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the column of lasting insignificance: September 7, 2013
by John Wilcock

THE ENTIRE WORLD operates on debt and is run by the privileged group to which we have all become debtors. “In the dominant narrative of our times, that of the pulling away of the one per cent from the rest of the world, debt plays the startling role” proclaims the New Internationalist. “A tiny creditor class is cornering untold riches for itself at the cost of global stagnation, even collapse, with no indication that any shame is forthcoming”. Debt is how the rich extract wealth from the rest of us, the magazine points out, quoting anthropologist David Graeber about the folk who are able to turn their wealth into political influence and that influence back into more wealth. In a summer issue mostly devoted to unlimited examples of excessive greed, TNI lists such vulture funds as Dart Management, run from the Cayman Island by Kenneth Dart which bought up the uncovered remnant of Greek debt, suing for repayment and netting $28million from “Greece’s rather bare coffers”; Paul Singer’s NYC—based hedge fund, Elliott Associates, quintupled its $11 million investment over Peru’s debt; and Donegal International pulled off a similar stunt with Zambia which was obliged to hand over the money it had earmarked for health care.
    And it’s not just these avaricious bigshot financiers who boast about their brilliant inhumanity. How can we overlook such payday loan sharks as J. Paul Reddam’s CashCall and Martin Webb’s Western Sky whose exorbitant interest rates “scam New Yorkers out of millions of dollars” according to the state’s attorney general who has filed a lawsuit against them. A New York Times report about the case says that due to such “abusive lending practices” a person borrowing $1,000 could end up repaying nearly $5,000 over two years.

“STUDENT-LOAN DEBT COLLECTORS have powers that would make a mobster envious” says Senator Elizabeth Warren in Rolling Stone’s essay which reveals that although it gets little discussion, the government itself makes an enormous profit—$184bn in the past decade—from “a sociopathic marriage of private-sector greed and government force”. The average student, writes Matt Taibbi, leaves school owing $27,000 and “the state and its collectors are not squeamish collecting the money they’re owed. The government is in the pain business, and business is good”.

THE DREAM OF a flying car has been around since a 1924 story in Popular Science predicted their arrival. Now, almost a century later, the magazine reveals details of three different models, all sharing the ability to fold their wings and drive on the highway when out of the air. The FAA has given approval to the Terrafugia Transition (65mph on land, flies at 105mph), costs $279,000, due in 2015; Holland’s Pal-V One (three-wheeler on land, 112mph in the air) costs $285,000 also in 2015; and the Samson Switchblade (another three-wheeler), cost $85 for kit which must be assembled, still being tested.

MERCHANTS OF METH is what Mother Jones is calling the mom & pop, shake and bake, trailer trash crowd who are doing their best to undermine society in at least four mid-Eastern states. In Kentucky, the number of meth labs has tripled in recent years; Missouri, Tennessee and Indiana are not far behind. What’s shocking is that just as lawmakers have zeroed in on pseudoephrine, the essential meth ingredient-- trying to at least legislate its distribution—their biggest enemy is Big Pharma which has spent millions lobbying to maintain the annual $605million sales of the drug, which are an essential ingredient in such cough and allergy medicines as Sudafed and Claritin D. Lawmakers in 24 states have tried to pass prescription bills since 2009. In 23 of them they have failed, the exception being Mississippi where meth labs were subsequently decreased by 70%. Alabama’s prescription bill, sponsored by state senator Roger Bedford, has failed twice after a massive media campaign by lobbyists and PR firms. “They’ll outspend us 100–1”, he says. Apart from the degradation to users, meth use has hundreds of additional victims from explosions and fires in badly operated “labs”. A Kentucky study estimates that victims of such accidents cost an average of almost $230,000 to treat meth use as a whole, which according to a RAND Corporation study, costs the nation as much as $48bn a year.

Rolling Stone: After all those years on (Breaking Bad) could you cook up a batch of meth if you had to?
Aaron Paul: No. I would kill us all. I’d blow up whatever room I was cooking in.

CONSUMERS SHOULD BE aware that sellers can feel threatened when parting with even the most mundane possessions, reports the Journal of Consumer Research. Complimenting or flattering a seller can make them feel less threatened and lead them to lower their selling prices. “Next time you are buying a second-hand car, for example, you may want to start the negotiation by telling the car owner what a wonderful family she has,” the authors conclude.

