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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: November 17, 2007

 

“Roman history suggests that the short, happy life of the American republic may be coming to its end… The United States today, like the Roman republic in the 1st century BC, is threatened by an out-of-control military industrial complex and a huge secret government controlled exclusively by the president… Our political system may no longer be capable of saving the United States as we know it, since it is hard to imagine any president or Congress standing up to the powerful vested interests (which also include) the Pentagon and the secret intelligence agencies.”
Chalmers Johnson in Nemesis, the last days of the American Republic

WHEN YOU THINK OF those carbon offsets as a sort of guilt trip to compensate for polluting, then what Ecuador is offering is the mother of all such opportunities. If wealthy nations agree to pay the country $350 million a year, Ecuador promises to leave its oil in the ground, suggesting the fee would be a bargain if the world hopes to protect the Amazon from further devastation. The region is already so messed up from past oil production — at least 1,000 waste pits of black sludge leaking into the water supply — that Texaco, and now Chevron, are embroiled in a $6 billion class action suit from 30,000 indigenous people, and most of the country’s remaining one billion barrels of oil are right underneath the Yasuni National Park, a biosphere reserve. At current prices the oil is probably worth $700 million a year. which the impoverished government could certainly use but will refrain from drilling if the bribe offer is accepted.

A VERY DIFFERENT Kazakhstan from the one ridiculed by Borat is the country in which more than 100 US companies have invested more than $15 billion in recent years. “(It) has been riding a free-market boom of a magnitude few countries have ever seen, buoyed along on its elephantine oil reserves,” reveals Fast Company magazine. But it’s no place for the reckless or fainthearted explains Jonathan Green who reveals in the mag’s November issue the cautionary tale of what seems to be a typical shakedown of an American businessman. He found little help from US authorities who need the country as a strategic ally thus requiring “tacit approval or at least some tolerance of systemic corruption.” Criminal charges by local government officials are often used, says a report, “as a pressure tactic.”

WHAT’S BEEN DESCRIBED AS the biggest jigsaw of all time is the reassembly — from 400 bags of shredded pieces of paper — the secret files of East Germany’s Stasi organization, whose spooks hurriedly tried to destroy them at the end of the Cold War. There are 16,000 bags in all but aided by colleagues and computers, Bertram Nickolay of Berlin’s Fraunhofer Institute will spend the next two years working on this initial batch, trying to piece together the discredited Secret Service’s files on millions of innocent Germans.

AMERICA’S BEST TV CRITIC, Marvin Kitman, praised television’s best news anchor, Keith Olbermann as an example of the form that news should take instead of the so-called “objectivity” that’s the current mode. “The problem with objective journalism,” Kitman wrote in the Nation, “is that it doesn’t exist and never did… What the evening news shows need is more analysis.” TV is an art form that suffers from kleptomania, the critic continued, “that would rather steal something that works than try anything original.” The networks were still copying each other’s outdated style. “What I like about Olbermann as a newscaster,” writes Kitman, “is that he makes the evening news like life itself, very absurd yet serious, very angry, very stupid, very silly, very snarky, much like pop culture.”

“IT STILL COSTS more than double to produce kilowatt-hours from the sun than that from regular electricity sources, but huge subsidies in Germany and Japan make it practicable. And although the U.S. solar industry provides a mere 1% of electricity at present, one German research analyst forecasts that costs will be brought down drastically within four to eight years. “The Holy Grail of solar is a concept known as grid parity,” says Fortune, “meaning that it costs no more to generate your own solar energy than it does to buy electricity retail off the grid.” Although fragmented between 100 companies, the biggest, SunPower, thinks it can do this without subsidies by 2012.

THE WILCOCK WEB: If the gap between rich and poor in China keeps widening, history may repeat itself once the 700 million exploited peasants find another Mao to lead them….. C’mon Pfizer: now you’ve made billions from Lipitor how about lowering the price before we all switch to the new generics?….. The difference between American so-called ‘football’ and the football played in the rest of the world is the difference between brute force and skill…..“…Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable,” wrote J.K. Galbraith….. A local hotel owner provides the food for the annual banquet (Nov 25) at Lop Buri, Thailand, where the guests who chow at the long tables are 600 long-tailed monkeys… Worry is interest paid on trouble before it falls due, wrote Dean Inge…. When an insect lands on you out of the blue do you ever suspect some former human might be trying to make contact?…. In an interview with Esquire, gorgeous TV chef Nigella Lawson, 47, raved about hairy men. “I like an animal. Hairy back, hairy everywhere. I don’t understand why a woman would want to be with a hairless man. If I was going to go for someone smooth I might as well be a lesbian….” Sean Penn, however, doesn’t like paparazzi. “They should be put in a cage where they can be poked at with a stick for a quarter,” he told the Sunday Telegraph…. Why is abbreviation such a long word?….>Title for Smelliest Magazine of the Month goes to the November Men’s Vogue which contains four separate scratch ‘n sniff pages, each devoted to a different perfume… “Sex is like money,” intones John Updike, “only too much is enough”… Published this month by London’s Running Press: Skinny Bitch in the Kitch: Kickass Recipes for Hungry Girls Who Want to Stop Cooking Crap (and start looking hot)… When you’re sending someone Styrofoam, what do you pack it in? Nothing happens to anybody which he is not fitted by nature to bear. — Marcus Aurelius (AD120-180)