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the column of lasting insignificance: March 8, 2014
by John Wilcock

A recent University of California, Berkeley study reveals that the nation’s largest fast-food chains earn $7bn a year in inflated profits because the rest of us pick up the tab for the food stamps, housing vouchers, tax credits, and Medicaid benefits that the businesses refuse to cover by paying adequate wages.”
—Rolling Stone

IT’S BAD ENOUGH that colleges seek sky-high fees from students. “But there is a deeper problem with the college cult than the diminishing value of college degrees” charges J.D. Vance. “In our zeal to give many a college education, we’ve made it an employment barrier for those who lack it”. When two people apply for a job, even one that doesn’t need a college degree, the employer will always hire the one who appears to be the most educated. A degree shouldn’t be the requirement for a forklift driver. “Academics call this phenomenon ‘degree inflation’”, Vance writes in the National Review. “In an economy populated by college graduates, bachelor’s degrees become necessary just to get your foot in the door. Progressives often say they’d like to see the US be more like Europe with its plethora of apprenticeship programs.” Unfortunately” the mag concludes, “our country is too obsessed with the almighty BA to supply them”.
(A recent letter in the Wall Street Journal commented that airline pilots weren’t required to have a college degree so long as they’d clocked up 1,500 hours of flying lessons).

PEDAL-POWERED PLANES were long thought to be an impossibility because how could any plane could be light enough to fly on such a limited power source, a pair of legs, and still carry a pilot? The answer, says Popular Mechanics, came in 1977 with Paul MacCready’s Gossamer Condor, yet after his exploits, “the public lost interest in this esoteric corner of aviation”. But now there’s new interest, stimulated by the establishment in 2012 of the Icarus Cup which will be staged again at Lasham airfield, 55 miles southwest of London in late June. Today’s participants typically fly in microlight aircraft with 75ft wingspans and pilots who can pedal 0.55hp. They fly without safety belts, often in their underwear, and time aloft is measured in minutes.

TWENTY YEARS AFTER the birth of NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) it’s hard to declare that its been an unmitigated success. “Despite impressive trade numbers” says Foreign Affairs, “NAFTA has delivered on practically none of its economic promises…Perhaps the only thing everyone can agree on is that all sides greatly exaggerated: (it) brought neither the huge gains its proponents promised nor the dramatic losses its adversaries warned of”. Growth was greater in other Latin American countries—Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Peru, and Uruguay—rather than Mexico whose “shabby infrastructure” may have been responsible for the country’s low investment and productivity figures. And opening up Mexico’s oil industry to foreign investment after the Gulf War—like a possible flowering some expect today—might have improved the picture. Nevertheless, FA’s surprising conclusion suggests that a different NAFTA, one with a more comprehensive EU-style involvement might have worked better. And there is a growing sense that it is time for more engagement with North American economic integration. “In other words” the quarterly concludes, “despite the treaty’s disappointing results, maybe Mexico needs more NAFTA, not less”.

NEW DIGIMAC BARCODES will be installed sooner than planned following its successful test at a supermarket check-out counter where 50 items were bagged in 59.1 seconds. This beat the earlier record using the existing barcode (dating to 1974) by more than 24 seconds. The new digital barcode, instead of being in one place—causing a delay in locating it—is described as ‘digital watermarking’ and covers the entire package. Unseen by the naked eye, it can be scanned by devices such as smart phones, thus enabling manufacturers to add additional messages to customers studying the item.

TONS OF RATTLESNAKES well, actually thousands of pounds of them, will be cut up, roasted and eaten next month in the small Texas town of Sweetwater, scene of an annual Rattlesnake Round-Up. Organizers are worried that the haul may be lower this year because the traditional hunting method is to inject gasoline fumes between rock piles, forcing the snakes from the crevices in which they hide. Environmentalists have been trying to get this practice banned on the grounds that it kills too many small beasties that share the space. “They’re out to get us; they think we’re hurting stuff” says Dennis Cumbie, who attended the recent protest when the local Chamber of Commerce sold 2,600 pounds of live snakes for $13 a pound. What do fried rattlers taste like? “Pheasant or chicken with lots of bones” says one redneck gourmet.

