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the column of lasting insignificance: April 5, 2014
by John Wilcock

THE KESSLER SYNDROME is the latest tag for the ongoing problems in space, in particular the increasing number of collisions predicted unless something is done to deal with the thousands of chunks of debris that are floating around without any curbs. But some things are being done, or at least imagined, notably the idea that if these rogue missiles can be slowed down enough, their altitude will drop and they’ll eventually burn up as they enter the earth’s atmosphere. Sean Shepherd of Eastern New Mexico University envisions a giant sticky ball that will become encrusted with loose fragments, finally sinking of its own weight, and Japan’s space agency JAXA plans to test a half-mile long fishing net, a tangle of electrified aluminum and steel wires, which will gather loose bits and fashion in similar fashion. In an illustrated feature titled Spring Cleaning in Space, the BBC’s Focus magazine points to a proposal by the University of Surrey that future satellites be equipped with a 5m x 5m sail that extends itself at the end of a mission and pulls the space vehicle back to earth.

THAT OVERSEXED FRENCHMAN Dominique Strauss-Kahn who got away with raping the chambermaid in a New York Hotel, returns to the scene in the April Harper’s where Ken Kalfus fictionalizes what he imagines might have been a letter to his victim. And although a product of Kalfus’ imagination, the tale is credibly all there in all its seedy glory, from the pompous boasting of the author’s worldwide renown and his tireless quest for female victims, to the moment when his “throbbing, searching, yearning soulless sixty-two-year-old over-Viagraed dick” found its target (for 20 seconds) in the mouth of an unwilling housekeeper.
    Kalfus, 60, three of whose novels have been nominated as notable books of the year by the New York Times once told an interviewer his biggest influence had been Jorge Luis Borges whose stories had given him confidence that the things he cared about—“the riddles of existence, the ephemerality of dreams, combinations and permutations of words and lives, books written and not written, read and not read—were in fact worth caring about”.

MUST HAVE BEEN a lonely job to find yourself the only fighter trying to hold back the wave of consolidations that have begun to define Big Media. But that’s the position that former FCC commissioner Michael J. Copps found himself in when he was the sole vote against the purchase by Comcast of NBC-Universal. “Too much, too big, too powerful, too lacking in benefits for American consumers and citizens” was his unsuccessful protest at the time, and now—no longer a commissioner—he is alarmed by the pending further acquisition by Comcast of Time-Warner. Which would lead to one company controlling two-thirds of the market (Customers have rated both as the most disliked among all cable companies). “The agency” he muses sadly, “seldom met an industry transaction it didn’t approve”, and what he recalls about his tenure—in an open letter to journalists in the Columbia Journalism Review—was his front seat “watching government policy undermine your profession and our democracy”.
    Not every transaction is bad, he writes, but by merging stations and reporting the same news by the same reporters, the conglomerates, instead of expanding news, “cut the muscle out of deep-dive reporting” ..…. responding “more to quarterly reports than to the information needs of citizens”. He also bemoans what he regards as the FCC’s reluctance to guarantee a truly open internet which he hoped would be strengthened with Barack Obama’s presidency. But, he adds, “the new administration was reluctant to get into a bare-knuckle fight with powerful industries (avoiding) tough rules that would cause a fight to the finish with the corporate titans”.

WEARING A TIE certainly doesn’t have the cachet it used to. “For most of my working life the primary risk was that if you didn’t wear a tie you might appear underdressed” writes Fortune’s managing editor Andy Serwer. “Now the bigger risk is that if you do wear a tie you might appear overdressed. In other words, a tie is no longer benign, it’s a negative”. Not only do ties serve no function, he declares, they make life more difficult and whereas tie sales peaked at 1.8bn, today they’re less than half of that. In creative fields, opines Lauren A. Rothman, author of Style Bible: What to Wear to Work, “no one wears them except as a fashion accessory”.

“Since quantum entanglement enables us to know both the spontaneous position and velocity of sub-atomic particles, doesn’t that validate the uncertainty principle?”
–Question from a reader in the April Discover

THE WORLD’S RICHEST MAN, Bill Gates, 58, with a fortune that’s now more than $76bn, was interviewed by Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell who said that he might also be the most optimistic.

