the column of lasting insignificance: Feb. 9, 2013
by John Wilcock
“The dirty little secret of the Senate: the power of a senator comes not from what we can do—it comes from what we can stop. That’s the power and no one wants to give it up.” —Senator Tom Harkin (D.Iowa) who has been calling for two decades for reform to the absurd right to filibuster
IT’S A SAD IRONY that America’s most valuable asset remains at the mercy of the institution that people who have been polled admire less than root canals, colonoscopies or cockroaches. We’re talking about the U.S. Post Office, whose first boss was Benjamin Franklin back in 1791, and about its today’s clueless overseers: the U.S. Congress.
Somehow it should be taken out of the hands of these incompetents and run by people with some common sense. With a country-wide network of 32,000 post offices, 213,000 vehicles—the largest civilian fleet in the world traveling 1.2bn miles a year—and half a million fulltime employees, USPS handles almost half the entire planet’s mail. Truly too big to be allowed to fail.
“The purpose of the post office has always been to bind the nation together” says Jesse Lichtenstein, and it does a fabulous job—at a bargain price cheaper than almost every other country. “Mail a wedding invitation from Tokyo to its suburbs and it will cost you more than twice as much as sending the same item from Seattle to Boston” he
writes in Esquire. “It can connect any American to any other American in 3.7 million miles of territory, within a few days, often overnight”.
Last year it delivered 160bn pieces of mail, that’s 508 pieces for every American. Now, USPS is almost bankrupt with funds estimated to run out in October without major changes. It is currently losing $25million a day, almost $16bn last year.
The problem began six years ago with an insane Congressional decree that, unlike other government agencies, USPS must fork out billions of dollars in advance to pay the health costs of its workers for ten years ahead. It made no sense, but it saddled USPS with a debt that it’s never managed to expunge. Why was Congress so stupid? Here’s a clue: the lobbyists of its rivals, FedEx and UPS, have handed them $100 million.
“In a nation obsessed with cutting budgets and government fat, there is no better target than the federal post office”, the magazine comments.
There are possible remedies, if those morons in Washington will relax their steely grip. Let the post office set up branches in markets and flower shops as it does in Germany and Holland; set up a post office savings bank as used to exist in England, and still does in Japan, India, China, New Zealand, Switzerland; partner with Walmart and eBay to guarantee same-day delivery of goods. Maybe best of all, raise the price of a stamp to match those in other countries. A first class stamp in Britain costs 62p (roughly a dollar).
Postmaster General Patrick Donahue wants returned $49bn the post office has already prepaid in advance health benefits He’ll also need to cut 120,000 more jobs, scaling back or closing 13,000 unprofitable post offices and maybe ending Saturday deliveries. But then, within three years, he estimates, it could be making a profit of $5million a day.
DUBIOUS ETHICS AND LEGALITY are how the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins refers to the increasing use of armed, pilotless aircraft to kill foreign suspects. “Drones are ‘fool’s gold’”, he writes “holding out the promise of risk-free, precision killing”, but merely prolong wars we can’t win by giving an impression of progress while “cutting a glamorous dash on the home front. It’s hard to imagine a greater danger to world peace”. But, in addition to the prospect of pinpointing some definite enemies, such as Mexican drug lords, drones can have their uses. And as they proliferate for law enforcement, oil and gas discovery and wildlife management” predicts Fortune, a lot of jobs will open up for desk-bound ‘pilots’.
“AMERICA HAS CHURCHES like an ice cream parlor has flavors” comments the Philadelphia Trump, yet one-fifth of the public and one-third of adults under 30 no longer claims a religious affiliation. The country that began as a safe haven from persecution, has evolved into the world’s religious marketplace, writes Dennis Leap, filled with Christian churches, Buddhist and Hindu temples, Islamic mosques and countless other denominations. In God We Trust was declared by Congress to be the national motto and Under God was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. And yet, despite all this, “Young Americans came to review religion, according to one survey, as judgmental, homophobic, hypocritical and too political”. The quote comes from a book, American Grace by Robert D. Putnam who explains that the majority of ‘Nones’ (non-believers)
come from the center to left of the political spectrum. “They tend to be liberal in their views on gender roles, homosexuality and marihuana. For many, their aversion to religion is rooted in the unease with the association between religion and conservative politics. If religion equals Republican they have decided that religion is not for them”.
“My father was a country police officer. All he knew was discipline, performance and work—not wasting your time. He came from an era where everything was scarce, so everything had to be useful. That’s why he was so against body-building. He saw it as narcissistic. His belief was that you could build your muscles by chopping wood or shoveling coal or doing something with your body that benefits someone else. But it was from him that I got my work ethic.”
—Arnold Schwarzenegger talking to Esquire’s Cal Fussman
AMERICA’S SUBSIDY of the Mexican military is spreading joy among south-of-the-border drug cartels, writes Mary Wakefield. “The more cash America puts into training the Mexican army, the happier the Zetas are, purring over all the potential new recruits”. Because, she explains, the Zetas still enlist recruits from Mexico’s army after they have been trained by American and Israeli special forces in intimidation, ambushing and marksmanship. What Mexico’s new president is currently puzzling over, she writes in the Spectator, is that 40% of the cartels’ business is selling cannabis across the border, much of it headed for states that are legalizing it. “So why should Mexico bust a gut keeping it from getting to America if it’s legal there?”
