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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: July 5, 2008

“While the hunt goes on for Osama Bin Laden, we should be talking about another murderous leader: Robert Mugabe. Over the past two years, the Zimbabwean president has all but destroyed his country with a campaign of intimidation, rape, and torture. He has appropriated 2,000 white farms and his followers have killed more than 100 political opponents…With elections looming, Mugabe has expelled foreign journalists and rushed through a new law introducing the death penalty for ‘attempts to undermine the authority of the president.’ The international response to his tyranny has been pitiful. We haven’t even expelled Mugabe from the Commonwealth or frozen his assets.” Alice Thomson in the Daily Telegraph, December 8, 2001.

A DIAMOND IS a precious commodity because everyone thinks it’s a precious commodity says Ulrich Boser, and now that it’s become relatively easy to manufacture them, you’d expect the price to drop like a stone. Not likely. “No one wants to sell diamonds too cheaply,” Boser writes in the Smithsonian, “lest the market for them collapse.” A natural, one-carat, amber-colored diamond might sell for $20,000 whereas Florida-based Gemesis will charge a (still-pricey) $6,000, the advantage being that most gemologists can’t tell the difference. Nevertheless, DeBeers — which still controls almost two-thirds of the world’s rough diamonds — is responding with ads suggesting that people prefer a unique diamond to celebrate a unique occasion, “not a three-day-old manufactured stone.” In future it will be engineers who will benefit most from man-made diamonds, using them for high-powered lasers and electronic technology. Longtime researcher Robert Linares says: “There was a copper age and a steel age. Next will be diamond.”

FED UP WITH the enduring stranglehold of Cosa Nostra’s protection rackets, Sicilians have begun to fight back with a rebel movement called addiopizzio. Both locals and visitors are encouraged to support businesses that refuse to pay pizzo (protection). Bed and breakfast places, restaurants, and a Sunday market have all sprung up to offer a chance to bypass the Mafia. “It’s a brave campaign,” writes Stephanie Rafanelli in the Guardian, “the very least that visitors can do is to support it.”

TIRELESSLY WORKING TO counter the already onerous protection for copyright, Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig is the subject of a Nation story that reports on his battle against “the most dangerously corrupt institution in the country: the United States Congress.” He envisions his new organization Change Congress as one that will connect similarly-minded reform groups. Lessig’s unique credibility, the Nation suggests, comes from his 1990s battles for “free culture” against private interests resisting copyright reform in a continuing attempt “to keep cultural production and the knowledge needed for technological innovation out of the public domain.” Disney, for example, whose entire entertainment empire was built on the works of others would bring an instant lawsuit if anyone “tried to make their own movie based on Mickey Mouse.”

UNLIKELY AS IT SOUNDS, one of the healing ingredients in use to replace severed fingertips at the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine is a powder garnered from pig bladders. University of Pittsburgh biochemist Alan Russell told Popular Science that the idea of regrowing limbs with pig powder sounds “kind of Star Trek-y ” but it was within the grasp of science. The Institute, set up this spring by a consortium of 30 research bodies at the instigation of the U.S. Department of Defense, is working on techniques that may result in more complicated limb regeneration and even a portable machine for the battlefield that will be able to print layers of skin tissue directly onto deep flesh wounds.

THE AGGRESSIVE GREY American squirrel was introduced into England some years ago and has been threatening the demise of the friendly red native variety. But now some chefs have discovered that the American grey is not only delicious (“a cross between duck and lamb”) but promotes ethical eating. “Low in fat and local. Eat a grey and save a red; that’s the message,” says Cornish butcher David Simpson. Selling for about $7 apiece, they are said to be especially tasty fricasséed with cream and walnuts.

A NEW CREDIT CARD over which bosses or parents will have control, allowing them to restrict how much and how often it is used, is on the way from MasterCard. “It will help reduce maverick spending, improve compliance with corporate policies, and simplify accounting,” spells out MasterCard spokesman Steve Abrams.


 “I think something happens with age. And I find this really a lot in what I read from certain art critics. For people who are all about change — people who are supposed to be intellectually and culturally drawn to the idea of change and how the voice of a creative person affects the work on a bigger scale than just the canvas — I would expect a person in that position to have that open mind. It’s only a sign of age that they become so locked in their own rules that they forget that this is what it’s all about” — quoted in Interview

THERE WAS A TIME when socially-conscious companies such as Unilever and Sony built “everyday things for everyday folk” or directed their aims to innovation writes Will Hutton.  But if capitalism concentrates only on financial leverage and vast personal gain while scorning the common good, “sooner or later there will be a backlash.” Hutton writes in the Observer that Catholics led by Pope Benedict XVI have been questioning where contemporary capitalism is heading. ”There are a billion Catholics worldwide – not a trivial force if they can be mobilized.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: India’s Sintex Industries has developed a methane digester which can be attached to a toilet and uses the gas to power a washing machine… Scalpers who have bought up most of the hotel rooms near the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis and the Democratic Convention in Denver are asking $800 a night claims U.S. News & World Report …..“You won’t get any doubletalk from me,” said Harry Truman. “I’m either for something or against it”….By squeezing the same amount of Hamburger Helper into a 20% smaller box, General Mills has saved enough paper fiber to take hundreds of delivery trucks off the road….After watching subscribers desert the declining paper in droves, the pathetic Los Angeles Times now offers annual subscriptions for $30 a year….Sierra Designs has created a sleeping bag with a built-in odor repellent triggered by leaving the bag in the sun…..“People who value their privileges above their principles,”  cautioned Dwight Eisenhower, “soon lose both”… GlaxoSmithKline reportedly just paid $720 million to a firm developing a “fountain of youth pill”….Who invented the statute of limitations and why? A free pass if you can hide for long enough….Half a century after Acapulco was the affluent traveler’s hip playground, Mexican president Felipe Calderón pledged $42 million to “rescue” the resort and clean up its sewage-stained beaches….You’re definitely getting old when it always seems to be Saturday again, only a couple of days after every weekend…It is our peculiar duty to love even those who wrong us.” — Marcus Aurelius (AD 120-180)