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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: June 23, 2007


“This conflict (in the Middle East) should have been resolved long ago, and its continuation is an indictment of all involved…. For peace to come, Israel must give up the West Bank and share Jerusalem; the Palestinians must give up the dream of return and make Israel feel secure as a Jewish state. All the rest is detail.”
— Editorial in the Economist

THAT VISIONARY TUNNEL under the English Channel to France was always perceived as a loser by most people from Day One. And, in fact, it was $12 million in debt by 1995, with not a penny of interest paid on that since. It’s incompetently run, its prices depending on how lucky you are to choose the right time to travel; the avariciousness of British railroads and the onset of cheap airlines which undermined its customer base. But its unlucky shareholders hung on partly because along with their share certificates came the right of free travel for their lifetime. Now the debtor banks are finally ready to crack down and one of the threats they have made is that the free travel perks will be abolished.

CREMATION CURRENTLY ACCOUNTS FOR 30% of deaths and is expected to rise to 50% by 2025 according to the Cremation Association of North America. As a result, funeral homes — finding fewer and fewer people willing to pay up to $7,000 for the burial ceremony — are renting their facilities for “celebrations” of the deceased, business meetings, reunions — even weddings. One such place, the Musgrove Family Mortuary in Eugene, OR, has been converted into what Business Week describes as a multipurpose family center with catering kitchen and a 12-foot screen for business and memorial presentations. The pews and stained glass windows have been removed. “They made it look like, well, a funeral home” says Mark Musgrove.

EXCESSIVELY HIGH PRICES for designer clothes are what first attracted the attention of Chinese counterfeiters in the opinion of a fashion reporter for Italy’s Il Messaggero which reported that Chinese hackers have found ways to steal and copy the designs even before the originals appear. “There already are many copies on the market all over the streets of Rome, and they often look very good” says Paola Pisa. “Counterfeiting already is an enormous problem and …fashion houses’ computers are now at risk.”

IT MIGHT BE RISKY for China’s leaders to promote the edicts of Confucius (d.479BC) among whose precepts was that those at the top must prove their worthiness to rule. Confucianism was anathema to Mao and attacks on him ended only with his death 30 years ago. But since then a book by Yu Dan has sold 4 million copies, followed by a successful television series based on the sage’s musings. Now a Beijing professor has suggested that it be ratified as the state’s religion. “The relevance of Confucian ideas to modern China is obvious” says the Economist. “Confucianism emphasizes order, balance, and harmony. It teaches respect for authority and concern for others, …(it) seems to provide a ready-made ideology that teaches people to accept their place and does not challenge party rule.”

PRODDED BY DEMANDS from realtors, insurance companies, and the increasing use of hand-held GPS devices, space satellites are growing in numbers and sophistication. “A few years back, people just saw line information on a black background” DigitalGlobe’s Chuck Herring told Via Satellite magazine, “Now people want to see natural landmarks like lakes or hills as well as images like hotels on these handheld base maps.” In the next few months another company, GeoEye, will be launching “the world’s highest resolution Earth imaging satellite” capable of locating images on the earth’s surface within 10 feet.

REVIEWING A TRIO of books about child soldiers, the Nation revealed that, in contravention of international law, more than 50 countries actively recruit soldiers under 18 and that at any given time more than 300,000 children are serving with unofficial armies around the world. With roughly half the world’s population — 3 billion people — living on $2 a day or less, global poverty means that “becoming a child soldier is often the only way to guarantee some level of protection and livelihood.” Some child warriors are as young as seven. Armed groups are increasingly recruiting children, writes Fatin Abbas, “not only because they are cheap and effective but also because their limited psychological development means that they can be manipulated more easily than adults.”

AN UGLY MUG could be the term for Rosie O’Donnell or it might also describe the $15.95 coffee mug bearing her picture (and those of the other participants on the ABC television show The View) which, says an ABC spokesman, is selling six times faster than the previous mug on offer.

THE WILCOCK WEB: With exacting idiocy, British churches have been told to post No Smoking signs in their entrances…. The Elvis Presley Taking Care of Business Tribute Revolver, a .357 Magnum bearing an engraved picture of the late singer, is offered for $2,195 by a Virginia mail order company…. Jack Kerouac’s home town of Lowell, MA, is celebrating the 50th anniversary of his novel, On the Road…. The most popular new restaurant in Italy is inside the Fortezza Medicea prison near Pisa, where 120 carefully screened diners each night pay $33 for gourmet meals cooked by a convicted murderer and his fellow prisoners…. “The law does not content itself with classifying and punishing crime” wisely said Norman Douglas, “it invents crime….” A surgeon’s skill at playing video games made them more proficient at controlling the tiny instruments inside a patient’s body (laparoscopic techniques) according to a study by New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center…. In its ludicrous drive to be “eco-friendly,” the British weapons company BAE, says it is developing lead-free bullets… A letter writer to BusinessWeek reveals that Starbucks keeps a “secret” stash of ceramic cups in which you can ask for your coffee to be served ….. London publisher Duncan Baird’s first fiction series will be imaginary conversations (Coffee With…) with such names as Marilyn Monroe, Oscar Wilde, and Plato….” “Politics is an honest effort to misunderstand each other” mused Robert Frost….” We have entered the Me-lennium. All the world is screaming Me! Me! Me! “writes TV critic Tom Shales. “And every me has a story they deem themselves entitled, even mandated, to share ” All is ephemeral — fame and the famous as well — Marcus Aurelius (AD120-180)