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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: January 30, 2010

John Wilcock

“If I had my wish we would be on our way out of Afghanistan not in, we would be letting Pakistan figure out which Taliban they wanted to conspire with and which ones they want to fight…If they’re not ready to take the lead, to speak out and fight the madness in their midst, for the future of their own societies, there is no way we can succeed…Al Qaeda threatens: ‘We will bankrupt you’. And they will.”
— Thomas L Friedman in the New York Times.


A LOT OF PIOUS TALK about how peasants in Third World countries are exploited while stitching garments for rich U.S. companies hasn’t actually produced much change, according to a Harper’s piece titled ‘Shopping for Sweat.’ The magazine quoted a Chinese jeans exporter that American buyers were “getting more and more tough on bargaining for lower prices.” Pay for Cambodia’s 350,000 apparel workers has stagnated at 33c per hour (only Bangladesh, at 22c, is lower) and there is scant chance of them bettering themselves. “The entire model,” Harper’s explains, “depends on weak unions, few labor rights, and persistent autocracy.” One solution, offered by Singapore economist Richard Duncan, is a “trickle-up” philosophy establishing a $5-per day minimum , raising the wage $1 a year, for ten years. “If you sell a pair of tennis shoes for $101 instead of $100, no consumer in Chicago will notice the difference, but it will totally transform villages in Vietnam”.

FERAL GANGS of young girls, some only 10 years old, are becoming a nationwide epidemic in England reports the Spectator  creating “a Clockwork Orange  environmentperceived by the youthful gangsters as glamorous and edgy”. The magazine says that crimes committed by young girls have soared by 25% in the past three years. Surrounding innocent victims on the street, “they routinely carry knives and are prepared to use them”.

WITH AN ECONOMY that exceeds that of 19 countries, the virtual world Second Life has produced  several millionaires  out of hucksters selling “virtual goods’, i.e. things that don’t really exist. A predictable result is that “trouble breaks out in paradise” according to the New Scientist which reports that some entrepreneurs are suing each other for allegedly copying intellectual property. (In other words, things with no reality). US citizens alone spent $621million in virtual worlds last year, estimates financial analyst Piper Jaffray.  Second Life’s founder Philip Rosedale is about to launch a new company which, he predicts “takes the concept of virtual life a lot further”.

“Ex-reality TV people are the weirdest American tribe going: they’re like people who’ve been hit by lightning, zombies of the Zeitgeist, attention-hungry ghosts. They all seem to forget how to live any way except performatively, as if they’ve internalized the genre’s drama-cultivating mandate.” — Alex Pappademas writing about the Gosselins in GQ.

AFTER WAITING FOR most of the past century for work to begin on the 2nd Avenue subway, New Yorkers have finally got their wish — along with something else to complain about. In addition to the excavation underground have come huge, windowless utility buildings — up to nine stories tall, eight of them sited on Upper East Side streets. Thirteen properties have been seized by eminent domain and 75 residents and business owners evicted to make room for them. These are buildings that are going to last forever; they should be contributing to the street scene, architect Stanford Eckstut told The Real Deal magazine. They should not be just a wrapping to hide mechanical things.

IN A SECTION ON “Smart Collecting,” Forbes explains that when art collector Charles Saatchi, 66, says he is too sensitive to do interviews, what he really means is “I’m too vain, touchy and controlling.” The Baghdad-born former adman is worth $165million, the mag estimates, much of it through such stunts as buying Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde-encased shark for $84,000 and selling it to hedge fund billionaire Steven Cohen for $13 million. (What gullible jerks hotshot financiers are.) Forbes reveals that Saatchi, unlike other creative ad agency directors, always refused to meet with clients and says that his elusiveness worked as a kind of performance art.

POOR OLD SCOTLAND has not fared well in the last 12 months, comments the Spectator with the demise of its two banks, as well as “a cheerless, luckless, moody Scottish Prime Minister…and other stains on the brand.” The PM, of course, is the British one, Gordon Brown: “unattractive, unfathomable, and with a dangerous temper.” Following the bank crisis, the mag says, the job is to re-establish Scotland’s credibility and rebuild its confidence and self-belief as a nation.

WHEN HE WAS A KID, recalls Jay Leno in his Popular Mechanics column, his father used to call a Fiat or a Mercedes-Benz ‘those foreign jobs.’ “To the day he died (he) thought Japanese brands like Honda and Sony were like the little bamboo umbrellas that come in your drink. To him, those countries had lost the war and they made crummy products. Eventually, that generation moved on.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Shouldn’t those unelected Supreme Court Justices be
interviewed on Meet the Press to explain their controversial decisions just like the other politicians?….Does USPS really need to waste money on advertising? Is there somebody who doesn’t know it’s there?… If that greedy twerp Conan O’Brien is being paid $30million+ to go quietly, you’d think he could afford a few bucks to pay off his employees…. The Year of the Tiger, which begins on February 20, nothing to do with the golfer,  refers to the Chinese New Year……. “Optimism can keep a fool from accepting failure,” quoth Ernest Hemingway….  Newsmax says that street crime has become so prevalent in Mexico that vigilante groups are springing up all over. “The government is failing to provide security and people are turning to some brutal alternatives,” observes Guadalajara crime expert Rossana Reguillo….. Big companies should be prohibited from hostile purchases of other companies if they have to go into debt to do it. (Yes, Kraft, that means you)….New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s bank-size bonuses to his already-overpaid assistants, only confirm the adage that he has more money than sense….California’s Second Sight company has developed a retinal implant that converts video images into electrical images that help the blind to see….. He thought he saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian….. Star Analytical Services, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are developing a doctor’s telephone that will enable diagnosis of a cough from the sound….. Why do they lock gas station bathrooms? asks Phil Proctor. “Are they afraid someone will clean them?”Pope Benedict thunders about “the obsessive search for the perfect child” after genetic researchers predict it won’t be long before in vitro fertilization techniques enable potential parents to choose such traits as skin color, intelligence, or even an aptitude for sports….. Do members of Congress ever refuse bribes?…..Floor tiles made by the US company PowerLeap, generate electricity when people walk over them…. UC Santa Cruz is seeking a trained archivist to oversee its collection of Grateful Dead memorabilia…..The female equivalent of Viagra may turn out to be flibanserin on which tests will continue for another year….“Love is the answer, but while you’re waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty interesting questions,” quipped Woody Allen…… More than half of the citizens of Jordan are Palestinian, so why is that not the long-desired Palestinian homeland? Apparently, because the Jordanian government (i.e. King Abdullah II) manipulates things to ensure that the majority never takes control….“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”  — Seneca the Younger (c.4BC to AD 65)