John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: September 13, 2008

Looking to the ancient Greeks for precedent, when they requested the known world to suspend all wars for the duration of the Olympics, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has declared September 21 an International Day of Peace and called for a minute of silence at noon. Good luck with that but the odds are not great with 18 countries (Afghanistan to Uganda) currently at war.

IT’S NOT ONLY OIL that keeping Saudi Arabia in the winner’s seat now that geologists have discovered that the desert kingdom is flush with valuable minerals. “Gold, copper, phosphate, bauxite — this place could be the next Canada or Australia,” boasts Inés Scotland, CEO of an Australian mining company at work in the country. Fortune reports that prospectors have been extracting gold from Arabia for 3,000 years — King Solomon’s riches came from here — but the Saudi government has only recently opened up the land for large-scale development. Another sign of ever-growing prosperity is Saudi Arabia’s plan to build four, huge new cities, each as big as Hong Kong and equal to, reportedly, the economic output of Singapore.

INTERVIEWING JACKIE COLLINS in its final issue, Publishing News asked the author if people recognized themselves in her gossipy books. “I have this theory,” Collins replied, “that in Hollywood they don’t really read books — they just read Vanity Fair so they can sound extremely well-read. I get away with a lot. Some of my friends read them but people never recognize themselves, especially if it’s a bad person.”

SUPPOSING THAT THERE’S a race of super robots somewhere out there in space, with an intelligence so highly developed they don’t think it’s worth their while to communicate with us? It’s not only possible but likely according to NASA historian Stephen Dick who says that aliens may already have opted for robotic brains equipped with artificial intelligence after exhausting the potential of their biological brains. But we may catch up. “Some scientists speculate that in a few decades, an event called the technological singularity will occur,” he told Popular Science, “and machines armed with computer brains will become sentient and surpass human intelligence.”

THE NEWLY-FORMED Hellenic Film Commission has allowed Winnipeg-born Nina (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) Vardalos to be the first to film at the Acropolis.  Her new movie, My Life in Ruins, is summarized as “a despairing divorcé falls in love with a tour guide while conducting a disparate group of tourists.”

GOING TO COLLEGE just prolongs childhood declares Charles Murray, author of a book with an interminable title: Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality.  Murray maintains that students are forgiven so many lapses and absences and demanding professors are so lacking that today’s colleges are structured to prolong adolescence rather than midwifing maturity. “The real danger lies in raising children who reach their 20s still thinking like children. The years after high school are for learning how to be a grown-up. Today’s colleges are terrible places to do it.”

LONDON’S INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER unearthed a 10th-century joke:

“What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole it has often poked before? A key.”

ALLEGEDLY INSPIRED BY THE Seinfeld episode about “nothing,” the new Jill Sander store in Manhattan’s Soho has a completely empty first floor lacking signage, salespeople, mannequins, or clothes. Would-be customers must climb the marble staircase to the second floor passing through what Dutch designer Germaine Kruip describes somewhat pretentiously as “mind space…a conceptual airlock that allows you to smoothly acclimate from the street to the promise of a world where clean lines are next to godliness.”

NOTING THAT ONLY six percent of male workers wore a tie to work every day last year, the trade group representing America’s tie-makers shut up shop after 60 years. Sales of ties were reported to be down roughly half since 1995.

THE WILCOCK WEB: If each member of the California legislature was fined $100 for every day past the deadline that the budget wasn’t passed, the deficit might have disappeared by now…. Two drugstore chains, CVS and Rite Aid, topped Stores annual list of Hot Ten Retailers in 2007 with IHOP in third place. All three have absorbed other chains in the past year….. Staples and other stores are selling — for $4.49 — DVD movies that self-destruct after 48 hours when oxygen causes a chemical reaction to make them unplayable…. European banks are testing a security device by Germany’s Siemens company that requires bank customers to run their fingerprints over a hand-held reader which checks with a stored copy…. Greek banks have reacted to the financial crunch by cutting back staff so completely that customers, waiting in rows of chairs now wait as long as an hour for their number to be called ….A Colombian clothing store selling $2,000 bulletproof business suits has opened a branch in Mexico City….. “The first duty in life,” said Oscar Wilde, “is to assume a pose. What the second is, no one has yet discovered”….Louis Vuitton is selling (for $2500) golden pendants replicating Nelson Mandela’s prison tag, promising that part of the proceeds will go to Mandela’s Foundation against Aids. Of course, they don’t say how much “part” is….. A Palo Alto, CA., company has copyrighted Drivetones, a device which adds artificial sound to otherwise silent electric cars which could be a danger to pedestrians who don’t hear them coming… The Big and Noisy Book of Vehicles coming from a London publisher this month boasts of containing “spectacular sound effects”… And it’s exactly 100 years since Ford produced the first of 15 million Model T’s ….“Think how stupid the average person is,” mused George Carlin, “and realize half of them are stupider than that” ….Because of pesticides in too much of the ground, most of the 700 million snails consumed by the French every year are now imported from Poland……. Psychologists at the University of London noticed that, like the rest of us, dogs witnessing humans yawning were inclined to imitate the action…“An economist is a man who states the obvious in terms of the incomprehensible.”  — Alfred Knopf (1892-1984)