the column of lasting insignificance: June 22, 2013
by John Wilcock
ENGLAND, right now!
MONEY AND GREED, which are almost becoming the same thing, are on the minds of the British press pretty much the same as everywhere else. Executives are paid too much, maintains Times columnist Ross Clark, a view with which few would argue. He writes of the “explosion in executive pay out of all proportion to the need for and incentive to perform” and reveals that the boss of the National Health Service pockets over half a million bucks. “Any organization, of course, has to pay salaries enough to attract competent people. But it doesn’t follow that if you offer more and more money, the better and better they perform…(in fact) performance-related bonuses seem to get paid however poorly they perform”. Indeed, targets don’t seem to matter, suggests David Mitchell in the Observer where he writes that Network Rail (which costs the taxpayer more than £3bn annually) failed to meet its target of 92% of trains running on time, but nevertheless paid its boss, David Higgins, a £99,082 bonus to sweeten his £577,000 salary. What’s more “his charmed team”, with salaries of £350.000 are all getting bonuses, too. (British railway fare are far and above those of any other country in Europe).
The Independent revealed that the salary of a top CEO is now 185 times greater than the average paycheck and the 1% share of the national income has more than doubled. “There are more bankers earning over £1million at Barclays than executives at public companies across the whole of Japan”. Tanya Gold is one of many columnists griping about the new rich. “Those earning more than £1 million have doubled in the past two years” she comments. “Where is their sense of responsibility to their fellows? Why do they lunge for tax havens when the wages of their greed is explicit in the soup kitchen in the Strand?” Oxfam (a major charity) said last month that income hidden in tax havens could obliterate extreme global poverty twice over. It could but it won’t.
One reason why things don’t change suggested author John Le Carre, 81, at the recent Hay (Literary) Festival is because Britain is still run by a secret political elite, drawn from the top schools, who decide policy in secret committees. This “formless” group, he explained, is the spiritual home of the establishment and “the font of power”. The top schools to which he refers always include Eton which both he and David Cameron attended (the prime minister is the 19th such officeholder from the venerable school) which offers 14 Kings scholarships each year. Thirteen-year-olds are
AMONG THE TOP ESTABLISHMENT figures is undoubtedly the outgoing governor of the Bank of England, Sir Mervyn King, who claims that all the current tales of banking excess have started to make a difference among a whole new generation of students who no longer believe that greed is good and are actually turning away from banking careers. A recent survey by Lloyds Bank found that 28% of students would be “too embarrassed” to tell friends they were going to work for a bank. They had begun to realize, said Sir Mervyn, that some ways of earning money “did enormous damage to society” and he had been surprised that people hadn’t become angry sooner, after the banking crisis hit in 2007, but especially as the impact on living standards become more obvious. (“Banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies” Thomas Jefferson warned in 1816). More than 50% of high school students responding to a recent survey said they would have to skip going to college because the fees are now too high. “Graduates face debts of over £40,000 with the higher fees”, a spokesman said, “many will be paying for their university studies into their late ‘50s”. The value of a college degree, quoth the Times, is almost one-third less than 20 years ago, and belief in the perceived £100,000 ‘advantage’ in lifetime earnings, “has waned”. And as for finding work as an intern, that’s likely to become less of an option following the ruling from a government entity called Revenue and Customs that if a position has set hours and duties, it amounts to a job and must be paid the minimum wage. Nine companies were fined a total of $350,000 for requiring interns to work without pay, and an estimated 100,000 young people, mostly graduates, are thought to be working without remuneration.
CONFIRMING A LIFETIME of greed, the Rolling Stones barred the BBC from transmitting most of the concert they are booked to do at the forthcoming Glastonbury Festival. “It’s not about money” they said, offering the lame excuse that it might rain and then viewers might not see them at their best. Jagger, Richards and Watts are reported to have paid only 1.6% tax on earnings of $400 million in the past 20 years.
