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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: December 16, 2006


EVERY FEW YEARS there’s another magazine story questioning who was the real author of Shakespeare’s works because there have always been skeptics who suggested it was the 17th Earl of Oxford or Christopher Marlowe (both died before many of the plays were written) or even Queen Elizabeth I herself. “If Shakespeare hadn’t been metamorphosed into a god” says the University of Warwick’s Jonathan Bate, “nobody would think it was worth having an authorship controversy about him.” More than 60 candidates have been suggested as “the real” author of the 37 plays and 154 sonnets says the Smithsonian, whose recent story followed a Yale exhibition of portraits — most of which are also in dispute. When the first folio (collection) of the bard’s works was assembled in 1623, seven years after his death, it flouted an engraving by a 17th century Dutch artist which was supposedly copied from the only existing life portrait which, alas, no longer exists.

AT FIRST, SOPHISTICATED admen were skeptical about the idea of a demented duck selling insurance. But that was before Aflac made advertising history, with its 90% brand recognition, and was enshrined on Madison Avenue’s Walk of Fame. The duck appeared in a Lemony Snicket movie, made Forbes’ list of top 25 Power Brands, and prompted the company to redesign its logo with the gawky bird front and center. “Many people can relate to the duck” comments TelevisionWeek. It ”represents many of us who are frustrated from not hearing our voices heard.”

HOW DO YOU TELL which slot machines in a casino are the loosest, ie. pay off the most often? Player magazine has some tips. (1) The loosest slots are located next to change booths and anyplace where plenty of players will notice when they pay off; and (2) In a straight row of machines, loose slots will never be found in the middle but within the first three machines from either end. To thwart players who like to play two machines at once, “tight” machines always flank loose ones and tight machines are always found where people wait in line because such people tend to drop coins to kill time. They don’t expect to win — and they won’t. A “hot cycle” has a limited life, the mag says, and when a machine hasn’t paid off in six or seven wins, it’s time to quit.

THE WORLD’S LARGEST construction project is currently the $3billion, 1,100-mile oil pipeline from Baku on the Caspian Sea to Turkey’s Mediterranean port of Ceyhan. When completed in 2009 it will move a million barrels of oil a day to be shipped to western Europe and the U.S. Predictably though, there are already problems with what the New Statesman claimed are allegations of “corruption, incompetence, and cronyism” (not to mention the villagers en route who are losing their homes) plus the environmental threats posed by an oil pipeline that passes through 14 active seismic faults and across 1,500 water courses. Much of the region is politically instable, NS explains, and the threat of terrorism means that the pipeline will need to be guarded 24 hours a day by thousands of troops and millions of dollars worth of sophisticated sensors and detection equipment.

CHINA IS RAPIDLY buying up Africa’s oil, metals, and farm produce reports the Economist, but it’s questionable how much it is offering in return. Offering low wages and less than desirable working conditions in some of the companies it now owns, bringing in thousands of their own workers instead of hiring local labor, undercutting local businesss with cheap Chinese products, and insisting countries drop recognition of Taiwan are some of the accusations the magazine makes. And “China’s lack of interest in human rights” has been a boon to Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe (who) “has turned to China for political and economic support — and got it.”

ANIMALS SEEM TO HAVE an inherent sense of fairness and justice commented the Wall Street Journal in a story reporting on how primatologists rigged up a food delivery system in which monkeys in adjoining cages were required to jointly pull the tray towards them, allowing only one to get the fruit — which he usually shared, presumably in return for the help. Anthropologist Sarah Brosnan of Emory University trained chimps to trade rocks for rewards with one offered a grape and another a cucumber. The latter refused to hand over his rock “in return for a stupid vegetable” says WSJ. “Better to go hungry than to give in to this unfairness.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Using plastic resin instead of wood pulp for the pages, London publisher Charles Melcher will produce a series of waterproof books for reading in the bath or at the beach…. A new powerful pogo stick, the Flybar 1200, costs $400 and can bounce its rider six feet in the air… Denying charges that his tactics turned Oscar campaigns “nuclear,” Harvey Weinstein said that what he actually did was “democratize the process” from being merely a studio club. “Every year, the studios would award themselves Oscars. If you were an independent it was pretty hard to get in there. The fix was in….” For about $500, England’s Number One Pig Consortium allows investors to choose a pig which is then raised and slaughtered before being packaged and delivered in cuts…. WalMart discovered that stores that employed greeters who said ‘hello’ and offered assistance to customers reduced shoplifting by 35%… Since it started airing its Deal or No Deal show, NBC has split with its partner almost $25 million income from viewers’ text messages— “People are never more dangerous than when they have nothing left to believe in except God.” — J.G. Ballard