the column of lasting insignificance: May 18, 2013
by John Wilcock
MORRIS DEES AND HIS Southern Poverty Law Center have been media heroes for more than 40 years fighting against racism and segregation and battling for immigrants and civil rights in all its forms. “Even the SPLC's severest critics give the center's lawyers credit for providing high-quality legal services that have resulted in tangible legal changes” writes Charlotte Allen. But now some of those critics have their say in her story in the weekly Standard where their gripes focus on Dees himself whom they call “a shyster…a con-man,…King of the Hate Business… and an indisputable genius at self-promotion”. The Center's 76-year-old founder, who lives in what the Montgomery Advertiser describes as a “lavishly appointed neo-Mediterranean home” is said to be a multi-millionaire from direct-mail sales of everything from doormats to cookbooks, and the SPLC is called, “a Charity of Riches”. Specifically, the organization is reported to have expenses of $26 for every $100 raised (compared to the ACLU Foundation's $11) and to be sitting on $256million, dispensing only $24.9m last year of the $38.5m raised. “It has transformed itself into an all-purpose anti-hate crusader, labeling 1,007 different organizations across America (including the) category ‘general hate’” the magazine says.
TRAILER TRASH is an unfortunate soubriquet that demeans what otherwise can be a well-run and admirably inexpensive solution to the housing shortage. That's the argument Pacific Standard offers. “(These) notoriously underloved, manufactured homes can provide organic communities and a lifestyle that is affordable, healthy and green and not incidentally fun. But in order to really see their charms” writes Lisa Margonelli, “we need to change a mix of bad policies and prejudice”. The mag features Pismo Dunes, a 300-trailer park on California's Central Coast, where everybody knows their neighbors, share morning walks and eat, meet and greet at the community clubhouse. There are seven million manufactured homes in the country, housing 18 million people and in Florida one in every 12 people are said to live in such a home.
HERBS ARE DRUGS warns the Skeptical Inquirer, and they should be regulated because the supplement industry has “flooded the marketplace with useless products and false claims”. The magazine declares that the $5.3bn-a-year industry “has managed to maintain a ‘mom and pop’ image to the public as the righteous underdog constantly under attack by Big Pharma”. Yet even negative studies, it says, seem to have little impact on the constantly increasing sales of herbal products.
SENDING SMELLS BY PHONE is a work in progress and we're not quite there yet. NASA seems to have advanced the furthest with the development of a postage-size device that plugs into a iPhone dock and via 64 nanosensors (whatever they are) can detect such chemicals as chlorine gas and methane and transmit them to a computer fitted with some sort of receiver. Obviously this has great commercial potential and several companies are busy experimenting with the concept. In Paris, La Laboratoire opens a show next week called Virtual Coffee which guides visitors through rooms filled with what are described as the four basic coffee aromas of vanilla, jasmine, cocoa and burnt wood. Next they taste coffee that has been transformed into “a flavorful fog” and finally are allowed to transmit one of the aromas over a device called an OPhone, presumably to recipients already equipped with a receiver. Another device, about which little has been released, has been working on a plastic box called an Olly which can emit odors, although it seems unclear whether they are transmitted or merely trigger the box's pre-loaded contents.
ROADS CHANGING COLOR may soon be with us if experiments by Holland's Studio Roosegaarde are successful. A sample stretch, treated with photo-luminescent paint, glows green after ten hours of sunlight and another paint turns the road blue whenever temperature drops below freezing. Popular Science reports that other highway innovations involve the updraft from passing cars driving wind turbines (these turn on the lights as cars pass) and roads with embedded magnets that can create induction to drive electric cars.
