Just in case we manage to muddle on through this New Year’s pretty
much like always, end-of-the-world buffs everywhere — and the
profiteers who love them — are already gearing up for the Next Big
Thing After Y2K.

It appears, you see, that a significant planetary conjunction is
scheduled to occur on May 5, 2000. That’s when all the planets in the
solar system line up in a straight line from the sun. This prospect
frightens the astrologically inclined and the scientifically illiterate
— two groups that overlap significantly. In fact, since the
gravitational, magnetic, and other effects of all the other planets in
combination are still far too weak to affect the earth, there is
absolutely nothing to
. Further reassurance can be found at the excellent Bad Astronomy
page, as well as at NASA.

This is, in short, just silliness — a matter of a few unscrupulous
trying to make a buck selling survival kits. And who’s
their target market? Why, people who have the imagination to be
concerned about the potential for disasters of planetary magnitude to
occur — in other words, the Y2K-savvy. That means you. Don’t fall for
the scam.

Irish coffee: good for stroke victims

I am starting to think I need to have a regular department in this
column devoted solely to Science News Revealing That Things That Are
Supposed to Be Bad for You Are Actually Good for You. First there was
chocolate. Then there was beer. Now … well, it turns out that if you
are by any chance unlucky enough to experience the catastrophic event
called a stroke, an Irish
may be just what the doctor orders. Yes! In a study by Dr.
James C. Grotta and colleagues at the University of Texas, a combination
of alcohol and caffeine “cut the damage to brain cells of laboratory
rats as a result of stroke by more than 70 percent in some cases.” The
research in question will be published soon in the scientific journal
“Neuropharmacology.” Meanwhile, here’s information on the risk factors
for stroke
and on how to recognize the symptoms of one. If I were you, and I
experienced these symptoms, I wouldn’t waste any time stopping off at a
bar on the way to the emergency room. Where stroke is concerned, as
Dr. Grotta himself has pointed out,
time really is of the essence.

Making the best of a bad job

Hate your job? Loathe getting out of bed in the morning? Reluctant to
go to bed on weeknights just because it’ll make tomorrow come faster?
Working for peanuts in an exposed cubicle under fluorescent lights
within a kook-infested, inconveniently located office? I had a job once
at a nonprofit that possessed all
those qualities. Although hired as an editor, I spent most of my actual
time on customer service, having living will forms and end-of-life
information booklets sent out to people with six months to live.
Occasionally, I would find myself trying to persuade someone in agony,
someone desperate for Dr. Kevorkian’s phone number, to accept hospice and pain
referrals instead. It was
absolutely worthwhile, in retrospect, but it also, unquestionably,

If your job makes you a candidate for Prozac, take comfort at WorstJob.com, where people who really
have it bad flock to tell their sorry tales. Vote for the Person with
the Worst Job in America; roadkill collector has got to
be right up there — way, way worse than what I was doing. Guess what
the Mysterious Workers in the photos are doing. And e-mail in your own
sad story.

Cheap at the price, for sure

The fact that Cheapskate
Monthly Online
charges $18 a year for full subscriber access to its
site only serves to highlight the nasty appropriateness of its name (she
typed, grumbling). Among its few free front-page features, though,
you’ll find the Tip of the
. The Tip of the Day fascinates me, because every now and again
they post a helpful hint that, weirdly, has nothing in the world to do
with saving money. Oct. 22’s tip, for instance, is about the best way to
whip cream (you chill the cream, the bowl, and the beaters first in the
fridge). Another tip contains the rather startling and Heloise-esque
revelation that an ideal tool with which to clean the dough off your
bread machine’s kneader blades consists of, and I quote, “a nipple
brush, purchased from the baby superstore.” Say, if you like, that I’m
getting staid and boring and my youthful sense of lively curiosity is
dead, but I find I don’t really want to know what a nipple brush is. And
what does it have to do with being a cheapskate? Search me — or,
rather, search
the tips
. Submitted by readers, they by and large really are
dedicated to penny-pinching, and one in every seven or eight actually
holds a worthwhile ingot of information.

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