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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: November 12, 2011

by John Wilcock


“Three Strikes is one of a systematic web of laws designed to incarcerate the maximum number of people for the longest possible time; a web of laws that creates a self-perpetuating money machine for its creators — a cabal of corporations and lawmakers with the shared goal of growing America’s prison population for profit; a web of laws written by special interests and introduced by the legislators they have bought with campaign contributions. Just one small example of the way our democratic system of government has been hijacked by the corporate thugs, greed-heads and fixers of America’s sprawling prison cartel.”
Cynthia Johnston, NationofChange


ACUPUNCTURE IS BOGUS, or so says Steven Novella, an assistant neurology professor at Yale, who suggests that its effects are largely due to the therapeutic ritual that surrounds it — “a subjective sense of well-being gained from the kind attention and relaxation.” Writing in the Skeptical Inquirer, Novella reports on clinical studies that have shown similar effects from placebos, in that even when toothpicks or dull needles have been pressed against the skin but without penetrating, patients have felt beneficial effects. Moreover, says the story, although there’s a presumption about acupuncture being an ancient Chinese practice, “it’s neither very ancient or exclusively Chinese.”

THE UNEXPECTED VIEWS of French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has focused Europe’s attention on a previously scary pol who will undoubtedly gain sensational coverage when she visits this country as all such candidates do to bolster their international credentials. Mlle Le Pen, 43, is the youngest daughter of the notoriously extreme right-winger Jean-Marie Le Pen who scared the wits out of Europeans when his anti-immigrant, anti-abortion National Front party came in second at the last election. After five prexy defeats, the elder Le Pen transferred the leadership of the NF to Marine who has amazed everybody by talking of nationalizing the banks, curbing the money markets, exposing “the corruption of the elites,” forecasting the inevitable collapse of the Euro, and criticizing globalization. “I’m in favor of a sovereign state in order to protect our values, our customs, and our way of life,” she told the Nation. “We had foreseen this: globalization, just like communism, is totalitarian. We were told it was the way forward. Isn’t it high time we recognized we were wrong?”

CHINA’S MOST FAMOUS artist, the courageous Ai Weiwei, who’s constantly persecuted, prosecuted, and pursued by Chinese authorities because of his continuous attempts to spotlight the country’s wrongs, fails to get a mention in Art in America’s survey of China’s current art market. That’s probably because the feature is all about the huge sums of money being spent on art by many of the country’s more than one million millionaires who, the magazine explains, have few other investment choices. “People don’t want to invest in the real estate market now and the Chinese stock market is not safe,” explains Pi Li of Beijing’s Boers-Li Gallery. “So the money, like water, has to go somewhere.” What kind of cash are we talking about? Well, last year’s transactions in China’s art market totaled $26.4 billion with three pieces of contemporary Chinese art changing hands this year for more than $10m apiece.

BACK IN THE DAYS when they didn’t have “the Green thing,” writes Cathy Gray:

  • People took their bottles back to the store which sent them back to the plant where they were washed, sterilized, and used again;
  • They washed the baby’s diapers and let the sun and wind dry them instead of in an energy-gobbling machine;
  • They walked up stairs and pushed a lawn mower, exercising by working instead of going to health club to run electric-powered treadmills;
  • They drank from a tap or fountain instead of turning to a plastic bottle every time they were thirsty;
  • Kids rode the school bus or bicycles to school instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service;
  • And they didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from 2,000 miles out in space to find the nearest pizza joint.

“Isn’t it sad,” Cathy Gray asked in the Russian River Times, “that the current generation laments how wasteful the old folks were just because they didn’t have ‘the green thing’ back then?”

TOO MANY PRESENTS are creating miserable children, according to a UN report that suggests that what makes children happy is not endless toys and video games but more meaningful time spent with their parents and playing outside with friends and family. Two-thirds of all communication between adults and children, reports Dr. Tessa Livingstone, a BBC producer, is giving directions and a quarter of children say they only talk to their parents once a week about things that matter. Writing in the Observer, Mariella Frostrup said parents have to find their way “in a world that is fast becoming a giant shopping mall where their sole responsibility is to covet the goods on display.”

