John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: October 21, 2006


AS KIDNAPPING HAS BECOME an international growth industry, so, too, has kidnap insurance which, to some extent, ameliorates it. At least 60% of America’s largest companies now carry K&R (kidnap and ransom) insurance reports the Economist, ranging from $500 a year for $1m liability coverage to $50,000 against $25m. Ironically, the insurance itself is likely to attract kidnappers who realize that even if the victim is poor, the insurer is rich. Thus, “discretion is important — the insurer (might) cancel the contract if a client discusses it, even among friends.”

STATISTICS FROM THE  DRUG WAR suggest that racism plays a big part according to former ACLU head Ira Glasser who claims that drug prohibition “is now the last significant instance of legalized racial discrimination” Since 1980, he told the Correctional Association of New York, drug arrests have tripled to 1.6million, with the proportion of federal prisoners in for drug possession having more than doubled and black and Latino prisoners accounting for more than 80% of those in prison for that offense.

CIVIL WAR SITES are disappearing at a rapid pace due to the demand for strip malls and the depredations of other developers says Archaeology magazine in a piece titled Battles Over Battlefields. National Park Service chief archaeologist Frank McManamom says: “The resource is finite. It is being used up. Unless there is some sort of preservation scheme of the landscapes, and the sites embedded in them, they will be lost.” The non-profit Civil Way Preservation Trust estimates that only 10 per cent of the country’s 249 unprotected battlefields will survive the next decade unless Congress divvies up a $50 million for their preservation — about half what is needed. Among the sites threatened for development is Chancellorsville in Virginia where Stonewall Jackson was shot and mortally wounded. “What price do you hang on your own national heritage?” the magazine asks.

ORAL HISTORY gets a boost in Toronto where a group called [murmer] has audio taped locals reminiscing about experiences in different parts of town. Signposts at the specific places invite passers-by to call a number on their cell phones to hear recordings of what happened right there. The arts group plans to repeat the project in other cities.

THE FAMOUS “SOUP NAZI” (an actual chef named Al Yeganeh) around whom was shaped an episode of Seinfeld in which the dictatorial “Yev Kasem” refused to serve customers he didn’t like, is about to open 50 franchises of his Soup Kitchen International throughout Britain. “It’s a soup kind of country” says his business partner John Bello. “I think the soup could do very well here.”

THERE’S NO QUESTION that Henry VIII wrestled the ownership of the English church from the Pope back in 1534 writes Matthew Parris so Her Majesty’s Government would be absolutely in its rights to reclaim land and property from the “inertia-bound” Church of England and put them to wiser use. Some could be rented out to other faiths or sects, others turned into yuppie apartments or carpet salesrooms says Parris in the Spectator, claiming that the C of E is “grotesquely overstretched (owning) about five times as much land as she needs or can keep in good repair.”

NEW JERSEY IS the latest state (California was the first) to introduce a bill banning foie gras, the expensive gourmet snack made from the ground-up liver of ducks which have been artificially engorged. Similar bills are under consideration in other states. Humane society officials allege that the force-feeding (via tubes down the throats) is cruel, but defenders such as Ariane Daguin, a French-born foie gras distributor, calls the bans “a threat to freedom of choice.”

WHY IS WASHINGTON so generous to Alaska? asks the Economist pointing out that politics in the state revolves around two issues: “how to suck more cash out of Washington and more fossil fuels out of the ground.” America’s “romantic view of pioneers” coupled with the fact that the federal government owns 60% of Alaska’s land and its support for 22,000 troops there, is a partial explanation the mag says, but the state’s pols are “adept” at working Washington. In fact, if  former governor Tony Knowles (1994-2002) wins the November election he has forecast he claims that he can renegotiate the terms for a new oil pipeline to net the state an extra $2billion.

THE WILCOCK WEB: With the Olympics only two years away when 20,000 foreign journalists are expected to descend upon Beijing says the Asia Times, foreign reporters routinely get arrested when they try to research topics such as pollution, Aids, or farmers’ protests… “People do not really want to hear what you have to say” declares Lee Langley. “What they want is for you to echo what they are thinking…” One of the first Barbie dolls which in 1959 sold for $3 is expected to fetch at least $2,200 when 4,000 Barbies are auctioned at the London Christie’s next week… Britain’s humor magazine Private Eye predicts that after Tony Blair leaves office he will end up “working for Rupert Murdoch in America… “The quickest way to double your money” suggested Will Rogers, “is to fold it and put it back in your pocket…” Sven Hildebrandt who helped organize a beach club in Hamburg is trying to find sponsors who’ll help him truck in sand at various facilities to transform a Hudson River pier into the New York Beach Club… Visitors to the new Eco-Shark center at Playas del Coco on Costa Rica’s Gold Coast are invited to swim in a tankful of sharks which one of the Center’s guides describes as ìa fairly placid lot… Three golf courses in a wealthy section of Caracas are to be requisitioned and low-cost housing built on their 363 acres to house 50,000 of the city’s poor… “America may see itself as an overwhelmingly Christian country — but it is also remarkably unencumbered by the teachings of Christ” writes Andrew Stephen in the New Statesman… Will there ever be a gas station with guts enough to end that stupid nine-tenths pricing?… Time is an herb that cures all diseasesBenjamin Franklin (1706-90)