is quoted by the Economist as stating that humans have a moral obligation to announce their presence but the mag says that broadcasting signals into outer space “is tantamount to ringing a dinner bell for any carnivorous, cannibalizing or anti-social aliens who might be listening.”


PERSONAL: Thanks to all the folk who emailed me after the recent NYTimes blog about my early travel books. One New York lady even said she’d like to travel with me, but didn’t give an address, so I hope you’re not just teasing, m’dear. I’d love to have company. And btw, can anybody suggest somewhere I can drive to in the West (moderately-priced) that would be a good place to spend Christmas? Ojai, can become so boring.
— John Wilcock

THE WILCOCK WEB: Now that the military is insisting that we stay in Afghanistan for several more years, it looks like General Betrayus has turned out to be an appropriate pseudonym after all… And, BTW, didn’t we elect a certain president to bring the war to a close?…. War does not determine who is right — only who is left …. Noting that mischievous readers have been moving the George W. Bush presidential memoirs to the ‘crime’ section in bookstores, the Guardian said that shelving books by category had become “tyrannical” and suggested that Richard Dawkins might place the Bible in the fantasy or science fiction section…. One short bathroom shelf should be enough for books in the new George W. Bush Presidential Library… Hey there, Alaskans: if you’re going to write in somebody’s name in the ballot wouldn’t it be a good idea to check the spelling before you vote?….The spillover from Mexico of an “imaginary crime wave” is what justified Arizona’s “draconian” new law says FAIR’s Extra but the real criminals are the US gun dealers whose weapons back those deadly cartel killings south of the border…In a story about Proposition 19 (lamentably lost), Reason stated that 400,000 Californians smoke pot every day…. We never really grow up; we only learn how to act in public …….It won’t be long before there’s an inevitable angry showdown between Russian president Vladimir Putin and a very pissed-off Mikael Gorbachev….Have you ever noticed how the financial community’s excitement about the present is always tempered by its depression about the future? (And they’re always right) …. “What is the point of wars and warships and glittering statues,” asked Socrates, “if the men who build them are not happy?”….Predictably, that skinflint Rupert Murdoch is not among the billionaires who have agreed to devote part of their wealth to helping other people instead of just themselves….Advertising will probably subsidize the cost of thousands of expensive new charging stations for electric cars. Costing mucho dollars but charging a mere couple of bucks per charge, they would otherwise never recoup their installation costs….. At least Robert Mugabe’s wife Grace, 45, had the sense to find a younger lover. Her husband, the serial killer, is 86…. UNCOMPLIMENT: “In order to avoid being called a flirt, she always yielded easily, wrote Charles, Count Talleyrand…..Responding to Nicholas Negroponte’s prediction that books will be obsolete within a few years, one critic charges that Negroponte’s operation sent 100 e-books loaded with text to an African village without electricity…. Now that Apple has passed the $300bn mark, it’s within sight of taking over from Exxon-Mobil ($331bn) as the world’s largest company……..Ninety-nine per cent of lawyers give the rest a bad name…..And 82.7% of all statistics are made up on the spot…..“Piers Morgan mentioned (Tony) Blair’s family 87 times in his own memoirs,” writes Kevin Maguire in the New Statesman, “yet the ex-PM seems not to have known Morgan, mentioning him zero times” ….Everyone has a photographic memory; some just don’t have film …..London’s Guardian says that Bob Geldof lost $3.5m when the government’s budget cuts axed an education contract with his online production company… Millions of people yearn to see the background scenes of Survivor (all those offstage areas never seen on the show). Unless they’re nuts, they must be making a documentary movie for release when/if the series ends…. If it eventually came to a war with China, would that mean all the huge US debt would be expunged?….. “I call him free who is led solely by reason.” — Baruch Spinoza (1632-77)