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

“I wish the bald eagle had not been chosen as the representative of our country. He is a bird of bad moral character. The turkey is, in comparison, a much more respectable bird, and withal a true original native of America.”
—Benjamin Franklin, 1784

NOW THERE’S A CAMPAIGN to make the carrying of knives legal, anytime and anywhere, and the chief lobbyist is somebody who sits on the board of the overbearing National Rifle Association which blackmails so many members of Congress. Mother Jones says the laws against carrying lethal knives are complicated and contradictory, listing Arizona as an example where different towns allow or disallow different kinds of knives in different circumstances. Knife Rights Inc. managed to get these local laws coordinated resulting in Arizonians allowed to carry knives everywhere. (In New York City carrying them is banned outright). Knife Rights’ founder, Doug Ritter, a 59-year-old survival expert, says the group’s 2,200 members include hikers, kayakers, environmentalists, and points to occasions when somebody having a knife has saved lives. “It’s irrational to believe that if you ban certain types of knives, criminals will somehow stop being criminals” he avers.

VERY FEW PEOPLE would enjoy watching animals being slaughtered, and still fewer doing the slaughtering themselves. “Our slaughterhouse workers are themselves deeply uneasy about the cruelty they are forced to inflict”, writes B.R. Myers. “Evidently there is no un-cruel way to kill a large and terrified animal every 12 seconds, the pace now set by industry greed”. Estimates that the annual employee turnover in the American slaughterhouse business is more than 100 percent is the claim of a book, Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight by Timothy Pachirat. These kind of dire statistics are compiled by undercover cooperators who sneak into slaughterhouses to document abuses and code violations, but the industry is trying to ensure that in future their practices remain a secret. According to the Atlantic, laws have been passed in Iowa and Utah to make it a crime to undertake such covert reporting and similar "agag" bills are pending in other states.

ADOPTING A DIET that is too much like the American one with junk food and unhealthy snacks predominating, is changing the lifestyle of the French, more than seven million of whom are now classified as obese. This is twice the number at the end of the recent century writes Hannah Betts in the Daily Telegraph which quotes a government report that the heftiest weight gains have been made by 18–24-year-olds “addicted to fast food”. Only eight years ago, the book French Women Don’t Get Fat was a best seller.

THAT BRILLIANT POLLSTER, Nate Silver, who accurately predicted the result of every state in the recent election has attracted strong interest from the movie industry, says the Hollywood Reporter, and is fielding offers from talent agents and TV producers. Silver, 34, who is pondering a follow-up to his best-seller The Signal and the Noise, told THR: “Everything is on the table. I have to think about how not to spread myself too thin. It’s a really a great problem to have”.

THE CASE OF CHAVEZ is a complex and conflicting one. Here’s a man, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, who has made himself a virtual dictator while indisputably being on the side of the have-nots. “During (his) 14 years in power, according to both World Bank and UN figures, around five million out of 29 million Venezuelans have been lifted out of poverty and the gap between the rich and the poor has narrowed” says The Week. His welfare projects have wiped out illiteracy and provided housing, education, free healthcare and subsidized food for the poor. What has made this possible has been the country’s vast supply of oil which has also enabled Chavez to carve out what the West regards as controversial foreign policies. His friends, for example, have included Syria’s al-Assad, Iran’s Ahmadinejad and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. But while dispensing a trillion dollars of income via the state’s oil company—which he completely controls—Venezuela’s big daddy has also been troubled by 20% inflation and one of the world’s highest murder rates. “Some economic analysts predict a currency crisis for the country as early as next year.” Chavez’ new term runs until 2019.

MOST INTERNS ARE obliged to work without pay and the companies that have sprung up to facilitate the arrangements profit handsomely by supplying the young workers. The Economist describes one London firm that grossed $1m last year by charging companies $779 per month for each intern, plus 10% of starting salaries. To critics who complain that only well-heeled interns can work for nothing, others respond that any chance to gain experience is a good thing.

