the column of lasting insignificance: December 9, 2017
by John Wilcock

From the archives...

(this column first appeared six years ago this week.)

NEWS FLASH (from Phil Proctor)
The Supreme Court has ruled that there cannot be a Nativity Scene in the United States’ Capital this Christmas season. This isn’t for any religious reason. They simply have been unable to find three Wise Men in the Nation’s Capitol. A search for a virgin continues. There was no problem, however, finding enough asses to fill the stable.

PERHAPS THE LUCKIEST thing about not being born in this country is never having been inducted into the religion of Violence&Statistics, otherwise known as college football. Football? It’s a silly title to begin with seeing how little the feet are involved. It should be called Body-Banging or Try-to-Run. There is something called football, a subtly skillful game predominating in the rest of the world where the players don’t go into a huddle every few seconds and un-helmeted heads are used to propel the ball and not to batter other players.
    “You ever been in a car crash?” asks former All-Pro Kris Jenkins. “Football is like that but ten times worse. I got my first NFL concussion against Green Bay, my rookie year…I’ve had more than 10, including college and the pros…The brain fog? It still hasn’t stopped. It feels like you’re punch’s like you knock yourself stupid”. Jenkins, 32, played for ten years with the Carolina Panthers until injuries forced his retirement, and he recently reminisced to the New York Times about the reality of the game. “I’ve had my ankles twisted. I’ve been bit. I’ve done stuff. I’ve tried to break guys’ elbows, pinching people, twisting ankles, trying to bend up their arms, pop an elbow out. Why? I had to fight back…We consider football a gladiator sport because we understand you’re going to get hurt. You’re putting your life on the line”.
    Americans are a violent people and maybe this is where it all begins. “There aren’t too many places” ponders the onetime 360lb Super Bowl veteran, “that a 400lb guy with an attitude can go and beat the crap out of somebody. We love it. We love measuring ourselves in it”.
    An infantile passion for stats—rushing, passing, throwing, running—measures every part of American football, but here are some other statistics: Since 1890 when the U.S. massacred 300 Lahota Indians at Wounded Knee, the country has instigated 140 military interventions, brutally suppressing strikes; engineering CIA coups to overthrow governments in Iran, Guatemala and Cuba; interfering in Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Haiti and the Dominican Republic to serve the corporate interests of a land with as many guns as people. Violence? In this country, it’s taught in school.

CREATING NEW JOBS was a priority for government administrators in the 1930’s recession when the Civil Works Administration spent millions putting people to work, shoveling snow, fixing roads, digging ditches and so on. So why can’t something similar happen today? asks Thomas Frank in Harper’s. “If the economic stimulus moneys were spent directly hiring individuals” says Kevin Hassett of the American Enterprise Institute “they would have created 21 million jobs”. There have been attempts to promote some sort of WPA-type program through which local governments could offer jobs, (such as sending unemployed construction workers to repair “bedraggled school buildings”) but such schemes have always been rejected by the millionaires of the do-nothing Congress. Republicans who claim that lower taxes are what create jobs are blocking action, but Frank says “there’s something profoundly attractive about the idea that we can control our own economic fate, rather than waiting upon the whim of those self-designated job creators”.

AN UNTHINKABLE IDEA—the merging of India and Pakistan into a single country—is gaining some traction with a story in the weekly Standard suggesting that it might be the solution to “a problem like Pakistan”. The partition in 1947 of what had formerly been a British colony resulted initially in chaos and thousands of deaths and, even physically separated, the animosity between Hindus and Muslims has never abated. “In retrospect” says the mag, “splitting British India into East and West Pakistan and India may have been one of the 20th century’s greatest geostrategic errors…a reunited India would give Pakistani modernizers strategic depth: economically, demographically, socially and geographically”. But although such a reunion would have value, say Pakistani intellectuals, such a “solution” would probably take a generation.

PREDICTING WHERE CRIMES will take place sounds like a pipe dream but it’s a technique getting attention from several police departments. Among them Richmond, VA., Chicago and Memphis. Popular Science examines this phenomenon in Santa Cruz, CA. where a 30-year-old mathematician, George Mohler, has produced software simulating the algorithm used by seismologists to predict earthquakes. Algorithm is a word that pops up often in this sort of story. “We use algorithms every day” explains Webopedia. “For example, a recipe for baking a cake is an algorithm”. In other words, Mohler is copying the kind of formula which, surprisingly, is replicated in all kinds of ways such as changes in the weather and consumer patterns. “Criminals are just another type of consumer” says psychologist Colleen Mc Cue, co-author of a book examining what could be learned by studying Amazon and Walmart’s customers. In the case of Santa Cruz, parts of the city where the most crimes had taken place were defined as “hotspots” and patrolled on a regular basis as being the most likely scenes of future crimes. (Which, unsurprisingly, turned out to be the case). According to PS, McCue says that someday police officers “will be as adept at predicting what branch a bank robber will hold up next as Netflix and Amazon are at predicting what movie or book a customer will like”. Good luck with that.

