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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: October 15, 2011

by John Wilcock


“Deliberate ignorance, along with jingoism and dogmatic stubbornness, shapes too much of America’s intellect…was anybody other than I frightened when three viable candidates at a political debate of would-be presidents admitted they do not believe in evolution?”
Keith Taylor in the Skeptical Inquirer


THAT IMMIGRATION LOTTERY which has been dishing out 50,000 random green cards to foreigners may soon be terminated, following a recommendation from the House Judiciary Committee. And that would be a good thing says Jason Richwine who claims that the lottery’s “dubious and potentially counterproductive goal” was misguided from the beginning. About 78% of immigrants arriving on “diversity visas” last year were born in Africa and Asia, with Ethiopia, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Nigeria, and Bangladesh in the lead. Just 19% came from Europe. “But keeping diversity as a goal in any selection system, randomized or not, would be a mistake,” writes Richwine in the National Review. “Recent academic evidence suggests that diversity weakens social ties that bind neighborhoods and towns together… (what’s called) ‘social capital’ — a broad term for networks of friends, family, businesses, and civic groups — is the ‘stuff of life,’ and communities that have more of it tend to be happier and more successful.” Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam claims that diversity reduces social capital and, while diversity of skills can be highly beneficial, “diversity of ethnicity, language, or culture is often an obstacle rather than a benefit.”

KEN BURNS’ SUPERLATIVE tale of Prohibition will surely give a huge boost to efforts to end the pointless and unwinnable Drug War. The parallels between the two attempts to frustrate people’s desires are astonishing. Both led to a huge escalation in organized crime and consequent disdain for both the law and the corrupted political and judicial establishment linked to it. Both phenomena were misjudged by presidents totally unaware of “unintended consequences.”

“When you’re a president and you’re out of touch, that’s a big political problem,” somebody said of Herbert Hoover. After the decade or so after prohibition was ended — by the combined efforts of people with more sense —  taxing the forbidden fruit made sense. Big government was bankrupt.

ON ITS TRADITIONALLY satirical LAST PAGE, the Smithsonian ran an imaginary 2015 letter from the Secretary of the Treasury listing the rules for the new policy of selling advertising on US currency. Only one advertiser per bill would be allowed with no alteration to buildings and signs or structures in front of them (the golden arches, for example) and allowed to cover only 15% of each side. No nicknames (Walbucks, McDollars, etc.) allowed on the bills themselves, and only tiny symbols (Mickey Mouse, the Nike swoosh) at corners. “Under no circumstances,” reads the satire, “shall currency denominations be changed (no $19.95 bills).”

RUTHLESS CAPITALISTS AREN’T just bankers, oil companies, and health insurers in George Monbiot’s opinion, but are actually topped by academic publishers “whose monopolistic practices make Rupert Murdoch look like a socialist.” Monbiot writes in the Guardian that the research these scholastic rip-off artists publish has been commissioned and funded by taxpayers through grants and academic stipends but cost outlandish sums to access which researchers and libraries have to pay because it’s the only source. Securing a single article in one of Elsevier’s journals, for example, costs $31.50.


“Looking back now [on the 1950s], I feel like I lived in a kind of a scratchy black and white movie. There was no artist I knew of who actually made a living at art. Art schools today almost promise you a career. It was an idealistic time where artists felt (they) could do it for sport instead of money.”
Ed Ruscha reminiscing with the LATimes’ Patt Morrison


PAMPLONA-STYLE BULLS are to chase macho men on Phil Immordio’s AZ ranch. It costs twenty-five bucks to be a runner, tauntingly just ahead of 1,500 charging beasts, and the gig is being promoted as “better than drugs.” Paying millions in insurance, Immordio has pulled off these races before, with no deaths. Responding to a complaint by PETA, who have called for a boycott, and more ‘compassion,’ a BULLS-R-US spokesman termed them killjoys, and their views bullshit. “Why are they so heartless?” asked VIB Blood Money, currently planning to run again this year, “Why are they trying to take away the most exciting day of our lives?”

DRAGGING ICEBERGS TO AFRICA, as a source of fresh water, is an old idea that’s long been discredited because it was thought that it would all melt en route. But the Sunday Times reports that a computer simulation suggests that if an iceberg weighing 7million tons (some are four times the size) was towed from Newfoundland to the Canary Islands—a trip taking four or five months — that well more than half of it would arrive intact. It would cost $6million, and a French engineer, Georges Mougin, is trying to raise funds for a trial run from Antarctica to Australia.

DRINKING DIET SODAS might make people feel virtuous but can have unexpectedly adverse effects. ”If you have a diet soda you might feel as if you can have dessert,” says the American Dietetic Association’s Dr. Christine Gerbstadt. “But then you are displacing nutrient-rich foods with less healthy foods.” The problem is, reports AARP Magazine, that no-calorie diet drinks contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose which are about 180 times sweeter than sugar and can trigger a craving for sweeter and higher-fat foods.

THE WILCOCK WEB: New York’s mayor reports that residents of Zuccotti Park, several blocks from Wall Street, are complaining about noise and disruption from the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. Maybe he’s forgotten that he wouldn’t allow them to occupy Wall Street….Objecting to the new “redistricting” (read ‘gerrymandering’) Arizona politicians claim it is “political.” No change there, then….The religious crowd wants to abolish the law that forbids them from preaching politics from the pulpit. Isn’t that the same law that exempts them from paying taxes?….Once all the preliminaries were out of the way, both Republicans and Democrats used to make the final candidate selection by a vote at their convention. Wasn’t that a better way.?…And why should the date for primaries be left to individual states when a Federal decree would assign all the primaries to the same day? Wouldn’t that would be fairer, too?… What a hilarious Simpson’s episode could hinge on a bunch of voice-over greedheads struggling to get by on a mere $4 million apiece…. The Kiplinger Letter reports that although the catastrophe in Japan has soured some countries on nuclear power, plenty of others such as Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, and Turkey are just three of the 25 countries that will be producing nuclear power by 2030… Sarah P’s right: it’s much more fun watching her out than in…..Why are we still importing oil and yet building that pipeline Keystone XL) from Canada to Texas so that it can be exported ?….Five Catholic Supremes determine the ultimate rules for everybody yet won’t allow television to show how they operate. “Open up the High Court to cameras,” demands the New York Times….…. When a man tells you he got rich through hard work, said Don Marquis, ask him “Whose?” …As we’re already bribing politicians, warlords, and the Taliban in Afghanistan, why don’t we just pay off everybody else in the country with the billions we’re spending killing them?….. …That super egotist Kanye West, now fancying himself a designer, boasted that he’d “change the course of fashion.” After inspecting his first show, the industry declared itself unimpressed…. Copying the bite of a mosquito, scientists at Japan’s Kansai University have developed a hypodermic needle only one-tenth of the normal length and said to be painless……. Always be ready to change your bank….A modest $20 fine for an unfastened seat belt becomes an exorbitant $141 fine when California has added eight enhancements (surcharge, court penalty, court security, county penalty, etc.) reports Westways, the AAA magazine……….Class warfare is inevitable when one class is determined to keep all the money… “Heaven sends down its good and evil symbols and wise men act accordingly.” — Confucius (551-479BC)