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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: April 10, 2010

John Wilcock

“Since when did sin have a statute of limitations? The pope is in too deep. He has proved himself anything but infallible and now he claims he was uninformed…” — Maureen Dowd in an NYT column suggesting that Pope Benedict be replaced with a nun (“a Nope)

THE VIRTUAL DOCTOR, who replaces your visit to his office by coming direct to you via webcam, is no longer a rarity according to Manhattan Research, which reports that 40 percent of doctors are now communicating online. “To not have to schlep out in the snow to see the doctor, that’s the dream isn’t it?” asks Thomas Weida, whose family practice is in Hershey, PA. And Web visits can not only be arranged almost immediately, compared with the average 20-day wait for an office appointment in big cities, but they usually cost half as much. Some in the medical profession still have doubts, however, fearful of incorrect or harmful diagnoses. “There are a lot of important nuances that are captured when a doctor is talking to a patient he knows,” warns Ronald Dixon of Massachusetts General Hospital.

NEURO-MARKETING is the new buzzword in the advertising community, a reference to the way that the brain’s reactions to almost anything can be studied by mounting an electrode cap on the head of a research subject. How does the subject react to seeing a corporate logo….the commercials for a new product…a campaign speech? Theoretically, the product can be modified according to the observed results. The science is in its primitive stage, but companies such as Chevron and Sam’s Club are said to have been willing to fork out up to $40,000 to give it a try.

DESPITE ALL HER GOOD WORKS, Oprah Winfrey is described as a “bright but gullible billionaire” by Martin Gardner who chides her for supporting Suzanne Somers’ “wild medical opinions,” Jenny McCarthy’s anti-vaccination campaign, and, most of all, for promoting “the monumental idiocy” of Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret.  In the Skeptical Inquirer, Gardner describes Oprah as “an attractive, intelligent woman with a heart of gold, but who has only a pale understanding of modern science.”

OVERHEAD DRONES ARE already monitoring British cities from above and the government promises that before the 2012 London Olympics, the whole country will be covered. Under the spy cameras of the CCTV system, Britain already has 4.2 million cameras keeping an eye on everybody, more than any other country. There’s even a program, in which you can register to be randomly allocated some sites on which you can eyes-drop to stop shoplifting.

AFTER BUILDING UP to a $29bn-a-year business, Indian casinos have been hit by hard times says Newsmax, which suggests that poor management and over-expansion have contributed to a slump which will probably get worse. In Washington state, revenues at tribal casinos dropped 30% last year and, what was once the world’s biggest casino, Foxwood in Connecticut, sank from $700m in annual profits to defaulting on its debts. “I don’t think any of them were prepared for a downturn of this magnitude” observes David Schwartz, who directs the UC Nevada’s Center for Gaming Research at Las Vegas.

SINCE WE HEARD that the Fed was just simply printing money whenever they needed it (backed by nothing, since we left the Gold Standard) why is there even a deficit? Who, if anyone, decides when we’ve printed enough for our needs?

ONE OF THE SCIONS of the Ziff magazine empire has just given $30m to the Metropolitan Opera of which she’s a board member. And that’s the trouble with these super-rich culture vultures. They’re so used to hobnobbing with their fellow billionaires that the poor, the sick, the homeless (none of whom will ever see the inside of the Met in their lifetimes) don’t even exist. Shifting millions around among themselves doesn’t change anything. Even “giving’ $30m is still greed and vanity if it doesn’t actually help real people.

THE CURRENT where-did-the-dinosaurs-go? explanation is based on that two-mile-wide asteroid that crashed into Mexico so long ago. It reportedly (how do they know?) hit with a force “a billion times greater than Hiroshima,” leaving a 200-mile-wide crater. The world was young (only 160m years BC) and was ripped apart by the consequent tsunamis, earthquakes, infernos, the sun blocked out…a global winter.

A LAMENT FOR the sad decline (in circulation and influence) of Ebony magazine occupies four pages of the Columbia Journalism Review which reveals that what was once “one of the strongest household brands in Black America,” has dropped 40% of its circulation since it peaked at 1.8m. in the 1990s. Its founder, John H. Johnson, borrowed $500 to start his Negro Digest in 1942, transforming it into Ebony after WW2. But sadly today says CJR, it’s “like a once-beautiful, stylish elderly relative, desperately searching for the fountain of youth.” At last report, there were rumors that NBA legend Magic Johnson was a potential buyer for the company.

AFTER A 10-YEAR WAIT, maybe the time is ripe for the publication of our book on marihuana which is as comprehensive a compendium as you’ll ever find. My co-author, Bob Perlongo, has been filing clippings about the subject since the ‘60s and the book has enjoyed several titles of which my favorite is The Weed that Changed the World. Sections on the blessed herb’s political, sociological, religious, psychological, medical, and historical background are punctuated with scores of pictures, cartoons, graphics plus some great smuggling tales. Naturally, we offer the standard 15% (or, of course, a lifetime supply of good smoke) to anybody who can secure us a publishing contract.

THE WILCOCK WEB: As a current book reminds us, when FDR failed to pack the Supreme Court he finally got rid of some of the old duffers by offering them full pay forever in their retirement. Maybe Obama could do the same thing today.  Doubling their pension might do it. Of course, we’d still be stuck with the retrogressive young Roberts….Eleven hundred readers asked by Consumer Reports to name the things that annoyed them most, listed as their top four (i) hidden fees; (ii) not getting a human on the phone; (iii) tailgating, and (iv) cell phone use by drivers… Despite the renowned gentleness of the Burmese people, it surely can’t be long now before some frustrated suicide bomber knocks off a general or two…. Brazilian-born Morena Baccarin, 30, who plays the chilling Anna in V, went to school in Greenwich Village…. The latest fire-fighting equipment includes sensors attached to firefighters which transmit their location, condition, and room temperature to the commander’s laptop outside the blazing building…Deft definition: Osteopornosis— a degenerate disease….. The flight plan for Apollo 11, the initial trip to the moon (July 16, 1969) is expected to fetch $60,000 when it goes on sale at Bonham’s in London next week (Apr 13)….If that crook Hamid Karzai thinks that the U.S. is Afghanistan’s enemy, what are we doing there?….Items on sale from a $150,000 jeweled Montblanc fountain pen to a $130,000,000 mansion are posted in the current issue of Billionaire magazine…..

Long after the rest of the world, Britain will begin construction of a high-speed rail network in 2017…. The 1960s cult TV show, The Prisoner, redone as a recent movie and to be revived as a television series this month, will be republished as a Penguin paperback….John Malkovich got back all the money he invested with Bernie Madoff but says the crook made a profit so he wants more….By studying a survey of the “sweat response” from very young children who were exposed to scary sounds, and then following up on their records decades later, U of Pennsylvania researchers surmised that the children who were the most fearless were the ones most likely to become criminals (just another theory, take it or leave it)…..“If a man is proud of his wealth, he should not be praised until it is known how he employs it.” — Socrates 469-399BC)