Fortune: Have you ever revisited the subject of Florida 2000 with Al Gore?
Ralph Nader: Yes. He doesn’t buy that I cost him the election. He just dismisses it, like, ‘What are you talking about? There are too many factors involved.’ He was big that way. He wasn’t petty”

IF YOUR BABY hasn’t been born yet, it might seem a little premature to be holding a scale model of it in your arms. But that’s a blessing—if that’s the right word—offered by 3DBaby, a Georgia-based company that stands ready to make an ultrasound of your unborn foetus, using a 3D printer to create a plastic model. “Using technology” the company’s brochure explains, “we capture a parent’s loving feelings and excitement about the coming birth”. Obviously, the latter in the pregnancy, the more accurate the model whose cost varies up from $200, according to size.

WHILE THEY AWAIT legal rulings from the FAA on what is allowed, some of the people and organizations that operate drones are jumping the gun with the result that the skies are getting out of control. The flying “toys”, readily available from hobby shops and on the Internet, are supposed to weigh less than 55lbs, keep under 400 feet and stay out of busy areas but Bloomberg Businessweek says that Hollywood has discovered the miniscule risks of being caught defying such rules, using drones to replace the need for expensive dollies, booms and stabilization equipment. “The longer the FAA takes to write the safety rules for small unmanned aircraft, the more difficult it will become to regulate this industry” says Ben Gielow, who represents a trade group of drone-makers.

THE WILCOCK WEB: The unlikely solution for Ukraine’s divisiveness would be to split into separate parts, which clearly won’t happen. Ditto for Thailand, Turkey, Egypt, South Sudan, and California. On the other hand, the United Kingdom may not be united for much longer….Foolhardy Bitcoin buyers have never seemed to care that their algorithmic investments go up and down like a yo yo. And who got those lost $millions?…. “Sometimes a fool possesses talent”, commented Francois La Rochefoucauldbut never judgment” …..Small-town cinemas all across America claim they’ll have to shut down when the big studios will only transmit new releases electronically. So why don’t these theaters tap the hundreds of thousands of great films already in existence that are rarely shown--most of them better than those offered today?..... It would cost Canada less than half the $billions to build a refinery beside one of its own ports, than they’re willing to pay to ship their dirty oil across half a dozen US states.….French police say Bordeaux wines are now so valuable that crooks have switched to stealing them in preference to robbing bank vaults…Attempting to counter the smash-'n-grab thieves who walk in and snatch valuable pills such as oxycontin, the Purdue pharmacy chain has begun fitting GPS tracking devices into bottle caps, reports Stores….If Credit Suisse won’t reveal who the US tax-evaders are who’ve been storing billions in their bank, why are they allowed to operate in this country?....Nobody ever asks me a question…. Among the gift boxes offered by a company called ManCrates is the Bacon Crate which includes bacon-flavored salt, popcorn sunflower seeds and peanut brittle…….U.S. congress members should wear uniforms advertising their lobbyist benefactors, like Nascar drivers, suggests Larry Russell….. If the last time you understood the “fabric of space-time” was via Carl Sagan’s television series 30 years ago, you’ll have another chance with Hayden Planetarium director Neil Degraase Tyson’s Cosmos: A Space-Time Odyssey starting on Fox next week….A six-acre site under London’s Northern rail line at Clapham, a wartime bomb shelter, has been turned into an underground farm growing vegetables under special lighting….The Guardian reports that already 8,000 titles about WW1 have been published on the 100th anniversary, and the war lasted for four years so many more may yet arrive…. Brazil air lines will show a film warning visitors to the World Soccer Cub in July to watch out for the half a million child sex workers in the country, many of whom dress to look older than they are….As for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the world’s richest country, there’s already flak about the brutal way they treat their wretched $130-a-week immigrant workers, with 382 Nepalese alone having died from construction accidents in the past couple of years. Arab countries, blustered officials, shouldn’t be judged by European standards…. Scientists are investigating a claim that spoons made from copper or zinc enhance the saltiness of things they hold……The outdated custom of marriage might as well be declared open to anybody--pairs, triples, groups-- who seek to marry each other. And people who operate legal, tax-paying businesses should be allowed to admit or deny anybody they wish. with neither religion nor sex having anything to do with it…..“Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies”—Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)


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