the column of lasting insignificance: October 26, 2013
by John Wilcock
WARDROBING IS THE hot new word in the department store world and what it refers to is the much-abused habit of buying a garment to wear at some social event and then returning it for a refund. Stores don’t like to lose their customers by accusing them of dishonesty so they have tended to look the other way, but the custom has escalated to such an extent, reports Bloomberg Businessweek, that “many retailers are taking a stronger stand against the industry’s $8billion-a-year fraud problem”. And returning used goods, of course, is not the only trick. Switching labels after buying similar items and returning the cheaper one is a popular gimmick, the sort of trickery reported by 65% of retailers according to a recent survey. This new attitude of mistrust by retailers is likely to annoy regular customers, the mag explains, quoting National Retail Federation vp Richard Mellor: “It’s a delicate balance of loss prevention and good customer service and the relationship has to be handled with appropriate finesse”.
ALMOST EVERY OLYMPICS has lost money for its host city, largely because of the need to build structures to accommodate it, which turn into white elephants when the games are over. (Los Angeles broke even in both 1932 and 1984 because it already had enough superstructure). So, with the awarding of the 2020 Olympics to Tokyo, the Atlantic was prompted to come up with a new idea: Why not avert much of this expense, it asks, by building permanent facilities in one place? Greece would be suitable, it suggests. After all it hosted the Olympics for the first 800 years.
PUBLIC HANDOUTS FOR professional football never end and are never repaid writes Gregg Easterbrook in a story accusing the NFL of “fleecing the taxpayer”. He says that back in 2007 he was told by the late Senator Arlen Specter that “NFL owners are arrogant people who have abused the public trust and act like they can get away with anything”. NFL owners, he writes in the Atlantic, pressure local politicians with veiled threats of moving teams, though no franchise has moved since 1998. “Politicians seem more interested in receiving campaign donations than to bargain for a fair deal for ordinary people….The National Football League is about two things: producing high quality sports entertainment, which it does very well, and exploiting the taxpayers, which it also does well”. The NFL, he submits, enjoys tax-exempt status which means that “ordinary people are taxed so that a small number of NFL owners and officers can live as modern feudal lords and ladies”.
CUTTING A CANAL across Nicaragua, 500 plus miles north of the Panama Canal, is an idea that’s been kicking around for centuries. It would run 250 miles from the Caribbean coast to the Atlantic, passing through Lake Nicaragua in the west and be wider than its southern rival, enabling it to handle the larger cargo ships of today. The plan has been revived by 40-year-old Wang Jing, a Chinese telecom tycoon who, according to the Economist “has deployed little more than his personal checkbook and a bit of old-fashioned swagger in the style of Cornelius Vanderbilt”. The Nicaraguan government, pledging to expropriate all the land along the route, is offering full support for the scheme, but the mag suggests mischievously that Jing’s “chutzpah has played well with a government eager for someone new to believe in now that its former benefactor, Venezuela’s has died”.
TAKI IS NOT an admirer of Tina Brown, whose editing skills and reputation, he alleges, are vastly overrated. The British-born wife of Sir Harold Evans who arrived in the U.S. in 1984 to edit Vanity Fair, left that magazine eight years later to edit the New Yorker for the next six years, during which time she became an American citizen. Taki, a longtime columnist for the Spectator, accuses Ms. Brown, who will be 60 next month, of “ass-kicking” and signing “a Faustian pact with Hollywood (under which) she would have access to the stars and the (VF) articles would be bootlickers”. Although, writes Taki, “no one can understand how the broad gets away with it…Tina , who is always referred to as a legendary editor in America, has lost a vast mass of money for the owners of the magazines she has edited. She almost broke Harvey Weinstein with Talk magazine—50 million big ones in two years—ditto with the New Yorker and Vanity Fair before that, and has cost another sugar daddy, Barry Diller, at least $100 million since 2008 with the Daily Beast and Newsweek”. Reporting last month that Newsweek had lost “tens of millions of dollars” before its closure, New York Times reporter Christine Haughney wrote that Ms. Brown had “made her share of critics as she tried to steer Newsweek through a turbulent time in the media industry. Dan Lyons, Newsweek’s former technology editor, wrote on Facebook Wednesday: ‘At rows of desks, reporters and editors pretend to stare at screens, while fighting the urge to jump and start dancing and cheering’.”
