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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: July 21, 2007


JIMMY CARTER MAY HAVE taken stick for some of the 20 books he’s written since leaving the White House, but in the post-presidential stakes, he’s a proven winner. “We can control malaria — absolutely,” he told the Smithsonian magazine which, in a report about the distribution by the Carter Center of millions of mosquito nets in Ethiopia, details the way the former president has been making high-level contact with prime ministers and health officials in Africa as well as raising money for the programs. Big Pharma comes off well, too, having donated drugs (Merck) to control river blindness and (Pfizer) trachoma. Nor does Carter stay above the fray, taking a hands-on approach to the sanitation campaign. “I used to be known as the president who negotiated peace between Egypt and Israel. Now,” he jokes, “I’m known as the number one latrine builder in the world.”

THE ONLY HONEST REVIEW of Eli Roth’s gruesome torture movie Hostel, Part II was by National Review’s Ross Douthat who wrote that he’d like to punch Roth in the face because “he has it coming.” The critic said it wasn’t just that the film depicted torture in the “blood-smeared megaplex hellhole” but that being ‘creative’ about it was this “smug, sickening, pleased-with-itself movie’s principal reason for existing.” Patronizing it was ”paying to watch torture” with “all those Important Themes” merely window dressing for the money shots.

THE ROBOT ‘POPULATION’ is growing so fast in South Korea and Japan — two countries with dangerously low birth rates — that in the former, at least, predictions are that there will be a robot in every household by 2020, and robocops will then be patrolling the streets. Japan is pioneering the development of “humanoid” robots aimed at being more lifelike and aesthetically pleasing. Meanwhile, South Korea’s Ministry of Commerce has drafted a Robot Ethics Charter based on the principles that a robot must not allow a human to come to harm and must obey orders given by a human. In return, humans “will have to treat them as we treat pets” says Professor Jong-Hwan Kim.

“These days it is tempting to argue that America is becoming a monarchy in the guise of a republic… There is nothing inherently wrong with the children or wives of politicians seeking high office, but there is definitely something wrong when people start treating them as heirs to the throne rather than candidates… Does America, which led the world in ditching monarchs, hereditary titles, and forelock-tugging, really want to be the first country to start going backwards?” — Lexington in the Economist.

AFTER VISITING HALF A DOZEN Middle Eastern countries, Todd Pitock came to the conclusion that reliance on the Koran was unlikely to help the advancement of science. “This tendency to use their knowledge of science to ‘prove’ the religious interpretations of life is really corrupting,” says Gamal Soltan, a political scientist at a Cairo think tank. “They’re sure about everything, about how the universe was created, who created it, and they just need to control nature rather than interpret it.” Pitock writes in Discover that the situation is similar to that in Europe during the time of Copernicus and Galileo when scientific knowledge was considered threatening to the prevailing religious power structure.

THREATENING THE BUSINESS of those firms that apply stickers to each individual piece of fruit, is Georgia’s Durand-Wayland company which has devised a machine to laser-etch logos onto as many as 14 items a second. Their claim that the method is faster and more efficient is being investigated by the FDA which ponders whether the etching might allow germs to penetrate the produce.

SUMMER HOLIDAYS ARE the time when people are in the ideal state of mind to absorb marketing messages proclaims the hard-sell magazine Inc. which advises salesmen to “reach the vacation market by thinking creatively.” It lists the examples of the NJ company that negotiated with hotel managers to feature its popcorn in their minibars…, the Canadian firm that created a board game promoting its dietary supplement that could be attached to tray tables in airlines…, an energy bar company that handed out free samples to vacationers in Malibu, Catalina, and Miami’s South Beach. But “when you’re in that protected zone” warns Mike Konzen, vp of a St. Louis consulting company, “people are very protective of leisure time…, (they) tend to try to filter out things that are overtly commercial.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: If there are 12 million illegals in this country, why not have them “do the jobs Americans won’t do” instead of bringing in even more&hellip? The dockside shed in Hamburg, where in 1901 would-be immigrants sometimes lived for days before boarding steamers for America, has been turned into a museum…. Eight people are on the waiting list for five Manhattan parking spaces offered for a mere $225,000 apiece…. So far, most of the customers for the $280,000 wax replicas of themselves that can be ordered from Madame Tussauds have been filthy rich Russian oligarchs…. “Behind every successful man, is a surprised woman” asserted Mayron Pearson…. According to Nature Biotechnology, scientists have discovered a way to convert A, B, or AB blood into O, the universal blood type that can be used by anyone. They are conducting clinical trials…. Minnesota’s Heartland America catalog offers a dual-screen device for the back of a car so one kid can watch a movie while the other plays games…. Analyzing the parts that make up an iPhone, a “teardown” company called iSuppli Corp. says the total hardware cost of materials and manufacturing is $265.83 which means that Apple is making 55% profit on each sold at the full $599 price…. “It has become appallingly obvious,” declared Albert Einstein, ”that our technology has exceeded our humanity…. 24 percent of the bottled water Americans buy is ordinary tap water repackaged by Coke and Pepsi…. In New Zealand, which has ten times as many sheep as people, a horror film about mutant man-eating sheep leads at the box office …. Two million Polish workers have left the country since it joined the EU, so now Poland is having to import workers from India to prepare for the 2012 World Cup…. The universe is change: our life is what our thoughts make it — Marcus Aurelius (AD120-180)