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the column of lasting insignificance: Dec. 3, 2011
by John Wilcock
“Metal detectors. Teams of drug-sniffing dogs. Armed guards and riot police. Forbiddingly high walls topped with barbed wire. Such descriptions befit a prison or perhaps a high-security checkpoint in a war zone. But in the U.S., these scenes of surveillance and control are most visible in public schools, where in some areas, education is becoming increasingly synonymous with incarceration.”
—Kanya D’Almeida, NationofChange

A VINDICTIVE FEDERAL government is hugely angry with Julian Assange and determined to punish him and put WikiLeaks out of action. How dare anybody tell the world what jiggery pokery the country and its diplomats have been up to—anybody, that is, except the captive media, most of which is furious about being scooped and, in any case, knows its place. The Guardian’s “investigative editor” David Leigh called Assange “a Frankenstein monster” who “doesn’t understand the parameters of conventional journalism” and former NYTimes editor Bill Keller ”boasted that he’d taken all the WikiLeaks war logs to the White House so that the government could approve and edit them”. Despite having stated, in his run for president, that whistleblowers were “part of a healthy democracy and must be protected from reprisal”, President Obama has pursued more whistleblowers than any of his predecessors.
    That piece of information comes from the New Statesman’s John Pilger who deplored the “vituperative campaign” against Assange—“deeply personal, petty, perfidious and inhumane at a man not charged with any crime yet held isolated under house arrest”. Now that London’s High Court has agreed that Assange can be deported to Sweden to face some questionable sex allegations, the worry is that Sweden will turn him over to the U.S. which is anxious to trump up some charges. His lawyer, Gareth Peirce, said his client was facing “potential extradition to two different jurisdictions for two different alleged crimes, neither of which are crimes in his own country”.

RELIABLY AS FORECAST, next year’s London Olympics are not meant for ordinary folk, all 40,000 of tickets for the best seats having been reserved for elite members of “the Olympic family”. This includes the advertisers whose rights have been so protected that anything within range of cameras—including slogans on t-shirts-- has to be approved. “Every half-decent hotel room in London has been already snapped up by the favored” reports the Financial Times, and these superior beings will be whisked through a congested capital along a specially dedicated traffic lane.

IS AMERICA OVER? is the gloomy cover story of December’s Foreign Affairs in 12 pages of which George Packer sadly suggests that the ability of this country to solve problems (“which redeemed us from our vulgarity and arrogance”) now seems beyond our reach. He blames the growing inequality which began in the 1970’s when “chief executives had stopped believing that they had an obligation to act as disinterested stewards of the national economy. They became a special interest; the interest they represented was their own”. Packer writes that inequality “will continue to mock the American promise of opportunity for all”. Creating a lopsided economy, he suggests, it undermines democracy, divides us, provokes a generalized anger and saps the will to find solutions to common problems. “Inequality corrodes trust among fellow citizens, making it seem as if the game is rigged”.

THAT FAMOUS MAILROOM, in which so many would-be tycoons are incubated, was depicted in a lavishly illustrated six-page spread in the Hollywood Reporter. Twenty-four 20-somethings of both sexes at the William Morris Agency (whose mailroom spawned David Geffen, Barry Diller and Disney chairman Richard Ross among others) pose smilingly, staffers chosen from the 250 job applicants a week. Paid a tiny hourly wage, they endure tough conditions and long hours to learn about the movie business from the inside. “We view our mailroom as a learning tool, not a punishment” says human resources chief Carole Katz who runs the program. “It’s not hazing. Less than one-third of them will get a tryout as an agent and only 10% of those will actually make it. Similar layouts for CAA (Creative Artists Agency), ICM (International Creative Management) and UTA (United Talent Agency) are replete with harrowing tales of pushing mail carts for months backstage, and occasions when two young staffers delivered their boss’ paper-bagged stool sample to a local hospital or knocked on some mogul’s door for two hours until a hand finally reached out from inside to accept the delivery (a bag of money). ICM’s Danny Wantland, who has run the mailroom for 19 years says he’s started there as a temp.<

