the column of lasting insignificance: September 14, 2013
by John Wilcock
HIGH-SPEED RAILWAYS are so last century and only politicians and their ilk don’t seem to have realized it. California’s governor Jerry Brown, an otherwise highly intelligent man, seems fully set on blowing two or three billion bucks testing the system on a lame stretch between two tank towns in the Central Valley, and then an initial budget of $60bn for “Phase 1”, whatever that is. Is there anyone in any doubt that this will double or triple before the whole thing’s built, shoving the state back into debt for the next decade? Even if, or when, the Los Angeles to San Francisco section is built, only the affluent will be able to afford fares that are higher than flying between the two cities, even a high-speed rail journey taking twice as long. Ultra-fast trains seemed like a great idea when I traveled on Japan’s Shinkansen back in the Sixties, but that was half a century ago, and now the U.S.—whose existing railway system has always been pathetically inept—is just beginning to think about it. Talk about time being out of joint. (Japan is currently testing new mag-lev trains which will double the speed).
TV GUIDE SUBSCRIBERS ACTED with outrage in response to the magazine’s recent listing of the humongous salaries earned by some stars on the box. “I love television, really” wrote Tayler Kiser. “But those salaries? They’re disgusting. $400,000 for one episode? [Law & Order SVU’s Mariska Hargitay] $400,000 could pay a year’s out-of-state tuition for 25 people at a public college”. Heading TV Guide’s Drama list was NCIS’ Mark Harmon ($525,000) with The Mentalist’s Simon Baker and Grey’s Anatomy’s Patrick Dempsey and Sandra Oh each receiving $350,000 per episode. A dozen other stars on the drama list receive $200,000 or more per episode; 15 more taking in at least $100,000. Ten million a season goes to the Kardashian family, $26.5m to Ellen DeGeneres, $61m to Ryan Seacrest, and $17, 13 and $10million respectively to Bill O’Reilly, Brian Williams, and Anderson Cooper. As for A&E’s Storage Wars, which always seems so casual—allegedly it’s a fix, salted with hidden ‘finds’ ahead of time. Be that as it may, star Darrell Sheets makes $25,000 per episode. “I always feel sorry for the other people who show up to buy a storage locker” wrote Nancy O’Keefe, “because their pockets are not lined with money from the producers”.
THE MEDICAL PROFESSION should not encourage and enable delusions when it helps people to change their sex declares Kevin D. Williamson in National Review. “A man who believes he is a woman trapped in a man’s body, no matter the intensity of his feeling, is no such thing”. What doctors should be doing, he writes, is to help those suffering from such delusions to cope with them. He questions the decision of the Department of Justice whose recent invocation of “gender identity” had endorsed “a fantasy involving a legendary creature: the person of one sex trapped in the body of a person of another sex”. The result, the magazine said, had enabled the sexual mutilation of physically healthy men and women by medical authorities “who should be barred by professional convention if not by conscience from the removal of healthy organs”. A longtime foe of sex change operations, Dr. Paul R. McHugh, a psychiatrist, asks: “Why amputate the genitals of these poor men? Surely the fault is in the mind, not the member”. The doctor went on to say that as many as one in four expressed unhappiness after the sex change, and some later asked that it be reversed.
AREN’T YOU FURIOUS when you read about these corrupt African dictators with fortunes in Swiss banks and multi-million-dollar homes all over the world while their abject subjects starve on $2 a day? Well, here’s another one—Angola’s president (since 1979) José Eduardo dos Santos, although Forbes’ story is actually about his glamorous 40-year-old daughter, Isobel, the country’s solitary billionaire.
The prez, explains the magazine, has astutely distanced himself from much of those riches (banking, cement, diamonds, telecom) by turning over direction and/or ownership to the infamously greedy Isobel who, naturally, is an admired fixture at many of the world’s social soirees. “It is not possible to justify this wealth, which is shamefully displayed” former Angola prime minister Marcolino Moco told Forbes. “There is no doubt that it was the father who generates such a fortune”. The magazine points out that if the 71-year-old president gets overthrown, he can reclaim the assets ($3bn) from his daughter. Angola comes in at #157 out of the 176 nations ranked by Transparency International Corruption Perceptions.
THOSE OLD, ESTEEMED BRITISH schools have long been spreading their influence around the world and these days seem to offer special appeal not only to wealthy foreign parents—especially in Asia—but even to some British families who seek to give their kids a taste of alien cultures. “At home, private schools are criticized for perpetuating privilege; the overseas that may be precisely the appeal” comments the Economist, revealing that as many as 6,300 ‘English-style’ schools are operating overseas, including branches of Harrow, whose outpost in Bangkok began as far back 1998; Dorset’s Sherborne (now in Qatar); Berkshire’s Wellington (Shanghai) and other transplants in Singapore and Kazakhstan.
THE WILCOCK WEB: All those billions of dollars we’ve poured into Afghanistan (and are still donating) has at least achieved something: Transparency International has just listed it as the most corrupt of all the 176 countries it monitors….The UN Security Council will remain a meaningless institution as long as any single member can veto any proposal…Bombing the palace in Damascus would send al-Assad an unmistakable message—and it wouldn’t kill a single innocent person….Isn’t it a bit silly that China exports chicken to the US and the US exports chicken to China, and from time to time both countries question the safety and purity of each other’s exports?.... If you fill up your shopping cart on a website and fail to complete the transaction, says the AARP Bulletin, the vendor will sometimes come on line and offer you a discount to follow through…..More than half the hundreds of new stores Starbucks will build (many from old shipping containers) in the next five years will be drive-throughs….Are ‘graduates’ of Donald Trump’s expensive real estate university called chumps?....The partnership of Salt Lake City’s CH4Energy and the 30,000-employees of China’s ENN company plan to build 50 natural gas filling stations in the U.S. to service this country’s millions of 18-wheel trucks. T. Boone Pickens’ Clean Energy company plans to build an additional 150 natural gas stations before the end of this year… Rinsing the hair with beer, raw egg or cranberry juice and rubbing coffee on thighs to combat cellulite were among beauty tips offered by women in a recent survey…..The world of academia is widely divided over the interpretation of a new catchphrase, “pathological altruism”, defined in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Barbara Oakley as “behavior in which attempts to promote the welfare of another, or others, results instead in harm that an external observer would conclude was reasonably foreseeable”….. …..For those of us who don’t understand Bitcoin, the news that somebody has now invented an ATM-like machine into which you can put real cash which is instantly turned into virtual money, isn’t particularly rewarding…. “When you have exhausted all the possibilities” said Thomas Edison, “remember this: you haven’t”….. Most of the greed-fueled arguments between TV networks and cable companies could have been avoided if municipalities hadn’t awarded monopolies for their areas. Why shouldn’t cable companies have to compete for customers?.... “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”—the Dalai Lama (1935–)
Bakewell and Chatsworth 2013 (part 1)
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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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