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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: February 20, 2010

John Wilcock

UNTIL AMERICA CAN re-establish some sort of industrial or manufacturing base, its future looks pretty hopeless in too many ways, is the claim of The American Prospect which contends that we can expect more growing trade deficits, no uplift for millions stranded in low-paying jobs, and increasing dependence on foreign manufacturers even for key military technology. In a 24pp segment examining what it feels is the wrong direction the nation is taking, the magazine wrote: ”The forces arrayed against American manufacturing — chiefly Wall Street and Wal-Mart — have tremendous political clout.”
      It points out that both China and Japan now make more cars than the U.S.; that the solar and wind-energy industries barely exist compared with other countries; that China makes more steel, and that none of the 1.2 billion cell phones sold throughout the world in 2008 were made in the U.S. In the past decade, machine tool consumption in the U.S. fell by 23% while in China it rose by 714%. “Our government exists to serve the people and not just the corporations that are so anxious to outsource the economy to China,” declares TAP “(We) helped rebuild the manufacturing capacity of Germany and Japan. Why not help rebuild U.S. manufacturing now?”

THE NUMBER OF corporate gurus who are “experts at telling suits that they’re doing everything wrong,” are described as “the rock stars of the business world” by Details. It writes that although it might be tempting to dismiss these advisers as “self-promoting blowhards,” that would be a mistake because they are articulating some fundamental truths about the sweeping changes brought about by recent technology. Mentioned in the story are Timothy Ferris (The 4-Hour Workweek); Laura Day (Practical Intuition); Seth Godin (Unleashing the Idea Virus) and Gary Vaynerchuk (Crush It!).

AN AD IN THE Spectator announces that the proposal England Should be a Catholic Country Again is the subject of a debate in London next week (admission $50) with a Catholic Cardinal on one side opposed by a former bishop, an MP, and a columnist on the other. (England ceased to be a Catholic country back in 1533 on the order of Henry VIII because Pope Clement VII didn’t accept the questionable “annulment” of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. The King married Anne Boleyn anyway — after screwing her sister, Mary — but she was queen for only three years before she was executed.)

A GROWING TREND is for couples who live together to invest separately reports Smart Money,  especially now that the recession has caused them to argue more often. A survey by Pay Pal in 2009 disclosed that 57% of couples had some financial accounts separate from each other compared with 46% the year before. Of course, it hasn’t stopped the arguments. “Experts warn that competing couples could get into trouble if one is trying to outperform the other and taking higher risks than they should” SM explains.

“The government has not prosecuted a single successful case for killings by armed contractors overseas…(what’s) fundamental is that the government can not — or will not — keep a handle on its freelance gunmen. A nation of laws cannot go to war like that.”
from a New York Times editorial


by the military used to filter down pretty soon to the video games industry, but the situation has reversed. That’s the gist of a story in the Economist which reveals that consumer products are increasingly being appropriated for military use. One example it gives is the Air Force’s purchase of Sony play stations which it will link up into a supercomputer and will cost about one-tenth as much as a conventional one. “A new piece of military kit can take years to specify, test, and acquire using a traditional procurement process, only to arrive outdated,” the mag explains. “So, where possible, it is quicker and cheaper to buy commercial off-the-shelf items.”

THE REASON WHY British banks have announced they want to phase out the use of checks, explains Peter Wilby in the New Statesman,  is because new regulations no longer allow them to steal the interest during the week it takes to “transfer” money from one account to another while the sum remains in limbo.

THE VISIONARY WHO didn’t quite achieve his dream of providing a free computer to every school kid in the Third World is back with a less expensive plan. Nicholas Negroponte now aims at producing a touchscreen tablet PC that uses less power than a light bulb, is unbreakable and waterproof — all for $75. As with the earlier plan, the device would be paid for by governments, education authorities, and benefactors and produced by ambitious but public-spirited companies. The difference is that although the dream of distributing seven million computers wasn’t achieved (Latin American governments passed out 1.7million of them) because the lowest production cost was still too high, their very existence spurred research into cheaper PCs. Hence the netbook. And so, says Negroponte, 66, just the idea of producing a cheap tablet will be similarly catalytic. “We want to create downward pressure on the market.”

Why do teapots always drip? Apparently, it’s due to a “hydro-capillary” effect which, in layman’s terms, means that the liquid flows unevenly by “sticking’ to the spout at intervals.  The cure, say scientists at Lyon University, is to smooth the spout’s exterior with some water-repelling substance. Butter is good.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Instead of funding the rebels, the late Charlie Wilson should have encouraged the Russians to stay in Afghanistan and then the Taliban would have been their problem, not ours…. It makes no sense to complain about “racial profiling” if the profiling is of the people most likely to be guilty…. Communications Technology announced that Direct TV is about to launch three 3D channels and ESPN will transmit the World Cup matches in 3D. Columnist Matthew Norman avers that English professional soccer is “buoyantly venal, mercenary and corrupt,” charging (in the Independent) that the players are “drinkers and shaggers, braggarts, bullies, cheats, and thugs”…..Will the late Jerome David Salinger’s literary standing be enhanced or diminished when some of his unpublished novels appear in print?…. Now they’ve invented stainless steel robotic bees that can transfer pollen from one flower to another…“The surest sign that intelligent life exists somewhere in the universe,” claims cartoonist Bill Watterson,is that it has never tried to contact us”…... There’s another new drug to worry about — the Chinese-made mephedrone, currently legal (because sold as a plant food) but becoming dangerously popular with teenagers who know it as “meow-meow”…… At least 50 children have been taken sick after kissing frogs says The Week, believed to have been inspired by copying Tiana, heroine of Disney’s The Princess and the Frog…. Improve your vocabulary by defining the meaning of random words at which donates rice to the World Food Program for every correct answer…“The mullahs of Iran would have been much easier to handle today if Iraq had not been destabilized by the misguided folly of George W. Bush and Tony Blair, wrote Daljit Sehbai in a letter to the Daily Telegraph….Because the famous statistic-filled black box often falls into the sea and is lost when an aircraft crashes, the FAA is looking into ways that a compressed air attachment will force it to the surface….Danish and British manufacturers are working on building turbines for wind energy towers whose spinning will not interfere with the radar of passing aircraft as so many at present do…. The lack of money is the root of all evil.” — Mark Twain (1835-1910)