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the column of lasting insignificance: Dec. 8, 2012
by John Wilcock

“Right after the earthquake, the U.S. allocated $379 million in aid and sent in 5,000 troops. The Associated Press discovered that of the $379 million in initial U.S. money promised for Haiti, most was not really money going directly, or in some cases even indirectly, to Haiti. They documented in January 2010 that 33 cents of each of these U.S. dollars for Haiti was actually given directly back to the U.S. to reimburse ourselves for sending in our military.”
—Haiti Liberté

THE MESS IN HAITI, which never seems to get better, is mainly due to a surplus of do-gooders who doggedly pursue their own programs, whether or not these are helpful to—or even in agreement with—the country’s government. And there’s a familiar scenario, which the Nation describes as

“Within the massive blue-and-white compound are revamped trailers, golf carts and more glistening public toilets than any other place in Haiti…Flowers line the walkways and machines blow a cool mist into an outdoor restaurant whose menu, on one random day, included sushi, jasmine rice, German potatoes, Brazilian cheese bread, halal shawarma and Häagen-Dazs ice cream.”

Cue the video! Sorry, we don’t have any but it would doubtless pan from the luxurious compound to where Haitians are starving, a stone’s throw away. Nearly 400,000 people still live in tent camps, along with dogs, chickens, rats and overflowing garbage, the magazine points out, and “a growing number of people have begun thinking of aid workers as thieves at best, colonizers at worst.
   “From the very beginning, NGOs followed their own agendas and set their own priorities, largely excluding the Haitian government and civil society…how (they) wanted to build Haiti back was often driven more than by the needs of the ‘beneficiaries’…ultimately it’s the NGOs (more powerful than the national governments themselves) that decide how these governments will spend their funds and run their countries to the tune of tens of billions of dollars per year”.
   Writers Kathie Klarreich and Linda Polman point out that the US government shares the blame for Haiti’s poverty by encouraging the country to lower its tariffs tenfold, thus allowing imported American rice to virtually wipe out the poor country’s own rice market.

THE ARGUMENT OVER what to do about Syria, suggests Current History, revolves around a 1981 UN resolution that explicitly denies the right of any state to intervene, interfere “overthrow or change the political system of another state”. In an essay headed Beijing and Moscow Balk at ‘Interference’ the magazine states that the principle remains a bedrock of international politics and law. “Neither country wants humanitarian intervention to gain greater legitimacy, even as a principle, let alone a practice, and they will work, in tandem and in multiple ways, against it”. But others have challenged what they see as a narrow conception, contending that large-scale violence within states threaten international peace. “They maintain, moreover, that (these) references in UN documents…must be interpreted in light of the UN’s larger purposes, which include protecting and promoting human rights”.

A WORLD-CLASS BUTLER can earn around a quarter of a million dollars a year, reports the Economist, and this is before added bonuses, free accommodation and all expenses. ”If a wealthy client finds you indispensable, a butler can demand almost anything to stay put” says Anthony Seddon-Holland, whose Guild of British Butlers offers five-week training courses. One London agency has placed 345 butlers this year, demand having increased after the success of shows like Downton Abbey which depict these manservants as “discreet, resourceful and quintessentially English”. The mag reveals that old-money aristocrats are no longer the main employers, demand having shifted to newly-rich Middle-Eastern, Russian and Chinese plutocrats “who hanker after old aristocratic glitz”.

CHINA’S SPACE EXPLORATIONS are way behind that of countries such as Russia and the US, but this may be a case of slow and steady wins the race. Beijing launched 19 rockets last year with one carrying a space lab the size of a school bus which will be the nucleus of a larger station long before the country’s 30-year plan is completed. Common sense would suggest that cooperation with the US in space would benefit both countries, but Congress has shortsightedly outlawed this idea, in addition to banning the sale of useful technology. Addressing “more open-minded lawmakers in key positions”, Pacific Standard advises that an end to the blockade “would allow American companies to compete for Chinese contracts or satellites, rockets and launch service and also give Chinese companies a chance to compete in the US where the chief growth today is in a burgeoning private space industry”.

IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT you stepped outside the capsule during a tourist trip into outer space, you’d need to be wearing a very special suit if you hoped to get back alive. Not just an ordinary space suit—which you’d need just to make the trip—but a form-fitting ‘squeeze suit’ binding it to your body with a lattice of alloys, embedded gyroscopes to compensate for lack of gravity and heat-absorbing nanocrystals to combat huge swings in temperature. This 3-G suit will be ready in January from Orbital Outfitters (suppliers to NASA) and, reports Popular Science, delivered first to Spanish aerospace. Additional orders for suits has been placed by Elon Musk’s Space-X company.

