John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: April 25, 2009

     “The reason why we are not hearing more about a single-payer (health) system is that, if America makes the change, private insurance companies will lose the estimated $400 billion in administrative costs they charge Americans each year.” — Chandler Gosh, NYC

    “Let’s put the insurance companies out of business as soon as we possibly can.” — Lisa R. Hirsch, Oakland, CA.

{extracts from adjoining letters in the New York Times, Apr. 15}

HACKING INTO U.S. GOVERNMENT websites has become such a popular pastime in China that hundreds of thousands are reported to be doing it. “The post-Tiananmen generation has known little hardship,” reports Popular Science, “so rather than pushing for democracy, many young people define themselves in opposition to the West…the largest unifying characteristic is nationalism.” The mag says that all this widespread hacking is very close to the state which rarely interferes, and hackers in China are often regarded as rock stars.

Reporting from across the Atlantic, New Scientist says this intrusive activity has prompted the U.S. government to invest $30 million in replicating the U.S. military’s communications systems to research countermeasures. Wars of the future will probably begin with attacks from computers aimed at disabling the control systems for power stations, chemical plants, and water utilities. “We are largely blind and ignorant on how to protect ourselves against cyber attacks,” confesses Amit Yoran, an electronic security expert from Virginia.

DIFFICULT DECISIONS THAT must be made about such subjects as oral, anal, and phone sex — does Islam allow them? — are supposedly dealt with by a couple of websites listed in Utne Reader’s story headed Red-Hot Fatwahs, but attempts to click on the sites are unrewarding. The tale originally appeared in Maisonneuve, a Montreal magazine which goes into amusing (imaginary?) detail about how oral sex may be allowed so long as “no semen is swallowed.”

AMAZON IS SO SECRETIVE about its financial affairs, charges Business Week, that researchers are obliged to use “creative sleuthing” to uncover revealing facts about current consumer spending. The magazine says that tracking the Seattle giant has become like Internet-age Kreminology. “We tend to find them generally unhelpful,” says analyst Jeffrey Lindsay of Bernstein Research, “so we have to rely on our own ingenuity.” With no physical stores to spy upon, one tactic that has been considered is to have college kids lurk outside Amazon warehouses to count trucks as they leave. An earnings report from the company was expected this week.

A RECENT NYTimes story revealed the growing number of wronged victims who are unable to seek retribution from the courts because they can’t afford the excessive fees demanded by lawyers to defend them. It’s a reminder of how impossible it is for poor people to get justice because of the way the whole system is rigged. Maybe someday a pro bono group of lawyers will join together to move their profession closer to obsolescence. It’s a truth that seems too obvious to contemplate, that court procedures should be simplified enough for any man/woman in the street to be able to state their case simply without needing a lawyer to represent them. The ridiculously unreasonable rates charged by lawyers are partly explained by the revelation last week that one NYC law firm pays most of its 1,300 associates about $250,000 each.

BUSINESS JET PLANES are proving to be an extravagance that some companies can no longer afford, according to Portfolio which says that almost 2,500 of them are currently on the market. The mag says AIG, Citigroup, Lehman Brothers are among those offering sales but that most are overpriced and not likely to sell in a hurry. Wachovia, for example, is trying to peddle, for $19.9 million, a 10-year-old Falcon 2000 for which it paid $20 million. Not exactly a bargain.

LATE NIGHT HUCKERSTERISM is thriving according to Fortune which tells the tale of black-bearded pitchman Billy Mays and his partner Tony Sullivan, megastars of a $300 billion industry best known for items such as the Awesome Augur and the Hercules Hook. The Discovery Channel’s Pitchmen on which they star began last week. Last year the pair pitched 56,000 minutes of TV at a cost of $170 million during which, says the mag, they have turned the stain remover OxiClean into a $200 million-a-year brand. Their three-step process, an old carney routine, is explained as “ballying the tip” (drawing a crowd), “nodding them in” (positive endorsement), and “chillin’ them down” (making the sale).

THE WILCOCK WEB: Almost all bankruptcies, whether individual or business, stem from a single source: buying something you can’t afford….John McCain’s 17-year-old Straight Talk bus (40 feet long, $89,000) is on offer at……Donors to the NTYC-based Fresh Air Fund are asking why the charity needed to blow half a million dollars for a NYTimes ad boasting about its achievements…..And having wasted three pages a day for the past year telling readers what’s in the paper, the Times will now cut back that surfeit to a single page….….NASA’s Kepler space telescope is currently scanning 100,000 stars searching for any with a climate that could sustain life…. NBC’s highly-touted new show, Parks & Recreation, is too feeble to be funny….After losing a legal challenge, Britain’s Department of Work and Pensions was obliged to include erotic strippers and sex chat line workers in vacancies listed at local job centers…. A recent study, reported by the Independent, showed that the lower a country’s newspaper circulation, the more corruption it registered…. “A good relationship with a few journalists is worth a thousand press releases,” advises Red Pepper magazine’s feature on how to get media attention…. Barry Manilow says he didn’t seek to be a star and you can’t possibly prepare for it. “I fought it constantly and think I was rude. I’m telling you, when success hits, you go through your asshole period”…… Testing the electronic cigarettes in which tobacco is dissolved in propylene glycol — vaporized by an electric heating coil — the New Scientist reported that each boring puff delivered only one-third the amount of nicotine from a regular cigarette….. Revelation Research, which monitors supermarkets claims that almost three-quarters of customers are ‘pullers’ (who “tend to be more aggressive and impatient about shopping”) compared with those who push their carts (mostly, Hispanics)….“Madness is a rare thing in individuals, but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages it is the rule.” — Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)