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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: December 15, 2007


Since 1939, farm subsidies have rewarded the heedless overproduction of just a few crops, yielded unmanageable surpluses year after year and taken a heavy toll on the land. A tiny percentage of America’s farm families now produce almost all of the country’s agricultural output. The more these farmers produce, the more subsidies they receive. For this reason they frequently spend their government payments on more land, more seed, and more equipment, churning out more food than they can profitably sell. Lawmakers, rather than solve this problem by reducing subsidies, have resorted to the alchemy of ethanol.
— Stephen Spruiell in National Review

THE HUGE NUMBER of man-made objects, space junk, drifting around in the stratosphere present a growing threat, according to the people who chart such things, who report that 80% of this detritus is either Russian or American and includes an abandoned space suit, a tooth brush, a camera and probably millions of fragments too small to measure. Because of the “high orbital velocity” of these objects they could be disastrous in the event of a collision. “The issue is alarming,” says Marco Caceres, senior analyst for Fairfax, Va.’s Teal Group, who told Via Satellite magazine. “Debris is going into space all the time. There is still a chance to be hit even though it’s a huge area.

BAGS OF COCAINE, tossed overboard by fleeing smugglers, have been washing up on the remote shores of Nicaragua and making villagers rich. Often containing hundreds of pounds of coke and known by locals as “white lobsters,” the bags are redeemed by Colombian traffickers who troll the villages of the Mosquito Coast offering finders $4,000 a kilo. In sleepy Tasbapauni the local church installed a new floor thanks to the donation of a lucky fisherman, and another lobsterman, Ted Hayman, 37, who reputedly hauled in 220kg, has converted his shack into a three-storey mansion.

THE $50 MILLION HOME of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, financed by Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton, won’t be completed until late 2009 but has been controversial since it was first announced. The museum’s executive director Robert Workman recently told Art News that Walton’s plan “makes the art elites a little jumpy.” Part of the reason may be that the museum is arising in Bentonville, Ark. (pop 28,600), Wal-Mart’s headquarters, but it’s also the case that Walton’s big bucks are snatching away popular works from existing museums such as Durand’s 1849 Kindred Spirits (described as a “quintessentially New York picture”) from the New York Public Library. Ranked ninth on Forbes’ list of the wealthiest Americans, Sam Walton’s only daughter is reportedly worth $15.5 billion.

THE REPUTATION OF Robert Parker, the wine expert whose nose is insured for a million dollars, took a hit with the publication of a book by his former assistant Hanna Agostini who accused the famous aesthete of “contradicting himself” and being too much under the influence of Bordeaux chateau owners. But his supporters are claiming the book, Robert Parker: Anatomie d’un mythe, is an act of vengeance by a woman dismissed over allegations of false accounting.

DESPITE BEING BEATEN at the polls in South Dakota in an attempt to cut back the power of bad judges. Ronald Branson’s deliciously-named Judicial Accountability Initiative Law ( will soon take aim at California reported the California Courts Review. “We are no longer a country of laws but a country where laws are ‘creatively interpreted,’” Branson declares, inviting victims of the corrupt justice system to apply to the website to become JAILers.

HITLER’S SONG WRITER is what History Today calls Horst Wessel, the brown-shirted leader of a Nazi Storm Division who was born 100 years ago last month leaving a marching song which became a Fascist anthem. He was only 30 years old when shot by a Communist pimp, the magazine says, but countless streets and squares across Germany were named after him and he was the subject of 250 biographies, novels, and plays during the Third Reich. “After 1945, history performed one of its U-turns. All traces of Wessel were systematically eliminated and his once-ubiquitous song was banned.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Any magazine whose readers combine greed with stupidity would be a rewarding one for an advertisement offering a “free” $1 coin in return for “delivery and processing,” but the full page ad in front of me is from the rightwing National Review…. Outsourcing has been so rewarding to India, that the country is now itself outsourcing jobs, led by software giant Infosys which is spending $250,000 buying call centers in Mexico and China…. When one is in love, one begins to deceive oneself, mused Oscar Wilde, “and one ends by deceiving others….” Cute-sy title of the tabloid published at West Point’s military academy: Pointer View….. When you next have $80 million to spare you might consider buying the 213-ft long Phoenix, the latest model from U.S. Submarines, which can stay 1,000ft under the sea for two weeks and has a special pressure-locked chamber for exiting scuba divers….. People who know best advise removing the cotton from the aspirin bottle. It’s there to stop breakage in transit, and will attract unwanted moisture…. With three quarters of the planet composed of oceans and seas, and drought predicted for most of the world in the future, it’s only a matter of time before somebody figures out the obvious solution…. Farmers in North Carolina are prohibited from using elephants for plowing…. “I never think of the future,” mused Albert Einstein, “it comes soon enough….” More than two million South Koreans pick up television beamed directly from the studios onto their cell phones or other portable devices…. With selective inbreeding, Japanese scientists have produced a frog with transparent skin to study the effect of drugs on its internal organs without killing it…. A study by the World Health Organization concludes there is little variance in the number of abortions between countries where it is legal and countries where it isn’t. The main difference is that it is safer in the former…. We do not deal much in fact when we are contemplating ourselves. — Mark Twain (1835-1910)

John Wilcock is currently cruising the Caribbean