the column of lasting insignificance: May 12, 2012
by John Wilcock
IF YOU DON’T COUNT free health benefits and all the extras that members of Congress get, they are obliged to struggle along with a mere $174,000 salary each year. Which makes their opposition to raising the minimum wage of $15,080 per year an absolute disgrace. These pampered pols are outraged at the idea that those whom they see as the great unwashed should be paid more than $7.25 per hour. President Obama promised to increase it to $9.50 per hour but of course he hasn’t. “He never really tried” writes Andrew Cockburn in the Nation, “skittish with fear that he’d be nailed as an inflationeer by the Big Business lobbies, and their creatures in Congress”. Creatures! That’s a good word. “One of the lower animals” is one definition from Webster’s.
TWO SCENARIOS LOOM when the US leaves Afghanistan writes Thomas Barfield in Current History. In the positive one, Afghanistan’s neighbors “push for peace and stability in their own self-interest”. But in the gloomier alternative, says the professor—author of a cultural and political history of the country—it becomes the background for a new proxy war between India and Pakistan. Ah, if only the US had supported the Soviets when they were trying to control the mujahideen instead of which we gave them the arms with which they’ve been killing us ever since.
IF YOU HAD to choose between devout priests who diddle little boys and charitable nuns who devote their lives to helping the poor and friendless, you’d think it would be no contest. But not for the Vatican which defends (or hides) the former and castigates and punishes the latter. “How can the church hierarchy be more offended by the nuns’ impassioned advocacy for the poor than by the priests’ sordid pedophilia?” asks Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. “And how can so many Catholics still approve of and remain in a church that so clearly doesn’t deserve respect?” The Freedom from Religion Foundation has been asking that same question urging Catholics to “Please, exit en mass” and to “free yourself from incense-fogged ritual, from ideas uttered long ago by ignorant men, from blind obedience to an illusory religious authority”. For non-Catholics it’s hard to understand how people who profess to have faith apparently believe that it will disappear unless they prostrate themselves in obeisance to an opulent (non-tax paying) medieval organization. “If you look at who has more closely emulated Jesus’ life, Pope Benedict or your average nun” writes columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, “it’s the nuns, hands down”. [P.S. Supremo John Roberts and four of his political pals are Catholics and that’s one of our major problems].
THE CHEAPEST CIGARETTES in U.S. corner stores are Chinese. They cost at least a buck and a half a pack less than familiar names. One brand is Golden Deer, identified on the pack as: Manufactured under license Shanghai Tobacco Group Made in USA. The Shanghai Tobacco Group turns out to be a huge $8bn corporation embracing a score of tobacco companies selling their wares internationally through 30,000 outlets. The Group was China’s biggest taxpayer last year with net profits of $2.4bn but paid a total of nearly $7bn in taxes—more than 7% of the country’s entire tax revenue.
PLENTY OF PENNIES would still exist, in fact billions of them would still circulate even if they stopped minting them. It’s been well known for years that they cost more to make than they’re worth (same with the nickel) but the issue keeps coming up about whether Congress should ban them or something. Why does everything have to have some expensive and overly-complicated legal resolution? JUST STOP MAKING THEM and let them phase out on their own over the next 20 years.
SINCE ZIMBABWE SWITCHED its currency to the U.S. dollar, they complain they don’t have enough change so how about shipping your surplus pennies to the Zimbabwe Embassy at 1608 New Hampshire Ave, Washington , DC 20009 asking them to be handed out to the poor? And, of course, they might welcome the $1+bn in Sacagawea dollar coins that the Feds put into reserve because nobody wanted to use them.
FEISTY ART CRITIC Brian Sewell describes Damien Hirst “as a manufacturer of extravagant goods desirable to footballer’s wives and cupiditous collectors governed by envy and social inferiority rather than connoisseurship”. Hirst’s show, at the Tate Modern through summer. includes most of his familiar horrors—maggots feeding on a rotting cow’s head, a shark preserved in formaldehyde, and innumerable canvasses spattered with dots. “To own a Hirst” Sewell writes in the London Evening Standard, “is to tell the world that your bath taps are gilded and your Rolls-Royce is pink”.
LONDON HAS BECOME so rich and concentrated, writes Neil O’Brien that it’s like the rest of Britain has become another country. “People talk about politicians living in the ‘Westminster bubble’ but the real bubble is London itself . Unusually all our elites overlap in one place. London is effectively New York, LA and Washington all rolled into one—the capital of finance, culture and politics.” It is almost twice as rich as the rest of the country and 20% richer than Luxembourg, its nearest rival among the 271 official Euro regions. For visitors, O’Brien writes in the Spectator, it’s like a 'Potemkin village' that doesn’t represent the UK, although even in the city itself the richest tenth have 273 times as much wealth as the poorest one-tenth. “Economically, culturally and socially, London has now left Britain behind, blasting off from the rest of the nation like some vast UFO”.
MY OLD FRIEND, the collagist Joan Hall sent me a copy of her entry for this summer’s art competition whose winners will have their works displayed prominently on billboards high above Times Square. You can see her work via this website: http://jhcollage.artistswanted.org/atts2012#.T5ikokHH4k5.email And you can vote for her at that location by clicking on “collect me”.
THE WILCOCK WEB: You’d think that Newt Gingrich would have paid for his campaign with the fifteen mil that casino mogul gave him, but
no, the pathetic loser is still around begging for handouts… . …. And that charitable organization for kids, the Fresh Air Fund, would have thousands of dollars more for its charity work if it didn’t keep blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars on full page ads congratulating itself on what a good job it’s doing…. Can you think of five unusual ways to use a brick? That’s one of the tasks to be accomplished by apprentices vying for a job with Fox television in the program it will initiate next month….Seems that Wal-Mart has bribed enough Congressmen to avoid being investigated…. Archaeologists says the husks and stalks they‘ve dug up from ancient Peruvian site shows that the inhabitants were making popcorn over an open fire 6,000 years ago….A demographic catastrophe is looming warns the weekly Standard with only three per cent of the world’s population lives in a country where the fertility rate is not dropping. Israel, it says, is the only First World country where women have enough babies to sustain the population …..“Most of the stuff people worry about ain’t never happen anyway” says The Ol’ Farmer…Following a deal with the FCC after acquiring NBC, Comcast agreed to launch new minority-owned TV channels, half of which are about to appear… The exorbitant hourly rates lawyers charge is partly explained by the fact that big law firms pay fledgling, inexperienced beginners $3,000 per week when they start….Companies are not only too big to fail but apparently their crooked CEOs are too big to be prosecuted…. Prison is a very expensive way of making bad people worse opined former British minister Douglas Hurd….In Colombia they’re combining old AK-47’s and guitars into
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— 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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