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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: June 9, 2007


HUNDREDS OF BRITISH HOMES have been turned into pot farms and their product now accounts for 60% of the cannabis sold in England reports The Week explaining that three-quarters of the hundreds of such “farms” busted in the last couple of years were run by Vietnamese gangs. Although marihuana was downgraded to a Class C drug some years back, anti-drug advocates want it to be regraded because of recent research allegedly linking it to schizophrenia. But, “if it caused schizophrenia,” the mag says, as some psychiatrists are suggesting “then the incidence of the illness should be higher in countries where cannabis is more widely used, and there is no evidence of that.”

THE TALL POPPY SYNDROME, the cutting down of which has long been a synonym for the way Australians counter what they perceive as over-achievement or hubris, may finally be in decline. It’s “a diseased way of thinking invented by the majority to let them feel more comfortable in their intellectual mediocrity” was one caustic criticism of the widespread practice, but as Australians assert themselves more in the world and lose their “inferiority complex” the poppy factor is less observed reports Psychology Today. Among “fallen stars” listed by the magazine are golfer Greg Norman (resented for his “arrogance and American accent”); Steve Irwin (after dangling his son in front of a crocodile); and New Zealand born and Australian-raised Russell Crowe (“after he hurled a telephone at a hotel clerk. Each nation tried to give him back”).

AND ON THE SUBJECT of poppies, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime points out that less than three acres of them can earn an Afghanistan more than ten times a cereal crop. ”The Afghan poppy fields are a persistent backdrop to the war on terror,” says World magazine in a recent piece explaining that short-term work clearing irrigation canals or working on the highways is no way to stop the production of opium. “While the farmer is throwing gravel on the road, his wife is growing poppy says Malaly Piker Volpi who explains that millions in foreign aid hasn’t changed the nature of the trade. She met one farmer who showed her a warehouse of rotting cereals that he had been unable to sell because the market had been flooded with imported Pakistani wheat. This year, he said, he would plant poppy.

FROM THE VIEWPOINT OF shopkeepers, the cyberworld of Second Life “can be a vehicle for retailers and consumers brands to build loyalty and boost brand recognition” says the trade magazine Stores which says that residents of the fantasy world are already spending more than $1.5 (real) dollars each day. Among those already in business there are Circuit City (with a link to its website); Best Buy (whose “geek squad” offers free computer advice); American Apparel (20 items on offer and so-far sales of 12,000 pairs of jeans at $2 apiece); and Sears, whose senior vp Paul Miller says: “As far as the Internet has come, it’s still lacking when it comes to the social aspects of shopping. This bridges the gap.” Starwood Hotels has launched its newest chain, Aloft, in Second Life even though a bricks-and-mortar version will not be built until next year.

MEANWHILE, A COMPANY called Fabjectory has been selling plastic replicas of the avatars visualized by Second Life residents who seek to bring tangible memories of it into their first life.

PEACEFUL STREET PROTESTS don’t make it anymore. “If it’s not part of a dedicated strategy to change policy, or to change power, protest is only a firm of political exhibitionism” declares Jack DuVall, president of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. He’s among those quoted in an Utne Reader piece — Dump Your Signs and Slogans — It’s Time to Make Change — which claims that American peace activists “have been heading down the same cul-de-sac for more than four decades (and) proving to be a dramatic failure.” Pointing out that “action has become ritualized,” the magazine says that in future, exploiting cracks in the system or sitting down at a table and working out solutions is likely to be much more effective.

WHAT THE OBSERVER described as “a superlative addition to the literature of travel” is the just-published Search of Kazakhstan, (Profile Books) the formerly little-known land that was lampooned by Sacha Baron Cohen’s fictitious Borat. “The Kazakhs have responded to the slur on their national character with admirable good grace and humor,” says a Publishing News review of Christopher Robbins’ exploration of the birthplace of apples, tulips, and trousers and to which Dostoyevsky, Trotsky, and Solzhenitsyn were exiled.

THE WILCOCK WEB: How curiously the Madeleine kidnapping case echoes that of Jon Benet Ramsey all those years ago…. Donating her collection of 50,000 jokes to the Smithsonian, Phyllis Diller, 89, had some advice for aspiring comics: “Go out and try it, and if you find out from the audience that you’re not funny, quit …. For the eighth successive year, Jacob is the favorite baby boy name in the U.S. and — for the 11th successive year — Emily for girls…. More companies are expected to copy the strategy of Coca Cola and L’Oreal which has devised a soft drink that contains skincare treatment …. Glasgow-based Beautiful Vending, which has sold 700 of its coin-operated hair-straightening irons in Britain’s restrooms ($2 per minute), brings the concept to the U.S. next month…. “People who value their privileges above their principles” cautioned Dwight Eisenhower, “soon lose both”… Maybe the single most useless gift on record, is the solitary white shoe (autographed by Pat Boone) offered in a sweepstake by the rightwing publisher American Compass…. Screening Casino Royale on some of its flights, British Airways airbrushed rival Richard (Virgin Airlines) Branson out of one scene…. How did the Soviets counter NASA spending $1 million to develop a pen that would write in space? They took a pencil… After grossing more than half a million dollars a week, the London production of Equus starring Daniel (Harry Potter) Radcliffe closes next week, opening on Broadway next year…. Prozac’s new version for dogs is said to have a tasty beef flavor…. Tracy Mann, a UC psychologist, says that when most people quit ”yo-yo dieting” they’re heavier than when they began…. Writer H.L. Mencken defined Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy….” New mail order item: a solar-powered talking bible ($120)…. “Tis easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it. — Benjamin Franklin (1706-90)