ON INCOME INEQUALITY: When tax rates are below, say, 50percent I believe there often is room for additional taxation. And I’ve been very upfront on the need to increase estate taxes….You can’t have a rigid view that all new taxes are evil. Yes, they have negative effects, but I’m like (Paul) Krugman in that if you expect the state to do these things, they are going to cost money”.

ON MARK ZUCKERBERG: We’re both Harvard dropouts, we both had strong, stubborn views of what software could do. I give him more credit for shaping the interface of his product. He’s more of a product manager than I was. I’m more of a coder, down in the bowels and the architecture, than he is. But you know that’s not a major difference. I start with architecture and Mark starts with products, and Steve Jobs started with aesthetics.

ON IMMIGRATION: Yes, the US immigration laws are bad—really really bad. I’d say treatment of immigrants is one of the greatest injustices done in our government’s name. Well, our bad education system might top it—but immigration is pretty insane. You’ve got 12 million people living in fear of arbitrary things that might happen to them.

ON INNOVATION Before 1700, everybody was poor as hell. Life was short and brutish…But then we started inventing—electricity, steam engines, microprocessors, understanding genetics and medicine and things like that. Stability and education are important—I’m not taking anything away from that—but innovation is the real driver of progress.

WHAT THE NRA doesn’t want you to know is that public health research about gun ownership shows that it may be more likely to lead to suicide or homicide than self-defense. So claims Bloomberg Businessweek, which explains that the reason why the NRA is “panicked” about the possibility of Dr. Vivek Murphy’s elevation to the post of Surgeon General is the likelihood of more research about gun ownership. “What if professional, peer-reviewed science exposes most of the gun grips’ claims as nonsense? Over the past two decades the NRA has made it abundantly clear that it views quality research as a threat to its agenda”.

THE WILCOCK WEB: The billion dollars that Congress is offering the Ukraine will presumably go soon enough to Russia as it jacks up its energy prices for its beleaguered neighbor…. The Saturday Evening Post re-purposed one of its 1960 Norman Rockwell covers by replacing the figures in a room with the cast of AMC’s Mad Men which returns to television next week…. Analyzing your online activity to guess what you’ll buy next, Amazon may start shipping these items to a warehouse near you, hoping to deliver your order faster, says Focus….. A religious “law” is an oxymoron, whatever the religion, and if it prohibits a divorced woman from getting married again she should defiantly use both common sense and courage to ignore it….All the big greedy auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christies are paying lobbyists millions to oppose a proposed law which would allow artists to get a share when their pictures are resold….The “patent trolls” who have been snapping up patents just so they can sue companies who use them, are being countered by John Amster’s company RPX which has already spent $500m getting to the patents first….Unbeaten in his last 45 fights, welterweight Floyd Mayweather, 37, with ten homes, 17 cars and 1,000 pairs of shoes, fights Argentinian Marcos Maidana, 31 at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand next month….. Coca Cola says the billions it will be paying to its executives is for being the “custodians of the secret formula” as if that legendary formula couldn’t be cracked by any research scientist at any time….…Determined to get more aficionados for hummus, Pepsico has six colorful trucks touring the country handing out thousands of free samples of its Sabra brand every day claiming that 70% of recipients buy some within a few weeks afterwards….Beard transplants, costing thousands of dollars, are in vogue in New York and London says The Week, for men who can’t grow their own…. Spurred by Obama’s comments, Extra concludes that not all

Barack and the Weed Talk

pundits prefer pot to alcohol…Embedded in jeans by Brandon Svarc, are microcapsules of raspberry or mint flavor which, when scratched and sniffed, make grubby pants smell like new….“Any damn fool can make something complex” said Peter Seeger, “it take a genius to make something simple”…To take a trip to Cuba, email cuba@globaljusticecenter.org for details….For the cost of a $3,000 membership, ambitious businessmen who seek to meet affluent investors can join the networking tool Relationship Science…..Bearing the female equivalent of ‘knight’, Britain’s Dame Judi Dench says: “It’s lovely to be a dame but it doesn’t actually make anything different. I don’t have to go about curtsying or waving to crowds—nothing like that”…You’ll quickly tire of hearing the words Oculus Rift….”Observe people when they are angry, for it is then that their true nature is revealed”—The Zohar


National Weed (1974, issue #3)

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Marijuana—The Weed That Changed the World

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