Wandering Eye: America needs more sleep, the best innovations didn't come during the 2000s, and more

Sleep deprivation is much in the news right now, thanks in part to National Geographic's new documentary, "Sleepless in America," which relates that 40 percent of U.S. adults fail to get the ideal eight hours of sleep each day. The health effects are across-the-board bad, decreasing general awareness, memory, communication, and decision-making, while increasing the risks of some of the most harmful pathologies humans face. Given the frenetic routines modern life imposes, solutions for most people seem elusive—though in late-19th-century Baltimore, there was what must have been quite an effective, though risky, solution: "One Night Cough Syrup," dosed with alcohol, cannabis, chloroform, and morphine. Yowza! . . . zzz. (Van Smith)

 

Innovation is the fuel of our time, right? Never before the 2000s have so many amazing new things come to market in so short a time! Except that's wrong, says science writer Michael Hanlon. In fact, the great era of innovation ended 40 years ago, in the early 1970s. It had started at the end of WWII. He calls it The Golden Quarter. It "was a unique period of less than a single human generation, a time when innovation appeared to be running on a mix of dragster fuel and dilithium crystals." And so on. And it is true: We no longer have the SST. No one has been to the Moon in 40-odd years. And things are slowing down: "The human genome was decoded (one post-Golden Quarter triumph) nearly 15 years ago and we're still waiting to see the benefits that, at the time, were confidently asserted to be 'a decade away.'" But why? Hanlon cites capitalism, "once the great engine of progress," grown flabby with yachts and planned obsolescence. "Half a century ago, makers of telephones, TVs and cars prospered by building products that their buyers knew (or at least believed) would last for many years. No one sells a smartphone on that basis today; the new ideal is to render your own products obsolete as fast as possible." Another big culprit? Risk aversion. Nukes are gone. Big risky drug trials are seldom, if ever, undertaken. "Scientists and technologists were generally celebrated 50 years ago, when people remembered what the world was like before penicillin, vaccination, modern dentistry, affordable cars and TV. Now, we are distrustful and suspicious—we have forgotten just how dreadful the world was pre-Golden Quarter." (Edward Ericson Jr.)

This year marks the first time college football is crowning its champion with a four-team playoff. For the last 16 years, the Bowl Championship Series pitted two teams against each other using a computer formula. Yes, a computer formula. Problem solved, right? Well, not exactly. The four teams are decided by a 12-person expert committee, and this has led to lots of teams lobbying for a playoff spot, according to The New York Times. Baylor, for example, tapped a former Bush administration official to lobby on behalf the Bears, who are No. 6 in the latest rankings. Marshall University has used a PR firm to make its case when the rankings since the first rankings were released. So really, the controversy has only shifted slightly. (Brandon Weigel)

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