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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: June 14, 2008

TODAY, WITH VIOLENCE falling in general, it’s oil-producing states that make up a growing fraction of all the world’s conflict-ridden countries, asserts Michael L. Ross. “Oil often wreaks havoc on a country’s economy and politics,  makes it easier for insurgents to fund their rebellions, and aggravates ethnic grievances,” he writes in Foreign Affairs. “The world’s thirst for oil immunizes petroleum-rich governments from the kind of pressure that might otherwise bring them to the bargaining table.” Although some governments are too busy profiting from corruption and crushing their opponents, Ross says, one way to reduce the problem would be if the oil companies teamed up with more service companies to conduct anti-malaria campaigns or help to build schools and irrigation projects. And the “volatility of prices” which constantly soar and crash could be changed “so that the oil companies bear more of the risk and governments bear less.”

WILDCATTERS ARE BACK now that the price of oil makes it again worthwhile to set up a drilling rig in somebody’s backyard. “For all the talk about Big Oil,” reports Smart Money, “the major companies drill almost exclusively offshore and internationally — more than 90% of the drilling in the U.S. last year was done by independents.” Once again the Texas town of Midland — where George W. Bush headed in search of oil — is the center of what’s known as “stripper wells,” those that produce less than 10 barrels a day. Yet even as they capitalize on roaring prices, the mag says, these independent operators know that flush times, like the deposits themselves, aren’t likely to last long. “We’re in the last five minutes of the Easter egg hunt,” ruefully remarks second-generation wildcatter Ted Collins Jr. who has just dropped $1.6 million for the right to drill for that Texas Tea.

A DIAMOND DAGGER in a plush-lined case was handed over by the Crime Writer’s Association to Santa Barbara’s Sue Grafton during her visit to London to promote the 20th crime fiction novel, T is for Trespass, in the A-Z series on which she embarked with A is for Alibi in 1982. She paid tribute to an earlier awardee, her “favorite writer of all time, Elmore Leonard,” and said she’s also had encouragement from a fellow schoolmate, Hunter Thompson, although he was “more likely to offer advice on the best drugs to buy than how to write.”

SLOT MACHINE TECHNOLOGY is about to make a giant leap into the future with the help of the innovative game industry. Even a traditional slot machine, costing $12,000, nets at least $2000 a day, and when things like Star Trek machines with progressive story levels are added they will be even more rewarding. Bally is planning to install television screens on new slots so gamblers can watch college football games as they play.

WHEN QUEEN ELIZABETH’S grandson Peter Phillips — son of Princess Ann — married his Canadian bride, Autumn Kelly, last month the wedding pictures of the entire Royal family were sold to Hello!  Magazine for $1million, prompting cries of “greed and vulgarity” from at least one London newsman. And a letter in the Daily Telegraph asked: “Has Peter Phillips become the first person who has actually managed to sell his grandmother?”

THE ART LOSS REGISTER, a database of stolen or missing art, reports that 574 Picassos are currently on the wanted list along with 79 Degas and 52 Cézannes. At present, with art thefts on the rise, Balkan Bandits (Serbs, Croats, Albanians, etc.)   are “the greatest predators in Western Europe for high-profile art robberies and burglars,” declares private investigator Charles Hill, a former member of Scotland Yard’s art and antiques squad. “There’s been a significant change in the last decade among art thieves that’s very worrying,” he told Art News. “They charge in fully tooled up. They are now armed. These are violent thieves. Even the Mafia didn’t steal at gunpoint prior to this group”.

NOT JUST CHILDREN but pretty much everybody loves popping the pods on Bubble Wrap. But only children were allowed to enter the competition sponsored by its maker, the Sealed Air Company, which offered $18.000 in prizes for using the product for “an innovative new product — a tool, a toy, whatever.” Some of the entries were

  • A fun game designed to help children learn to count.
  • A device that enables people who can’t speak to more easily communicate their basic needs.
  • A tool to help the blind learn Braille.
  • A lightweight shelter to protect outdoor plants in winter.

THE WILCOCK WEB: The first thing Obama should do is to dump the embarrassingly ego-driven Terence McAuliffe…..Something similar could be said about the “sleazy and slimy” Todd S. Purdum who now can be seen as a boring addition to those tedious Sunday morning pundits…..“The adversarial system is premised on the theory that if you have two liars testifying, the truth will come out,” writes Professor David Bernstein in the Iowa Law Review ….Being exposed to a familiar logo triggers associations that affect our behavior, claims Duke University professor Gavan Fitzsimons, with experiments that seemed to indicate, for example, that when we regarded a logo with trust we were more likely to answer subsequent questions truthfully …..Mike Sheldrake has created a working surfboard from cardboard covered with fiberglass….London’s Daily Express charges that British jails are in a state of anarchy and that drugs are so prevalent that prisoners are smuggling them out to sell on the street….Salman Rushdie, the 1981 winner of Britain’s annual Booker Prize, is 6-4 bookie’s favorite to win the Best of Booker, an extra award to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the famed literary prize….Judging by CBS’s new show Password, it doesn’t matter how puerile the program is, Regis Philbin seems always willing to host it…. Thousands of gas station owners are on a waiting list to pay $650 to have their pumps retrofitted so they can charge more than $3.99 per gallon. Or they can pay $10,000 for a new electronic pump….After already being used to contain everything from soup to orange juice, the aluminum-coated paperboard known as Tetra Pak has been discovered by vintners as perfect to hold wine…. Striving to outdo the iPhone, several companies are working on designs for a cell phone with a built-in video projector….  “The wise and brave dares own that he was wrong.” — Benjamin Franklin (1706-90).