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the column of lasting insignificance: June 2, 2012
by John Wilcock

“There is a strong element within the Republican base that does not care if the party loses one, two or three elections as long as their ideology remains pure. There is nobody so powerful in politics as influential people who don’t care if they lose. The Republicans have these in abundance. The Democrats don’t have them at all (and the) party has an obligation to beat the Republican party so badly, over and over again, that rationality once again becomes a quality to be desired.”
--Charles P. Pierce in Esquire

IT WILL BE 214 YEARS this week since the death of Giacomo Casanova and people are still invoking this name to slander their flirtatious friends who, almost certainly, did not match his achievements. In addition to, or maybe because of time spent in London, Paris, Geneva, Barcelona, Rome, Prague, Vienna, Venice, Constantinople, Warsaw and St Petersburg, he managed to seduce 120 lovers--countesses, milkmaids and nuns. One of the nuns, said to be Marina Morosini, spirited from her convent to a luxury Venetian apartment “was astonished to find herself receptive to so much pleasure” wrote the Great Lover, “for I showed her many things she had considered fictions”. Quelle homme! Their eventual ménage à trois (after being joined by the French ambassador) became a foursome when another nun, Caterina Capretta, joined in the fun.
Casanova     How do we know all this? Why, from Casanova himself whose 3,700-page manuscript, Histoire de ma vie, was bought by the National Library of France for $9.6million, setting off a revived round of activities centering on some of the sites with which this Venetian-born lothario was associated. “He left Venice, and he wrote in French” says Kathleen Gonzalez who is documenting a walking tour to some of those local sites. Most Italians know Casanova only from his caricature, she adds, “which is not a subject of pride”.
     There aren’t many landmarks on the tour except for a stone plaque on a wall in the San Samuele district which notes he was born there (nobody knows in which house) in 1725, the son of two impoverished actors. “I was born for the sex opposite to mine” he wrote in the book’s preface. “I have always loved it and done all I could to make myself loved by it. Cultivating whatever pleasure gave to my senses was always the chief business of my life”.
     And, according to a story by Tony Perrottet in the Smithsonian, that business included “escapes, duels, swindles, stagecoach journeys, and meetings with royals, gamblers and mountebanks”.
     He lost his virginity, at 17, to a pair of teenage sisters after a meal of Parmesan cheese and smoked meat plus a couple of bottles of wine, playing innocent games which grew in interest as the night progressed.
     Only about one-third of his book—“by turns hilarious, ribald, provocative, boastful, self-mocking, philosophical tender and occasionally still shocking”-- is devoted to his love affairs, if only because its indefatigable author covered an estimated 40,000 miles in the course of his 73 year-life. He met—among others—Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire, Mozart, Catherine the Great and Prussia’s King Frederick and spent 15 months imprisoned in the Doges Palace after the Inquisition prosecuted him for being a card sharp, con man, astrologer and cabalist. Some suspect it was actually because he’d ravished one of the Inquisitor’s mistresses.
     The manuscript, bequeathed by Casanova to his family who eventually sold it to a German publisher, was kept under lock and key for more than a century, regarded as too hot to publish, and even when it did appear it was mistranslated and censored. During WW2 it miraculously escaped damage when the publishing house was bombed and transferred to a bank security vault. First published in an uncensored French edition in 1960, it appeared in English six years later and has fascinated literary scholars ever since.
     There’s even an international scholarly journal, L’Intermediare des Casanovistes, produced by international fans. One of them, Tom Vitelli, says the ms. is “such an engaging text on many levels, a wonderful point of entry into the 18th century (offering) access to a broad European culture…He would have been surprised to discover that he is remembered as a great lover. Sex is part of his story, but it was incidental to his real literary aims. He only presented his love life because it gave a window onto human nature”.

JUNK MAIL has become a $51million industry with 85 million pieces of it filling mailboxes last year. And it’s generated a parallel industry of its own—companies and organizations that exist largely to counter it. The trade association, Direct Marketing Association, touts its opt-out program which lets people sign up or online but warns that the customer “should avoid having false expectations” about its success. Alternatively, there’s Catalog Choice which now allows iPhone users to take pictures of the offending items and beam them into its office which will endeavor to stop them.

EVERYTHING FOR SALE including advertising space on the forehead or other parts of the body—that’s a measure of the sad state we’ve reached, sighs Harvard professor Michael J. Sandel in his new book: What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. He enumerates some of the things that have prompted his thesis: the Indian woman who’ll carry your baby for a few thousand dollars…the endangered South African rhino that it’s okay to kill if you pony up $150,000…even the few dollars that in some places allows the solitary driver to use the carpool lane. “What is the proper role of markets in our lives?” he asks, in an interview with Ode magazine. “When everything is for sale, market values can crowd out other values worth caring about such as personal relations, family life, health, education, citizenship, civic life, our relationship to the environment”. And as the gap between rich and poor deepens, the damage is to democracy. “The affluent and the disadvantaged live separate lives”.

