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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: February 14, 2009

How many years will it take for our new president to see what a mistake it is to get even more involved in Afghanistan, a war that history shows we cannot possibly win? Nixon’s Vietnam and Bush’s Iraq are lessons from which we have failed to learn.

THE MAJOR U.S. NEWSPAPERS “seem more interested in reinforcing official U.S. policy” than objectively comparing the human rights records of Colombia and Venezuela, charges the newsletter of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). “Although Columbia’s human rights record ranks among the worst of the worst, it is Venezuela’s record that seems to grip the attention of U.S. newspaper editors.” Quoting a spokesman for Human Rights Watch describing Colombia as “the murder capital of the world for trade unionists,” FAIR comments that by comparison Venezuelan journalists, trade union activists, and innocent civilians “do not live in fear of government-linked death squads.” Editors’ “almost obsessive concern” about the perilous state of Venezuelan democracy, suggests FAIR, helps to sustain political support for a number of military, anti-drug, and trade projects the U.S. shares with Colombia.

YOU MIGHT THINK that the difficulty of selling houses in the current economic downturn would be good for the rental business but that isn’t necessarily true according to Smart Money which examines some of the communities that ban owners from becoming landlords. Sometimes, along with renters, the mag says, come “rowdy tenants” and “crime and vandalism” and although a few communities are beginning to realize that a row of empty houses may be a threat to property values, the idea that renters are about as good for a neighborhood as “an infestation of termites” has been around for a long time.”

Those old rumors about Nazi secret weapons capable of turning energy into anti-gravity have resurfaced, reports Skeptical Inquirer.  In his new book, The Rise of the Fourth Reich, conspiracy author Jim Marrs refers to the bell-shaped device, which has been associated with time travel, invisibility, teleporting, UFO sightings, and other questionable happenings.  Marrs claims that Nazi knowledge was derived from their contact with extra-terrestrials.  The Bell, supposedly powered by mercury, had rotating inner chambers to increase the energy field, and its reported existence has obviously excited gullible believers in the impossible.  The SI, noting that the device first popped up in an earlier book, The Hunt for Zero Point says, “a classic example of how to spin an exciting yarn from practically nothing.”

ACCUSING THE PROGRAMMERS of daytime television of “dumbing down” their wares and giving viewers “the same old boring fluff,” Judge Judy Sheindlin says they have been underestimating their audiences. “They want to be smarter. They want information. They want to be able to negotiate the world a little better,” she declares.  Chosen as TelevisionWeek’s “Syndication Personality of the Year,” the outspoken former New York City Family Court judge, now 66, whose legal career goes back 42 years, began her syndicated program in 1996. Her experiences on the bench prompted her first book, Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining.

WHEN IT COMES TO expensive bogus art, nobody can touch the Russians, reports Forbes in a piece, Scamsky Inc, which details what it terms “an entrenched network of fraud” which makes any dealing with Russian art questionable. Even some of the art exhibited in prominent museums has subsequently proved to be bogus with works by the noted constructivist Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) and Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935), founder of the Russian avant-garde,  being particular favorites of forgers. One art dealer, Ezra Chowaiki, who operates galleries in both New York and Moscow says he is offered fakes, even collections of them, every week, adding: “When you get offered (such) works you have to start out with a cynical eye.”

Disneyland for dudes is what Wired calls its report on a 17-acre German amusement park near Kassel where visitors can spend the day operating 29-ton backhoes and other heavy machines — when they’re not riding quad bikes through the mud.  Customers, report the mag, are “pasty executives” who pay $280 to get in touch with their inner ditch digger.  Owner Alexander Bammer says: “Most men these days don’t work at a construction site; they work at a desk.  They dream about experiences like these.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: The main bridge through which supplies were funneled from Pakistan into Afghanistan was blown up by rebels — and it didn’t occur to anybody to guard it?….Did you hear about anybody at the watchdog SEC being fired for not acting on warnings about the criminality of Bernie Madoff as long as 15 years ago?.…“If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody is not thinking,” wisely observed General George S. Patton…..In dropping Michael Phelps from its ads, Kellogg’s underestimates how many of its customers smoke pot….The New York Times now devotes nine of the 14 pages in its Arts section art to advertising, five to editorial…Google says it gets more than 700,000 job applications every year….Reed Hastings, the man who founded Netflix, says it began after he found himself with a $40 late fee after renting Apollo 13 from his local store….The French oil giant, Total, has invested $45 million in the Lowell, MA. company Konarka whose flexible film-like solar panels can be stuck on everything from cell phones to beach umbrellas….Luxury goods offered for half-price demonstrates how excessive the profit margin was originally…A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion…… If that brainless baby breeder gets millions from the media for her story, shouldn’t it go to the hospital and/or the taxpayers who will have to pay for her folly? ….Joan Rivers claims that she’s had so much plastic surgery that “when I die they will donate my body to Tupperware”…. Speculation on just how involved The Paris Review was with the CIA back in the Fifties pops up in Scott Sherman’s lengthy review of the George Plimpton letters in the Nation….So-called “bark-tenders” at the Dog Bar in Charlotte, NC. will serve doggy drinks to your pets as they socialize in a fenced-off enclosure while you drink indoors…“You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.” — Abraham Lincoln (b. Feb. 12, 1809, d. Apr. 15, 1865)