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the column of lasting insignificance: November 9, 2013
by John Wilcock

“In Western culture, masking the face has, for centuries, implied menace. How, as a society with equal participation of all individuals—male or female—we could operate with some choosing to cover their faces I do not understand…It is a preposterous way to behave and carries an implication that demeans women and imputes attitudes to men which are deeply insulting.”
—letter in London’s Independent

ONE SIMPLE WORD, blasphemy, is quite enough to get somebody killed in Pakistan and there have been plenty of examples of it even before that state governor was murdered simply because he questioned the guilt of an alleged blasphemer. “The ugly fact is that the blasphemy law is an enabler of violence against vulnerable groups” declares Ali Dayan Hasan, the country’s Human Rights Watch director. “As long as such laws remain on the books and the authorities remain unwilling or unable to rein in mobs playing judge, jury and executioner, Pakistan will remain plagued by abuse in the name of religion”. Liberty magazine maintains that the true blasphemers are those who burn down the homes and churches of Christians, forcing Christian and Hindu girls to convert to Islam and marry Muslims; and those who become suicide bombers and violent jihadists, killing innocent Shia and Ahmadi Muslims who don’t agree with them. The difference between the sects’ beliefs often seem infinitesimal.
    What seems inexplicable to Westerners is the fervent belief that Muslims who belong to such minority groups should be violently eliminated. “In Pakistan”, adds Liberty’s Shamshad A. Nasir, “Sunni accusations of others desecrating the Koran or uttering blasphemy against the prophet Muhammad are routinely used to jail business rivals or personal enemies (and) ‘proof’ of Koran desecration is often only eye-witness testimony; no evidence is

Can't See Your Face Book Private Eye

presented because to do so would require repeating the blasphemous remark. Most lawyers are reluctant to defend the blasphemy accused because it implies support for them, which could mean losing business—or worse—your life, Lawyers are rarely needed anyway because just the accusation is enough to generate a mullah-led flash mob of angry Muslims intent on beating or killing the accused. What many people in the West do not appreciate or even understand is that the inferno of religious violence and bigotry that is tearing Pakistan apart is being stoked not just by the anti-Western, Jihadist agendas of al-Qaeda and the Taliban but by the tacit approval—via legislative and constitutional sanctions of the government”.

BANKRUPT DETROIT’S ADVISOR, Kevyn Orr, the fellow appointed as emergency city manager, didn’t advise very well when he allocated Christie’s a couple of hundred thousand dollars to appraise the city’s art collection. Apart from the fact that an auctioneer as rich as Christie’s could well afford to have donated such service to a city in such deep financial straits, why so much money to catalog the collection (which includes a Bruegel and a Van Gogh) when the approximate worth of each picture is already on record and any informed curator could come up with an acceptable estimate.

TOBACCO FARMERS, whose markets have shrunk due to the growing numbers of non-smokers, are finding a new savior in the green leaves of stevia which has many similarities and has the approval of the FDA (and that babe in Breaking Bad). Both plants grow in the same sort of soil and climate, the leaves then picked from their stems and dried. “Since the two leaves can be handled using the same planting equipment, harvesters, drying barns and loaders” says Bloomberg Businessweek, “processors are urging farmers to switch to stevia” which is predicted to one day account for one-third of the $58bn global sweetener market. Up to now most plants have been grown in China and South America. Stevia, used in Smuckers’ jams, Crystal Light drink mixes, ice cream and some brands of rum, has 13% of the no-calorie sweetener market, beaten only by sucralose-based Splenda with 34%.

THE PASSAGE TO EUROPE is a new book which offers a gloomy view of a venture that began with such high hopes. “The truth is” writes Daniel Hannan, reviewing it in the National Review, “that the EU has now become an end in itself: a mechanism to redistribute wealth from the general population to a favored cast of bureaucrats and rent seekers”. Far from making people wealthier, he suggests, the Euro has left Europe as “the only continent on earth whose economy is shrinking”. The book’s author is a Dutch historian and political philosopher whose expertise on the European Union began with his doctoral thesis about its origins and development. NR’s reviewer is pessimistic about the chance of any change. Although EU’s existence has stoked a great deal of “national antagonism” he says, no bureaucracy ever disbands voluntarily. “To stay in business the EU has to keep extending its authority. The more powerful it becomes, paradoxically, the less it stands for anything”.

Musicians on marihuana (3)

“Grass was everywhere in the clubs. It was always there in the jazz clubs; and in the folk-music clubs. There was just grass and it was available to musicians in those days. And in coffeehouses way back in Minneapolis. That’s where I first came into contact with it, I’m sure. I forget when or where, really.
    Being a musician means—depending on how far you go—getting to the depths of where you are at. And most any musician would try anything to get to those depths, because playing music is an immediate thing—as opposed to putting paint on a canvas, which is a calculated thing. Your spirit flies when you are playing music. So, with music, you tend to look deeper and deeper inside yourself to find the music. That’s why, I guess, grass was around those clubs. I know the whole scene has changed now: I mean, pot is almost a legal thing. But in the old days, it was just for a few people.”
—Bob Dylan

[Extracts from The Weed that Changed the World, an eBook available from Amazon for $9]

“STAY AWAY, I’M MARRIED”—that’s the message some women are giving when they flaunt their designer outfits and luxury purses, according to the Journal of Consumer Research, which claims that it’s because they want other women to know their mates are spoken for. “They inferred that the partner financially contributed to these luxurious possessions… information especially valuable when their relationship is threatened by another woman” say the University of Minnesota researchers. Of course, luxury goods also make women happy or signal status and taste, the authors say. But, “in essence, Fendi handbags fend off romantic rivals, and flaunting designer products says ‘Back off’. Spending on luxury goods in the US amounts to as much as $525 billion per year, with women’s products accounting for over half of this consumption.

