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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: November 1, 2008

“I do not admit to being ideologically right-wing. I have right-wing people like Sean Hannity. But I’d say we absolutely give equal time to both sides, whereas CNN doesn’t. When all the media was becoming increasingly liberal, to have something objective, or at least fair to both sides, I think it has changed the political equation slightly — in that people who were feeling isolated and conservative or felt they were being ignored, it’s given them something to hang on to.” — Rupert Murdoch interviewed by Esquire

A PLANET THAT DOESN’T EXIST continues to be a constant source of angst to thousands of people who every day besiege the website Ask an Astrobiologist with questions about it. Nine out of ten of these queries concern the fictitious planet Nibiru, reports NASA’s astrobiologist David Morrison, who declares: “Persistent claims about a planet that is nearby but invisible, are just plain silly.” The myth of Nibiru’s supposed “discovery” began with the Mesopotamians but was revived by a woman in 2003 who reportedly channeled information from “the Zetans” claiming that the planet’s impact would bring to an end the world, that year. The failed prediction was subsequently updated to 2012. Morrison’s frequent NASA-backed denials that Nibiru even existed, were met with daily abusive emails which, he says, baffled him. “While I hope that many people who read my replies are pleased to learn that the world is not about to end, I am surprised at so many angry responses. These appear to come from people who seem to want the world to end in 2012; who are upset to be told that this catastrophe will not happen.”

THE UNELECTED PEOPLE who run the European Union are not ‘dangerous ideologues’ but ‘second-rate branding consultants’ according to the Daily Telegraph’s  Sam Leith, explaining the recent edict: That every sheet of paper emanating from the European Parliament must carry the slogan University in Diversity. Leith says true symbols arise from political identity and you can’t “reverse engineer” an identity from them. He calls it a giant “self-regarding waste” of public funds.

DESCRIBED BY The American Prospect as somebody who “proves that liberals can attract viewers on television when they actually act like, well, liberals,” MSNBC pundit Rachel Maddow says she worries about being “a conventional-wisdom machine.” To that end, she told the magazine, she concentrates on absorbing facts and reporting, and eschews having a TV set in her New York apartment, because she tends to “at least subconsciously agree with the last thing I heard that makes sense.…I try to consume as little of other people’s analysis as I can.”

A FEW OF THE SECRETS of the legendary artists and writers retreat, Yaddo, in New York’s Saratoga Springs are revealed in letters, films, books, and art on display from this week at Manhattan’s Public Library. “Something like a swanky monastery” was how Time described the 55-room mansion set on a pristine 400-acre estate, presided over for 40 years by Elizabeth Ames who famously advised her Bohemian flock: “It is unwise to form youthful attachments.” Scandals remained hushed up but Ames was once accused by Robert Lowell of “leading a Communist conspiracy.”

ALWAYS KNOWN FOR its collection of classical Roman and Greek art, LA’s Getty Villa stages its first contemporary art project next month with the work of Jim Dine, a veteran of Happenings events in the early Sixties and one of the participants in the earliest show of Pop Art at Pasadena’s Walter Hopps Museum in 1962. “I have a great romance with the ancient world,” Dine, 73, says. “I’m a failed Latin student and I’ve spent many years in Munich at Mad King Ludwig’s collection of Greek and Roman sculpture, drawing at night. I felt that art was the thing that would save me (and) this has. It’s the only thing I want to do. It keeps me here.”

COW FARTS, long blamed for polluting the atmosphere with excess amounts of methane gas, are to be measured by scientists in Argentina, a country blessed with more than 55 million cattle. The average cow produces 70 gallons of the poisonous fumes every day and researchers from the country’s National Institute of Agricultural Technology are attaching inflatable tanks to bovine stomachs to support the theory that changing cows’ diets from grass to grain can reduce that amount.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Strict vetting procedures such as psychological profiling which have followed the church’s sexual scandals, have discouraged all but nine new Catholic priests who could be ordained last year in Ireland. The church gloomily forecasts that its current body of 4,572 priests in the country will drop by two-thirds within 20 years….. “Voters may thrill to the sound of brash outsiders vowing change,” wrote Norman Ornstein in the Sacramento Bee, “but the reality is that only competent insiders can actually get anything done”…..Failing to steal enough from the American taxpayer during this year’s third quarter, the Halliburton Company posted a $21 million loss…..“The Republicans are a party that says government doesn’t work,” observes P.J. O’Rourke, “and then gets elected and proves it”… Rehabilitating druggies is anathema to the prison guards’ union, who prefer to have as many prisoners in jail as possible to enhance their exorbitant union salaries, so they have kicked in $1 million to defeat the initiative which would expand treatment programs…The subtitle of the book Nuclear Energy Now by Alan M. Herbst and George W. Hopley is self-explanatory, Why the Time Has Come for the World’s Most Misunderstood Energy Source, but the authors amplify: “If the United States is to remain competitive in the 21st century, we have no choice but to aggressively construct new nuclear generation assets”….TelevisionWeek says 3-D television is on the way but it will be at least 2012 before it makes much impact. By that time, forecasts TW, there will be 28 million sets able to receive it, compared with only two million at present….Ignoranus: A person who’s both stupid and an asshole — another winner in the Washington Post’s contest for new words….. With cigarette sales dropping, the tobacco companies are increasing their promotion of snus, thus shifting cancer from the lungs to the lips .… Alex Baldwin told the New Yorker that he never gets to be a movie leading man and he’s sick of acting. “It’s getting to the point where there’s just something else I want to do. I’m tired of being somebody else. I want to be me. I want to be myself….Bosnian prison officials closed down the inmates’ pigeon-breeding program when they came to believe the birds were smuggling in drugs… “Tis easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it.” — Benjamin  Franklin (1706-90)