the column of lasting insignificance: July 27, 2013
by John Wilcock
WHEN YOU DIE, you may be dead but you won’t necessarily be gone. At least three websites offer ways in which you can leave messages behind to be posthumously transmitted to your startled friends (or enemies). “You can write a short letter, a long letter, a love letter, or even a hate letter”, promises ifidie.net. Your notes stay ‘locked’ the site says, until they have verified your demise (via string of emails to you and your friends seeking confirmation). There’s even a built-in safeguard that ensures your friends can’t access the messages before you’re dead, no matter how hard they try.
A rival site, Liveson.org, promotes itself with the harmonious phrase, “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting,” and suggests—somewhat randomly, it appears—“If you’re always having a dig at Piers Morgan,” you can do so “from beyond the grave, which I imagine would be very satisfying for everyone.” Finally, there’s Deadsoci-al which has even gotten itself a review from something that describes itself as “the new media e-Zine, Digital Pivot, which raises the possibility that some of the social networks on which your messages reside might die before you do.
What if DeadSoci.al goes belly up? What happens to all of those messages then? it asks; “There's something oddly alluring about being able to tweet your last will and testament after you die. There's also something creepy about a service storing thousands of deeply personal messages that may or may not ever be seen. Something really, really creepy”.
ALIEN LIFE MAY actually exist and not just as a science fiction fantasy. “New studies show that strange creatures may thrive…on nearly any of the galaxy’s 100 billion planets or their moons” suggests Popular Mechanics which reports that recent sophisticated probes by space telescopes and rovers may confirm the beliefs that we’d eventually find life “strewn throughout the stars”. Distant star systems would be likely to have varying proportions of such elements as carbon, oxygen as silicon, the mag says, and while water was thought to be a rarity in space, it actually seems to be commonplace. “There’s no reason why life wouldn’t have happened on other solar systems” says David Blake, a geologist on the Curiosity rover team, now exploring Mars. “The ingredients are everywhere we look”.
THE HUMBLE COFFEE SHOP, long a thing of the past, has pretty much disappeared these days with long-established chains sparing no expense to upgrade into the sort of place where coffee drinkers seek to linger. So declares Bloomberg Businessweek which reports on such improvements as “stained poplar rails, faux leather chairs and glass partitions with LED lights that change hues”. (Blue light is said to have a calming effect). This sort of enhancement can cost up to a quarter of a million dollars and will present Dunkin Donuts with a substantial bill to upgrade existing stores and double their numbers to 15,000 in a bid to compete more with the leading Starbucks chain. The latter incidentally generates half of its sales after 11am and that is prompting Dunkins’ new attention to the afternoon consumer. “We haven’t always been conducive to the relaxed environment” says CEO Nigel Travis. “So soft seating, the ability to watch TV, to listen to appropriate music and just do things slightly slower than you would in the morning is what we think we’ve been missing”.
BREEDING LIONS FOR RICH idiots to kill, perhaps with a crossbow, is a growing phenomenon in South Africa where there are reported to be more than twice as many of the animals in captivity than in the wild. Animal welfare groups charge that at least 160 farms exist to sell their stock to be shot dead by cowardly but wealthy trophy hunters in confined spaces where the hunter is in no danger and the animal has no chance. “It’s factory-farming of lions, and it’s shocking” says Fiona Miles, director of Lionsrock, a big cat sanctuary run by the charity Four Paws. “The lion all around the world is known as the iconic king of the jungle and yet people have reduced it to a commodity, something that can be traded and used”. In the five years up to 2011, 4,062 lion trophies were exported from South Africa, more than double the figure for the previous five years. Trophy hunters are attracted by the guarantee of success, says the Guardian, and the fact that it might cost $80,000 for a lion shot on safari in Tanzania compared with a tenth of that figure for a captive-bred specimen in South Africa.
AN AFRICAN COLUMNIST has accused China of corrupting his country by paying off politicians to allow police and local authorities to protect illegal gold miners and “trespassing” on the concessions of native miners. “We have more often than not relied heavily on foreigners to develop our land and determine our future” writes Alex Bossman Baafi on GhanaWeb.com, and “these foreigners take our people for a ride”. There are frequent clashes between Ghanaians and Chinese immigrants, Baafi charges, and although the newcomers are damaging the environment by razing forests and dumping toxic mining by-products into the rivers, they appear to be above the law because of a $3bn loan they have made to the government.
GENETICALLY-MODIFIED (GM) CROPS has raised lots of enemies for itself, especially in Europe, where it is banned in most places, mainly on the grounds that it has not been tested for long enough, and who knows what might be the consequences of its widespread use? Its creators and defenders, especially Monsanto, are understandably in disagreement, and now some of the U.S. media are rallying to its defense. Nina Easton writes that America’s hard-left have condemned “those evil corporations…despite a dearth of evidence showing GM’s dangers” and what’s been cast as a fight against GM crops “looks more like an elitist war on the world’s poor”. In her Fortune story, she maintains that poor farmers in India, China and West Africa have been pulled out of poverty because of pest-resistant GM cotton and that Monsanto’s Golden Rice, fortified with vitamin A, will save the lives of millions of children in Asia. “GM crops pose no great risks than the same foods modified by conventional plant breeding techniques” states the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific society.
COLOMBIA’S PRESIDENT Juan Manuel Santos—described by the weekly Standard as “a charismatic, transformational figure”—has called for an in-depth, international debate on drugs because “sometimes we all feel that we have been aimlessly pedaling a stationary bicycle” and it is time “to start riding a real one”. His bylined appeal in the New Statesman declares that Colombia cannot act unilaterally and there is need for a new international consensus. “We believe that now is the time for this debate because after years of this war on drugs there is frustration everywhere”. Aided by $8bn-worth of investment from the U.S., Santos and his predecessor Alvaro Uribe have trained thousands of additional police officers, greatly reduced homicides and kidnappings, increased foreign investment and tourism and brought unemployment down 53%.
THE WILCOCK WEB: It’s too late for Trayvon Martin but next time there’s a mixed-race killing case (and there’ll surely be a next time) the trial should be put on hold until a mixed-race jury is in place….Florida sounds like a good place to avoid, with its one million armed residents authorized to shoot you if they have a good enough excuse…..Why are rapacious companies like Goldman Sachs allowed to get away with paying huge fines without having to admit to anything?....As hubristic as her self-righteous father, Liz Cheney plans to begin her political career as a senator…Boasting that gold’s dropping prices enables them to offer $5 coins for a mere $140 apiece, one firm says they’re “free of dealer markup”. Really? Then how can they afford the full-page ads?….More pure gold can be extracted from a ton of electrical waste than from a ton of unprocessed gold ore says the Independent in a story on recycling.....The
University of Minnesota’s Andersen Horticultural Library acquired its 60,000th seed catalog joining one of the largest collections in the
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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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