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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: January 22, 2011

John Wilcock


“In terms of what people think about me, the truth of the matter is, I guess I care to a certain extent, but not enough to go out in the public and plead for some kind of new understanding of me. I served and now it’s time for the new man to serve. I have zero desire to be in the limelight.”
George W. Bush talking to AARP


THE BOLSHEVIK REVOLUTION and the subsequent murder of the Russian Czar Nicholas II and his family, endlessly recounted in millions of words and pictures, never seems to entirely leave the news despite having happened almost a century ago.

Nicholas II had reigned since 1894, but had been unpopular since 1905 when his troops killed workers advancing on St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace to complain of starvation pay. When the revolution began in 1917, the czar and his family were first confined to a small house at Yekaterinburg in the Ural Mountains 900 miles east of Moscow and then — on Lenin’s orders — executed one night without warning.


Nicholas II and the Romanov family, photo credit: The Smithsonian


Reportedly the bodies were initially dumped in an iron mine before being either burned or buried in the woods. That’s what’s always been in dispute. In May 1979, scientists discovered skeletons buried in the woods outside Yekaterinburg, and DNA tests seeming to prove they were the Romanovs. But were they? The Russian Orthodox Church denies the findings, says the Smithsonian, because they are seeking to be the ones to sanctify the family. This would enhance their cause of restoring royal rule to Russia.

“The monarchy was brutally put to an end and it was a tragedy for Russia,” says Princess Vera Obolensky, who claims to be a descendant of the infamous 16th c. czar Ivan the Terrible.”

Recounting the entire fascinating tale, the Smithsonian amplifies this probably futile quest, but partly explains it with a quote from French historian Mirielle Massip: “Democracy is not popular, because democrats turned out to be total losers. Communists aren’t popular. Monarchism is something fresh and fashionable.”

DEATH WISHES: Bill O’Reilly joked about some Washington Post columnist — with whom he disagreed — being decapitated; Glenn Beck performed a skit about poisoning Nancy Pelosi; Liz Trotta joked about assassinating Barack Obama; and Mike Huckabee “frequently features calls for Obama’s killing — ‘to get what Kennedy got.’” What do these comments have in common? They’re all heard on Fox News, whose boss Rupert Murdoch (reports Extra, the magazine of Fair) may set the tone by telling cable operators “Cancel us and you might get your house burnt down.”

THE RISE AND FALL of Arnold Schwarzenegger occupies six pages of the January Los Angeles magazine but it’s not too hard on California’s ex-governor, even though writer Ed Leibowitz says he “prevaricated and bungled, switching sides as it suited him to save his political skin.” Ending his term with a pitiful 22% public approval rating, the action-hero guv who had “vowed to cut up the state’s credit card, had actually tripled its debt,” wrote Leibowitz, and “sometimes appeared like a hard-luck uncle reduced to pawning the family china.” On the positive side, though, with his Global Warning Solutions Act, Schwarzenegger “became the most important environmental warrior in both Hollywood and American politics…charming and cajoling enough heads of state and ordinary citizens to reduce their carbon footprint while there was still time.”


“Afghanistan is swimming in money which not only hasn’t ended the war but prolongs it, because everybody’s chasing it…It also causes corruption; Government officials take 10 to 40%. Next, local power brokers — who often include people we call the Taliban — get their share. The last 10 to 40 percent goes to those who do construction.”
Matthew Hoh in the Nation


STORIES ABOUT GOLD keep popping up in the business magazines as its value keeps climbing. Buying it, and selling it, both make news. Last year twice as much was melted down from scrap jewelry than was used to make new bling according to Fortune which reports that in November it reached $1,400 an ounce. It quoted a prediction that it might hit $1,800 this year (its all-time high was $2,387 in 1980). Of course, value and price go up as well as down, and gold fever is not eternal. “The ultimate asset bubble is gold,” says George Soros — the biggest question being whether it will burst years from now or next week. The main motivations for buying gold, says Gold Newsletter’s publisher Brien Lundin, are the usual culprits: fear and greed.