THAT OLD POSTER from the 1940s, Keep Calm and Carry On, discovered by Stuart Manley in his Northumberland bookstore has collapsed into endless parody. Keep Calm and Buy Shoes and Keep Calm and Scrap the Monarchy are among scores of recent examples. The 2.5 million print run of the original poster was pulped before distribution by the Ministry of Information whose object (writes the Independent’s Rhoda Marsden) was “a reassuring propaganda tool to lift spirits during a time of austerity and fear”. “The holy grail of awareness” is how marketing consultant Sam Bridges raves about the instant recognition brought about by this kind of propaganda.
PICTURES OF KATE MOSS were spread over two pages of the Daily Mail which called her “The worst (role) model of the century”, referring to her “lack of manners… heroin chic… cocaine… the odd junk boyfriend, and an image almost cartoonish in its photo-shopped dishonesty”.
IF YOU’RE LATE to take your seats at the Royal Court Theatre for the revival—40 years later—of Samuel Beckett’s Not I, you’ll miss it. ‘Cos the play lasts nine minutes, all of it a monolog “at the speed of thought”, delivered by an oversized disembodied mouth, illuminated high above the stage. When Jessica Tandy ambled through the role in the nineteen seventies she took 22 minutes, prompting Beckett’s response: “You’ve ruined my play”. Which, says the Times, “offers glimpses of a loveless life, empty of pleasure; a life spiked, in its absence, with pain”. Well, that’s Beckett for you.
MEDIA PREOCCUPATIONS: The Duchess of Cambridge (aka Kate Middleton) and her baby bump….Forget those old constipation stories, prunes (really dried plums) are becoming really hip….Shona Sibary says in the Mail that the advent of female viagra means women won’t be able to claim they “aren’t in the mood ” any more. Julie Burchill confessed that ten years ago she was having sex three times a day “or more” but it’s sadly now down to once a day…A batch of ladies’ leather belts, containing melted down radioactive metal from India, was recalled….More lobbyists buying votes from Congressmen...oh, sorry, wrong country! More lobbyists paying peers to ask questions in the House of Lords. The Sunday Times said it began its investigation “after being tipped off by a well-connected Conservative source that the Lords was ‘infested’ with subsidized public relations people…cashing in on their contacts”………The correct way to prepare a scone for the traditional English tea, explained the Mail was strawberry jam and cream, applied in equal amounts, cream first in Devon, the reverse in Cornwall… A television hate preacher who described the 911 hijackers as “magnificent martyrs” is receiving a couple of thousand dollars a month welfare, which he turns over “for rent” to his wealthy relatives. Anjem Choudary, 46, angrily denounces British society at every opportunity, calling for Islamic rule…..After they’d spent eight months studying Bram Stoker’s Dracula for an exam, students at Suffolk’s Newmarket College were told they should have been reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Whoops! “We have asked the examiners for special consideration” principal Robert Cadwalladr told the Daily Telegraph… Teenagers told a recent study that parents should double their pocket money to $24 a week…A chunk of the $2million paid out by the Ministry of Defence as compensation for noise from low-flying RAF jets was to a pet owner whose parrot keeled over and died….A Royal Warrant, recognized as a symbol of quality, is granted to suppliers to Buckingham Palace, and 200 of the Warrant holders (Twining Tea, Yardley fragrances, etc.) will be among guests at next months garden party.
THE NEW METROSEXUAL man is “petulant as a princess, demanding as a despot” and knows his way around the cosmetic counter , declares Judith Woods, writing in the Times about “the unforgivable rise of the she-man”. According to a recent survey, she writes, these metrosexual monsters are “needy and vain (with) egos on a permanent slow puncture and must be reinflated with flattery and obeisance”. Moreover, they spend longer in the bathroom beautifying themselves than do their female partners. Daniel Johnson, a client shopper and the author of What Girls Want Men to Wear, says: “Women are getting quite confused about men who appear to be taking their role in recent relationships. There’s a real trend among men to wax their entire bodies that is certainly not very masculine”.
