John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: April 7, 2007


THE RUMSFELD DOCTRINE to transform the military ushered in the widespread use of private contractors to do jobs previously undertaken by the military. It grew almost unnoticed until the end of 2006 by which time there were almost as many private contracts (100,000+) as there were active duty soldiers. Former Navy SEAL Erik Prince, a Bush groupie who according to the Nation “helped fuel the rise of the religious right and the Republican revolution of 1994” founded Blackwater, the biggest of the mercenary companies, which operates from a 7,000-acre military base in North Carolina. From here it deploys helicopter gun ships and other heavy weaponry and, since 2004 has been awarded $750million in State Department contracts alone. (In the following year Blackwater milked the federal government for up to $240,000 a day for work in connection with Hurricane Katrina).

Invoking Rumsfeld’s designation, says the Nation in a story headed Bush’s Secret Army, “the company has in effect declared its forces above the law — entitled to the immunity from civilian lawsuits enjoyed by the military, but also not bound by the military’s court martial system.” Congress has started to ask accountability questions about what Dennis Kucinich has called “the privatization of war … When you’re bringing in contracts to whom the law doesn’t apply, the Geneva Convention, common notions of morality, everything’s thrown out of the window.”

MEDICAL TOURISM is booming so fast that one country after another is searching for patients eager to combine fast, inexpensive treatment along with a foreign vacation. Josef Woodman’s book, Patients Beyond Borders, predicts that last year’s 150,000 patients will double in 2007, and the bigger hospital operators are enticing health insurers such as Blue Cross into the plan. Because that saves them money too. One of the leaders in this field, Thailand, treated 430,000 foreigners last year and is building more hospitals.

A GIGANTIC MOSQUE, able to accommodate 70,000 worshippers, which is planned to arise next to the center for London’s 2012 Olympics is causing controversy long before it is built. Costing around half a billion dollars, the Markaz mosque is backed by a militant Sunni sect, the Tabligh, whose adherents have included Taliban supporter John Walker Lindh, and ‘shoe bomber’ Richard Reid. New recruits for the sect are routinely sent to Pakistan for what has been described as “intense doctrination.”

STUDENTS OF CONTEMPORARY journalism are pretty much agreed that the Economist is currently the best magazine in the English language so it was just a matter of time before some naysayer appeared. Hello to, Tom Scocca, a pompous media critic for the New York Observer, whose main objection seems to be that the magazine is better written than most. And surely better than his own lame prose. He sounds jealous as he cites a denigration of the magazine from 16 years ago. Sour grapes for some reason?

INTRIGUED BY THE NUMBER of people who became right wingers after 9/11, Psychology Today devoted seven pages to correlating the difference between Conservatives and Liberals, and concluded that the seeds of each mindset came early in life. The magazine referred to a study by two Berkeley professors in which nursery school teachers rated their proteges’ temperament and then, 20 years later compared the childhood personalities with their political preferences as adults.

“As kids, liberals had developed close relations with peers and were rated by their teachers as self-reliant, energetic, impulsive, and resilient; people who were conservative at age 23 had been described by their teachers as easily victimized, easily offended, indecisive, fearful, rigid, inhibited, and vulnerable at age three, “The reason for the difference,” the professors theorized, “was that insecure kids needed the reassurance of tradition and authority, and they found it in conservative politics.”.

LONG BEFORE BEING a gigantic hit on Fox TV, American Idol was a British show called Pop Stars. Now another TV winner from London is about to be imported to US screens come fall: Let Me Entertain You. It has a similar format, in that contestants perform for cash prizes in front of an audience whose members can press a button to show their dislike. If more than half the audience agrees, the performance ends abruptly.

VOODOO DONUTS, an Oregon shop that offers Swahili lessons and hosts small wedding parties, was the subject of a recent Miriam Widman NPR radio show when it announced it would offer donuts free of trans-fats. But Ms. Widman’s report was censored: the part cut out was where she revealed that the shop held an annual all-male Cockfest contest to see who could hang the most donuts on their members (last year’s winner was five).

SOME OF THE WORLD’S poorest women are sacrificed “to appease the anti-abortion fervor of the religious right in the U.S., writes Kira Cochrane in a New Statesman story about Bush’s War on Women. It’s all due to President Bush’s executive order of the previously dormant Helms Amendment which made it unlawful for non-governmental organizations to lobby for or provide safe abortion. “Knowing how difficult it would be to overturn Roe v Wade in his own country, Bush has instead exported his personal convictions, and those of his closest supporters, worldwide.” The mag suggests that ironically, causing the clinics to close, means that poor women won’t get contraception or health advice and thus are more likely to get pregnant again or suffer from sexually transmitted diseases.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Advertisers are experimenting with a hand-held device with which drivers can trigger personal messages on billboards as they drive by…. SensorFreshQ ($89.95 at Sharper Image) is a hand-held electronic “nose” that can detect high bacteria levels by sniffing uncooked meat and poultry…. New York City’s Health Commisioner Thomas Frieden says he is opposed to the growing demand by people who want to change the sex on their birth certificates without having to undergo an operation …. “I wish I loved somebody very dearly besides myself; I don’t care about anybody except myself” confessed Tennessee Williams in Notebooks, a recently-published collection of his diaries…. Coca-Cola’s new diluted orange drink, selling for about 30¢, which has become the top-seller in China, has now been launched in Thailand…. “People are never more dangerous than when they have nothing left to believe in except God” declared the novelist J.G. Ballard…. In most advertisements the time on a watch is shown as 10:10… Lonely farmers in Wales are seeking brides with their photographs and web addresses on the side of milk cartons… Only 10% of Britain’s pub-goers play darts these days, compared to almost half of them five years ago…. The more corrupt the republic, the more numerous the laws. — Tacitus (c.55-120AD)