ICE CREAM IS always iced but not always cream, especially in India where the giant Unilever company is manufacturing it with oil, prompting complaints to the country’s Advertising Standard Council by the long-established Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation. (“Food manufacturers use fats to provide a rich mouthfeel and give body to creamy treats” helpfully explains Bloomberg Businessweek). The international interloper has already increased its market share to 21%—against Gujarat’s drop to 31%—and because milk fat is about five times as expensive as fats derived from palm oil and coconut oil, its future seems bright, to the chagrin of Gujarat’s three million dairy farmers. There is plenty of scope for growth, the mag says, because Indians presently consume about 6.8 fluid ounces of ice cream a year, compared with 473 ounces in the U.S.

“When I’m not working, I’ll go to the gym five, six days a week for 90 minutes. I prefer to be long and lean so I work my arms with 4-pound weights and I do a lot of holding push-ups, getting down on my elbows and counting to 30. It’s incredible ab work! My dressing room is on the third floor so I’ll take the stairs two at a time. Or I’ll bend over backwards over a medicine ball to get the blood rushing to my head. And if I have ten minutes, I will close the door and do yoga. Whatever your form of quieting your mind, 10 minutes can save your life.”
—Julianna Margulies talking to the medical mag,WebMD

TRYING TO RESTRICT the traffic from Beijing’s crowded streets,
city authorities borrowed a remedy from many Western cities by allowing cars with only certain-numbered license plates on certain days. Predictably, motorists dodged this restriction by borrowing or renting different plates. One woman, Wang Xiuxia, somehow acquired 1,000 of them and has been renting them out for 10,000 yuan ($1,600) a pair. Another gimmick has been to obtain plates via fake residency documents in other towns. The capital already has 5.35million cars and, trying to keep down the numbers, allows only 20,000 winners of a monthly lottery to buy one.

TRAFFIC ROUNDABOUTS ARE a familiar feature in Britain, France and a few other countries but still tend to confuse drivers when they are first installed. Nevada installed the first one of the 3,000 now in the U.S. Not only do they obviate the need for traffic lights—and are considerably cheaper to install—but eliminate the need for stopping at all if motorists drive in at a reasonable speed and complete enough of the circle smoothly before choosing their exit. Updated versions are currently being tested in Holland, designed to keep cars and cyclists apart.

THE WILCOCK WEB: If anything could finally put the kibosh on the Tea Party it will surely be the involvement of the insufferable Liz Cheney…..A paltry Paleo-Palin….And even if eavesdropping on friends is done by everybody, we wouldn’t have known about it if it wasn’t for Edward J. Snowden who looks less like a traitor and more like a hero every day…. If you happen to be chewing popcorn at the movie theater when the commercials come on screen, you won’t remember them, reports the Journal of Consumer Psychology, because “chewing disrupts the process by monopolizing the speech muscles” (apparently the same ones used for hearing)......Vermont (pop: 600,000), long awash in marihuana, is undergoing a “plague” or “epidemic” of heroin, claim police officials who estimate that gangs are bringing in $1.5m dollars-worth every week…... qr-pjsInspired by QR technology, sales agent Juan Murdoch designed pajamas covered in several groups of colored dots that, when accessed through a cell phone proceed to tell a bedtime story….”My number one fear” says Simon Cowell, 54. “is being bored. I’d rather jump off a bridge than retire and play golf”….NYTimes Book Review brought in the paper’s top honcho, executive m/e Jill Abramson for a definitive (cover +3pp) report on the best of the 40,000 books that have been written about the life and shocking death of JFK ….Fowlty Towers is the name Julie Smith has given to her Kent boarding house where people can leave their chickens when they go on holiday. Spacious runs costing $15 per night and meals of lettuce, corn and watermelon offer the birds a luxurious stay….A skateboarding goat and a border collie that walked along 12 feet of rope in 18.22 seconds (to win the title of Fastest Crossing of a Tightrope by a Dog) have just entered the Guinness Book of Records ….It doesn’t matter what happens next week or in a year, it matters what is going to happen in ten years even though you worked for the present”, Lou Reed told me in 1965. “The point is that some of the things you do aren’t going to show up for a long time. Assuming you live through it”….Hard times have provoked a boom in the sale of body parts, notes Bloomberg Businessweek which estimates that 13,000 women are expected to sell their eggs this year, with donors forecast to earn $7,500 at the close of their first cycle”….. A new book about the late, unlamented Col. Gadaffi says that the famous entourage of female guards with which he always traveled was just his harem, always equipped with large supplies of Viagra for his use…. Current minimum needed to survive in New York City for a family with two adults and one child, is $77,378 a year estimates Mother Jones…. With its thousands of employees, couldn’t Walmart spare a couple of middle managers to visit Haiti and check on whether the poor folk making its garments are paid properly?
.... That goes for the Target and the Gap, as well …..What we call ‘progress’ is a matter of exchanging one problem for another"—Havelock Ellis (1859-1939)



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