the column of lasting insignificance: June 2, 2012
by John Wilcock
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.
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
JW is currently out of the country
send a comment to John Wilcock
- 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