COINCIDENCES ARE A ROUTINE part of life, even the seemingly miraculous ones. “Any meaning to them comes from your mind” writes David McRaney. He’s the author of a new book with a title so long, it’s all you’ll need: You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory is Mostly Fiction and 46 Other Ways You’re deluding Yourself.

A SINGLE SHOT of Glenfidditch whisky for $1,100 ($25,000 a bottle) is offered in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, one example of the current craze for exorbitantly-priced drinks. Another hotel, the Aria, claims it has four of the only six remaining bottles of a blend called Glenglassaugh which was bottled 45 years ago and fetches a mere $9,500 a bottle. The Cosmopolitan Hotel tops the list, though, with a 50-year-old brand from the Balvenie Distillery which allows it to sit in its Banffshire distillery for half a century before exporting it in minute quantities—at $30,000 a bottle. “There’s extravagance” comments the Hollywood Reporter, “and then there’s Vegas”.

NEW YORK TIMES’ staffers seem to have accepted their duplicitous new boss, Mark Thompson, despite his professed ignorance, while running the BBC, of his star’s career as a pederast—something well known for decades to virtually everybody else in the corporation. Now that he’s “skipped away to New York…his discomfort is causing merriment (back home)” commented the Spectator, which called him “a shrewd operator…responsible for the current crisis”.

SMALLER CHRISTMAS TREES are in fashion, the most favorable smaller size between two and four feet, says Mark Arkills who runs the world’s largest Christmas tree farm, most of it in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Last month the company’s employees tripled to about 700, helping to harvest the 30 million trees of all sizes which are shipped as far afield as Japan and Samoa and bring more than $1bn in revenue. Average price of a tree is $34, and it’s the baby boomer generation that seeks what Arkills calls table-top trees”.
    “That generation is getting too old to deal with a big tree” he explains. The Oregon-based company, Holiday Tree Farms, ensures future supplies by planting more than a million fir seedlings every year, shaping them regularly into a perfect cones, and harvesting them after about seven years.

THE WILCOCK WEB: If only Fidel and Raul had had the foresight to be more corrupt, and get obscenely rich, they’d have been better treated; well, at least as politely as the way we treat those octogenarian Chinese leaders…… Although they can’t repeal Obamacare, the 30 states now with Republican governors, “can confound the Obama administration from implementing it fully in 2012” suggests the weekly Standard, never giving up….. If Texas secedes, would they return to approving of slavery? asks Santa Barbara Independent columnist Barney Brantingham. “On the positive side, secession would mean that the US would never again have a Texan president”….. Naturally the stores love the big crowds and bigger headlines that come with all that Black Friday manipulation, ‘cos if they didn’t they’d give away half-price sales tickets, redeemable any time…. At least in his appearance, Senator Lindsey Graham is the very definition of stiff-necked…….”One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics” said Plato, “is that you end up being governed by your inferiors”…..Anointing Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, 48, as its Businessperson of the Year, Fortune said that “in the absence of Steve Jobs, Bezos is the new undisputed role model for founders who want to keep control of their companies”….Six of the currently largest ports in the world are in China, the others being Singapore, South Korea and Los Angeles….….The AAA has helped to pass a new law, effective next month that prohibits law enforcement from issuing tickets to motorists who park at broken meters….. A padlock offering 64,000 possible combinations via numbers and the alphabet is among the new products in Popular Science which also promotes a battery-powered insole to keep the feet warm and a $130 toaster heated by infrared bulbs ….….….“If you can’t explain it to a six-year-old” quoth Albert Einstein, “then you don’t understand it yourself….”Moringa, native to the Himalayas, is the latest tree that they’ve discovered whose multiple purposes include providing food from its leaves and remedies for various ailments….….And if chia seeds blossom overnight could they grow a lawn in your stomach ?….’Dear CBS, Please extend your glorious Moment of Nature (7:59am Sun) into a longer show. It’ll shorten the pundits, too; a win win…. ….”My rule is, if it flies, floats or fornicates, rent it. It’s cheaper in the long run” asserts publisher Felix Dennis…..Some can’t-wait fans are paying PBS $120 to receive DVDs of Downton Abbey’s new season before it opens….. Erasing Russia’s widespread corruption would be “fairly easy” writes Moscow columnist Valery Fedotov if the law was changed to absolve whistle blowers instead of the current practice of jailing them as accessories…. Warren Buffet would make such a fine POTUS…. “The first step is to establish something is possible; then probability will occur”—Elon Musk (1971- )

12/1/12

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