the column of lasting insignificance: May 26, 2012
by John Wilcock
REAL DEMOCRACY is the way the Greeks once did it, says Joshua Davis, and maybe we should go back to that. Of course it would mean a few changes, starting with the random selection of citizens who would spend a few days listening to debates between experts representing all candidates , then voting on behalf of all of us. With a population of 313 million, the US would need about 100,000 voters to deliver a reliable margin of error. “The concept shouldn’t be so shocking”, Davis writes in Wired. “We rely on randomly elected citizens to serve on juries where they make life and death decisions (and) every time we take a drug that’s been through clinical trials, we tacitly except that the experience of a small group is applicable to the general population”. Small-group elections would save millions of dollars a year, eliminate the way that elections can be bought by wealthy individuals and allow more honest discussion of candidates’ merits. At present, says James Fishkin, director of Stanford’s Democracy Center, voters make snap decisions after watching 30-second TV ads “making leadership choices based on whether they like a candidate’s hairstyle”.
WHAT’S BAD TASTE? People have been asking that question for a long time, especially about art, with examples ranging from Maurizio Cattelan’s 1999 painting of the Pope hit by a meteorite to the kitschy trifles of Jeff Koons.“Exhibiting bad taste is one of the simplest ways for art to attract notice” says Art News, pointing out that Cattelan’s “bad boy image and impish mockery” has been immensely profitable for him. Sometimes it has defined a career as with the late German artist Martin Kippenberger whose Street Lamp for Drunks is but one example of a misshapen career. Not to overlook, of course, John Waters--”once the epitome of bad taste as a filmmaker” has become “an art world eminence” says the mag, adding that judgments of what is good or bad taste are often viewed as a masquerade for class privilege. “Make people feel smart” says art critic Peter Schjeldahl ”and they will put up with anything”.
WITH SURFERS NOW numbering 35 million worldwide the most popular beaches have become so crowded that sometimes regulars resort to violence to keep out newcomers. “Surfing is not like golf” says former European champion Pete Jones. “You can build more golf courses but you can’t make more waves”. Wave machines or the building of artificial reefs have offered some relief but meteorological research has come up with a better solution. “Models show that much of Africa’s 16,000-mile coastline abounds with the right kind of waves” reports the Economist, “and at many of those beaches there are no surfers at all”.
NASA ASKED THE world’s top aircraft engineers for ideas on how to improve flight performance including the use of less fuel (a Boeing 747 consumes five gallons per mile) and Popular Science reported these ideas: (i) Add winglift by substituting turbofans that are 40% wider and allow for steeper descent and short approaches as well as reducing noise; (ii) Lockheed Martin’s Supersonic Green Machine, with its inverted V-tail and engine under the wings, would almost eliminate the familiar boom from the defunct Concorde model; (iii)Make the wings thinner and wider (they would fold up on the tarmac) and install batteries in the Boeing 737 and cruise on electric power at high altitudes.
MAKING DRINKS MORE EXPENSIVE is the way that Britain is trying to cut down on the excessive alcohol consumption which has earned the country a reputation for drunken louts, a situation which politicians describe as ‘a blight on society’. Binge drinking has been rising. “The British Isles have long been soaked in drink” says the Economist. “Can a floor price sober them up?”. A University of Florida study of consumption in more than 30 countries found that a 10% price rise led to a 4.6% cut in drinking. Britain’s plan is to set a minimum price of 64c per unit of alcohol (roughly the amount of a small glass of wine).“Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity” says Katherine Brown of the Institute of Alcohol Studies. “It is a drug and should be treated as such”.
MINING OUT IN SPACE is the business plan for Planetary Resources, a company that claims the 9,000 asteroids nearest to earth contain trillions of dollars worth of platinum, gold and other metals. The company (its investors include James Cameron and Ross Perot Jr) will investigate, first with telescopes and then with spacecraft, reports The Week which says the toughest part of the operation will be when robots are sent to scoop up the minerals. All this within the next seven years and—if water is found—may lead to “a permanent future in space”.
WHAT DO YOU THINK of this (see above)? It’s the first verse of a poem (in the New Yorker) by John Ashbery, America’s most admired poet. The only change -- in the way the lines were originally laid out—was made to illustrate how poets get away with calling balderdash, ‘poetry’.
THE WILCOCK WEB: This week’s winner of the A-hole Award: of course, is that arrogant guy who runs JPMorgan Chase after losing the firm $2bn+ and accused his critics of not understanding the market…Donating a similar amount to alleviate poverty could be a suitable apology…. ....Afghanistan's US-hating Hamid Karzai is expected to kiss ass at the NATO summit for just long enough to ensure that we'll continue offering him billion-dollar bribes after we leave his benighted country.... Four of the world’s 21 largest companies are banks in China whose banking system is the world’s third largest….Ten years from now, Euro currency will be valuable as antiques…After years of preparation, the Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner, 43, is on the verge of making his 23-mile drop from a helium balloon above New Mexico, passing thru the sound barrier and temperatures that will fall to -70 degrees…The 2,800 staff that NBC is sending to London to cover the Olympics is more than four times as many as the BBC is using…. Frequent flyers who rack up 25million points with Virgin Australia can trade them in for a spaceflight….….At less than half the price of regular mail, Graham Eccles delivers about 100 same-day letters
around Bude, Cornwall on his penny-farthing bike…..And for $3,200 apiece, British Telecom is selling 60 of its iconic red telephone booths. Shipping is extra…. Japan’s NEC has invented a battery one hundredth of an inch thick which takes only a minute to recharge reports the Kiplinger Letter which says it will be used in credit cards, subway passes, hotel keys….. You eat more if the color of your plate is the same color as your food claims the Journal of Consumer Research….German authorities are seeking some way to stop the extreme Muslim Salafist sect of handing out millions of copies of the Koran; 300,000 have already been distributed….Worried by the notion that strollers along New York’s elevated High Line park would always be looking into her windows, Hyemi Cho blocked off the window with a self-portrait of herself. Now, most strollers stop and photograph it…. “Rush Limbaugh accused Obama of waging a ‘War on Marriage’ observed Will Durst. “Everything’s a ‘War’ with this guy. Bet he calls breakfast a ‘War on Pancakes’”….. . “Admiration” explained Ambrose Bierce, “is our polite recognition of another's resemblance to ourselves….. After 14 years of research, Japan’s Suntory company finally managed to breed a blue rose. Something about the need for more concentrated metal ions and a higher pH……….Beijing’s cab drivers are threatening a strike because their base fare ($1.60) hasn’t changed in a decade and these days much of their time is spent stalled where neither traffic nor their taxi meters move….….”In this age which believes there is a shortcut to everything” advised Henry Miller, “the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest”…..Because people are getting married later (or not at all) there has been an increase in “pre -nups” by single couples who want to protect their assets says Money magazine…. With his new novel, Watergate, Thomas Mallon presents Richard Nixon as a surprisingly human figure….A study in Science says test subjects transferred from a red room to a blue room doubled their creativity…And another, conducted by Consciousness and Cognition, says that two drinks—but not more—improved test subjects’ creativity… Writing in Forbes, Singapore’s former pm Lee Kuan Yew says his country is trying to reverse the worldwide decline in the birth rate by opening a bank account for each new child and matching the parents’ contributions to it….Tradition is tending the flame, it’s not worshipping the ashes –Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Does anybody have a copy of the tabloid Other Scenes that I published in the 1960s or National Weed that I edited in the Seventies?
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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
The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol