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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: February 13, 2010

John Wilcock

“For the cost of 10 DynCorp (personnel) I can put 30 Carabinieri trainers in and save money,” said General Carmelo Burgio in charge of training the Afghan police, while complaining that the company (whose contract has not been renewed) was doing a lousy job. DynCorp’s appeal will be heard late March. If DynCorp wins, says Burgio, it will “set us back six to nine months.”

What it comes down to is that, even after paying a company ridiculously exorbitant sums, the U.S. is apparently unable to fire them for incompetence.


LAUNCHED A MONTH AGO by Arianna Huffington, the campaign to persuade people to take their money out of greedy big banks and put it into small ones is so successful that the website is getting 45,000 hits a day, the Nation reports. The site: just needs your zipcode to advise you of friendly smaller banks in your area. Calling it “a broad rebellion against the financial system,” the magazine suggests it shows people “how they can push back against the big dogs of banking.”

televangelists is giving way to the age of phony yoga gurus who extort thousands of dollars from their willing acolytes to pay for ascension through the cult. Rolling Stone unveils the tale of one of them, Dahn Yoga, its god-like head the Korean conman Ilchi Lee, 57, whose 127 nationwide fitness centers teach a head-shaking meditation known as “brain wave vibration.”  One 10-day workshop, costing $8,500 per person, began each day with each of its participants punching themselves repeatedly in the stomach while hollering “I am stupid.” (Well, they got that right.) After one student collapsed and died on a trek up a Sedona mountain while carrying 25 lbs of rocks in her backpack, that particular discipline was dropped in favor of such exercises as drinking toilet water, licking each other’s feet, and falling backwards into a pool.

Needless to say,  the opulent Ilchi Lee spends much of his time jetting around the world visiting his three homes, screwing his female devotees, and gambling in Las Vegas. He is currently being sued, says RS, for “breaking wage and immigration laws, evading taxes and sexually abusing female disciples,” but if you hurry you can probably still enlist in one of his $10,000 Sedona workshops.

SUPERMARKETS ARE FINALLY beginning to realize that offering customers too many choices might be as bad as not stocking the item in the first place. Procter & Gamble produces 110 variations on its Tide detergent; Frito Lay offers 42 varieties of potato chips, and eliminating any of them offers a dilemma because every variation is somebody’s favorite. But reality is setting in, with the Kroger chain about to slash its cereals selection by 30% and Walgreens and Rite-Aid trimming out 5,000 items.

FORMERLY used in x-rays but dropped because of its radioactive content, the mineral thorium is back in the mainstream because of the price of uranium; thorium, which is abundant, offers an alternative fuel source. It’s a silvery-white metal that oxidizes on contact with air and has been in the ground pretty much forever. There are said to be a million tons of it under mountains in Idaho and Montana. The Kiplinger Letter forecasts that within a few years, nuclear reactors will be powered by thorium to produce emission-free electricity “less prone to cause accidents and can’t be used for dirty bombs.”

THE GREAT LAKES is not the only region where the voracious Asian carp is a  major threat to the supply of native fish. In the 24-mile-long Utah Lake, carp have now become 90% of the population, ripping up the vegetation and almost wiping out indigenous species. But here at least, authorities are considering a proposed solution: trawling for 20,000 pounds every day of the seven million carp in the lake and then liquefying them for fertilizer or pet food.

OBJECTIVE REPORTING IS the proud claim of tiny Qatar’s giant worldwide TV network Al Jazeera (AJE) which is belatedly gaining some outlets in this country. The Utne Reader relayed the news that a nonprofit educational broadcaster will carry the channel in Washington and 20 other cities. AJE is also due to be seen in Canada, where Walrus magazine claims it is “well situated to assume the sort of dominance it has already achieved” elsewhere in the world because Western media “have essentially abandoned foreign correspondence.” USC professor Philip Seib, author of The Al Jazeera Effect, said that the wide coverage of the channel — it has 70 bureaus — “has expanded the realm of discourse” and could help to break down American insularity. “I think you’ll find that those who criticize it have never seen it.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: The way that the CIA is naming and eliminating candidates on its Taliban Top Ten list actually makes good sense in that the jihadists may eventually run out of candidates for leadership…. China is spending as much ($45bn) on the forthcoming World Expo in March as it did on the Olympics. Shanghai is being transformed with new roads and an extended subway….. Streets and alleys, too narrow for cars in the Xiguan area of China’s Guangdong, have perforce resulted in dozens of village-type areas accessible only by bicycle or on foot…. More than 50 American cities are now committed to new streetcar lines, powered not by overhead electrical wires but propelled by hydrogen fuel cell technology…… Stimulus funds going to a multitude of companies making batteries for electric cars may be working too well. At least one venture capitalist predicts that production of batteries this year may be three times the number of electric cars built…. “My whole life,” muses Tom Stoppard, “is waiting for the questions to which I have prepared answers”….To mate with an Australian red-back spider, says the Smithsonian (illustrating it with a photograph), a male spider “must vibrate the strings of a  female’s web. If he approaches too soon, she eats him” …. In his book, End the Fed, Texas congressman Ron Paul charges that the Federal Reserve is responsible for America’s current financial problems and should be abolished ….The European Community’s current problems all stem from letting poorer countries into the club before they were financially stable….What will power-seeking gays go after when they have achieved same-sex marriage? ….Coconut water, described by Inc. as “a sort of natural Gatorade,” is growing in popularity with the main marketer Vita Coco selling $20m worth last year and both Coca-Cola and Pepsi starting distribution of the electrolyte-rich drink…. Student loan lenders announced they were seeking 12 senators they could bribe to help them keep their rip-off businesses….Classy bars around the world are adapting a new trend towards offering tables topped with pumps from which drinkers can pour their own beer which is measured by electronics…Beauty is in the eye of the beer holder …. According to something called the Center for Responsive Politics, 237 (out of 535) members of Congress are millionaires. Power to the people, eh?…. ….Term limits” ought to mean “GTF out of politics” not just transfer to another sinecure on the public teat…Aiming to devote one page to each of the world’s 1.8 million species on his online Encyclopedia of Life (, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson has so far compiled 170,000 entries, but warns that the Arctic polar bear among others is likely to be extinct before the project is finished… “You meet your destiny on the road you take to avoid it.” — Carl Jung (1865-1961)