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the column of lasting insignificance: Apr. 7, 2012
by John Wilcock

“The primaries have certainly been great for the economy. Dimwitted billionaires are dumping money they don’t need into the campaigns of people who can’t win, providing much-needed jobs for ad writers, poll-takers and yard-sign manufacturers.”
--Gail Collins in the New York Times

IT’S ALMOST EASTER and thus Jesus-impostor time in old Jerusalem, which is to say it’s the season of the would-be Messiahs for whom the extreme sanctity of the holy city tips some people over the edge. There’s a joke in psychiatry, says Wired, that if you talk to God it’s called praying; "if God talks to you, you’re nuts”. The magazine’s March issue introduces us to Pesach Lichtenberg, 52, who during two decades as head of psychiatry at the city’s Hertzog hospital has encountered more than 100 people who claimed to be God. The syndrome affects dozens of everyday tourists who arrive each year, peaking at Easter, Passover and Christmas seasons with those who “hear the voices of angels, fashion the bed sheets of their hotel rooms into makeshift togas and disappear into the Old City babbling prophecy” as the magazine puts it.
     Yoram Bilu, described as an Israel psychology anthro- pologist at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School, says the holy city is just the trigger. “The majority of people who suffer from Jerusalem syndrome have some psychiatric history before they get here”. The malady tends to develop gradually with sleepless victims feeling symptoms of anxiety and nervousness; some follow up with purification rituals such as shaving their body and clipping their nails. The extreme cases believe they are Jesus Christ.
     “There’s a collapse of time” explains Yale University’s Karla Briton. “And for some people who visit these sacred sites and spaces, the collapse can be psychologically disorienting. The whole act of pilgrimage is deliberately intended as a kind of disorientation”. When people with Jerusalem syndrome show up at the hospital, doctors often just let them unspool their stories, the magazine adds. If the people aren’t dangerous they’re usually discharged.

MAYBE EXPECTATIONS WERE too high and possibly people don’t have the patience to see how things will eventually come to fruition, writes Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris, but either way Barack Obama has had a bad rap. The truth is that you could almost define Obama’s gig so far as “Clinton’s third term”, so similar are the two pols’ inclinations. Glastris declares that despite the skepticism of some critics, what the prez has accomplished so far is “stunning”

-Health care reform.
-The takeover and turnaround of the auto industry.
-The biggest economic stimulus in history.
-Sweeping new regulations of Wall Street.
-A tough new set of consumer protections on the credit card industry
-A vast expansion of national service
-New neutrality.
-The greatest increase in wilderness protection in 15 years.
-A revolutionary reform to student aid.
-Signing the new START treaty with Russia
-The ending of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’

“That Obama has done all this while also steering the country out of what might have been a serious second Great Depression would seem to have made him already…a serious candidate for greatness” Glastris avers in a 10-page accolade which cautions that the effects of some achievements have yet to be felt by most Americans, often by design. “A number of (his) biggest accomplishments function, like FDR’s, with a built-in delay”. It would be a crushing blow, the editor writes, if Obama fails to win re-election and then has to watch “as his legacy gets systematically dismantled”.

SWEDEN’S FAMOUS LIFESTYLE is under threat, writes Frederick Hale, now that its population has been diluted by millions of immigrants who don’t necessarily share its preference for cradle-to-grave socialism. “In many respects, Sweden remains an enviable society in the eyes of much of the world” he writes in Current History. “Over a few decades in the middle of the 20th century…poverty was largely eradicated. Modern, affordable medical services became universally available. Housing standards rose notably. Average life expectancy climbed to among the highest in the world”. And in many respects, the social gains have been largely preserved with unemployment remaining relatively low and a high rate of men/women equality, although heavy taxes—largely uncontested—have helped pay for it all.
     But many today lament that Sweden is not the idyllic country it once supposedly was, enduring rising crime and narcotics addiction rates. “Much disputed is whether or to what extent such problems can be legitimately regarded as bitter fruits of the welfare state or, as some critics allege of liberal immigration policies”. The proportion of the Swedish population that was born overseas has doubled to 14.3% since 1970 with the 13,877 Africans and 32,127 Asians contributing to the 102,280 immigrants who arrived in 2009. Sweden’s Council for Crime Prevention “found it particularly troubling that immigrants were four times more likely than non-immigrants to be suspects in crimes involving lethal violence and robbery”.
     But contradicting the stereotype of Swedes “as a morose people with a high per capita rate of suicide”, Professor Hale said that they generally fared well on comparative studies of national happiness, in fact among the world’s ten top ten in that regard. “Do no expect the Swedes to throw the welfare state overboard any time soon” he adds.

