John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: October 23, 2010

John Wilcock

“I feel they have all been bought off. Who is the
lobbyist for the American people?”
disgruntled voter in the Los Angeles Times

IN A SECTION headed ‘What Happens Next,’ Forbes laid out some of its forecasts for the future. Most of them weren’t very cheerful. For example,

  • Next year we can expect to find Bernie Madoff hanged in his prison cell;  Kim Jong Il to die aged 70; the world’s seven billionth child to be born, in an Egyptian hospital; and Russian scientists uncover a giant US/Israeli cyber-espionage network.
  • Oil prices will skyrocket in 2012, Forbes predicts, following an Israeli raid on Iran’s nuclear plants and sharia law will be imposed in Somalia after Al Shabab takes over the Gulf of Aden piracy operations. The following year Congress will ban high-frequency trading after the Dow suffers from a “flash crash” which takes it down 4,000 points in minutes.
  • Longer range forecasts see Chelsea Clinton running for office (2017); two women conceiving the first fatherless child with synthetic sperm from one mother’s stem cells; a Chinese train arriving in Paris from Beijing, breaking the 300mph speed record; and six men and two women alight on the moon after each paying $200m for a Virgin Galactic ticket.

THOSE NIGERIAN CONMEN who are so anxious for you to help them access (non-existent) funds have spawned a new type of scammer: the crooked soldier in Afghanistan. “Some money in various currencies was discovered and concealed in barrels with piles of weapons and ammunition at a location near one of Taliban’s Supreme Leader Mullah Omar Cave Palace in the city of Jalalabad during an operation,”  the solicitation reads. ”I am seeking your assistance to evacuate (it) to the States or any safe country…” It’s somewhat of a giveaway that the enticing email is from Hong Kong.

Kalashnikov, posing in front of
the Order of Lenin, and other medals.

EVERYBODY’S FAVORITE WEAPON, the Kalashnikov, gets a 200-word profile in Columbia Journalism Review in the form of a 2,000-word review of C. J Chivers’ The Gun, tracing its origin back to the Russian tank sergeant who in 1947 invented “the most common sophisticated weapon on earth.” Unlike the American copy, the M-16 assault rifle, the Kalashnikov performed better than anything before it, the mag says, being adopted for everything from popular insurrection and armed liberation to gangland stature. “(It) epitomizes revolutionary chic.” The secret of the gun’s success, which was dunked in water and buried in sand during testing, is reportedly due to loose fit and big parts which ensures that it is less likely to get stuck when dirty. There are said to be a million Kalashnikovs in circulation. “Every self-respecting militant from Yasir Arafat to Osama Bin Laden has posed with one.”

WITH THE APPOINTMENT of Malaysian astrophysicist Dr. Mazlan Othman as head of the UN’s Office for Outer Space Affairs, any aliens that happen to land now have some place to go. “The recent discovery of hundreds of planets around other stars has made the detection of extraterrestrial life more likely than ever before,” he told Britain’s Royal Society, “and that means the UN must be ready to coordinate humanity’s response to any ‘first contact’.” Professor Richard Crowther, an “expert in space law and governance” at the UK Space Agency, who leads British delegations to the UN on such matters, said: “Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a ‘take me to your leader’.”

STUBBORN RESISTANCE FROM both sides is what prevents the astronomical defense budget — the largest since WW2 — being cut, charges Reason, with liberals “cowed (into believing) it would be political suicide” and Conservatives (who) “have national security on the brain.”  The new $708bn defense budget accounts for 20% of federal government spending writes Veronique de Rugy and in 2008 represented 44% of global military spending — eight times as much as Russia or China. “Merely tweaking the Pentagon’s supply chain and personnel management practices — or eliminating a handful controversial weapons systems — could save $50bn each year.”

THE WEBSITE DriverSide focuses on what you need to know as a car owner because (explains its boss Trevor Traina) “Car ownership is one of the last areas that makes smart people feel stupid.” Users sign up for free, specifying a model, can access the 15,000 replies already made to queries by other car owners, then find estimates for fixing similar problems encountered by people nearby,  locating mechanics after reading assessments by other customers of their work. There are an estimated 241 million cars in the U.S. and San Francisco-based DriverSide claims to have signed up 1.5 million of them.

INVENTED AS AN April Fools-day joke, canned Unicorn Meat proved to be so popular that a product with that name will go on sale for $12 next year. Listed in the catalog of Think Geek, an online retailer for computer fans, it will be imported from a small independent cannery in Co. Meath, Ireland with “crunchy horn bits in every bite”  and tasting “like rotisserie chicken but with a hint of marshmallow sweetness.” While it was still a mythical product, the company got a “cease and desist” letter from the National Pork Board claiming exclusive rights to the phrase ”the other white meat.” The sales pitch explains: “The Sisters at Radiant Farms have dedicated their lives to nursing these elegant creatures through their final days. Taking a cue from the Kobe beef industry, they massage each unicorn’s coat with Guinness daily and fatten them on a diet comprised entirely of candy corn.”.

WITH AN ANTICIPATED 71 million Americans over 65 by the year 2030, there’s a boom in the development of robots aimed at that audience. In Japan the Institute if Physical and Chemical Research has come up with RIBA whose arms can carry patients too weak to walk on their own; another Japanese institute offers TAIZO which can demonstrate to and lead an exercise class; France offers KOMPAï which does routine tasks around the house but can email your doctor if you tell it your symptoms; and from the Universities of Washington and UC, the RAVEN 2 can perform intricate operations when linked to the directions of a distant surgeon via computer screen.

BECAUSE REGULATIONS PROHIBIT using high-powered x-rays on perishables, if you want to smuggle a nuclear device into the U.S. just bury it in a truck full of watermelons suggests Popular Science. That does seem like a flaw in Homeland Security, the mag says, but not to worry: on the way is a new detector from a California company, Decision Science, which is ingenious enough to detect even muons (A muon is a sort of super-charged electron. Does that make everything clear?).

Playing music at high volume over-stimulates people leading to “sensory overload which weakens self-control,” and this in turn makes them more likely to buy things says the Journal of Business Research.  That’s why the sound is too loud in most stores. “People might be more likely to be lured by brand names, fooled by discounts on items they might not really want, and susceptible to other influences,” explains the University of Minnesota’s  Kathleen Vohs, an associate professor of marketing.

IT’S CONSTANTLY AMAZING what those university research teams get up to so maybe it’s no big surprise to learn that a team from North Carolina’s Duke University has been feeding ring-tailed lemurs with Depo-Provera, the human contraceptive often used in zoos. Why? The report in Science News doesn’t explain but it does report the unsurprising results that the lemurs give off a different smell lacking its usual appeal. (Female lemurs rub their glands onto branches from which male lemurs can sniff out their appeal).

WHY IS IT SO HARD for people not to understand that every action has a reaction — that the more the gay community pushes further for ‘rights’ (same-sex marriages etc.) the more individual (usually helpless) gays will be harassed? The same thing applies to Muslims, Jews, Latinos, etc. Always was, always will be. That’s the nature of a society in which every segment is constantly imagining a challenge to its authority.

THE WILCOCK WEB: In a reckless battle to gain circulation from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal is on offer to subscribers for $1.99 per week….When you see desperate stores offering discounts of 70 or 80 per cent just to find customers, it makes you realize how exorbitant their markups were in the first place….Germany is among several European countries contributing to the $3.6bn to be paid to Ecuador not to develop some of its oil-rich Amazon rainforest….That little tubby Kim Jong Un won’t last long…..With as many as 13% of Britain’s shops now vacant, the Empty Shops Network has been turning them into art galleries to bring visitors back to moribund downtowns… “A man’s errors,” wrote James Joyce, “are his portals of discovery” …. In Yantai Park in China’s Shandong province, coin-operated meters determine the time allowed on benches with spikes arising to deter sleepers staying too long….Vowing in 1974 to visit the world’s 195 countries, John Rheinbeger, 61, of Stillwater, Minn., has only three left: Cuba, Libya, and Somalia… Just stashed in the Journal of Literary Studies archive is “Image, music, text: Elvis Presley as a postmodern, semiotic construct”….Aiming at its 400,000 nationals in London, French radio will open a mostly music radio station there….Pizza stores in Denver are delivering their food in boxes that can be broken down into usable cardboard plates before being trashed….Nudists at Frances’ long-established Cap D’Agde are protesting an invasion of “swingers and exhibitionists” who are having sex in public on their pristine beach….Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be…. Discovering that certain types of amoeba thrive on methane, researchers now theorize that there may be life on Mars which has lots of it….MISFORTUNE COOKIES: A fool always finds a greater fool to admire him… Who was the first person to say, ‘See that chicken there?  I’m gonna eat the next thing that comes outta its butt.‘…..Frito-Lay reveals that it spent years developing a biodegradable bag for its Sun Chips, but so many consumers complained about its crinkly noise they’re returning to the original bag…. If you have to ask, said Martha Graham, the answer is no…British supermarket chain Tesco, the world’s third biggest retailer (after Wal-Mart and France’s Carrefour) has lost $600million trying to break into the U.S. market with its Free & Easy chain, promises to open 19 more yet forecasts that it will be making a profit by 2013…. “One will rarely err if extreme actions be ascribed to vanity, ordinary actions to habit, and mean actions to fear.” —  Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)