NEVER HAVING TO SAY they’re sorry is another example of how there’s one law for banks and another for the rest of us. The Security Exchange Commission’s fraud cases against such as Citibank, J.P. Morgan Chase and Bank of America have been settled with comparatively minuscule fines without them having to admit guilt. (They’re worried they might get justifiably sued by their investors if they’re found to have done anything wrong.) You might try this gambit next time you’re in court. And isn’t it amusing that a firm is found to have “mislaid” more than a billion dollars but the stories keep emphasizing how they “haven’t been accused” of anything.

OIL VS DEMOCRACY really is a fact of life and in a much more substantial way than most people realize. Since the formation of OPEC and the subsequent oil embargo and escalation of oil prices in the 1970s “no country has ever successfully gone from dictatorship to democracy” says Harper’s. The more oil there is, the less likely citizens will be free. Oil wealth” the mag says “leads to authoritarianism. economic instability, corruption and violent conflict’. A forthcoming book. The Oil Curse: How Petroleum Wealth Shapes the Development of Nations by Michael L. Ross, explains that the oil wealth allows autocrats to stay in power by buying off their citizens with benefits, no taxes; to lavishly fund armed forces to maintain control and to keep secret where all the money goes and who gets it. “The oil curse will last only as long as the world buys huge quantities of oil”. And that’s not going to change very soon.

THE WILCOCK WEB: Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins says nothing can stop Iran from making a nuclear bomb so let them have it. “Nuclear dissemination, though deplorable, is overhyped”: other countries have it and haven’t used it….When all the London tabloids, led by Rupert Murdoch’s Sun, were hacking into people’s telephones, Piers Moron claims his Daily Mirror was an innocent exception…. The use of pain-killers has reached “epidemic levels” warns the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that these legal drugs kill more people than heroin and cocaine combined….One-third of all US college graduates hold jobs for which their expensive degrees are unnecessary reports the National Review and America is “probably the only nation with nearly 18,000 parking attendants and 300,000 restaurant waiters and waitresses with bachelor degrees”….. A letter in the Nation reminded readers that it was Joe Biden, while chairing the Senate Judicial Committee who voted Clarence (Uncle Tom) Thomas to be Supremo…. Mattel maintains that its new tattooed Barbie is for adult collectors…. Once you've seen one shopping center, you've seen a mall…. ….Imagine the international outrage when a Russian shuttle gets stuck in space with American astronauts aboard… Branko Crnigorac, a Serbian who choked while eating a bicycle pedal, was taken to hospital where doctors discovered hundreds of forks, light bulbs and vinyl records in his stomach…..Spanish police have arrested a drug gang which was smuggling cocaine into the country shaped and styled to look like Manolo Blahnik shoes ….….”Watching the Eurozone countries trying to resolve their debt crisis” opines John Lichfield, “has been like watching 17 people wearing oven gloves manipulating a Rubiks cube”… specializes in promoting employers who can offer jobs by the hour….…. Europe’s greediest airline, Ryanair, is paying baggage handlers to spot people with overweight baggage who can then be charged $60…... Knitters throughout the world Penguins Sweaters responded to a New Zealand appeal for tiny sweaters to keep penguins caught in an oil spill warm until their feathers could be scrubbed clean…. Wisconsin has joined the growing list of states to slap extra taxes on those stores where customers have been allowed to buy tobacco and roll their own cigarettes instead of buying regular packs…, An interesting way to see Cuba is on one of this year’s two trips (April & October) organized by the socially-conscious group with which I traveled last year. Information from….In Seattle, Amazon has been sending their merchandise to be placed in lockers at 7-11 stores, e-mailing customers a PIN number and barcode….Eventually people will get tired of Groupon—currently overvalued at $12bn….Illinois’ Oberweis Dairy in North Aurora still delivers milk in glass bottles to customers’ doorsteps…….The definition of a will? It's a dead give away…..“The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.” -- Albert Einstein ( 1879-1955)


(this column first appeared six years ago this week.)

National Weed (1974, issue #3)


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