John Wilcock column header

The Column of Lasting Insignificance: February 23, 2008

“Finance is not like any other business. When a bank makes a mistake, the ramifications for the rest of the financial and economic system are so severe that it has to be bailed out. So financiers have organized themselves so that actual or potential losses are picked up by their clients or the state, while profits are kept to themselves. An industry that socializes losses while privatizing profit, and that has the capacity to create booms and busts, has to be as closely regarded as any utility.” — Will Hutton in the Observer

ALTHOUGH BARELY KNOWN to the public, Wildlife Services, a federal agency shoots, traps, or poisons more than 1.7 million animals a year including bears, bobcats, coyotes, herons, hawks, cats, dogs, and endangered wolves — more than seven million critters since 2003 — a cost to the taxpayer of $100million a year.  “The carnage is just staggering,” says Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of Sipapu, one of many wildlife conservation groups that have been attempting to get the slaughter stopped. At one point they got an amendment passed to stop funding but within hours influential ranchers bribed 38 lawmakers to change sides and the vote was reversed. The American Farm Bureau sued to prevent the names of those who benefited from being released. “The trappers take great satisfaction in killing animals. Dispensing poisons and weapons and traps” Brooks Fahey, founder of Predator Defense, told Men’s Journal. “The jobs are passed down from father to son. There’s a lot of nepotism in Wildlife Services.”

BE CAREFUL NOT TO drop one of those new compact fluorescent light bulbs (which will be mandatory in a few years) because if it breaks and spreads mercury on the floor, you have a big problem. According to Forbes, you can’t use a vacuum cleaner to scoop it up because that spreads dangerous dust. The magazine revealed that a woman in Maine was told that her room was so polluted after such a happening that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection would charge $2000 to clean it up.

THE HIRING OF arch-conservative William Kristol as a New York Times columnist has led many staffers to question “tone-deaf” publisher Arthur Sulzberger’s uninspired leadership, comments The New Republic. “You want quality,” said one staffer. “In general, he’s mediocre. He doesn’t seem like the best choice (for) the most coveted piece of journalistic real estate in the country.” The mag says that Times people fear a return to the era of Judith Miller who did so much to promote the Iraq war on false evidence, and suggest Kristol’s appointment was Sulzberger’s way to confront Rupert Murdoch of whom “he was scared to death”. A Time source said that Kristol was paid $5 a word when he wrote for that magazine and “was known for phoning in his column”.

WOMEN’S HIGH-HEELED SHOES that are adjustable are in production by a company called Sheila’s Wheels, the innovative division of a UK insurance company. Known predictably as Sheila’s Heels, the shoe converts into a flat with the push of a button. Another company, Flatloose, has devised a shoe in which the heel can be twisted around to disappear into the sole to similar effect.

THE 100 BEST COMPANIES to work for, as nominated by Fortune, were topped by Google which has minted 700 millionaires and gives stock options to 99% of its 8,134 employees. But the mag devoted its lead story to another company on the list: the Four Seasons which received 25,000 applications for 600 positions at its Qatar hotel. The worldwide chain, it says, interviews prospective hires at least four times, looking for “a positive, helpful outlook”, and promotes from within so that an assistant manager might go from $45,000 to $300,00 as general manager within a dozen years. “The killer perk for all employees is the free rooms. After six months any staffer can stay three nights free at any Four Seasons hotel or resort. The number increases to six nights after a year, and steadily hereafter”.

THE WILCOCK WEB: The American Bar Association has changed the citation of Alberto Gonzales from Lawyer of the Year to Newsmaker of the Year….. Describing what it says is “a stupid energy policy, Investor’s Business Daily comments: “America’s real energy problem is not our dependence on oil but the fact that we’ve declared independence from domestic oil in favor of solutions that don’t work……” After John McCain’s inevitable loss in the presidential election, the rightwing GOP will conclude that Mitt Romney was an unlucky hero and will nominate him in 2012 when he’ll lose again…. Confronted with the statement, “I like the taste of fast food too much to give it up”,  44% of Brits and 45% of Americans said they agreed…With more and more of the bereaved choosing cremations (about $2,500) over regular burials (about $6,000) for their loved ones, the Cremation Association of North America predicts more than half will make that choice by 2025… The 56 people currently listed in Las Vegas’ famous Black Book (usually banned, mob-related visitors) include one woman….” A great many people think they are thinking,” mused William James, “when they are really rearranging their prejudices…” Philip Proctor says “an egotist is someone who is usually me-deep in conversation…” Grey squirrels are so cunning says New Scientist that when rivals are watching they will pretend to be burying non-existent nuts to throw potential thieves off the scent…. A Daily Telegraph poll reports that 59% of married British women would divorce their husbands if they were assured of financial security….” In 1983 more than 50 companies brought the bulk of national TV, radio, and print news to Americans. Today it’s fewer than 10. Local news was the last independent source. Perhaps no longer,” wrote Jim Guest, Consumer Reports’ president, commenting on the new FCC rules freeing up mergers…. The world’s largest banknote — for Z$10 million — has just been issued by inflation-torn Zimbabwe… A letter writer to The Week says that public places are so polluted by noise that the government should ban all electronically-produced sound in any public place…. “We do not deal much in fact when we are contemplating ourselves.” — Mark Twain (1835-1910)