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the column of lasting insignificance: Dec. 24, 2011
by John Wilcock

TWO THINGS THAT Obama and Gingrich have in common, writes Paul Krassner, is that both once smoked pot and now both oppose medical marihuana. Typically hypocritical politicians, in other words. In 2011, the Obama administration issued a memo approving federal prosecution of anyone in the business of growing or supplying marijuana for medical patients, ordering the Justice Department to crack down on dispensaries even if they complied with state law. In 2008 he had promised that he would let states set their own policies. “Could this change of position” asks Paul, “possibly be related to the fact that during his presidential campaign he received $2.1 million from pharmaceutical companies, many of which developed synthetic marijuana products?”

In 1991, then-Congressman Gingrich introduced pro-medical-marijuana legislation. In 2011, he changed his position. “What has changed was the number of parents I met with who said they did not want their children to get the signal from the government that it was acceptable behavior,” Gingrich explained, adding that Americans who need medical marijuana will simply have to cope with the inconvenience of debilitating pain and nausea.

ELECTRONIC WEAPONS that disable electronics but leave people unharmed are the wave of the future, predicts the Economist which quips that “bullets and bombs are so 20th century” and that “the wars of the 21st will be dominated by ray guns”. Such weapons will be able to take down enemy missiles and aircraft, stop tanks in their tracks and bring speedboats to a halt. Then there’s the scary-sounding Active Denial System which works, explains the mag, by heating the moisture in a person’s skin to the point where it feel like a hot oven. There are reports that such a weapon has been tried but sidelined at least for the time being for PR reasons, because it’s too reminiscent of “the ray guns of science fiction”.

BURYING THOSE OVERHEAD power lines would obviously be an aesthetic improvement, but studies have estimated that it would cost ten times as much and double everybody’s electric bills. Fortune says that according to the Utilities Commission in North Carolina alone, the task would take 25 years and cost $41bn. What nobody can estimate is how much could be saved from not having to repair overhead lines after storms, and the consequent economic disruption. But, of course, if the lines were underground when anything went wrong they’d have to be dug up.

A PERSONAL SUBMARINE for the 1-percenter tycoon who already has (almost) everything is displayed by Wired, which tags them as ”Million-Dollar Divers” although even the cheapest, the Deep Flight Super Falcon, is listed at $1.7million. Alas, it can submerge only to 1,000 feet and hold only four people, but the mag explains that it’s “dainty enough to heist aboard a run-of-the-mill yacht”. Five other models are show, from the Pearl ($2.5m) which can dive to 3,000 feet to the gigantic Phoenix 1000 “designed for the VIP who wants to vanish in style for a week”. This beauty contains guest suites for 20, can stay down for seven days and is priced at $90million.

THOSE GULLIBLE INNOCENTS who are still paying thousands for diamonds seem totally unaware that only jewelers with a loupe can tell the difference between real diamonds and fakes—and sometimes not even then. As most people know, diamonds are far from rare, their prices maintained only by the manipulation for a century until recently by the DeBeers company which released just enough from limitless stocks to keep the prices exorbitantly high. What prompts this item at this time is last week’s announcement by Charmian Gooch of Global Witness: “Nearly nine years after the Kimberley Process was launched, the sad truth is that most consumers still can’t be sure where their (blood) diamonds come from, nor whether they are financing armed violence or abusive regimes”. Got that? If you’re still buying diamonds it’s likely you’re sponsoring murder or at least keeping dictators like Robert Mugabe in power.

HE COULD BE the poster figure for the rip-off financial industry which millions of people have realized is one of the main reasons for the wretched state of our depressed society today. A graduate of what is probably the most transgressive firm on the planet, he was kicked out of political office and then took over a small brokerage trading company so that he could continue with his lifelong gambling obsession. He didn’t build anything or create anything but devoted his life to betting $billions of other people’s money on the penurious state of other companies and countries. Within two years he had left –and more than a billion dollars was “missing”. All reports have been (overly) careful to state that he and his deputies “have not been accused” of anything.

SEEING AS HIS chances of being the Republican nominee are virtually nil, Ron Paul should declare his Third-Party status asap, thus enhancing his stature and giving the electorate a chance to register their discontent with the alternatives. In any case, what really matters is not the moment we innocent peasants pull the handles of the electoral slot machines, but months before, when the plutocrats hand over millions to the candidates. That, at least, is the contention of Tom Engelhardt who suggests that today’s equivalent of the ancient “bread and circuses” which distracted Romans are the reality shows which display the candidates in what has become a perpetual campaign. Mitt Romney, who last week attended four New York fund raisers on the same day, has been running for president since 2006; his fulltime job for five years. And Obama who’s attended 70 fundraisers this year alone, began his campaign for a second term almost from his first day in the Oval Office. “Think about that”, Engelhardt writes in NationofChange, “ You vote for the president to spend some part of 20% of his days raising money for his own future from the incredibly wealthy”. Currently, Romney leads Obama in funding support from billionaires, 42 to 30 (with Rick Perry taking third place at 20).