Harborside

FOR ALMOST A YEAR, a video team from the Discovery Channel has been following Steve DeAngelo and Oakland’s Harborside Health Center—the biggest medical marihuana clinic in the country with 94,000 patients. And this week their story will be told in the opening segment of Weed Wars which DeAngelo says is the first time the subject has been TV-treated from any other point of view but law enforcement. “Hitting a joint or a bong (is presented) as just another aspect of characters’ lives” comments Brian Lowry in Variety, pointing out to a Gallup Poll reporting that for the first time half of its respondents support making marihuana legal. Referring to its “normalization:, Ethan Nadelmann, exec director of the Drug Policy Alliance, says: “This is the first generation of high school students where a majority of their parents have tried marihuana…There’s a less hysterical atmosphere”.
    A blogger who previewed the show wrote: “A billion dollar a year industry on American soil, employing Americans , that can't & won't get out-sourced. and still the government/DEA? want to keep it illegal, thus keeping it underground & otherwise innocent Americans being incarcerated in most states.”

LAS VEGAS COULD run out of water if action isn’t taken pretty soon and the most likely solution would be a $7.4 billion plan to pump into the aquifer below the Great Basin, 285 miles away and bring it in by pipeline. Understandably, environmentalists are furious and say it will recreate the disaster of Owens Valley, turning the sparse landscape into a dustbowl—and doubling the price of water. The last part isn’t so bad, relatively, seeing as Vegans—relying on nearby Lake Mead for their supply--currently pay only about half what San Franciscans do. In 1960, the Las Vegas population was 139,000; it is now at least triple that, and the local water board has not only initiated water rationing but has been paying homeowners thousands of dollars to rip out their lawns. The American Spectator says that the Colorado River, which feeds Lake Mead, supplies one out of every 12 Americans with their water and irrigates fields that produce about 15% of the nation’s crops. But the supply is not infinite Water. shortages are looming everywhere and Fortune asks: Is Water the Gold of the 21st Century?


Heifer Intl.

IT’S THE ANNUAL TIME to consider checking out www.heifer.org So that your Christmas gift list could also provide some poor, distant family with an animal to improve their life. Honeybees for Honduras, for example; chickens for the Nepalese or a baby lama for Maria Condori-Artiñapa (above) in Peru. Gifts range from $10 (share of a pig, sheep or goat) all the way up to $850 for a camel, and you’ll be sent a gift card to send to your giftee.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Starting next year, Riverside, CA. will charge prisoners at the county jail $142.42/day stay in an effort to save the county up to $5 million per year…. The Disney studio made so much money by re-releasing The Lion King in 3D it plans to repeat the reworking with other blockbusters, beginning with the Beauty and the Beast…. A bus is a vehicle that runs twice as fast when you are after it as when you are in it…. The Economist claims that experiments on rats have shown that a taste for junk food can be acquired in the womb… Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis…. Stores magazine reports that British chain store Sainsbury’s is testing out new shopping carts with solar-powered iPad docks that customers can watch as they traverse the aisles… The explanation for the way that a woodpecker can peck wood at 1,000 times the force of gravity without brain damage, explain researchers, is a unique spongy skull casing that makes it virtually shock-absorbent. Something similar may soon improve the design of sports helmets…. "There is an ambush everywhere from an army of accidents”, cautioned the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz, “therefore the rider of life runs with loosened reins”….Harper’s Index reports that the average British dog watches 50 minutes of television each day…. Almost half of Mexico’s 32 states grant a driving license without requiring a road test and twice as many die in road accidents than from the drug cartels. The Pan American Health Organization reports that 20,000 drivers checked on a recent weekend were driving while drunk...….Sony is selling binoculars that also double as a 3D camcorder….And Popular Science predicts that watching 3D television without the need for glasses is not far away….With Benin abolishing the death penalty a few months ago, the number of countries still imposing it is now 23, and in Europe only Belarus still allows it….A midget fortune-teller who escapes from prison is a small medium at large….. “Pretending something you are not can lead to disaster”—Aesop (6th c. BC)

11/26/11

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