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The Column of Lasting Insignificance was a more-or-less weekly column appearing online and which ran from mid-2006 until early 2018. While the content is taken from news of the time, John considered the insights evoked in the column to be timeless.

The project of representing the column here is ongoing. Contributions to support the project are greatly appreciated.


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: July 15, 2006


WHY CONDI GOING INTO LABOR was one of the winning headlines submitted by a reader in a New Statesman competition asking how various London tabloids might deal with a (spurious) announcement that, after accompanying Labor’s Foreign Minister on a European goodwill tour, Condoleeza Rice was pregnant.

VP DICK CHENEY’S 39-year-old daughter Elizabeth fills “an enormously powerful post… for which she is uniquely unqualified” charges The American Prospect which claims she “has not shied away from throwing her weight around”. Her “tongue-twisting” title — principle deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs and coordinator for broader Middle East and North African initiatives — has had a “sobering effect” on the department’s Arabists, says the magazine, many of whom found it intimidating. On her frequent trips to the Middle East, about which she was accused of knowing very little, she was said to have imperiously violated protocol by insisting on seeing heads of state without being accompanied by the American ambassador.

AN UNLIKELY HEADLINE in Scientific American, THE PROSTITUTES’ UNION prefaces the story about Delhi’s public health advocate Smarajit Jana who persuaded a growing collective of hookers, now numbering 60,000 — pledged to condom use; lobbied police to stop raiding brothels; converted gangsters to the cause and persuaded brothel owners that safe sex was in their interests. “In their eyes (the prostitutes) this man who reached down to help them up,” says the mag, “wears the halo of a modern-day savior”.

DESPITE THE FACT that the right wing has demonized the word even more than it has with “liberals”, what the left needs is more socialism declares Ronald Aronson. “The socialists’ standard of fairness, democracy, equality, and justice is as much a part of daily life as are capitalism’s values of privilege, unequal rewards of power,” he writes in the Nation. “We need not be timid about naming this ‘socialism’. What else is it? What a new progressive movement needs can be simply stated: more socialism.”

THE STUBBORN OPPOSITION of the Greens to technology and particularly nuclear power has made them” part of the problem rather than the solution says John Gray. “Nuclear power has risks, not least of terrorist attack”, he writes in Britain’s New Statesman, “but it is vastly less harmful to the planetary equilibrium than the continued reliance on fossil fuels that is the realistic alternative”. By 2050, what the UN estimates will be a human population of nine billion will be even more dependent on fossil fuels and without a smaller population, there will be no solution to the environmental crisis. “Greens shy away from these facts” Gray declares, “insist(ing) that climate change and conflict over natural resources can be avoided by adopting a low-tech lifestyle. But organic farms and windmills cannot stop the destruction of the natural world, or support the present human population”.

CINDY SHEEHAN’S 15 minutes of fame have now lasted 15 months, The Nation reported, but because pundits “often mistake her symbolic role for a leadership role’ they give her every utterance disproportionate weight. “In other words, as Sheehan goes, so goes the antiwar movement.” Crediting her with “galvanizing a nation” and thus constantly lambasted by rightwing critics, the magazine emphasizes that her strongest stance is that of a bereaved mother. “Women as mothers can claim a kind of legitimacy that government officials never have” suggests Clark University Professor Cynthia Enloe. Sheehan herself says: “I think the people in power want you to feel helpless, because if we all find our voice, our power, we really can make a lasting difference to this country”

BACK IN JANUARY, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack lied when he claimed the administration saw no indication that Iran sought to discuss the nuclear issue diplomatically. So says The American Prospect which alleges that in the internal contest between the realists who welcomed discussions and the hard-liners who sought to reject it, the latter triumphed. “The inclusion of Iran in the ‘axis of evil’ was at first opposed by then-National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice… but Rice had already earned a reputation for always staying in Bush’s good graces by taking whatever position she believed he would favor. ‘She would guess which way the President would go and make sure that’s where she came out’ according to Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff. She would be an advocate up to a point but her advocacy would cease as soon as she sniffed the President’s position.’

THE WILCOCK WEB: Excess noise is a major contributor to health deterioration say British environmental officials and too much of it comes from heavy footsteps on bare wooden floors. They are calling for more loft dwellers to use carpets…. Lonely Planet is publishing Experimental Travel guides which suggest opening the street atlas of wherever you are and traveling to a random point such as where K-2 or B-7 intersect. And, they suggest, when you’re at some famous site, turn around and photograph the view from there…. Holland has joined Germany and Britain in demanding that would-be immigrants speak the language of their new countries …. Chihuahuas dressed as Mickey Mouse or in soccer team uniforms are being carried by fashionistas in Tokyo reports Lois Bizel, a 32-year-old fashion consultant who charges companies $600 a day to tell them what’s hip and trendy…. When one is in love, one begins to deceive oneself. And one ends by deceiving others — Oscar Wilde