JUDGING BY THE PAPERS, the acclaimed National Health Service is on the verge of collapse, bludgeoned by endless tales of doctors who won’t work on weekends and bankrupt hospitals forced to close. Daily Mirror columnist Alison Phillips is suspicious. “I can’t help but think” she writes, “there’s something orchestrated about the relentless attack on our NHS. Running down what has become the country’s finest peacetime achievement has become the norm. The right wing papers barely take a break from it. The whole thing stinks of a softening–up operation on the public so that more and more of our hospitals are flogged off to private companies to be hived off for profit or just abandoned when there is no one left to fight for them”. (Well, overcharging sick people whatever the market will support has certainly helped the owners of for-profit hospitals Stateside). The Service is so short of both hospitals and doctors that they are extending the fledgling system of what they call “virtual wards” in which patients register to be visited (belatedly) at home with as many as four visits a day from health staff. NHS spokeswoman Jane Hayward announced that 2,336 patients had already been handled in this way, saving thousands of bed days in hospitals—and not incidentally saving patients the average $400 a night charge.
GROWING PRESSURE on Google for not closing down sites depicting young children increased after some high-profile cases of pedophiles proved they had found their victims on free websites. Already, like some big companies such as Starbucks, under fire for hiding their multi-billion profits and paying paltry taxes in England, Google was revealed to have donated a meager $30,000—the equivalent to 90 seconds of its profits—to the International Watch Foundation, a charity that polices online child abuse. But a crackdown is unlikely because of questionable ties by marriage or friendship with leading government officials. Google hotshot Rachel Wetstone actually worked as an aide to the premier, and former Google pr babe Amy Fisher now advises Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. (Starbucks evaded British taxes by claiming the coffee was drunk in Ireland and financed a lobbying campaign that resulted in legislation permitting giant companies to declare they didn’t owe taxes because they were somewhere else. Suspicions first arose over their claim that the Titanic actually sank in Switzerland).
ODDLY APPROPRIATE TO THE ABOVE comes the news that the system of courts of justice, which in Britain’s case were established by the 11th century Magna Carta, is in danger of being turned into a commercial enterprise. “Why aren’t we making money out of this outdated system?” would be the query of the rightwingers, the Conservatives, the Republicans, the greedheads, the one-percenters, the bankers, the you–know-who. The idea of selling off all the court buildings to a commercial company, reports the Telegraph, is strongly supported by—see above—Justice Secretary Chris Grayling, the rapacious author of another brilliant plan: to make defendants to pay court costs if found guilty. Opponents of the plan to make crime pay, if in a different way, claim that courts “are a key function of society and should remain under the control of the State”.
PUTTING S&M INTO M&S (Marks & Spencer) is a silly idea, writes Linda Kelsey in femail. “Most women…. Are just not into the market for becoming Miss Whiplash”. The wonderful oh-so-tabloid head (about the venerable clothing chain’s turn to the dark side) reads: I want comfy undies from M&S not S&M, with the subtitle: They’ve gone all 50 shades and Linda Kelsey isn’t happy.
BRITBITS: By “relentlessly chasing youth”, BBC Radio 1 is driving away listeners, charges deejay Mike Smith. “They should target attitude, not age” he says. “Whatever age you are, chasing demographics is terrible news for listeners”…..TV historian Bethany Hughes told Radio Times that she has been criticized for her (middle-aged) looks instead of her skills, because she is a woman. “The last time I saw genuine equality was around 3,500 years ago in the Bronze Age, and I am not being flippant”…… Animal lovers are protesting the culling of 5,000 badgers, said to be necessary because the beasts are ravaging dairy farms by infecting cattle with bovine tuberculosis….“The pettiness of yellow-clad Hitlers” is how AN Wilson described the Warley traffic wardens who slapped parking tickets on elderly, handicapped churchgoers. “Power mania” he shrilled. “A small minority are positively yearning to boss the rest of us about”….Finding a parking space in London takes an average of 20 minutes, say researchers, estimating that motorists spend 106 days of their life looking for somewhere to park….Novelist Audrey Niffenegger offered ‘rules for writing’ at the Hays Book Festival. Number one: More coffee can substitute for actual inspiration…Illustrator Mr. Bingo sends hate mail postcards to anyone on request
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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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