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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: January 29, 2011

John Wilcock


credit: Chronogram


WOODSTOCK IS “the most famous small town on earth,” claims Chronogram, an upstate New York magazine of ‘events and ideas’ and, whereas to outsiders “the word evokes images of peace signs, hippies and rock stars, to those who know the town well,” Woodstock is “a reminder of deep forests and alluring streams, supportive community, divergent thinking, open-minded spirituality, and an artists’ haven.”

Unmentioned in the story is another of the small town’s assets, the local free paper Woodstock International whose radical perspective resembles much more the battling ‘underground’ papers of old rather than the commercially-minded ‘alternative’ media of today.

In a front-page story about “the bankrupt and corrupt power elite that no longer concerns itself with the needs of its citizens,” Chris Hodges charges that everyday Americans are being fleeced. “The flagrant theft of public funds and the rise of an obscenely rich oligarchic class is masked by the tough talk of demagogues,” he charges, “millionaires who use fear and bombast to keep us afraid, confused and enslaved.”

The bi-monthly tabloid accuses the corporate-owned press of ignoring important news in its reporting “from a capitalist-oriented point of view,” itself claiming to give greater coverage of news that reflects “the reality of our times.”

Hodges, 54, a Pulitzer prize-winning writer, is the best-selling author of War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, a quote from which (‘The rush of battle is often a potent and lethal addiction, for war is a drug’) accompanied the title of the Oscar-winning film The Hurt Locker. Thus, his writings about the endless war in which this nation seems to be engaged, go back a long way.

In fact, he quotes Aristophanes (ca. 446-386 BC) whose famous play Lysistrata concerns women in a similar situation who refused to have sex with their men until peace was established.

KEEPING A LOW PROFILE as a businesswoman, Diane Keaton, 64, “is savvy about flipping real estate,” reports Smart Money, speculating that the Oscar-winning actress (Annie Hall ) made a $1m profit on two houses she bought and transformed in 2007, one of them built by Frank Lloyd Wright’s son.



PRE-NUPS and GOLD DIGGERS are subjects of increasing concern in the China of today as more and more families worry about their newly-acquired fortunes. The problem centers mainly around young fuerdai — the Chinese term for children born to rich and powerful families — who make ‘unsuitable’ marriages, often with billions of yuan at stake. “Wealthy people are very protective of what they have because they have suffered hard times to make it and want to keep it for the next generation,” Shanghai professor Zhang Zhenyu told China Daily. ”These parents have a lot of influence over their children’s choices and are extremely dubious about the people they date. They suspect most of them are only after money.” Especially suspicious to some parents, the paper explains, are college students finding love with people from rich families “as they want to have a comfortable life without working too hard for it.”


“I would very much like Mr. Assange to hack into the computers of China’s Central Committee and leak documents outlining
China’s human rights abuses, exploitation of the world’s resources and use of nationalism that distract its people from understanding the type of regime they live under.”
— letter in the Economist


PLAYING CHESS WITH attractive women makes men more likely to take risks and lose the game, says the Wall Street Journal reporting on research which examined the matches of 626 players. The losing games usually began with men making risky openings when their opponent was a lovely female. Such risks, however, failed to pay off, reports the WSJ, because the men “were promoted into irrational impulsiveness by what they saw across the table.”

INTENSE GREED on the part of wealthy people who never have enough would make the institution of a Wealth Tax be unthinkable in this land, but they do exist in some places. Norwegian millionaires, for example, incur a 1% charge on top of their regular taxes ($50,000 for those with $5 million). Suppose such a tax were imposed here, muses Leon Friedman in the Nation. “If a very rich person had a net worth of $10bn, he or she would have to pay $100 million to the government….a modest diminution of their wealth. And they certainly would have no right to complain since it was previous government actions that enabled them to accumulate it.”


