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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: September 22, 2007


THE STARBUCKS PHENOMENON has attracted the scrutiny of Psychology Today which somewhat unsurprisingly has concluded that its worldwide explosion (13,000 cafes in 50 countries) “wasn’t fueled by coffee (but) the way they sold it.” Starbucks filled America’s need for a public gathering spot, “it became America’s version of a British pub.” Psychologically satisfying its customers’ need for “atmosphere, an idealized version of the much-loved coffee break — a coffee experience — has netted the company 40 million loyal customers a week, the mag reports, with the average customer visiting 18 times per month. “Warmth, luxury, and emotion are the focus with an emphasis on subdued and gentle colors.”

THE OFT-SPURNED $2 BILL is achieving a life of its own among many of the nation’s 2,700 strip clubs. Its popularity probably began among the score of clubs in Dallas where Baby Dolls handed out so many $2 bills in change that men who used them later were assumed to have been strip club customers. That city’s Burch Management gives change only in $1 or $2 bills and after discovering how many them were handed back in tips, spread the news to other clubs via industry magazines.

AFTER WORKING FOR 19 years at the Goodyear Tire Plant in Gadsen, Alabama, Lily Ledbetter, then 68, sued over pay discrimination because she’d just discovered how little she was paid compared with her male counterparts. Her award of $360,000 was overturned by the Supreme Court because she hadn’t filed the suit long before (i.e before she’d known about it). To remedy this obvious injustice, Congress has passed a bill allowing complainants to file suit within 180 days of learning about pay discrimination. Our pathetically, petty prez promises to veto it.

WITH THE CURRENT TRIAL of polygamist Warren Jeffs and the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney, the last thing Mormons wanted to be reminded of was the Mountain Meadows Massacre which took place 150 years ago this month. For much of the time since, the Salt Lake City-based church tried to disavow the murders — all except the youngest children in a 140-strong wagon train of pioneers were killed — but numerous writers have maintained that Mormon leader Brigham Young sanctioned the massacre. The full story is recounted in the October issue of Wild West magazine by Will Bagley who reveals that another book, this one by a trio of Mormon historians, will be published next year.

AS BEFITS A LITERARY MAGAZINE, Harpers’ sex ads are all about high-class telephone chatter — “Incomparable fantasy role play, erotic hypnosis…” “Neurotican fantasy fetish. No limits. Provocative talk….’ “Exquisitely erotic conversation. Live, personal, unhurried….’ “Aural erotica….’ “Uninhibited. Uninhibited. Kinky and fetish friendly.” These are among the delights offered by back-of-the-book advertisers.

SOUNDING MORE LIKE a secret formula than a movie title, U2 3D documenting the Latin America tour by the Irish rockers which was previewed at Cannes earlier this year (“ravishing eye-candy,” said one reviewer) is about to revive a trend for 3D films. Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson will produce a trilogy about Tintin, the Belgian comic book hero, and James Cameron and Robert Zemeckis have 3D movies in the works and Dreamworks Animation (Shrek) is shifting entirely to that mode at the end of next year. Adding 3D to animation costs an additional $15million but is expected to be especially lucrative — “something that adds one more layer of reality to the unreality,” says Dreamworks’ Martin Levy. Other benefits are that home equipment cannot show 3D and that it is immune to piracy via a hand-held video camera.

“There is no better defense against the stupidity of prejudice, racism, xenophobia, religions, or political sectarianism or autarkic nationalism than this invariable truth that appears in all great literature: that all men and women from across the world are equal and that it is unjust that they are subject to discrimination, subjection, and exploitation.”
— Mario Vargas Llosa

THE PRICE OF A HAMBURGER in different countries can be a rough guide to how far currencies vary from “fair value,” explains the Economist whose Big Mac Index says that not surprisingly that the most over-valued currencies exist in the richest countries. For example, whereas the average price in the U.S. is $3.41, in New Zealand it is $5.89 which the magazine identifies as a 73% over-valuation. In Switzerland it costs $5.20 (53%) and in Sweden $4.86. But there are exceptions: in Japan the price is $2.29 (-33%), although “other goods and services seem pricey.” And the cheapest Big Macs? In China ($1.45), Malaysia ($1.50), and Egypt ($1.68).

THE WILCOCK WEB: India’s Minister of Railways banned plastic cups, replacing them with aesthetically preferable biodegradable clay cups and incidentally providing jobs for 100,000 potters… In California’s Santa Cruz county, a nonprofit called Ecology Action is offering $200 rebates and discounted bus passes to people who buy folding bicycles and take a two-hour bike-safety course…. Rock journalism is for people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read,” charged Frank Zappa…. A new manual, The Modern History of Russia, 1945-2006, which has been issued to teachers in that country contains the appraisal by Vladimir Putin that Josef Stalin was “the most successful Soviet leader ever….” Small farmers around Britain are participating in a virtual farmers’ market which is about to go online, inviting shoppers to order through the mail… You’d think that the more opinions you could solicit on a matter in dispute, the likelier you were to find the truth. So why are jurors prohibited from talking to others about the case…? A $1,799 toilet seat from the long-gone Concorde is among parts on offer at the auction in Toulouse of spare parts from the defunct plane…. To ensure their security personnel do a thorough check, El Al Airlines randomly selects one of them to fly on the flight they’ve just monitored…. Women are said to be most enticing when they’re ovulating, and University of Mexico researchers at gentleman’s clubs demonstrated that that was when strippers garnered the biggest tips. The sleuths said they were surprised nobody had mentioned it before…. “It is the imagination that lights the slow fuse of the impossible.” — Emily Dickinson (1830-86)