John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: March 19, 2011

John Wilcock


That the 9/11 attack on the World
Trade Center was staged?

We never went to the moon.

The military suppressed claims that they
could make warships invisible.

There have been secret landings
by space aliens.
AIDS was circulated to kill black men.
Oil companies possess secret technology
that could turn water into gasoline.


CONSPIRACY THEORIES (like the above) are easy to propagate and difficult to refute says the Skeptical Inquirer, and people who believe in one conspiracy are likely to believe in another. “Conspiracy theorists typically overlook lapses in logic but are quick to pounce on any flaw on the part of their opponents,” the mag asserts. “It isn’t essential that practitioners actually believe the theory; they may just find it plausible and useful to raise doubts and discredit their competitors.”

The Jan/Feb issue of the SI devotes 10 pages to “The Conspiracy Meme” which suggests countering a suspicious belief by searching for evidence of what it calls “cascade logic.” For example, the moon ‘hoax’ implies the complicity of thousands of scientists and technicians as well as Soviet astronomers and others around the world who tracked the event. “It is incredibly implausible that such a conspiracy could hold together.”

As for global warming, climate science is heavily dependent on complex statistical models based on limited data so it’s hardly surprising that different assumptions might produce different results. And scientists “will never reach a consensus with Flat Earthers or with those who believe the earth was created in 4004 BC…But allowing the conspiracy theorists to dominate the public debate can have tragic consequences…British parents exposing their children to life-threatening diseases…South Africa rejecting retroviral treatment for AIDS and the Zambian government refusing GM food in the midst of a famine.”

WEEPY PLEAS FROM BIG PHARMA always accompany any announcement that patents are about to expire on best-selling drugs, which have been phenomenally overpriced for years. For example, Pfizer’s Lipitor, which has been bringing the company $10bn a year is one of ten “megamedicines whose combined annual sales have neared $50bn,” reports the New York Times.

And soon their patents will be over, causing the companies to “lose” all these profits. But what happened to the $50bn? Don’t companies making excessive profits ever save any of it?

WHATEVER OTHER PROBLEMS it might have, Cuba has emerged as “a medical superpower” according to Cliff Durand, a researcher who spends part of his time at La Universidad de la Habana. Asking rhetorically how such a poor country lacking the sophisticated medical technology of the U.S. has managed to care for its population, he responds: “The answer is: doctors. Cuba has 5.3 doctors per 1,000 people–the highest ratio in the world, and nearly double that of the U.S.” That is just part of the story because Cuba has more doctors serving abroad than the World Health Organization. Since 1963, 100,000 doctors have served in 101 countries. Durand, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Baltimore’s Morgan State University, says that 10,000 students from 29 different countries (including the US) are currently studying at the decade-old Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM). located outside Havana in a former naval base. “Most of the students would have found it impossible to study medicine at home without the financial grant they have obtained from Cuba,” he says. The six-year course provides everything: lodging, clothing, food, books, and a small amount of spending money.


“Contrary to what those in power would like you to believe so that you’ll give up your pension, cut your wages, and settle for the life your great-grandparents had, America is not broke. Not by a long shot. The country is awash in wealth and cash. It’s just that it’s not in your hands. It has been transferred, in the greatest heist in history, from the workers and consumers to the banks and the portfolios of the uber-rich.”
Michael Moore speaking in Wisconsin


NO-ALCOHOL BEER has been such a success in Japan that, with real beer sales slumping 20% in that country, one of Japan’s biggest brewers, Kirin, is about to flood California with 1,000 outlets for Kirin Free. Most American “near-beers,” such as Anheuser-Busch’s O’Douls, contain a small amount of alcohol. Kirin Free contains none.

ONLINE DATING has had a tremendous impact abroad, in China and especially countries like India where for centuries the custom of arranged marriages has been the norm, and where young people now have a chance to influence their parents’ choices. But everywhere, says the Economist, the services have shed an initial stigma and are changing the ways people find love. In the past two years, EHarmony claims to have fostered almost 5% of all marriages in the U.S. Membership, depending on duration, is $20-60, but there are also free sites such as OKCupid (none of whose members ever answered my emails) and crass, illicit sex sites such as Ashley Madison which claims 8.3 million members in nine countries and has been described as “a business built on the back of broken hearts, ruined marriages, and damaged families.” But, like love itself, the magazine adds, “ the world of online match-making is full of happy surprises.”