“Companies in India are challenging American ones in an area that they have long considered their own — innovation…Most strikingly, Indian companies have produced a new kind of innovation, variously dubbed ‘frugal,’ ‘reverse,’ and ‘Ghandian.’ The essence is to reduce the price of a product or service by a breathtaking amount, 80%, by removing unnecessary bells and whistles….Half of Silicon Valley’s start-ups were either founded or co-founded by Indians but these paragons are now returning en masse to the mother country (just as America makes life more difficult for immigrants).”
The Economist


TRAVELING TO MARS seems to many people to be a sublime waste of time and money, but if the trip is to be made at all maybe it won’t be NASA that does it but a 60-year-old astronaut. That would be Costa Rican-born Franklin Chang Diaz whose plan is to bypass the inefficient method of using overly heavy rocket fuel, in favor of a plasma spacecraft powered by nuclear reactors. It could reach speeds of 123,000 mph (NY to LA in one minute!) he claims, thus Earth to Mars in 39 days. Chang is no amateur crackpot. He’s been on seven missions, logging 1,601 hours in space and NASA itself has experimented briefly with nuclear propulsion. In any case, Chang’s plan is for his company to practice with smaller trips, collecting space junk that is floating around. “We’re basically running a trucking business here,” he says. “We’re happy to be a local garbage collector in space. That’s a reliable, sustainable affordable business, and that’s how you grow.”

AND IN CASE we ever return to the moon, experts at the University of Arizona have devised a self-sufficient capsule greenhouse (it pops open on landing) packed with seeds, sodium-vapor lights, gallons of plant food, and everything else necessary to grow fruits and vegetables after the astronauts pump in carbon dioxide-enriched air.

FORTUNE COLUMNIST Stanley Bing, author of 100 Bullshit Jobs and How To Get Them, castigates a whole list of current fads which he predicts will eventually disappear and look foolishly trivial when we look back at them in future years. Foursquare (“Don’t you know where your friends are as much as you care to?”) and Blackberry are on his list. (“Remember what life was like without it? I do. I was happier.”)

IT’S CLEARLY BECOME the currently hot word, so here’s Wikipedia’s definition of ALGORITHM: “an effective method for solving a problem expressed as a finite sequence of steps…. Each algorithm is a list of well-defined instructions for completing a task.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Free checking is “going the way of the VCR,” reports the AARP Bulletin with 11% more banks adding charges…. Some ridiculously rich lady hedge fund operator, jailed along with a bunch of her colleagues for insider trading (they don’t make enough millions by being honest), pleaded that she’d brought “disrepute to an honorable profession” .…. British authors have been battling to have their works included in the free distribution on March 5 of one million copies of 25 books chosen by trendy publisher Jamie Bying whose Canongate published Barack Obama….Spelling Evian backwards describes the people who buy it….Italy has banned plastic bags, the first country to completely do so…. The most popular computer game in Germany allows players to shoot people escaping the Berlin Wall….Solar cells made from steel as thin as a hair are being made, more cheaply, by a California firm, MiaSolé….That repetitive group of cartoonists who appear in the New Yorker every week has become as boringly predictable as the Sunday morning pundits. ….Other people who are said to be funny but aren’t: Ricky Gervaise, David Letterman, Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell…And here’s a joke: the so-called “artist” Jeff Koons is suing somebody he claims copied his trashy work….When jewelers announce sales with dramatic price reductions (10ct diamond solitaires from $215,500 to $59,850 or a diamond cross from $1,250 to $398) does it mean they lose money? Of course not, just that their obscene profit margins become merely exorbitant. What suckers diamond-buyers are…. With zirconium and crystals replacing the diamonds and sapphires, China’s Zhou Mingwang, 31, has sold hundreds of thousands of replicas of the engagement ring Prince William has given Kate Middleton. Britain expects to gain $1.6bn in souvenirs and tourism from the April 29 wedding…. A Swiss laboratory advises us that, as pockets of underground radon are likely to be punctured by shifts in the earth, maybe if we track the gas released it could warn of impending earthquakes….“I have many symptoms of old age,” remarks Nora Ephron, ‘Among them: I have no idea who anyone in People is’… If a pig loses its voice, is it disgruntled?….. Surely the world’s most interesting job for 2011 is that of whichever Chinese functionary is promoting that country’s growing presence in Europe… “Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” — Voltaire (1694-1778)