John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: March 26, 2011

John Wilcock


“We are widely — and accurately —  viewed in much of the third world as neutral or distant supporters of freedom but as the bulwark of dictatorships. We train their police, arm their militaries, base our troops on their soil. American people and culture are widely admired abroad, but our government is just as widely despised.”
— editorial in The Nation


is a phenomenon that has been spreading so widely, that police departments have been developing special intervention teams to combat it. “There are few circumstances more terrifying for a police officer than facing a person with nothing to lose,” says Miller-McCune magazine, which reveals that each year at least 35 people “use the police as instruments of their own destruction.” How many of the other three or four hundred victims of police action were pre-determined is uncertain. “Just because a subject displays aggression towards the police doesn’t necessarily mean he has the intent to die,” says Sean Joe, a psychiatry professor at the University of Michigan, who studies suicide. Oklahoma City, whose 600 police officers now include 117 crisis interventionists, is just one of many departments where training includes how to deal with situations where it may be imperative to distinguish between “a bad guy” and “a sad guy.”

[If you want to read about Sendai in 1969, click on the image at the right.]

WRAP RAGE is a term that’s been used to describe the angry frustration of customers trying to open those clamshell or blister packs in which so many items are wrapped these days. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, 6,000 people end up in emergency rooms for sliced fingers or other injuries from trying to open what Popular Mechanics calls “nearly impenetrable shells” which were devised mainly to combat theft in the stores in which they are sold. But Amazon and other online retailers don’t have this problem and they’ve been pushing manufacturers for simpler wrapping. PM checked out three devices on sale to open clamshell packages but concludes that one of them ($10-20) is no better than a simple pair of shears.


“Marketers envision billboards that could tell if a passerby is paying attention, and whether that person is male or female, then alter its images and message accordingly.”
— from a Wall Street Journal story about the promising future of billboard advertising


IN WHAT SEEMS LIKE the millionth business magazine take on the subject, gold pops up as a Smart Money cover story this month which defines its “unique status in the public imagination — equally fascinating and repulsive.” What most fascinates the business press is the uncertainty about whether the value of the glittering metal will continue to climb (it’s currently $1,416 per oz., compared with its low point of $252 in 1999) or whether the whole thing’s a bubble which, at any moment, will burst without warning. “Many experts say its price really moves on people’s perception of world events, inflation, and currencies,” SM‘s Russell Pearlman writes, “not because of its beauty or even its scarcity.” Of course, that’s true about most stocks, but there’s something about gold that makes people suspicious. “I don’t like to invest in things that depend on people’s nervousness,” says Apollo Voss, a former fund manager. In the past year, Americans have bought 100 tons of gold, at an average rate of $81 million a week, but Smart Money says only 15% of the gold on earth has been mined. The Federal government’s stash is about one-quarter of that, currently worth $365bn.

THE DELOREAN CAR, that gull-winged peculiarity that evoked so much scorn in the 1980s, is back in style with several hundred under construction in Texas by Stephen Wynne, 54, a former mechanic from Liverpool. Although it featured in the 1985 film, Back to the Future, and was bought ($25,000) by a few thousand fans, the car disappeared after John DeLorean was busted by the FBI on a coke-smuggling rap. Jurors decided he’d been entrapped and acquitted him but he died (aged 80) in 2005. The car’s revival began when Wynne discovered a cache of original parts — enough to build 500 cars which will each sell for $57,000.


The Delorean

007 Aston Martin


recently sold for $4.2 million, due to the perspicacity of its owner, entrepreneur Jerry Lee who bought it as a promotional item for his Philadelphia radio station after Sean (007) Connery finished driving it in Goldfinger in 1964. Savvy enough to know a cultural icon when he saw one, Lee kept it in mint condition and barely drove it, thus netting a huge profit over the $12,000 ($72,000 in today’s dollars) that he originally paid for it. Revolving license plates and an ability to spread oil or nails on the road behind it, the car may need a makeover before taking to the highway.


“As a woman who enjoys men who enjoy cleavage, I humbly request that you instruct men on the proper way to refer to breasts. Tits are tits and should not, in the presence of women, be referred to as boobs. Boobs is a term reserved for third-grade boys.”
Kara, Kansas City, letter in Esquire


A NIGHT IN AN American hospital costs 25 times as much as one in an Indian, Brazilian, or Chinese one and, naturally, there are reasons for that. One is that China and India are way ahead of the US in devising the kind of basic equipment that every hospital needs: scanners costing $10,000 instead of $100,000; portable electrocardiographs for $500 instead of $5,000. “Patients neither know nor care how much anything costs,” says the Economist, “so they demand the best of everything which is wonderful for the makers of hugely expensive equipment.” The magazine urges Western politicians to push their governments into being more careful purchasers, thus transforming the market just as Japanese cars improved the domestic auto industry.

DESPITE THE DISCOMFORT it has caused and the anger it has engendered, the TSA has yet to catch a single terrorist with its intrusive airport checks. “The abuse happens because people with authority are dying to use the authority,” writes Paul Craig Roberts, a former Wall Street Journal associate editor, who charges that submission is what government and the police are seeking. “Anyone who argues (with them) will be abused,” he writes in the Rock Creek Free Press. “TSA has announced that such Americans are ‘suspects’ and will be held in indefinite detention….We have a police state and anyone who forgets it is in deep trouble.”

INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALISM is a rare commodity in Spain which lacks the kind of freedom-of-the-press laws that are standard in England and America. “Reports prepared with public funds on everything from day care inspection to crime statistics are available only for those who can provide a ‘need-to-know’ and a direct relationship to the information …journalists are systematically denied the most irrelevant data, things that in no way involve something like national security,” charges the Columbia Journalism Review. Barcelona reporter Xavier Mas de Xaxàs says one bright spot is the rise of young bloggers. “Anybody who comes along with the kind of journalism that really informs the Spanish public is going to devour the Spanish market,” he predicts.

BACK IN THE 20TH CENTURY, it would have seemed impossible for the U.S. to become a Third World country, run by obscenely rich politicians and plutocrats, riding herd over millions of folk who can barely make ends meet. And the most unbelievable thing of all? That millions of the have-nots still naively vote for Republicans, who got us into this mess in the first place and plan to benefit even more from it because they don’t have enough. (They’ll never have enough.)

THE WILCOCK WEB: Three-quarters of the country want us to leave Afghanistan, three-quarters of Congress voted for billions more to keep paying to stay there. Of course, it’s not their money that pays for the war, it’s ours…. Remember when people voted for Barack Obama because they thought he had the guts to end the war?…..Kucinich for president…It’s sadly inevitable that the people who could most painlessly afford paying more taxes to improve everybody’s life, are the ones who most indignantly oppose the idea…And it’s naïve to think that health costs could ever be affordable so long as it’s a business run for profit …. Polling consumers for what items they could most do without when finances were low, the trade magazine Stores reported that the highest number (82%) said they couldn’t give up the Internet……Running for election in eastern Russia’s Chukotka, tycoon Roman Abramovich — who owns Chelsea soccer club — reveals he owns seven homes in England, three in France, one in Moscow, and six cars. His Communist opponent earns $40,000 a year and drives a 23-year-old Nissan….The major attraction at a new museum in Tasmania is a device that, fed regularly by attendants, “produces excrement daily at 3pm”…..Fortune reports that the best-performing currency in 2010 was the Mongolian tugrik that increased 15% against the dollar, largely due to the tripling in the value of copper (now $11,000 per ton), the country’s biggest export….“Robin seems to disappear a little more each year,” quoth a marketing consultant in Nottingham, urging the city to pay more attention to publicizing the city’s most famous “brand,” the legendary 13th-century outlaw Robin Hood…. Starbucks signed a deal to stock half a million luxury hotel rooms… DAFFY DEFINITION: Beelzebug: Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out …..University of Arizona researchers are developing the prototype of a farm that can be stashed underground on the moon to grow food for the first settlers (whenever that might be)…. Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick has belatedly applied to copyright the famous icon of Che Guevara which he created from Alberto Korda’s photograph….Marks & Spencer stores have launched a service that allows customers to email friends and family to ask for clothing sizes…… Scientists claim that because of better diets hens are producing eggs with 13% less cholesterol than a decade ago with a medium-sized egg measured at 100mg, one-third of the safe daily allowance…Vogue’s Joan Juliet Buck gushed 3,000 words of praise for the fashion-loving wife of Syria’s mass-murdering president….Tycoons with more money than sense might well think that paying $200,000 for four minutes in space offers a bargain they could boast about at dinner parties, but taxpayers who are footing the bill for scientists to study surface tension with these distant experiments might not consider it worth the expense….Scientists at Wyoming’s U of Notre Dame are genetically engineering the genes of spiders with those of silkworms to mass-produce a silk they claim is tougher than Kevlar…. … There are three religious truths: Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah; Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian faith; and Baptists do not recognize each other in the liquor store or Hooters…. Why do croutons come in airtight packages? Aren’t they just stale bread to begin with?…. Volunteers at a hospital in Denmark stood in bowls full of Karloff vodka for three hours to disprove the legend that drunkenness could be induced via absorption…“There are decades when nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen.” — Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924)