AUDACIOUS MARKETING is how Inc. labels a feature depicting some of the “scrappiest, smartest, most disruptive companies of the year”. Among the examples it lists are Red Bull's sponsorship of that high dive from space; Jack Dorsey's invention of the Square credit card reader; AeroShot Energy, an inhalable shot of caffeine; a spray-on antenna which offers WiFi; and Azuri which installs solar panels in or on African homes and allows payments by installment. Kind of scary is Affectiva, a company offering facial reading software which can read expressions so well that it arbitrarily changes the television channel to one that it presumes you'll like better.
WIDELY CRITICED FOR its sexual intolerance, the Arab world once felt very differently about the subject writes Shereen El Feki who spent five years researching before the publication of her book Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World. That world today, she says, is widely criticized for its sexual intolerance, but long ago the prophet Muhammed urged his followers to satisfy their partners in the bedroom. This was met with scorn by contemporary Christians who described it as “a cunning ploy to win converts”.
THE WILCOCK WEB: Under what law is someone jailed forever under the mere allegation—without any declared evidence—that he is too dangerous to be freed?....Apparently the new guideline is that a detainee is assumed guilty until he can prove his innocence….And, btw, if the justification is that a trial would reveal too many secret things the government is doing, shouldn't we be told about what those things are?....”Violence” wrote Isaac Asimov, “is the last refuge of the incompetent”….Australian and German naturalists have been speculating about how male stegosaurus dinosaurs would be able to mount their spiky female counterparts unless they had six-foot penises…. Claiming to have studied the breasts of 330 women over a 15-year-period, Jean-Denis Rouillon, a sports science professor at the University of Besançon, declares that bras are a “false necessity” and breast muscles are gradually weakened by wearing them.…Militants who seek much-needed coordinated action against Syria, should persuade some other country to take the lead for a change….A victim of the truism that photovoltaic plants become obsolete within five years, China's biggest solar panelmaker, Suntech, went bankrupt and hundreds of similar companies might follow….. A London play about the Chinese artist Ai WeiWei got poor reviews…..
With 4,000 KFC restaurants in China perhaps it's not surprising that the percentage of overweight Chinese has increased from 25% a decade ago, to 38.5% today…. Echoing Confucian tradition that children look after their elders, China will introduce a law next month that allows parents to sue children who don't visit often enough….Chile where 40% of adults smoke (US: 19.3%) has become the 14th Latin American country to ban smoking in enclosed public spaces…..…”Pluralistic ignorance” is defined by Pacific Standard as “the situation in which individual members of a group believe one thing” but agree to go along with “everybody else in the group (who) believe the opposite”…..Only 11% of adult Los Angelenos now smoke, one of the lowest rates of any big city. But increasing, says Los Angeles magazine, is the number of surreptitious smokers who don't want to be noticed….. MURPHY'S INLAWS by Philip Proctor: Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't. Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool. The things that come to those who wait, may be the things left by those who got there first….. When was the last time that a college or university president produced an edgy piece of commentary or spoke out on a contentious issue? asks the Nation's Scott Sherman, accusing academics of “tiptoeing around public controversy”….. ”The thought that she might not be right never crossed Mrs. Thatcher's mind. It is a strength in a politician” averred British MP Roy Hattersley……Discussing the next British election, the Spectator's James Forsyth has concluded that, for the voters, the choice is between “a man who is out of touch, arrogant, and smug, or someone who is out of his depth, weak, and out of touch”…. …..Bloomberg.com reported that almost one-third of the world's richest people avoid taxes by sheltering their fortunes via offshore holding companies….....”Many people cycle or swim to keep trim” writes Charles Saatchi in his new book Babble. “But if swimming is good for the figure, how do you explain whales?" …..The sequester doesn't apply to everybody. Even after we supposedly leave Afghanistan we're still going to give them more than $4bn a year – and we'll cut social security here to pay for it…Of course this doesn't include the weekly donation of those sweet bundles of money we secretly donate to that crook Karzai….. Support the growing ban on Google's stupid Glass---“He who fears he shall suffer, already suffers what he fears”—Michel de Montaigne (1533–92)
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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
The Autobiography and Sex Life of Andy Warhol