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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: September 23, 2006


SOMETHING LIKE 78 million items are on sale at eBay at any given time, with 6m being posted every day, with an increasing number of retailers complaining that too many products bearing their name are faked and that eBay won’t do enough about it. New York’s Tiffany company has filed a lawsuit which is due to be heard this fall. The company spent a year buying goods labeled with its name and says that 73% proved to be “blatant counterfeits”, and that they notified eBay of 19,000 efforts to sell suspected Tiffany goods. “There is very obvious illegal stuff going on that (eBay) should have known about” says Louis Ederer, an intellectual property rights attorney. In response, Catherine England says eBay “remains confident in its position in the case and looks forward to the opportunity to make its case before the court”.

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN to us on earth if space aliens kidnapped the moon and dragged it away? was the fanciful question a reader asked New Scientist. Without commenting on the likeliness of such a disaster, the magazine explained that first the tides would disappear and then the world would swing from being six months “sweltering under the unending blaze of the sun” to then shivering for the next six months “hidden on the frigid surface of the Earth’s dark side”.

DENYING THAT he’s an obsessive partygoer, Salman Rushdie explains: “I do not have a wardrobe of gold lamé clothes, you know. I spend most of my life doing serious things. I am not a disco boy. I am not some Travolta-like animal who is always on the dance floor. Ask any of the people who have danced with me and they will tell you I am hopeless.”

SOME COMPANIES are earning credibility with the green crowd, says Stores magazine by buying firms “with business practices tied to social responsibility” It lists as examples Colgate’s acquisition for $100m of Tom’s of Maine (an all-natural personal care brand) and L’Oreal’s purchase of The Body Shop known for eschewing animal testing.

WITH THE U.S. TRYING to outlaw online gambling, Britain is apparently keen to become the market leader in what the New Statesman describes as “the world’s fastest-growing and most lucrative market”. Having “de-stigmatized” gambling with its National Lottery and fewer restrictions (British bookmakers took in $1.7bn in bets during the World Cup) the government is licensing more casinos, beginning with the huge Thames-side Millennium Dome which has been a hugely expensive white elephant since opening six years ago. It has been taken over by the man the Economist recently called “the greediest executive in America”, billionaire Philip Anschutz, who, despite his pious religiosity (the LA Times calls him a “moral conservative”) apparently plans to make a mint from gambling. According to the UK’s Gambling Prevalence Survey the country already has more than 275,000
addicted gamblers.

SPELLING BEES, which originated in the early 1800s, were once the domain of brainy—usually unpopular—kids says Rose Madeline Mula, but the contests have become so popular that ESPN annually televises the “Super Bowl of bees”, the Scripps finals. There have even been hit shows and movies about them. “It is ironic”, she writes in the Saturday Evening Post, “that spelling bees have become so popular in an age when misspellings are not only tolerated, they proliferate, ie. phat pharm, ho, C U later, gangsta”.

THERE’S SUCH A SHORTAGE of long range truck drivers reports the Wall Street Journal that freight companies are turning to mom and pop teams of “the RV generation” and training them to handle the big rigs. At some companies the roster of these older couples has reached 20%, and because of their age (plus stability and background) truck stops have begun to supplement their hot rod mags and girlie books with more sophisticated reading, as well as salons where trucker moms can get their hair and nails done.

WHY CONFINE OUTSOURCING just to business? asks Jim Trimmer in a letter to the Spectator. There must be plenty of developing countries “whose costs are a fraction of our own” who would be happy to earn some hard currency by accommodating some of our prisoners and “a Jamaican drug dealer would surely think twice before risking another five years (jail) in, say, Uzbekistan”.

THE WILCOCK WEB: More and more supermarkets are adopting the use of the Smart Label that monitors freshness through plastic packaging, turning its orange Q to grey when the bacteria count reaches a critical level…. Red grapefruit is healthier than white, credited with reducing triglyceride levels…. Nomadic herdsmen could be given a good living if more people would show a taste for camel’s milk says BBC Online which says the milk is not only rich in vitamins B and C as well as iron but helps fight hepatitis C and AIDS…. “Polyester is a fabulous fabric. It has characteristics of elasticity, fit and non-crease that are fantastic” — Giorgio Armani in an interview with the Wall Street Journal…. Invented by irrigation expert Brian Burnett, the Solar Flow collects rainwater in a barrel and then pumps it to where needed by energy from a solar panel…. Indian snake charmers, banned in 1972, are being encouraged to return “to help householders get rid of serpentine intruders”…. A recent issue of the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology contains 65 pages of jobs-vacant ads, including one from the CIA…. Reporting that more instant coffee than tea was sold in England last year, the Guardian said young people think tea has “a dated image”…. If violence on TV is not influential, why do TV commercials persuade people to buy useless things?… Hitachi engineers in Japan have pioneered a new way of checking identity by scanning the pattern of veins in people’s index fingers which they say are as unique as fingerprints…. Britain’s Channel 4 launches a six-part drama series in which viewers will be invited to vote on what happens next …. Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder. — Arnold Toynbee (1889-1975)