the column of lasting insignificance: Feb. 16, 2013
by John Wilcock
HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONS sound like a good idea—a way for victims to remedy unfair prejudice or perceived injustice they have suffered. Most people live in total ignorance of the agencies until they run afoul of them, writes Mark Hemingway, but in practice they have developed into “bureaucratic star chambers with the power to ruin your life and run you out of business”. In a cover story in the weekly Standard, he terms it The Sensitivity Apparat, alleging, with innumerable examples, that the commissions have never justified their existence. Among the accused are the pub in Washington that was cited over a satirical sign for making fun of the felonious mayor Marion Barry; a New Mexico Christian couple who declined to photograph a gay commitment ceremony; and a Kentucky printer who refused to make T-shirts for a local gay pride parade. “Only when you’ve been through the human rights tribunal and exhausted your appeals at the state level will federal courts even consider intervening to protect your constitutional rights” says Hemingway. In Iowa, the Civil Rights Commission nailed 27 landlords after a sting involving tenants with dogs—extorting them for bribes in lieu of being prosecuted. And things north of the border can be even worse, he explains. “There’s the brazen corruption of Canada’s human rights regime” under which an Ottawa lawyer kept posting racist comments on somebody’s website before suing (and being paid) for the alleged racism.
IF YOU GUESSED that Walmart was the biggest seller of guns in America, you’d be right and the accessibility of the weapons is sometimes easier than it should be. “Local news reports are rife with stories of gun thefts at Walmart stores, often apparently because of lax oversight” reports the Nation with accounts of cracked open display cases and smash and grab incidents. In 2012 “there have been at least fifty shootings in a Walmart store or parking lot”. Nearly 400 guns are available in the company’s catalog and others can be ordered. At the time of the Sandy Hook shooting spree, the Bushmaster AR15 gun used by Adam Lanza was on sale at 1,700 Walmart stores. And on that 2011 morning when Jared Lee Loughner shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, guess where he bought ammunition. Among the 360 types of ammunition listed on Walmart’s website are the Winchester hollow-point bullets which have been touted in the past as penetrating ‘bullet-proof’ vests.
ART IN AMERICA, celebrating its 100th birthday, has been commissioning various artists to create or reproduce special covers, of which the latest (at right) is by Urs Fischer, 39, the Swiss-born artist who often offers paintings in which a face is obscured by some vegetable and who once displayed a chateau built of loaves of bread. Art in America editor Lindsay Pollock describes the Fischer cover (movie star James Stewart overlaid with a banana) as “phallic and Warholian”, it being the latest of a long-standing series of commissioned covers. Edward Steichen did one for the magazine’s 50th birthday and Alexander Calder, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Indiana have all contributed covers since then. Fischer’s actual banana image is owned by mogul Peter Brant who is blissfully ignorant of (and would be totally uninterested to learn) that Andy Warhol and I jointly founded his magazine Interview (from which I never made a penny.)
SICK PEOPLE WANDERING the streets have become a familiar sight and they can sometimes erupt violently like the woman who recently pushed somebody to his death in front of a Manhattan subway train. National Review says that one per cent of the severely mentally ill (77,000 individuals) are responsible for about 10% of the homicides in the US. They also account for 20% of people in jails and more than 30% of the homeless. “the glaringly obvious solution is to treat these individuals” writes E. Fuller Torrey, but in the past half century we have closed down 95% of the accommodations in public psychiatric institutions so there are almost no beds available. “Attempts to implement treatment inevitably face opposition from critics who say that mandatory treatment violates the civil rights of the mentally ill persons”.
IT’S NOT TRUE, says Popular Mechanics, that moss just grows on the north side of trees because moss seeks out bark that holds water. But isolated trees can help lost travelers locate their direction, the mag says. Their limbs seek out the sun and thus grow denser on the southern side where they tend to grow horizontally whereas trees on the northern side tend to point slightly upwards.
A LOT OF RAPE takes place in the military that doesn’t get reported. And even when it gets reported it rarely gets ether proved or punished. So claims Rolling Stone about a “scandal” that out of 3,192 military sexual-assault reports last years, “a paltry 191 cases—6%—ended with a conviction. “Female recruits learn their place when, upon entry, they’re classified by peers as one of three categories: a bitch, a ho or a dyke” Sabrina Rubin Erdely writes. “Research suggests that one out of very three women in the U.S. military is the victim of sexual assault, making military women twice as likely to be raped as civilians…blue on blue sexual crime has become utterly commonplace”.
