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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: December 19, 2009

John Wilcock
the column of lasting insignificance

“The real battle in Washington is seldom between conservatives and liberals or the right and the left or ‘red America’ and ‘blue America’. It is nearly always a more local contest, over which politicians will enjoy the privilege of representing the interests of the rich.”
— Luke Mitchell writing in Harper’s about why America has the worst health system in the developed world.

MORE UNIVERSITY-BRED SPIES are sought by the CIA for its plan to establish a new “intelligence officer training program.” Inviting academia to apply for grants to subsidize students taking the course, it promises their identities will remain secret and they would join the CIA on graduation.  Not every college will go along says the Nation.  “Mandatory security clearances and secrecy conflict with universities’ commitment to openness and free inquiry …Bringing CIA on campus is only going to undermine the university’s principles.”

FAT BUS DRIVERS are facing unemployment in England as Stagecoach, one of the largest national companies, has begun to remove drivers weighing more than 280lbs from behind the wheel. Justifying the removals, and orders to the others to lose weight within six months, a company spokesman talks of “safe working load limits” and adds: “If a seat was to break, the consequences would be catastrophic.”

THE DECADE OF STEVE is what Fortune calls its 12-page accolade to the “wickedly smart, inspiring perfectionist of a man who has turned most of what he touches into gold.” The magazine points out that Steve Jobs resuscitated Apple and simultaneously radically reinvented the music, movies, and telecommunications industries. “His influence on global culture cannot be underestimated.” Calling Jobs the rare businessman with legitimate worldwide celebrity, Fortune says that Apple — worth about $5 billion even before Jobs unleashed his “digital lifestyle strategy” — is now valued at $170 billion. CEO Larry Ellison says: “There’s a lot of value in ‘Steve said.’ He’s irreplaceable. He’s built a fabulous brand. He’s got a lot of products.” And when he retires? “The organization has been thoroughly trained to think like Steve” the magazine concludes.

 “People live longer in recession because…when the economy gets sick, people get healthier (and) adopt smarter lifestyles. Chain smokers cut back. The indolent go to the gym. Even the severely obese start to lose weight. Combine those improvements and you get a healthier nation…being unemployed or underemployed also means more time for sleep, which improves health.”— Geoff Colvin in Fortune.

HIS WORLDWIDE POSSESSIONS of fifteen homes including two castles and at least 22 cars, Nicholas Cage doesn’t seem to be the most appropriate choice for his new role as UN Goodwill Ambassador writes Terence Blacker. The Independent columnist described the movie star as a man who “likes to indulge his every whim in acts of crazed indulgence” and suggested he could better “help the needy (by) quietly donating a couple of castles to the cause.”

GREED HAS BECOME  such a commonplace component of everyday life so who’d be surprised that it’s increasingly be-spoiling efforts to bring help to the wretched of the Third World. Poor communities in Asia, India, Africa, and Latin America have been flooded with bogus medicines says the Smithsonian. It quotes an estimate (from the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest) that the escalating global trade in fake pharmaceuticals is around $75 billion. Most of the victims live in remote rural areas where vendors don’t have the expertise to distinguish between real pills and counterfeits. Treatments for malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS are the most copied. “It is mass murder on a horrendous scale,” declares  New Zealand forensic researcher, Dallas Mildenhall.

EARTHQUAKE-PROOFING, a constantly-developing science, is taking a new approach after physicists in England and France jointly explored a way to redirect the seismic waves. Instead of absorbing tremors, explains Popular Science, concentric rings of concrete and plastic plates buried around the skyscraper “simply reroutes them like water running around a boulder”.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Italy’s Supreme Court justices serve only nine years. Doesn’t that sound like a superior idea?…And when you think of how many miscreants escape punishment due to our Statute of Limitations, Roman Polanski’s re-indictment after 30 years seems a bit strained…. …. The criminal who runs Afghanistan says the U.S. will need to be there for another 20 years but optimists suggest that he may clean up his act and steal only ten percent of the $30 billion a year that it’ll cost American taxpayers…. Alaska’s Kodiak Kenai Cable Company is seeking stimulus funds to extend its undersea fiber optic cable to come ashore at ten remote communities…. Will the proposed mosque near Ground Zero be an appeasement, as some Muslims suggest, or a stark reminder of the 9/11 hijackers who immolated themselves nearby, as others insist?…. The Monopoly company allowed early Christmas buyers to buy boards that included their personal favorite places…. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana….. A cure for gerrymandering, suggests  Boston Globe columnist Joe Keohane, would be for congressional districts to be redrawn to have each corner a right angle, eliminating the crooked constituencies in which pols try to contain only their own voters….NBC should can those incompetent closed captioners…. Forty years after the Apollo expedition (on which 400,000 people worked) at least 10% of the population still believes that the Moon expedition was faked and that the astronauts never went there reports the Skeptical Inquirer ….White House party gatecrasher Tareq Salahi was born in Washington DC. Don’t pretend you weren’t curious…..Why join the Army when you can get better paid for killing as one of Blackwater’s U.S. mercenaries?…..Reacting to the news that Japan’s birthrate had dropped lower than ever, Mitsubishi bank managers sent its employees home early that day to enjoy some “family time”….And British banks assert that electronic transfers are so much cheaper than processing checks that the latter will be phased out within a few years…. …The boss of the ACLU cut his salary back to a mere $302,000. Well, presumably he’s a lawyer, so that works out to only about $860 an hour….Harvard grumbles that it’s down to its last $26 billion….. Abandoned by the mobile library that used to visit, the Somerset village of Westbury-sub-Mendip (pop: 800) bought an old red telephone box and stocked it with books for anyone to borrow….The Borders book chain went bust in England….“By acting bravely we become brave,” says London columnist Matthew Parris, “and not the other way round”….Did you ever notice how many famous people there are, that you’ve never heard of?… ….“Technology is the knack of organizing the world so that we don’t have to experience it.” — Max Frisch (1911-91)