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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: October 13, 2007


“Naturally, the common people do not want war but after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.”
—Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials

THE DREAMS OF CLIMATE-CONTROL scientists that they might be able to change the weather are likely to be dashed by the ease with which they might be sued by the recipients of misdirected rain. Laboratory experiments show that, for example, heating up the top or cooling of the bottom of an approaching hurricane might lower its intensity even though it would require numerous flights to seed it (from below) or add soot above. “the problem isn’t the science,” explains the Atlantic, “but the lawyers. Changing a hurricane’s environment is likely to change its path… the storm could destroy towns that otherwise might not have been hit and (the) team could end up being drowned in civil suits”.

WRITING IN THE OCTOBER Harper’s, Garret Keizer advocates a General Strike for Election Day, November 6 “for the sole purpose of removing this regime from power.” Nice idea and the least you can do is to pass it along. Keizer says everybody should cease work or at least curtail consumption: vacate the shopping malls… cancel their flights… turn off their cell phones… unplug their TVs. As long as we’re willing to forsake action, Bush — “the president few of us like and most of us deserve” — and Cheney will be free to go along with their coup. “Don’t tell me what some presidential hopeful ought to do someday. Tell me what the people who have nearly lost their hope can do now.”

THE LITTLE TOWN of Banner Elk, in North Carolina, expects to welcome about 25,000 visitors next week for the annual race of woolly caterpillars ($5 to enter, $1,000 for the winner) after which the judges will make their winter weather prediction based on the thickness of the black bands on the caterpillars’ furry backs — the thicker the band, the colder the winter.

JAPANESE INTERNET CAFES offer much more than connections to the web. “Before, a small space with a computer was good enough, but now customers’ needs have changed,” says Momoko Sugiura, whose company owns 100 Kaikaku Clubs with décor resembling beach resorts and a menu with 40 or more items. Another chain, Aprecio, offers massages, a 30,000-item manga library, and a comfortable room in which to watch DVDs on flat-screen TVs. One drawback is the attraction the cybercafes have for the homeless; 5,000 net café refugees have been sleeping overnight in soft chairs says Japan’s Health, Labor, and Welfare ministry.

HOLLYWOOD’S BIGGEST SECRET says Dinah Eng, is not how much money they make or who’s sleeping with whom — it’s how old they are. Fewer than 20% of working TV writers are over 51 according to the Writers Guild of America and jobs for actors beyond that are scarce on the ground (beyond 40 for females). The only category in which experience matters, Eng writes in TelevisionWeek, is directing. “If a single day goes south, it will cost a fortune, so the networks and studios want people with a track record who can deliver a show.”

THE COMBINATION OF an aging workforce and a shrinking labor pool will affect countries around the world forecasts Business Week while revealing that Finland (40% of whose workforce will reach retirement age within 15 years) has made the most progress in countering it. Older workers there, encouraged to stay on the job longer, are being offered free golfing lessons, theatre tickets, language training, and massages. In Japan more than 26% of workers are already past 55; in the US the figure will soon be 19%; and Spain will become the world’s oldest country in mid-century when half its population will be over 55.

JOGGED BY ABC’S GEICO CAVEMEN, Archaeology magazine devoted three columns to recalling earlier cavemen movies from Buster Keaton’s 1923 Three Ages to Darryl Hanna’s Clan of the Cave Bear (1986). Other cavemen/women stars have included Joan Crawford (Trog, 1969), Raquel Welch (One Million Years, B.C. 1966) and Ringo Starr’s Atouk (Cavemen, 1981)

NO COUNTRY IN MODERN TIMES has successfully reduced its number of overweight citizens, declares Scientific American’s comprehensive Feast & Famine issue which ponders, among other things, why after globalization “ushered in a world in which more than a billion are overfed… hundreds of millions suffer from hunger.” One explanation, the mag says, is the adoption by the Third World of sugar and calorie-saturated Western diets. Obesity and starvation are strangely related, sometimes existing side by side. “Unless strong preventative policies are undertaken,” warns nutritionist Barry M. Popkin, “the medical costs of illnesses caused by obesity couild bring down the economies of China, Russia, and many other developing countries.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Two days before its 100th birthday as a state, Oklahoma’s biggest-ever parade will sweep through its eponymously-named capital city on October 14. Of the quarter million native Americans in the state, Choctaws have predominated for the whole century. (Among the Choctaws, okla means “people” and humma means “red”)…. Norway’s island prison, south of Oslo, claims to be the world’s first ecological jail, growing its own organic food and reducing its electricity bill with rooftop solar panels…. “Eternal nothingness is fine, if you happen to be dressed for it,” quipped Woody Allen…. Total amount paid out by U.S. Catholic dioceses since 2002 in child abuse settlements, recently exceeded one billion dollars….. Treasure hunters are seeking advance deals with national governments to split bottom-of-the-sea discoveries after recent claims by Spain that sunken treasure in ancient galleons still belongs to them…. More than half the world’s lakes are in Canada… The Wash H20, a new washing machine from the Chinese company Haier, uses electric current to charge ions in the water eliminating the need for detergent…. TelevisionWeek carries a picture of the trio of new security guards who prevent the exuberant guests of the Jerry Springer show from killing each other. They’re all women — off-duty cops…. Credit card companies are working on a card that compares your fingerprint with the one you use at the ATM…. Berlin’s Population and Development Institute is expressing alarm that in some small towns there are only 75, or even less, women for very 100 men leading to an underclass of young men who are “partnerless, underqualified, and jobless” — “It is always easier to fight for one’s principles than to live by them.” —Alfred Adler (1870-1937)