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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: May 15, 2010

John Wilcock

“We don’t really resolve conflicts. We establish deterrence…We saw in 1945 what two nuclear bombs are capable of but we keep making more and more powerful ones ….. But someone radical enough who thinks it is worth his while and perhaps the way to secure his place in heaven too, will ultimately use it, and the framework will fall apart. We are in a state of escalation.”
Avinadav Begin, author of The End of Conflict

Ham House — A 17th-century painting of Ham House by Henry Danckerts.

SEX IN STATELY HOMES is the latest gimmick by the prolific publishers of “romance” novels, Mills and Boon, which issues eight new novels each month to subscribers and bookstores. (Each month the books left unsold in the stores are pulped). Under a deal with Britain’s National Trust (which preserves many of the country’s historic, but cash-short, homes) the publisher will start producing novels set in these celebrated mansions, fictionalized versions of real romances. The first (reports The Bookseller) is set in 17th century Ham House on the banks of the Thames in Surrey. Scandalous Innocent by Juliet Landon weaves the story of the Duke and Duchess of Lauderdale, with that of the fictional Phoebe, “a beautiful scandal magnet who falls for the duke’s personal secretary, Sir Leo. Trysts and quarrels occur inside the walls of the property, with its sculpted gardens playing host to stolen kisses.”

Landon, who has written 20 novels for Mills & Boon, said that she followed her characters “right into the bedroom.” “I never close the door on them,” she said. “In a story of that kind you can’t be coarse, so I write very carefully, and metaphor comes in, but I do give quite a lot of detail … There’s plenty of sex.”

John Stachiewicz, publisher at the National Trust, said the collaboration would celebrate the 400th anniversary of Ham House, as well as raise money for the restoration of silk hangings at the property (50p from each copy of the novel sold at National Trust properties will go to the institution). “Our visitors love a good story about the romance of the houses and the history of the families [and] these houses have seen a lot of action,” he said.

THE KNOW-NOTHING CONGRESS is referenced by an editorial in Popular Mechanics which chides the legislators for their “lack of seriousness” related to the Toyota hearings. “They speechified and lectured” PM huffed, “but they showed little interest in actually understanding the problem.” Failing to talk to independent experts, they indulged in “wild speculation that electronic gremlins might be taking over cars’ drive-by-wire throttle systems…spooky, malevolent forces lurking inside our cars.”


Commenting on the pressure on Greece because of its out-of-control debt, the country’s minister for counter-terrorism, Michal Chrysohoidis says ominously: “There’s a whole new generation, many from well-heeled families, who like to plant bombs and kill people.”


WHY YOUR PHONE may (or may not) be killing you is the subhead on a Harper’s story wittily headed “For Whom the Cell Tolls.” And, of course, that’s the trouble. Is holding the low-frequency electromagnetic device close to your head harmful or not? It seems nobody can decide. “A cell phone gives off roughly the same radiation as a microwave oven” reports the mag. But are these low-frequency waves too weak to damage human tissue? Many of the official bodies have declared that electro-magnet frequencies (EMFs) are safe but health ministries in dozens of states and countries have urged caution or imposed restrictions of one sort or another. “The question now being asked,” says the mag, “is not whether cell phones cause cancer but at what point is it sensible to enact precautionary laws just in case the worst comes to pass.”

BIG BROTHER IS ALWAYS WATCHING is pretty much the message that Steve Chapman seeks to convey in his Chicago Tribune column, pointing out that the signals sent out by mobile phones can be used by the police to track your every movement. The phone service providers receive thousands of tracking requests every month from law enforcement bodies, write Chapman, police now having acquired the ability to spy on citizens “on a scale that is both vast and intimate.”

ALMOST EVERYBODY has heard of that mystical “golden ratio” of 1 to 1.68 which artists, architects, and nature have honored for centuries. Now a team of Austrian medical researchers has discovered that people with healthy hearts have a systolic-to-diastolic pressure proportion and diastolic-to-pulse pressure proportion very close to the Golden Ratio. Or a close match.

WOULD-BE GONZO WRITERS are being sought to adapt a 2004 story Hunter S. Thompson wrote for Vanity Fair which has been optioned for a feature film, reports the Hollywood Reporter. The original article, “Prisoner of Denver,”  co-written by Thompson and Mark Seal, focuses on Lisl Auman, a Colorado woman who was handed a life sentence, without parole, for a murder she clearly did not commit. Auman wrote to Thompson from prison, and he took up her cause, enlisting Seal to help. Auman was released in 2005, a month after Thompson committed suicide.

PROTESTING ARIZONA’S NEW LAW makes some people feel good. It isn’t much inconvenience and doesn’t cost anything. But why not have the courage of those (smug) convictions and invite some poor illegal immigrant to lunch or, better still, give them a home in your spare room?

THE TROUBLE WITH concrete is that it’s inclined to crack, so it is usually reinforced with steel, but then when it does crack, water gets in and the consequent rust causes collapse. Not a good thing, when the concrete is supporting a bridge. Thus, the invention by civil engineer Victor Li of “self-healing” concrete — for which a patent has just been granted–would seem to have a great future. Forbes explains that although the new concrete will cost three times as much, it should pay for itself by reducing the need for repairs. And the secret ingredient? Dry micro-fibers in the original mix absorb moisture from the air when cracks open up and expand. They “grow” new concrete to close the gap.

Allowing corporations to vote like people means that if the country’s top 100 companies spent just 1% of the $600trn profits they made in 2008, the six thousand million dollars invested would overwhelm the elections. That’s one of the facts listed in Walking Planet Chronicles, a newsletter out of New Paltz, NY,  which urges “a mass grassroots effort to restore democracy to the people.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: If the Russians can trounce the Somali pirates, why is the US so helpless?….Last week’s stock plunge proves that financially speaking, the ‘experts’ don’t know more than anybody else….. Greece may be the first country to drop the Euro and return to using its original currency….‘AIG quits Goldman Sachs’ (When thieves fall out….)….A sad procession of goats precedes the cheese festival at Rocamadour in southern France next week where the local specialty — a goat cheese — is featured… Researching the relationship between atmosphere and attitude, clinicians at Brigham Young University claim that being in a citron-scented room makes volunteers more generous and more willing to donate to charities…… Cuba may legalize prostitution next year…..Picasso’s painting The Absinthe Drinker is expected to fetch at least $40m — the highest price for a painting sold in Europe — when offered at Christie’s next month. Its owner, Andrew Lloyd Webber, paid $25m when he bought it in 1995…


photo credit: Funny Times


Legislators are so terrified of the gun lobby, they won’t even ban terrorists from buying weapons…. The large number of White House journalists who are writing books on the Obama administration says Glenn Greenwald in Salon are fiercely competing “to curry favor with top government officials” and thus present an obvious conflict of interest ……A drone with flexible, claw-like legs that can land perpendicularly on walls is being developed by a Stanford lab…. A company called the World Reserve Monetary Exchange took a full-page ad in the NYTimes to offer four $2 bills for only $12 plus shipping…. Taiwan is offering a million bucks to anyone who can come up with a winning slogan that will increase the country’s birthrate, one of the lowest in the world…..If hundreds of lawyers at hundred of law firms are each paid hundreds of dollars per hour, why can’t some of them be drafted to fill the huge shortage of public defenders?….“Madness is a rare thing in individuals, but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages it is the rule.” — Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)