the column of lasting insignificance: Apr. 21, 2012
by John Wilcock
GAMBLING IS A RACKET not a tool of economic development claims Kevin D. Williamson, pointing out that although Las Vegas might live off the high-rollers, the “whales” who bet $$thousands at a time, it’s the low-rollers who are “the new bread and butter” for casinos in the rest of the country. And the rest of the country is starting to mean absolutely everywhere as more and more states get into the act. Nor is it an example of the free market at work. “It is a cartel is most cases and a monopoly in many, all with the blessings of the state”.
PUBLIC ART SHOWS have always been vulnerable to unqualified amateurs with even Montmartre, once the home of Toulouse-Lautrec and Picasso, increasingly confronting tourist shoppers with “ugly landscapes and unrecognizable portraits” according to the London Times. Although would-be exhibitors are required to have a license to exhibit in the plaza behind Sacré Coeur in Paris, the paper declares that “artists of little talent and even fewer scruples” have been gaining admittance by submitting photos of other people’s work to the commission. So beginning this month, all of the 40 candidates for a $300 license to exhibit, will be required to paint an original work in 30 minutes in front of a panel of art experts.
WHAT KIND OF gullible fools buy silver dollars after seeing those full-page ads? A recent one in the Los Angeles Times offered silver dollars for $34.74 per coin, stating that this was “at cost.... completely free of dealer markup”. Really? Who paid for the full page ad? And consider the sales pitch from the advertiser, an outfit called the U.S. Money Reserve, that “experts predict that silver may have enough potential to reach a price as high as $200 an ounce in future”. Hey, that would be some profit if the company kept the dollars for themselves instead of virtually giving them away.
‘DE-SHOPPING’ IS THE TERM retailers use to describe the escalating trend of customers who ‘buy’ something for a short time—such as clothing to wear for a special occasion or a giant TV to watch a football game—and then returning it for a refund. It also includes selling back to a store, goods from which have been shoplifted, and altogether costs retailers a whopping $14.4bn a year according to the National Retail Federation. Guilty customers don’t see their actions as fraudulent, according to some managers, apparently believing that if stores are sufficiently credulous to take goods back, it serves them right. The extent of this kind of robbery is causing a reaction: some stores are reducing the time period in which goods can be returned and insisting on identification checks to deter repeaters.
PRETTY WELL EVERYBODY has an opinion about William Shakespeare and there’s no shortage of appraisal during the British Museum’s exhibition, Shakespeare: Staging the World. Critic Robert Butler describes the bard as the rewrite man that Hollywood can only dream of. “Give him Plutarch’s 80-page essay on Mark Antony and he’ll give you the 3,500-line tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra….Unlike some rewrite men, he doesn’t tidy up the original, he untidies it. He takes plays with happy endings and leaves them ambivalent; he obscures motive and adds seemingly extraneous characters and glancing scenes”. This is the year of The World Shakespeare Festival when all 37 of the master’s plays are being staged in 37 languages at London’s Globe Theater.
THE SUBJECT OF DREAMS is never out of mind because everybody has them, is rarely out of print because it’s of timeless interest. Even magazines such as Popular Science is not immune, two successive issues of that publication recently having carrying stories headed Do Animals Dream? and Is It Possible to Control Our Dreams? The former piece quoted the University of British Columbia’s professor Stanley Coren, who wrote that watching sleeping dogs or cats twitch or paw the air suggests that they’re dreaming of bones to bury or mice to chase. Canines go through the same REM sleep stages that we do, the prof claims, only faster. Over at Harvard, psychology professor Deidre Barrett has been asking students to focus on a problem while falling asleep and then recording their dreams.
THE WILCOCK WEB: With its new law disputing the theory of evolution, Tennessee seems to be at the same point on the stupidity scale as it was when the Scopes trial was held there 86 years ago…. London’s previous mayor, Ken Livingstone, who lost the last election to current mayor Boris Johnson is competing again with him next month. In the Spectator, Andrew Gilligan has called the latter “a serious man pretending to be a buffoon” and the former “a buffoon pretending to be a serious man”….Some high-quality purveyors have been known to charge as much as $60 for olive oil, but a company called Lambda is charging $15,000 for a bottle that comes bearing the customer’s name and details of the specific tree from which the olives were harvested…..… When installation is complete, elevators in the new Shanghai Tower will travel at 59feet per second, whisking passengers up 1,855 feet in less than a minute….. “A critic is a man who knows the way, but can’t drive the car” averred Kenneth Tynan…. Britain’s big brewers are reducing the alcohol strength of their beers from 5% to 4.8%, a tiny reduction that will save them millions in both ingredients and taxes…. It’s reported that death sentences cost billions but that wouldn’t be the case if appeals didn’t drag on for ten or twenty years…. Greed is the only reason why famous stars do commercials……. The University of Illinois’ Jennifer Lewis has developed a ballpoint pen that uses silver-based ink able to conduct electricity along lines drawn on paper…. “Alcohol may lead you nowhere”, mused Molly Ivins, “but it sure is the scenic route”… Researchers have discovered that feeding cows with the orange peel discarded by OJ manufacturers reduces the microbes in cows’ stomachs tenfold….Iceland is contemplating dropping its currency, the krona, and replacing it with the dollar—the Canadian dollar (called a loonie)….And the country’s biggest bookie is taking bets on the likelihood of future earthquakes (Mt Rainier 16-1, Japan’s Unza 4-1)….A Dublin company called Mr Kennedy is selling (for $19,000) a pairs of shoelaces made of 24-karat gold… Engelbert Humperdinck, now 76, will represent the UK in the European Song Contest next month, 42 years after Release Me, his last hit …..A coalition of philosophers, scientists and animal charities known as the Helsinki Group are calling for a bill of rights for dolphins after studies have shown them to possess unusual intelligence….….Ambrose Bierce explained that an acquaintance is “a person whom we know well enough to borrow from, but not well enough to lend to”….… Bottom Line Personal newsletter warns that scammers have moved in on those QR codes at which you point your smartphone cameras, perfecting ways to steal your personal information or directing you to expensive phone traps….. “A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward”----Franklin .D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)
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— 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.
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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
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