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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: April 18, 2009

for these troubled times than the very avatar of selfishness Ayn Rand who is back in the news with demand for her 1957 book, Atlas Shrugged, going through the roof? Sales have spiked, notes the Economist, whenever the U.S. government has tried to prop up the economy. Last year 200,000 copies of the novel were sold despite Noah Chomsky’s description of its author as “one of the most evil figures of modern intellectual history.” Rand described her philosophy of Objectivism as “the concept of man as a heroic being with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life,” which, in practice, advocated unfettered capitalism, with altruism or any help for lesser folk being a waste of time. In 1991 the Library of Congress described Atlas Shrugged as the second-most influential book in the U.S. after the Bible.

THAT MEDIA WATCH GROUP, FAIR has been talking about how the economic pressure on newspapers has been forcing a closer alliance between “church and state” (i.e. editorial and advertising). The Des Moines Register paper has its sports and ad departments conversing “to see what they can do together” and some FOX stations have been placing (fake) McDonald’s ice coffees on anchor desks. Rush Limbaugh, reports Extra!’s Peter Hart, has been offering “at a much higher rate” to weave product mentions into his monologues.

GOLD IS BACK as the only commodity that, in poor economic times, investors think they can believe in. “Gold is the new black” declares Smart Money reporting that the U. S. Mint sold 816,500 American Eagle gold coins in the past six months — triple the number for the same period a year ago. Fascinating people since the first yellow metal coins appeared in 550BC, gold has seesawed in value depending on fears of inflation, a time when investors seek “something that won’t go to zero overnight.” Now demand is so high that the U.S. Mint keeps running out of gold blanks and is rationing the 22-karat, one-ounce Eagle. NYC dealer Michael Kramer has been receiving only one delivery a week and has upped his markup on sales to 8 percent. (Gold is currently valued at about $870 per ounce). In 1968, East Germany, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of his birth, minted 76,000 gold coins bearing the image of Karl Marx (who once said “The rich will do anything for the poor but get off their backs”).

ACCORDING TO A STORY by Bennett Gordon in the Utne Reader, the firm of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky is “the most innovative, idiotic, hated, and envied ad agency today” and is responsible for Burger King’s drop-your-friend from Facebook ads, as well as that inexplicable Microsoft gem featuring Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Gates. The Miami-based agency, with 700 employees spread between offices in Boulder, Santa Monica, and London, also represents American Express, Coke Zero, Sprite, and Domino’s. “The root of the success,” explains Creative Review, “is the offence people take at the advertising. Its work may not be pretty and it may at times center on a certain style of frat boy humor, but it will always get our attention and get us talking.”

DOCTORS ARE AWAITING the launch of the iPill which, inside the body of a cancer patient, can seek out an internal tumor and dispense drugs. It then passes harmlessly through the rest of the body. In the fall, Philips begins tests on humans with this electronic capsule. It contains battery, sensor, radio transmitter, and drugs.

SPECULATION ON WHY artists are so often portrayed as crackpots and sometimes killers is the subject of a note in Art News which quotes Jeanine Basinger: “Pop culture has long told us that artists are madmen.” Basinger, of Wesleyan University’s film studies department, explains that the artist’s status as a creative person helps to make him a believable evil-doer. “Audiences like to feel that villains are not like them.” Michael Powers (Peeping Tom), John Waters (Female Trouble), André de Toth (House of Wax), and Roger Corman (A Bucket of Blood) were directors named for their depiction of creative types as bad guys. “Art leads to awfulness” comments Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones.

THE WILCOCK WEB: An international force should invade that Somali coastal hideaway. Weren’t pirates hanged at one time? After all, they don’t have a government to protect them…Now both Russia and the U.S. are planning trips to the moon. Silly extravagance: why don’t they just collaborate?…. Whenever there’s a business downturn, big companies always act like they just appeared on the scene and haven’t had time to make (or save) any profits….Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi appointed as his “Equal Opportunities minister a dancer named Mara Carfagna. You can watch her sing and strip on YouTube….…..”Women should put pictures of missing husbands on beer cans,” suggested some anonymous lady….. Felix Dennis is closing down the London edition of his magazine Maxim but will still publish the best newsmagazine in the English language (The Week), whose English edition is far superior to the U.S. one….Continually complaining about rip-off prices for concerts, fans don’t have the smarts to understand that they’ll keep rising as long as they’re willing to pay them…. Minnesota’s Norm Coleman is a sore loser and a Republican which these days, of course, is the same thing..…Organic food was deemed “expendable” by 84% of customers polled on what they would give up to cut down their expenses. And shoppers 18-34 as well as those over 50 were agreed that their top three “untouchable” items were internet service, cell phones, and cable/satellite TV…. Hef’s daughter Christie, giving up her seat on the company’s board, says she’ll never wear the Playboy insignia because it makes her too easy to recognize. “I’m remarkably successful at being invisible until I pull out a credit card and somebody asks, ‘Oh how’s your dad?’”….. Disturbed by the drop in DVD sales because of cheapo $1 rentals, maybe movie studios will be obliged to learn to make less extravagant movies …..Tiger Woods is rumored to be paid $25 million for the first golf course he is designing (near Asheville. NC) with similar fees for courses in Dubai and Mexico — “The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.” — Karl Marx (1818-83).