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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: January 6, 2007


SEVERAL LONDON PUBLISHERS are facing the new year with the belated realization that celebrity may not sell as many books as they had planned. True, the advances were paid to “celebrities” scarcely known outside Britain: footballers Wayne Rooney ($1.8 million) and Ashley Cole ($475,000), Victoria Cross medal winner Johnson Beharry and TV host Michael Barrymore ($1.8m apiece), but three of the books have sold under 20,000 copies (and the third under 50,000). A biography by Rupert Everett sold 20,000 copies in return for his $1.8m advance. Private Eye magazine points out that to pay back a million-pound ($1.8m) advance it would be necessary to sell 200,000 books at $35 each.

KOREAN TV DRAMAS are next in line for adaptation now that American networks — impressed by the success of the former telenova Ugly Betty — are looking more closely at foreign television for ideas. “Unlike U.S. soap operas which go on for years” writes ad executive Karen Wang,” (Korean telenovas) have a story arc that eventually comes to a close.”.

THE BATTLE BETWEEN Indian reservations and states over gaming rights is likely to intensify now that Connecticut has extracted 25% of net profits ($220 million last year) from the Mashantucket Pequot tribe in return for granting a virtual gaming monopoly in the state. Under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act states are supposed to be prohibited from assessing charges on Indian gaming revenues, but Connecticut claimed to have discovered a loophole by allowing video poker machines. According to CFO magazine, some critics called it “a legislative shakedown” while Mel Towle, legal adviser for another tribe, says; “We shouldn’t be blackmailed into revenue sharing.” Nevertheless, other states are anxious to apply similar tactics.

MORE GLOOM AND DOOM. New Scientist says the endless amounts of pollution we are pouring into the sea is causing hypoxia, a low-oxygen condition which results in “dead zones,” some as large as small countries, where nothing can live. More than 200 of these off coastal waters have already been identified, one of the largest of which is the northern Gulf of Mexico where 30 U.S. states have contributed to the problem. Improving sewage and reducing fertilizer-laden run-off from farms could be remedies but these are unpopular with industry a well as expensive, the mag says, and thus have met “feeble political commitment and attempts to discredit the underlying science.”

A GERMAN GAME SHOW, Wetten dass? (Wanna bet?), that has been a hit for almost 20 years has been bought and is being adapted by ABC. “You get real people who claim they can do something outrageous like being dropped into a chair from 50 feet in the air” explains producer Phil Gurin. A team of observing contestants bet money on whether the stunt can be accomplished successfully.

CUTLERY MADE FROM hardened, molded potato starch (guaranteed to decompose with six months of burial) has been such a success in the U.S., it is now being introduced to Britain where it will hopefully replace more and more of the 2 billion plastic spoons, knives, and forks used each year.

WHEN THE COST OF of Berlin’s new railroad station — tagged “the Glass Cathedral” — neared one billion dollars, a cost-saving flat, concrete roof was installed instead of the artistic one designed by architect Meinhard Von Gerkan, sparking a predictable row. “There is not a writer in the world who would accept a few pages being ripped out of his book” declared von Gerkan. “I feel the same way about this building.” German Railways boss Hartmut Mehdorn responded: “A property owner who is having a house built doesn’t let the architect dictate what kind of ceiling should be put in the living room, so why should we?”

So far the courts have agreed with the architect.

“One should never speak badly of a lady, no matter how unladylike her behavior, but take my word for it, Paris Hilton is no carnal, dangerous temptress, smoldering in black satin and luring men to their doom. She is cheaper than a Brooklyn pier hot dog back in 1949 and as sexy as Boy George in drag” — Taki in the Spectator

BRITAIN’S HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER is preparing a report for the United Nations recommending that the “smacking” of children should be banned.  Children’s charities claim that smacking can lead to physical abuse and is no different from common assault.  But the parental choice lobby denies this.  Novelist Anne Atkins, author of books about child rearing, says: “Smacking doesn’t harm the child.  It’s a very effective, simple way of discipline that’s less painful than losing a treat.

FOR A CENTURY AND A HALF until 1680, the favorite wine of the British upper class was the sweet, fortified wine called malmsey, which Shakespeare (in Henry IV) called “a marvelous searching wine.”  The bard referred to it as “canaries” for it was created in the Canary Islands, which now plans to revive its production.  The average price of a bottle is expected to be more than $30.

MEANWHILE, AFTER YEARS of trying to export their Lindisfarne Mead to California just paid off for a couple on tiny Holy Island, off Britain’s northeast coast. Lindisfarne is the medieval name for Holy Island where St Aidan’s Winery produces 75,000 bottles of the honey-infused ale which sells for about $12, a drink that goes back thousands of years. Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, is said to have been a beekeeper.

TICKETS FOR this year’s Burning Man at Black Rock in August go on sale next week, the first 10,000 for $195 if bought on line, later ones for $250 or $280. Organizers claim that production costs average out to about $222 for each attendee.

THE WILCOCK WEB: In an innovative experiment ostensibly to examine the role of genes, researchers at the University of Buffalo used a laser to install a fluorescent advertising logo on the wings of a butterfly…. After a spate of “fratricidal incidents,” the Indian army has enlisted yoga instructors in an attempt to bring down stress levels in its ranks…. “Wrongly translated or bizarre” English is so common on Shenzhen street signs that the local newspaper has launched a “spot the errors” contest….” Thailand’s zoo has found an eager market for the bookmarks, paper fans, key chains, and notebooks crafted from the poo of its two pandas…. Russia is planning to erect a statue of Sherlock Holmes… Rotterdam’s new sustainable Dance Club will feature rainwater toilets, “biological beer” and a dance floor whose surface contains crystals that generate electricity when trodden or danced upon…. A study in which CFO magazine asked air travelers for their biggest complaints found 75% listed cramped seating…. After yet another gibe from the British press about the expected influx of immigrants when Romania joins the EU next month, the country’s biggest paper, Libertatea, fired back by accusing the Brits of exporting “pedophilia, drunkenness, and hooliganism…” Undeterred by the weak dollar, affluent American tourists are still flooding into London prompting the flagship of the InterContinental chain to charge $9,000 a night for the best suites in its newly refurbished hotel…. No one traveling on a business trip would be missed if he failed to arrive— Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)