“My experience, and not just regarding my life, is that by the time people get busted there’s usually been wrongdoing for some time. Now, once in a while someone gets busted the very first time they fall. The rest of us tend to catch a cosmic pass…. The mistake is to take this as a sign of a green light to continue not doing the right thing.”
--Robert Downey Jr talking to Success about his troubled earlier days

THIS WEEKLY COLUMN is compiled, at least partly, by monitoring about fifty publications each month. They are a varied lot, covering many sociological aspects and they come and go. Victor Navasky gave me a media subscription to the Nation back in the Fifties, William Buckley to National Review about the same time. Until recently one of the best sources of quotes came from the radical Mother Jones, but they recently cut me off, as did Newsmax. Following are the papers and magazines of which I still read virtually every issue:

New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Nation, New Statesman*, Spectator*, National Review, The American Prospect, Newsmax, Columbia Journalism Review, Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Art in America, the weekly Standard, The Week*, New Scientist, Fast Company, Fortune, Forbes, Smart Money, Inc., Wired, The Washington Monthly, The American Spectator, The New Yorker, Smithsonian, The Economist*, National Geographic, Miller-McCune, BBC History*, Funny Times, Skeptical Inquirer, Details, Via Satellite, Communications Technology, Psychology Today, Art News, Harpers, Atlantic, AARP Bulletin, Stores, Kiplinger Newsletter, Parade, monthly newsletters from Huntington Museum and Getty Museum *from England

THE WILCOCK WEB: The so-called “Robin Hood tax” which advocated a tiny tax on every financial transaction dates back to the 1970s and re-emerged recently with the Occupy Movement. But in England, where it gained some traction, it has been shot down on the grounds that unless is was implemented globally, greedy finance folk would leave for countries where it wasn’t imposed….Term limits, effective immediately, with an eight-year maximum for both Congress and the Senate, would do wonders for ending political deadlock….The $100billion that California’s projected bullet train is now expected to cost, is more than three times the original estimate. As this is the predictably inevitable conclusion to advance guesses in EVERY project, why do people choose to believe the original lies?..... Faversham (pop: 17,000), a town in Kent dating back to Roman times, has just discovered that its “copy” of the Magna Carta is one of seventeen 13th century originals, worth $30million…., The cheapest lunch in England in Victorian times was a piece of toast between two slices of bread …Item most often stolen from coffee shops: the TV listings…..A

Urinal Games
credit: The Week

pub in the London suburb of Balham has installed a urine-controlled video game (with commercials) to gain attention for the 55 seconds the average man spends peeing in the toilet….“If we took 10% of the time/money men spend watching sports and 10% of the time/money women spend shopping “ suggests Peter Raducha, “we could address and fix the country's most pressing problems”…After gasoline, the biggest price hikes in 2011 were for potatoes and coffee.…You’d have thought that Israel’s stubbornly illegal settlers had already done enough to lose international support in an increasingly unsympathetic world without declaring war on their own police….The first piece of advice in Felon Fitness, the book showing how prisoners get to resemble Charles Atlas, is “Eat less”….Phil Rockstroh says those plutocrats are not job-creators, they’re “con-job creators”… TANG, the powdered orange drink popularized by the astronauts in the ‘80s has almost disappeared stateside but it’s one of Kraft’s biggest profit-makers in the Middle East and South America… California scientists have created from nickel a substance as light as a feather, expected to be valuable to the aerospace industry….And off the Louisiana coast they’re testing a crane so huge that it can lift an obsolete 3,500-ton oil rig out of the sea in one piece, saving the weeks normally needed to dismantle it from under the water…..”We’re not in the coffee business—we’re in the experience business” says Fortune’s 2011 Man of the Year Howard Schultz whose company, Starbucks, made $1.7bn profit last year from its 17,000 stores in 56 countries….So it’s okay at present for private entrepreneurs to mine the moon, but when the competition grows fierce will it lead to the first war in space?.... The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work…..Surfers wearing the new Billabong VI wet suit who get trapped under an unexpected wave can pull a ripcord which inflates their suit which shoots them to the surface….Oxford taxis now videotape their passengers…. “Never trust an eyewitness whose memory gets better over time” warns law professor Laurie Levenson…If the Confederate Veterans can have their own license plate under First Amendment ‘rights’ why not the Klu Klux Klan?.....Docking his three-masted, 305-foot sailing ship Eos at NYC’s Chelsea Piers is said to cost Barry Diller $2,000 a day….The $70bn shared by six members of the late Sam Walton’s family is equivalent to the bottom 30% of the population, but it hadn’t discouraged them from working to cut the inheritance tax which is the main reason why the gap between the haves and the have-nots only widens…The problem with the gene pool is that there is no lifeguard….“Integrity has no need of rules”—Albert Camus (1913-60)

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A PERSONAL NOTE: My much-valued friendly techie friend put me on Facebook, but personally I don’t use it and never look at it, regarding it as an irrelevant waste of time. However, I love hearing from old and new friends and immediately answer ALL mail sent to johnwilcock@sbcglobal.net Happy Holidays.

12/17/11

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