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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: May 17, 2008

“The most basic function of journalism in (Nick) Davies’ view is to check facts. Journalists don’t just pass on what they are told without making an effort to check it first. At least in theory they don’t. In practice, contemporary journalism has been corrupted by an endemic failure to verify facts and stories in a manner so fundamental it almost defies belief.”review of Flat Earth News by Nick Davies in London Review of Books

MARIHUANA GROWING currently employs 100,000 workers in the Canadian province of British Columbia and accounts for more than 5% of the GDP. Seven years ago the BC Organized Crime Agency valued the crop at $4billion and it is now worth one-third more, in addition to having spread eastward to almost every other province. These are statistics from the Guardian Weekly which reports that after George Bush dealt the local economy a “punishing blow” by imposing a 27% tax on imports of Canadian softwood, many redeployed their skills by moving into cannabis production which now provides more jobs than logging, mining, oil and gas combined. “The bottleneck has always been in getting the stuff into the US,” says one distributor. “There’s close to 300 million Americans and that’s a big market. But there’s (also) 30 million Canadians and everyone either grows it themselves or has a buddy that does.”

THAT INNOCENT-LOOKING COMPUTER, just sitting there glowing on your desk is wasting energy, suggests US News & World Report. It’s burning up fuel and should be turned off when not in use. “It’s as if every household has a big gas-guzzling vehicle (or two) in its driveway, all with engines racing,” says Bruce Norman of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “It’s like we’re all driving sports utility computers.”

LIBERAL GUILT sparked by the fact that an ethical lifestyle is the “new way of keeping up with the Jones” can lead to a form of burnout for activists declares the Utne Reader. It reiterates the argument that now people consider “unethical living” to be as socially unacceptable as drunk driving, with “when people are motivated by guilt they fail to make long-term change.” Merely by being born, the magazine says, we’re consuming resources, burning carbon dioxide, and exacting a toll on the world around us, so it’s sensible to acknowledge this before “exonerating ourselves and others and then stepping calmly into the future with the best of intentions.”

WHEN YOU PLAN to have a vasectomy, the best thing to do is to schedule it to coincide with some major sports classic such as Super Bowl or Masters golf tournament. That’s what a lot of men have been doing to ease the discomfort of sitting around waiting for the operation to heal. “It gives people something to look forward to,” says urologist Richard Bevan-Thomas who reports an increase in vasectomy bookings for all major golf tournaments. “The sports angle has even become a marketing angle for some clinics” Forbes reveals, The Oregon Urology Institute ran promotions prior to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, selling it as an excuse “to stay home in front of the big screen.”

So many people’s ashes are being scattered on the summit of Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis (4,406 ft), that it is changing the chemical balance of the soil “fertilizing it with phosphorus and calcium, to the detriment of rare alpine plants.” So states Kathleen Jamie in the London Review of Books writing about Robert Macfarlane’s The Wild Places.  Ms. Jamie reveals that The John Muir Trust which administers the mountain has become so concerned, that it has constructed a Memorial Site for Contemplation for such ashes which ought to be “thrown into the air on a windy day.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: After rejecting hundreds of would-be students and raising tuition for the rest, why is UCLA paying the New York Times a quarter of a million bucks for full-page ads praising itself?….. Using cells extracted from mouse embryos, Tokyo University of Science professor Takashi Tsuji has succeeded in growing teeth in other mice…. Federal prosecutors have described those $100-a-month virtual offices as “a more elaborate version of an old-fashioned post office box.” And those springing up all over lower Manhattan as, “a breeding ground for fraud”….Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel Dune will appear on the screen for the third time, the latest film by Richard Rubinstein who earlier produced a six-hour version for the Sci-Fi channel….. American children, which make up 4% of the world’s population, consume more than 40% of the world’s toys…..Wheat straw is in short supply for re-thatching village cottages and English Heritage has threatened $40,000 fines and jail sentences for thatchers who use substitutes…. …“I can’t hit on a girl in public like I used to,” Jack Nicholson told AARP magazine. “I never thought words like undignified would come into my own reflections on myself, but — I can’t do it anymore”….. Researchers at the University of Minnesota say that during their studies cat owners were 40% less likely to die from heart attacks although it might just be related to the personality of the animal lovers…. “The only way an investor can get killed,” declares Warren Buffett “is by high fees or trying to outsmart the market”…. Computerized shopping carts at all ShopRite stores will soon carry advertising on their screens. And Rite Aid stores are selling a $30 DNA paternity test, although lab tests cost a further $119…. Solar-cell garments, with which you can power the gadgets in your pockets, will be here before next year….“If at first, the idea is not absurd,” declared Albert Einstein, ”then there is no hope for it”….. Organic carrots and Lebanese soap are among the items to be sold in the shop opened by Prince Charles in the Gloucestershire town of Tetbury (pop: 5,250) which dates back to the 7th century. All profits will go to charity…..The Guardian Weekly called Salman Rushdie’s new book, The Enchantress of Florence, a “sumptuous, impetuous mixture of history and fable…a brilliant, gorgeous and fascinating novel.” But the Economist panned its “mediocre writing,” adding: “Mr. Rushdie ought to bear in mind that a novelist is at heart a storyteller, not a serial creator of self-delighting sentences”….. “There is nothing new except what has been forgotten.” — Marie Antoinette (1755-93)