The Column of Lasting Insignificance: March 3, 2007
POOR LITTLE MONGOLIA. Sandwiched between two rapacious neighbors — Russia to the north, China in the south — its unease is understandable. Until its independence in 1921, the country had been ruled by China for two centuries, then it fell under Russia’s control. “Now”, says the Economist, “with the Soviets gone, many Mongolians watch China’s growing economic might with concern”. The impoverished country poured millions of dollars into last year’s 800th anniversary of the way its national hero, Genghis Khan (1167-1227), unified the Mongol tribes into a single state which became the biggest empire the world has ever known, stretching from Beijing to the Balkans. But because Genghis’ grandson, Kublai Khan, founded China’s Yuan dynasty in the next century, the Chinese claim him as “an honorary Chinese emperor” and even the new Genghis Khan theme park is being run by Chinese businessmen.
FIVE KILOMETRES under the Arctic Ocean is too deep for divers to survive but this summer two specially designed robots will explore an area that scientists say might harbor exotic life forms because of the heat and nutrients that just-discovered hydrothermal vents may provide. “(But) there’s always the potential that you’ll drop the thing in a hole in the ice, wave goodbye and it will never come back” is the pessimistic prediction of the University of Maryland’s David Akin.
WHEN TONY BLAIR apologized for the slave trade (on the 200th anniversary of the 1807 Slave Trade Abolition Bill) “it is today’s slave trade, not that of 1807, that he should be apologizing for” says the Spectator. Today’s victims of human trafficking work in bordellos rather than fields and are sold in airports (for up to $15,000 each) rather than the Caribbean, the mag charges. The UN estimates that there are more than 11 million slaves today, more than at any other time in human history. The Spectator says that in Britain alone there are about 5,000 foreign prostitutes — four times more than their British-born counterparts. Demonstrations have recently taken place outside the Birmingham firm of Hiatt & Co. which once made “nigger collars” for the slave trade and now makes shackles for Guantanamo.
DENNIS M. HOPE, who claims to be the owner of the moon because although signatories to the 1967 Outer Space Treaty prescribed that no country should own outer space it did not mention individuals, has been selling Moon Land Ownership certificates for $19.99 per acre. The price has now been increased to $30 per acre including tax. Hope has written to 210 governments inviting them to establish relations with his lunar government.
A SWISS COMPANY is seeking distributors for LifeStraw, a plastic tube containing filters that enable the user to drink polluted water in safety. Costing about $3, each LifeStraw can filter about a month’s daily drinking water and has up to now been distributed only by charitable agencies.
“CLASSES IN (CONSTRUCTION SPANISH) have sprouted up all over America… classes designed to teach contractors, supervisors, and other bosses how to speak to their Hispanic workers… But wouldn’t it be better for all concerned, if the workers learned ‘hard hat, forklift’ and ‘nail gun’? …It was not too long ago that immigrants thought English was something they had to learn. They did not expect their employers or supervisors to take Survival Polish or Survival Serbian; they saw to it that they aquired some survival English” Jay Nordlinger in the National Review
IT SURELY MUST be a coincidence that the leftwing Nation and the rightwing National Review have booked the same week for their respective Alaska Cruises, the former beginning in Seattle on July 28, and the latter the day after. On July 31, both schedules show them to be in Glacier Bay which presumably is big enough for them not to even catch sight of each other.
THROUGHOUT HISTORY, narrow waists have been the indisputable hallmark of health and fertility in women was the conclusion of a group of University of Texas researchers whose study covering three centuries is reported in Proceedings of the Royal Society. About Tutankhamen’s aunt. Nefertiti (1372-1350 BC) an early scribe wrote “The buttocks are full, but her waist is narrow, the one for whom the sun shines”.
THE GROWING GAP between rich and poor, due partly to the expense of a college education, is turning America from a classless to a class-divided society writes Jeff Madrick in the Nation, who claims that today “one’s birth largely determines one’s future.” Not so long ago only 20% of one’s future was determined by the father’s income but now 60% would be nearer the mark. “Both Republicans and Democrats (have been) party to what amounted to a sharp reversal of the progressive history in America” Madrick claims, “in which government since 1900 has been an active constructive force to help people adapt to changing and difficult economic circumstances… a college degree is not a guarantee of a middle-class life, but it has become pretty close to a necessity… (and) going to college depends on who your parents are.”
THE WILCOCK WEB: An archive of thousands of UFO sighting reports is being compiled by the French national Space Studies Centre to place on its website…. Virgin began taking reservations for its $200,000, three-hour space flights scheduled to begin in 2009…. ”Natives wonderful, send ketchup” was one of winners in the New Scientist’s contest to imagine short text messages sent home by aliens who have just discovered our planet…. Seeking to promote scientific accuracy, Sense about Science, a UK charity, has issued a leaflet warning celebrities not to use their influential status to peddle misleading information…. New green nylon shoes from Electrolux contain tiny vacuum cleaners which suck up the dust as you walk…. The FDA has approved Pfizer’s new drug Sientrol which is added to a dog’s food and reduces fat absorption… Banks may soon start asking customers to use a new smart pen that reads the fingerprint of the user….”There’s no such thing as good pornography” said Vincent Canby. “If it’s good it isn’t pornography….” Using the newly-hyped nano-technology, Kraft is developing a colorless, tasteless drink that can be zapped at home with a special micro-wave to create almost any drink you desire…. Talking dolls ($74) with a vocabulary of more than 1,000 words — more than most gang members — are a big hit in Japan, programmed by their owners to match their daily schedules…. You can probably guess what this foreign language sign says in one country’s airlines: Schwimmweste unter dem sitz…. Star Syringe, whose interior self-destructs after a single use, is said to be mainly responsible for halving Uganda’s AIDS rates since 2003…. After talking about it for more than half a century, New York is finally ready to build the Second Avenue Subway…” Those who want to eat and slurp during a show should go to a supper club… why can’t Americans stop eating for two hours?” wrote critic John Heilpern, referring to the decision by 15 Broadway theaters to allow eating and drinking during performances…. Claiming to have invented the omnipresent New York custom of Sunday brunch in the 1980s, delicatessen owner Barney Greengrass explains that it was “a kind of Jewish alternative to church for families with nothing to do on Sunday mornings….” Time is an herb that cures all diseases — Benjamin Franklin ( 1706-90)