IS THIS THE final chapter for Sarah Palin hopefully, asks Robert McCrum in the Guardian, explaining that “Palin fever is on the wane. Her reality show ratings are on a par with Mad Men (respectable but not extraordinary) and her readers are deserting Planet Palin. Her first book, Going Rogue, was a No. 1 bestseller. However, her new one, America By Heart, failed to reach the top spot….but at least Obama writes his own stuff. Palin’s book was cooked up by a team of ghosts.”

THE LONDON REVIEW of Books is about to drop its teasing erudite, erotic, personal ads. Here’s a typical example of what we’ll be missing in future:


“Why Mahler? Is Ibsen edifying? I don’t have answers, but I do have tickets! Seeking inquisitive, appreciative, adventuresome lover of words and music, 60ish man, to share the experience, ponder the questions. email:”


HONG KONG AUTHOR Gordon. C. Chang (North Korea Takes On the World) says that it may not be Kim Jong Ill’s tubby son who’ll assume the ultimate power when his father dies, but rather his brother-in-law, Jang Song Thaek, 64. Supposedly, the aging dictator wants his sister to protect young Kim Jong Un, but Chang speculates that she and her husband might take over themselves. “It would not be the first time in history that a boy king was cast aside by wily elders.”


“I want us to get back to doing things because they’re fun. I love to dance…That exercise is medicine. It’s better than most pills.”
— U.S. Surgeon General
Regina Benjamin


China Daily 


THE WILCOCK WEB: Financial analysts say banks have recovered enough to start paying out again. Does that mean paying interest on accounts? Are you kidding? Customers are much too insignificant for that. No, the money is to be spent on restoring dividends….If/when the revolution comes, it’s bankers who will be in the cross-hairs, not politicians….And, as difficult as it might be to do, reports the FDIC, nine million U.S. householders are so angry at banks that they’re trying to live their lives without using them…. What’s the difference between illegal gambling and what they do on Wall Street?.…. Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad’s new museum—an edifice complex if there ever was one—hasn’t even been built yet and it’s already being scorned. NYT architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussof calls it “a project that fails with an unpleasant thud” …..“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home,” says Twyla Tharp….If a mass killer is also nuts, isn’t that an even better reason to eliminate him from society?….And is “alleged” always the most appropriate description for obvious murders? …. Suffused with full-page movie ads, the New York Times Arts section devotes 60% of its space to advertising…. Bausch & Lomb’s new contact lens liquid simulates tears and is said to be the first that doesn’t sting……Eyesight Kiosks offering customers a free opportunity to check their vision have started to appear in malls across the south.……Movie ratings systems are outdated, says critic Roger Ebert, suggesting that only three categories are needed: G for young audiences; T for teenagers, and A for adults …. Half the people you know are below average avers Steven Wright… A letter-writer to the Nation suggests that banning advertising on television would not only improve the atmosphere but save everybody money (except the channels that supposedly belong to the public)…. SheriPEN’s purifier filters water via a hand-cranked ultra-violet light, which eliminates the need for electricity or batteries….Denver and Chicago have initiated bicycle-sharing facilities (pick-up and leave at racks around town, from $65 a year) and Honolulu will be next… “Be careful of reading health books — you might die of a misprint,” warned Mark Twain…. In Russia’s Arctic province of Komi, bears have been digging up corpses from graveyards because of a shortage of other food…. Contrary to what you might guess, the AARP Bulletin reports that 80% of the oldest (65+) baby boomers feel they are “very knowledgeable” about technology….As of this month, another baby boomer turns 65 every eight seconds…. Why do Americans choose from just two people to run for president and 50 for Miss America?…. “As long as people believe in absurdities they will continue to commit atrocities.” — Voltaire (1694-1778)