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the column of lasting insignificance: September 21, 2013
by John Wilcock

The sloppy investigations (about security clearance) are one scandal, but there is another. Did you know that 4.9 million federal and contractor jobs require security clearances, 1.4 million of which are top secret? This does suggest the national security state has gone mad.”
—Charles Peters in the Washington Monthly

MOST PEOPLE DON’T get enough sleep, according to the Centers for Disease Control which concedes that there’s no magic number but seven hours is a recommended minimum for adults, more than one-third of whom get less than that. “it’s a badge of courage to stay up all night to get the job done—we celebrate that in our society” declares Mark B. Rosekind, who studies issues of fatigue for the National Transportation Safety Board, which states that drowsy driving may play a part in 6,000 auto accidents each year. Almost half the respondents to a recent AAA survey admitted they’d fallen asleep or nodded off at least once while driving. Mineworkers and people in the financial and insurance industries seem especially associated with sleep loss, but one researcher told Psychology Today that “the challenges of schedules cut across many occupations and industries”. Another career notorious for chronic sleep deprivation is medicine, particularly during residency when fledgling doctors routinely work up to 28-hour shifts. One tip the magazine passes on is to “unplug” or limit technology use after dark. “Kids with video games, tablets, phones in their bedrooms” says Rosekind, “get up to two hours less sleep than those without it”.

DRIVERLESS CARS are becoming a familiar site in the San Francisco area where Google is testing them by having some of their employees drive to and from work. The cars are easily recognizable by their roof-mounted lidar turrets (light detection and ranging) which use 64 laser beams to probe 360 degrees, thus constantly monitoring all sides of the vehicle. Google says the cars have collectively driven more than 500,000 miles without accident, and on the rare occasion when the Chauffeur is unsure of itself it asks the driver to retake control. There are still legal problems to solve, says Popular Science, such as adhering to the Geneva Convention rule that drivers must have control. “Who has control of a driverless car?” the magazine asks. Before year’s end, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to announce some rules, but although most of the major automobile makers are working on various models, it might be some time before there is mass interest, if only because the all-essential lidar alone currently costs at least $75,000.

EMBARRASSED SHOPPERS sometimes cover their actions with adding something more fetching to their trolleys to divert attention from the foot deodorant or anti-gas medication, according to the Journal of Consumer Research. It reports that in one test, buyers of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Improving Your IQ compensated for observers’ perceived view of them by adding a Rubiks cube.

THE SKEPTICAL INQUIRER doesn’t believe in acupuncture and rarely misses the chance to say so. In their summer issue they take aim at a navy neurologist, Capt. Elwood Hopkins, whom they believe has been conned into accepting its efficacy and recommending it to others. The critique is based on a three-part article appearing in the official blog of Navy and Marine Corps Health Care which TSI’s Harriet Hall calls “a prime example of how even the most intelligent, educated person can ramble step by step down the garden path into self-delusion”. Dr Hall accuses the essayist of being predisposed to accept an already favorable opinion of acupuncture; looking only for confirmation; getting information from a biased source (a master acupuncturist is hardly likely to present a balanced picture), cherry-picking the evidence; not doing his own research, and not understanding why science is necessary. “His patients improved” writes Hall, a retired air force physician and flight surgeon, “but how many of them would have improved without any treatment or a credible placebo?”

SIX BILLION POUNDS of explosives are blown up in this country every year so it’s probably no surprise to learn of the existence of explosives camps, where—as Jay Nordlinger writes—someone needs to know how to use them. The one he visited was at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, where students learn what’s necessary for agricultural tasks or how blowing up a building is cheaper and easier than taking it down brick by brick. Twenty trainees take the week-long courses in blasting, ordnance disposal and pyrotechnics, which the staff believe to be an antidote for a society that’s become too risk-averse. “Kids tend to be bubble-wrapped” one staffer told the National Review. After firing muskets and cannons and casting their own bullets, the course ends on a happy note: the blowing up of a Barbie doll.

THE PROSTITUTION BUSINESS is facing lean times at Nevada’s legal brothels according to Bloomberg Businessweek which says customers, who normally pay $200 to $600 have been getting discounts. Ten of the state’s 19 counties, those with populations under 700,000, allow prostitution. Although these do not include Las Vegas, as any visitor knows, even there hookers are not hard to find. Prostitution is a big income producer in a state with the country’s highest unemployment rate (9.5%). In Lyon county alone brothels paid $369,600 in licensing fees last year, plus $17,800 from the sex workers who generally give half their earnings to the house.

MILLIONS OF LATINOS will not be the only viewers when the Spanish-language network Univision begins operation of its new channel, Fusion, next month. The program will suddenly be bilingual, offering 24 hours of news in English to supplement the Spanish. “We saw that if we didn’t adapt to the reality that the majority of Latinos will be more comfortable with English than Spanish”, lead anchor Jorge Ramos told Bloomberg Businessweek, “then Univision will disappear in just a few years. It was really a matter of survival”. Univision claims to capture 96% of the Spanish-language audience in America, its president, Cesar Conde, explaining that viewers watch because of the cultural connection to the community that can’t be found anywhere else. Fusion, a partnership with ABC, says it will practice “classic, old fashioned journalism” aimed at the huge Hispanic population which has increased by more than 40% in the past decade.

LAZINESS IS GOOD at least occasionally if you want to remain productive. So claims the Economist columnist Schumpeter who writes: “The biggest problem in the business world is not too little but too much—too many distractions and interruptions, too many things done for the sake of form and altogether too much busy-ness”. Office workers are in a treadmill of pointless activity. Managers allow meetings to drag for hours. Workers generate emails because it requires little effort and no thought. He points to a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that estimated one-third of working adults get six hours or less of sleep each night and more than 80% continue work after leaving the office. “Leaning in” he says “has been producing negative results for some time now. It is time to try the far more radical strategy of leaning back”.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Scholars from various disciplines (religion, psychology, philosophy, the arts) will meet in Tehran, of all places, next week Sept 24/25) for a symposium on Self-Sacrifice and Martyrdom…..Those islands that China and Japan are battling over are uninhabited, so why don’t both countries quit their senseless fighting and agree to leave them that way?....And if China still thinks of itself as Communist, why doesn’t it oblige its 314 billionaires to share their wealth?....Virginia’s Richmond Public Library is offering old fogeys who don’t have computers blank books (made from recycled paper) in which they can handwrite their autobiographies….Dennis Rodman’s ego prevents him from seeing he’s playing the role of the useful fool….Foodies have discovered a new fruit, the Asian yuzu whose distinctively tart, but not bitter flavor is turning up in everything from cocktails to salad dressings….”The future is already here” declares William Gibson, “it’s just not evenly distributed”….. A growing complaint against many big companies, writes Fortune columnist Becky Quick, is their delay in recompensing suppliers for months, while simultaneously demanding immediate payment for any goods or services provided…. “Selling pot” reminisces Bill Maher, “allowed me to get through college and make enough money to start off in comedy”…Nobel prizewinner J.M. Coetzee deserves another award—The Most Boring Book of the Century—for his pretentiously (and inaccurately) titled The Childhood of Jesus….. ….Inmates in Argentina jails claim that they should be paid the national minimum wage for their work and have formed a union to fight for that….In Britain, a feminist group is escalating their battle to persuade Rupert Murdoch’s Sun to drop the bare-breasted babes who have occupied Page 3 for decades….In its survey of the world’s top art collectors, Art News reports that the U.S. leads the world list of billionaires with 442 of them and as many of 100 these would be willing to fork out $50million or more for an artwork….”A saint is a person whose life has been under-researched” observed theologian Henry Chadwick….. If we’d gotten out of Afghanistan a few years ago, things would have looked pretty much as they do today—except that a couple of thousands of Americans would still be alive…. “All men should have a drop of treason in their veins”— Dame Rebecca West (1892–1983)

9/14/13

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