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the column of lasting insignificance: October 12, 2013
by John Wilcock

“We will always need whistleblowers because democratic institutions cannot be perfect. Inherent in the nature of political power, even if democratically exercised, is that politicians and policy makers invariably act—sometimes legally and sometimes not—in ways that are unjust or abuse the public’s trust.”
—Archon Fung defending ‘Citizen (Edward) Snow’ in Boston Review

ASIA HAS BECOME the world center of gambling, with Macau’s casinos alone last year registering $38 billion—six times the takings of Las Vegas’ Strip. The Chinese city’s gambling revenues have been growing at a rate of almost 30% each year, fueled not by mass tourism, but from the kind of high-rollers whose huge bets undergo little scrutiny. China’s crackdown on official corruption and flaunting of wealth have sent clients looking for faraway venues, although (one observer comments) “Beijing has too many cameras watching us in Macau”. This, in turn, has boosted the growth of casinos in Singapore, the Philippines, Japan, and even Russia’s Far East (Vladivostok), all part of the $160bn global industry. Enticing high rollers involves enormous subsidies, in the form of free flights, fancy suites, and plentiful champagne, so considerable attention is still being paid to the mass market. The Economist reports that Hengqin, an island close to Macau, is being developed as “the Orlando of China” where the country’s biggest amusement park operator is spending $2million to create an ocean theme park with a nearby casino which the mag predicts will be “bigger even than the Pentagon”.

THE GALLUP POLL is not what it used to be according to Forbes which suggests that its formerly prize-winning formula is in trouble with revenue dropping 10% last year. The mag attributes this to “the sickness that ensues if you fixate on your high-end customers and ignore the market’s low end”. Cheap new methods seep in—amongst survey research just as in steel, retailing, and computer storage—eventually disrupting a whole industry. Cut-rate newcomers, it observes, such as Survey Monkey, run small surveys for free and big ones for mere pennies per respondent. “From my perspective” says John Fleming, one of Gallup’s top data scientists, “I think that’s a mistake. Our work is scientifically tested and I’m not sure that theirs is”.

LIVING HUMAN TISSUE is already being used to create organs such as ears and also muscle and even bone, but its greatest value for the time being says Popular Science will be in medical schools. A Missouri company called Organovo, for example, plans to create liver tissue on which drugs can be tested rather than testing on humans. Later, before going into the operating room, maybe medical students will be able to practice on organs which have been built deliberately with tumors or other defects printed from a pool (?) of human cells extracted from a biopsy, “The cells know what to do because they’ve been doing this for millions of years” says Organovo’s co-founder Gabor Forgacs, a biological physicist at the University of Missouri. “They’ve learned the rules of the game during evolution”. Ultimately, the aim is to be able to bioprint replacement organs with cells from the patient’s own body, enabling doctors to provide a perfect match. The mag says that currently 180,000 people are on the national donor waiting list, which grows by 500 every month.

BUSES ARE COMING BACK into fashion, triggered by the Scottish-based Stagecoach Group which carried 980 million passengers around Britain last year. Its U.S. subsidiary, Megabus, already operates in New York, California, Pennsylvania, Texas and Georgia and is giving the veteran Greyhound company a run for its money, offering sales of cheap tickets online, and garish new buses with WiFi and seatbelts, picking up passengers curbside rather than from dingy stations. Young people are increasingly turning to public transport and fewer of them are driving, explains Joseph Schweiterman of DePaul University in Chicago where Megabus began.

THE EMU ERA seems to be over, at least in India, where ranches to breed the ostrich-like creatures once made as many as 5,000 farmers rich. The emu population peaked at around two million in 2012, with the meat selling for as much as $200 a kilo, a price that has dropped to about $12, with half the farmers having left the business. Native to Australia, the flightless bird, was in vogue in the U.S. from the 1960s to the ‘90s but fell out of fashion despite its reputation for being low in cholesterol and high in iron and vitamin C. Its gourmet fans claim it tastes like filet mignon, but most farmers found it unprofitable to raise because a single bird—which can grow as tall as six feet—provides a mere 30lbs of meat, about one-eighth as much as the average cow.

