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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: July 31, 2010

John Wilcock

“It’s hard to escape comparing the US attitude to the Viet Cong with their attitude to the Taliban. In both cases, the US is supporting a corrupt and incompetent government that is at worst hated, and at best ignored, by the majority of the population.”
— letter in the Guardian

THE MAN BEHIND WikiLeaks is a 30-something Australian named Julian Assange, reports Mother Jones and he lives “like a man on the lam” who never uses the same phone number twice. From posting documents reporting high-level corruption in Kenya and the Guantanamo Bay prison camp operating manuals to Sarah Palin’s hacked emails and Wesley Snipes’ tax returns, the site is “a place where anyone can anonymously submit sensitive or secret materials to be disseminated and downloaded around the globe.” It gets away with it, says the mag, because its primary server is in Sweden. Assange began as a member of a hacker collective called the International Subversives as a teenager in Melbourne. “WikiLeaks does not pass judgment on the authenticity of documents,” the site explains. “That’s up to the readers, editors, and communities to do.”

A MAJOR MISTAKE of U.S. foreign policy — the way we are treating Iran — is the substance of the book Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future which claims that the current theocratic regime will not always be in power and bubbling beneath it is “the democracy for which so many of them yearn.” Author Stephen Kinzer is hopeful that, even if belatedly, America is beginning to see the advantages of having Iran as an ally rather than an adversary. “It can do more than any other country to assure long-term peace In Iraq….can help stabilize Afghanistan…can tame militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah…can improve relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world…stable and secure, no longer in need of a scapegoat, it might stop threatening Israel…an enemy of al-Qaeda, it would cooperate in crushing it.”
Iran has 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves and 16 percent of its natural gas, Kinzer writes, and if the U.S. does not exploit and buy it, Russia and China will, thus increasing their strategic leverage in the region. Recognition of Iran as an important power with legitimate security interests is the reason why successive American presidents have rejected compromise, the book maintains, willfully ignoring the reality that Iran is already a regional power. “The United States may wish that this were not the case, but self-delusion is an unsound basis for foreign policy.”

EROTIC EAR-CLEANING is a new craze in Tokyo where 100 new salons staffed by attractive young ladies in maids’ uniforms have opened already this year. “My clients just lie down with their head on my lap and close their eyes and you can see their stress disappear,” says a salon operator quoted in The Week. “The ear is a very sensitive place and when someone is cleaning it, you feel loved.”

THE FAMOUS TWELVE STEPS — “the cornerstone of addiction treatment” — are at the heart of Alcoholics Anonymous in which as many as 23 million Americans are currently grappling with severe alcohol or drug abuse, says Wired in a revealing story about AA’s founder, a failed stockbroker named Bill Wilson. “In my 20 years of treating addicts I’ve never seen anything that comes close to the 12 steps,” says addiction specialist Drew Pinsky. “In my world, if someone says they don’t want to do (them) I know they aren’t going to get better.” The steps, which begin with asking members to admit their powerlessness over alcohol, were designed to induce an immense commitment, explains the mag, because Wilson wanted his system to be every bit as habit-forming as booze. And its effectiveness may derive from the power of the group. “The more deeply AA members commit to the group, rather than just the program, the better they fare.”

We have been having a meeting for the past 7 months which ended 2 days ago with the secretary to the UNITED NATIONS. This email is to all the people that have been scammed in any part of the world, the UNITED NATIONS have agreed to compensate them with the sum of US$ 250,000.00 (Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand United States Dollars) This includes every foreign contractor that may have not received their contract sum, and people that have had an unfinished transaction or international businesses that failed due to Government problems, etc. – email from Nigeria.

BACK IN THE HIPPY ERA, England’s Glastonbury music festival was the epitome of youthful rebellion, filled with pot smoke, drunkenness, and free love. It’s still Europe’s biggest but when it celebrated its 40th birthday last month, writes Brendan O’Neill, its 170,000 revelers had become “a tightly regimented gathering of middle-class masochists who don’t mind being bossed around by nosey cops and kill-joy greens.” The graying of Glastonbury (“a massive, authoritarian pigpen”) has now become too expensive for youngsters and suffers from middle-aged music and too many do-gooders. “When attendees are not being spied on or entrapped,” O’Neill writes in the Spectator, “they’re being lectured about everything from safe sex to health safety…and young people don’t like being hectored by has-been hippies.”

AFTER ANALYZING questionnaires sent to civil servants 20 years ago and then checking out their subsequent lives, researchers at London’s University College concluded that people who were bored tended to die at a much younger age than those who weren’t. Boredom, they suggested, makes people more prone to harmful behavior such as excessive drinking and drug abuse.

