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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: December 20, 2008

“Maybe it won’t be long before some excellent writer undertakes The Decline and Fall of the American Empire” — Geoffrey Wheatcroft reviewing The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781-1997 in the New York Times Book Review

AIRPORT SECURITY IS A SHAM, designed to make travelers feel better but catching only terrorists too stupid to know how to evade it. Most of us have been bullied by the kind of power freaks who enjoy humiliating us at the airport and now Jeffrey Goldberg claims that their often-obnoxious efforts are pretty ineffectual. Before writing his tale for the Atlantic, Goldberg bypassed security checks with homemade fake documents, told scarcely-credible lies, and smuggled knives, liquids, and box cutters past unsuspecting guards. The almost-$7 billion TSA budget is “an egregious waste of tax dollars” and existing measures “security theater in the name of art,” he writes, pointing out that only stupid terrorists would not know how to game the system.

IT’S THAT TIME again when the kindest, most satisfying gift you give for Christmas is a life-giving animal (or share of an animal) to some poor family in a Third World country. Heifer International makes it possible via its heart-warming catalog displaying all the choices  ( from pigs, sheep, goats, and rabbits to tree seedlings and even a water buffalo. You can help with as little as $10 for which you get a card illustrating your choice.

David Colman: How do you define kitsch?

Jeff Koons: I don’t feel close to it. I think that kitsch is a judgment and it’s using language — using the ability to classify something and to make things kind of unworthy at a certain level.

DC: I was surprised actually to see you described in Art News as the king of kitsch.

Jeff Koons: That’s a misunderstanding. Sometimes the messenger gets confused with the message.

                                            from the December Interview


DON’T THOSE “greener-than-thou” eco-zealots drive you nuts with their snobbish claims of superiority along with their “inexhaustible capacity for talking about eco-consciousness? Particularly one’s own”? That’s the question posed by Joe Keohane in Boston magazine, a city with “a blossoming mania for all things green.”  With its vegan, raw-food restaurants (“food as an ideology”) and a liberal worldview “generously varnished with moral vanity,” Bostonians are compelled to broadcast their pride in turning Beantown into Greentown explains the story (reprinted in the UtneReader), “because they can’t tolerate someone thinking that they’re not fully righteous.”

IN WHAT THE LAWeekly describes as “the center of the illegal billboard industry in the United States,” 11,000 billboards crowd the city’s streets, at least 4,000 of them illegal and some possibly unsafe. The paper says the city has failed to properly monitor or control them, especially in regard to the new digital versions that emit such “intense light pollution” that the yearly carbon consumption from a single one of them is enough to power 13 homes.

THE FUTURE OF WIND POWER might lie hundreds of feet up in the sky according to a pull-out display in Fortune which illustrates the way that experiments have shown how a freighter can be towed by a huge sail more than 300 feet above its deck, saving $1,000 a day in fuel costs. Tethered kites soaring up to five miles high and going up and down to transmit energy have been tested out by researchers at Delft University in a device known as a Laddermill and a rotating helium-filled blimp has transmitted power via cables to the ground.

ACCOMPANIED BY TWO other writers, Sean Penn visited Venezuela and Cuba, spent time with Chavez and seven hours with Raul Castro, and wrote about the trip in a six-page Nation story which carried surprisingly little news. He did say that Raul was “warm, open, energetic, and sharp of wit” and that the Cuban leader’s first request, if he met President Obama, would be “Normalize trade.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: If those five mass murderers responsible for 9/11 are so eager to plead guilty and be executed, it sure would save a lot of time and money if they were just taken out and shot….If you watched black and white television as you grew up, says University of Dundee researchers, it’s likely your dreams will still be in monochromeResponding to David Steinberg’s question, Have you ever thought of going back to TV? Jerry Steinfeld replied: No, I have not. That was nine years…I gave it everything I had and I couldn’t have had a better ride. I had it all. I did the show I wanted with the people I wanted. And I had all the fun. I could only do it worse. And there’s no point in that…Red Bull’s new cola drink (made in Switzerland and not yet nationally distributed here) contains 30% more caffeine than its better-known rivals Naïve males wonder why a politician would need a ”stylist” costing $54,900; a hairdresser ($42,225) and a make-up lady ($68,400) to pose as an ordinary hockey mom?…..There’s no limit to the inhumanity of Mexican criminals who prey on their compatriots. A paper in Culiacan, El Debate, reports that a prime target for theft is villagers returning home from the U.S. with Christmas gifts for their families who are routinely robbed as they cross the border….Deadline is Dec. 30 for your 25-word suggestion about what Dubya should do when he leaves the White House (…  Madonna has decreed that when Guy Ritchie gets to have their two kids stay, they must have a macrobiotic diet, no television, and be read to at bedtime from the haughty star’s book, The English Roses….New York, New York — the Vegas resort — devoted two pages in Los Angeles magazine to its slanderous ad: All the fun of New York without the hot garbage smell. The Euro (€) is ten years old next month…. Ben & Jerry’s turned down a suggestion from the People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA) to reduce the suffering of cows by substituting human breast milk in its ice cream…..”China is a poor country” says Chaz Miller of the National Solid Wastes Management Association, “so our recycled paper has become their forest, in a way”…After a tip-off, DEA agents discovered a hydroponic nursery containing 200 marihuana plants in a second-floor storage room at Miami’s Mall of the Americas…. “People who value their privileges above their principles soon lose both.” — Dwight Eisenhower (1890-1969)