John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: August 12, 2006


THE ADVANTAGE of having the U.S. as a neighbor has acted as “a safety valve” for Mexico, enabling it to ship its dissatisfied constituency next door instead of solving its problems, says the National Review in a piece headed MEXICO, HEAL THYSELF. While 42% of the rural economy lives in extreme poverty, huge sections of the economy are still dominated by monopolies and oligarchies, the magazine charges and the fact that foreign investment in the oil industry is forbidden (North Korea is the only other country with a similar policy) costs thousands of jobs. “Starting a business in Mexico can be a bureaucratic nightmare (taking) on average 58 days compared with five in the U.S.”.

RESEARCH SHOWS PEOPLE are spending so much time sifting for old information in email archives that they’re falling behind on their regular work. So concludes Bank Technology News which explains that email was a good idea at the beginning when it was meant to replace inter–office messages, sticky pads and other simple messages. But, says Rick Dales, vp of Fortiva, a major business archivist, “If you have to keep every communication over a number of years, email systems aren’t built to manage information like that over time (instead of) 100 messages in your archive (it’s now) millions of messages across everybody’s mailbox over a dozen years”.

THEY’VE UPGRADED ad product placement — the insertion of real brand name products into TV sitcom plots — or, to be more accurate, they’ve dignified the sneaky process by calling it “branded entertainment”. Columnist Marianne Paskowski writes in TelevisionWeek that the impetus “is to discover how to circumvent the growing popularity of digital recorders with which viewers can zap through commercials.

THE U.S. HAS A NATIONAL eating disorder claims Michael Pollan with three out of five Americans overweight and addicted to unhealthy food. In his book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Penguin Press), he criticizes the corn industry that produces 10bn bushels a year. “High fructose corn syrup has insinuated itself into everything from mustard and bread to cereal and ham… most of the beef sold in America is fed corn because it’s the cheapest way of stuffing cattle with calories”. Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia, a government campaign to encourage children to exercise more (51% of women there are overweight) was blocked by conservative clerics and teachers consider physical exercise for girls inappropriate.

INSTEAD OF DESTROYING poppy crops and killing the farmers’ livelihood, says Camilla Cavendish in the Times, “we would be far better off putting the Afghanistan opium to legitimate use as the basis for painkillers. There is a global shortage of opium for medical purposes amounting to 10,000 tons a year.”

AFTER DISCOVERING a new place to put art, the director of the Aspen Art Museum commissioned an image from the conceptual artist Yukata Sone who, she said, is “obsessed with snow and has a reverence for the power of nature.” Then, Heidi Zuckerman Jacobs had the image printed on a million of the Aspen resort’s lift tickets which allowed bearers half price admission to the museum to see a display of Yukata Sone’s work.

MANGA, THE DISTINCTIVE Japanese anime comic style, has proved so popular that a British publisher has set up a special division to deal with it. Gollancz Manga’s Simon Spanton says that it’s the glimpses of an alien culture (with the books reading back to front, as in Japan) as well as the visual trickery that appeals to kids. “They own that slightly odd format and the fact that their parents don’t understand makes it pretty cool”. Publishing News suggests that “manga is the new skateboarding” and says Gollancz plans to publish two new manga titles this year.

“IN FRANCE, riots and demonstrations and strikes are a kind of community theater, a national kabuki” writes Rob Long in the National Review. “It goes strikes, riots, cars on fire, dramatic hand-wringing headlines in Le Monde, 15-minute monologues on TFI, shots of the president shrugging grimly, back to normal. C’est la danse, non.

THE WILCOCK WEB: A letter writer in the New Statesman suggested that ballot forms should not only have a listing for ”none of the above”, but that every such vote should deduct one from the overall total…. In Mogadishu, sharia law allowed the son of a stabbing victim to stab the killer to death…. Coming in August: Wherifone ($85 + $10 monthly) with a one-touch button with which a parent can be reached in an emergency Charmain Blattner’s GREAT AMERICAN AXION: Some is good, more is better, too much is just right….The vision of building a staircase to the stars always seemed far-fetched until recently when the NASA-backed US Spaceward Foundation launched a contest to build a space elevator that could carry a cable car up to a sky hotel 22,000 miles from the earth. The cable, made of newly-invented carbon nanotubes, would be attached to a satellite…. Distribution of watermelon juice is about to go national…. Withstanding pressure from the industry, NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg insisted that more than 200 new taxi medallions being authorized accompany vehicles using alternative fuels or hybrid technology… Neurosis is the ability to tolerate ambiguity quoth Sigmund Freud…. Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown says he keeps in shape by dangling upside down from a pair of gravity boots and breaks from his writing every hour to do “push-ups, sit-ups, and quick stretches”…. A London columnist revealed that for a month during last year’s election the Labor party paid $500 a day to a hairdresser to tend the locks of Cherie Blair, the prime minister’s wife…. On a planet comprised of more ocean than dry land, the obvious solution to the water “shortage’ is solar distillation as the world will belatedly realize…. “A diplomat is a man who always remembers a woman’s birthday but never
remembers her age” suggested Robert Frost (1874-1963).