The world’s biggest retailer, Wal-Mart, is a big hit in America, but it isn’t doing so well abroad. It has already pulled out of Germany and South Korea this year and as shopping habits have been changing in Britain, Wal-Mart’s subsidiary, Asda, is losing market share there. Not only are low prices less of a consideration these days with British shoppers, but a recent survey revealed that whereas a trolley of 100 common items bought at the market leader, Tesco, would cost $330.26, the same batch from Asda saved a mere $1.40. The Economist says Asda missed the boat in two other ways: the rise of the celebrity chef prompting more shoppers to seek out top quality, and the escalating demand for demand organic foods, which the Wal-Mart clone ignored until recently.

Newsbreaking Wind

The subject of flatulence is not one that is widely discussed in respectable publications, so it was something of a surprise to find the October issue of the Saturday Evening Post drawing attention to its current prominence. “By any name – paint-peeler, pocket thunder, fart or foghorn,” the magazine mused, “gas gets lots of culture play.” The Post recommended attention to the website www.trafon.com (try it backwards) whose owner, Bill Downs, it described as “an old fart,” and whose expressed aim is to “create awareness.”

The Communist Collapse

It’s been a long time since the Communist ideal of equality had any validity, if ever. In a recent piece in the Nation, Peter Kwong revealed that 90% of China’s 20,000 richest people are related to senior government or communist party officials, “who used their positions to pass laws transforming state-owned industries into stockholding companies and then appointed family members as managers.” For now, Kwong adds, “under one-party rule, ordinary Chinese can only wait for the current ‘dynasty’ to eventually collapse.”

Superman’s Hiatus

Where was Superman when we needed him on 9/11? asks Ziauddin Sardar in the New Statesman. “Answer: he was on holiday…. A common device in American comics, his self-imposed exile provides justification for his inaction. Superman heroes must triumph in the end. They cannot be involved in events that put them on the losing side.”

‘Predator Panic’

Sex offenders are a real threat and commit horrific crimes, Benjamin Radford agrees, but we’re in the midst of what he terms “predator panic,” fueled by the news media, which exaggerate the size of the problem and misrepresent the source. “The vast majority of crimes against children are committed not by released sex offenders – three to five percent in a Justice Department survey – but by the victim’s own family, church clergy and family friends,” he writes in the Skeptical Inquirer.

The Great Sucking Sound

Why is Washington so generous to Alaska? asks the Economist pointing out that politics in the state revolves around two issues: “how to suck more cash out of Washington and more fossil fuels out of the ground.” America’s “romantic view of pioneers” coupled with the fact that the federal government owns 60% of Alaska’s land and its support for 22,000 troops there, is a partial explanation, the mag says. Another is that the state’s pols are “adept” at working Washington.

The Wilcock Web

Two years after the Pollock-Krasner Foundation and Ellen G. Landau, an expert on the works of Jackson Pollock, disagreed on the validity of 32 of the late artist’s works, the dispute about their authenticity is still ongoing…. “Good judgment comes from experience,” said author A.A. Milne, “and experience – well that comes from poor judgment”…. The flamboyant boss of London’s Harrods is said to have announced that he plans to be mummified when he dies and installed as the hour hand on a gigantic clock atop the department store’s roof…. Fidel Castro is so paranoid about the threat of assassination, says The Week, that he has his underwear burnt rather than send it to the laundry where it could be contaminated with chemicals…. “People are never more dangerous than when they have nothing left to believe in except God,” averred J.G. Ballard…. Visitors to the new Eco-Shark center at Playas del Coco on Costa Rica’s Gold Coast are invited to swim in a tank full of sharks that one of the center’s guides describes as “a fairly placid lot”…. The love of liberty is the love of others; the love of power is the love of ourselves” – William Hazlitt (1778-1830).

John Wilcock’s weekly column can be read at www.ojaiorange.com