THE BILLIONAIRES CLUB is probably the most suitable name for the group headed by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates whose declared aim is to get the 400 Americans on the Forbes super rich list to pledge at least 50% of their wealth to charity. In a cover story, Fortune estimates that in a recent year, those 400 had an income of $138 billion but their charitable contributions stalled at a mere 11 percent, “a huge gap” between what the Gateses and Buffett think would be appropriate. A box listing some of the sympathetic billionaires who have attended the dinners at which the plan has been discussed includes Oprah Winfrey, George Soros, Ted Turner, and David Rockefeller. Conspicuous by his absence is the notoriously ungenerous Rupert Murdoch.

WHY ON EARTH does Japan — “a civilized, highly educated nation and a leader in environmental protection — “fight so hard to protect its right to hunt whales, a custom that began only since the end of WW2? That’s the question asked by Rome’s La Repubblica which says that most Japanese don’t even like whale meat but have come to believe mistakenly that hunting whales is an ancient tradition and when the campaign to ban it began, reacted as if their very identity was threatened.

THE DECLINE AND near-disappearance of the book review is due less to economic forces than to cultural ones charges the Nation’s literary editor John Palettella who accuses newspapers of an “anti-intellectual ethos.”.True, a paper’s book review section (that of the New York Times is about the only one left) loses money, but so do other sections such as Metro or Sports. But it’s the Book Review that gets pinched or killed, primarily, he suggests, because an editorial’s “lack of interest in ideas that are not utterly topical.” Advertising — or lack of it — is of course at the root of the problem. “The cost of a single full-page ad in a large newspaper exceeds the promotional budget for most books.”

THERE MAY BE as many as 100 million infected computers in the world estimates the Economist whose recent cover story, Cyberwar, warned of “the threat from the internet” as machines are linked together to form malevolent botnets. Most of the danger this country faces comes from hard-to-identify enemy hackers who first try to penetrate networks and then disrupt or manipulate them. “If military targeting information could be attacked, for example, ballistic missiles would be useless…The thought of an enemy lurking in battle-fighting systems alarms the top brass.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: So many Albanians moved into Serbia’s Kosovo province that now the UN has endorsed their takeover. Will the same thing happen when Mexicans become the majority in California?….Now we’re building complexes in Afghanistan too complicated for locals to operate, so we’re also overpaying contractors to run them….Individual taxpayers should be given a receipt by the IRS showing exactly how their contribution was being spent suggests Democracy magazine’s Ethan Porter…. In Malaysia’s version of The Apprentice ( Iman Muda ) contestants vie for a job at a mosque where their first task is to bathe and bury a body…. Lady Gaga’s backstage requirements include “non-smelly, non-sweaty cheese and a jar of honey…... Elections won’t become fair until each candidate is restricted to spending the same amount of money……“No one party can fool all of the people all of the time,” said Bob Hope. “That’s why we have two parties”….Still undergoing modifications in a German shipyard is billionaire Roman Abramovich’s $600m super yacht because (says The Week) “engine vibrations make his crystal glasses rattle”…. Critics of the BBC’s new gay adaptation of Conan Doyle’s famous detective series are pissed off at what they are referring to as “Sherlock Homo”….. The new electric motorcycle from San Francisco’s Mission Motors can reach 150mph — and costs $69,000……. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is about to become a video game  ….“An animal kept solely for profit is an exploited animal,” declares Audubon in a feature pointing to the growing trend of photographers who own or rent animals for fraudulently tagged “wildlife” pictures…...Once a cheap Coney Island treat, lobster rolls ($14 and up) are newly popular in Manhattan…. And crescent-shaped French fries are on the way….With dual lenses and sensors to record separate images for each eye, the new DXG camcorder ($600) captures videotape that can be played (and watched without glasses) on any 3-D television set…. Mashed potato wrestling is a feature of South Dakota’s annual Clark Potato Day on July 31…..Among the prizes in Popular Science’s annual Invention Awards are a box which sucks drops of water from warm, humid air, and a hearing device that’s connected to the teeth….With a lengthy name, Schorschbrau Schorsch Bock; unprecedented potency (43 proof); and a lofty price ($120 per bottle), Germany’s Georg Tscheuschner has brewed the world’s strongest beer….And back in Sarah Palin’s hometown of Wasilla, Toby Foster has built Alaska’s first distillery in a disused hangar where he’s producing 15,000 bottles each month of Permafrost Vodka ($22+) from local potatoes and water crushed from glacier ice…. Driving somebody’s car across the country for just the gasoline costs is still possible via…. With the closing of the Canadian factory that makes what has become America’s most ubiquitous police car, Ford’s Crown Victoria, the most likely successors are the 140mph Dodge Charger or the new rear-wheel drive Chevrolet Caprice….“There is no such source of error as the pursuit of absolute truth.” — Samuel  Butler     (1835-1902)