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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: July 19, 2008

“The Justices rationalized their ruling (about child rape) by saying there is ‘a national consensus’ against applying capital punishment for such a crime. A national consensus? Are the courts now going into the polling business before rendering decisions? Isn’t turning consensus into law or instituting a change in law a function of elected legislative bodies?…Since the 1930s, justices in this country’s courts have increasingly usurped powers they previously hadn’t had. Precedent has meant little and so has the Constitution.” — columnist Steve Forbes

WHY IS THE SUPREME COURT so sacrosanct? A bunch of unlovable political hacks, appointed for political reasons, to rule over us without question for as long as they choose. Theoretically — what a joke! — they are answerable to Congress but have largely defined their own roles as not being merely definers of the law but existing above it. What’s needed is a People’s Court that could question and weigh their decisions. And if you think this is impossible, you don’t realize that what seems far-fetched at any given time eventually becomes conventional wisdom.

MAKING DRUGS LEGAL is the only way to end the chaos and killings of the pointless “drug war” writes former police officer Richard Mack in the Arizona Republic. “Let’s face it, the only long-term remedy is to legalize the drug business. Ending Prohibition cut off all the profits of the criminal syndicates controlling the flood of booze. The same would happen (now) if only the politicians had the guts to try it.”

CRUELTY TO ANIMALS seems to be surfacing in the art world, with the dispute centered on whether the artists are merely recording it or are in some way responsible. Art in America, which calls it “Provocation Art,” reports on a show at the San Francisco Institute in which Abdel Abdessemed displayed video loops of various animals being bludgeoned to death with a sledgehammer. (A spokesman said they had earlier been professionally slaughtered for food). An earlier show at Mary Boone’s NYC gallery showed “an unflinching look at pig slaughter” and included a scene in which a dog is thrown into boiling oil (possibly a fake). Earlier reports involved a dog supposedly starved to death in a Nicaraguan gallery, an “exhibit” by Costa Rican artist Guillermo Varga scheduled for a repeat at next week’s Biennale in Honduras. Such projects, the magazine comments, “have raised the ire of animal rights activists, abortion opponents, pro-choice advocates …and more.”

SUPPOSE THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT comes running down the aisle saying that both pilots have succumbed to food poisoning, and would anybody with some experience in playing flight simulator games volunteer to land the airplane? It sounds like a joke except that Wired, which presents this scenario, then proceeds step by step to explain how to actually do it. (The first instruction is how to connect with air traffic control where an experienced voice will calmly tell you how to proceed.)

CHRISTIANS ONLY, and only ones validated by their ministers, are allowed to join the new health plans being operated by Samaritan Ministries and similar religious organizations. Members who take a pledge of no smoking or drugs, no excessive drinking or extra-marital sex, kick in about $300 a month, and, apart from a small deductible are covered for their medical expenses. The schemes are under examination by state insurance regulators who are debating whether or not they are legal.

A NOMINEE FOR this year’s prestigious annual Man Booker prize (October) went on a hunger strike in sympathy with the subjects of his book about the Bhopal chemical disaster. Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People details the 1984 tragedy at the Union Carbide pesticide plant which released toxic fumes killing thousands of people, fouled drinking wells, and caused what he describes as “an epidemic of cancers.” Publishing News reports that subsequent victims, the hunger strikers “are calling for the Indian government to force Dow Chemical to clean up the site.“ Dow Chemical, which now owns Union Carbide, has been unresponsive to pleas for adequate compensation. Sinha told PN: “The Bhopalis are up against some of the most corrupt and callous politicians and business bosses in the world. Those poisoned in Bhopal continue to sicken and die, without help, without compassion, without justice because the politicians in Delhi want to do business with their killers.”

THE WILCOCK WEB:  Apologists for Wall Street keep assuring us that high gas prices are not caused by speculators so why is it that when the news is good (i.e. that a hurricane will not hit offshore platforms) the price of oil immediately goes down?….Poetic justice indeed, if Mark Penn doesn’t get paid for all those millions he billed for savaging Obama….Speaking of toxic gases, India’s Sintex Industries has developed a methane digester which can be attached to a toilet and uses the fumes to power a washing machine… This week’s questions: How come savvy politicians never seem to know when the microphone is still on?….. What on earth got into Connecticut voters when they re-elected that smug, little hobbit Joe Lieberman to the Senate?…. What time did the Chinese man go to the dentist?  Tooth hurty…. The predictable question most often asked of Bob Urhausen, 40-year veteran of the Goodyear blimp crew, is how to get a ride. “Much as we’d love to give all Goodyear tire buyers a ride, it’s reserved primarily for corporate customers”….“Success is a journey, not a destination,”  proclaims  Ben  Sweetland ….. In the fall, GM’s OnStar service is field testing a system that enables the police to disable a stolen car and stop it in its tracks…. When one is in love, one begins to deceive oneself. And one ends by deceiving others, observed Oscar Wilde….. It’s hard to summon sympathy for that Bush-loving creep Mark Steyn but his indictment by British Columbia’s Human Rights Commission (for writing that Muslims were likely to become a menace) is another example of political-correctness gone-too-far…“What a man dislikes in his superiors, let him not display in his treatment of his inferiors.” — Tsang Sin (c.530 BC)