HALF A CENTURY AGO, South Korean wives averaged six children apiece; today its fertility rate of 1.2 is the lowest in the world and has the government worried that the population will drop by more than half to 21.5 million. Mostly this is due to efforts to reduce last century’s high birth rate, which have been much too successful and, combined with the abortion rate and over-use of ultra-sound methods enabling parents to abort girls, the birth rate plummeted to dangerous levels. “Koreans are having so few babies” says the weekly Standard, “that the country is about to grow very old, very quickly”.

FLASH ROBS is the term the retail trade has chosen to describe the ravaging mobs that rush unexpectedly into stores and grab everything in sight. Washington state senator Mike Carrell, who tried unsuccessfully to get a bill passed making it a felony, told Stores that what started as an inner-city problem has spread far and wide and that “legislation is very much needed at present”. The magazine, which says most members of these intrusive groups are under 18 and in some cases as young as 11 or 12, warns store owners to “resist the impulse to challenge the mob. Call the police or security as soon as possible”.

THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE has registered 1,575 suicides since it opened in 1937 and that’s just counting the bodies that have been found. In his book, The Final Leap—the first book-length treatment of the subject—John Bateson says a safety net beneath the bridge or a high railing along the pedestrian walkway would probably cut down the deaths, but for more than 70 years Bridge officials have declined to install either.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Santa Claus should be prohibited from making any appearances before December….Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly are so clueless they’ve never been able to understand that ‘global warming’, an admittedly inexact term, describes worldwide climate changes. Thus, every time the temperature doesn’t rise they scoff at ‘global warning’ as a myth….Next year maybe the bankrupt Los Angeles Times will be a Rupert Murdoch tabloid….Leading choice for the next head of the CIA, presidential terrorism adviser John Brennan, is a guy who naively believes that killing innocent families with misdirected drones doesn’t recruit anti-American terrorists….Tourists visiting Amsterdam will not be banned from visiting the city’s cannabis cafés after all. The mayor decided that a ban wouldn’t stop visitors who’d be relentless in their search for marijuana and might just cause more trouble (and crime)….Thursday of next week (29th) marks the 80th anniversary of opening the tomb of King Tutankhamun….Asking souvenir hunters to return artifacts stolen from the hotel over the years, New York’s Waldorf Astoria has received a plethora of items—ashtrays, coffee pots etc—but is still mourning the biggest theft: the monogrammed door to the shower in the suite that Frank Sinatra occupied….Cheapest seats for the 50th anniversary tour of the greedy, sleazy Rolling Stones are $190. “Well, we've got to make something” says billionaire Ronnie Wood....Still making big bucks is Elizabeth Taylor whose estate raked in $210 million last year through perfume, auctioned possessions and movie residuals. She topped the list of deceased money makers with Michael Jackson ($145m) and Elvis ($95m) runners-up…..The unlikely tale of a man surviving at sea in an open boat with only a tiger for company is obviously impossible, and sure enough, they made the movie with a mechanical tiger….Wired, whose current issue carries an interview with Elon Musk about his dream of sending one of his spaceships to Mars, invited readers to

First Permanent Mars Colony Stamp

suggest postage stamp designs for the distant future and one of them celebrates the so-called red planet….. An AP story about increasingly widespread challenges to prayers preceding meetings of local councils, predicts that eventually “the Supreme Court will weigh in to resolve the differences…”. …The easiest way to send a gift to somebody in England is to use a mail order house there. Check out egerton-barnett.co.uk….. A company called Day2Night Convertible Heels is selling shoes with interchangeable heels allowing walking shoes to be changed to stilettos…..”The current isolation of Cuba has long outlasted its original purpose” announced the US Chamber of Commerce calling for the embargo (now 50 years old) to be ended…. There aren’t many gaps that advertising hasn’t filled; even individual stalls—are up for grabs at institutions such as Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania reports Fast Company…..”When will these mail order beggars realize that a “free gift” is decidedly not when it’s actually yet another unwelcome batch of printed address labels? ….“The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper”—Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)




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