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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: June 7, 2008

THE DICTATOR WHOM Condoleeza Rice calls “a good friend” — Equatorial Guinea’s president Teodoro Obiang — is dying of prostate cancer and is predicted to be succeeded by his playboy son who last fall paid $35 million for a Malibu mansion, Serra Retreat. “The E.G. government takes in $4bn a year in oil revenues and royalties,” writes Richard Behar, “and yet just about every building of every size seems to be owned by the president’s family or government ministers who tend to be one and the same…E.G. is less a country than a corrupt, extended family business.” Most of its 520,000 citizens live on less than $1 a day. When Little Teodoro, 37, the family heir to what has been termed “a vampire parasitic elite” set a California record last year with his purchase of the 16-acre Malibu estate, very little appeared in the press about either him or his father who has been described as “one of the world’s most ruthless dictators.” (Obiang took over the country in a 1979 coup and executed his predecessor the following month.) Behar’s report appears in Fast Company, part of a lengthy investigation of the huge bribes being paid by U.S. oil companies to various African countries which, nevertheless, are being outplayed by Chinese firms unhampered by human rights concerns.

IT’S BEEN RAINING WEATHERMEN like cats and dogs since the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (which employs almost half of them) switches to more computer models. But not to worry, big companies have been snatching them up as forecasters to storm-watch for firms like Mars, the candy company, that buy agricultural crops from tempest-prone foreign lands, as well as commodities traders at banks whose customers bet on how meteorological conditions might affect natural gas prices.

 “The movie industry has it over the game industry,” says Stephen Spielberg, because “most films are stories full of surprises and the audience just sits and lets the experience wash over them. Whereas with video games you’re so busy waving your arms or using your thumbs and standing on your feet and leaning forward, and there’s so much body language and adrenaline that it blocks any chance to have a feeling about a character.”

CUTTING THE FORESKIN in the process known as circumcision has encountered growing criticism in recent years from what Psychology Today refers to as “intactivists.” The rate of circumcision has dropped from 90% to about 50% says the mag reporting views from both those who approve of it (as long as it’s done at an early age) and those who regard it as a violation of children’s rights. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a neutral statement declaring that it was legitimate for parents “to take into account cultural, religious, and ethnic traditions in addition to medical factors.”

ON A SIMILAR SUBJECT, Popular Science devotes a page to various alternatives now available to the male contraceptive pill. These include implanting tiny silicone plugs, a gel that dissolves sperm, and a 10-minute application of ultrasound to the testes every six months.

POPE BENEDICT XVI’s recent visit to the U.S. is likely to have been a boon to the holy relic business according to Forbes. “Anything he touched will count—a business card, a rosary, a faucet,” if and when he is beatified, the magazine says. Although the Vatican bars the actual sale of such items as bone fragments from saints, pieces of the Holy Cross, and even Mother Teresa’s tennis shoes, dealers get around it by selling reliquaries — containers containing the relics — with the latter thrown in for free. “Some first-class relics come with a red papal seal (meaning they’ve been vetted by the Vatican)…..(and) customers report relics with palpable heartbeats.”

TOSSING 42 COFFEE BEANS into the machine for each espresso, more than 800 deft Java Joes from around the world will meet in Copenhagen (June 19-22) for the 10th annual World Barista Championship. In 15 minutes each competitor prepares four espressos, four cappuccinos, and four original ”signature” drinks. Tobacco-infused cream topped one of last year’s winners.

BRITISH MUSEUMS have been accused of “dumbing down” by a Sunday Times writer, Waldemar Januszczcak, who discovered Halle Berry’s bikini and other James Bond memorabilia in the Imperial War Museum “an institution charged with remembering Britain’s wars.” Another museum, the Victoria & Albert, is about to display dresses worn by the Supremes, another example the writer claims, of the infantilisation” of British culture.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA is so far the only market for the initial batch of three-wheeled Aptera cars just going into production. Claiming to get 300mpg and 120 miles on a single charge, the hybrid costs $30,000 and 1,300 of them have already been paid for.

THE WILCOCK WEB: What phony ”incident” will the Bushies manufacture to justify an attack on Iran just before the November election?…. After incomprehensible French novelist, Michael Houellebecq called his mother, Lucie Ceccaldi, 83, an “old slut’ in one of his books, she responded with a book of her own in which she terms him “a little upstart willing to do anything for fame and fortune”…. “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die” in the opinion of Carrie Fisher…..Maybe you hadn’t noticed how many English candy bars are now licensed to Hershey’s — Nestle’s Rolo along with some the in the Cadbury range. Kraft makes the Swiss Toblerone but so far no company has grabbed France’s delicious NutsWhisky Magazine voted a Japanese single malt ($300 a bottle) best in the world….The world’s fifth richest man, Mukesh Ambani (a $43bn petrochemicals tycoon) is building himself a 27-story, $1.7bn house in Bombay. Six floors are devoted to parking and there’s an “ice room” (it gets hot in Bombay)Three years after his death, the best program on television, Classic Arts Showcase, just celebrated its 14th anniversary in May with a tribute to its visionary founder, Lloyd E. Rigler…. …..I tend to think that the more people like something, the worse it is,” suggests Laurie Anderson….This month, Take Me Out to the Ball Game will become the first song to be featured on a US postage stamp…. Why isn’t phonetic spelled the way that it sounds? …..Local activist Dmitris Lambrou says residents of the Greek island of Lesbos have suffered “psychological and moral rape” by the “seizure” of their name by gay women…..“Life is the art of drawing sufficient conclusions from insufficient premises.” — Samuel Butler (1612-80)