THE COLUMN OF LASTING INSIGNIFICANCE

IS THERE ANYBODY OUT THERE? ANYONE?

Since the 1950s radio telescopes have been sweeping the skies in search of life in outer space. Of course, they can only scan a mere 50 light years (sounds like a lot) and a tiny part of the universe, but they’ve heard nothing. Nada. Not a word. So maybe it’s time to start thinking that there’s nobody out there, speculated Peter Schenkel in the Skeptical Inquirer, who, nevertheless, quotes Russian rocket expert Konstantin Tsiolkovski as saying: “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Of course, evolution takes a long time. Even though the earth is 4 billion years old, the first human-like being didn’t appear on earth until 18 million years ago and some scientists claim it will be another 200 or 300 years before we can achieve the speed of light. Skeptics suggest another reason why we haven’t found any outer space creatures: they may have developed more than us and don’t want to get involved with an inferior species.

The Ultimate La-Z-Boy

The Robb Report described the Oculas as “a cocoon-like space where people could entertain themselves, relax and recharge.” It’s actually a totally enclosed leather and fiberglass chair containing DVD, video conferencing tools, computer, climate control, Internet access and thousands of lighting variations. It costs $45,000.

Weight Problems

The U.S. has a national eating disorder, claims Michael Pollan, with three out of five Americans overweight and addicted to unhealthy food. In his book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” (Penguin Press), he criticizes the corn industry that produces 10 billion bushels a year. “High fructose corn syrup has insinuated itself into everything from mustard and bread to cereal and ham,” Pollan writes. “Most of the beef sold in America is fed corn because it’s the cheapest way of stuffing cattle with calories.” Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, a government campaign to encourage children to exercise more (51% of women there are considered overweight) was blocked by conservative clerics and teachers who consider physical exercise for girls inappropriate.

Wine Versus Beer

Wine drinkers are apparently much healthier eaters than beer drinkers. That’s the conclusion of Copenhagen’s National Institute of Public Health, which randomly examined millions of shopping carts in 98 Danish supermarkets and found beer buyers loaded up with processed foods, chips, sugar and soft drinks while wine drinkers were more likely to opt for fresh fruits and veggies, olives, low-fat cheeses and cooking oil.

PCs for the Masses

“The next billion” is the catchall phrase the computer industry has adopted for making the rest of the world computer-literate. But how do you design a PC that’s affordable to almost anyone? This was asked by Business Week when it pointed out some of the conditions, such as desert heat and sand and frequent electricity outages that mitigate against success. One solution is Intel’s new “community PC,” car-battery-powered with protective and with dust filters that can be set up in Indian villages and used by everybody.

Celebrating Bukowski

In its September/October catalog, the Huntington Library acknowledged the gift, from his widow, of the books and papers of Charles Bukowski, stating that in his poetry and prose the renegade poet “used experience, emotion and imagination, along with violent and sexual imagery, to capture life at its most elemental, (without) artifice or posturing, but just getting on with day-to-day survival at the harsh edges of society.” Readings, reminiscences and discussions were scheduled for September 20 for Celebrating Bukowski.

The Wilcock Web

During a Swim-a-thon at Kamloops, Canada to raise money for cancer research, Miyakawa Sensei swam 300 laps backwards with a bottle balanced on his head…. More than 25 billion non-biodegradable paper cups end up in landfills every year – 22.75 pounds of waste per drinker – according to Experience Life magazine…. A new Japanese device enables the storage of smells. Fifteen microchips pick up the odor, from which it creates a “digital recipe,” which can be “replayed” by assembling vapors from a bank of the relevant chemicals…. A new drug called Prialt, synthesized from a deadly sea snail, is said to be 1,000 times more powerful than morphine, yet non-addictive…. Distribution of watermelon juice is about to go national…. Interviewed about her domestic life by a German magazine, Sarah Jessica Parker confessed: “We are definitely not part of the glamour or gossip-column crowd. I like being a housewife and a mother and I like to clean”…. “The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none” –Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881). John Wilcock’s weekly column can be read at www.ojaiorange.com