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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: November 24, 2007


“The characteristic that modern politicians have in common, apart from ambition of course, is self-importance. Once they have won an election, even if only narrowly, they come to think of themselves not merely as the elected but the elect; that is to say as people endowed with the duty and therefore the right to mould society and citizens according to their own views. Modern politicians do not think of themselves as servants but as the masters and saviors of the public, even of the entire world.”
— Anthony Daniels in the Daily Express

POLITICIANS DON’T LIKE to allocate funds to anything that doesn’t produce immediate, flashy results but, with fully a quarter of the country’s 153,000 bridges needing replacement or repair, writes Stephen Flynn, we’re increasingly “a superpower that is rotting from within.” China spends five times as much on its infrastructure.

“Our transportation system, once the envy of the world,” says Popular Mechanics, “is now known for congested highways, second-rate ports, third-rate passenger trains, and a primitive air traffic control system.”

RATHER THAN RELY on the simple paper ballot, that needs only a pencil to complete, most U.S. states were obliged to invest millions of dollars in electronic voting machines made by Diebold and other companies which have contributed more millions to the Republican party. The machines can be readily manipulated, as has been proved, and most of them are still in place so why do we expect that the GOP won’t steal the 2008 election, too? And so, for the millionth time, why not just have paper ballots?

HAGGLING WITH YOUR CAR DEALER is on the way out according to Business Week even though “most dealers still consider fixed prices heresy.” But, along with the rise in women buyers (who hate haggling) consumer psychology is changing, the mag says, and besides the average car sale takes hours too long. “Negotiating isn’t in our culture,” declares consultant Mark Rikess. “Some dealers are slowly coming around to the fact that one price is a better way to do it.”

ESQUIRE’S EXECUTIVE EDITOR Mark Warren loathed Dinesh D’Souza’s book, What’s So Great About Christianity, describing it as a “soul-killing pseudo-academic cant,” referring to the rightwing author’s “Dartmouth term-paper research skills” and charging that he possessed “the creative imagination of a clerk.” Yes, Dinesh, Warren wrote, “you’ve written another vulgar book. You regard your religion as a rabid fan would regard his football team. And you use God for the most tawdry and temporal of purposes to make a political argument. How pathetic.”

WHAT’S BEING TERMED “the final frontier of human resources,” is the outsourced termination, i.e. a company hiring another company to fire its surplus employees. ”Companies are so scared of wrongful termination lawsuits, that they can’t afford to be personal,” says Inc. “Cold seems (too) careful.” The magazine features Rebecca Heyman, 31, whose Bay area firm TriNet represents 1,500 companies. “I work with some folks who have never fired someone before,” she says. “They look to me to pull the trigger.” And now there’s software available in to which managers can file reports rating workers on a scale of one to five. These are coordinated with age, race and union status (“to see who among the low scorers might be a lawsuit risk”) before the program spits out a list of people who can be smoothly off-boarded (i.e terminated).

SAVING THOUSANDS of dollars while improving their health, 150,000 Americans went abroad for medical care last year, and that figure’s likely to increase as more and more countries open classy facilities. Medical tourism isn’t new, Forbes Life points out, having been in vogue since pilgrims flocked to Greece to attend the Epidaurus shrine of the healing god Asklepios. But today, having the doctors attend to you while staying in hospitals resembling 5-star hotels is an irresistible draw. India, Thailand, Costa Rica, Hong Kong (to name but a few) offer medical vacations. “Patients here get beaches, snowcapped mountains, great waterfalls, and in Buenos Aires, they can have a good time at night — see a show, go dancing,” says a spokesman for Argentina’s Plenitas hospital. But, the magazine warns, excellent though the treatment might be, patients should be aware that once back home, post-procedure care might be limited to phone calls and emails.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Why not put a tax surcharge on the people who want the war to continue, thus allowing them to pay for it and not the rest of us? …With 20 million motorcyclists on the streets — and a traffic death rate double that of the US — Vietnam is making a second attempt to make motorcycle helmets mandatory….. Pity that the US and Pakistan can’t trade Supreme Courts with results that would benefit both countries…. If you can afford to pay the $425 that Chanel is asking for its new luggage tag, your taxes aren’t high enough…. Once the butt of jokes as Liza Minelli’s ex-hubby, David Gest is now cheered everywhere he goes after his appearance on a Brit TV show, I’m a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here. “I’m living a second childhood and loving every minute of it,” he says…. Trading on the superstition that anybody touching female undergarments is robbed of their power, the human rights group Lanna Action for Burma has asked women around their world to mail their panties to Burma’s ruling generals….. When you’re sending someone Styrofoam, what do you pack it in?…. Tokyo women are flocking to the new “butler cafes,” where they are treated with exaggerated politeness by white-gloved man-servants in formal ties and tails…. Manhattan’s famed 2nd Ave. Deli, forced to close by a huge rent increase last year, has reopened on Third Avenue…. Eating diseased cattle, among other reasons, has reduced India’s vulture population to such a degree, that the Parsees are rigging their mortuary towers with solar reflectors. These shrivel the corpses that the flesh-loving birds would normally dispose of…. Space solar power systems 30,000 kms above the earth, transmitting by microwave or lasers, are five to ten times more efficient than ground-based ones according to experiments announced by Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency…. Operated by hydrofoils that lifts it above the water at 100mph, the SeaFalcon (which can be driven on land like a car) will go into production in Singapore next year…. The best way to get praise is to die. — Italian proverb