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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: August 22, 2009

“The truth is that believers in multiculturalism are not really very interested in other cultures…they are, rather, moral exhibitionists, out to prove the largeness of their minds and the breadth of their sympathies to others of like disposition.” — Theodore Dalrymple reviewing Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West.

THERE’S NEVER A DAY when somebody, somewhere in the world isn’t preaching some variation of the apocalypse that’s just over the horizon, biding its time until it decides to wipe us all out. Back in the Sixties, Stanley Fisher promoted his Great Fear Press dedicated to the proposition that everybody’s fundamental foreboding was that a flaming meteor would one day hit the earth and none of us would survive. How did we feel about that? Stanley sneered. Never thought about it before, we replied, now we can’t get it out of our minds. But it doesn’t need Stanley to raise this ominous threat. In two successive issues this spring, the New Scientist informed us about the meteor Apophis scheduled to collide with the earth in 2036 (I’ll be long gone) and then the threat from plasma balls spinning off the sun, any one of which could hit us any time and destroy the world’s electrical systems. Of course, the scientific community is aware of these threats and is considering countermeasures. They think they can nudge Apophis off course without having actually figured out what action to take. “As the NASA report notes,” says the mag, “it is terribly difficult to inspire people to prepare for a potential crisis that has never happened before and may not happen for decades to come.”

THE CURRENT FRONT PAGE  of the National Review is dominated by a glamorous cover girl. She is 21-year-old Carrie Prejean, the short-time Miss America who was deprived of her crown after making what she thought to be an innocently neutral comment that she believed marriage should be between a man and a woman. Writing in NR, Maggie Gallagher claims that in the few months since her debacle, support for gay marriage has dropped from 42 to 33 percent. “The hatred unleashed against her,” says Ms. Gallagher, who is president of the National Organization for Marriage, “made the current strategy of the gay marriage movement highly visible.”

FRESH ATTENTION IS being paid to a string of Alaskan volcanoes which, according to Popular Mechanics, lie under the route of thousands of flights between Asia and North America. The Alaska Volcano Observatory (AVO) monitors 160 volcanoes, more than a third of which have the potential to erupt at any time and some of which ominously have done so recently. “Twenty-five thousand people and a billion dollars of cargo fly over these volcanoes every day,” AVO’s Jonathan Dehn told the magazine, which explained that fine-grained volcanic ash can stall a jet engine within 60 seconds and by the time a pilot spots the ash cloud rising 45,000 feet into the sky, is too late to avoid it.

AMUSINGLY TITLED The Eeliad, a British environmental group’s project has released 500 eels at various European locations. The snake-like fish are tagged with devices to measure temperatures and depths as they make their thousand-mile journeys from lakes and rivers to breeding grounds in the Sargasso Sea. Parasites and overfishing have reduced the world’s stock of eels by 95% in the past 30 years.

GETTING ON FOR half a million registered four-letter domain names were originally available when the Internet got underway but only 3,293 are left. “All the normal words in spoken English are taken,” says Eli Altman whose father’s company has named hundreds of companies and brands. “Any short combination of numbers and letters is taken. Anything good under six letters is taken.” The result, says Inc., has been a proliferation of silly-sounding names ”that sound as if they might have come from science fiction: (ZX.8 was recently on offer for $350; was offered for $350,000). There are still plenty of words to attach to dot net but most customers expect for-profit companies to end in dot com. “Dot com is just where customer minds are at,” declares Bob Parsons, founder of Go Daddy, the largest registrar of domain names.

THE NEWS IS so much worse every day that reading New York Times induces immediate gloominess. More wars, more poor people, avaricious creeps trying to limit health care, ignorant Twitterers (a world of 13-year-olds?) kids setting fire to the homeless. more technology than common sense, greed & selfishness (the same thing), and an all-around malaise. Doubtless, I’m not alone in feeling alienated from today’s society and, even though it’s probably no different, I plan to get away and spend September in England. At least it will be a change. If there are any UK readers who would like to meet and chat, please say so. Aside from a few faithful friends, I get almost zero feedback from this column despite having written it for half a century.

THE WILCOCK WEB:  Why is it necessary to pay banks millions in “advisory fees” to tell other banks how to repay government loans?….Apart from obscenely rewarding well-connected contractors, all we did in Iraq was kill thousands of people and delay what will surely be the eventual resumption of a centuries-old sectarian war…. Reviewing  Sacha Baron Cohen’s “smugly exploitative” Bruno, critic Ross Douthat writes: ”I hope he realizes eventually that the greatest comedians make us laugh with them, and at them — rather than at their unwilling, unsuspecting victims”…. A bioscience company called Martek claims its tests have proved that taking fish oil improves old people’s memories…. Allowing people ten votes for anything is just silly….Responding to the orchestrated objections to health care proposals at public meetings, North Dakota senator Kent Conrad asked: “Is that what we’ve come to in the United States, that we’re going to have people basically functioning as thugs?”…..Long before GM’s Volt goes on sale late next year, China’s electric hybrids will be here (with longer range and half the Volt’s price) ….. After research showed that obese adults added $1,400 more in expenses to medical bills, several companies have begun offering financial incentives to employees who stop smoking and lose weight says Forbes….If directors were only allowed to serve on the board of a single company, think of the hundreds of highly-paid jobs that would open up…..“No one is worth what a company is paying him,” wrote Stanley Herz in a letter to the New York Times. “Your true value is what someone else will pay you”……Now we’re financing prisons on both sides of the border….Vulcan, a new chocolate bar invented by the Swiss, can reach almost double the normal temperature before it melts…. Researchers in Edinburgh who dropped wallets randomly around the city found that nearly 90% of those containing baby pictures were returned compared with only 28% containing pictures of old people…. “People who value their privileges above their principles soon lose both.” — Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969)