THREE EX-PRESIDENTS who all should be in jail are swanning around Haiti with the authorities unable or unwilling to touch them. “Now that Haiti has a new president”writes Amy Wilentz, “the rehabilitation of Baby Doc (Duvalier) is gaining strength. Michel Martelly, a rightwing sympathizer who has included Duvalierists in his administration has signaled a desire to look past the Duvalier days by pardoning Baby Doc for any human rights crimes he or his regime committed”. The Duvalier days (father and son), which lasted from 1957 to 1986, were marked by brutal repression and countless murders by a militia known as the Tonton Macoute who were known to burn dissenters alive. The return of Baby Doc has come as a shock “a crazy event attributed to the topsy-turviness of post-earthquake Haiti” Wilentz writes in the Nation. Impunity for Duvalier has been good for two other returning former Presidents—Jean-Bertrande Aristide and René Préval—also accused of human rights violations but so far untouched. “Impunity is no good for democracy , and that’s because impunity is invariably the offshoot of a thoroughly corrupt justice system” the magazine adds.

THE WILCOCK WEB: With Hunger Games as a precedent, a real-life duel-to-the-death could match Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 American soldiers, against Sgt Robert Bales, reported to have knocked off 17 Afghanis….Why wasn’t Saudi Arabia banned from the Olympics (asks the Times) if it continues to disobey the rules and not allow any of its women athletes to participate? ….. President Sarkozy’s Socialist rival Françoise Holland promises to raise the tax on millionaires from 40% to 75% if his party wins the election later this month….Meanwhile, Sarkozy’s glamorous wife, the former fashion model Carla Bruni, has been criticized by Italy’s Corriere della Sera for dropping her former “exotic and eccentric” look. “By playing at being ordinary, she just risks making herself look ridiculous” writes Maria Lauda Rodotà…. Apropos the sinking MF Global finances, would anybody who is innocent plead the Fifth Amendment?.... Virgin Airlines flight attendants have been attending a day-long training course with a “whispering coach” so that they can talk to Upper Class passengers at 30 decibels ( about half the normal speaking volume)…. ….Because the giant turbines being built on Scotland’s Aberdeenshire coast were within sight of golfers at his new luxury resort, Donald Trump has contributed $15million to anti-wind farm campaigners….. Scotland Yard has invited its detectives to enter an office poetry contest with a “gender equality” theme… "Confidence is what you have before you understand the problem," declares Woody Allen….The script for British ITV’s new Edwardian Titanic drama is by Julian Fellowes so inevitably it’s been tagged “Downton-by-the-Sea”….Increasing demand for copper especially by Chinese builders, could see prices rising 50% in coming years forecasts the newsletter Bottom Line…..A columnist getting a museum show? It’s the Los Angeles Times’ Al Martinez whose 23 years of musings (until he was downsized in 2008) will be on display until June… … Every month, London vets are treating at least one stoned dog which has stumbled upon a hidden cannabis stash in the city’s parks…. Carbon nanotubes, lighter and more efficient than copper, are being made by a New Hampshire firm which predicts their product will one day replace electrical wiring in aircraft….…. Money magazine says that at least a dozen communities have developed their own money for local use and ten states are talking about it. States can legally issue coins but not paper; anyone else can issue paper notes but they have to be linked to U.S. dollars in value so income can be taxed….Technology is the knack of organizing the world so that we don’t have to experience it is the opinion of Max Frisch … …Always more loved for its delicious take-out meals than its clothes, the British Marks & Spencer chain is going back into France after closing its stores there a decade ago ….. Gerard Depardieu will portray Dominique Strauss-Kahn in the movie to be made about the alleged French rapist who got away with it….”Russia’s biggest supermarket boss is opening 60 discount stores in Florida and hopes by 2016 to be competing with WalMart….Among the two twelve incoming food trends on USA Today’s list are drugstores as food stores, more dishes containing seaweed and a “comeback” for pickles…….Malice drinks one half of its own poison – Seneca (4BC-AD 65)

3/31/12

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