the column of lasting insignificance: Mar. 2, 2013
by John Wilcock
MORE EFFICIENT BATTERIES are the long-overdue key to future progress says the Economist proclaiming that modern life would be impossible without this “hugely important technology”. Many engineers find them disappointing, the mag says. The US Department of Energy has recently allotted $120m to research, with the aim of making batteries five times more efficient, encouraging the shift from costly and polluting fossil fuels to “fuels” such as sunlight which cost nothing. Engineers keep trying. Recently the lithium-ion battery became ubiquitous, especially in electric cars, but they have an unfortunate tendency to overheat and burn. A new potential leader is the lithium-air battery which is lighter and potentially packs more energy. But this, too, is highly inflammable as has been proved by their failure by the grounding of Boeing’s Dreamliner. Next up, the multivalent-ion battery which are heavier and not yet as flexible. What the engineers are aiming at is what is known as grid-scale storage which is to say a battery that could store wind and solar energy. Success would “electrify parts of the economy such as transport” concludes the Economist. “Produce the right battery at the right price…and you could make the internal combustion engine redundant and usher in a world in which free fuel, in the form of wind and solar energy, was the norm. That really would be a revolution”.
GREAT TRAIN ROBBERIES, colorful historical events that have been portrayed in several books and movies, date back more than a century to a shipment of gold on its way in 1855 from London to British Army troops in the Crimean War. Only when the boxes were opened in Paris was it discovered that the gold had been replaced by lead shot. The robbers were eventually nabbed when the ex-girlfriend of one tipped off the authorities. The American West’s great train robbery took place in 1870 when Wells Fargo’s shipment of gold coins were snatched from a Central Pacific Railroad train in Nevada. Those robbers were quickly caught, too. But the Great Train Robbery that is still most talked about was the one that took place 50 years ago this summer outside the English village of Linslade where half a dozen pub pals planned the heist that initially got away with loot worth $1.2millon today. The simple plot heist began with a stocking to mask a signal light and a truck transfer of the money to a farm 30 miles away. Eight days later investigators found the truck abandoned at the farm in which were food, sleeping bags, banknote wrappers, post office sacks and the Monopoly board on which the miscreants had played with real £20 notes. A fingerprint on a ketchup bottle led to the robbers’ capture. The tale is still popular in England today where it’s the subject of a new book. “It’s Britain’s real-life Wizard of Oz” proclaimed reviewer Mark Mason.
TOUGH MUDDER is a company devoted to offering tough punishment. The 10-mile course undertaken by its customers offers a crawl under barbed wire through puddles of mud, a leap into an ice-filled dumpster and a dash through a tangle of electrified live wires. And yet the customers keep coming—half a million of them last year, all fans of the Brooklyn-based company run by 32-year-old Will Dean, a Brit who worked in counter-terrorism before graduating from Harvard Business School. The company has 110 employees working at operations in Australia and the UK. And plans for Germany. “I noticed that people were bored with marathons and triathlons” Dean told Inc. “Running’s a bit boring…I wanted to make something that was Ironman meets Burning Man”. Dean says the company has invested heavily in safety—“we’ve had no deaths”—and probably has more lawyers on staff than most law firms.
CAFFEINE HAS GONE CRAZY declares Wired, whose four-page feature reveals that it can be harvested naturally or created synthetically—and neither version is good for you. “It comes in so many forms that it’s hard to keep up: soft drinks, energy drinks, energy shots, chewing gum, sports gels and nasal sprays”. They all come from a white powder, 15 million pounds of it every year—enough to fill a 270-car freight train two miles long. Referring to it as the drug “that keeps America moving”, Some energy drinks have caused deaths Wired says, and others prompted thousands of emergency room visits. Addictive and diuretic (causing dehydration), an overdose can cause heart attacks but admittedly that’s somewhere around five grams—the equivalent of 24 shots of a canned energy drink.
A STUDY BY the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that consumers get a bigger kick out of desiring things than actually acquiring them. Not only that, but unrealistic expectations about the pleasure of ownership sometimes means they are willing to overspend and go into debt, all because of the exaggerated belief that such purchases will transform their lives. But the positive emotions associated with such anticipation are short-lived, concludes Marsha L. Richins, a researcher at the University of Missouri, because the “mood boosts” are invariably followed by “less intense emotions” when actually in possession.
REPLACING LAB RATS with tanks of one-inch zebra fish is happening at research centers all over America now that scientists have learned to manipulate their DNA. The tiny fish have proved useful to study cancer, blood diseases and stem cells and have many advantages over experiments with animals, not the least of which are their fast reproduction (hours, compared with weeks for rats); the seven cents a day cost to maintain a tank full of fish; and the fact that they are transparent and thus researchers can literally watch their organs age and grow. The effects of drugs are studied by dropping them in the water ad allowing the fish to absorb them through their skin.
IT’S NOT EASY to explain why the New York Times Style Magazine is so offensive to the 99% of us. It’s definitely something to do with the 126 pages of glossy advertising for all the usual outlandish fashion creeps, the clothes of any one of which probably cost enough moolah to end poverty in half dozen third-world countries. The first 64 ad pages precede any copy and although you could generously count 75 pages as ‘editorial’, most of them merely display a model accompanied by a sentence or two about what she’s wearing (a $3,000 dress, for example) or sometimes just two words, such as Saint Laurent, for example. Ain’t that dude dead? I must say though that Ivanka Trump does look pretty snazzy (she’s advertising her own perfume).
FIVE HUNDRED YEARS ago this month (March 19) was the election of the 216th pope Leo X whose bio is quoted from my book Popes and Anti-Popes.
216. Leo X. b. Florence as Giovanni de Medici. Elected 19 March 1513, d. 1 Dec, 1521, aged 46. Son of Florence's Lorenzo the Magnificent with extravagant tastes and skill at falconry, he was groomed for the church being made a cardinal deacon aged 13. Stendahl wrote that he distributed 100,000 ducats at his coronation and "had a horror of anything which might upset his carefree life of self-indulgence". After his election, he murmured to his brother Giuliano, "God has given us the papacy. Let us enjoy it". Leo "wrote ribald plays of easy sex and
prostitution" says Uz. As pope, he foiled an assassination plot of dissident cardinals by executing the leader, imprisoning several others, and raised money by selling the office of cardinal to some of his 31 new appointees. "Leo was recklessly extravagant" says ODP, "so desperate for money that he pawned his palace furniture and plate". He condemned and later excommunicated Martin Luther for his criticism of the church and, for his support on this issue, styled England's Henry VIII as "Defender of the Faith". The 1516 Concordat of Bologna "made the French king master of a French national church"—S&S) but restored the right of appeal to Rome and increased papal revenues. A generous patron of the arts, Leo commissioned Raphael to decorate the Vatican Palace and extended Florentian influence in Rome by sponsoring the building of San Giovanni dei Florentini church.
THE WILCOCK WEB: Why does Canada’s Keystone pipeline have to devastate a dozen US states? Can’t the oil be exported from a Canadian port and a refinery built in that country?.... And why are the storm-destroyed churches being rebuilt at Federal cost? Which part of God’s message don’t the religion freaks understand?.... “Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God" advised The Ol’ Farmer…..If you’re over 60 and still riding a motorcycle, you’d be smart to quit, doctors warn…A poll by Boston Consulting Group revealed that 80% of domestic consumers are willing to pay more for products made in the US and more than half of the Chinese asked expressed a preference for US-made products”…... Zachary Guttens and Otis Collins call their Tie Society “the Netflix of Ties”. It allows subscribers to exchange ties as often and for as long as they want….. Although Japan gives huge subsidies to whalers, a recent report says that consumption of whale meat has dropped so low that the country would make more money by turning whaling into a tourist attraction rather than killing them… Well, Iran at least does one thing right: they execute financial fraudsters instead of rewarding them…“I had a rose named after me, and I was very flattered”, once joked Eleanor Roosevelt. “But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: 'No good in a bed, but fine against a wall'"….A report from a retail tracking service, the NPD Group, says that consumers, especially older ones, are turning increasingly to fruit to snack on rather than potato chips….Macy’s and J.C. Penney are battling in the courts as to which one has the exclusive right to sell Martha Stewart merchandise……. ”Some people say to me, ‘Don’t you get tired of singing I Left My Heart in San Francisco?’” Tony Bennett told United Healthcare’s new mag, Renew. “And I say to them, ‘Do you get tired of making love?’”…. After reinstating Brooklyn as a hip destination, NYC is now rehabilitating the Bronx with boutique hotels and a new golf course….It’s doubtful if Clive Davis’ autobiography talks about the time he made a deal with Jann Wenner to pull all the record ads out of underground papers and run them in Rolling Stone. Many of the undergrounds folded from sudden lack of income but the record companies boasted (untruthfully) “The music is the revolution, man”….“Is it possible to succeed without any act of betrayal?”—Jean Renoir (1894-1979)
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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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February 14, 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