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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: September 25, 2010

John Wilcock

This week the 50th anniversary of the making of The Misfits film is being celebrated in Nevada. Click here to read a column about the making of the film that ran in this space last year.


What follows are columns from previous years


Sept 23
THE WILCOCK WEB: More and more supermarkets are adopting the use of the Smart Label that monitors freshness through plastic packaging, turning its orange Q to grey when the bacteria count reaches a critical level….Red grapefruit is healthier than white, credited with reducing triglyceride levels…. Nomadic herdsmen could be given a good living if more people would show a taste for camel’s milk says BBC Online which says the milk is not only rich in vitamins B and C as well as iron, but helps fight hepatitis C and AIDS…. “Polyester is a fabulous fabric. It has characteristics of elasticity, fit and non-crease that are fantastic” — Giorgio Armani in an interview with the Wall Street Journal…. Invented by irrigation expert Brian Burnett, the Solar Flow collects rainwater in a barrel and then pumps it to where needed by energy from a solar panel….Indian snake charmers, banned in 1972, are being encouraged to return “to help householders get rid of serpentine intruders”….A recent issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology contains 65 pages of jobs-vacant ads, including one from the CIA…. Reporting that more instant coffee than tea was sold in England last year, the Guardian said young people think tea has “a dated image”…. If violence on TV is not influential, why do TV commercials persuade people to buy useless things?… Hitachi engineers in Japan have pioneered a new way of checking identity by scanning the pattern of veins in people’s index fingers which they say are as unique as fingerprints….Britain’s Channel 4 launches a six-part drama series in which viewers will be invited to vote on what happens next …. Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder—Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975)

Sept 1
THE WILCOCK WEB: Scheduled to operate between Dusseldorf and Japan, Germany’s Smokers International Airways (SIA) has powerful air conditioning, a cocktail bar serving oysters, caviar, and champagne and business return fares beginning at $8,500…Nothing tasteful has ever come out of a stretch limo,” wrote Ariel Leve in the Sunday Times…. Brightly-colored individual newsstand boxes are due to disappear from downtown Dallas after the city council decreed that all papers must in future share space in “modular black news racks holding up to eight papers apiece…. It is not necessary to change, wisely opined Lord Falkland, it is necessary not to change ….Aspirin was first synthesized 110 years ago this week…. Is this the longest palindrome in the English language? Madame, not one man is selfless; I am not one Madam ….….Diaper sniper” is a prison term for a child molester, and “jump the broom” describes when one prisoner ‘marries’ another ….Skeptical Inquirer editor Kendrick Frazier wrote that among the “furious” letters the mag had received after running its piece on global warming, were two from subscribers who had canceled. “Science is a methodology, not an ideology,” he emphasized…. Slightly more than half of U.S. households are now headed by a single person….About Paul McCartney, once said Michael Jackson: “Okay writer, not much of an entertainer. I do better box office than he does”….A new Japanese device can assess stress levels of a dog or cat by measuring the amount of sweat secreted on the animal’s paw ….“Technology is the knack of organizing the world so that we don’t have to experience it.” — Max Frisch (1911-91).


Sept 8
THE WILCOCK WEB: Walmart’s plan to open 1,000 Money Centers in its stores, offering check-cashing and money transfers, is being criticized as “a back door into banking”…..Powered by eight powerful rotary engines and fueled with water and ethanol, Moller International’s 9ft wide “flying saucer” can glide 10 feet above land or water (and costs a mere $90,000…. A tri-lingual German website that does $10million worth of business each week by renting what seems to be everything, began by renting slogan-chanting, sign-waving protesters for $188 per shift….India’s Science and Technology minister recently decreed that every chemistry student must take a year of ”green” chemistry seeking ways to eliminate hazardous substances…. “The American people generally do the right thing,” commented  Winston Churchill, “after first exhausting every available alternative” ….More than 600,000 of the country’s military were enlisted before they were 20, reports In These Times, reporting a study by the National Institute of Mental Health that noted a teenager’s brain is still undergoing structural change in the prefrontal cortex “which polices impulse control” and thus the ability to make thoughtful decisions…. The number of tourists to Antarctica has doubled — to 30,000 — in the past three years…Open source, once a mere computer term, has gained currency in almost every part of life, even to the Australian beer Blowfly whose “open source” recipe can be tampered with by others ….After 15 years publishing Venus, a publication for black lesbians, Charlene Cothran got religion overnight, declared that “same-sex relationships are not what God intended for us” and turned the magazine straight…. “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.” — Napoleon Hill (1883-1970)

Sept 15
THE WILCOCK WEB:  What a pity there isn’t a cheap television listings instead of the vapid TV Guide with its mess of pages devoted to obscure stars you’ve never heard of, and certainly wouldn’t care to watch….And speaking of publications: whatever happened to Harper’s, once one of the best magazines around but for the past year has turned into terminal dullness, full of boring, overlong stories brimming with tedious ennui? It once broke news stories — as the Atlantic still does — and the advertisers have clearly noticed the difference, buying more than three times as many September pages in the latter… …One critic calls Conde Nast’s new Portfolio “the Paris Hilton of business magazines…“You are only young once,” wrote Germaine Greer, “but you can be immature forever”…. At this 70th anniversary year of Snow White, who remembers that Walt Disney’s wife told him: “I predict nobody’ll ever pay a dime to see a dwarf picture”?…. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy from Afghanistan farmers all their opium crop (and then destroy it) rather than spend so much money and so many lives trying to eliminate it?….An Ethiopian support group, SOS Addis, is paying women $65 a month to collect the capital’s abandoned plastic bags, thereby both giving employment and helping the environment…..More than three-quarters of employers now track the Internet use of their employees, according to a survey by the American Management Association…. ….Just removed from Japanese amusement arcades: an electronic arm wrestling game called Arm Spirit after too many customers broke their arms.….“What the state has, is theft. What the state says, is lies.” —  Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)

Sept 22
THE WILCOCK WEB: India’s Minister of Railways banned plastic cups, replacing them with aesthetically preferable biodegradable clay cups and incidentally providing jobs for 100,000 potters… In California’s Santa Cruz county, a nonprofit called Ecology Action is offering $200 rebates and discounted bus passes to people who buy folding bicycles and take a two-hour bike-safety course…. Rock journalism is for people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read,” charged Frank Zappa …. A new manual, The Modern History of Russia, 1945-2006, which has been issued to teachers in that country contains the appraisal by Vladimir Putin that Josef Stalin was “the most successful Soviet leader ever”….Small farmers around Britain are participating in a virtual farmers’ market which is about to go online, inviting shoppers to order through the mail… You’d think that the more opinions you could solicit on a matter in dispute, the likelier you were to find the truth. So why are jurors prohibited from talking to others about the case?….. A $1,799 toilet seat from the long-gone Concorde is among parts on offer at the auction in Toulouse of spare parts from the defunct plane….  To ensure their security personnel do a thorough check, El Al Airlines randomly selects one of them to fly on the flight they’ve just monitored…. Women are said to be most enticing when they’re ovulating and University of Mexico researchers at gentleman’s clubs demonstrated that that was when strippers garnered the biggest tips. The sleuths said they were surprised nobody had mentioned it before…. “It is the imagination that lights the slow fuse of the impossible.” — Emily Dickinson (1830-86)


sept 13
THE WILCOCK WEB: If each member of the California legislature was fined $100 for every day past the deadline that the budget wasn’t passed, the deficit might have disappeared by now…. Two drugstore chains, CVS and Rite Aid, topped Stores’ annual list of Hot Ten Retailers in 2007 with IHOP in third place. All three have absorbed other chains in the past year….. Staples and other stores are selling — for $4.49 — DVD movies that self-destruct after 48 hours when oxygen causes a chemical reaction to make them unplayable…. European banks are testing a security device by Germany’s Siemens company that requires bank customers to run their fingerprints over a hand-held reader which checks with a stored copy…. Greek banks have reacted to the financial crunch by cutting back staff so completely that customers, waiting in rows of chairs now wait as long as an hour for their number to be called ….A Colombian clothing store selling $2,000 bulletproof business suits has opened a branch in Mexico City….. “The first duty in life,” said Oscar Wilde, “is to assume a pose. What the second is, no one has yet discovered”….Louis Vuitton is selling (for $2500) golden pendants replicating Nelson Mandela’s prison tag, promising that part of the proceeds will go to Mandela’s Foundation against Aids. Of course, they don’t say how much “part” is….. A Palo Alto, CA., company has copyrighted Drivetones, a device which adds artificial sound to otherwise silent electric cars which could be a danger to pedestrians who don’t hear them coming… The Big and Noisy Book of Vehicles coming from a London publisher this month boasts of containing “spectacular sound effects”… And it’s exactly 100 years since Ford produced the first of 15 million Model Ts ….“Think how stupid the average person is,” mused George Carlin, “and realize half of them are stupider than that” ….Because of pesticides in too much of the ground, most of the 700 million snails consumed by the French every year are now imported from Poland……. Psychologists at the University of London noticed that, like the rest of us, dogs witnessing humans yawning were inclined to imitate the action…“An economist is a man who states the obvious in terms of the incomprehensible.” — Alfred Knopf (1892-1984)

