the column of lasting insignificance: July 21, 2012
by John Wilcock
WEALTHY CHINESE are getting used to being fawned over, claims the Economist which cites the way that holders of gold and platinum “routinely expect luxury shops to pamper them with cocktails, massages….and ever more exotic and exclusive events to maintain their sense of superiority”.
Hong Kong’s Chow Tai Fook (CTF), the world’s largest jeweler, recently organized a weekend of cruises, property tours and a gala auction for
wealthy families who spent more than an annual 1m yuan ($158,000). But for such super-rich Chinese, a lavish weekend is not enough explains Adrian Cheng, a CTF director. They also expect a personal butler to fetch them and fuss over them.
IN ITS ISSUE devoted to celebrity investors, Forbes featured Justin Bieber, Venture Capitalist, as its cover story. The young singer’s 15 million albums have grossed $150m during his 157 cross country tour dates, the mag reveals, and has plowed millions into tech start-ups. He has partnered with Ellen DeGeneres in a social gaming company, Sojo Studios; and shared deals with billionaire Ron Burkle and Ashton Kutcher, his typical initial investment being $250,000. About his ongoing transition from ‘teen idol to adult icon’ he says: “It’s not really a transition, it’s just opening doors. I’m trying to make music that’s a little bit more mature and that can appeal to all ages, and I’m not trying to lose my younger fans”.
SHARK TANK, the ABC reality show that invites inventors to air their ideas before a panel of potential investors, has heard 152 pitches from entrepreneurs since its 2009 debut, about half of which have walked away with an average of $180,000. So says Inc. which unfolds the tale of Pork Barrel BBQ which rocketed from sales of $5,000 to $3 million, and from four outlets to 5,000 stores, after its debut on the sixth episode of the show. Among the 60 businesses (out of 20,000 that apply each season) the mag lists Citikitty, a toilet-training system for cats, which tripled its sales to $1million within a year.
SHIPPING FRESH VEGETABLES across country results in a lot of spoilage and Paul Lightfoot thinks there’s a better way. His company, BrightFarms, is right in line with the locavores who believe the food we eat should come from nearer to home and how much nearer can you get, Lightfoot asks, than from a nearby roof? BrightFarms has deals with several companies to build and manage hydroponic greenhouses on store rooftops, parking garages and empty lots. Stores sign long-term contracts to buy lettuce, tomatoes and various herbs, with a guarantee that prices will never rise above inflation.
A NATIONAL ID CARD has always filled some people with paranoia, conjuring up images of a police state or at least “an intolerable expansion of government” as the Tea Party might term it. But now its time has come, suggests a writer in Mother Jones, capping a 20-page section about the influx of money into elections and its connection with voter fraud. Most European countries provide citizen ID cards, the mag says, quoting a native of Singapore who boasts that his card doubles as a library card, serves as identification when applying for overseas visas, opening a bank account and even helps identify the other party in an accident. Social security cards and drivers licenses already enable the government to track us, but we seem content with “a system with all the downsides and none of the upside of true national ID”.
ITALIAN COMIC Beppe Gallo, 63, is making waves by calling for the Euro to be abolished, people to stop paying taxes and for banks to be allowed to go bust. Rome’s L’Espresso reports that while performing in public squares, he’s been calling retired premier Silvio Berlusconi “a sex-mad psycho dwarf” and his petition for a clean-up of parliament garnered 350,000 votes. Next year he’s predicted to enter the political arena.
THERE’S WIDE DISAGREEMENT between some of the vintage TV stars of the 1970s and the studios who don’t agree with how valuable they think they are. What it’s all about, says Variety columnist Ted Johnson, is merchandise revenue. “Cast members, noting the continued visibility of their shows on everything from slot machines to action figures to, of course, DVD box sets, are pursuing legal action against studios, often claiming the latter are concealing the amount they’ve made off the actors’ likenesses …studios (on the other hand) view many of the plaintiffs’ assertions about merchandising revenue as wildly overstated” Johnson writes. Two of last year’s suits involved Mike Connors from Mannix and James Best on Dukes of Hazzard.
POWERED BY AN ADULT (for steering and safety) and up to ten children pedaling, the Dutch company De Café Racer says its kid-powered bicycle is an efficient replacement for the regular school bus. It can reach 10mph and comes with canvas cover for rainy days, a music system and an auxiliary electric motor for when the hills are too steep for pedal power.
THE WILCOCK WEB: Perhaps the highly paid office workers at Dunder Miflin might consider bailing out a bankrupt Scranton?..... Uruguay is about to pass a bill legalizing the sale of marihuana. Defense Minister Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro says: “We believe that the prohibition of certain drugs is creating more problems than the drugs themselves”… Religious leaders and art historians will share the platform at the Getty Museum next month to discuss ‘What Does Heaven Look Like?’…. Asked by a TV interviewer in China what she wanted to be when she grew up, one six-year-old replied: ”A corrupt official”…...Why should Ralph Lauren be hired to make uniforms for the next Olympics when their greed screwed us up so badly on this one?.... Too many hapless farm animals are being forsaken by clueless city dwellers who thoughtlessly adopt them and then, for one reason or another, change their minds. E-magazine requests that if metropolitan homesteaders must have pets, they should pick them from local shelters….”Computers make it easier to do a lot of things” mused the late Andy Rooney, “but many of the things they make it easier to do, don’t need to be done”.….There’s nearly always drought in one place with floods in another. Maybe those fire-fighting planes could carry water a bit further?….Hollywood claims that Morgan Spurlock financing his movie (Pom Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold) entirely from sponsorships has become a necessary part of doing business because ticket sales no longer are sufficient……. After noting that too many employees pee on the seat, councillors at Sörmland, Sweden, seek to make it mandatory for men to sit down when using the toilet…...And Comedy Central features a disgusting, would-be comic named Tosho-o whose idea of hilarity is to show video of guys lowering their pants and shitting as they skateboard or roller skate.....Hedge fund manager Daniel Shak is suing his ex-wife Beth for 35% of her valuable shoe collection (1,200 pairs) which he claims she hid away during their divorce settlement…. An unexpected shift back towards the use of straight razors caused Gillette's share of the market for replacement cartridge blades to drop to a mere 80%, prompting the company to advertise that its blades lasted for up to five weeks, observed Fortune… “Creativity is intelligence having fun” opined Albert Einstein….. Spurred by Mitt Romney’s plans to install a car elevator in his La Jolla beach house, numerous “billionaires and A-list celebrities” have forked over $55,000 to American Custom Lifts to install similar elevators in what Forbes describes as their modern palaces….”It is not an exaggeration to say that every rhino on the planet is now in mortal danger” warns a South African conservationist after reports that an average of 50 of the rare species a month are being killed in the country…. The Louisiana State Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors, fighting to retain a monopoly over the building of coffins, is being sued by the monks of St Joseph Abbey who want to build their own….. “Five enemies of peace inhabit with us : avarice, ambition, envy, anger, and pride; if these were to be banished, we should infallibly enjoy perpetual peace”—Francesco Petrarch (July 20, 1304 – July 19, 1374)
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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