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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: August 30, 2008

DESPITE INVESTING $72 million apiece in the Turin Winter Games and this month’s Beijing Olympics, a dozen advertising sponsors (Coca-Cola, Samsung) may be disappointed with the results, according to Business Week which quotes a survey by London’s Fournaise Marketing Group. In a poll of 1,500 Chinese city dwellers earlier this year, the mag reports, only 40% could name one sponsor and 15% just two. “If you are a traditional marketer,” says Fournaise CEO Jerome Fontaine, “it’s a big waste of money.”

THE INFILTRATION OF huge numbers into somebody else’s country with a subsequent demand for autonomy is a surefire recipe for war, as has been demonstrated by the Tamils moving from Madras into Sri Lanka; the Albanians into the Serbian province of Kosovo and now the Russians into Georgia. Should we eventually expect the Mexicans to insist on self-rule in California?

THE SYMBOL FOR the British pound sterling (£ )has turned out to be worth many $$$, in fact, more than a million of them, according to an unconfirmed report of the recent sale of the internet symbol for use as an Internet address. Sold by the company Moneyedge headed by Richard Haig (who described it as ‘the world’s most exclusive financial domain’), £.com joins an exclusive group which includes (the sign for), owned by a Dutch firm; which fetched $2.4 million and which was bought by the Yellow Pages company, RH Donnelly, for $345million last year. For unexplained reasons, $.com is unavailable but may be connected to the fact that the internet was originally developed by the US Defense Dept.

“If Christianity were the new religion, we would consider it as crazy as Scientology,” claims Bill Maher, discussing his new movie Religion, to be released next spring. “In the 21st century, it doesn’t make sense to me that people lead these otherwise quite rational lives, and then one day a week go someplace and think they’re drinking the blood of a 2,000-year-old space god.”

THE LIFEWORK OF the saintly Dorothy Day, a pacifist who embraced the cause of the poor and infirm with the founding of The Catholic Worker, 75 years ago, did not die when she did in 1980. Today there are still more than 180 Catholic Worker houses operating in 37 states and ten countries, the one in NYC named after the staunch Ammon Hennacy who spent his days with humor and goodwill selling the 1¢ paper to passers-by (accused of being a Communist, on one occasion, he responded: “I’m worse than that, madam; I’m an anarchist”). Arrested many times for civil disobedience, Day, the much-admired human rights advocate is the subject of September’s The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day (Orbis Books)  by Robert Ellsberg.

THE TWO MAIN AUCTION HOUSES, Sotheby’s and Christie’s, sold $12.5bn in artworks last year — a rise of more than 40% — and although there are constant predictions that the bubble is about to burst, The Week reports that some analysts are convinced that the boom will continue. Some of their confidence is due to the influx of Russian, Asian, and Middle East buyers who have been relatively unaffected by the West’s financial meltdown. But “crazy prices” won’t necessarily last forever. “Art isn’t like a bond or a share — each piece is simply worth what you can persuade somebody else to pay for it,” says the mag, and not everybody is a true believer. “(art dealer) Richard Feigen would argue that the likes of Koons and Hirst ‘have no place in the history of art’ and that their value is dictated by the ‘mafia’ of the art world — dealers and curators who lead the gullible rich into paying absurd prices.”

FALL LOOKS LIKE a golden time for business biographies with books scheduled about Ted Turner, T. Boone Pickens, Warren Buffett, Hugh Hefner, and Richard Branson. And that rogue trader, Jérôme Kerviel. 31. who caused the French bank Société Générale to lose $7.6 million will be the subject of a 40-page French comic book.

DOZENS OF COMPANIES as well as individual prospects are staking out claims in the Mojave Desert, says Fortune, not for gold but to get in on the “solar land rush,” seeking long-worthless land for the site of future solar power plants. More than 100 claims for nearly a million acres of land have led to predictions that Big Solar could be a $45 billion market in the next decade. Prices have shot through the roof with one Spanish company, Abengoa, recently paying Arizona farmers $45 million for 1,820 acres recently assessed as worth a few hundred thousand dollars.

Of course, not everything is plain sailing. “We’re going to challenge these big solar projects,” says “green” activist Phil Klasky, “and there are going to be tremendous environmental battles.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: The alleged advantage swimmers gain from those corset-like body suits is described by the Italian coach as “technical doping”….Goodbye to Kinkos as its new owner begins renaming 1,600 stores as FedEx Office…America’s 4.8 million notaries — one for every 62 people — are welcoming the agreement signed with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) which guarantees the security of signatures transmitted electronically to the 27 nations of the European Union…. Asked by the NYT’s Deborah Solomon what playground bullies grow up to be, former labor secretary Robert Reich replied: Right-wing Republicans”….A Colombian clothing store selling $2,000 bulletproof business suits has opened a branch in Mexico City….. Have Bob Dylan hold up your personal message on nine successive cards by inserting it at….After merging with the “intimate apparel” manufacturer, Movie Star, the doyen of sexy underwear, Fredericks of Hollywood, is planning to open 50 new stores….Ding Dong the Witch is Dead is a popular choice for funerals in Australia according to a poll in that country….“You’re only young once,” explains Germaine Greer. “but you can be immature forever”….Two Bums Up” is the slogan of the Great Elephant Poo Poo Company which processes the 250 pounds of dung produced each day by elephants in the Thai village of Baan Chang and turns it into odorless paper and greeting cards ($4 apiece) sold in the gift shop of the Toronto Zoo and other outlets … ForbesLife reports that a firm called Eleven Forty will make cufflinks of your own profile (or favorite pet) in silver, gold or platinum for a mere $1,190…. London’s weekly Publishing News bit the dust last month after 29 years, attributing its demise to advertisers shifting to the InternetBipartisan usually means that a larger-than-usual deception is being carried out.” — George Carlin (1937-2008)