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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: August 2, 2008

“Our desire to spend more than we have is directly related to the emotion-laden tsunami of marketing messages we swim in daily, a flood that only keeps increasing in intensity.” — Yosef Brody in a letter to the New York Times

THERE’S STILL A CHANCE that Bush, Rumsfeld, & Cheney could be indicted for war crimes if they set foot outside America after they leave office. It all depends on the interpretation of “universal jurisdiction” already in use in eight European countries, notably Spain, Belgium, and Britain. Citing atrocities in Iraq, human rights groups in France and Germany have sought to bring proceedings against Donald Rumsfeld, says the Economist, and “the once-cozy blanket of immunity is starting to look rather threadbare.”

JOURNALISM IN CHINA offers some great money-making opportunities but it’s more for NOT writing about disasters than doing what Westerners consider to be the actual job. According to Forbes, “reporters race to the scene of coal mine accidents not to investigate them but to collect hush money…The trading of favors for cash is so prevalent that, like the honest cop in a corrupt police unit, an ethical journalist risks the scorn of his colleagues.” The mag says that the culture of corruption is almost official and is so entrenched that few journalists dare challenge it and that news outlets sometimes establish “bureaus” in distant cities not to collect news but to collect the income.

AND OF COURSE, the Chinese Olympics are already prepared for the new advertising scourge known as “ambush marketing” which is basically horning in on territory that has already been staked out. For example, in Europe, there was an unsuccessful attempt by Heineken to infiltrate the Euro 08 Soccer Cup by sending in hordes of fans wearing trademarked green caps, whereas Carlsberg had become the official beer sponsor. The Chinese, apparently, are prepared to eject spectators carrying in drinks that bear any logo but that of Coca-Cola (which has sponsored every Olympiad since 1928).

FIERCE ARGUMENTS ABOUT neoprene are likely to cloud the air when delegates to the U.S. Masters Swimming Convention meet in Atlanta in December, neoprene being the synthetic substance from which wetsuits are made. At present, wearers of wetsuits are ineligible for championship medals because their non-porous properties are said to give an advantage —“originally designed for scuba divers, surfers, and windsurfers to prevent hypothermia and aid in flotation,” says swimming champion Dave Holland. “A wetsuit seems like a security blanket to me and I want that feeling of being immersed and tossed around — to feel the water, waves, and wind on my skin.” But among the arguments for wanting to change the rules is the fact that it would be an enticement to neoprene-addicted members of USA Triathlon, which claims to be twice as large as USM.

GAY WEDDINGS have not been very beneficial to wedding photographers, says National Review, because many have close relationships with churches, and many churches aren’t happy with the concept. NR also notes that a company in New Mexico, Elane Photography owned by two evangelical Christians, has been fined $6,637 for declining to participate in a gay wedding against their beliefs. Yet another example of PCGC (political correctness gone crazy).

BLACK MASK has been a familiar term since the 1920s when it was the name of a now-fabled 20c magazine launched by H. L. Mencken and George Jean Nathan. It was also a three-issue mini-series from DC Comics set in the 1950s; a  villain in the Batman saga; a 1996 movie; and the original name of the situationist group later known as Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers. What it is now is the name of an engrossing website which continues the tradition of pulp fiction and claims to incorporate “Dime Detective, Dime Mystery, Strange Detective Mysteries, Terror Tales, Horror Stories, Adventure, and Famous Fantastic Mysteries.” One of its icons, of course, is the fabulous Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961), the former Pinkerton’s detective who created Sam Spade, The Maltese Falcon, and The Thin Man. There’s no shortage of fledgling writers today seeking to churn out this sort of stuff but the magazine warns would-be contributors that at a minimum they should be “familiar with the work of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Paul Cain and some of the second generation hard-boiled authors like Thompson and Spillane. No cozy or locked room mysteries are wanted here. Keep the conversation terse and to the point, with concise, hard-hitting prose and you might have the makings of an author that would deserve a place on this site.”

CHILDREN THESE DAYS are often given too much attention, declares Joseph Epstein, with indulgent parents becoming little more than “indentured servants”. In fact, America has become a “kindergarchy” where children have moved “from background to foreground figures in domestic life, with more and more attention centered on them, their upbringing, their small accomplishments.” All this attention gives the kids, the writer claims in the Weekly Standard, “an inflated sense of their own significance.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Forbes’ editor Steve Forbes says the NY State Supreme Court has ruled the legislature must increase judges’ salaries. “Judges decreeing pay increases for themselves. Talk about the ultimate ATM!”….. The price of liberty is eternal publicity quipped Pete Seeger…. Despite the $100,000 cost per screen to convert to digital, enabling movies to be received electronically, 4,000 have already been converted reports Via Satellite, with another 2,600 committed. Projectionists are on the way out…. Brit artist Martin Creed hired 50 runners to sprint through the gallery at 30-second intervals for his latest show at Tate Britain…. The Future of the Internet and How To Stop It is the title of a book by Jonathan Zittrain who warns that increasing e-mail spamming, no-longer-innocent hacking, “skillfully designed viruses” and identity theft are likely to drive users to more secure information appliances like the iPhone…. A new zero-calorie sweetener called Truvia (derived from the stevia bush) will be launched next month…. Imagination is more important than knowledge declared Albert Einstein…..Romania’s Parliament has drafted a law stipulating that at least half of TV news bulletins be devoted to good news suggesting that too much negativity leads to ”nervous breakdowns and chronic diseases …“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” — Samuel Johnson (1709-84)