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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: March 21, 2009

“So it has come to this. Every interest group that can organize itself and make excessive demands to limit speech seems to succeed in some form…The moment we accept that those who claim offence have the right to seek removal of offending words and images from the public domain, we give authority over our public discourse to those who were not elected by anybody to perform such duties.” — Salil Tripathi in the Spectator

AS A PRE-TEENAGER Harry Reid joined his father working in a goldmine and most of his political life since has been devoted to supporting the mining industry and thus depriving the U.S. of billions of dollars in royalties. That’s the gist of a Mother Jones story which reveals that in the last 14 years, mining interests have given more than a quarter of a million dollars to the Nevada senator, two of his sons work for law firms representing mining companies and his son-in-law has earned $3.7 million lobbying for their interests. Key to this tale is Reid’s consistent blocking reform of the General Mining Law of 1872 which the magazine calls “a legal blank check that’s allowed miners to take $408 billion of gold from public lands without paying a single cent of federal royalties — ever.” Is there a name for a senator who’s also a lobbyist? Maybe this applies to Nancy Pelosi, too. These Dems would be more democratic if they were demoted.

ALTHOUGH U.S. UNIVERSITIES granted 37,000 history degrees in 2006, there were fewer than 500 job openings in that field (compared with 16,000 new jobs for plumbers). The statistics are part of Forbes’s story about how the cost of college is being enhanced by dishonest lenders burdening graduates with huge debts that take forever to repay. ”There are a lot of aspects of selling education that are tinged with conspiracy fraud,” says UCLA law professor Richard Sander. “There is a definite conspiracy to lead students down a primrose path.” The magazine reports that the cost of acquiring a degree has risen at twice the rate of inflation “dramatically undermining any value a sheepskin has.”

CHINESE OFFICIALS IN NANJING have been pressured to close down a new mall whose stores include a McDnoalds (with its logo of three arches), Bucksstar Coffee (logo on a familiar green background), a Haagen Bozs, and a Pizza Huh. ‘To allow a mall to do business solely on the premise of cheating legitimate brands — and shoppers” comments Stores, “is downright revolting.”

WHITE COLLAR RAGE is what some psychologists are calling the more frequent bouts of bad temper being expressed by “meltdown magnates” who have become victims of the continuing economic crisis. “If you’re under stress because you think you might lose your job or you’re feeling a lack of control because your portfolio is dwindling,” says University of South Florida professor Paul E. Spector, “that’s a recipe for aggressive behavior.”

IN AN ESSAY ON How the Crash Will Reshape America, Richard Florida pointed out that the percentage of Americans who moved in 2008 was the smallest for 60 years, his explanation being that rising home-ownership costs are “making our society less nimble.” But, with foreclosures forcing more people from their homes, he suggested (in the Atlantic) that banks taking back homes “be required to offer to rent each home to the previous owner at market rates — which are typically lower than mortgage payments.”

FRENCH GOVERNMENT RESEARCHERS are checking out a drug normally used to treat muscle spasms, as a possible cure for alcohol addiction, after claims by a cardiologist, Dr. Olivier Amiesen, that it worked in his own case. The claim that a single drug — in this case Baclofen — can cure anything as complex is scoffed at by addiction experts but early reports say it has worked on mice. Drunken mice?

THE WILCOCK WEB: With his latest gift of $145million to UC’s San Francisco Medical Center, philanthropist Charles F. Feeney mused: “Just think, if wealthy people had given away more of their money…they wouldn’t have lost it”…..Barely surfacing in the Bernie Madoff scandal so far, has been the Medici Bank of Venice’s boss Sonia Kohn of whom more will be heard….When jailbird Bernie writes his story it should be worth a few mill…“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make thee mad as hell,” opined Aldous Huxley…..Los Angeles Weekly columnist Nikki Finke writes that It was Rupert Murdoch’s London-based daughter Elizabeth who battled to convince Fox TV’s bosses that Britain’s Pop Idol would be a hit over here, but that it took “nagging Daddy and a direct order from Rupert himself to launch American Idol”….CMS. a price-off coupon research firm in Winston-Salem reports that the biggest coupon users are now householders with annual incomes above $150,000…. In what Ad Age calls an “audacious and quite possibly unprecedentedpromotion, Coca-Cola is offering a free bottle of its new drink Vault to anybody who buys Pepsi Cola’s Mountain Dew…. The American Society of Magazine Editors objects to front-page ads as unsuitable but makes no comment about the ugly, even-more commercial bar codes….Comic book genius Stan Lee, now 85 and with Spider-Man, the Hulk, and W-Men I (among others) behind him, says he “never knew half the stuff I was writing about…I don’t know a damn thing about science. All I know is what sounds cool”…. Dissing her former lover Ben Affleck, the boring Gwyneth Paltrow remarked; “His ideal woman would be a stripper with a Budweiser in each hand”…… In a survey conducted by a teen pregnancy prevention group, 20% of teenagers admitted posting nude pictures on the internet… Could there possibly be a more pretentious name among NYC’s social set than Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel?….. Out of the 34 countries measured, only Turkey has a bigger percentage of evolution-deniers reports the Skeptical Inquirer… . Classified ad in the Nation: Prison Picasso, 48, nonviolent marihuana farmer, seeks progressive Frida/O’Keefe for correspondence: … Police forces around Britain have just invested $35,000 in life-size cardboard cops to discourage speeders…. Declaring that “crop waste” — the stalks and leaves left in fields after harvesting — contain two billion tons of carbon, New Scientist says carbon monoxide could be cut by drowning it deep in the ocean…. “The men who make revolutions are always despised by those who profit from them.” — Francoise Guizot (1787-1874)