John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: March 14, 2009

“If we learned anything from the British and the Soviets, it is that Afghans fiercely resist outside powers and that some in Pakistan are eager to prevent outsiders from controlling its neighbor, especially if those outsiders have good relations with India. Afghanistan is called ‘the burial ground of empires’ for good reason.” — from the Nation editorial, Don’t Escalate in Afghanistan

THAT RIDICULOUS TWO-THIRDS MAJORITY needed by California legislators to pass the budget is just one of the reasons why a Constitutional Convention is needed to change the way things are done declares the San Francisco Chronicle. (Some of the other reasons are the traffic-clogged highways, the worst education system in the country, the overcrowded prisons, the expensive health system, and the anticipated “catastrophic failure” of the water system.) “California is broken. Our Constitution has been amended more than 500 times, leaving it more like the Winchester Mystery House with rooms and stairways leading nowhere…In this system nothing can get done…we can’t fiddle around the edges anymore,” says the SFC editorial.  Columnist Jon Carroll comments that a recent poll showed the California Legislature with an approval rating of minus five percent, so in the next election “we should vote for no incumbents, none at all. Let’s not try to apportion blame. Let’s just give them all the boot.”

SOME MIGHT THINK it odd that in the recent Los Angeles Times stories about indicted (for allegedly manipulating stock options) CEO Bruce Karatz there was no mention of his former partner Eli Broad, 75, who first appointed Karatz to be chairman of KBHome, the huge building firm. After all the “B” still stands for Broad, the Los Angeles philanthropist said to be worth almost six billion dollars and who (according to business commentator Mike Lacter) felt that the KB board who fired Karatz had acted “too hastily” after paying him $135.6 million in 2005.

WITH ALL THAT STIMULUS money being tossed around, now would be a good time to invest some of it in mass transit suggests the Nation which says it would be “the greenest way to lift the country out of a deepening recession.” Ben Adler says it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that if you build highways, increased inefficient sprawl will beget more traffic, and thus the need for more highways. “Build mass transit and you see high-density, efficient housing construction and people living without cars….To reduce our contributions to climate change we must also reduce our driving.”

IN THE SAME WEEK, National Review made a similar request for investing in the country’s shopworn infrastructure, but it added a caveat. Standing in the way, it charged, was not only the National Environmental Policy Act which added two or three percent to the cost of every project but the ensuing red tape which delayed transportation projects that received federal funding. “All told, major highway projects take an average of 13 years, start to finish, according to the Federal Highway Administration.”

“There is only one creed we are allowed to follow in modern Britain,”  wrote Peter Hitchens in the Daily Mail, that of “equality and diversity. It is a religion that preaches tolerance while silencing dissenters (it is) slow-motion Stalinism.”

WHEN YOU SOBER UP you might regret it if you’d sent that angry, befuddled e-mail last night. But Google has a solution if you’ve already registered with ‘mail-google’. Before transmitting, it will ask you a few simple mathematical questions to make sure you have your wits about you. And there’s a free service at to which you can forward e-mails you aren’t ready to send. (They’ll send them back to you the next day).

What happens to former Cold War spies when they become superfluous?  Well, according to the Utne Reader, they become corporate spooks, plying their dark trade by infiltrating companies, and advocacy groups, to acquire knowledge about protest plans or lobbying agendas.  Do-gooders rarely have the time or inclination to do background checks on their volunteers.  “Any time involved in corporate espionage is (well spent by) those who are more than happy to spy on activists or organizations. Because frankly, they seem very easy pickings,” says one observer.

THE INHUMANITY OF Homeland Security was clearly illustrated in last week’s TV documentary. A bereaved English lady, about 30, was denied admission because her luggage included family pictures indicating to the Feds her intention to “stay” with relatives rather than visit. The valiant gatekeepers boasted about their impeccable judgment in sending her home. They filmed the sobbing lady, in real time.

“EXCITED DELIRIUM” is the weasily phrase the taser industry has managed to get accepted as explanation for deaths of victims jolted by their electric stun gun. Such fatal encounters, according to Amnesty International, have totaled 334 since tasers were first used by police in 2001. In 69 of these cases, autopsy reports blamed excited delirium (ED) which one Chicago surgeon defined as mere conjecture. “People are looking for an explanation for some of these deaths,” the University of Toronto’s Matthew Stanbrook told Mother Jones, “and this syndrome provides an answer that is convenient.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Why are the Feds so scared of taking over failing companies into which they’re pouring billions? They are allowing Neanderthal Conservatives to define what socialism is instead of the now-generally accepted meaning: what comes along to take charge when capitalism fails…. Cover story subject Kanye West, (“The Ego Has Landed”), claims he has given up music for fashion in the March issue of Details, which contains 123 pages of males, modeling…. Ironic if the death penalty gets abolished because states say they can’t afford it (which wouldn’t be the case if they didn’t allow 20 years’ of appeals)… Instead of doubling and tripling the prison population, don’t judges have the authority to impose public service tasks? So why don’t they?…. Anybody know why  Bernie Madoff is still roosting in his lavish penthouse?….Safety experts, still raising concerns about the made-in-China movement, reports Smart Money, are questioning the reliability of imported automobile spare parts after serious accidents stemming from engine fuses, windshield glass, and rubber valve stems….. Attempting to lure teenagers from the Internet back to print media, France is spending  $700million  offering them a free one-year subscription to the newspaper of their choice….If you want to help Zimbabwe, check out….Fraudulent abuse of the “returns” policy cost retailers $15.5 billion in 2007 according to industry researchers….. Sports don’t build character, they reveal it,” suggested Heywood Brown…..Details magazine devoted a page to what it described as The Vanity Album ranging from Clint Eastwood singing cowboy songs (1963) and Leonard Nimoy presenting ‘Songs from Outer Space’ (1967), to The Best of Hilary Duff (2008) and Lindsey Lohan pretending to sing (2009)… London department store Harrod’s, famous for its gourmet food section, installed a champagne bar adjoining the luxury fashion displays….… For almost a decade, says Details, California’s Slade Fiero has made a living repairing damaged sex dolls, “spending his time surrounded by sex dolls that turn him on only aesthetically”…. Hoping to avoid any more collisions, NASA and other bodies that monitor space activity are asking operators to ensure that satellites burn up at the end of their lives or are moved to safer “graveyard” orbits….Nearly half the women shoppers polled for Fitness magazine admitted that trying on clothes in stores pushed them to take up exercising….. “No one lies so boldly as the man who is indignant.” — Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)