John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: April 28, 2007


THROWING SOME LIGHT on the dark art of jury selection, Psychology Today says that hundreds of firms offering jury consulting rake in hundreds of million dollars a year. One Texan practitioner who claims to “get into the heart and soul” of each juror and seeks people with “a real sense of right and wrong — the kind of people who say ‘a deal’s a deal’” charges $8,500 a day for his expertise. About half of all trial consultants are psychologists and they begin their work months in advance of a big trial, randomly cold-calling people in the community to seek their views, organizing focus groups or mock trials to see how they react to parts of the case and creating questionnaires for the potential jurors. The questionnaire for the OJ trial ran to 75 pages with 300 questions. But nothing is guaranteed. “Nobody really has a crystal ball” says Howard Virinsky. “There’s always that unknown of human unpredictability.”

ANN COULTER WAS NAMED winner of the Judith Regan of Creationism Award by the New Mexicans for Science and Reason in its annual Best & Worst Awards. Other citations: John Humphreys, a sculptor for British TV productions for belatedly confessing he made the fakes for an infamous “alien autopsy film” (Better Late Than Never Award); and Turkey, the only other nation with more belief in creationism than the US (Thanks for Saving Us from being Total Losers Award).

LIKE MOST PAPERS the battling Manhattan tabloids have been losing advertising lately so what the New York Post has been doing is buying up local community papers to increase their reach. Doubtless, the Daily News will follow suit — if there are any papers not already in Rupert Murdoch’s clutches. The trouble is that bigger papers find it irresistible to replace local owners (who know the community) with more “efficient” — i.e., more profit-hungry — managers. “The flavor of these papers depends on decision-making in the community” observes the Queens Tribune’s Michael Schenkler, “(which) can’t stay the same if an accountant is in charge.”

DESPITE THE IMPENDING merger of the competing Sirius and XM radio satellite services, the rate of the industry’s growth appears to be slowing down reports Via Satellite magazine. So there are high-level discussions on attracting customers by providing more services, one of which is to provide drivers with “the occupancy rate of parking garages in major metropolitan areas.”

ALTHOUGH 58 CEOs of U.S. public companies were paid more than $20 million each last year, any measures extreme enough to reduce CEO pay “would be self-destructive.” Or so maintains Jim Manzi,  CEO of a software company. Markets may well be “a school for selfishness” and unsentimental about forcing change, but they are “efficient at directing resources to their highest and best use” Manzi argues in the National Review. All attempts at narrowing the 100-1 gap between senior executive and worker pay (it was 20-1 in 1970) have failed, because “markets don’t respond to shame, only to incentives.” And, notes Robert B. Reich: “Depending on shareholders to rein in CEO pay is like relying on gamblers to rein in the owners of Las Vegas casinos.”

BY ALLEGING THAT wounded soldiers were already medically unfit, the Army could be doing it to save billions of dollars in disability pay when they are discharged. And over the lifetimes of the 22,500 who have been released so far because of “personality disorder”, a pre-existing condition, a further $4.5 billion is saved in medical care. This is according to a Nation story that accuses the military of “purposely misdiagnosing” thousands of soldiers under Chapter 5-13, to cheat them out of benefits. “The Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t have to provide medical care to soldiers dismissed with personality disorder” the mag says, and so it is using Chapter 5-13 as “a catchall diagnosis, encompassing symptoms as diverse as deafness, headaches, and schizophrenic delusions.” Why did this condition go unnoticed when the victims enlisted? Col. Knorr of Fort Carson’s Evans Hospital ‘explains’ that traumatic conditions [i.e. being shot in the head] can trigger a condition that has lain dormant for years.

WHEN WAL-MART FIRST moved north it took with it “the twin pillars of economic Ozark life: very low wages and very low prices.” So writes Harold Meyerson who alleges that the company consciously targets the kind of poor, non-union shoppers and workforce that it started with, sharing with Republicans a commitment to “the degradation of labor, to enriching the rich, and to the global expansion of their power.” Meyerson, acting executive editor of The American Prospect says: “Refitted for our time, these are the same southern values that this nation once, at immense cost in blood, rightfully crushed… an indifference to economic justice (that is) the hallmark of southern thinking.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Challenges by civil rights organizations to the Defense Department’s “stop-loss” policies that call up servicemen for repeated tours have gone nowhere. But New York lawyers Stuart and Barry Slotnick have won five individual cases by claiming that the Army was denying their clients due process — “the right to be free”…. As always, the presidential candidate who is most ignored is the one with the most sensible questions. Dennis Kucinich asks why, if the so-called Democratic Congress is anxious to end the war, did it agree to an additional $300billion to finance it?…. In an essay for the May Popular Mechanics, Jay Leno says he has two electric cars, a Baker Electric (1909) and an Owen Mechanic (1915) and both still run, but he closed with Thomas Edison’s alleged 1896 quote: “The electric car is dead”…. Fox TV’s Roger Ailes headed TelevisionWeek’s annual Top 10 Most Powerful last week with Keith Olberman (ratings up 76% first quarter of this year) in sixth place…. When a developer plans to do something dastardly with hitherto-unspoiled land, it would be fascinating to learn how he acquired the land in the first place…. Originality is the art of concealing your sources explains Franklin P. Jones…. One of the hottest current words, avatar, is also the title of the new 3D sci-fi film that James (Titanic) Cameron has just started shooting…. The title of Sonia Shah’s new book says it all: The Body Hunters: Testing New Drugs on the World’s Poorest Patients…. Merle Streep is the current favorite to portray Margaret Thatcher in the BBC’s projected film about the Iron Lady…. All is ephemeral — fame and the famous as well — Marcus Aurelius (AD120-180)