The Guardian

The Guardian November 7, 2001


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Business opportunities

You have to admire the enterprise of the free enterprise system. Well, 
perhaps admire is the wrong word, but you must admit it's enterprising.

Take the New York Mafia. (And yes, they are definitely part of the free 
enterprise system  you could almost say they epitomise it.) They only 
pilfered a whopping 250 tons of steel girders from the ruins of the World 
Trade Centre.

The steel girders and other rubble from the WTC site are being trucked to 
an FBI-controlled dump on Staten Island where they are meticulously sifted 
for scraps of clothing and human remains.

Given the involvement of the Mafia in the trucking and scrap business, it 
is hardly surprising that a few truck loads went missing en route. The New 
York police retrieved the nicked girders from three mob-controlled scrap 
yards, one in Long Island and two in New Jersey. Apparently the 
enterprising "scrap merchants" thought no one would notice that the trucks 
had not arrived.

* * *
The CIA the graduate's friend Still on the subject of the aftermath of September 11: the CIA has become popular again on US university campuses as a prospective employer. Its latest recruitment campaign, which seeks "people with an international background, especially those who have studied the Middle East or speak its languages", is reportedly attracting twice as many recruits as the spy agency got from US universities last year. While the surge in patriotism is undoubtedly one factor, the dearth of jobs in the private sector as the economic downturn deepens could be another. The CIA of course is having its budget expanded, courtesy of the "terrorist threat".
* * *
Back in the trenches Budget cuts, lack of housing and the ballooning number of people in developed capitalist countries forced to live on the streets, have combined to bring about the return of the World War I disease trench fever. One homeless person has died of it in London already, others are in hospital. Rarely seen in Western Europe since the ending in 1918 of the trench warfare that gave the disease its popular name, trench fever is caused by bacteria that are carried by body lice. It is passed on by sharing bedding and clothes. The disease is readily treatable by antibiotics, but of course the homeless have little if any access to primary health care. Only when they collapse from complications such as heart valve infection do they receive medical attention. Health experts in Britain fear the disease may now be rife among homeless people "sleeping rough". Trench fever joins that other disease of poverty making a comeback, TB.
* * *
Marie Antoinette, phone home A certain Tony Cornell of the Society for Psychical Research (they go around trying to find ghosts) reports that ghost sightings in Britain have declined sharply in the last 15 years. Before you leap to the conclusion that this signifies a welcome growth in common sense, Mr Cornell links the decline to the introduction of mobile phones. He says that after being "consistent for centuries", ghost sightings in all European countries have declined since the introduction of mobile phones. Apparently, so the argument goes, the intense electromagnetic fields and microwave radiation of mobile phones and their networks are "drowning out" the "unusual electrical activity" that supposedly is involved in "paranormal events". There are actually scientists in Britain who spend their valuable time and even more valuable research funds investigating these "paranormal events". They are of the same ilk as the US scientists who go about investigating alien abductions. I wonder whether alien abductions or sightings of Elvis or Bigfoot have suffered a similar decline since the introduction of the mobile phone? And what would it signify apart from co-incidence? The continued encouragement of this kind of silliness is no accident of course. The ruling class is delighted to have people thinking the world is a weird and unknowable place, subject to "paranormal" influences. That is why every paper and magazine they produce that is aimed at the general public includes a horoscope. Our fate is not man-made, they say, it's "in the stars". There's nothing you can do about it, so don't bother trying.
* * *
The power of the Force grows Another development in Britain might be a positive counter to the obscurantism of the ghost-chasers: in the census earlier this year, thousands of people listed their religion as "The Force", the mystical power at the centre of the religion of the Jedi Knights in the "Star Wars films. If this was done as a way of telling the authorities to keep their nose out of people's personal beliefs, then it was an unusually popular way. So many people put it down as their religion thousands, in fact that it is now officially recognised by the National Office of Statistics as one of the country's religions.
* * *
Sign of the times The New Worker reports that the Girl Scouts of America have introduced a new badge that the girls can aspire to earn through study, diligence and hard work: stress management. Only in the USA, as they say.

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