Sept 20
THE WILCOCK WEB: If only we’d allowed the Russians to conquer the wild Afghanistan tribes long ago instead of backing the wrong side…. The Quake-Catcher Network (QCN) is signing up volunteers who will link their computers to a system that will give advance warning of quakes because “digital data travels faster than seismic waves”…. California’s Salk Institute claims that a new drug, AICAR, “tricks the muscle into ‘believing’ it has been exercising and “proves you can have a pharmacological equivalent to exercise.” Unfortunately, the results come only from experiments on mice…..Luxury items bought in flight by Virgin Upper-Class passengers await them as they disembark at Heathrow airport…. NASA’s Orion program collected gallons of urine from volunteers while testing new toilet designs for the latest line of space capsules….After having the picture of a fly drawn on the urinals, managers at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport found that “penile aim” improved by 80%…. After spending millions installing shiny steel public toilets downtown, Seattle has had to remove them following predictions that they would be monopolized by druggies and hookers came true…. “Men are the only animals who devote themselves to making each other unhappy,” wrote H.L. Mencken. “It is, I suppose, one of their godlike qualities”… Sales of tea have increased for the 15th successive year… Lady customer at Trader Joe’s: “The bananas with the biggest curve are always the sweetest”…. “Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you.”—Aldous Huxley (1894-1963)

Sept 27
THE WILCOCK WEB: No matter how much obfuscation they employ in coming weeks, McCain and Palin are already proven liars….And why are Karl Rove and his White House cohorts allowed to defy a Congressional subpoena to testify? Wouldn’t an “ordinary citizen” be arrested?…..“The willingness to risk abuse for the sake of the truth is one of the writer’s obligatory chores,” noted Edward Abbey ….Four of five car buyers from Max Motors in Butler, Montana, who were offered a bonus of $250 in gas or the same amount off a gun, purchase chose the latter…. In their never-ending quest for cheaper airline fares, more than a quarter of the 1,000 respondents tracked by said they’d be willing to pay half price for a standing-room-only ticket. Airbus dreamed up a plane that strapped passengers to padded walls…My Gonads Roar is the title of a book by Richard Napier comprised of anagrams of celebrity names with the title itself the name of a famous angry chef….If Alaska had a $5 billion budget surplus last year and could afford to give all its citizens a $3,000 payoff, why can’t it finance its own bridges without seeking Federal gifts?….And speaking of greed, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson might find it easier to get their movies financed if they didn’t seek more than $100 million for their work….Dr. Zahi Hawass, boss of Egypt’s Antiquities department, says initial probes have discovered what may be the burial place of Cleopatra and Marc Anthony and excavations will begin when cooler weather arrives next month…. A London security firm has invented a magnetic ink which would cause dollar bills or other paper currency to stick together and would be hard to forge but is initially more likely to be used in passports and checks….Pumping aromas into a movie theater’s air conditioning to add credence to a movie was tried before, 30 years ago, but a German firm, Cinescent in Hanover, is now testing it to accent the screening of ads by Nivea sun lotion and Dove soap…. “The universe is change: our life is what our thoughts make it.” — Marcus Aurelius (AD120-180).


sept 5
THE WILCOCK WEB: At a time when path-breaking advances are being made in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and a dozen other similar areas, science journalism is declining says the Nation reporting that the number of U.S. papers with newspaper science sections has shrunk by almost thirds….Involuntarily swearing when you hit your thumb with a hammer may be a good thing, says Keele University’s Dr. Richard Stephens, raising levels of adrenaline which acts as an anaesthetic?….. For a contest at Cambridge University next spring, 18 competitors are competing — for a prize of $15,000 — at sending some half-ounce-sized object into orbit on a miniscule budget of $1,500 ….“Silent gratitude isn’t very much use to anyone,” jeered Gertrude Stein…. You may think that burquas and niqabs demean women, says Christopher Caldwell, but what about “jeans that cinch halfway down the bumcrack?”…..Maybe that firm that invested (and lost) $585 in Readers’ Digest didn’t read the magazine first….A dozen members of Britain’s Upper House known as Law Lords, who have up to now been responsible for hearing final appeals, will don robes next month and be renamed as the country’s first Supreme Court… Small-time preachers go to jail for stealing a few thousand bucks from church funds so how come televangelists who take millions get a pass?….Longchamp indubitably has the ugliest models…. Available soon: Inflatable walls, inset with air filters and oxygen supplies, that can be moved along on a cart by coal miners to block off the tunnel after an underground disaster….At a cost of $30,000 each, San Francisco is installing 360 new bus shelters whose solar panel roofs will channel thousands of kilowatts into the city’s grid…..Obviously, New York’s blind Governor David A. Paterson can’t do the job as well as a sighted person but it’s not politically correct to say so, so nobody does….More than 200 people have booked $200,000 seats on Virgin Galactic’s space flights scheduled to begin next year. Among other operators planning flights are Xcor (offering four-minute fights for a bargain $95,000; the European Commission’s Fast 20XX (from Sweden but not before 2015); and $20 million seats available for Russia’s next flight in 2011… Deft definition: Osteopornosis — a degenerate disease….…On Washington’s National Mall next month, 20 student teams will compete to build the most efficient solar-powered home….“The secret to creativity,” alleged Albert Einstein, “is knowing how to hide your sources” …. Getting attention on some college campuses are contests with the atlatl, a 25,000-year-old weapon which is described by Celine Rainville as “a stick that can hold a spear or dart, and acts like another joint for your arm, giving you the ability to hurl a spear further.”…“To be wronged is nothing, unless you continue to remember it.” — Confucius (550-479BC)