John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: December 18, 2010

John Wilcock


“The truly scandalous and shocking response to the Wikileaks documents has been that of other journalists, who make the Obama Administration sound like the ACLU…..the fact that so many prominent old school journalists are attacking (Assange) with such unbridled force is a symptom of the failure of traditional reporting methods to penetrate a culture of official secrecy that has grown by leaps and bounds since 9/11, and threatens the functioning of a free press as a cornerstone of democracy…The result of this classification mania is the division of the public into two distinct groups: those who are privy to the actual conduct of American policy, but are forbidden to write or talk about it, and the uninformed public, which becomes easy prey for the official lies exposed in the Wikileaks documents.”
—David Samuels in The Atlantic

HAVING PILLAGED THE EARTH, humans have now shifted their attention to the oceans which early exploration showed to be full of riches, way beyond the fish that are already on their way to extinction. Specifically, the attention is on all those rare metals and minerals that are believed to lie on the sea bottom. Nickel, cobalt, and tellurium used in computers, batteries, mobile phones, and military applications are the kind of thing everybody is looking for mostly, reports the Spectator, found only at present, “within the borders of corrupt African democracies, failed states, and dictatorships.”

Britain and other countries have filed claims with the UN to expand their existing sovereignty over continental shelves, but there is much terrain that doesn’t belong specifically to any single country. “Under UN law, the sea minerals in international waters are held to be the common heritage of mankind,” the mag says, and “the sea floor, which had been thought to be dark, cold and inhospitable, has turned out to be one of the most fertile places on Earth.”

The Chinese government recently applied to the UN to mine for minerals on a ridge 1,700 meters down in the southwest Indian Ocean, outside any individual nation’s jurisdiction. It is the first application of its kind for mining in international waters.

ARE PAIN-FREE ANIMALS in our future? Most people would prefer to eat meat from a cow or pig that died relatively happy (if they think about it at all) and it might be that the remedy for that is as simple as removing a single gene. (With humans it’s a bit more complicated, pain being related to a region of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex.) “If we can’t do away with factory farming we should at least take steps to minimize the amount of suffering that it has caused,” says Adam Shriver, a philosopher at St. Louis’ Washington University, who authored a paper on the subject. “I’m offering a solution where you could eat meat but avoid animal suffering.

CRUELTY TO ANIMALS has penalties under our laws but apparently cutting their throats while still conscious and allowing them to slowly bleed to death, while obviously in great pain, gets a pass. That’s because ritual slaughter is regarded as religious and whether practiced by Muslims or devout Jews is an abomination. Practitioners of both halal and kosher pretend that it’s humane and quick but not so. “Very significant pain and distress” is how scientific observers rate such procedures. ”Centuries ago,” writes Johann Hari in the Independent, “ritual slaughter made sense by ensuring meat was fresh, but why tolerate it today?”


will no longer be a mystery once a biologist’s invention goes into production, enabling a meat- or fish-like material to be easily identified. Detecting wildlife contraband is expected to be the main value offered by the hand-held device.

DON’T THINK THAT drones are just a wartime tool that are being used in Afghanistan. “An arms race is building among people looking to track celebrities, unfaithful lovers, or even wildlife,” reports the Wall Street Journal in a story reporting how cheap and easy the technology is to employ. “An unmanned aircraft that can fly a predetermined route, costs a few hundred bucks to build can be operated by an iPhone.” Ohio State University Ken Rinaldo is designing a Paparazzi Drone, mainly to follow the movements on sports fields, and the WSJ jokes that one day maybe they’ll be used by nosy neighbors to monitor people not picking up after their dogs.

DOCTORS MAKING HOUSE CALLS and how many have turned into sales calls, is how the medical profession is reacting to a decline in business says Smart Money. It’s a recessionary reaction to “a revenue decrease as patients stay away in droves.” Last year, with the advent of federal subsidies for medical offices to convert their files into electronic ones, the mag says, robotic appointment reminders “that pester patients via text messages, snail mail, and everything in between” pervaded the health care industry. “Critics say that makes those needling reminder calls feel like a particularly pernicious brand of hard sell. You don’t ignore a doctor’s recommendation,” explains Jennifer Jaff, founder of Advocacy for Patients with Chronic Illness, ‘unless you’re prepared to find another doctor.’”

