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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: July 9, 2011

John Wilcock


, distributed informally and sometimes on a one-to-one basis, is starting to become big business. There’s always a need because, despite the experts’ advice that breastfeeding should continue for the baby’s first six months, few mothers have the time or patience to sustain it. And even the best commercial product compares unfavorably with the real stuff. Wet nurses can be found everywhere, some providing the fresh milk in quantity (a newborn usually needs 30oz per day) to hospitals or so-called milk banks. Wired magazine introduces us to Desiree Espinoza, 19, who had a two-month-old baby girl “but was pumping out enough milk to feed triplets.” Selling the surplus ($2 per oz.) via the website Only the Breast, the college student made enough money to pay for a laptop and her wedding dress, estimating if she could keep it up, she could garner $20,000 a year.

In Monrovia, CA, the once-small company Prolacta increased sales by 200% last year, increasing its supplies with a team of paid mommy recruiters throughout the US. It does not pay donors. “We have to make it altruistic,” CEO Scott Elster told the magazine. “Otherwise there’ll (eventually) be a picture of a mom on the front page of the New York Times saying, ‘I sold my milk for crack.’”

SCORES OF MILLIONS of fake Viagra tablets continue to be seized in Europe as well as antibiotics and drugs for treating heart attacks, hepatitis, and HIV. A $1,000 investment in fake drugs can return $30,000 — ten times the typical profit from heroin, estimates the U.S. Department of Commerce. “The Internet has made it easy for anyone, anywhere to circumvent legitimate supply chains, reports Science News which warns of the obvious dangers, and reports on deaths from relying on the counterfeits. “The scientific community is realizing this is an important problem and we can help,” says analytical chemist Facundo Fernandez of Georgia Tech and the mag says researchers are busy trying to develop portable devices that can check meds at remote places where they are being dispensed.

At the Getty

THE GETTY VILLA in Los Angeles will be the venue next week for a dinner (chef: Sally Grainger) inspired by the recipes of ancient Rome. Food historian Andrew Dalby will discuss “power dining” of 2,000 years ago. Favorite dishes in those times, as today, were pork, shellfish, eggs, and vegetables, buttressed by the unappetizing sounding puls, a sort of porridge made from soft wheat grains (farro).

CATS ARE KILLERS declares the Smithsonian Institution whose recent study found them responsible for the death of more than three-quarters of young birds in the suburbs of Washington DC and the US Fish & Wildlife Service put the deaths as high as one billion (440,000 were killed flying into wind turbines).

Cat advocacy groups say that feral cats should be trapped, sterilized, and released but Kiera Butler says in Mother Jones that not only are they hard to catch but even domestic pussies kill at least a hundred million birds each year. The American Bird Conservancy is trying to convince cat owners to keep them indoors.

IN THE NAME OF “security,” the Obama administration has been buying government limousines as if money doesn’t matter, says The Washington Examiner, reporting that acquisitions of the luxury vehicles have increased 73% in the past two years. “When is the last time you heard of an attempt on the undersecretary for economic, energy, and agricultural affairs? Or the special envoy for climate change? Is there a cabal somewhere secretly plotting to knock off the coordinator of reconstruction and stabilization? For the political class, especially in Washington, says the mag “these are the best of times.”

UPSCALE PAWN SHOPS are a new phenomenon, according to Smart Money, which says some of the country’s 13,000 pawnshops “lure the (formerly) affluent with private appointments and house visits.” Jordan Tabach-Bank, CEO of Beverly Loan Co. — described as “pawnshop to the stars” — says he’s seen a flood of doctors, lawyers, and accountants hocking valuables to keep their kids in private schools. “Is no industry immune to the inexorable forces of technology and gentrification?” asks the magazine’s Anne Kadet. “Pawn merchants say the recessionary credit crunch is bringing in more middle-class clients along with small businesses seeking short-term loans to meet payroll.”

ZIPPO WINDPROOF LIGHTERS brought the company $200 million last year but sales of the rugged brass and chrome lighters have dropped from 18 million a year to 12 million in the past decade. So the legendary Pennsylvania company is moving into casual clothing, hand warmers, and perfume. Much of its sales volume is in China but the company plans to open boutiques in Paris, London Tokyo, and at NYC’s Kennedy Airport.

REGULATING THE WEB — an idea proposed by French president Sarkozy — has met with adverse reactions but is a valid point to make writes the Guardian’s Martin Kettle. “All revolutions generate unintended consequences that need to be put right,” he says, and The Week comments: “The geniuses who created the modern web didn’t make it so children could be bombarded with porn or the internet could be used for anonymous slander or malicious hacking. The web is too important to exist in some undiscussable and untouchable dimension of human activity.”

GWYNETH PALTROW, whose two kids are enrolled in an elite London school, is seeking a private tutor for them, somebody “well-versed in Latin and Greek, fluent in at least two languages, schooled in philosophy, musical, fit, youthful and outdoorsy with a passion for drama, sailing, and sports.” Quoting from a Times story, The Week magazine says that the job carries a $100,000 annual salary plus a flat for a 25-25-hour week.


OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE ARMIES, “but Pakistan’s army has a country,” declares the Spectator in a story revealing that the army owns 12% of the land and the 100 most senior military officials are worth at last $7 billion. Most of its data comes from a 2007 book, Military Inc: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, which has been banned in the country itself for disclosing that in a country where average incomes are $3,000 a year, top brass (including President Musharraf) are billionaires, and the military runs everything from bakeries and banks to heavy industry. “Its flagrant profiteering engenders huge resentment in rural and smaller provinces,” says the mag, “where the army is increasingly seen as an invading force rather than a protector.”
the column of lasting insignificance (Apri1 19, 2008)


THE WILCOCK WEB: Can somebody publicize the names and addresses of the people who organize most of the spam so we can flood him (her?) with grateful emails?…..Peter Moskos says our penal system is “an expensive and immoral failure” and in his book In Defense of Flogging, he advocates physical punishment instead of jail for brutal criminals….Portable fuel cells containing hydrogen cartridges which can be used to recharge smartphones and iPods are on the way….Inventor Chris Goggin used his cocker spaniel to simulate the animal’s pheromone-detecting skills in a hand-held device that sniffs out bed bugs…..Flee at once, all is discovered,” is the legendary anonymous warning which scattered financial fraudsters in 19th century England. It might be a good message to send to hedge fund traders today….Britain’s Collins Official Scrabble Words just added 3,000 additional words including the slangy rhetorical “innit”….Starting at $20 a bottle, Bling H2O comes from the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and said by its founder to be justified in its price by its “couture” packaging (meaning its fancy bottle)…A man’s home is his castle, in a manor of speaking…..How can the Fresh Air Fund, a longtime charity, afford to keep running eight-page, color ads in the New York Times? Bills for half a million bucks? Probably not: two of the Sulzberger family are fund directors….Milk from donkeys is better for you, and less fattening, than milk from cows, say researchers…. If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything, is ready,” wrote Ivan Turgenev, “we shall never begin”….Eating human flesh in some cultures is regarded as an act of love declares Jenette Zwingenberger, curator of a Berlin show All Cannibals! on exhibition until late August…In her book The Steal: A Cultural History of Shoplifting, Rachel Shteir calls it a “silent epidemic”……Global temperatures rising have caused more birds to be bitten by mosquitoes, reports a Spanish biologist who says there’s been a notable increase in birds suffering from malaria….Smart Money says that the housing bust caused a drop-off in swimming pool installations, and although it might pick up again soon, a safer investment would be a pool-servicing company….. “Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” — Voltaire (1694-1778)