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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: July 18, 2009

It’s a bad idea to have journalism mainly carried out by large corporations whose chief interest in news is how to make the maximum amount of money from it. And…to have as these corporations’ main or sole source of revenue advertising from other large corporations so that the news industry’s overwhelming incentive is to keep these advertisers happy. It should be obvious that giant-for-profit companies do not have the same interests as the public at large.”
Jim Naureckas in Extra’s examination of ‘The Future of Journalism’.

UNLIKELY AS IT MIGHT SEEM, Cuba has the latent prospect of being at the forefront of the next “intelligence-driven boom” if opening up trade allows a blossoming of its creativity and entrepreneurial innovation. So predicts Wired, pointing to the island’s investment in medical research, the ingenuity of its artisans (think of how they’re kept those 50-year-old cars running!), their language skills, a capacity for high-tech outsourcing. “There’s tremendous potential,” says Gustav Ranis, an economic development expert at Yale. “Cubans are eerily well-educated, particularly for such an impoverished people. Education is one thing Castro has done right: 98.8 percent of adults are literate and nearly a third have graduated from high school, many with the sort of vocational training the U.S. foolishly let slip a generation ago.”

IT’S TRUE THAT building a pipeline from San Francisco Bay in the west or Suisan Bay in the northeast all the way to the parched San Joaquin Valley would be expensive, but sooner or later more arid agriculture regions will be obliged to do something similar. What happens next? The seawater is pumped into vast meter-deep pools, atop which glass or plastic is angled so that solar rays condense fresh water which runs off endlessly from the underside of the cover. There are plenty of precedents for this process around the world with Dupont being a major researcher on the subject.

The way that countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states have been buying farmland to grow food in poor countries has been described as “the great water grab,” reports the Economist, explaining that water shortages have been the “hidden impulse” behind many of the deals.  The total area concerned is equivalent to one-fifth of all the farmland in the European Union. With the land comes the right to draw the water linked to it, says the magazine, asking: “Is this beneficial foreign investment or neocolonialism?”

ICELAND MAY HAVE BEEN the first Western country to declare bankruptcy but it may also become the first to achieve a comeback from what’s underground.  And that’s not oil, coal, gas, or gold, but hot water. “The island is basically one big volcano” explains Popular Science, “formed over millions of years as molten rock bubbled up from the seafloor.” And what this Kentucky-sized country plans to do with this geothermal resource, is to drill far enough down (they’re two miles deep already) for an endless supply of steam to drive turbines able to deliver as much energy as a small nuclear plant becoming “the global model for geothermal projects.” Eventually, the country hopes its successful scheme will enable it to offload energy to the rest of Europe.

IN WHAT IT CALLED “The Ideas Issue,” Atlantic magazine offered six pages of Quick Fixes to current problems. They included the suggestion that banks be required to allow occupants of foreclosed homes to remain in the property indefinitely paying fair market rent; that the UN overcome its objections to “mercenaries” and hire private military companies for peacekeeping duties; sell huge chunks of the ocean to profit-making companies which will have an obvious incentive for seeing they are not over-fished to extinction; hand out temporary work visas to immigrants from poor countries; abolish all taxes except one on the ownership of land; redesign the dollar; allow 18-year-olds to drink after they’ve completed an alcohol education course; and abolish the vice presidency.

THE THIRD WHEEL in Meg Hirshberg’s marriage, she reveals, is Bond Girl, who’s everywhere with them — in the restaurant, at the tennis court, on the boat, and at the beach. “Bond Girl is an irresistible superwoman… she has become too big to fire.”  Bond Girl, aka her husband’s Blackberry, “knows all Gary’s secrets and contains all his memories. She alone knows where he’ll be today, tomorrow and ever after.” Writing about “Sharing Gary” in Inc., the frustrated wife quotes MIT professor Sherry Turkle who says that most people feel anxious about a disconnect from the world. “We’re losing the knack for solitude and the desire to ‘be here now.’”

THE WILCOCK WEB: According to The Book of Days (1979), Egyptian priests identified July 21 as the first day of the world…. One month before the 40th anniversary of the Charlie Manson murders, Los Angeles is running an 18-page pictorial recap of the horrifying tale….It’s not unthinkable that Iran’s Supreme Leader may become the former Supreme Leader before too long…. Hong Kong’s Asia Times reports on China’s growing problem with government officials gambling away public funds:  the head of one state-owned company blew $14 million betting with online casinos…If the Swiss bank UBS doesn’t care to observe U.S. laws, why isn’t it banned from doing business in this country?….No matter how far you push the envelope, it’ll still be stationery….New 20p coins lacking a date issued by Britain’s Royal Mint have been selling for thousands of bucks on eBay…. .Future astronauts will be spending so many years en route to distant planets that they may as well amputate their legs suggests University College of London professor Lewis Dartnell because “in space legs are just a hindrance, dragging around behind you”….London’s Royal Court Theatre will stage Enron: the Musical in September.Hoping to compensate for declining cigarette sales with a renewed emphasis on snuff, Philip Morris will presumably be shifting cancer from the lungs to the gums….“A lot of people,” observed Doug Larson, “mistake a short memory for a clear conscience”…. There are still companies that will allow you to drive a car across country for them (with a $350 refundable deposit), one of which is Auto Driveaway (800/346-2277)… If fear alters your behavior, you’re already defeated.” — Brenda Hammond