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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: May 28, 2011

John Wilcock


BERNIE MADOFF’S MOTHER presumably had some influence on her wayward son. “The greatest swindler in history wasn’t the only cheat in the family,” says Psychology Today, reporting that Mama Madoff was once investigated by the SEC for failing to file financial reports for her brokerage firm, but withdrew her registration before it could be revoked. Her name is not mentioned in the mag’s essay but Williams College psychologist Susan Engel uses the affair to bolster an argument about the lack of empathy which, the mag suggests, indicates the level of caring about somebody else’s problems. “I am certain,” speculates Engel, “that Bernie Madoff did not get the kind of influence in his childhood that how you do things is more important than whether you succeed.”

LADY GODIVA’S RIDE, naked on horseback through the streets of Coventry is a lovely tale but not quite true (who’d a thought it?), says BBC History Magazine, footnoting the 12th-century legend recorded by Roger of Wendover that the winsome babe’s escapade was to protest her husband’s imposition of heavy taxes. “In truth,” the magazine comments, “Godiva and her husband were pious benefactors of the church and no harsher landlords” than any of the other rapacious barons of that particular era.


True or not, this is the version we prefer to believe. Lady Godiva by John Collier


EUROPE’S RISING ISLAMOPHOBIA, an essay in the Nation, purports to be a diatribe about the so-called ‘racists’ who express alarm about infiltration by what they see as a steadily increasing Muslim population. But almost every example this story offers seems to make a stronger case for Islam’s enemies.


  • Thirty-seven percent of the German population feel the Federal Republic would be better off “without Islam.”
  • Former Berlin councilman Thilo Sarazzin says Muslims are “unwilling” and “unable” to integrate, they sponge off the welfare system, and because of their higher birth rate will soon outnumber indigenous Germans.
  • Orianna Fallaci’s…best-selling books insist that Islam is a thoroughly violent and totalitarian creed striving for world domination.
  • Polls showed 80% of French voters in favor of banning the full veil.
  • Alice Schwarzer writes that “tolerating” the religion means tolerating forced marriages, honor killings, burqas, female genital mutilation, and polygamy.
  • Conservatives call for limiting immigration because of Islam’s antipathy to gay rights and feminism.
  • Pia Kjaersgaard’s Danish People’s Party, the country’s third biggest, claims that Muslims “are at a lower stage of civilization with their own primitive and cruel customs like honor killings, forced marriages, halal slaughterings, and blood feuds.”
  • The Dutch Freedom Party, with 16% of the electorate, “blames the easy-going model of Dutch multiculturalism for exposing the Nederlands to Islam and thus for undermining the very tolerance it naively extended to Muslim peoples”


All these factors are listed in Paul Hockenos’ story which defends the magnanimity of what has been described as “the politically correct elites.” It also includes the subtitle:


In large part, the Islamophobic trail was blazed by intellectuals, a surprising number of whom had roots in progressive politics.


One of Hockenos’ final comments is:


“Of all the specters haunting Europe, none are as potent — or as potentially destructive to democracy — as Islamophobia.”


To his un-politically correct critics, that sentence is entirely correct with the deletion of the last seven letters.

GOING GREEN is a reputation that most eco-conscious folk like to claim for themselves, but it’s not always an honest one. “While 85 percent of US consumers report buying green goods, only 8% do it most of the time,” reports AARP Magazine, pointing to the growing number of 50-plus Americans rebelling against the expensive side of environmentalism, “believing that value-for-money trumps value-for-planet.” And the research group Crowd Science claims that one-quarter of those polled over 55 think that shopping green “makes no difference.”


“No one could have gotten worse reviews or been the subject of crueler jokes than I did starting out. Every critic wanted to kick me. Every comic wanted to laugh at my expense. The terrible crime? Sitting at a piano singing heartfelt songs. Nobody could have been more surprised than I was, to find I wasn’t hip.”
Barry Manilow talking to the Mail on Sunday’s Alan Jackson


RARE EARTHS, needed for everything from nuclear reactors to iPods, are more and more in demand but less and less available seeing that China has pretty much monopolized the supply. It’s not that most of these silvery metals — of which cerium, neodymium, and lanthanum are the most common — are hard to find, but that most countries have failed to develop supplies, which are usually difficult to extract, occurring in small batches embedded in radioactive minerals. China’s sources, however, come from a single massive iron ore mine in Inner Mongolia which last year provided about 90% of the world supply. Since then, China has been tripling prices and restricting supplies causing near-panic in the auto and computer industries, which favor rare earths for their ability to acquire and shed electrons and store power.

SEEKING SOMETHING TO DO? ”If you have 700 hours to spare and can shim a rotor assembly to within .0001 of an inch, here’s a hobby for you,” says Air&Space, its subject being ‘building your very own helicopter.’ It’s not that hard, the mag proclaims, although for the non-techie, probably impossible. Pointing out that five companies make kits, the mag appears to favor the Helicycle from Idaho-based Eagle R&D whose entry-level kit for a one-seater begins at $28,000, about the price of an SUV. Before they finish assembling their model, owners are required to spend a week with one of the company’s instructors who has been holding back a couple of critical components. As of last year, 47 Helicycles were flying. Of course, not everybody has the necessary assembly skills. “Some people should only be building wheelbarrows,” observes Al Behuncik, a dealer for the Arizona-based RotorWay company. He claims he can take a new A600 Talon from crate to flight in 350 hours, although a newcomer is likely to spend twice that time. After a series of accidents in the early days of craft built from helicopter kits, the FAA warned that “95 percent of the crashes happen at low speeds near the ground.”

Incidentally, the American Helicopter Society is still offering $250,000 to anybody who can produce a human-powered helicopter that (unaided by lighter-than-air gases) can hover nine feet above ground for one minute. Current record is held by a Japanese team whose craft managed 20 seconds.

A DOG’S DNA doesn’t sound like it might count for very much, but on the Italian island of Capri, Mayor Ciro Lembo has mandated that owners of the 1,000 local dogs should submit samples to the police so that when doggy droppings are not cleared from the sidewalk, they can be identified and their keepers fined.

THE WILCOCK WEB: It’s possible to feel sympathy for Maria Shriver and still think she must be pretty dumb not to know for ten years that her husband, the guv, was screwing somebody in their office…. AdAge reports that Tina Brown’s new Newsweek is getting more ads but not as many as say, Time, its bigger (and now very different) rival. “We’re not rushing to put ads in Newsweek,” one ad buyer told the trade mag….Britain’s former prime minister Gordon Brown is applying to be the IMF’s new worldwide boss. He’s the foolish finance chief who, defying advice, sold half of Britain’s gold reserves in 2007 when it was worth one-third as much as it soon became….That little plastic widget in cans of Guinness and Boddington’s beer that enables the liquid to form a thick, creamy foam, will soon be replaced by a (cheaper) new device: a lining of hollow fibers on the interior wall of the can that traps the necessary bubbles until the can is opened….. Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet?….According to researchers at the University of Oklahoma and Michigan State, kids in US schools are two grades behind more than 30 other countries in learning math…..If your car is silver, white, or black it’s likely to be worth up to $500 more at trade-in time, advises the National Automobile Dealers Association, which adding that these colors are the ones car thieves prefer…. … Enabling speeds of 12mph, the new WaveJet surfboard is powered by batteries and costs $4,500 ….NBC’s The Event and ABC’s V, which started promisingly have both become sort of ridiculous…….Claiming that a supermarket is a better place to find a mate than a pub, England’s Asda has teamed up with to match singles according to their shopping habits….“Everyone thinks of changing the world,” griped Leo Tolstoy, “but no one thinks of changing himself”…. In a letter to the Santa Barbara Independent, Grant Marcus says that if there’s really a shortage of land on which to install solar collectors why not use the space under existing transmission lines?…. For about $1,100, the Hong Kong McDonald’s offers a McWedding with invitations, a buffet for 50 people, and a wedding “cake” composed of stacks of apple pies…“Conservatives define themselves in terms of what they oppose.” — George Will (1941- )