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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: October 11, 2008

“The American Revolution was fought so that the people could have sovereignty. Imagining that our president will be our savior makes us re-imagine democracy in opposite terms. The president has all the power and we get our power as a people from him, which is the way of a monarchy.” — Dana D. Nelson, author of Bad for Democracy; How the Presidency Undermines the Power of the People in an interview with the Utne Reader

CLAIMING HEALTH BENEFITS for relatives who either don’t exist or who are not entitled to them has apparently reached epidemic proportions in some big companies according to Forbes. It reports that General Motors hopes to save as much as $100 million a year from eliminating such claims when it has completed its audit. By cutting 10,000 people who don’t qualify, says the mag, AT&T will save $40 million and Chrysler $50 million. Two years ago, American Airlines denied further coverage to 10,000 ineligible employees with similar allegations.

A WORRYING PARALLEL between the overthrow of socialist president Salvador Allende in Chile 35 years ago and the opposition against Bolivia’s leftwing president Evo Morales today is presented by Berlin’s DieTageszeitung. Morales, the country’s first indigenous leader, has been trying to break the stranglehold of the rich landowners as he tries to redistribute the country’s wealth more fairly. Just as earlier in Chile, the right wing is fighting back with death squads and the U.S. has been accused of meddling on the wrong side (the US ambassador was just expelled) the paper says.

POPULAR MECHANICS’  OCTOBER issue devotes 30 pages to listing “100 Skills Every Man Should Know,” with the ones on the cover — Fix a Leak, Pilot a Boat, Weld Steel, Shoot Straight, Mix Concrete, Drive Off-Road, Work with Wood, and Escape a Sinking Car.  Unable to handle a single one of these, this columnist will have to settle for some of the easier ones such as Drive a Stick Shift, Shoot a Home Movie, Parallel Park, Iron a Shirt.

BURMA HAS BECOME “the world’s largest prison camp” declares the Guardian Weekly pointing out that the legally-elected — but never allowed to serve — Aung San Suu Kyi is now in her 13th year of detention, one of 2,000 Burmese held as political prisoners and half a million displaced others. “The UN has been a complete failure,” charges Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK and he called for the resignation of special envoy Ibrahim Gambari “seen as biased towards the regime.”

SHIPS THAT DISAPPEARED without a trace in the Bermuda Triangle may have been hit by waves 50 or more feet high, all the rubble disappearing in an area where the sea is as much as five miles deep. That’s one of the theories advanced by the October issue of BBC Knowledge which says that if northeasterly winds cut across the Gulf Stream (straddled by the 62-mile Triangle) huge waves could sink pretty well any ship. However, the theories don’t explain what happened to aircraft — at least eight of them — which also vanished between 1945 and 1954.

THE IRONY IS RARELY mentioned about how the Boy Scouts were once regarded with suspicion because of the alleged proclivity of some scoutmasters for fondling their charges, but how today the politically correct shun them because they reject homosexuals. “Probably no other organization in America volunteers as much time — seven million hours since 2004 — improving public property and assisting public programs,” says National Review in a story headed Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Persecuted. The mag points out that the Supreme Court ruled that, as a private organization, the Scouts were entitled to choose their own members. Even though the ACLU lost that argument, they won’t leave the Scouts alone: “(Scout) programs are under attack all over the country,” NR concludes.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Senior Centers in Germany have discovered that placing a fake green and yellow bus stop sign outside their facilities has helped to corral Alzheimer’s patients who tend to otherwise stray far from the facility….. Men who drive more than three hours a day are likely to overheat their testicles leading to sperm damage reports New Scientist magazine…. Russia plans to clamp down on gambling next year, banning casinos from everywhere except four remote regions where the infrastructure needs funds….“Name one thing we’ve learned from the International Space Station,” challenges Bob Parks in his syndicated science column…..“Drugs,” muses P.J. O’Rourke,have certainly managed to teach American youth about the metric system”…. Why don’t term limits apply to senators and congressmen who often seem to be there for life?….As a turncoat independent with a rightwing bias, Joe Lieberman won’t have many friends in the Senate after November nor will his solitary vote help the GOP enough, even if they trust such a snake in the grass….“Conceit is God’s gift to little men,” proclaims Bruce Barton…. Several companies are working on schemes to bring 3-D television to living rooms within three years…. Harper’s publisher John R. MacArthur is the author of You Can’t Be President which lists all the reasons why the old myth just isn’t true….The stock of America’s four major railroads has jumped as much as 34% since oil prices made bus and automobile transport so much more expensive….. Los Angeles Times circulation is dropping so precipitately they are now offering, for $39, a year of Thursday thru Sunday papers plus a $20 supermarket gift card….. Cornell University researchers discovered that dropping the $ sign from menu prices — 20 instead of $20, for example — meant that diners were willing to pay bills as much as five bucks higher….“Young men think old men are fools,” says George Chapman, ”but old men know that young men are fools…Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguards had their own set of inscribed dinner plates which are going up for auction this month…. Once again an independent company, after shucking off ownership by Cadbury-Schweppes, Texas-based Dr. Pepper (since 1885) hopes to extend the drink’s popularity from the South (where folks imbibe almost 11 gallons of the drink a year) to the East and West coasts where the average is around one six-pack….“Posterity is as likely to be wrong as anybody else.” — Heywood Brown (1888-1939)