the column of lasting insignificance...
—January 18, 2017 by John Wilcock
RECHARGING BATTERIES may become a thing of the past if the gigantic French Bic company proceeds with its design for portable fuel cells. For a company that fills millions of cartridges each day for butane lighters (not to mention 10 million razors and pens) fuel cells—which create a current via chemical reaction—seem a natural development. “An important strategic initiative” is how it’s described by Bic CEO Mario Guevara whose distribution spreads to three million outlets in 160 countries.
THE SWITCH TO corn-based ethanol has been described as “about as smart as switching from heroin to crystal meth" writes Richard Conniff in a Smithsonian piece amusingly titled Who’s Fueling Whom? Referring to an article in Foreign Affairs he points out that growing corn requires large amounts of nitrogen fertilizer, pesticides and fuel as well as making us dependent on a crop vulnerable to drought and disease. Its already well known that making ethanol from corn requires almost as much energy as it produces, in contrast to sugar which is much more efficient. Almost willfully stupid, the US places a tariff on Brazilian ethanol (made from sugar) thus making it uncompetitive. And already the vast subsidies given to corn-growers has doubled the price of corn—causing riots in Mexico. It’s unlikely that Congress, long weaned on bribes from agribusiness, will take a longer view. Ethanol made from cellulose—such as cornstalks instead of the kernel—makes even more sense both economically and ecologically but, says the University of Minnesota’s C. Ford Runge, “corn and soybean interests haven’t spent 30 years paying campaign bills for national politicians to give the game away to grass”.
THE TRENDY PINKBERRY stores, which already have 34 outlets in Los Angeles and New York, plan to move into Las Vegas and London this year. Fast Company suggests that the yoghurt chain’s success is largely due to its image as a design brand with its $500 Philippe Starck chairs. ”It ties into the larger consumer trend of wanting to pay a premium for experiences as opposed to products” fashion editor Orli Sharaby told the magazine.
AN ECHO OF the moonshine days when thousands of illegal stills were operating is the current fad for home-distilling which has been described as “the gourmet-fication of America”. Already, reports the American Distilling Institute, almost 100 craft-sized pot stills are turning out bourbon, gin and rum and the number is growing. It’s not likely the numbers will approach the thousands that were operating right after Prohibition, nor that their weekly output will approach the output of the big companies (Smirnoff, for example, produces 25 million cases a year) but, says one craftsman, “we are part of the pendulum swing in America to artisan food and drinks”.
CRIME RATES HAVE BEEN declining since the Nineties but the prison population continues to rise with 1.5 million in federal prisons at present and an estimated 190,000 to be added within the next few years. James Austin is president of JFA, a criminal research group whose recent report is critical of prison sentences for trivial offenses. A former British Home Secretary Douglas Hurd says ”Prison is a very expensive way of making bad people worse”.
THE FIRST MODELS of the new Tesla electric car go on sale ($98,000 each) next week just as Tesla Motors chairman, Elon Musk, 36, is on Inc. magazine’s cover as “Entrepreneur of the year”. The designation is at least partly because, in addition to the automobile company, Musk is also chairman of Solar City (installer of solar panels) and CEO of Space X, an aero space firm that by 2011 plans to be ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station. South African-born Musk, founder of PayPal which he sold to eBay for $1.5 billion, says: “The U.S. is where great things are possible”.
THE WILCOCK WEB: This month, Washington state will be the first to implant radio-frequency chips in drivers’ licenses in an experimental plan to speed border crossings….Chinese contemporary art is selling for millions of dollars, propelled by increased collecting by adman Charles Saatchi who’s usually ahead of the pack….And there’s a growing demand for Iranian art following the $601,000 sale of Farhad Moshiri’s crystal- studded map of the world…. Considering how un-amusing New Yorker cartoons are, you’ve got to have sympathy for University of Michigan students who are apparently being taught a course in humor by the magazine’s cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff….Good comedy is never frivolous. It’s based on human experience, on human adventure, on human feelings. So it has to be profound” observes Mel Brooks…..A letter in The Week suggests that some of Britain’s rural post offices threatened with closure, should rent space in local churches which are usually empty…. Sue Grafton, whose 20th novel T is for Trespass is just out, says her career began when she didn’t have the money to fight a bitter divorce. She’d lie awake at night “and think of ways to kill him. But I knew I’d get caught so I decided to put it in a book and get paid for it”…. “There are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters” goes the old saw, “but no old, bold mushroom hunters”….. Simple magic tricks such as how to make a quarter disappear and how to bend a spoon are explained along with hundreds of other things at WikiHow….Contradicting the notion that the 14,000-strong Starbucks chain is putting mom-and-pop coffee houses out of business, Taylor Clark’s book about the company says there were 585 coffee houses in the U.S. 20 years ago and now there are 24,000 (10,000 of them Starbucks)…. Technology is the knack of organizing the world so that we don’t have to experience it—Max Frisch (1911-91)
This column first appeared on
National Weed (1974, issue #3)
Over the past year, my combined medical and support costs from a stroke I had in April 2014 have been more than $100,000. If you'd like to help, use the Paypal donate button, or better yet, buy one of my books, and thank you. —JW
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- Complete column archives: 2006 - present
