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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: June 21, 2008

NONE OF THE CANDIDATES are talking about what should be our greatest foreign policy concern says the Nation, referring to what it claims is a “relationship verging on a new cold war, including another arms race.” Relations are worse today than they have been for 20 years, the mag alleges, with conflicts over Iran, the Ukraine, Venezuela, NATO expansion, access to oil and missile defense, to name only a few. Aggressive expansion by the U.S. has made Russia suspicious of American motives and there is no effective opposition to hawkish policies in either Washington or Moscow. “American presidential campaigns are supposed to discuss such vital issues but senators McCain, Clinton, and Obama have not done so. Instead, in varying degrees, each has promised to be ‘tougher’ on the Kremlin than George W. Bush has allegedly been.”

ANGRY COMPLAINTS from British publishers are being directed at Amazon which is accused of “attempting a strategy of world domination,” according to Publishing News. Recent attempts by the company to increase the discount it gets from publishers, already bigger in Britain than most other countries, prompted PN  to reveal that Amazon already has 15% of the market in the U.K. and estimates that if it keeps growing at this rate “it will have 30% in three years and publishers believe there is a real danger than bookshops will start closing as a result”.

WITH ALL THE OTHER things going on, poverty seems to have slipped out of public consciousness lately declares Utne Reader which refers to it as “the other war we’re not winning.” Danielle Maestretti quotes a report claiming that in a recent three-year period the major networks devoted fewer stories to poverty than to Michael Jackson. “If you’re poor and want to get on the nightly news, it helps to be either elderly or in the armed forces.” Even worse has been “the criminalization of homelessness” by which many cities have passed laws prohibiting organizations from feeding homeless people in parks or on sidewalks. The National Housing Institute’s magazine Shelterforce reveals that 55% of those earning less than $19,000 a year spend over half their earnings on housing.

AT LEAST TWO California companies are developing headsets which can read brainwaves, via electronic sensors. The $300 devices can translate such thoughts as lifting objects or moving forwards into action in video games in which the wearer is participating. San Francisco’s Emotiv Systems has 40 researchers working on ways in which the brainwave-reading headsets can take players into what the company’s president, Tan Le, describes as “an emotional journey”.

THE AIRSHIP MAY soon be back if industrial designer Jean-Marie Massaud’s collaboration with France’s space agency, Onera, is successful. Still in the testing stages is a whale-shaped, helium-powered airship called the Manned Cloud whose 15-passenger cabin with library, restaurant, and fitness room but a maximum speed of under 100mph.

OWNERSHIP OF THE MOON is still a contentious issue reports Popular Mechanics because although the 1967 Outer Space Treaty banned “national appropriation” it didn’t settle the question of private ownership. Dennis Hope’s Lunar Embassy claims to have sold 500 million acres (titles cost up to $20) but it’s unknown how valid these would be if there were to be some international agreement about property rights, something that at present is lacking. Meanwhile, contestants for Google’s Lunar X Prize are presumably still preparing for the $20million offered to whoever can land a rover on the moon which can navigate 500 meters and send reports back to earth.

RECOUNTING THE CASE of Lt. Ehren Watada who they describe as “the only officer who has both spoken out publicly against the war and refused to deploy.” The American Prospect reveals that more than 25,000 soldiers and officers have deserted since 2003. And an estimated 81,000 have been ‘stop-lossed’ or called back into service after their terms were completed, many of whom since solicited help from civilian lawyers. The mag says that the Iraq war has created a class of dissenters who oppose this war but not war in general. In the case of Hawaian-born Watada, 29, who still awaits his fate, his troubles seem to stem less from not going back to Iraq than in opposing the war in the public forum.

PIG URINE COULD BE as valuable as oil, maintains Jes Thomsen whose Copenhagen company Agroplast collects 3,000 liters of pig pee each day, filters out impurities and uses the urea to recycle into soap, de-icing material for airplanes and bioplastic goods. Thomsen plans a second factory in the U.S., probably near to North Carolina’s huge pig farms.

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THE WILCOCK WEB: A program called Fail-Safe being built into new computers allows users to track its whereabouts if a thief, after stealing it, tries to connect to the Internet….In his Guardian review for the new production of Pygmalion in London, Michael Billington claims it “far superior to the sugar-candied My Fair Lady that Lerner and Loewe fashioned from it.” And Higgins loses Eliza at the end…….London’s White Cube Gallery is offering — for $1.2 million—a dozen early Hitler paintings that Jake Chapman and his brother Dinos have amended by adding psychedelic rainbows, hearts and stars to the original Hitler works (which cost them $220,000)….“If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style,” observed  Quentin Crisp…. A July book from Simon & Schuster, The Fall of the House of Bush is by Craig Unger who describes its subject as driven by “delusional idealism and ideological and religious zeal” …..If marriage must be redefined, why approve same-sex but not polygamy?….Steve Chandler, a Brit, has invented the Titan Air Jack which is a bag attached to the exhaust pipe and extends under the car to raise it from the ground as it is inflated by running the engine…..Taking seemingly flattering phrases out of context from reviews to bolster ads for plays and films will be banned under new EU laws…. When you go to buy, use your eyes not your ears chides the old Czech proverb…. Ben Gulak’s prototype for a new electric motorcycle has two wheels side by side and gyroscope to keep it balanced — “He who seeks problems will always find them or, if not, invent them.” — Chinese proverb.