the column of lasting insignificance: May 11, 2013
by John Wilcock
THE TWIDIOCRACY, a land filled with “staccato bursts of emptiness”, which heralds the decline of Western civilization, 140 characters at a time declares Matt Labash who does not Twitter and never intends to. “I hate the smugness of it, the way the techno-triumphalists make everyone who hasn't joined feel like they've been banished to an unpopulated land”. Nevertheless, he writes in the weekly Standard, even after seven years of nonstop media hype, only 16 percent of Internet users tweet, “the same percentage of 14–49 year-olds who have genital herpes”. Describing it as a form that encourages even professional writers to locate their inner mediocrity, he adds: “The whole thing is like being in the worst years of adolescence”. No disagreement from this writer who is constantly astonished that the egos of so many otherwise intelligent people are seduced into wasting so much time informing the world of their most banal thoughts. My tireless friend and techie, David, opened an account for me—in which I never participated—and this I have requested be closed. Fake names of zombie ‘followers’ can be bought cheaply (27,000 names for $202, for example, by Slate's Seth Stevenson) and Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are among the multitudes who have been accused of padding their rolls in this way. Young people, and especially illiterate ones, seem obsessed with tweeting—on the toilet, during sex, while at the moves. A company called Pear Analytics collected thousands of tweets over a two-week period, and broke them down into six categories. The leader, at 40.5% was “pointless babble”.
A FARM IN A BOX is how Freight Farms of Boston describes its retrofitted shipping container which is equipped with LED lighting, climate controls and hydroponics. In its 320 square foot box, the company claims, owners can grow 900 heads of leafy greens per week, equivalent to the annual yield of a one-acre farm. Costing $60,000 apiece including equipment, seeds and nutrients, more containers are being modified for growing mushrooms and vines crops. Wine in a box! The containers embody software displays of moisture and nutrient levels, Inc. explains.
COLLUSION BETWEEN GOVERNMENT and the media is always defended as a matter of “national security” writes Steve Rendall. “Has national security been enhanced by the U.S. media covering up say, the U.S. role in overthrowing democracies , or the dissembling of presidents, or dismissing the effects of radiation? Is protecting governments from the impact of public opinion really the job of journalism?” His take-off point is the way that the Washington Post and other news organizations made a deal with the White House to hold back the news that the U.S. has a drone base in Saudi Arabia. The Post (he writes in the Media Watch Group's Extra newsletter) has worked closely with the CIA from the beginning of the Cold War. He quoted Post publisher Katharine Graham reassuring CIA officials that “there are some things that the general public doesn't need to know and shouldn't…”
A HUGE WIND FARM scheduled to sprawl across almost 20 miles of Mexican coastline is being opposed by local fishermen who say that municipal officials are being bribed to persuade the community to accept it. Mareña Removables, a consortium of Dutch, Danish, Australian and Japanese corporations, is planned for the Isthmus of Tehuantepec where the Ikoots indigenous community claims that as the 132 turbines will be built in the water, the vibrations will kill the fish and destroy their economy. Protesters have received death threats.
PINBALL'S PEAK WAS in the nineties, after which it slumped, with the three main companies going out of business. But now it's in a revival, reports Fortune, with new games being devised, smaller and more suitable for the home. One surviving manufacturer, Chicago's Stern, offers a Jersey Jack game, with a ‘Wizard of Oz theme': ruby red flippers and yours for seven thousand bucks. Although the American amusement arcade seems practically extinct, the mag ventures, half the new machines are being snapped up by overseas eager beavers.
MARS LIVING IN 2013? That's the prediction of the London magazine Dazed and Confused which writes about a Dutch organization, Mars One, which last week opened its application process to the public with the warning that successful candidates (who must be18+) are likely to find it a one-way trip; that returning to Earth “cannot be anticipated or expected” and that as the gravity on Mars is only 38% of that on Earth, astronauts subjected to this environment for extensive periods of time are likely to suffer severe reduction in muscle strength and bone density: part of the reason a return to Earth would not be feasible, since the body would no longer be able to cope with a stronger gravity. Nevertheless, the project has aroused enough interest to generate 10,000 inquiries. Mars One's main instigator is Paul Römer who has presumably gotten familiar with shepherding techy groups while directing the reality show Big Brother; his team includes engineers, physicists and doctors. Deals are being made with numerous technological and scientific suppliers and the eventual Mars colony will, of course, produce a long-running tv reality show like no other. Costs are estimated to be $6bn.
Experts at the University of Arizona have already devised a self-sufficient capsule greenhouse (it pops open on landing) packed with seeds, sodium-vapor lights, gallons of plant food and everything else necessary to grow fruits and vegetables after the astronauts pump in carbon dioxide-enriched air.
THE WILCOCK WEB: “When scandalized, your ordinary citizen will retreat, burrowing deep into a hidey-hole and pulling the hole back in on him.” muses Will Durst. “Not the politician. They will hold a press conference to declare all accusations baseless, then publicly resign to spend more time with their family. Of course, nobody gets to ask the family how they feel. Sometimes the smiles are so tight you can hear enamel cracking.”….. Disney researchers are working on a new touch screen that, by sending harmless currents through the user's body, can identify him/her (better than a password)…. A recent BBC program examined the way that the Sharia legal system is growing in England alongside regular law enforcement…. Before ending cooperation between the DEA and Mexican police, as has been suggested, why not knock off a couple of those inaccessible druglords with well-placed drones?..... Bottles of Mexico's Scorpion mescal ($180) contain a scorpion…When the Afghanistan war is over will we keep paying that crook Karzai billions of dollars?..... Instead of a platform high above the sea, Norway's Statoil company is planning a factory on the ocean floor in the Arctic, not only avoiding surface side effects but drilling nearer the source…..Healthier than most countries of its size, the Philippines have accumulated $80bn in currency reserves largely because more than 10million Filipinos send their earnings from abroad….What a pity that those Congressmen who oppose closing Guantanamo couldn't be jailed themselves for a while, to teach them a little something about humanity. Wow! Imagine it: pols in jail. A vote for that would be a landslide….MURPHY'S INLAWS by Phil Proctor: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will sit in a boat all day drinking beer… When you go into court, you are putting yourself in the hands of twelve people, who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine……..Striving for an olde worlde style, Vlasic reintroduced the Mason jar for its pickles…..The Chinese restaurant in Delhi's Taj Mahal Hotel provides a goldfish swimming in its bowl to keep company with solitary diners, male fish for ladies, female for men. (How do they tell the difference?)….Actress Junie Hoang sued the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) for listing her real age. She lost, so now everybody knows she's 41….Seeking to extend its brand and “stay relevant, get paid”, ABBA has opened its own museum in Stockholm reports Fast Company, suggesting that one the group's songs, Money, Money, Money is appropriate…Also in Sweden is the Hövding company which has just introduced an air bag for the head, to replace bicycle helmets. It's expensive and looks ridiculous when it inflates…. “Cocaine results in intense bouts of over-exuberance” and “a tendency to talk extremely convincingly about stuff you know nothing about” proclaims David Nutt, theorizing that coke was the main cause of the financial crash….Ken Burns' brilliant Dust Bowl reminded us that banks in the Thirties were just as greedy and unforgiving, just as quick to exploit poor people, as they are today….2012: the year when there were more military deaths from suicide than from combat….There ought to be one day—just one—when there is open season on senators—Will Rogers. (1879-1935)
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May 2, 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
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