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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: November 10, 2007


AS WESTERN COUNTRIES gradually move away from cigarettes or at least become more aware of its dangers, the habit is growing in Asia, stoked not only by greedy tobacco giants but governments such as China and Thailand where tobacco is a state monopoly. Almost half of tobacco’s global victims — about 2.3 million people — are in Asia where the Economist estimates that around 700million smokers can’t get through the day without puffing on a cigarette. Taking conflicting sides of the matter, China is exporting cheap-price smokes to other countries in the region while ordering larger health warnings on the packets. Indonesia, the only country not to have signed the World Health Organization’s tobacco-control treaty, promises to cap cigarette output by 2010 but meanwhile counts tobacco taxes as 10% of government revenue. What worries WHO officials is that the smoking habit will, just as in the West, be taken up by more women as men quit.

IN INDIA, where 99% of the population has never flown, a businessman named Bahadur Gupta charges customers $4 to strap themselves into seats in his battered Airbus plane (which never leaves the ground) and listen to “Captain” Gupta make typical flight announcements (“We will soon be passing through a zone of turbulence… We are about to begin our descent into Delhi…”).

MEALS FROM CHEMISTRY seems to be the message that Popular Science is sending us, devoting 23 pages of its November issue to all the high-tech tools from precision scales to tanks of compressed carbon dioxide that the present-day chef might have at his service. “Today some kind of R&D can be found in many restaurants…, even the most familiar foods can always be refined and improved using science.” The improvements range from using low-pressure chambers causing water to boil at room temperatures (concentrating the aromas), to the chef who uses a fan whose blades are “painted with an ocean fragrance to blow a gentle breeze on the diners.” The industry “doesn’t just talk about things tasting good anymore,” the magazine adds. “Now it’s about providing an exceptional flavor ’experience’.”

MEANWHILE, IF YOU BUY a package of organic meat from the Wholesome Harvest company you’ll note that it’s marked with a Farmer ID number which you can call and find yourself talking to the actual farm from where the meat originated. The company’s founder, Wende Elliot, says he modeled the plan on similar ones in operation in Europe and Asia and, says Stores magazine, “believes that traceability builds a bridge between farmer and consumer, creating trust and reassurance that the animals were raised on small farms in the United States rather than foreign or industrial factory farms.”

“To be given license to be completely inappropriate and get away with it is cathartic. It’s something that few people experience. I get all that behavior out of my system and not let it bleed into personal relationships. If we all had that outlet we’d probably be much healthier.”
—Steve Carell, interviewed by Hudson Morgan in Men’s Vogue about his role in The Office.

UNSURPRISINGLY, THE BOOK TRADE has benefited immeasurably from the success of the Harry Potter movies reports Publishing News. For publishers, says PN, it never hurts for the buzz of a major picture to spread around town. “Even a bad film is a good thing,” says Puffin Press’ Francesca Dow, “because you benefit from a wider audience and platform for the book.” Thanks to the film, Puffin’s Charlotte’s Webb was catapulted from a family classic… to a mass market best seller. And, according to literary scout John McLay, what the Harry Potter books achieved was to broaden the definition of fantasy to contemporary stories containing fantastical elements. “It isn’t often,” he muses, “that the glitter of Hollywood gets sparkled on children’s books, so when it does we get very excited.”

IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN when the nicest present you can give a friend for Christmas is a gift (in his/her name) of a much-needed animal to some poor family in a Third-World country. How about a flock of chickens ($20) or a share in a water buffalo or a llama? Details at

THE WILCOCK WEB: Barack Obama should concede the obvious — that if he voluntarily persuaded Hillary to adopt him as her veep, millions of conflicted Dems would be overjoyed to have their dilemma defused…. Celebrating publisher Victor Navasky’s visit to Washington to try and get the hike on magazine postal rates rescinded, the Nation is selling sheets of Navasky stamps…. Sasha says GAP is the new acronym for “Greedy Adult Pedophiles”…. Even after soldiers get killed, their parents promote the war so their dead kids won’t be lonely in heaven, writes Ted Rall…. A Texas man is suing 1-800-FLOWERS for $1million because he sent a bouquet to his girlfriend and his wife saw the receipt when it arrived at his home…. “I want to have children while my parents are still young enough to care for them,” quipped comic Rita Rudner. “And when I meet a man, I ask myself ‘Is this the man I want my children to spend the weekend with?’….”  The $26 million that television pays Judge Judy is more than the combined salaries of all nine Supreme Court justices…. A cleric at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University has decreed that any Muslim couples who act in a marriage scene on film are deemed married in real life…. The logo of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) which is violently anti-immigrant, depicts three white sheep kicking a black sheep off the national flag…. Gabriele Pauli, a rightwing German politician, has proposed that partners in civil marriages should be allowed to dissolve their union after seven years without needing the formality of a divorce…..Women are expected to make up more than three quarters of the customers at the new, three-story Playboy store on London’s Oxford Street where “frilly knickers” cost $100…. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” —Martin Luther King (1929-68)