the column of lasting insignificance: August 31, 2013
by John Wilcock
THE NEW $100 BILL, quite different from the current one, heads out to the banks on October 8 carrying the usual hopes that it is forgery-proof. The US one hundred is the world’s most heavily counterfeited note, and last year the Secret Service shut down more than 300 counterfeiting plants around the world. It is still dealing with near-perfect counterfeits eventually traced to North Korea and probably printed on government presses.
DEMOCRACY MEANS DIFFERENT things to different people. The deposed Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, for example, wasted no time in preparing a constitution that would allow him to rule over a country firmly and irrevocably remodeled for sharia and Islamism, an ideology, writes David Pryce-Jones, “resting on the belief that the God-given supremacy of Muslims is the natural order of things”. He defines as “a tragicomic marvel” an Islamic movement—furiously intolerant of anyone different, and democracy as a Western instrument for harming Islam—at the same time appealing to that democracy in its own defense. And he emphasizes, in National Review, that it’s an “Eurocentric mistake” to interpret a foreign political system from the perspective of the West so that words and phrases such as election, coup, liberal, secular, democracy, and will of the people don’t necessarily carry the same meaning. It’s “Westerners coming to the defense of Islamists who hold them in the deepest contempt”. If General Sisi cannot hold the line, he adds, Islamism may become the most influential organizing principle of politics since Communism. The Economist also has some choice word about Sisi whom they think plans to be president, comparing him to the hero general Gamal Abdel Nasser who found himself in similar circumstances in the 1950s and ruled Egypt until his death in 1970.
NINE-DAY WHISKEY—not to drink it, but to make it—is the subject of a tale told by John Grossmann who went to Cleveland to meet the distiller who claims that his secret pressure-aging process can make and age bourbon in about a week. The stuff is pricey, too, with Tom Lix asking $35 a bottle, comparable with well-known brands such as Wild Turkey and Old Forrester whose cost is justified by having been stored in oak barrels for a few years. But Lix, 64, told Inc. of his different formula. “Instead of putting the whiskey into a barrel” he explains, “we put the barrel into the alcohol”—booze and pieces of barrel all stuffed into a 120-gallon pulsing pressure vat. The label reveals that charred white oak and “rapid pressure changes and oxygen infusion” control the aging process. When the magazine staged a blind taste test, one of the judges declared the Cleveland brand “pretty young…a bit rough”, but next day Lix conducted a test of his own on local television where one of the tasters offered a more favorable review, terming his whiskey “smoother” and “richer” than that of a well-known rival.
THE SUPERMARKET WARS pits Wal-Mart against Florida’s Publix which Forbes identifies, surprisingly, as the most profitable grocer in America. The family-owned chain has 1,073 stores—755 of them in Florida which the mag calls a hammerlock—but Wal-Mart is targeting the state “after saturating every other market in the south”. Brian Solomon writes that supermarkets are “a hot sector right now” and speculates that the fact that Publix is the largest employee-owned company might have something to with its dominance. “I’m always amazed that more companies don’t recognize the power of associate ownership” comments CEO Ed Crenshaw, the grandson of Publix founder, about a company whose 159,000 employees become eligible for stock after putting in 1,000 work hours and a year of employment.
ALTHOUGH AT LEAST 70 fashion brands and retailers with production in Bangladesh have agreed to invest millions of dollars in factory improvements and safety, such U.S. firms as Wal-Mart and the Gap have formed a rival group that has been described as “window-dressing”. It lacks monitoring, imposes no penalties and has no role for unions, according to The American Prospect which describes “the brutality of the global garment industry”, in which a mere 40 building inspectors monitor some four million workers. The current minimum wage of about 18 cents per hour, compared with the $1.20 per hour that labor activists say would be a living wage, is described as the world’s widest gap between the two figures. “Since other apparel producers such as Vietnam and Pakistan are eager to displace Bangladesh” says TAP, “the race to the bottom is likely to continue”.
ABOLISH TIPPING! Hey, wouldn’t that be a great idea? It’s a serious proposal by Brian Palmer, describing it in Salon as “a repugnant custom” that doesn’t guarantee good service and allows restaurants to get away with paying less than minimum wage, confident that their customers will make up the difference. The original custom is a foreign one, brought back from Europe by wealthy Americans in the late 19th century.
THE WILCOCK WEB: The healthcare issue being once again at the forefront—it never dies—another reminder: it will NEVER be affordable until the for-profit insurance companies are taken out of it. Obviously an impossibility….Coinciding with this year’s 9/11 memorial, will be a San Francisco celebration (by the Bay Area Poets of Loving Grace) at the Gandhi statue on Market Street, to celebrate the day 106 years ago when Mohandas K. Gandhi declared Satyagraha, the non-violent campaign which inspired worldwide movements anti-war and pro-civil rights… Canada’s UrtheCast is teaming with the Russian space agency to mount cameras in the International Space Station whose continuous images of earth will be uploaded to a freely accessible database ….“Artists love new toys to work with” says the Venetian glassmaker Adriano Berengo who says that 160 artists from several countries have collaborated in his Murano studio creating art works that have increasingly replaced the kitschy souvenirs that once represented the industry.…Among the trio of California wines from the Rolling Stone Wine Club is one bearing a Woodstock label..….“There are no right answers to wrong questions” proclaims scifi author Ursula K. Le Guin…..With tobacco consumption slumping, Virginia farmers are switching to chickpeas, planting more than 200,000 acres of the crop this year (five times as much as ten years ago). Chickpeas are ground into hummus for which demand is escalating ….The French menswear company Smuggler weaves its suits from a fabric including steel and aluminum which blocks electromagnetic waves from cell phones or similar devices ….Steve Jobs’ widow, Laurene Powell, is the main backer of a new online daily due from Ozy Media whose Silicone Valley founder Carlos Watson says is aimed at “the change generation”…Preparing for the day when enemy-fired drones may be coming at us in droves, Boeing is developing a truck-mounted laser weapon planned to “destroy multiple targets with precision”….Hungary’s scooter company Antro has developed a 55lb Vespa-like model that can be folded into a suitcase and wheeled when not being ridden at 28mph….Old tires, increasingly being blended with asphalt to create ‘rubber roads’, are said to be 25% quieter.….The American Dental Association’s Matthew Messina says brushing teeth with baking soda may remove stains…. Forbes identifies five women among the top six spots in its annual Celebrity 100 list as Oprah, Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Madonna, and Taylor Swift with Steven Spielberg in sixth place….. ….Estimated to use two billion plastic bags every year, Los Angeles has banned them as of next January, hoping to “send a signal across the country”…… Esquire will be 80 next month. Menswear ads in current issue: 79 pages…. The courts should dial back on those ridiculously impossible hundred-year sentences, which presumably come about because lower sentences never mean what they’re supposed to mean….“Not all problems have ‘solutions’” wrote Anthony Napolitano in a letter to the NYT….“Is there a more depressing phrase in the English language than ‘veggie burger’?” asks Michael Hanlon in the Spectator…. Catering to their super-rich fliers, some private air terminals are about to install vending machines—selling expensive watches….And for those with almost $300,000 to spare, a London tour operator is offering a six-month visit to a dozen countries to eat at all the world’s three-star Michelin restaurants…“You can only do so much, and then you’re at the mercy of fortune.”—Woody Allen (1935--)
Bakewell and Chatsworth 2013 (part 1)
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— Manhattan Memories: Introduction.
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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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