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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: January 23, 2010

John Wilcock

“A lot of times you’re on flights for two or three hours. No one wants to sit there and look at each other, so a lot of the time you play cards, different games.” — Knicks forward Al Harrington bemoaning the recent NBA ban on gambling during flights


“***Well, there is this thing called a book you might have heard about…***”

IF YOU OWE MORE on your mortgage than the house is worth, stop paying and walk away. Don’t feel guilty about it, or think you are morally wrong. That’s the message to 15 million American in-debt homeowners from Brent T. White, a University of Arizona law professor, who says that emotions turn people into ‘woodheads — individuals who choose not to act in their own self-interest” because of shame or embarrassment. Understandably it’s not a message much appreciated by CEOs of mortgage companies, one of whom, Lewis Ranieri, calls White’s argument “incredibly irresponsible and uninformed.”

WITH A FRONTPAGE screaming YOU IDIOTS!, Rolling Stone profiles the 17 polluters it claims are doing the most to derail action to curb global warming. Predictably, most of them are lobbyists, heads of dirty energy companies, or the paid-off pols they have bribed. But one surprise is the widely admired Warren Buffett who, it charges, is “literally banking on” the failure of climate legislation. Buffett’s conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, says RS, has just acquired 1.28 million shares of America’s biggest polluter, Exxon-Mobil, and paid $26bn for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, the nation’s top coal hauler.

MAKING TWITTER PAY OFF is the theme of Inc.’s essay on how to actually make money on the 140-character trivia caper. All five suggestions they make are commercial, of course — annoying or helpful according to your point of view. Kogi Korean Barbecue in Los Angeles uses Twitter to tell potential customers where its trucks are; New York’s Rose Associates handles 2,000 luxury apartments which sometimes become vacant; Chicago’s Skinny Corp. solicits designs for new T-shirts and then invites twitterers to vote for which ones should be made; the Philadelphia software company Atebits sells an iPhone app that helps users organize their tweets; and an online retailer in Texas, Woot, operates six cyber shops, each devoted to a single product such as a daily bargain for bottles of wine. The mag also lists “four ways to make a (Twitter) fool of yourself” including writing in caps, which they define as “the equivalent of yelling online”.

“How much longer are valuable lives to be sacrificed in the vain endeavor to impose on the Arab population an elaborate and expensive administration which they never asked for and do not want?”
The Times (London), August 7, 1920


RENEWED INTEREST IS sparking over those old-fashioned vinyl records whose fans claim the sound reproduction is streets ahead of digital recordings. Fans are digging out their old record players, primitive versions of the turntables still used by hip-hop DJs. “CD is most pristine but vinyl has the warm, full sound,” declares EMI’s Jason Boyd, “The cracks and little imperfections that pop up seem to enhance the music. It’s a way of experiencing music rather than just consuming it.” In 2008, vinyl record sales jumped almost 90%, reports the AARP magazine, “while CDs, falling prey to Internet downloads, continued to trudge down the road to extinction.”

TONGUE-TWISTING NAMES such as yttrium, dysprosium, and neodymium are not fiction but “rare earth metals” used by German manufacturers to make lasers, solar panels, hybrid engines, and wind turbines. The trouble is, explains Hamburg’s Der Spiegel, they’re almost entirely found in Mongolia and are being hoarded by China in anticipation of shortages a year or two from now. The German paper warns that the Chinese are also buying up stocks of zinc and cobalt in other parts of the world to such an extent that they’ll eventually be in short supply.

Ask somebody for any number. Double it, add 12 and divide by two. Subtract from that the original number. The answer is 6. It will always be 6.
— a mathematical trick explained by Wired.

ALTHOUGH THE ACLU has won previous battles to force displays of the Ten Commandments off public land, they’ll be powerless to act against a group called Project Moses which now plans to install each year, 1,000 engraved marble versions on private property such as churches and synagogues. Newsmax reports that the organization has already positioned several hundred of the 5’4″ tall stones across 42 states and two Canadian provinces.

“What we’re doing, on both sides of the political spectrum, right and left, is just yelling at each other. I look at the TV and if you disagree with somebody, they are a fucking fruitcake, moron, screwball, stuff like that. We can be much more tolerant of people if we want to but the extremists on both sides are the ones who ruin it for the rest of us…There’s so much transmission and very little reception.”
— Clint Eastwood interviewed by Michael Hainey in GQ.

RESPONDING TO THE complaints of Justin Morgan, a lazy cyclist on Bainbridge Island, WA., about the difficulty of pedaling up a hill outside town, his electrical engineer father, Craig, invented a phantom companion to sit behind him and do most of the work. Powered by an electric motor, the tandem robot transfers pedal power to each leg in turn. (story and picture from Popular Science)

THE WILCOCK WEB: Ultimately, whatever the obstacles, the only long-range solution to a worldwide drought is to tap the oceans ….The fact that bank robberies almost halved last year is being attributed to the increased use of “Wal-Mart-style” greeters who welcome customers. “The last thing a bank robber wants to be is noticed,” says Douglas Johnson who handles security for the American Bankers Association… …People always have concern about the government doing too much,” sighs Gallup Poll editor Frank Newport, “even when it’s regulating financial institutions they don’t like”…. Republicans probably chose Michael Steele to be chairman of the Republican National Committee because he’s black, not because of his intelligence. He’s still black, and now they’re stuck with the fact that he’s not smart….Google’s stock values may go down if it pulls out of China but its integrity rating will go way up…. Famous German auto company Bugatti, whose cars fetch as much as $2.9 million, has produced an electric kettle ($300)…… The trouble with life is there’s no background music …The Daily Telegraph reports that although there are 60,000 council-controlled street cameras in Britain, only one crime per year is solved for every 1,000 cameras….AT&T’s current TV commercial demonstrates — that with answers now available so quickly — the quiz show “phone-a-friend” option is now obsolete….Samuel Pepys began writing his diary 350 years ago this month…. Sensational performer that she is, Lady Gaga sure is a rotten singer….Why do Americans call it football when the ball almost never touches their feet?….Washington attorney Mark Greenbaum says there is a “rapid flow of attorneys into a marketplace that cannot sustain them” and this will force prices down. Great! Keep ‘em coming…. Conan is childishly petulant for a multi-millionaire who’ll come out ahead no matter what happens. What egos these crybabies have….An Australian research team claims that five million tons of chicken feathers, abandoned every year by the poultry industry, might be transformed into synthetic fiber to replace or supplement nylon and polyester…Al Gore, it seems, is a not-very-good poet….Doubtless it’s being able to watch that exciting nightly battle footage — the American soap opera serial writ large — that makes gungho warriors so anxious to keep the war going… A couple of well-directed missiles sent to the Somali coast would work wonders at reducing the piracy….. “The economy is so bad,” says Phil Proctor “that if the bank returns your check marked ‘insufficient funds’ you ask if they meant you or them”….“What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?” – Bertholt Brecht (1898-1956)