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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: July 4, 2009

 “Today, mainstream print and electronic media want to be neutral, presenting both or all sides as if they were refereeing a game in which the only players — the government and its opponents — can participate. They have increasingly become common carriers, transmitters of other people’s ideas and thoughts, irrespective of import, relevance and at times, even accuracy.”
Walter Pincus in the Columbia Journalism Review

NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE’S RECENT makeover has prompted appraisals from many of its contemporaries — among them National Review and New Republic — but the Atlantic’s critique goes further, comparing it unfavorably to the Economist, which it terms “a general interest magazine for an ever-increasing audience, the self-styled global elite.” And this, says the mag, “at a time when general-interest anything is having a hard time interesting anybody.” The Atlantic refers to the “tactical retreats” by Time and Newsweek as “brave stabs at relevance in a changing media environment. They’re also a decade late.” The article calls the Economist (circulation about 800,000) a true global digest and suggests that its value lies in a smart analysis of “everything it deems worth knowing.” Brilliant as it undeniably is, however, it takes more time and concentration to read than The Week which in my opinion is the best newsmagazine in the English language. The London edition covers the world more fully than its U.S. clone.

A WAVE OF nostalgia for Mao Zedong is sweeping China among those who remember that under him everyone was granted a job, housing, healthcare, and schooling. This is okay with the current regime, writes Wu Zhong in Hong Kong’s Asia Times, as long as it doesn’t go too far and “threaten their rule.”

DRESSING LIKE HOOKERS with tiny skirts and feather boas, members of a feminist group in Kiev have been parading the streets with banners to confront what Ms magazine calls “a growing sex tourism industry.” They are led by raven-haired Anna Hutsol, 24, who declares: “People think of Ukraine as this giant brothel. They can’t tell you about any landmarks or monuments but they can tell you that there are pretty girls in Kiev who wear next to nothing when it’s summer.” Ms says that 20 million people visit Ukraine every year and a country that was once a source of sex-trafficked women became a major sex-tourism destination itself after foreign visa laws changed and Ukrainian prostitutes returned home. Police estimate the country now has 20,000 prostitutes but feminists scoff at the estimate as too low and say that 30% of them are underage.

THAT AMUSING TRICK, seen so often on YouTube, of creating a fountain by dropping a Mento into a Diet Coke, is taken a stage further by a recipe in Wired for an Exploding Drink. It involves dropping one of the candies into each ice cube in a tray just before it freezes. Next, drop four of the cubes into a glass of Diet Coke, top with rum, and await the melting of the ice which will expose the candy’s gum arabic to the cola. “It will erupt,” promises Wired, “like a fifth-grade science project.”

BOB PARKS REPORTS that Simon Singh, award-winning science writer, author of Fermat’s Enigma, is being sued under UK libel laws for an article in the Guardian in which he called the claims of chiropractors “bogus.” That sounds pretty tame, says Parks, for a treatment that has no plausible scientific justification. “Harming the reputation of a chiropractor would seem to be a civic responsibility.”

LARGELY UNKNOWN TO the electronic community. there’s been a boom in board games in recent years with a surprising tilt towards those originating in Germany where, apparently, games avoid direct conflict. Compared with Monopoly, according to Derk Solko which “is a very negative experience (that) has you grinding your opponents into dust.” German board games, on the other hand, tend to let players win “without having to undercut or destroy their friends.” Top game in that country, the Settlers of Catan, has become a worldwide phenomenon.  Wired says worldwide it’s sold 15 million copies, in the process “changing the American idea of what a board game can be.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Seeing that we’ll never succeed in pacifying Afghanistan, the sooner we’ll get out the more lives will be saved. Ditto for Iraq which would have settled its disputes by now if we’d left years ago….An estimated 16,000 pieces of junk are circling the Earth along with 3,000 satellites writes Glenn Harlan Reynolds in Popular Mechanics. “Space is getting crowded and the problem needs attention”…. Recounting the reason for his success, George Hamilton explains: “I was able to pass myself off as this Palm Beach millionaire with the aid of a good tan and the bespoke English clothes I picked up in thrift shops. I decided that sun-tanning was going to be for me what the funny blue suit was to Superman”….. Every year, 1.7 million bicycles are sold in the Netherlands but more than 2,000 are stolen every day….Daily Express columnist Ross Clark complains “A country in which litter droppers are given the same penalty as violent thugs has lost all moral authority”….. Why does the Fresh Air Fund keep spending half a million bucks on New York Times ads boasting what a generous charity it is?….”Patience is something you admire in the driver behind you, and scorn in the one ahead,” claims Mike McCleary….Of the estimated 5.7 million Americans who have lost their jobs since 2007, 80% of them are men….”If work was a good thing,” said Elmore Leonard, “the rich would have it all and not let you do it”…. There are a growing number of reports of people buying universal remote controls and using them surreptitiously to turn off televisions in sports bars, airports and in whatever public places from which they can escape undetected….Cheap labor,” observed Audre Lorde, “is never cheap for the person who performs it”…Escalating the stakes almost every week, some advertisers on L.A.’s KFI radio are now repeating their phone number five times in 30-second commercials…. “Only a malicious person is always at his best.” — Somerset Maugham (1864-1965)