John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: March 5, 2011

John Wilcock


“In your ratings of smart phones, all but two have a voice quality rating of Fair. These are phones, right? I realize that as a baby boomer I’m old, but when did voice quality take a backseat to texting and internet features? I suppose soon there will be smart phones with no voice capabilities,” Steve Skolnick, CT.
— letter in Consumer Reports


is the rallying cry of a loosely organized group of protesters in Britain who complain that too many tax dodgers — individuals and companies — are ripping them off, and nobody is holding them to account. Operating under the name UK Uncut, they have picketed the chain stores of tycoon Sir Philip Green who avoided $ in taxes by locating his HQ in Monaco; barred entry to offices of Vodaphone, the cell phone business (HQ in Luxembourg); and complained to the Press Commission about smears from Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire whom the Nation calls “one of the world’s most egregious tax dodgers, contributing nothing to the US or UK treasuries.” The magazine says that at every protest “a clear and direct line was drawn from tax avoidance and people’s lives: ‘if they pay their bills you won’t be forced out of your homes…your grandmother won’t lose her support…our children’s hospitals won’t be slashed.’”

In a sidebar, the Nation offers “UK Uncut’s Ten-Step Guide to Building a Left Wing Tea Party” which could target some of what it says are 83 of the 100 biggest US companies that avoid taxes. These include Apple, Bank of America, Best Buy, Exxon-Mobil, FedEx, Kraft Foods, McDonalds, Safeway, and Target. “Americans are facing the same tax cuts …they are being ripped off by corporations and rich people just like the Brits…During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised to go after tax havens. Yet in office, he hasn’t done this.”


“The modern Conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy, that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
John Kenneth Galbraith


“THE SALE OF The Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million, and the tidy profit of reportedly at least several million dollars made by principal owner and founder Arianna Huffington, who was already rich,” wrote Chris Hedges on Truthout, “(and) is emblematic of this new paradigm of American journalism. “If Huffington has a conscience she will sit down when the AOL check arrives and make sure every cent of it is paid out to those who worked free or at minimal wages for her over the last six years.”

JUST SETTING OFF down the ski slopes with high hopes and cold fingers isn’t enough these days if the $170bn consumer-electronics industry has anything to do with it. Smart Money reports that batteries are being upgraded so that they don’t short out in the cold (two-thirds of avid skiers carry cell phones); GPS systems improved; Tec Touch gloves made sensitive enough to operate cyber screens, and goggles equipped with the capacity to calculate speed, altitude, and distance traveled.

DARK MATTER is the new Holy Grail for scientists and in South Dakota they’re sinking a huge cylinder down an abandoned 4,800ft mineshaft in hopes of trapping some of it. What does it look like? Ah, there’s the problem. “No one knows what dark matter is or even if it really exists,” says Popular Science, theorizing that it must be what’s left over when they measure the gap between the speed of spinning galaxies and the light that they should have transmitted. (Newton’s second law of motion says the speed should indicate the size of the mass. That’s an over-simplification, but you get the general idea.) “As of yet, all arguments for the existence of dark matter are made from inference,” the mag says, but if the mineshaft experiment is successful in picking up “a few particles” of this mysterious — maybe mythical — material, they’ll end up with “possibly the secret to understanding the universe.”


“To fight terrorism, we need a populace that is informed, motivated, vigilant and prepared, not one that is seething and ‘feeling powerless, and resentful. Yet our current security approach seems almost designed to produce the latter. Can that be right?”
Glenn Harlan Reynolds writing in Popular Mechanics about how airport checks offer “the appearance of safety, as opposed to its reality.”


ALTHOUGH AGAINST THE LAW, Chinese householders have been hiring Filipino maids who, says China Daily, “are believed to be “more industrious, attentive, and educated.” Their monthly pay at around 4,000 yuan (about $600) is about 20% higher than locals. Visas are hard to get so it’s not easy to hire them, says one employer, “since we can’t even guarantee the candidate can successfully come to China.”

DO AURAS ACTUALLY EXIST? Psychics claim they can see them but The Skeptical Inquirer reports on tests that concluded there was “limited or no evidence for (their) reality.” Although various mechanical devices have been used to detect visible radiation, says SI, most such visions are likely to result from “perceptual distortions, illusions, hallucinations…and imaginative fantasy experiences.” And sightings sometimes can be attributed to people who suffer from synesthesia which roughly means when one sense is triggered by another (something like dreaming in color).