Musicians on marihuana (2)
“ONE REASON WHY we appreciated pot, as y’all calls it now, was the warmth it always brought forth from the other person—especially the ones that lit up a good stick of that shuzzit or gage. As we always used to say, gage is more of a medicine than a dope. But with all the riggermaroo going on, no one can do anything about it. After all, the vipers during my heydays are all way up in age—too old to suffer those drastic penalties. So we had to put it down. But if we all get as old as Methuselah, our memories will always be of lots of beauty and warmth from gage. Well, that was my life and I don’t feel ashamed at all. Mary Warner, honey, you sure was good and I enjoyed you “heap much.” But the price got a little too high to pay (law wise). At first you was a misdemeanor. But as the years rolled on, you lost your misdo and got meanor and meanor (jailhousely speaking). Soooo, bye-bye, Dearest, I'll have to put you down”—Louis Armstrong (1901-71)
[Extracts from The Weed that Changed the World, an eBook available from Amazon for $9]
THE WILCOCK WEB: Why have a ‘debt limit’ at all if borrowing is going to go on forever?.….“Republicans are not the party of business anymore” declares Robert Shapiro, chairman of the economic advisory firm Sonecon, “They’re the party of anti-government”…. If enough Federal employees had the guts to defy orders to stop working—particularly where lives are at stake—the shutdown wouldn’t work….Wall Street’s wretched backing of the shady $23m-per-year Jamie Dimon proves that there’s honor among thieves….. According to a report by the Credit Suisse Institute, about 1% of the seven billion people in the world own 46% of the estimated total wealth (estimated to be $241trillion of money, property, and other material resources). What was the French Revolution all about?. It was the rich against the rest……One of these days some jobless, homeless loser will be so obsessed with society’s inequality that he’ll become a suicide bomber just so he can take a billionaire along with him…. Complaining that it doesn’t know what to do with all its surplus billions if the dollar goes down, why doesn’t China spend it on easing millions of its peasants out of poverty?....Centuries of tradition are changing across Europe as the battle continues to open more shops on Sundays…… A mere $100 will buy you a Whistle Monitor that will allow you to track your dog via your cell phone.….“In other centuries, human beings wanted to be saved, or improved, or freed, or educated”, mused Michael Crichton. “But in our century, they want to be entertained”… A Kerryman went to London and found himself in the Underground late one night. Seeing a notice DOGS MUST BE CARRIED ON THE ESCALATOR, he moaned to himself,’ Where am I going to find a dog at this hour of the night?’….Why is the U.S. continually begging Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai for permission to stay in the country?.... And what kind of sense does it make to say that the reduced funds we are giving Egypt are only for certain things? If they get the money they’ll use it for whatever they want…. A backward poet writes in-verse…Transporting fuel in a war zone costs the army more than fifty bucks a gallon and to bring down the cost (the battlefield requires 20 gallons per day per soldier), $10 million-worth of solar equipment is now providing energy at many bases…….. By asking customers to round up their change to the nearest dollar, the J.C. Penney company raised $10.4 million for charity in six months. The company is among scores of firms cooperating with the Cause Marketing Forum operating similar schemes… A virtuous society would ban for-profit hospitals….“Democracy is when the indigent, and not the men of property, are the rulers.”—Aristotle (384-322 BC)
Bakewell and Chatsworth 2013 (part 1)
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Langston Hughes recites "Harlem Sweeties" (Interview, 1960)
October 14, 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