Archive » February 15, 2007
John Wilcock – The Column of Lasting Insignificance
By John Wilcock
Sperm donors in Denmark have helped to engender 12,000 children around the world, according to the Cryos International Sperm Bank in Arbus, a university town on the northeast coast of Jutland. Up to 15% of men have a low sperm count, which accounts for the success of an export industry estimated to be worth up to $40 million a year with the largest buyers of Cryos sperm coming from Ireland, Belgium and Finland. And although a sample of 50 million wriggling sperm in a “straw” (chilled to minus 196 degrees and preserved in liquid nitrogen) costs about $400, treatment at a fertility clinic costs more than 10 times that figure. “Denmark has a long tradition of donating,” says a spokesman explaining why the country has become the world’s main exporter of sperm.
Supplied with blankets, linen and a single power point, drainpipes six feet in diameter have been converted into inexpensive hotel rooms in Austria, with the first experimental ones sited near public toilets in a park beside the Danube at Ottensheim, near Linz. Tiny windows top the nine-ton concrete rooms, which can be booked at www.dasparkhotel.net.
Debating the Bard
Every few years there’s another magazine story questioning who was the real author of Shakespeare’s works because there have always been skeptics who suggested it was the 17th Earl of Oxford or Christopher Marlowe (both died before many of the plays were written) or even Queen Elizabeth I herself. “If Shakespeare hadn’t been metamorphosed into a god,” says the University of Warwick’s Jonathan Bate, “nobody would think it was worth having an authorship controversy about him.” More than 60 candidates have been suggested as “the real” author of the 37 plays and 154 sonnets, says the Smithsonian, whose recent story followed a Yale exhibition of portraits – most of which are also in dispute. When the first folio (collection) of the Bard’s works were assembled in 1623, seven years after his death, it flouted an engraving by a 17th century Dutch artist that was supposedly copied from the only existing life portrait which, alas, no longer exists.
The Drivable Plane
“Forget flying cars, meet the drivable plane” is the head on a story in Business 2.0, which brings news of a two-seater plane with fold-up wings “that you drive home at the end of your flight.” With the FAA inaugurating a new class of license for small sporty aircraft, the Massachusetts firm Terrafugia expects to fill the short-hop market of 100-500-mile jaunts in the plane/car that they’ll offer next year for about $148,000.
‘The Glass Cathedral’
When the cost of Berlin’s new railroad station – tagged “the Glass Cathedral” – neared $1 billion, a cost-saving flat, concrete roof was installed instead of the artistic one designed by architect Meinhard Von Gerkan, sparking a predictable row. “There is not a writer in the world who would accept a few pages being ripped out of his book,” declared Von Gerkan. “I feel the same way about this building.” German Railways boss Hartmut Mehdorn responded: “A property owner who is having a house built doesn’t let the architect dictate what kind of ceiling should be put in the living room, so why should we?” So far the courts have agreed with the architect.
Some Like it Hot, Really Hot
“One day we were being measured for our costumes,” reminisced Tony Curtis about the time he spent working with Marilyn Monroe on “Some Like it Hot,” “and when the designer measured Marilyn, he (told her) ‘You know Tony has a better-looking rear end than you do.’ Marilyn opened her blouse and said, ‘Yeah, but he doesn’t have these.’”
The NOTA Vote
Endorsing the principle of a voting option listed as “none of the above” (NOTA) Ralph Nader says only 10% or less of Congressional elections are competitive (no major opponent or the challenger greatly under-financed). Nevada is currently the only state with a NOTA option and although such votes can’t offer a winner, writes Wendy Girard in the Los Angeles Free Press, “they serve as a truly democratic referendum on candidates’ credibility with voters.”
The Wilcock Web
Finally bowing to international pressure, China has agreed to ban transplant tourism – the practice of selling rich Westerners organs harvested from executed prisoners…. Saudi Arabia claims it spends $800 million a year treating smoking-related diseases (with 22,000 deaths) and has threatened to sue tobacco companies unless they pay the bill in future…. “The politician looks to the next election,” said John Rawls, “the statesman to the next generation”…. German police have discovered that the reason why so many 20 and 50 euro notes have disintegrated is that they have been used for snorting crystal meth, leaving a residue that turns acidic when combined with human sweat…. Vowel-free names such as Levi’s DLX jeans, Motorola’s SLVR phone and the Flickr website (for photo sharing) stem from the growing acceptance of shorthand in text messaging and connote “cool and modern,” says the Boston Globe…. The annual award by Le Figaro for the best croissants in Paris went to Pierre Hermé, 45, who has been called “the Picasso of pastry.” The happy baker said: “The noise of a croissant is very important. I can almost hear them shout when people tear them apart”…. “Most people return small favors, acknowledge middling ones and repay great ones with ingratitude,” said Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790).
John Wilcock’s column and weekly travel show can be accessed at www.ojaiorange.com.
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