A MATCHING ARTICLE in the Boston Review devotes 16 pages to the views of various academics discussing How Markets Crowd Out Morals offering such examples as the (short-lived) plan in which Facebook offered ‘friends’ for a price; and items as varied as wedding toasts, human kidneys and blood for sale. Author Michael J. Sandel also wrote about the remote Swiss village that patriotically agreed to accept a nuclear waste repository but showed only half as much support when offered money to do it--”the price effect is sometimes confounded by moral considerations”, being the explanation of the economists studying the situation. “Altruism, generosity, solidarity and civic spirit” Sandel concludes, “are not like commodities that are depleted with use…one of the defects of a market-driven society is that it lets these virtues languish”.

CONSIDER THE LOWLY Menhaden which has been called the most important fish in the sea. Striped bass are only one of the marine denizens which virtually live on them but they’re harvested by the billions in huge seine nets and processed in factories for livestock feed, pet food, cosmetics and fertilizer, with the oil used for health supplements. They used to be so thick in Chesapeake Bay that a 17th century visitor claimed they could be caught in a frying pan, but by a century ago they’d already been over-fished almost to extinction. Now marine experts fear the same thing is happening off the coast to the south, where one company, Omega Protein, nets 80% of the Atlantic crop and—suggests Washington Monthly—is without sufficient oversight from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, the federal authority. Despite frequent warnings—and demonstrations—the ASMFC repeatedly says the menhaden population is not in danger but this “implacable wall of reassurance”, says the mag, leads to suspicion that Virginia’s political bosses have unduly influenced the regulators. In the past decade, Omega Protein has bribed them with $220,000.

THAT OLD ARGUMENT about cable TV channels has popped up again with a piece in Extra, the newsletter of the Media Watch Group, pointing out that although most people find the ESPN sports channel in their package, not all of them watch it. “Since everyone pays for it, that means you’re subsidizing those who do watch it” writes Peter Hart. At an estimated cost of five bucks per subscriber to the operator-- its owner is Fox News-- it’s the most expensive channel on television, four times the cost of the runner-up, TNT. “Customers have little or no voice in determining which channels they pay for and how much they pay” Hart writes, explaining that so-called a la carte pricing (i.e. just paying for the channels you want) has always been rejected by cable companies. Their main argument is that some channels wouldn’t survive in such a popularity contest. On the other hand, channels such as Current TV or Al Jazeera can’t seem to get carried at all.

THE WILCOCK WEB: If Pakistan actually wants us to pay $5,000 for each of the thousands of trucks removing our stuff when we leave their benighted land, wouldn’t it be cheaper to trash it on site and replace it over here?.....Why don’t cities, counties, states underestimate what’s coming in, so they’d always have a surplus for emergencies?.....Emotions magazine says that the subjects it has tested find abstract paintings more awe-inspiring after watching a scary movie (“the interior cortex region of the brain is activated by fear and disgust”)…. … “Rudeness” scoffed Eric Hoffer, “is the weak man’s imitation of strength"… A movie will be made, Cow on the Run, about Yvonne, the fugitive Holstein which escaped from a Bavarian slaughterhouse last year and evaded pursuing police cars and helicopters for three months….…. Those famously pastoral paintings of Andrew Wyeth have inspired photographer James Welling to picture some of the same scenes for his current show in Hartford, CT….. Wired magazine says the secret of making a successful pousse-café (at right) is to layer in the different drinks slowly, beginning with the
pousse-café lowest proof alcohol and working your way up…. "Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you’re a good person”, says author Dennis Wholey, “is like expecting the bull not to attack you because you’re a vegetarian”… Entering the market for men’s razors--currently dominated by P&G’s Gillette and Energizer Holdings’ Schick and Wilkinson Sword—is the Dollar Shave Club whose boss, Michael Dubin, claims that his rivals add “useless fixtures as an excuse to raise prices”….”My wife would like it if I went back to the private sector and made some real money” says Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker whose salary is $144,423….“If you find yourself in a hole” says The Ol’ Farmer, “the first thing to do is to stop diggin".... Celebrating 50 years this month since the first James Bond film (Dr. No, 1962) with a 24-page spread, Variety says more than half the world’s population has seen at least one of the nearly two dozen 007 adventures….. Among the summer-long activities in connection with Chicago Art Institute’s Roy Lichtenstein retrospective is next week’s pousse-café class for visitors to create an original media work” inspired by the artist…..Arman Sadeghpour’s chocolate toothpaste, Theodent ($10 at Whole Food stores) tastes of mint and is actually made with cocoa, which he claims is better than fluoride for rebuilding tooth enamel…. Newark mayor Cory Booker found a way to dispose of the huge pile of weapons the city had confiscated when he met Jessica Mindich whose Jewelry for a Cause was delighted to have the guns melted down into a pile of metal she can turn into pretty baubles…“We get swamped by people who bring us meteorwrongs” quips the University of New Mexico’s Carl Agee whose Institute of Meteorites inspects fakes almost every day…….. If I’m already listed at Facebook, and the people they want to tell me about are listed, why do I need a password to see them? …..Drop all coupons and lower the prices of everything instead!..... “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need” –Cicero (106-43BC)

JW is currently out of the country




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