John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: August 15, 2009

WHAT IS DEMOCRACY? Obviously, it’s not “rule by the people” because different sections of “the people” have different wishes and desires, often contradictory. How about “rule by a majority of the people?”

Well, this can produce ugly, unacceptable results. “No one would endorse a system in which 51% of the people can exploit, oppress, or slay the other 49%,” writes James L. Payne in The Independent Review.

One definition of democracy is a system that operates through representation after free elections, but the flaws in this are that not only do the representatives have to take positions on a wide variety of issues but that they are not honest about their intentions. “For most candidates,” says Payne, “taking positions is a shallow advertising operation (which)…cannot be taken seriously as a guide to action.”

Making the World Safe for Muddle is the title of the Review’s piece and it makes the point that although Americans don’t care to admit it publicly, they have always understood that elections are not the essence of our system. Because if they believed that, they wouldn’t tolerate an unelected Supreme Court having as much power (if not more) to decide important policy questions, as presidents and senators. Not to mention the Electoral College — “a perfect negation of the theory of democratic elections.”

“The problem with democracy,” Payne writes, “is not that it has no meaning, but that it has too many meanings.” And for an alternative, he points to George Washington’s farewell address urging the United States to “cultivate peace and harmony with all.”

So instead of assertively trying to impose our views on the rest of the world, we should strive to be a good neighbor and set a good example. “It would be eminently logical and moral for the United States to make the promotion of peace its main goal in world affairs.”

WORKING AT A satellite tracking station in Australia at the time of the moon launch, Gary Peach says it was his idea that the first words from the moon should be, One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. “I thought that being Americans, they might say, ‘Holy chicken shit, look at all that fucking dust,” says Peach, now 73. Astronaut Neil Armstrong claims he thought up the mankind phrase himself on the spur of the moment.

NOBODY HAS HAD the chutzpah to use the swastika as a sales pitch yet, but the hammer and sickle has become fair game. Panties, thongs, and bras emblazoned with the old Soviet symbols are available via, just one of the firms to spring up since London Fashion Week launched “Communist chic” a few years back. (The Daily Telegraph described it as: “Soviet style comes in from the cold.”)

Now Real Soda in Real Bottles Ltd., the California company started by Danny Ginsburg who began collecting bottle caps as a teenager, has launched Leninade (almost 20 bucks a case).

IT WAS THE 15th-century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus who discovered — much to the aggravation of the Catholic church — that the Earth revolves around the sun. This summer he gets a belated award with the naming of a new element after him, copernicium. On the Table of the Elements its symbol is cp, number 12. (Numbers 1,2,3 and 4 are respectively hydrogen, helium, lithium, and beryllum.) How do you find a new element? This one was created at Germany’s Center for Heavy Ion Research by firing zinc atoms at lead atoms in a 400-ft long particle accelerator (whatever that is). As there are 118 elements altogether (although number 117 is mysteriously said to be “undiscovered”), this would seem to open up all kinds of possibilities.

THREE YEARS AFTER paying $1.65b in stock to acquire YouTube, Google is still in the red although it does make money from about 13% of its videos (which are being uploaded to it at the astonishing rate of 20 hours (of video) each minute). At least it’s the world’s most-watched online video site (Hulu is second) and the Google folk seem willing to keep pouring in funds and support. “It ultimately is more interested in making sure that the company becomes the primary platform consumers use to generate, store, sort, and view all their video content and communications,” comments Fortune.

GET READY FOR a new way of evaluating food, not by fat or calories but with a new system: the Overall Nutritional Quality Index (ONQI) which compares such positive qualities as fiber, vitamins, and fatty acids with such negatives as fat, sugar, and salt content. On a scale in which broccoli rates as 100, for example, prunes would be 45 and popsicles a mere 1.

THE WILCOCK WEB: How can anyone deal with a religion that kills people on ‘rumors’ of a Koran being defaced, even if they’re not true?….It’s not in Britain’s interests to keep troops in Afghanistan, writes Malalai Joya in the Guardian, just to keep “a gang of corrupt warlords in power in  Kabul”….“There is no situation so bad,” wrote Brendan Behan, “that the arrival of a policeman cannot make it worse”…It’s a pity that Paula Abdul can only evaluate her worth by comparing it to other stars, instead of accepting that five million bucks a year, which is more than nine out of ten people will see in a lifetime… Thinking environ-mentally, Berlin’s Maison d’Envie brothel offers a  discount to customers who arrive by bicycle ….Flat rate sex is an immoral development,” declares interior minister Herbert Rech referring to the way Stuttgart brothels are countering the recent drop in business by offering sex with multiple prostitutes ….British farmers are expecting a million visitors this summer to admire mazes built into cornfields, “maize mazes” as they are known…. Idiots who text while driving shouldn’t need a law to convince them of how stupid they are…. It’s a crazy world when Exxon Mobil moans over last quarter’s profit of “only” $3.95 billion (compared to double that for the same period last year ….Once much admired for his common sense. NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg increasingly reveals himself to be a typically self-regarding, sleazy pol….Any lawyer defending those hikers for trespassing across the Iran border should clearly plead insanity … The BBC’s Radio 4 is considering opening its religious slot, Thought for Today, to atheists….And, expanding their days off for religious holidays, British police forces are allowing a day off for pagans to celebrate the summer solstice….There is no such source of error as the pursuit of absolute truth.”—Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

A PERSONAL NOTE: Now that VHS tapes have become virtually obsolete I would like to dispose of my collection of shows in that format from a score of different countries — China, Japan, Vietnam, Italy, Spain, Greece, England, etc. Maybe they could be of interest to somebody with a VCR and plenty of spare time. Ideally, they would provide a foreign travel library to some remote community in Antarctica or Alaska. At any rate, there are at least 100 shows available free to anybody willing to collect them or pay shipping. Email me via this column (see below).