TOP-CLASS POLO PONIES cost around $200,000 with some championship players owning several of them. Now, following on the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep, scientists are cloning ponies for a mere $80,000 apiece and one affluent eager player, reports the Economist, has ordered 100 copies of the same horse. Argentina’s champion player, Adolfo Cambiaso, has teamed up with the Texas breeder Crestview Genetics which is taking measures to ensure that ponies cloned from the same horse do not find themselves competing against each other.
LANDMARKS OF PHILANTHROPY is the way Forbes describes some famous buildings such as the New York Public Library, which was built with 20,000 three-foot thick marble blocks back in 1911, and would cost $1.6bn to construct today. Add another $1.2bn for the land in the center of Manhattan. As for Washington’s Smithsonian Institution (cost to build in 1838: $500,000) rebuilding would cost five times as much, although the land itself is today worth more than $6bn.
THE WILCOCK WEB: Uzbekistan, the world’s sixth most corrupt country, is blackmailing the US to leave behind billions of dollars worth of armored vehicles, helicopters etc when it leaves. “The way out will require rail lines and well-surfaced roads: a NYT report says. Really? Then how did the supplies get in?.... Mitch McConnell, the most powerful Republican in the Senate and the most unpopular senator in the country, is the biggest obstructionist in the U.S. government says MoveOn, a "human roadblock stopping any progress in Washington”. After 28 years he could finally be beaten in next year’s election, they predict… Will Durst awarded him “the best impression of reanimated halloween pumpkin award…. It's not that the man did not know how to juggle, he just didn't have the balls to do it…….Rather than selling some of its $500m tax-free property to settle sexual molestation debts, the Los Angeles Diocese expects its misguidedly devoted parishioners to cough up the money. Why do they stay in that corrupt church? Do they think God won’t hear their prayers directly?…..….Anybody innocent enough to believe that the NRA was not the tool of the arms industry might note that among the members who nominate its board are George Kolliides II, head of the company that makes the Bushmaster; Pete Brownell, boss of an Internet arms superstore; Ronnie Barrett whose rifles can pierce armor from a mile away; and Stephen Hardy, manufacturer of armor-piercing bullets…......“There are no outdoor sports as graceful as throwing atones at a dictatorship” hoots Chinese art hero Ai WeiWei…. … Wrappings that you can eat—like the skin of a grape—have been created by Wikicells, a Massachusetts firm with edible wraps for yogurt, ice cream and cheese to start… Two-thirds of the young people polled in Britain believe that internships are “a vital first step” in their career plans……”If someone has a difficult time remembering your name, says Arnold Schwarzenegger, “they will also have a difficult time forgetting it….. Heritage Auctions took a full-page ad to boast that, unlike its two bigger rivals, it didn’t indulge in “chandelier bidding”—the practice of running up the price with phony bids….“Friends are God’s apology for relations” wrote Hugh Kingsmill…Marking a trend away from drinking wine, The Week reports that only 17% of the French drink on a daily basis, one-third of the number in the previous century ….British engineers have invented a revolutionary new cooling system which could allow jets to fly at 2,000MPH without overheating reports the Daily Telegraph. That could make a UK to Australia trip (10,600 miles) last a mere four hours….…. It’s amazing what you can accomplish” said Ronald Reagan, “if you don’t mind who gets the credit ….Sometimes placebos work and sometimes they don’t, but what Harvard Medical School researcher Ted Kaptchuk has demonstrated is that if combined with sympathetic words from the doctor they work more often…. Surely The Bachelor’s sexy Sean will have to bed his entire passive posse to decide who’s best to marry. And if he does, shouldn’t ABC be cited for pimping?..... “The only unnatural sex act” quoth Alfred Kinsey, “is that which you cannot perform”…..A toilet theme park, built around a version of Rodin’s Thinker sat atop a WC and exhibiting many of the world’s bathroom thrones has opened in Suwon, South Korea….“Always drink upstream from the herd” advises The Ol ’Farmer…The director of the U. of Chicago’s Celiac Disease Center , Dr. Stefano Guandalini, explains that, “Wheat entered the human diet only about 10,000 years ago with the advent of agriculture the human intestine hasn’t yet learned to adapt to it.... “Money couldn’t buy friends, but you got a better class of enemy" explained Spike Milligan who died 11 years ago this week.
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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
The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol