the column of lasting insignificance: Feb. 18, 2012
by John Wilcock
THE IDEA OF INVISIBILITY has intrigued man for generations, just as the dream that one day he might be able to fly. And if one fantasy could be accomplished, why not the other? There’s been no shortage of writings about this vision over the years, but oddly enough almost nothing about experiments that might have taken place to achieve it. Most of the books, such as H.G. Wells’ famous The Invisible Man (a banal cops ’n robbers tale) are imaginative works of fiction, the best of which Harry F. Saint’s Memoirs of an Invisible Man concentrated mostly on the difficulties of actually being invisible (how would you ride a bus? Your presence would cause panic). Then there are the authors whose use the word as a
metaphor, such as the music album by Genesis or Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Invisible Man concerning the way society demeans Blacks.
In this century the word has been sadly diminished in its misuse by the military
which delights in calling the stealth bomber, notably the B2, “invisible” when all they mean is that it can’t be detected by radar. Now the Air Force has budgeted $3.7bn for a successor which, says Popular Science, reduces radar reflection by minimizing hard edges”. And even better by its iron-heavy, radar-absorbing paint.
ONLY THE IDIOTS of the Bush administration thought it was a good idea to spend $750 million building an embassy in Baghdad sprawling over 104 acres (almost the size of Vatican City) and costing $6bn a year to maintain. Staffed by 16,000, including 2,000 diplomats, it can be compared with the more relevant Turkish embassy which has 55 personnel including half a dozen diplomats. Now even the State Department has agreed it should be cut back, especially as it was built without Iraq’s agreement in the first place. Of course nobody ever gets blamed for these acts of near-criminal idiocy. In fact, there are probably officials in charge right now who yearn to repeat the folly in Afghanistan.
THE EARLIEST AGE AT which somebody committed his first crime and the more recent his last are better indicators of the chance of another offense than any other predictors according to Richard Berk, a professor working with the Pennsylvania Board of Probation. The state’s prison system works with 10,000 inmates every year and naturally seeks to avoid making the kind of mistakes over parole that can result in further crimes. One prisoner who killed four people after being released jibed: “Blame the parole board” after he was recaptured. Berk, a statistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, devised his algorithm about how to predict future crimes by analyzing 100,000 earlier cases and, according to the Atlantic, “his expertise is being sought at nearly every stage of the criminal justice process”.
THE STANDARD SPEED at which movies are projected is 24 frames per second (fps), “but if you really want to blow an audience’s mind” says Wired, “increase your frame rate”. Doubling the fps, results in “startling clarity and emotional impact” the mag says, explaining that the technique has been known for decades but any time a producer has wanted to try it, studios and theaters have snubbed “the pricey Showcam gear”. But speedier fps’ time might have finally arrived with Peter Jackson shooting The Hobbit in 3-D at 48fps and James Cameron promising Avatar sequels at 60fps.
SECRET RECIPES are more of a promotion tool than an actuality, seeing that it’s obvious that with today’s advanced scientific skills it wouldn’t take researchers long to analyze the ‘secret’ of anything including the famous Coca Cola recipe which the company moved—with exaggerated hype from its Atlanta bank to a new tourist attraction. There, the Vault of the Secret Formula, says Stores magazine, contains a “4D theater” where visitors can follow the trail of an eccentric scientist seeking to solve the mystery. Other ‘secrets’ the magazine story mentions are KFC’s original recipe of 11 herbs and spices kept in a vault at its Louisville KT, headquarters, and the so-called “special sauce” for McDonald’s Big Mac.
THE DISTINCTIVE SMELL of libraries comes from the decay of cellulose—lignite—from which the paper in books have been made since papermakers stopped using ground wood pulp in place of cotton or linen. Popular Science explains that acidic lignite breaks down over time making paper very brittle, and that the Library of Congress treats 25,000 books a year with magnesium oxide which slows decay,
THE WILCOCK WEB: Whether Scotland can detach itself from Britain and become a separate country, may depend on different referendums. The Brits think everybody should vote but Scots want it decided by its own citizens ...Now that Scotland Yard has arrested more of Rupert Murdoch's journalists from the Sun in the hacking scandal, hopefully they're closing in on its "red top" tabloid rival, the Mirror, whose former editor, the smarmy Piers Morgan, makes the unlikely claim that nothing like that happened while he was there... ...General Petraeus got out (and into a better job, running the C IA) just in time, before the lies about his so-called “progress” in Afghanistan began to emerge….Gingrich and Romney are calling each other liars; in a few months, both will pretend that they weren’t..….As for Santorum, if he ends up the GOP candidate, Obama will wipe him out….Silence is sometimes the best answer… Millions of Catholic women use contraceptives yet hypocritically support a church that wants to illegally deny them to others….As most recipients eventually discover, it saves time and energy to toss away unopened those repeated solicitations from Publishers Clearing House which for most are unlikely to result in prizes….”Of all the evil spirits abroad in the world” declares James A Froude, “insincerity is the most dangerous”…. A stationery bicycle, that automatically inclines and declines to mimic the topography of the Tour de France route, costs $1,300 from ProForm…. Those “printing” machines that can clone objects from plastic in three dimensions have been joined by one invented by McGill University’s Pieter Sijpkes which can create ice sculptures from successive thin layers of frozen water ….….Hey, all you rich bitches paying $2,575 for your second Hermes bag, how about springing ten bucks to take a homeless person to lunch?....Trader Joe’s celebrates the 10th anniversary of offering ‘two-buck Chuck’ (Charles Shaw’s $1.99 wine) during which time it claims to have sold 600 million bottles….Alabama took 23-pages to advertise the state in Fortune…. Railways in Indonesia are hanging concrete balls high above the tracks to discourager roof surfers who travel atop the carriages… Earmarks may have been banned, says the New York Times, but pols are just resubmitting them, calling them something else… An optimist is a guy that has never had much experience. ....A British outfit, the Centre for Retail Research, reports that employee theft and customer theft are neck and neck at stores it has checked….”It’s discouraging to think of how many people are shocked by honesty, and how few by deceit” mused Noel Coward…. More and more mobile shops are popping up that can shift to different places to catch moving foot traffic such as companies that sell at biker destinations…….How disappointingly sad that Haiti’s brand-new president, Michel Martelly, should shirk the chance of a new, hopeful beginning, instead giving a free pass to his old friends in the murderous Duvalier regime….….Tibetans will really get attention to their cause when they set a few Chinese on fire….A new Disneyland-type park outside Paris promises to include “a recreation of the guillotining of King Louis XVI in 1793”…. …. Republicans charge that food stamp recipients should get jobs instead. Makes you wonder what world these GOP dopes are living in…. “Powerful indeed, is the empire of habit”—Publilius Syrus (1st c. BC)
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– Coming to New York: February 28, 2012
- Complete column archives: 2006 - present
— From the archives... The religion of Violence & Statistics, otherwise known as college football; WPA II; Would it be called Indiastan or Pakindia?; Who you Gonna call? Crime Predictors; Being a Bank means you never having to say you're sorry; Oil vs. Democracy, and of course, the Wilcock Web...
— From the archives... The Mother of All Family Feuds, Otaku Means Geek in Japanese, Affirmative Action or 'It all depends on who you know', The Moonies are packin', and of course, the Wilcock Web......
— Dear Reader,
— Dear Readers...
— 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, donâ€™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 Sixâ€”The weed that changed the world--Confessions of a pot smoker
— Manhattan Memories: Chapter Fourâ€”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, ECHOÂ 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
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.
by John Wilcock
"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."
-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner
The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol