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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: September 15, 2007


ANOTHER EPIC MISJUDGMENT by George Bush was at his Texas ranch when, after meeting Vladimir Putin, he remarked that he’d found him “very straightforward and trustworthy” and “was able to get a sense of his soul.” Then, unaware the microphone was still on, our naïve prez remarked to an aide: “I’ve got him eating out of my hand. You give these Ruskies some cake and they’ll give you their souls.” This account comes from Frazer Nelson writing in the Spectator where he reveals that since that meeting the Soviet defense budget has increased six-fold (to $33 billion), that their successful Topol-M missile has multiple warheads “which splinter so they cannot be shot out of the sky” and that soulful Vladimir plans to challenge the hegemony of the United States which, he says, “has overstepped its borders in all spheres — economic, political, and humanitarian — and has imposed itself on other states.”

IT SEEMS PREMATURE to suggest that the NASCAR phenomenon has peaked, but CFO magazine reports that track attendance and TV ratings are both down, and “for the first time in memory, the money coming into the sport is leveling off.” Of course, for a spectacle with 75 million fans worldwide and revenues topping $3.4 billion annually, it’s not about to disappear any time soon. But “there’s a lot of competition for sponsors right now,” says Larry DeGaris who heads a sports-marketing firm. The tab for a top racing team can top $20million (a single car costs up to $175,000) and even placing a decal might run to a couple of million bucks. Troubled business sectors, over-exposure in some markets, and the fact that more than a quarter of NASCAR’s top racing operations lost money last year, were offered as reasons for the decline.

GRAFFITI MAY SEEM LIKE a modern phenomenon but it has been uncovered on walls in ancient Greece and Rome. Archaeologists found a scribbled remark from AD200 sarcastically expressing surprise why the weight of comments on one wall had not caused it to fall down. And it’s archaeology, in fact, that has now zeroed in on todays graffiti as a worthy subject of exploration: how its overlaid levels “compressed into months or years” resembled the rise and fall of an ancient city or culture. “Graffiti is such a fast-changing world” explains Cassidy Curtis in Archaeology Today, “that five years ago really is ancient history on one of these walls.”

COMPANIES SPENT ALMOST $19 billion on branded freebies last year but useless toys, unfathomable gizmos, and items that cheapened their brand were prevalent, reported Inc. magazine. To devise a good freebie you must “think like a poet” suggests Denis McFarlane who operates a Virginia consulting firm. “Nothing flimsy or that would break easily, because that’s not the metaphor you want to show your clients.” Choose freebies that can be slipped easily into carry-on luggage and won’t set off airport metal detectors, the magazine advises.

“(Among the) smoking ban’s unfortunate consequences, as the Scots and Irish will attest, pubs now give off a noxious aroma of stale beer, missed urinals, damp dogs, and damp old men and the flatulence of both — plus the industrial strength air freshener that fails to disguise it all”
according to Matthew Vincent in the Spectator, reporting that the smoking ban is likely to reduce beer sales in England by 200 million pints a year.

WIKIPEDIA ALREADY CARRIES 1.8 million pages in English, writes Tim Adams in the Observer, is probably worth $2billion and is growing at the rate of 1,700 articles per day. “You can see that Wikipedia is doing something right by the nature of its enemies. The site is completely banned in China.” Reporting on the policing system that has grown up to root out vandals (wikitrolls,) Adams quotes founder Jimmy Wales: “The ideal Wikipedian in my mind is someone who is really smart and really kind. When people get power in these communities, it is not through shouting loudest, it is through diplomacy and conflict resolution”.

THE BIGSHOT ENVIRONMENTALIST who once called Wal-Mart “toxic” and now sells them his consulting services says that some of his old friends won’t speak to him and claim he’s sold out. Fast Company tells the tale of Adam Werbach, once the youngest (at 23) president of the Sierra Club, who’s now on a mission to make the giant corporation well known for its “environmental sustainability.” The magazine says Werbach knows he’s “straddling two contradictory cultures… the hurdles are enormous.” But Wade Rathke, a community organizer in New Orleans who tried to dissuade Werbach from becoming a Wal-Mart contractor is dubious about him being able to affect change in a company with 1.5 million employees and $150 billion sales. “Well, there’s a level of ego there that is just staggering,” he says.

THE WILCOCK WEB: What a pity there isn’t a cheap television listings instead of the vapid TV Guide with its mess of pages devoted to obscure stars you’ve never heard of, and certainly wouldn’t care to watch…. And speaking of publications, whatever happened to Harper’s, once one of the best magazines around but for the past year has turned into terminal dullness, full of boring, overlong stories brimming with tedious ennui? It once broke news stories — as the Atlantic still does — and the advertisers have clearly noticed the difference, buying more than three times as many September pages in the latter… One critic calls Conde Nast’s new Portfolio “the Paris Hilton of business magazines…” “You are only young once.” wrote Germaine Greer,but you can be immature for ever….” At this 70th anniversary year of Snow White, who remembers that Walt Disney’s wife told him: “I predict nobody’ll ever pay a dime to see a dwarf picture?….” Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy from Afghanistan farmers all their opium crop (and then destroy it) rather than spend so much money and so many lives trying to eliminate it….? An Ethiopian support group, SOS Addis, is paying women $65 a month to collect the capital’s abandoned plastic bags, thereby both giving employment and helping the environment…. More than three quarters of employers now track the Internet use of their employees, according to a survey by the American Management Association…. Just removed from Japanese amusement arcades: an electronic arm wrestling game called Arm Spirit after too many customers broke their arms…. “What the state has, is theft. What the state says, is lies.” — Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900)