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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: July 7, 2007

 

NO MATTER HOW WRETCHED and murderous a country can be, it will always be able to find an obsequious and greedy lobbying firm in Washington which, for a price, will burnish (or reverse) its image. Ken Silverstein’s report, Their Men in Washington, reminds us of past PR jobs that have whitewashed the (murderous) profiles of Saddam Hussein, Romania’s Nicolas Ceausescu, Angola’s Jonas Savimbi, Liberia’s Samuel Doe and the Burmese generals. “Lobbyists are the crucial conduit through which pariah regimes advance their interests in Washington,” writes Silverstein in the current Harper’s, naming some of K Street’s unscrupulous greed heads, most of whom apparently don’t even obey the law obliging foreign lobbyists to register.

BOTH PORTS OF ENTRY at the Panama Canal are run by a Chinese company which was awarded the contracts despite cheaper bids by other firms. And most canal traffic these days comes from cruise liners or Chinese tankers, the latter illicitly shipping, among other things, chemical and biological weapons to North Korea, Iran, and Syria. Panamanians benefit little from all this, says The World which claims a common view in the Central American country is that the canal is “the property of a cabal of carefree patrician families.” The firm that runs the ports at each end of the canal, Hutchison Whampoa, says the mag, also owns four of Mexico’s most important ports and is planning another on the Baja Peninsula, less than two hours from San Diego.

HAVING SUCCESSFULLY INAUGURATED a NYC Run and a similar operation in Chicago, Michael Gazaleh plans to extend his running tours to Austin, Texas, and Denver. Customers, 95% of them tourists, pay $60 for six miles (additional miles cost $6 each) on various routes and at various speeds and lengths, all of them customized by Mr. Gazaleh who is now trying to recruit more locals. Finishing up at a restaurant or bar might be an enticement he suggests. “I’m looking for places that will be happy to serve a bunch of sweaty people.”

THE FIRST CAR to be powered by compressed air is going into production in India, a $12,700 auto which can hit 68mph and which has a range of 125 miles. It is refueled in minutes (for about $2) at gas stations equipped with air compressor units, or — says its Luxembourg maker, the MDI company — can be refilled in four hours by plugging its own built-in compressor unit to the electric grid.

AGRICULTURAL TOURISM is growing and destined to be an increasing part of the travel business forecasts Group Tour Magazine, listing such popular destinations as cranberry bogs in New Jersey, an alpaca fiber farm in Massachusetts, New England maple sugar sites, and New York’s wine-growing regions in the Finger Lakes. Peter Jorgensen, a tourist official in Northeast Ohio, explains; “People are increasingly concerned about their food and have a sense that the America they grew up with is slipping away. They experience these trips and leave thinking it’s okay.”

“The environmental movement has often been compared to a religion — the kind of religion that sets great store by self-denial, purity, and a personal route to salvation. But it is hard to think of a religion that spends (so) much time shopping.”
Catherine Bennett in the Guardian Weekly.

THERE’S A CERTAIN IRONY in the fact that the current conflict in Iraq has shot oil prices so high that it’s now become economic to develop the huge fields of oil shale in northern Canada which are estimated to contain 174 billion “economically recoverable” barrels. “The United States invaded Iraq at least in part to secure access to it oil. Now, thanks in part to… that disastrous decision, it has found the ‘security’ it was looking for right next door” writes Naomi Klein in the Nation. The oil industry has always known about the vast deposits of tar sands in Alberta but until the price of oil went up it cost most to retrieve it than it could be sold for.

THE WILCOCK WEB: For unexplained reasons, the Royal Canadian Mint has produced a small number of $1million solid gold coins, each bigger than a pizza and weighing more than 200 pounds…. One Manhattan developer is planning a 24-storey building in which some of its rooms will rotate, offering 360 degree views, and can project images of the skyline onto its windowsChildren can choose the shape of their sandwiches when their parents shop for them at NYC’s new store, Kidfresh…. Two years after paying Damien Hirst $50,000 for a painting, director Sir Trevor Nunn was told that it had been painted by Hirst’s two-year-old son Connor. Recently Nunn sold the work for almost double the price…. When Big Pharma’s sales reps visit doctors’ offices, reports the AARP Bulletin, they search “for objects — a tennis racquet, Russian novels, ‘70s rock music — to establish personal ties, and some give doctors food and gifts”…. A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother, says Phil Proctor…. More than one million Chinese students have left the country to study abroad since 1978 but less than one-third have returned to China…. Since telephone companies began charging for information (sometimes $$ a call) several free services have sprung up to request numbers, one of them being the easy to remember 1-800-FREE-411…. Noting that the country had achieved a world record of 12,000 suicides last year, the Korean government has reacted by closing down more than 700 suicide-related blogs…. ”Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act,”  bemoaned Truman Capote…. The locale for next week’s Rolling Stones concert in Belgrade has been moved from the local race track because animal rights activists said it would frighten the horses… Only a malicious person is always at his best. — Somerset Maugham (1864-1965)