VARIETY GAVE A NOD to the subject of position placement, i.e. the practice of plugging products in movies and television shows in a non-intrusive manner so that they seem a natural part of the plot. “There needs to be a believable reason as to why a product or brand appears,” says Daphne Briggs, a former Sony executive, whose firm Propaganda GEM has a dozen offices including Los Angeles and Tokyo and has placed everything from watches and suitcases to cars in more than 700 films. Variety contends that subtle positioning has “evolve(d) into an indispensable art.”

STILL WRITING HIS perceptive column decades after founding the indispensable Washington Monthly, Charles Peters claims that “the age of greed” was forecast long before most people became aware of it in the Eighties. It began, he explains, with Wall Street firms buying up family firms and taking them public, allotting themselves a hefty cut. The downside was that the former owners found themselves “at the mercy of Wall Street’s habit of rating companies basis of constantly growing quarterly earnings” with the pressure from stockholders to cut expenses — like payroll — and in the current recession lose employees they would have liked to keep.

THE WILCOCK WEB: A letter in the Nation suggests that Obama should resign and turn his candidacy over to Hillary….In an ideal world, banks wouldn’t be allowed to gamble with depositors’ money. They’d return to their original purpose, safeguarding funds and lending them out to charge interest….It’s been quite a while since one country could capture another and absorb it into its empire. But as more countries become bankrupt, can we now expect that China will buy them?…. …“U.S. Congressmen should have to dress like NASCAR drivers,” suggests columnist Thomas L. Friedman, “and wear the logos of all the banks, investment banks, insurance companies, and real estate firms that they’re taking money from.”

A 23-year-old Japanese electrician Keisuke Yamada is making his name as a sculptor, carving intricate figures out of fresh bananas using a toothpick and a spoon.

“The public needs to know”… The greedy Bank of America even charges customers to close their accounts (so close them anyway)… “An idea isn’t responsible,” explained Don Marquis, “for the people who believe in it”….. The precious metal palladium, in everything from mobile phones to catalytic converters, is spewed into the road via exhaust fumes in such quantities that the British firm Veolia estimates it can extract 5kgs (worth $125,000) of it from the 30,000 tons of road sweepings it plans to collect and process….The inimitable, irresistible, irreplaceable Charlotte Rampling is the subject of a biographical documentary called The Look…..One way to spread the wealth would be to allow those overpaid tycoons to serve on only one other board of directors apart from their own firm… ”When we ask advice,” quoth the Marquis de la Grange, “we are usually looking for an accomplice” ….Often compared to the best of British television, PBS has made a deal to show some of its top programs (Frontline, Nova) over there — with commercials…….From now until May, the Norman Mailer Writers Colony ( is inviting writers for from two- to eight-week stays at the late author’s former home in Provincetown…. Italy’s top chef, Gualtiero Marchesi, 81, who has three Michelin stars, has created two special hamburgers for the Italian McDonalds featuring such ingredients as sautéed spinach, aubergine, and ricotta… No matter where you are in the world, somebody once declared, you’re never more than 20 feet from a spider…. What may be the world’s most clue-less company, an outfit called Zafirro, is peddling (for $100,000) an iridium razor with sapphire blades. A cheaper version in gold sells for $18,000……. The K-11 EMF meter, a $60 device used to check out power lines and electromagnetic fields, has been selling by the hundreds of thousands, reports the Wall Street Journal, to ghost hunters who claim that it can detect ghosts and “transcend inaudible sounds into words”…..Hustler offered half a million bucks to Casey Anthony, the allegedly murderous mom, to pose nude for the magazine …. Tenants who pay $1m a year for the new luxury boxes at the renovated Madison Square Garden can choose to have a fireplace or a waterfall…Hey, thirty-five thousand isn’t a bad pay-off for being propositioned, even if it entails keeping your mouth shut…. “A demagogue is a person with whom we disagree as to which gang should mismanage the country.” — Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913)