STARTING AS A NEW YORK JOKE — the idea of keeping tourists to a slower lane of the sidewalk — is being taken seriously in London. Businesses along Oxford Street hope to inaugurate a “shoppers’ lane” to divert the floods of tourists which makes the street almost impassible for Londoners in a hurry. “I understand people who get road rage,” commented one frustrated pedestrian, although another asked: “Why would you divide people like that? We’re not cars.” London’s plan, if adopted, would be the first to sort pedestrians by speed; other cities have attempted to ease sidewalk gridlock by removing cars. In fact, New York City turned part of Broadway in midtown into a pedestrian-only zones.




THE WOMAN WHO transformed New York (above) is Janette Sadik-Khan who went from being vp of an international engineering firm to being Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Transportation Commissioner. Closing down parts of Times Square to traffic she installed chairs and tables. Defying conventional wisdom, local business revenue has increased by 70%.

THE WILCOCK WEB: The official excuse for remaining in Afghanistan is so that it doesn’t become a safe haven for Al Qaeda. So why aren’t we occupying Pakistan, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia?….When a state finds itself billions of dollars in debt, why is nobody held responsible? It wasn’t just some unavoidable accident….. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons: Las Vegas is opening two paid-admission museums about the Mob that ran the city before it went respectable….Thousands of closed-circuit cameras monitor streets in the U.K., and now that some of their output is being streamed on the Internet, viewers are invited to report crimes they see happening — and be rewarded if their reports have an effect… Talking to Newsmax about WikiLeaks, Russia’s Mikhail Gorbachov deplored “the kind of language these so-called diplomats use in characterizing nations and peoples,” adding: “I think that such diplomats should be replaced by normal people”….Some English company is manufacturing a soap named for the Sex Pistols…. While writing the script for The Social Network says Aaron Sorkin,I had to find the parts of Mark (Zuckerberg) that are like me. It wasn’t hard. I’m awkward socially. I’m shy. And there have been a lot of times when I’ve felt like an outsider”….With a site called Anti-Social, you can turn off “distracting” parts of the Internet for as much time as you specify. “It’s amazing how much work you can get done when you turn off your ‘friends,’” says the pitch…. Marihuana energizes the mind….There’s something extremely suspicious about that ubiquitous series of Smile Train ads which appear in virtually every magazine you’ve ever heard of ….“I have a very sissy job,Christian Bale told Esquire,where I go to work and get my hair done and people do my make-up and I go and say lines and people spoil me rotten”….Invented by Minnesota-based Innovative Packing, the SmarTote carries a barcode which enables stores to check its usage and eventually reward customers with rebates… The Smithsonian just loaned its $2m Monopoly board for an exhibition at (where else?) New York’s Museum of American Finance. The cards are gold-plated, the board studded with gemstones and the tokens and dice are solid gold …. Bumper sticker: Too poor to buy a politician…Only five states ( AZ, CA, CT, NH, HI) and DC, can claim that more than 16% of its adult population eats enough fruit and vegetables….. Global warming in Siberia has prompted the emergence of woolly mammoth corpses, hidden for thousands of years, and now being dug up for their ivory tusks…. The German firm GFD has perfected a diamond-coated tungsten carbon razor blade which it claims will last for years without sharpening…. “Appreciation is a wonderful thing: it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” — Voltaire (1694-1778)



THE WILCOCK WEB: Barely surfacing in the Bernie Madoff scandal so far, has been the Medici Bank of Venice’s boss Sonia Kohn of whom more will be heard (March 21/2009)

“The trustee overseeing the bankruptcy of Bernard Madoff’s investment firm launched a $19.6bn lawsuit against Austrian banker Sonja Kohn on Friday…” —Wall Street Journal, Dec 11, 2010