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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: March 13, 2010

John Wilcock

“Since the time of Rome, historians have taught that while corruption is a part of every society, the only truly dangerous corruption comes when the society has lost any sense of shame. Washington has lost its sense of shame.”Lawrence LessigNation

BLUEFIN TUNA was once so ubiquitous that it was used for cat food, but its popularity among sushi fans has turned it into a global delicacy fetching thousands of dollars for fish as heavy as hundreds of pounds. Unfortunately, demand has also brought the fish almost to extinction. Its possible inclusion on the list of endangered species will be discussed at a convention in Qatar next week.

INTERNET POKER IS UNDER renewed threat with the Justice Department’s resolve to implement a law that has largely been in abeyance since it was passed four years ago. “What the government usually cares most about,” says Forbes, “is whether gambling is providing a forum for other criminal activity like money-laundering, underage gambling or cheating” and thus at risk is an industry involving 2.5 million Americans who play and bet $20 billion annually. Most of the internet betting sites are located abroad — such as the one in Costa Rica operated by 76-year-old Doyle Brunson, the so-called “Godfather of Poker” — but occasionally their owners have been arrested when they were careless enough to come ashore. However, among their supporters is Rep. Barney Frank (D.Mass) who is backing a bill to make online poker legal — and taxed.

CAN WE DISPOSE OF radioactive waste in volcanoes? That’s the question a New Jersey reader submitted to Popular Mechanics which replied that the temperature inside volcanoes “only” reaches 2,400°F whereas the melting point of uranium oxide, the fuel used at most nuclear power plants, is more than twice that, 5,189 degrees.

LIKE THE JEWISH eruv system which allows Orthodox Jews to ignore their Sabbath laws within a symbolic enclave marked off with wire, the Sharia laws that forbid lenders from earning interest also demonstrate the hypocrisy of religions. How do the Muslims obey the law? They just finagle a way around it.

DREAMS OF FUSION never go away in the scientific community and although nuclear fusion already exists — the combining of atomic nuclei to create heat — the ultimate aim of imitating the power of the sun lives on.

Skeptics have long scoffed that fusion “is the energy source of the future and always will be.” But that was before the emergence in France of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor which will attempt to fuse together two heavy isotopes of hydrogen inducing temperatures of 15m kelvin (the temperature at the sun’s core) thus creating huge amounts of energy. The drawback, explains the New Scientist, is that “nuclei themselves are reluctant participants: each carries a positive electrical charge and these repel one another.” Overcoming this problem is why, even after the expenditure of $10bn, nobody is expecting success in the immediate future.

ON A VISIT back to his native India, a professor from the University of Maryland was so annoyed at constant demands for bribes, that he designed and had printed a fake “banknote” which he hands out in response. He says some corrupt officials are not used to resistance to their requests and, scared by his gift, change their ways.

ON THE WAY to the fabulously expensive-to-produce home 3D television, viewers may be treated to a simpler version known to the trade as “synthesized 3D” which is basically a way to convert existing 2D. (Maybe that’s what the new Alice movie is.) It will cost half as much as the real thing to transmit, but there’s a twist: it sometimes can give the illusion that objects are moving away from rather than toward the viewer. And, “It lacks the ‘wow’ factor,” Motorola’s Ajay Luthra told Communications Technology.

“The importance of a people not wanting to be occupied cannot be underestimated…We don’t like to admit that in the case of Afghanistan, maybe our presence is making the situation worse. That maybe these people are fighting because they don’t like to be occupied.” American Prospect


CUTTING THE THROAT of a helpless animal clearly causes pain says a report by researchers at a New Zealand University who say it should be preceded by stunning the defenseless beast. But just slitting the throats of the terrified animals and letting them bleed to death is how some Jews and Muslims interpret the demands of their religion. A Massey University team led by Craig Johnson conducted brain wave tests showing that stunning the animals right after incision made the pain disappear instantly. “but the religious community are adamant (animals) don’t experience any pain,” Johnson says.

SINCE 1978 a British trade magazine, The Bookseller has made an annual award for The Oddest Title of the Year. The 2009 winner will be announced on March 26, with nominations (which close next week) including the following:

* Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter
by David Crompton. (Glenstrae Press)

* Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich
by James A. Yannes. (Trafford Publishing)

* Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes
by Daina Taimina. (A K Peters, Ltd.)

* Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots
by Ronald C. Arkin. (CRC Press)

* The Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease
by Ellen Scherl and Maria Dubinsky. (SLACK Inc.)

* What Kind of Bean is This Chihuahua?
by Tara Jansen-Meyer. (Mirror)

THE WILCOCK WEB: If we had gotten out of Iraq years ago — before hundreds of thousands of deaths — the inevitable civil war would have been over by now….Only a clueless vulgarian such as Tim Burton would think that sensationalizing a beloved classic such as Alice in Wonderland would be admirable…. In a story about how widely disliked are the ticket-selling agencies, the Economist quotes a music industry veteran: “Every story you have ever heard about the greed of musicians is true”…. How could the imaginative Jerry Steinfeld have dreamed up something as feeble as The Marriage Ref?…Being bribed by somebody for whom you do favors isn’t necessarily unethical, ruled the pols who decide these matters…. Chevron is just the latest of the major oil companies to de-brand itself from hundreds of attached retail shops, reports the trade magazine, Stores ….Criminal activities by terrorist groups in the tri-border area between Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil earns them $100 million a year claims James Conway, a former FBI counter-terrorism agent, who told Newsmax: “It’s Hezbollah’s Western capital for fund-raising”…. And the porous U.S.-Canada border enables a billion-dollar cigarette smuggling business … With most of its citizens earning less than $2 a day, Nigeria allows 80% of its vast oil wealth to be shared by one percent of the population…. How is it possible to have civil war? And why is there an expiration date to sour cream?…..New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has cats named Albert Einstein and Doris Lessing….Google forecasts that within a few years its new phone that not only recognizes your voice but can translate it immediately into a foreign language will be ready …. Maybe instead of wasting entire pages to advertising itself, the Los Angeles Times might consider donating the pages to charity?… If mortgages can so readily be adjusted upwards, couldn’t the contracts be written so that they automatically adjust downwards when values drop?…..In the course of researching blast injuries, Britain’s Porton Down military laboratory has blown up 119 pigs since 2006….Actors who’ve wanted to play Holden Caulfield have included Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, and Leonard di Caprio, but the late J.D. Salinger never gave permission for a movie version of Catcher in the Rye. Now his family might sell the rights…. Another of those “rare currency” ads aimed at suckers in National Review offers a package of four $2 bills for $12 plus shipping….How many firms allow their employees to spend most of their time and derive much of their income from working another job? And yet it’s conventional for members of Congress. Full-time pay for part-time work…. “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” — Albert Einstein (1879-1955)