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the column of lasting insignificance: Sept. 1, 2012
by John Wilcock

IT’S BEEN OBVIOUS from the start that Swedish prosecutors were biased against WikiLeaks and were determined to emasculate Julian Assange in any way they could. Even if the trumped-up sexual charges are valid they could have been dealt with by taking evidence from him in some other place, as Swedish authorities have done with their victims in the past. They turned down an invitation from the Ecuadorean embassy to conduct the interview there. No, it’s quite clear that Sweden wants to act as the U.S. government’s lapdog and turn Assange over to U.S. “justice” if only because he has agreed to travel to Sweden if he will get a guarantee that he will stay in that country.
    “If Assange is extradited to the United States, it would have a chilling effect on journalism,” say Oscar-winning moviemakers Oliver Stone and Michael Moore. "The consequences will reverberate for years around the world." Mr. Assange is not an American citizen, and none of his actions have taken place on American soil. If the United States can prosecute a journalist in these circumstances, the governments of Russia or China could, by the same logic, demand that foreign reporters anywhere on earth be extradited for violating their laws. The setting of such a precedent should deeply concern everyone, admirers of WikiLeaks or not.
    "We were taken to war in Iraq on a lie”, their statement adds. “Hundreds of thousands are now dead. Just imagine if the men who planned this war crime back in 2002 had had a WikiLeaks to deal with. They might not have been able to pull it off. The only reason they thought they could get away with it was because they had a guaranteed cloak of secrecy. That guarantee has now been ripped from them, and I hope they are never able to operate in secret again."

Hyperboloid lines

HOW LITTLE MOST of us know or care about what a hyperboloid structure is, and the mathematical equation that explains it would leave a lot of us cold. But it’s this sort of thing that Glen Whitney, who got his PhD from UCLA in 1994, hopes that his new Museum of Mathematics will make clear to everybody, not only children, when it opens on New York’s 26th Street in December. “If we can show people just three things—that math is fun, that it’s beautiful and that with it you can get a really good job—then we’ll be a complete success,” he enthuses. Whitney did a stint as a hedge fund analyst before raising $30million for the museum, which he calls “a safe place to love math”. Oh yes, and about that hyperboloid. Simply put, it defines a type of surface with three dimensions that allows metal to curve two ways—employed by Antoni Gaudi in some parts of his famous Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. The classic, and first, hyperboloid structure was the 120ft high water tower built in Nizhny Novgorod in 1896 (seen at right) by Russian engineer Vladimir Shukhov.

FRANCE OUTLAWING PROSTITUTION might sound surprising if you’re of a certain mind. And maybe ‘outsourcing’ might be a better description of the way the crackdown on hookers in central Paris is driving them into the suburbs of the 18th arrondissement, the area of Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge. Last month, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the Socialist minister for women, declared: “The question is not whether we want to abolish prostitution (the answer is yes)—but how to give ourselves the means to do it”. Well, that certainly caused a reaction. Hundreds of whores paraded in protest, some with banners reading Proud to be tarts. But although France has had a long history of tolerance towards prostitution—Paris had 200 legal brothels in 1840 although they were banned after WW2—the Economist says that 90% of today’s sex workers are foreigners, as are most of the pimps.

A DOGGIE DREAMWORLD seems to have infiltrated a society where some hotels are now offering pet psychics, walking service and animal massages. Portland’s Hotel Monaco even has its own Director of Pet Relations. “Dog mania has reached a tipping point” writes Anne Kadet. “Upstanding citizens who might otherwise be considered perfectly lucid are taking the ‘animal companion’ concept to a new level—bringing their pets to the movie, shopping and out for dinner in fancy bistros”. Smart Money says that even tourist agencies are joining the game noting that Washington State’s Yakima Valley Visitor and Convention Bureau launched a website listing the area’s dog-friendly wineries, restaurants, museums and stores. Spending on pets is up 73% in the past decade, the mag reveals, reaching $51bn. One highlight is Woofstock, an annual festival in Toronto, where 300,000 dog-lovers gather for pet tricks, high tea and costume competitions. And not to overlook Sit’nStay’s traveling ‘pet nanny’—Carol Martin who charges $500 a day to entertain pets when their owners attend conferences or go scuba diving.

YOU HAVE LEARNED many things so far in your life says a non-profit educational outfit called CAEL, so “Why not earn college credits for this learning?” The Council for Adult Education and Learning is just one of many organizations offering students a way to package and present their existing knowledge in a manner that allows colleges to award credits. “What you know is more important than where or how you earned it” says the Washington Monthly quoting the philosophy of low-cost or non-profit groups some of whom have forged alliances with the military of even WalMart employees to facilitate earning on-line degrees. Courses taken at McDonald’s Hamburger University have been transferable to regular college degrees via the American Council for Education since the 1960s, the magazine points out.

