the column of lasting insignificance: Nov. 3, 2012
by John Wilcock
WHY VOTE? is the question asked by Kevin Baker in a Harper’s essay subtitled When your vote counts for nothing. The concept of what we once knew as democracy, he suggests, has basically been co-opted by “the leaders of the new ruling class…who have isolated themselves from their constituents in order to enrich themselves and their class.” How you cast your vote, he writes, has almost no relation to what any candidate actually intends to do. And this has been going on for more than a generation. “We can no longer count on democracy as some sort of natural force or secret weapon, for today it has been turned against us, its very institutions now reinforcing the triumph of money and fueling the growth of nihilistic and antidemocratic movements”. And if a voting choice must be made? “To vote for a Mitt Romney—to vote for the modern right anywhere in the West today—is an act of national suicide,” he declares. [In all but three states, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson is the Libertarian candidate. He’s for ending the war and legalizing marihuana.]
WHAT THE MUSLIMS WANT is a crackdown on Western free speech while having no compunction about teaching that Jews are “apes” and Christians are “pigs”. So claims Nina Shea who warns, in an essay in National Review that, “We need to take stock of what is being asked of us. It is not a small thing. This is not about offending people…the goal of the OIC (the Organization of Islamic Co-operation) and many Muslims is to universalize Muslim blasphemy codes”. Shea, co-author with Paul Marshall of a book claiming that these codes are choking freedom all over the world, says that an American policy response to such demands for blasphemy bans is long overdue. “We should end the apologies and lead a sustained conversation articulating the importance of individual freedoms of speech (and)… firmly assert that we do not—and will not—regulate speech on behalf of any religion or body of ideas”.
THE CURIOUS CONTRADICTION between the editorials by Graydon Carter and his rich-folks magazine, Vanity Fair, is always startling. The September issue, for example, displays 114 pages of those stark, bleak, emaciated and often downright ugly models fronting for their billion-dollar fashion bosses. But what follows, amidst innumerable rich-folks’ portraits of the one-percenters are—in view of the context—candid viewpoints about the likes of Karl Rove and same-sex marriages, then more malnourished models. And then Carter deservedly lays into such as Angelo Mozilo (“sub-crime quasi-criminality”) and Denise Rich, wife of the heavy-metals villain Mark Rich (“flagrant act of tax-avoidance”). Regarding the enduring financial mess, he reminds his readers that “not a single elected official has served time in jail or even suffered much of a setback professionally”, and when the tax-avoiders leave the country, they should be out forever.
THE WOMAN CREDITED WITH starting the American environmental movement, Rachel Carson, died in 1964, but her groundbreaking book, Silent Spring about synthetic pesticides and “the irresponsibility of science” is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Her disclosure of the harm being done and the deaths being caused by DDT was met with “a relentless campaign” to impugn her character, vilifying her as “fanatic” and “hysterical” says The Washington Spectator, but it succeeded in getting the chemical banned. Today the ban is being questioned (by the industry, natch) because nobody has since discovered such an effective killer of mosquitoes which still cause thousands of deaths from malaria every year.
EVERYBODY WOULD WELCOME a can of beer or soda that could cool itself and they’ve been experimenting for years trying to produce one. The big drawback was that a method releasing the wrapping coolant of HFC-134a threatened the environment (because it’s a potent greenhouse gas) so it was banned. Now Mitchell Joseph is about to launch—in Western states—the ChiliCan which employs a different technique involving CO2 gas. A bit pricey, though--$4 a can for the citrus drink.
BEFORE THEY BECAME a huge organization with troupes performing in six cities around the world and 140 recruits in training, the Blue Men were just three guys- in their forties—Matt Goldman, Phil Stanton and Chris Wink—working 14-hour days putting on money-losing shows. “We
NOW’S THE TIME for your annual reminder about the commendably righteous Heifer organization which facilitates the way in which you can send Christmas good wishes to your friends by paying for some poor family to acquire a goat or two, or maybe some chickens whose eggs will enhance their meager meals. Check out Heifer.org where you’ll find all the information you need.
ALL THOSE CRASS “ARTWORKS” like rotting cows and sharks in formaldehyde churned out by Damien Hirst were never greatly loved by most critics but some of his present output gets a thumbs-down from London critic David Greeson who suggests the 47-year-old artist is suffering from a midlife crisis. Hirst’s show at the Tate Modern and White Cube gallery, says the reviewer, is “redundant, vacuous kitsch” and his “crudely painted still life featuring parrots, flower blossoms, human skulls and shark jaws overlaid with spots, butterflies and networks of lines are sadly execrable”.
BETWEEN HIS CHAT with an angel and deciphering some mythical engraved gold plates (which nobody else ever saw) the fantasy-prone Joseph Smith seduced a teenage servant while his wife watched, according to a new biography of Brigham Young by John G. Turner. Young himself, an obvious nymphomaniac, had 55 “wives” and at 70, was busted for “lewd and lascivious cohabitation”. Do Mormons worship these flawed founders?
THE WILCOCK WEB: Never in possession of a homeland of their own, 300 million Kurds are a persecuted minority in the adjoining countries of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria, so common sense would suggest that if each country gave up a sliver of land, that Kurds would be less of a problem in all four places. Sadly, the world
doesn’t run on common sense… ….The country once called Communist China now has almost one million millionaires and 115 billionaires according to Art News which notes that many of them are buying expensive art….And btw, why not invite the Chinese (or the Japanese or the French) to install a high-speed railroad across the US? They do it faster and cheaper than we can….How curious that the New York Times’ new boss, Mark Thompson, who latterly headed the BBC after 30 years there, claims he never heard the widespread rumors about child molestation by one of his biggest stars—nor even about the show about to expose the story before it was mysteriously cancelled…. Almost three quarters of the spammed messages texted to cell phones are designed to defraud the recipient reported Cloudmark, a company that makes anti-spam software…Aren’t you sick of all these coy claims that certain dirty words that become the center of major news stories can’t be mentioned in “a family newspaper”? And likewise the stories that center on somebody’s nudity that can’t be shown in print?... Perfumers “manipulate their audience in the way that all artists do” declares Chandler Burr, curator of olfactory art at New York’s Museum of Art and Design which in November will stage The Art of Scent, 1889-2012….. In Piers Brandon’s new book, Eminent Elizabethans Mick Jagger is described as “a selfish, pouting opportunist”,,,,If you’re taken to hospital and not admitted but kept “under observation”, warns the AARP, you’ll probably discover that Medicare won’t pay for a bill that could exceed hundreds of dollars per day…. Connie Britten in Nashville looks confusingly like Law and Order’s Mariska Hargitay….Growing skepticism about whether the over-priced cost of a university education is worth it, has prompted authorities in Britain to mandate that in future colleges will have to indicate the employment rate for courses they offer….It wasn’t until late in his life, confessed W. Somerset Maugham, that he discovered “how easy it is to say, I don’t know’”..…The one-time few alternatives to milk are now supplemented by (more expensive) varieties such as almond, oat, coconut, hazelnut, hemp and even flax reports the AARP magazine which, being AARP, gives the recipe for making your own…..Even when scandals envelop celebrities it doesn’t necessarily stop consumers from buying the products they’re endorsing says the Journal of Consumer Research. “Instead of arguing that an immoral action is not that severe, consumers prefer to argue that it’s not that relevant’…. Remember when that idiot Paul Bremer took charge of Iraq by firing all the army, setting up all the problems that followed? Well, his adviser, Dan Senor, has now become Mitt Romney’s Mid-Eastern ‘expert’’….“It is never too late to be who you might have been.” (George Eliot (1819-1890)
IF ANYBODY HAS a copy of my ‘60s underground tabloid Other Scenes, I would be happy to send one of my books, signed, in return
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— 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, don’t forget the Republican Paradox
— John Wilcock ... Manhattan Memories: Chapter Eighteen--The Quest for Magic: Around Europe by VW bus;
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— Manhattan Memories: Chapter One--Chatting with Marilyn Monroe
— 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