the column of lasting insignificance: Feb. 2, 2013
by John Wilcock
A PRESIDENTIAL PARDON is one of the few exercises of power that POTUS can effect without having to cope with much objection, so it’s disappointing, to say the least, that the only pardon extended by Barack Obama last year was to a turkey. Meanwhile, he denied 872 applications for pardons and more than 3,000 for commutations of sentence. Both Bill Clinton and George Bush pardoned well over a hundred people while in the White House; for Obama, the figure has been less than two dozen. “A president who talks about more sensible, nuanced drug policy, and whose oratory frequently invokes what is best in the American political imagination”, writes Sasha Abramsky, “has shown himself remarkably reluctant to use one of the most important of presidential prerogatives—the power to right judicial wrongs.” The Nation’s story is centered on the outrageously unjust 55-year term imposed on a 23-year-old pot smoker, handed down by a judge who cried crocodile tears while claiming the usual nonsense about his hands being tied. The convicted felon has already served ten years and is still awaiting some compassion.
AUTHENTICATING PICASSO is easier said than done. Even when the famous artist was alive, it could present a problem. Art News reveals an occasion when, presented with an unsigned canvas he was asked to endorse, the great man declined, adding: “I can paint false Picassos just as well as anybody”. And, since his death in 1973 as one of the world’s wealthiest men, the multitude of fakes has bloomed almost beyond measure. At first the Picasso family were willing to separate the real from the phony, but much confusion resulted from members disagreeing with each other. Finally, a few months ago, four of the five surviving heirs designated two of their number, Maya, 77, and Claude, 65, to act as the authorities. These two occasionally argue over different canvases. The provenance of a cache of works claimed by a man,
ABANDONED PUBS ARE proving to be an easily accessible refuge for the homeless in England where shifting drinking patterns and cheap booze offered by supermarkets is causing as many as 18 pubs to close down every week. Impoverished squatters are seizing the opportunity to move into the empty premises knowing that eviction orders take weeks, sometimes months to be put into force. “We hope to stay here for a few months” says Alessandra De Luca, 21, who moved into Chelsea’s Old Bull with her boyfriend David. “The people here are homeless and we survive only by doing a lot of ‘skipping’, finding food thrown out by supermarkets. We are looking for work”. Until recently, anti-squatting laws applied only to residences, now they have been extended to cover commercial properties, including pubs.
THE MOST CORRUPT NATION on earth is how the Sydney Morning Herald describes Afghanistan where the scale of wrongdoing is “jaw-dropping”. Just one example, it says, is the notorious Kabul Bank whose sole activity was to act as a vehicle for President Karzai’s clique to siphon off millions while the wretched Afghans who trusted “this $900bn Ponzi scheme” have lost everything.
IT LOOKS JUST LIKE a regular magazine, its profiles and fashion shots interspersed with the familiar glossy ads for perfumes, jewelry, electronics and auto parts. Its stars include Neil Patrick Harris and Cobie Smulders cavorting around Florence on a break from their TV show How I Met Your Mother and the appealingly precocious Sami Gayle, 16, from Blue Bloods. But, wait a minute: aren’t these both CBS shows? Yes, and so are The Good Wife’s Julianna Margulies and Bridget Moynihan (Blue Bloods) who are displayed revealing what kind of make-up they actually use. They’re all part of the uniquely readable bimonthly Watch!, a brilliant pr ploy by the network to advance its brand (cbswatchmagazine.com). Survivor’s Jeff Probst discusses his new talk show; Two Broke Girls do familiar capers; Entertainment Tonight’s Nancy O’Dell helps the Beverly Hills Hotel celebrate its century; 48 Hours producer Susan Zirinsky tells great stories about the documentary show; David Letterman is there in black tie for his Kennedy Center Honors, and Lucy Liu from Elementary looks delicious. Others. include the irresistible Kalinda whose pin-up picture might adorn any wall.
WIND FARMS ARE KILLING thousands of birds a day in all parts of the world, claims the Spectator, and the devastation is so bad that some species will soon be extinct. “Why is the public not more aware of this carnage? Because the wind industry (with the shameful complicity of some ornithological organizations) have gone to great trouble to cover it up”. Environmentalists don’t want to know the real facts, Clive Hambler writes, because they’re in a state of denial, desperate to believe in renewable energy. The essay quotes a survey by the conservation group SEO Birdlife which claims that at least six million birds and bats are killed by wind farms in Spain alone and says that the idea that the creatures can adapt to avoid turbine blades is absurd. “Birds have been flying unimpeded through the skies for millions of years. They’re hardly going to alter their habits in a few months”.
THE WILCOCK WEB: The number of lobbyists allowed to practice should be restricted to one or two per company……Falling property prices have created fabulous bargains in some countries suggests the AARP Bulletin. How about a house in Ireland or a cottage in Greece for a few thousand bucks?....Q: Suppose you were a Catholic cardinal accused of nurturing pedophile priests and you wanted to evade arrest, what would you do? A: Employ high-priced lawyers to keep delaying a showdown until the statute of limitations was in effect…. The US Treasury might retrieve $50bn in unpaid taxes, suggests Forbes, if they allow multinational corporations to bring back their money from overseas and charge a 7% interest rate….… Senator Harry Reid (D. NV) made the cover of the weekly Standard but the story wasn’t exactly a eulogy. “Reid is odd, temperamental, mercurial, obstinate and rude” wrote Michael Warren… Downton Abbey would get better ratings if PBS didn’t choose to run it against top-rated network shows on Sunday nights…. Reworked for Chinese tastes, Kraft’s venerable Oreo cookie has less sugar and a green tea flavor….Jane Harrup, 45, manager of an animal rescue center in Cambridgeshire, named this new arrival Charlie Chaplin because of the resemblance. She was the only person there old enough to know who Chaplin was….The sugar-saturated soda pop industry is bribing the NAACP to help keep blacks fat….Social Security checks are being phased out with the regulation—starting March—that all recipients of federal benefits to receive payments electronically. About five million of the 63.5 million beneficiaries will need to continue getting paper checks for the time being…...“If there was an anti-Nobel Peace Prize” muses columnist Thomas L. Freidman, “(Vladimir) Putin would win hands down” …..“Scum villages” are the epithet used to describe the new remotely situated and heavily policed trailer parks into which the Dutch are planning to move “anti-social” troublemakers accused of disturbing their council flat neighbors…... “No one is so lacking in compassion”, jeers Theodore Dalrymple, “that he is unable to feel sorry for himself”…. With his repetitive full page ads, does LA realtor Donald Sterling spend more money boasting about his generosity than on the charities themselves?...... A Chinese nursery school charges extra if parents want teachers to hug their children…. “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity” reflected Simone Weil…. The new 3-D printers that enable identical copies being made of a wide range of objects are being called “piracy machines” by some manufacturers who worry that sales will drop when people start making their own clones of copyrighted works…..“Politics have no relation to morals”—Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)
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Forty years ago the second of my three books about magic was published, A Guide to Occult Britain (Sidgwick & Jackson) covering a wide range of sites from Stonehenge to Loch Ness and King Arthur country to the witches of Pendle Hill. It is now available as an eBook on amazon.com.
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January 17, 2013
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
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