You have to be really organized stacking dishes—there’s precision and repetition and ritual, you do the same things at the same time of day, mopping and sweeping, over and over, until you get really good at it. Then there’s immediate gratification and instant feedback—you know if the dishes are either clean or they are not”
—Thomas Keller, America’s favorite cook, talking to Watch!

ELEVATORS ARE HEAVY and the cables that haul them account for three quarters of the machine’s mass. That is the main drawback to installing them in taller and taller buildings, although work has begun on Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Tower which is scheduled to rise a full kilometer above Jeddah. But if work by the Finnish firm Kone is successful, we may soon be talking about what the Economist calls “the other mile-high club”. Yes, they’re actually forecasting that the newly-developed carbon fibers which will reduce the weight of the currently in use steel cables by 90%, enabling elevators to ascend to at least twice the height presently achieved. And that’s not all. Supposing the new UltraRope could be attached to a satellite, enabling robotic cars to travel up and down into space? Then, declares the mag, “the sky’s the limit”.

GOOGLE AND OTHER websites can be a “copycat minefield” for the unwary who seek to renew their passports or obtain other official documents from sites that charge exorbitant fees. Many describe themselves as “third-party processing firms” that supposedly make the application quicker and easier, says the Guardian, with each site trying to appear as official as possible to hook customers. Disillusionment comes for users with the realization that, in addition, then have to pay a charge to the real passport service. “I am quite capable of filling in a form;” says one victim, “these people need to be stopped. It’s outrageous”.

THE WILCOCK WEB: How can any human being have any respect for politicians, with adequate health care themselves, who count it a victory if they manage to deny it to millions of others?….The army sergeant who shot 18 Afghanis in cold blood was spared the death penalty because he agreed to plead guilty. Did prosecutors really fear a jury would find him innocent?…If Speaker John Boehner is still looking for cuts, how about the salaries of some of his fellow-pols who might then be forced to live just on their bribes…. ….It may not be a surprise that Britain rejected Obama's plan to missile-attack Syria, all because of that liar George Bush, the world may never trust the U.S. again..... A Czech study of black widow spiders says the legend that they often eat their mates after the coupling is true, but that sometimes the male spider will eat unattractive females that come on to them….Hey, Sue Grafton: what’s ‘W’ for? Just askin’….. …..Boredom deliberately caused by eating the same meal every day is an effective way to lose weigh, says a joint study by researchers at the universities of Buffalo and Vermont ….Stores reports that 100 Home Depot stores between Florida and Michigan have lost more than $300,000 in the last couple of years by shoppers substituting the barcode stickers from cheaper items before checkout….. Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich, explained Napoleon….“Fuck is not a blasphemy, it’s a vulgarity” explains Cambridgeshire vicar Alice Goodman, defending her license plate, WTFWJD, about Jesus….. The fasteners that Fortune says are “best known as an alternative to shoelaces” are made by Velcro Industries, a company that makes 35,000 products and has just launched a campaign to make itself better known…Already popular in England is Snap Fashion which, once you’ve taken a picture of some passing garment, checks out thousands of clothing retailers to tell you where you can buy it …..Since the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey the London Fire Brigade says it has been called out 79 times to release people from handcuffs…..Water companies, at least in Britain, are run by “reckless and greedy men” writes Nick Cohen in the Observer. Privatization has produced “a bunch of profiteering companies that still need taxpayer support to build their returns to investors while escaping tax”….“If you want to know what God thinks of money” quipped Dorothy Parker, “just look at the people

He Jianguo
Current cover of the quarterly magazine Bidoun,
which ran a profile of me a few years ago, is a real eye-catcher.

he gave it to”…. SlotFlops are a new type of flip flop with a slit in which you can stash your key or credit card while you’re in the swimming pool or the gym… Driven out of Sochi by a Russian army in 1864, the Circassians say next year’s Winter Olympics should be boycotted for that reason alone…. Everything is sold cheap in the expectation that they’ll soon fall apart and have to be replaced writes Jenny McCartney in the Sunday Telegraph. “We have been conditioned not to care”…. Software that identifies affluent customers along with definitive files on their shopping tastes, is being installed at luxury stores “so that fawning can begin immediately” comments The Week…. A poll of 2,000 managers voted overwhelmingly that ‘thinking outside the box’ is the most annoying example of managerial speak…..“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics” —Plutarch (46-120AD).



Bakewell and Chatsworth 2013 (part 1)

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