SATELLITE RADIO was being considered a loser as recently as 2008 when it lost hundreds of millions of dollars. But last year it made a dramatic comeback, reporting a $67m profit in the third quarter. Writing in Via Satellite, Max Engel attributes this not only to the system moving into more cars but also the fact that its rival, Internet Radio, had limited nationwide access to compete. “We are a long way,” says Engel, “from providing mobile access…via wireless access on the Internet.”

FEWER JOBS is not what most people would be hoping for but maybe when the reference is to fewer politicians the idea might gain some traction. Kansas is one of several states that are giving serious consideration to saving money by reducing the number of legislators — in KS’ case by cutting senators down to 30 (from 40) and representatives to 90 (from 125). “Every legislator thinks he or she is so important that we could not possibly get by with fewer of us,” Chris Steiger told the Wall Street Journal. “ (But) you just simply don’t need to make the decisions we make,” says Steiger, a state senator himself, WSJ says other states, including Pennsylvania, are considering similar measures.

SEEKING THINGS that were missing from various neighborhoods, New York’s pharmacy chain Duane Read zeroed in on suburban Williamsburg to install a beer bar — called Brew York City — in one corner of its store. “With each of our stores we’re trying to find what works in the community,” says vp Paul Tiberio. “(This) was an area that was devoid of opportunities for beer.”


“When one looks across the Arab world today at the stunning spontaneous democracy uprisings, it is impossible not to ask: What are we doing spending $110billion this year supporting corrupt and unpopular regimes in Afghanistan and Pakistan that are almost identical to the governments we’re applauding the Arab people for overthrowing?”
Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times


USELESS OBJECTS OFTEN sell for hugely outlandish prices if their previous owners were famous or notorious, and the Journal of Consumer Research issued a report on this not-unfamiliar circumstance under the title Celebrity Contagion and the Value of Objects. Contagion, JCR explains, results from “the magical thinking that a person’s immaterial qualities or essence can be transferred to an object through physical contact,” thus the simple tape measure that fetched $48,875 at the auction of Jackie Kennedy’s possessions or the $160 piece of bubble gum once chewed by Brittany Spears. JCR’s essay, compiled by two Yale professors and an Israeli psychologist, from what seems like ridiculously protracted research by others, details some fairly obvious conclusions such as bragging rights or sentimental attachment. In one of the experiments, subjects were asked about their willingness to acquire objects previously owned by, say, Hitler, Saddam, Charles Manson and agreed with enthusiasm. But would they wear a sweater once owned by those same villains? Er, no.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Old-timers won’t have failed to note the parallel between Khadafy vs. the Rebels stand-off and the Spanish Civil War when US sympathizers volunteered for the decidedly NGO Abraham Lincoln Brigade to join the mismatched battle against Franco. Good intentions were not enough. Franco won…. China Daily, currently widely and expensively being promoted in both the US and Europe, is a fascinating paper as long as you don’t want to know anything they are determined to keep unknown….Downtown Shanghai’s almost-abandoned old telephone booths have been equipped with WiFi to allow passers-by with computers to access whatever parts of the Internet that China doesn’t prohibit….Every time Coca-Cola re-emerges in the news, the legend is repeated about how the recipe is so secret it’s kept double-locked in a safe. But surely with all the skills that scientists have today, it would be easy to analyze it in a laboratory and identify the ingredients? (if anyone cared)…Boston-born Bob Diamond, who as head of Barclays Bank in London reaped $30million in cash and shares last year reports the WSJ, has called for an end to “banker bashing” ….HEDGE FUNDS BET ON MIDEAST CONTAGION PUSHING OIL TO $150 — Financial Times ….The Subway sandwich chain, with 33,749 outlets has just passed McDonald’s (32,737) as the world’s largest restaurant chain…The Federal agents who monitor gun sales, allowed Mexican drug gangs to buy and ship 150 guns south of the border so that when people were killed with them they’d know who was responsible…If Muslims decline to share the relaxed way of life in western countries to which they immigrate, and doggedly resist the local customs and beliefs, why do they feel the need to move there in the first place?…. …“Vampire lovers can sink their teeth into the profiles on offer at Vampire Passions,” reports the Economist…. Viewers who find Saturday Night Live funny are still handicapped by never having progressed beyond teenage humor… Virtual tours of 17 of the world’s major museums, with more than 1,000 artworks displayed, can be accessed via Google’s Street View Art Project….Art historian Silvano Vinceti suggests that the original model for Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was his young male lover Gian Giacomo Caprotti….“Common sense is not so common.”  (Voltaire, 1694-1778)