“China’s environmental challenges may be the single most powerful determination of whether the government can maintain its fragile legitimacy…Increasingly, middle-class Chinese are asking whether their country’s vaunted development success is an improvement over the harsh lives that they knew during the Mao years. Yes, many urban Chinese now have cars, flush toilets, fashionable clothing and cell phones, in addition to personal freedoms that would have been unimaginable only a few decades ago. But they are also afraid to breathe the air, drink the water, and eat the food.”
—Judith Shapiro in Current History

ALMOST THIRTY YEARS after his death at 93, the religious message of Herbert W. Armstrong lives on in the free magazine, The Philadelphia Trumpet, which remains as controversial as any of the writings of the early evangelist. His free magazine, The Plain Truth, began as a church bulletin but achieved a worldwide circulation with his sermons from the Pasadena-based Worldwide Church of God, carried on more than 300 radio stations and 36 television outlets. Armstrong was among the very first of the televangelists and from its earliest days, the church was controversial, its messages based on equating world events with literal ‘predictions’ in the bible. Confounding the skeptics, these sometimes beguilingly offer a more logical explanation for current events than the tedious interpretations of political pundits.
    But, of course, the church’s opinions are as controversial as ever with recent issues of the Trump offering the view that the battle for same sex marriage is based on what it terms “a shrewd strategy… (that) has less to do with the right to marry (than) diminishing and eventually destroying the institution of marriage and redefining the traditional family”. In its September issue, Trump expands on the theme with its accusations that “an effort is gaining ground to create a world where not just ‘sexual orientation’ but sex itself is a choice…(as) youths predisposed to question and reject authority starting to view their own sex at birth as something ‘imposed’ on them, and any social pressure to conform to it as a form of oppression”.
    How big is this country’s gay population? According to research by UCLA’s Williams Institute, about 11.9 million identify themselves as gay or lesbian—3.8% of the 313 million population.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Now that the subject has come up again: Of course, watching incessant violence on television doesn’t cause viewers to be violent, any more than watching commercials influences them to buy the products…If Congress is able to prevent Federal workers from being paid there must be some way their own salaries could be stopped too… An Enemy of the People isn’t just the title of an Ibsen play, it’s a literal description of the present-day Republican party…..The most popular strike in human history would be the one by doctors who work in that health plan exclusive to members of Congress. If only…….Despite the recommendation by the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons that children shouldn’t carry backpacks more than 20% of their weight, nearly 10,000 kids were treated for back injuries last year….The enticing odor of chocolate keeps bookstore customers hanging around twice as long, and much more likely to interact with staff, reports the Journal of Environmental Psychology…..“When everyone is thinking alike” declared General George Patten, “then somebody isn’t thinking”….Napa vintners are hiring helicopters ($1,500 per hour) to fly above their soggy crops and dry them out…….Fast Company displays a pair of leather oxford shoes equipped with GPS which flash red lights to indicate whether the wearer should turn left or right ….Sprint’s zombie commercial, stupid, infantile, and repeated too often, is likely to offend more viewers than it attracts…George Romero’s 1979 zombie classic, Dawn of the Dead, was converted into 3-D by producer Richard Rubinstein who’s presenting it to Korean audiences at this week’s Busan Film Festival. Romero, still making zombie movies, lives in Toronto….…. “When the white missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land”, reminisced Desmond Tutu. “They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”…..Experimenting with making seating more comfortable, Tokyo’s Advanced Institute of Industrial Technology has developed a chair which accurately adapts to the contours of the sitter’s ass….Attempting to identify early customers, the Walmart on Campus program, already with shops at Arizona State and the University of Arkansas, is about to open at Georgia Tech. in Atlanta… Unless they sign a pledge to adopt the child, anti-abortionists should be barred from protesting outside clinics….The University of Minnesota’s Tucker Center, which studies women in sport, reports that 40% of American athletes are female but they receive less than 5% of all media coverage and less than 2% of sporting airtime on TV networks…. The findings of lie detectors are so unreliable they’re legally unacceptable in a courtroom, but that seems unknown to the morons who watch the Maury Povich show….. “What we call 'Progress' is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance.”—Havelock Ellis (1859–1939)



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