WRITERS UNDER 35 are eligible to compete for the Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize once won by acclaimed author Hilary Mantel. Entrants must submit by Oct. 30 up to 3,000 words of “acute and profound observation of a culture alien to the writer”. The contest (winner gets $4,500) says “such a culture might be found as easily within the writer’s native country as outside it”.

NBC’S WHITEWASH OF the Mormon religion raised many more questions than it answered. Its alleged “history” for example, conveniently ignored Brigham Young’s massacre of the pioneers and his belief that "some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind". Dealing with the angel Moroni and the moronic Joseph Smith, NBC failed to explain why the angel buried the gold plates rather than just hand them over. Also, why preach to an American with a message in a foreign language. And how did Smith translate them if he didn’t know the language? The good works the Mormons have done, and are still doing, are undeniable, but do we really want a president naïve enough to believe nonsense like this? And btw, what were the actual words that God used when he told the Mormon elders that he'd changed his mind about Blacks? That he'd decided he liked them, after all.

Warhol stampA SURPRISING BARGAIN is the sale of long out-of-date postage stamps for their original (and permanent) cover price. For example, would you like some of the 1c Tiffany lamp stamps, first issued in 2008? Twenty-five of them will cost you 25c. Similarly, the 4c Chippendale chair, will cost one dollar for 25. Hundreds of styles and designs are offered in the USPS catalog ranging from ‘forever’ stamps for various states ($4.50 for a book of ten) to gorgeous Year of the Dragon ‘forever’ stamps ($5.40 for sheet of 12). Of course, hundreds of older stamps are not in the catalog, the printing having presumably sold out. Among them is the 37c Andy Warhol stamp of which I bought several sheets when they were first issued.

IF ORTHODOX JEWS don’t agree with religious injunctions prohibiting travel on the Sabbath, then why don’t they change them? Establishment of the eruv—a rule to avoid obeying the rules—is just plain hypocrisy. Many of the prohibitions of all religions—like, for example, killing animals slowly and painfully—were established thousands of years ago when the world was different and cruelty was of no concern to the true believer. Such rules no longer make any sense except to people who want to live forever in the past.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Why can’t that Canadian oil be shipped out from Canada’s west coast instead of via a pipeline running thousands of miles down to Houston?..... British authorities wouldn’t allow Spain to extradite Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on multiple charges of murder, but they’ll spare no expense to make sure that Julian Assange is extradited to Sweden to face alleged sexual offenses….If parents can’t keep an eye on what kids put in their mouths, virtually everything will be banned sooner or later…. The reason why it’s so hard to kill a cockroach, explain UC Berkeley researchers, is that the little pests are capable of flipping backwards in one-fifth of a second and hanging upside down from some nearby ledge …. After you have made 200 safe flights with a wing suit, you can graduate to a specialty TonySuit which allows you to jump from a plane without a parachute….. The luxury monthly Monocle (subscriptions $125 for ten issues), which sells T-shirts and/or shorts for $100, is described by the Economist as “a global magazine for the insufferably stylish”….Following its examination of 104 popular sports drinks, the British Medical Journal asserts that there is “a striking lack of evidence” that they are effective at boosting performance...... Popular Science predicts that future planetary visits will involve the dropping of ‘smart dust’—robots the size of sand grains which can collect data and transmit it back to earth….Zagat held its first Pizza Survey and reports that pepperoni is most popular, anchovy the least popular. And 51% sprinkle the hot peppers….If you don’t pay your exorcist you get repossessed….A new German supermarket offered $240-worth of free groceries to the first 100 customers willing to shop naked and so many nudists turned up they had to limit entry….Bridgestone is almost ready to launch its airless tire made of something called thermoplastic …. People who are alleged to be funny, but who aren’t: David Sedaris, David Letterman, Russell Brand, Will Ferrell…Columbia Sportswear’s Omnifreeze ZERO-t-shirt is imbedded with thousands of ‘hydrophilic polymer’ rings which the company says keeps the wearer 10% cooler than any other fabric…..A Dutch architectural firm is collaborating with the Maldives government to build floating islands which will rise and fall as climate changes begin to inundate low-lying countries…. “Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there”—Will Rogers (1879-1935)

2012: It's the rich against the rest

8/25/12

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