In the Act

Longtime allegations that, by cozying up to the police, NBC’s hit show “To Catch a Predator” may have crossed the line and entered the realm of entrapment, says a story in the Columbia Journalism Review. “At a time when reporters are struggling to keep law enforcement from encroaching on newsgathering, Dateline… inviting them in the front door – literally,” accuses the mag, referring to the way online sexual predators are invited to a house to meet a supposed minor, confronted by NBC’s Chris Hansen and then arrested as they leave. “Dateline hasn’t so much covered a story as created one,” writes CJR‘s Douglas McCollam giving examples of some of the Internet conversations in which the victims clearly ”have to be egged along a bit by the decoys.”

License to Make Bills

With 17 new licenses for small casinos and one big one granted last month, Britain has embraced gambling in a big way in the hope of persuading some of the gambling tycoons to move onshore and pay taxes. But the online companies based in such havens as Malta and Gibraltar (where 10% of the population now work in the gambling industry) have not found the idea “particularly tempting,” writes Tim Adams in the Observer. He pointed out that while countries such as France and the U.S. had made online gambling illegal, “Britain has made it a central plank of government thinking.” Last year, the $80 billion Brits spend on gambling (about $1,500 per head) represents a five-fold increase over five years, and “given that there are already one hundred and seventeen casinos in the country, it would be hard to argue that the new licenses are a necessity.”

The Great Wall

“Absolute power corrupts and the Chinese Communist Party has become one of the most corrupt organizations the world has ever witnessed…frozen in a structure I describe as Leninist corporatism – and which is unstable, monumentally inefficient, dependent on the expropriation of peasant savings on a grand scale, colossally unequal and ultimately unsustainable”

– Will Hutton in his just-published book, “The Writing on the Wall” (Little, Brown)

Oh, Have a Kidney

Kidneys are the subject of “a quietly growing global drama,” says the Economist reporting on the way that Iran has become an unlikely model for the way that religious authorities encourage voluntary gifts, thus making kidney transplants relatively accessible. In America, Canada and Britain, waiting time for a transplant is several years, encouraging illicit – and sometimes “slap-dash surgery” – in poorer countries. ”We’re against kidney sales; we discourage them,” says a spokesman for Iran’s Association of Kidney Patients, which nevertheless pays all donors $1,200 (a figure usually topped up by recipients).

To Share is Fair

Animals seem to have an inherent sense of fairness and justice, commented the Wall Street Journal in a story reporting on how primatologists rigged up a food delivery system in which monkeys in adjoining cages were required to jointly pull the tray towards them, allowing only one to get the fruit – which he usually shared, presumably in return for the help. Anthropologist Sarah Brosnan of Emory University trained chimps to trade rocks for rewards, with one offered a grape and another a cucumber. The latter refused to hand over his rock “in return for a stupid vegetable,” says WSJ. “Better to go hungry than to give in to this unfairness.”

The Wilcock Web

The only existing first copy of the Los Angeles Times (December 4, 1881) will be on show at the Huntington Library’s exhibition from February 4 thru June.… Some Brazilians have launched an Internet campaign to boycott the movie “Turistas,” in which a group of young travelers to that country are pursued “by a gang seeking to harvest their organs”…. A new powerful pogo stick, the Flybar 1200, costs $400 and can bounce its rider six feet in the air…. “Being in politics is like being a football coach,” said Eugene McCarthy. “You have to be smart enough to understand the game, and dumb enough to think it’s important”.… Schools could reduce child obesity by introducing chair-free classrooms, says the Sunday Telegraph. Standing up, children burn three times as many calories as they do sitting down, and in this mode they are more active and more engaged…. “True eloquence consists of saying all that should be said – and that only,” said François La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680).

John Wilcock’s column and weekly travel show can be accessed at