The Column of Lasting Insignificance: March 24, 2007
THE LAUNCH DATE of the final saga, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, is still four months away but Amazon.co.uk has already booked 100,000 pre-orders at $15 apiece and in the U.S. Amazon’s pre-orders for the book are 54% higher than for the last one. Competition among booksellers is so fierce that most cut prices so low (to keep their customers) that very few expect to make money on the book.
Meanwhile, after six years as Harry Potter, 17-year-old Daniel Radcliffe, finding new fame on the West End stage, is unsurprisingly mobbed everywhere he goes. In Manhattan one girl tried to climb through his limousine window, another held up a banner reading ‘Mrs. Radcliffe is Here’ — to the amusement of his companion, his mother the real Mrs. Radcliffe. Recalling his first year in the HP role when he was only 11, he found a girl in his hotel room wearing only a towel.
BECAUSE MODERN VARIETIES of rice have doubled the yield, traditional species are in danger of becoming extinct, warn genetic scientists in Thailand where the seeds of 24,000 varieties sit in –10C refrigerated rooms at the National Rice Seeds Storage Laboratory for Genetic Resources. In charge here is Surapong Pransilapa who says preservation is imperative because certain rice breeds may have as yet undiscovered medical value and it may be possible to transfer those traits to more commercial varieties. For jnstance, he says, “we have never found that eating too much rice causes disease, not like some meats or vegetables.” Thailand is the world’s biggest exporter of rice (7.54 million tons in 2005) but whereas they once grew 100 different kinds that number is now down to 20 or 30.
RIGHT ABOUT NOW, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development will resume discussions on why and how British authorities decided to drop their investigation into the alleged bribery of Saudi Arabian princes over contracts with British firms. More than $3.5 million and a year of inquiries had gone into the investigation which was coincidentally dropped just at the time when the Saudis had second thoughts about their $10 billion order for British aircraft.
A GIANT 2-FOOT FIGLEAF to cover Michelangelo’s David statue when it was lent to London for a show in the 1850s will feature in the Barbican Arts Centre’s exhibition Seduced: Art and Sex from Antiquity Till Now later this year. The show is so graphic that viewers under 18 will be barred. It includes a painting by Picasso, La douleur (scène èrotique) owned by the Metropolitan Museum which refuses to display it.
WATCHING ITS HUGE PROFITS decline, Big Pharma (Pfizer, Novartis, GSDK & Merck)has been bringing pressure on the Indian government to crack down on that country’s suppliers of generic drugs. Indian pharmaceutical companies claim that when a patent expires, the drug is open to copying but with veiled threats via the World Trade Organization, PhRMA insists that the expensive clinical trials that approved the drugs in the first place must be repeated, thus hugely inflating costs for what in essence is a copy. The issue is termed “data protection” and what form it should take has been debated by the Indian parliament since mid-2006. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) alone provides treatment to more than 80.000 AIDS cases in 30 countries, sourcing its generic drugs from India and thus bringing treatment costs down from $1,000 annually per patient to $130.
A TOUCH OF “the celebrity’s self-delight” can be seen in the faces of Tony Blair and his Tory opponent David Blair charges Times columnist George Walden, who suggests that it would be nicer if politicians smiled only when there was something to smile about. Such indiscriminate smiles, he writes, are usually conferred only on “children, the educationally backward, or the clinically insane.”
CHINESE INFLUX REVIVES COLONIAL FEARS was the heading on a Guardian Weekly story about how the “foreign plunder” of African countries such as Zambia is arousing hostility. For every construction company boss claiming that the Chinese work harder, is some critic saying there are too many of them. “If you go to the market you find Chinese selling cabbages and bean sprouts. What is the point of letting them in to do that?” asks parliamentarian Guy Scott. “There’s a lot of Chinese here doing construction. Zambians can do that. The Chinese are undercutting the local firms. Our textile factories can’t compete with cheap Chinese imports subsidized by a foreign government”.
AN OXFORD NEURO SCIENTIST says teenagers have different sleep patterns to adults and might perform better if they were allowed to start school later. “It’s cruel to impose a cultural pattern on teenagers that makes them underachieve and then to dismiss them as being lazy” avers Professor Russell Foster. “Most school regimes force teenagers to function at a time that is sub-optimal.”
THE WILCOCK WEB: If it costs more than one cent to make one cent coins and we reportedly need 800 billion more each year, why don’t they just stop making them instead of the usual bureaucratic nonsense that requires “permission” to phase them out?…. The original title of Leonard Bernstein’s musical West Side Story was East Side Story”…. Of the average eight soft drinks the Chinese imbibe each year, only one is not a Coca-Cola product…. Rupert Murdoch gave his six kids a million dollars worth of shares each…. Leonardo DiCaprio, who knew Tim Leary, is said to be considering the part of the LSD pitchman in a projected movie about his life…. The words hit/boom/hot meaning something fashionable are listed as the latest examples of “Tinglish” by Bangkok’s Guru Magazine which says that X (meaning sexy) and O (meaning everything’s fine) have also been added to Thai slang…. Due in May: a laudatory bio of Richard Nixon by accused embezzler and newspaper magnate Conrad Black…. “Since helium is lighter than air, does a helium tank get lighter or heavier as you empty it?” was the question that a reader asked Dr. Science in Funny Times which responded that the heaviness that was removed was sold to record companies “to give substance to popular music”…. The wise and brave dares own that he was wrong — Benjamin Franklin (1706-90)