— John Wilcock ... Marijuana, the symbolic center of the underground society
— John Wilcock ... From the Archives: Cuba Diary—Havana, April 2011
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Nineteen (continued)--Travels
— John Wilcock ... From the Archives: When you vote, don’t forget the Republican Paradox
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eighteen--The Quest for Magic: Around Europe by VW bus;
Regarding armchair travelers;
Pisa's Leaning Tower;
The magical Alhambra
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen (continued)--London's Magical library;
In the Cannes
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Seventeen--The Sorcerer's Apprentice
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary (continued)
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Sixteen--JW'S Secret Diary
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen (Part Two--Manhattan phone book, JW'S Secret Diary
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourteen--Party Circuit
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part two, Soho Saturday
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Thirteen--Figaro Diary, part one, Soho Saturday
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Twelve (continued)--Traveling with Nomad; SoHo Confidential
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine (continued)--Rip Torn on stardom… Robert Mitchum's gift; London: Julian Beck’s critique; Emmett Grogan and the Diggers; Greece: The Junta, Charlotte Rampling, and art hero Daniel Spoerri
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Chapter Nine--Bob Dylan in the Village, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, Richard Neville and OZ, What Does London Need Most?, The International Times
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight (continued)--Japan: a working honeymoon;
The Shinjuku Sutra
— John-Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eight--Art Kunkin's LA Free Press; In LA with Hunter Thompson, Lenny Bruce; Visit by Warhol; Hakim Jamal plays god; The San Francisco 'Be-In'; Underground papers meet
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six (continued)--Tom Forcade: smuggler supreme; That pathetic drug czar
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Six—The weed that changed the world--Confessions of a pot smoker
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Four—Into the '60s--London's underground press; Jean-Jacques Lebel burns US flag; Everybody's friend: Jim Haynes; Lenny Bruce and the kitchen tapes
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Three--The Village Voice (continued) --Lasting insignificance: the 3-dot column, ECHO and Larry Adler, Woody Allen plays classic nerd, A sample Village Square column
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Two--Steve Allen derides TV columnist; Marlene Dietrich--glamorous grandmother
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter One--Chatting with Marilyn Monroe
— Manhattan Memories: Introduction.
- column archives: 2006 - present
in the press...
Now on Boing-Boing!
JOHN WILCOCK: Leaving the trial, I realized Kennedy had just been killed.
February 12, 2015
July 13, 2012
Manhattan Memories: an autobiography
(The complete review begins on p.175)
December 1, 2011
On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S
November 28, 2011
The Book Bench - Loose leafs from the New Yorker Books Department
October 22, 2011
An authorized comic book biography of John Wilcock,
This is a book length comic series on John Wilcock. People who enjoy focusing on underground and alternative media are occasionally familiar with John's work, but most often the response is "who's that?" Outside of small press historians and collectors, John remains very unknown. Which makes no sense, the more you learn about him. We're very excited about the opportunity to tell his story. Art for THE STORY OF JOHN WILCOCK is by me and co-conspirator Scott Marshall. Story comes from an extended and ongoing year-long interview with Wilcock, himself. The focus is John's years in New York, roughly 1954-1971.
“The Return of the World's Worst Businessman”
John Wilcock is not what you would call a household name, and yet, he has had a measurable impact on art, journalism and culture-at-large over the last century. He co-founded Interview with Andy Warhol. He also was one of the co-founders of The Village Voice. He has written for countless print and online publications: Frommer’s, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Mail, The East Village Other, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Ojai Orange, etc. So why, one feels inclined to ask, is he relatively unknown? The answer seems simple: Wilcock has called himself “the world’s worst businessman.” This self-description makes sense because listening to him one hears the voice of a writer and a traveler and an enthusiast, not at all the voice of a businessman. In an age when it seems like everyone is all about business—art as a business, fashion as a business, everything as a business—it is refreshing to hear someone self-identify as “the world’s worst businessman.” It seems less like he has failed as a businessman and more like he has refused to become one. In addition to all his other accomplishments,...
Monday, November 15, 2010
A Reader Comment from the recent New York Times Frugal Traveler post
Not only did John Wilcock shake up staid publishing in the USA, from the Village Voice to the East Village Other, his influence extended to several continents, including Australia & the UK, where - in his mild mannered way - he pushed the boundaries of image and speech. The counter culture was nothing but a dull puddle, until John kicked out the jams and ignited the Underground Press, which attracted absurd prosecutions, that of course boosted circulations. An unsung hero of the sixties,
It was the first handwritten letter I’d received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I’d never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my São Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.
By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.
"A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego."