the column of lasting insignificance: May 4, 2013
by John Wilcock
THE AP’S DATELINE from North Korea is not to be fully trusted, claims the weekly Standard’s Ethan Epstein because the news agency has made “a deal with the devil” in order to gain access to the pariah country. AP, naturally, says it’s worth it, but the mag says it doesn’t have a base there but has to settle for being occasionally allowed to enter the country (where it shares an office in Pyongyang with the delusive government news service KCNA). “Why would any international news service that values its reputation partner with the world’s least credible news agency to shill for the world’s most repressive regime?” asks the Wall Street Journal’s Joshua Stanton after covering a show of propaganda pictures the unlikely partners jointly produced. Two of the bureau staffers work for KCNA, and “minders” accompany everybody who goes out on a story. “One hilarious—or at least tragic-comic—practice is the bureau’s habit of duly recounting ‘man in the street’ interviews with ostensibly ordinary North Koreans” comments twS. “The idea is laughable in itself; in no country on earth are citizens more fearful of speaking freely”. The mag accuses AP of focusing on “the trivial, mundane, unimportant and just plain wrong, at the expense of genuine news which, ironically, it covers much more accurately from outside the country.
CHINA’S MULTI-BILLIONAIRE leader Xi Jinping has pledged zero tolerance and prosecution for corruption, so will he start by putting members of his own family in the dock? That’s the question asked by the Nation in a story, ‘Why China’s Corruption Won’t Stop’. Peter Kwong, a Hunter College professor, writes that the party stands above the government, feeling no need to abide by its laws and that with such a tight grip no opposition can emerge. “In short” he explains, “communist China has developed a new aristocratic class, deriving its power and wealth through inheritance”. A surprising contrast compares the $7.5bn total owned by all 535 members of congress, plus the president, his cabinet and the nine Supremos with the top 70 members of China’s National People’s Congress who collectively are worth $89.5bn. The Asian country now has 251 billionaires and less than half of one percent of its families own 70% of its worth.
THE DALAI LAMA CLIQUE is what the foolish-misguided Chinese government calls
the escalating protests by Tibetans who just want their spiritual leader to come back home. Only an insanely blockheaded official could believe that more than 100 people burning themselves alive was of minor importance. The Economist calls it “one of the largest such protests in modern political history” and that “desperation is growing” among the Dalai’s followers and so, too, ”is the government’s effort to silence them”. The urgency has grown because of a belief that the revered holy man will not be around much longer. The Dalai Lama will be 78 on July 6.
ROSES SEEM TO be going out of fashion. ”The number of field-grown roses in the United States fell from around 50 million in 1990 to as low as 18 million in 2011” declares Tom Carruth, curator of the Rose Collections (1,200 types) at the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens. Of course, it doesn’t mean that roses going to disappear, just that the era when it seemed like every day a new variety was bred and named after some celebrity is long gone. “Gardening trends change”, Carruth says, “and lifestyles change. People have less time to spend in the garden these days and they want things that are low-maintenance. So they’re planting fewer roses—and fewer varieties”. One of the problems, reports Huntington Frontiers, is that the crash of the housing market means fewer home buyers are establishing new gardens and have less money to invest in landscaping.
THE NAME GUGGENHEIM, to most people, triggers thoughts of the famous New York museum. But Guggenheim Partners is actually a family firm that Fortune describes as “a powerhouse on the prowl”, acquiring properties such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dick Clark Productions and Hollywood Reporter magazine. Maybe, speculates Fortune, the company “aspires to be a sort of Hollywood equivalent of Berkshire Hathaway”. The family fortune began with Meyer Guggenheim’s 1881 stake in Colorado lead and silver mines; it was his son Solomon who founded the museum. “We (then) had the idea that a powerful brand would launch our marketing” says a spokesman for the company which currently has $170bn in assets under management.
PAKISTAN’S EXPLOSIVE POPULATION GROWTH is a time bomb ticking away that is more likely to destroy the country than any nuclear explosion. So writes Irfan Husein in the Karachi paper Dawn, pointing out that almost one-third of the country’s population of 200 million has been added in the past 15 years. “The whole country seems absolutely overrun with an increasingly younger population…Half of us are illiterate; we have water and electricity shortages, after catastrophic floods we even had a famine. Yet no effort is made to halt the relentless increase. We don’t even discuss contraception much less provide access to it”. [Pakistan mothers, on average, give birth to four children].
TOO MANY LAWYERS has long been the exasperated complaint of people who find themselves in legal shenanigans and the Bureau of Labor Statistics has now offered some evidence: it reports that American law schools graduate 44,000 JD’s (juris doctor) per year, and as it’s estimated that 73,600 law jobs will open up in the current decade, there’ll ultimately six new lawyers seeking every job. Steven J. Harper’s book, The Lawyer Bubble, a profession in crisis, forecasts that relatively few of the thousands of junior lawyers will ever be granted an equity partner role in the firms they join because of the concentration of power in a few executives at the top of these firms. These barriers—law school and executive committees—are described as “two breeds of scoundrel” by Elizabeth Lesly Stevens reviewing the book in Washington Monthly. Making the matter worse, she writes, is a recent estimate that the Federal government will loan law students $53bn over this decade—“a huge public investment to educate an army of new lawyers who are then rejected by the job market”.
THE WILCOCK WEB: Clearly, it’s the gun manufacturers and munitions industry that runs this country because our supposed lords and masters, the politicians all the way up to Potus, pay ultimate obeisance to them and their NRA front…..If Syria hasn't used poison gas, what about all those pictures of dead animals sprawled only yards apart?….Sixteen states are contemplating laws tying unemployment insurance to drug tests…..Unimpressed by the candidates for mayor, Los Angelenos are even less enthusiastic about the leading would-be buyers of the Los Angeles Times: the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch……Two Brits have designed GravityLight, a device comprising a weighted bag which attached to various pulleys and gears then provides light from a small LED for the 30 minutes it takes to descend…That villainous London businessman who made $75million selling phony bomb detectors which offered false help in Iraq,will hopefully go to jail for a long time. But what of the U.S. procurement people who spent millions without bothering to check them first?..... “All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone's feelings” proclaimed Denis Diderot …..At 40 laboratories around the country, contamination has gradually added miniscule weight to the standard Weights and Measures (universally adopted in 1875). It must be scraped off or scientists’ work will be handicapped….The university presses of Oxford and Cambridge are suing Delhi University and a neighboring copy shop trying to stop the inexpensive ‘course packs’ for students by freely copying the $55 technical books . “We have a right to access study materials” says one student. “Curbing access obstructs the process of learning”…. Adjoining Wall Street as it does, NYC’s Trinity Church is more corporate than Christian, giving its rector $475,000 a year and a free town house….Salvaging that huge cruise boat, the Costa Concordia, that capsized off the Italian coast last year will cost $400million. It took 31 days just to remove the fuel…..MURPHY'S INLAWS by Phil Proctor: The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong. Flashlight: A case for holding dead batteries. God gave you toes as a device for finding furniture in the dark. If the shoe fits, get another one just like it….At Drive-a-Tank in Kasota, MN., you can do just that, in a day-long jaunt that costs hundreds of dollars and culminates with driving over and crushing an old Ford Focus…. Target has moved into Canada, plans 124 stores there within a year…Why don’t they color salt blue so you can see when it comes out of the shaker?....And aluminum foil would be the perfect thing to decorate with brightly colored flags ….British riders are getting too fat for their horses declares the Journal of Veterinary Behavior which lists the ideal ratio between horse and man is 10:1 ..… The chief obstacle to the progress of the human race is the human race-- Don Marquis (1878-1937) .
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April 11, 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.
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 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