TEN THINGS TO DO When You’re Feeling Hopeless was the title of Dave Pollard’s essay in the Utne Reader in which, expressing what may be a very common opinion, he said that he felt “as if our whole human civilization is unraveling and there is nothing I or anyone can do about it.” Summarizing, he writes: “Embrace hopelessness…share with a close friend thoughts about what each of you is good at…celebrate the fact that you’re smart enough, strong enough, informed enough, sensitive enough to feel utterly hopeless…cry…listen to kids (they live in the present without hope)…throw out all of those ‘self-help’ books with their glib prescriptions about how you should live…dream.”

CORRECTING MISSPELLED SIGNS became a crusade for a couple of Dartmouth students and their journey across the country resulted in a book, The Great Typo Hunt: Two Friends Changing the World, One Correction at a Time. Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson listed 437 mistakes they found, the most frequent being the misuse or non-use of apostrophes (Restroom’s/ Lets Go Cavaliers). Sometimes they were able to correct the signs with crayons, Wite-Out, or Sharpies, but on other occasions, they were inaccessible or made of neon. Printing an interview with the couple, Stores magazine noted the “hidden damage” that typos inflicted on the shops that displayed them. They also emphasized how often bringing the mistakes to the attention of the employees was useless. “Sometimes we’d see that disconnect in the form of apathy — they didn’t care if we corrected the typo or not…it was just a job and they were paycheck players,” mused Deck.

THE WILCOCK WEB: The war between the world’s have-nots and the haves will define the 20-teens and neither China nor America will be exceptions…..Presumably, million-dollar whores like Maria Carey and Beyoncé, who are only too willing to perform for murderous dictators, will claim that entertainment has nothing to do with politics….The first branch of the 16,858 Starbucks cafes opened in Seattle, 40 years ago this month….Why don’t the browbeaten members of Scientology get some backbone and vote out of office their scary leader, David Miscavige?….The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (who knew?) says that already there are 73 fast-food places for Detroit’s 951,000 population. It has asked the city to ban any more….“On account of being a democracy and run by the people,” mused Will Rogers, “we are the only nation in the world that has to keep a government four years, no matter what it does”….. Even if they do make the incandescent light bulb illegal, you can guarantee that as long as millions prefer them, somebody will still produce them.….While Lady Gaga — who’ll be 25 this month — was growing up in Manhattan, she must have been aware of Colette, whose role on the Soho scene was presenting herself


in public as a living art work (but without the song and dance)…..Tropicana is phasing out the big plastic cartons, replacing them with transparent carafes.…Billionaire Macau casino owner Stanley Ho, 89, is suing his daughters Pansy and Daisy for the $1.45bn he claims that they owe him. (He has four wives and 16 daughters)…. Anybody who in these times can pay $74,000 to buy a dress, as did one rich bitch the Wall Street Journal featured last week, is obviously not paying their fair share of taxes….San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge plans to replace its toll takers with robots….Who do we owe the national debt to? And to whom is it paid?…. WikiLeaks is about to release a list of corporations and banks which avoid paying taxes by locating in the Cayman Islands… For decades, the exact same items always cost more in England than America, so it’s to be expected that London’s equivalent of the 99c store is Poundland…. England’s Education Maintenance Allowance,which bribed teenagers from low-income families to stay in school has been scrapped as part of new government budget cuts …Yellow Tail Bubbles is a $10 reusable cork which can be squeezed to fit different bottlenecks….Putting the two words ‘The’ and ‘IRS’ together at income tax time, spells THEIRS…..When the headline is enough: THE PLANET KEEPS WARMING, BUT U.S. MEDIA INTEREST COOLS — from EXTRA, the magazine of FAIR…. Striving to move into the television industry, the world’s richest and greediest man (whose telephone near-monopoly charges some of the world’s highest rates) Mexico’s Carlos Slim is battling that country’s Grupo Televisa… Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back…. Because of the voracious bacteria in their stomachs, sheep are being used to clean up explosive contaminated soil…. The court-appointed trustee trying to recover ill-gotten Bernie Madoff gains says the banks he’s suing had no suspicions, proving they are either crooked or incompetent — “Discontent is the first step in the progress of a person or a nation.” — source unknown