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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: November 21, 2009

John Wilcock
the column of lasting insignificance

“All art is about feeling. Critics may talk about cool abstractionists and hot expressionists, but hot or cold, abstract or representational, it’s all about eliciting emotion, otherwise we wouldn’t do it.”
James Rosenquist in Painting Below Zero: Notes on a life in Art by David Dalton.

A LOVE LETTER to the English language channel of Al Jazeera appeared in the Atlantic from Robert D. Kaplan who paid tribute to its “feast of vivid, path-breaking coverage from all continents.” By comparison, he wrote, outlets such as CNN and the BBC don’t cover news so much as “the foreign extensions of Washington or London’s collective obsessions.” It’s a familiar complaint — that U.S. viewers don’t get an objective worldview of anything — and even though Al Jazeera has its own prejudices, it offers an otherwise rarely seen point of view from the weak and oppressed. Kaplan says he’ll continue to watch it because it’s “riveting compared with other channels.”

LEAVING THE OFFICE for an outdoor smoke can have its advantages suggests columnist Michael Skapinker, the main one of which is that this “sidewalk subculture”  initiates bonding across different social classes mingling everybody from security guards to senior executives. In addition, he writes in the Financial Times, it has resulted in better manners. “Most smokers have now internalized society’s disapproval of them and are far more courteous than mobile phone owners, burger munchers, headphone wearers, or cyclists.”

BRITAIN’S FORMER HOME SECRETARY Jack Straw is the man who intervened to send Chile’s former dictator (and torturer-in-chief) Augusto Pinochet back home unscathed after he was arrested in London nine years ago. Now he’s trying to meddle with inquests, allowing them to be held in private if they’re “politically sensitive.” Accusing him of projecting an image of authoritative blandness, Independent columnist Matthew Norman calls him “a slimy, self-serving party hack who has disgraced every high office he has held.”

AMC’s new TV series The Prisoner starring Ian McKellen revives happy memories of the original BBC series in 1967 and was shot in the actual village of Portmeirion in Wales, which  looks like this.

Portmeirion – The Village Centre

Built by the eccentric architect Sir William Clough-Ellis, it’s an eclectic collection of domes, turrets, terraces, spires, colonnades, piazzas, and campaniles. Sandstone Renaissance Gothic jostles for attention with English thatched roof and French provincial styles. There’s a hotel on the grounds where you can borrow tapes of the original programs (starring Patrick McGoohan), which became a cult show on both sides of the Atlantic.

CHINA’S BULLET TRAIN will be the fastest and most technologically sophisticated in the world when it’s completed in 2020, and this year alone the country is investing $50billion on the project, helping to find work for some of the millions of newly unemployed. “Little focuses the mind in Beijing more than the prospect of huge numbers of idle young men,” wryly comments Fortune in its report on the 220mph train which will more than halve the current 10-hour journey between Beijing and Shanghai. (America’s fastest train, Amtrak’s Acela, reaches 79mph on its Boston to Washington, DC run.)

INSTALLING A GRASSY LAWN aboard the Celebrity Solstice involved irrigation specialists and soil scientists, says Smart Money, because the half-acre plot had to be sturdy enough to tolerate extreme temperatures, salt, and wind but not be too heavy to upset the ship’s balance. In a story noting how many of the cruise lines’ improvements are adding to passengers’ costs, the mag says onboard charges typically account for 25% of a ship’s revenue. With laundry and internet bills, hourly nursery fees, and cover charges at more onboard restaurants, “passengers may find themselves dinged with charges at every turn.”

A STORY IN Smart Money points to the growth of the “restaurant efficiency expert” defined as someone who works to cut waste and maximize profits by pricing out a kitchen’s every move. Some of the ideas listed under “Cutting Corners”: reduce the size of the snack bowls…bill for the bread basket…hold back tap water to encourage buying bottles…“un-bundle” entrees by selling sides a la carte…reduce portions….drop the lemon wedge from iced tea because it costs more than the drink.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Afghanistan’s crooked president says we should “respect Afghanistan’s sovereignty” and quit telling him what to do with the billions we give him, but just butt out and let him hand it over to his cronies….Appearing on the cover of Ms. which she co-founded back in 1972, Gloria Steinem says she wants to celebrate her 100th birthday (2034) “seeing Oprah interviewing men about how they combine career and family”…In a statistical breakdown of the richest people in America, the Forbes 400, began at $950,000 million, with the youngest listee, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg (25) at $2 billion, and the oldest, media mogul John Kluge (95) at $6.5 billion…. In Rolling Stone, Richard Dreyfuss reports the rumor that General David Petraeus is considering running for president in 2012…The biggest ego in the West, realtor Donald Sterling inserted three separate photographs of himself in the same recent Los Angeles Times ad (but only one in several other ads)….Milwaukee artist Jesse Graves empties a bucket of mud on the sidewalk in which he stencils a message that is eventually harmlessly washed away leaving no trace…... “Conscience is a mother-in-law whose visit never ends,” opined H.L. Mencken .…. After the father of Amy Winehouse, a taxi driver, was called before a British committee investigating the cocaine trade, columnist Marina Hyde commented in the Guardian: ”Instead of hearing from a genuine expert, our politicians spent the day simpering ingratiatingly over someone who happens to have a famous junkie for a daughter”….It seems that only a couple of years of $5-a-gallon gas is ever going to get those earth-destroying, traffic-blocking SUVs off the road…. What are the odds of another Muslim soldier going postal if security experts continue to value political correctness ahead of safety?….Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong, quipped Oscar Wilde…....A simple device that enables power lines to heat up for long enough to melt off ice that is causing them to sag dangerously after storms, has been devised by a Dartmouth College engineer…. A chemical found in human sweat called androstadienone, derived from male testosterone, is claimed to work as a love potion according to a researcher at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews….. Snails creeping into Royal Mail collection mailboxes in England have been eating the glue on envelopes….. “Virtue has never been as respectable as money.” — Mark Twain (1835-1910)

Personal note: Can’t decide where to spend Christmas. Does any reader have terrific memories of any place in the West?