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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: October 27, 2007


“Operating under the illusion that the mujahideen in Afghanistan were ‘freedom fighters,’ as Ronald Reagan called them, we armed and supported them to the tune of billions of dollars. After driving the Soviets out, though, they were feeling their oats and looked around for a new target…. Armed with our shoulder-mounted Stinger missles, among other weapons, the mujahideen turned around and bit the hand that fed them. In other words, both by arming them and alienating them, we constructed enemies out of whole cloth. Who says the US doesn’t make anything anymore?” — Russ Wellen of Freezerbox magazine

SOMETIME NEXT YEAR, 63-year-old Jay Cochrane hopes to be the first person in more than a century to walk from the U.S. into Canada high above Niagara Falls. All this past summer, the high wire artist has been making the perilous stroll on a wire tethered between two 20ft towers a block from the water’s edge — 300 ‘skywalks’ so far — capping a 50-year career at his chosen profession. “I’m the same as an Olympic athlete,” claims the gallon-a-day milk drinker. “The only difference (is that) I go to the Olympics every day and must come home with the gold.” Former Niagara Falls mayor Councilor Wayne Thomson supports Cochrane’s proposal (“he certainly does not have a death wish… is confident and competent”) but approval rests with the Parks Commission which is still examining the bid. If the high wire over the Falls actually comes off, his spectacular walk will be seen every night, duplicated by a 3D hologram of Cochrane traversing a green laser beam.

NEXT YEAR’S OLYMPICS may officially cost China as much as $67 billion writes CFO’s editorial director Wu Chen, but the true expense appears to be a taboo subject in Beijing. “Corruption aside, Beijing has been closed-mouthed about the cost.” The magazine, whose request for an interview with Olympic officials was turned down because of the “sensitive nature” of the subject, urged China to open its books “and demonstrate that China is both deserving of global recognition for its accomplishments and mature enough to withstand global scrutiny.”

BETTER USE OF the ocean’s resources are on the wish list of British researcher John Munford who explains that adding iron filings to the sea would promote the growth of algae which could then be harvested and processed into bio-diesel fuel. “Biofuel aquaculture,” comments the Economist, “is as about as green as you cold get.”

DESPITE CONTINUING OPPOSITION from environmentalists, genetically modified (GM) crops will be allowed to re-enter British farming after opposition caused them to be banned a decade ago. A European poll showed 70% opposed to GM crops, although farmers have been agitating for their return. “The ability to have drought resistant crops is important not only for the UK but other parts of the world,” says a government spokesman. “And the fact that some GM crops can produce higher yields in more difficult climatic conditions is going to be important to feed the growing world population.”

BRING YOUR OWN bottle, a concept that was big at hippie parties in the Sixties, is rising once more from the grave says Hemisphere magazine which reports that at least 300 Zagat-listed restaurants are encouraging it. Some of them don’t have liquor licenses, and even some of those that do, no longer balk at customers who favor BYOB and eschew the restaurant’s own overpriced wines. Most restaurants charge a ‘corkage’ fee which Hemisphere defines as “what you pay to drink your own wine in someone else’s premises — and not drinking the wine at his price.” Corkage charges apparently average about $15 — still considerably cheaper than paying the 300 or 400% markup “ that infests wine lists throughout the U.S.”

UNLESS YOU’RE A FAN of third-rate sitcoms, TV Guide has become virtually useless for many television viewers. Time was when the magazine’s listings were a must (and circulation was about three times the size) but today’s listings are often inaccurate and largely incomplete. Suppose you were a viewer last Saturday, for example, what’s on ABC after 8:30pm or the CW, NBC, or PBS? Well, according to my edition (Los Angeles area): Local programming. Helpful information, eh? Wanna know what’s on after 10:30pm? Sorry, that’s when the main listings end.

IN HIS REMINISCENCES of fifty years of covering politics, Fat Man in a Middle Seat (Random House, 1999) veteran columnist Jack W. Germond recalls the time when Israel’s Menachem Begin had lunch at the White House with Ronald Reagan who was speaking from cue cards in his lap. “We had to wonder how the country made it through eight years with someone as vague and detached as Reagan used to be.” But, of course, it was RR’s aides who made it possible, just as it is with that clown in the White House today.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Here’s an appropriate palindrome: Star comedy Democrats…. Will somebody please tell Comedy Central that the idiotic way they superimpose the closed captioning lines on top of each other makes it almost impossible to follow them?… Alibila, a new French company, charges $20 to make a convincing telephone call for adulterers who seek an alibi… On the eve of its 20th anniversary in December, Wall Street — “the greed is good” movie — has a sequel in the works, its plot line centered around hedge funds…. “The trouble with being poor,” mused artist William de Kooning (who wasn’t), “is that it takes up all of your time…” Clean Gum, a chewing gum that won’t stick to the sidewalk, has been invented by a team from Bristol University and will go on sale next year…. The most expensive show on network TV (according to TelevisionWeek) is currently a 30-second ad in Gray’s Anatomy which costs $419,000, followed by Sunday Night Football ($358,000), and The Simpsons ($315,000)…. One of the world’s oldest (1602) and biggest (7.8 million books), Oxford’s Bodleian Library, is planning a $60 million new storage facility…. Books that are packaged exactly like cigarette packs, complete with cellophane wrapping and silver foil, are being marketed by a U.K. think tank which hopes to turn smokers into readers….“ Speech is conveniently located midway between thought and action where it often substitutes for both,” astutely observed author John Andrew Holmes…. The latest edition of Tolley’s Yellow Tax Handbook, the authoritative guide to Britain’s tax laws, is 9,866 pages spread over four volumes…. “Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth” — Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Coming up in three weeks: Manhattan Memories, JW’s autobiography