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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: December 30, 2006


THE IMPENDING NEW SEASON of Fox TV’s American Idol is already striking terror into the hearts of competing networks declared Variety in a front page story just before Christmas. The show is scheduled to run “45 highly-rated hours” from January 16 through May, dominating two or three nights each week — what ABC’s Jeff Baden calls the “Idol tsunami.” Variety discussed the Fox show in near apocalyptic terms claiming it has already “vaporized” 20 series competing with it “piling up the body bags” and defying “the laws of Nielsen gravity with its jaw-dropping popularity.”” NBC’s scheduling chief Mitch Metcalfe says: “It’s this hurricane that blows in. We know it’s going to come — and we just have to buckle down and prepare for it as best we can.”

A COLUMNIST FOR TelevisionWeek says that the main reason why English-language Al Jazeera hasn’t found a cable or satellite distributor is that “for the most part, American viewers are clearly parochial and have no interest in the world beyond them and their immediate family.” Marianne Paskowski quotes former GOP congressman Joe Scarborough lamenting the fact that since 9/11 American interest in international news has plummeted. “Americans ask why do (radicalized Muslims) hate us” he says. “I guess… they just really don’t want to know the answer.”

SO-CALLED “BITCH SCHOOLS” are being conducted in Moscow’s Dubrovka theater to teach Russian women how to attain “great sex, money and a man who looks after you.”  Vladimir Rakovsky, a motivational speaker and his wife Yevgenia, give aspiring wives the secret of success in a man’s world. “A smart woman gets what she wants by pretending to be weak” says Rakovsky.  “A bitch should be strong and self-confident but should remember to use feminine traits such as her attractiveness and, whenever useful, she should try to come across as a helpless creature.”  One lesson teaches women how to rub their breasts against an unsuspecting subject.

PRINCE CHARLES HAS LAUNCHED a campaign to preserve the English country pub which has been disappearing so fast that 60% of the country’s villages no longer have one. Because small shops and post offices have been closing almost as fast, the idea is to try and combine the three functions — even hiring the pub kitchens to provide hot lunches for nearby schools, bring in satellite receivers to pub gardens to offer broadband to isolated villages and turn part of the building into a library. Pub is the Hub, the overall organizer, has managed to secure grants from some local councils to help with necessary conversions.  In some cases villages have raised the money to buy the pub themselves and turn them into multi-purpose centers.

THE ANNUAL AWARD by Le Figaro for the best croissants in Paris went to Pierre Hermé, 45, who has been called “the Picasso of pastry.” The happy baker said: “The noise of a croissant is very important. I can almost hear them shout when people tear them apart.”

SPINDLE NEURONS — the specialized brain cells in humans thought to process our emotions — were thought to be shared only with great apes until recently. But, reports the New Scientist, they have now been discovered in whales. “They’re like the ‘express trains’ of the nervous system” which enable us to instantly process and act on emotional cues explains Patrick Hof who with his colleague Estel Van Der Gocht of new York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine made the discovery. The magazine suggests that this kind of processing might explain the way these lovable mammals perform their songs and vocalizing.

FOUR OF THE FIVE top models who posed nearly naked to protest “social crime” of wearing fur have returned to promoting it reports the Independent on Sunday in a piece headed “Bloody Fashion” which revealed that more than a thousand tons of fur entered Britain last year. Even a jacket of rabbit fur — used for garments since the 13th c. — can cost $1700. “Fashion is notoriously fickle and the famous slogan, ‘It takes 40 dumb animals to make a fur coat… but only one to wear it’ is being disregarded by many designers and models.”

ALLOWING PUBLIC OFFICIALS to stay in office so long, subject to no accountability and virtually no check, is a peculiar — and deeply undemocratic — feature of American democracy charges Herman Schwartz. He’s writing about the Supreme Court, the last ten members of which to leave served an average of 26 years, and of which there have been only 110 members in our entire history. “The anomaly of our system” Schwartz writes in the Nation, “is compounded by the fact that someone can be handed such power by a partisan Senate vote of just 51–49. And yet… most Americans do not seem to care.”

AUTOMOBILE OWNERSHIP is growing so fast in China that McDonald’s (770 outlets in the country so far) plans to make half of all future outlets drive-thrus.  “The opportunities are huge,” boasts the company’s Asia boss Tim Fenton who says that within a few years China will have a middle class bigger than the current US 300 million population.  A new deal’s being signed with Sinopec, the state-owned oil company to plant the Golden Arches at gas stations all through out the country.  “The pace of change has been incredible”, says Fenton.  “A few years back it was all bicycles.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Last month was the 60th anniversary of the ballpoint pen, invented by a Hungarian newspaper editor Lazlo Biro.  But BIC captured the market, helped by the French government approving its use in schools in 1965…. After yet another gibe from the British press about the expected influx of immigrants when Romania joins the EU next month, the country’s biggest paper, Libertatea, fired back by accusing the Brits of exporting “pedophilia, drunkenness, and hooliganism.” …Undeterred by the weak dollar, affluent American tourists are still flooding into London prompting the flagship of the InterContinental chain to charge $9,000 a night for the best suites in its newly refurbished hotel…. Reminiscing about the druggie habits of his younger days, novelist Stephen King told the Sunday Telegraph: “You take a hit of cocaine and it makes you a new man but the first thing the new man wants is a hit of cocaine…” “There is no such source of error as the pursuit of absolute truth” — Samuel Butler (1835-1902)