the column of lasting insignificance: April 6, 2013
by John Wilcock
ONE OF THE 35 AUTOMATIC air quality monitoring stations in Beijing which report on current pollution, and which can be tracked on mobile phones. The choking smog, a mixture of dust, sulphuric and nitric acid and hydrocarbon particles, is caused mostly by the 23 million tons of coal burned each year by the capital and which, in January, temporarily closed 103 companies and ordered a one-third reduction in the use of official cars. “We all contribute to the formation of haze” declares environment spokesman Zhao Yue. “Each acceleration of a car, every meal of delicious fried food, each piece of burning straw or a string of firecrackers produces PM2.5, giving birth to haze and smog”.
IT'S A FAMILIAR TALE, corrupt village officials selling out to real estate moguls, demolishing homes, evicting villagers and accepting luxury cars as their reward. But in this case it has been met with an unusual response from a maverick named He Jianguo who started Voice of the People, a four page newspaper to expose corrupt officials who had sold out village properties to real estate developers who were planning a huge apartment complex. This was in Nangaoying Vilage (pop: 10,000) in northeastern Hebei Province where the officials' three-year term had expired but they remained illegally in office after a fixed election and ordered demolition of buildings that stood in their way. Successful village businesses were closed down to be replaced by a real estate office with the workers forced into unemployment. The official government paper in the village, Gaoying Bao, accused
Jianguo's paper of lies and slander but even as all but 120 of the villagers moved out, the Voice of the People ran pictures of the luxury cars the village overlords had acquired and accused them of misappropriating village assets.
A TRUCKLOAD OF DOGS on the way to slaughter (and eventually restaurant menus) was stopped in Guangdong province, one of several such incidents already this year. “A truck overloaded with dogs driving at night (indicates) a problem” animal rights activist Peng Tao told China Daily reporting that the cargo numbered 907 dogs of varied breeds plus one sheep, all of which are being held in a school playground until authorities figure out what to do with them. Authorities caution that eating dogs from unknown sources could produce health risks if the animals had undergone injections.
SHOULD AN ARTIST get a pay-off when his work is resold, even if the sale takes place years later? This idea—known as droit de suite—has been kicking around for a long time and exists in 60 countries, but in the U.S. only California has enacted it into law. Now it's been included in the draft of a new copyright law being considered in China where artists or their heirs would receive a payment between one and five percent for any public resale. Opponents of the law point out that most of the payments end up going to established artists, for example, in France where 70% are claimed by heirs of Matisse, Braque and Picasso.
BEIJING IS DETERMINED to get rid of what it calls its “shanty towns” defined as areas with an abundance of old, high-density, single-story buildings with poor sanitation and where fire is an ever-present threat. Poorly constructed of simple bricks and wood-framed doors and windows, with leaking
roofs and lacking ventilation, they are usually moisture laden and moldy. Relocation homes are being built in great numbers, with 43,000
households already moved by the end last year under the Shanty Town
NIKE PLANS TO OPEN dozens of discount outlets in China to clear its overstocked inventory, reports China News, and that means some prices will drop as much as 80%, listing $34 sweaters and $50 sports shoes. Adidas Group spokesman Colin Currie said the company would focus on the country's smaller cities where it expected most of its future growth. But the paper commented that meant “sportswear brands in China (were) feeling the heat” and could no longer expect to compete with international peers through price advantage.
ALLIED WITH a Chinese company, MGM Resorts International plans to build ten hotels in the Asian country says its president Bill Hornbuckle who announced that 70% of the company's revenue comes from the non-gaming sector. One of the new hotels, at Chengdu, will incorporate a style of architecture that matches the Qing Dynasty buildings, and another will go up near to the even older Mong Dynasty's (1368–1644) Lama Temple and the huge Confucian Temple built in 1302.
A GOVERNMENT STOOGE named Yi Duo wrote a lengthy diatribe about the so-called “political blackmail” by Tibetans who were setting fire to themselves to protest their lack of freedom from China's heavy-handed rule. In the story (reprinted in China Daily), the hapless Duo gave himself away by using the loaded phrase “the Dalai clique” 24 times in the story, several times twice in the same paragraph and twice three times. This, of course, refers to the accusation that the Dalai Lama is encouraging, indeed organizing, the suicides (which have now reached 100) and which he has denied. Some idea of the self-delusion suffered by Mr. Duo is explained by his barefaced lie that, “The Chinese government does not create conditions to encourage Tibetans to self-immolate. Hence it cannot be condemned”. Most of the world feels differently.
SUICIDES HAVE SOARED among the elderly with 200,000 deaths of people over 55 counted in a recent year according to report from a government research group. “The alarming statistics have made the issue of later-life suicide a major public health priority” commented China Daily, “especially because the elderly are the fastest-growing segment of the population”. By the end of this year, 200 million Chinese, 14.8% of the population, will be 65 or over.
GIVEN THE IMPRESSION that by marrying a US or Canadian citizen they could obtain foreign citizenship themselves, a score of Chinese women paid up to $1,000 to facilitate the match. Lin Xiaoping is accused of cheating 20 women via his match-making service which obtained pictures of available men from the Internet and absconding with the payments.
A POPULAR CHINESE FILM, Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons, is the latest inspiration for a new amusement park slated for Wuzhen, eastern China. The movie, by established director Stephen Chow, racked up a $1bn box office but analysts have warned that does not necessarily guarantee success for an amusement park of which there are already 200 in the country. Less than one-third of these have shown a profit. Walt Disney's first theme park on the Chinese mainland will open in Shanghai in 2015.
THE MAN WHO INVENTED Hanyu Pinyin, the phonetic system that allows foreigners to read the Chinese alphabet, Zhou Youguang, was a pal of Albert Einstein in the years he worked on Wall Street. Last month he celebrated his 108th birthday, four years after his 30th book, Zhaowen Daoji, became a best seller. He has already published ten books since he hit his century mark, some of which have been banned in China for their outspoken views about the Communist Party and the need for democracy in China. They have made him a "sensitive person"—a euphemism for a political dissident. His most recent book, published last year, was about modern Confucianism.
EVEN BRIEFER. Fifty one percent of senior management positions in China are filled by women, according to a recent survey, and this is the highest proportion of any country in the world. The US, the UK and Japan are far down the list…. The one millionth passenger traveled on the 700-mie Beijing to Shanghai high speed rail line last month, part of what is now China's 6,000-mile high speed rail network—the world's longest…..Introduction to Philosophy lectures by Fudan University's professor Wang Defeng inaugurated Beijing's first inter-university online course….. A Supreme Court spokesman announced that almost 40% of those convicted of “corruption, bribery and dereliction” avoided jail, some by confessing and compensating their victims….Rampant littering by tourists has turned the moat around the Forbidden City into a river of trash, the press reported. Part of the Tongzi River, and it served as the last defense of Chinese emperor of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644)….. A cyclist complained to China Daily that although Beijing had put 50,000 rental bicycles on the streets, cyclists were still considered “second-class citizens…cars obstruct the bike lanes and pedestrians love to walk in them. When will the police and authorities act to guarantee cyclists' interests?” he asked.….. Shanghai authorities are cracking down on local shop owners who have been smuggling small items such as handbags, cosmetics and wrist watches into the country after buying hem tax-free in South Korea. The widespread habit is fueled by China's excessive import taxes….. A women's federation in Guangdong province has called for more education for young girls about how to protect themselves from growing harassment, especially in rural areas where children are said to get less attention from their families….. Predicting that it will become the world's leading oil importer by late next year, China's daily oil imports (5.4m) in 2012 were one million barrels less than the U.S….. Shanghai has introduced regulations to stop the use and collection of what's known as “gutter oil”, or reprocessed oil that is illegally recycled and used in restaurants. More than 90% of the city's 35,000 restaurants have been equipped with machines that separate oil and grease from the 70 to 80 metric tons of waste cooking oil produced every day…..After meeting resistance to their genetically modified crops (GM) in Europe, big agribusinesses are finding a more sympathetic response in China where cotton, papayas, sweet peppers are among the millions of acres of GM crops that have been planted with scant opposition…..Irked by the number of his schoolmates who he watched as they are picked up by official cars, a teenage student has asked authorities to tag such vehicles with easily identifiable red license plates…..People's Daily claims that China's homicide rate, at 0.8 cases per 100,000 people is one of the world's lowest (Switzerland is 1.27, the US 4.6) and that 94.5% of murders are solved. Cynics on the Web suggest that China's conviction rate is so high because torture is used to extract confessions….“What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.”—Confucius ( 551-479 BC)
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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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March 7, 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