ALMOST 20,000 GUN-OWNERS in California are supposed to be deprived of their weapons now they have become convicted felons, but Dept. of Justice Firearms chief Stephen Lindley says he lacks staff for the confiscations, which would take three years and cost $25million. But if he offered the gun owners $1,000 apiece to turn in their guns voluntarily it would cost only $20 million and have almost immediate results.
THE WILCOCK WEB: More than half of the members of Congress have an A-rating from the NRA, indicating they are solidly pro-gun. For all the press’s “exuberant” claims of a shift in political opinion, nothing has changed, says The Week quoting Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel. “The more sweeping any gun proposals, the more dead on arrival they will be in Congress”…. US Attorney Melinda Haag, a bully and a coward who’s been closing down San Francisco pot shops, bailed out of a planned public debate when she heard she was gong to asked why she hated AIDS victims who’ve found relief with the blessed herb……The fallout from the Federally-mandated use of corn to make ethanol has “dramatically distorted the market” reports Stores, resulting in billions of dollars to restaurants because of increased prices…..”The war machine is killing this country” shouted Leah Bolger, vp of Veterans for Peace, as she was carried out from a House Armed Services Committee meeting….Spectator columnist Rod Liddle calls Twitter “a conduit for the shriekingly self-obsessed and vapid”… "Wise men talk when they have something to say” noted Plato, “fools because they have to say something" ….. …A three-month hunting season is underway in
Russia’s northeastern Sakha Republic, hoping to kill more than 80% of the 3,500 wolves which have killed thousands of reindeer and hundreds of horses. Hunters bringing in the most wolf pelts will be paid with 100,000 roubles ($3,290) ……“Soaringly monotonous” was critic Deborah Ross’ opinion of the movie Les Misérables which she assessed as “a two-hour and 40 minute musical about the world’s most minor parole offence”….UK to US re EU: MYOB—a short letter recently published by London’s Daily Telegraph….. In his column about what an uninspiring bunch are the candidates for LA Mayor, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez quotes a reader terming them “the weakest mayoral field in history”….….Shop window dummies with hidden cameras in the eyes can now record the ethnicity, age and gender of sidewalk viewers as well as how long they look at them…. Fraudulently returning goods, escalating hugely in January after the holidays, costs shopkeepers almost $3bn a year reports the National Retail Foundation…….What a joke! The new head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Mary Jo White, has been paid millions of dollars a year for a decade representing the kind of Wall Street firms she’s now supposed to monitor. Her husband makes millions more at another law firm representing the big banks….The Financial Times defined an economist as “Someone who will explain to you tomorrow why what they forecast yesterday didn’t happen today”…. Attempting to encourage wider use of QR codes, a new app called Qriket is paying users dollar prizes who participate…. …Many football players are questioning the efficiency of their helmets and some of them have become customers of Pennsylvania’s Unequal Technologies which has devised a modified version of the military’s Kevlar vest (but it’s not bulletproof)…... “Skepticism is the first step towards truth.” –Denis Diderot (1714-1784)
Bagan, Myanmar (Burma):
Seeking the Drama of Everyday Life in Burma: part 4 - Bagan
Lompoc, CA: Seeking the Drama of Everyday Life in Lompoc, CA:
Inle Lake, Myanmar (Burma): Seeking the Drama of Everyday Life in Burma: part 3 - Inle Lake
Bagan, Myanmar (Burma):
Seeking the Drama of Everyday Life in Burma: part 2 - Bagan
Seeking the Drama of Everyday Life in Burma: part 1 - Yangon
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.
A Budget Travel Pioneer on a Time When $5 a Day Was Real (Frugal) Money
nytimes.com: Frugal Traveler by Seth Kugel
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.
Manhattan Memories An Autobiography 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 by John Wilcock
Edited by Christopher Trela
Photographs by Shunk-Kender
Village Voice and Interview cofounder John Wilcock was first drawn into the
milieu of Andy Warhol through film-maker Jonas Mekas, assisting on some
of Warhol’s early films, hanging out at his parties and quickly becoming a
regular at the Factory. “About six months after I started hanging out at the
old, silvery Factory on West 47th Street,” he recalls, “[Gerard] Malanga came
up to me and asked, ‘When are you going to write something about us?’”
Already fascinated by Warhol’s persona, Wilcock went to work, interviewing
the artist’s closest associates, supporters and superstars. Among these were
Malanga, Naomi Levine, Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet, all of whom had been
in the earliest films; scriptwriter Ronnie Tavel, and photographer Gretchen
Berg; art dealers Sam Green, Ivan Karp, Eleanor Ward and Leo Castelli, and
the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Henry Geldzahler; the poets Charles Henri
Ford and Taylor Mead, and the artist Marisol; and the musicians Lou Reed and Nico. Paul Morrisey supplied the title: The Autobiography and Sex Life of
Andy Warhol was the first oral biography of the artist. First published in 1971,
and pitched against the colorful backdrop of the 1960s, it assembles a prismatic
portrait of one of modern art’s least knowable artists during the early
years of his fame. The Autobiography and Sex Life is likely the most revealing
portrait of Warhol, being composite instead of singular; each of its interviewees
offers a piece of the puzzle that was Andy Warhol. This new edition
corrects the many errors of the first, and is beautifully designed in a bright,
Warholian palette with numerous illustrations.
The British-born writer John Wilcock co-founded The Village Voice in 1955,
and went on to edit seminal publications such as The East Village Other, Los
Angeles Free Press, Other Scenes and (in 1970) Interview, with Andy Warhol.