the column of lasting insignificance: November 16, 2013
by John Wilcock
IF YOU MISSED that musical performance in the Sankt Church at Halberstadt (pop: 41,942) in Germany a few weeks ago, you’ll have plenty of time to get there for the next one, scheduled for September 5, 2020. One note was played last month and the next note will be played then—all part of John Cage’s composition ORGANS2/ASLSP—which stands for “as slowly as possible”. Obeying Cage’s instructions, the entire piece will take 639 years to accomplish, that being the time between the construction (1361 AD) of the world’s first ‘modern’ organ (one with a 12-tone keyboard) in Halberstadt’s cathedral and the end of the millennium. When Cage’s original ASLSP is played on a traditional instrument, by a human musician, it obviously is a speedier performance. Recent renditions were by Stephen Whittington (8 hours) at the University of Adelaide in 2012, and Diane Luchese (14 hours 56 minutes) at Towson University near Baltimore in 2005. A specially constructed pipe organ, whose electric bellows keep air moving through, was built for the current presentation which began on what would have been Cage’s 89th birthday in 2001, and small white sandbags depress the organ’s wooden keys on schedule. The sound is retained within a cube of acrylic glass which surrounds the instrument (on YouTube you can see the church and hear single note). Cage, who died in 1992, also composed the four-and-a-half minute silent piece, 4’33, which was recorded by Frank Zappa with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.
DIRTY GIRL EVENTS in which hundreds of daredevil damsels slog through ten miles of mud, obstacles, and more mud, will number 50 by the end of this year, bringing their organizers more
than $22million. An average of 7,000 participants, including 300 cancer-survivors with free tickets attend each event paying up to $100 for registration. The average age of the foolhardy fillies is 34 but ranges from 14 to a lady aged 80.”Now and again” reports Entrepreneur, “men try to sneak through registration, but the women-only rule is ironclad”. Dirty Girl Mud Run was founded in 2011 by a group led by former Seattle Seahawks offensive tackle Chris McIntosh and staged events in New York, Chicago, and Wisconsin where the firm is based. “We had no event experience,” McIntosh says, “which was a blessing. Ignorance is bliss. We did not need to abide by industry standards”.
JUST SUPPOSE THAT the inscrutable subject of DNA was not just widely known from endless crime dramas on television, but a commonplace matter understood by everybody because their own DNA had been charted. That’s the ambition of Anne Wojcicki whom Fast Company tagged “the most daring CEO in America” because of her hope to bring low-cost ($99) DNA testing to 25 million people. It already has 400,000 genotyped customers and plans to at least double that by the end of this year. “Once you get 25 million people, there’s just a huge power in what types of discoveries you can make” says this former Wall Streeter with a degree in biology, who is former wife of Google’s Sergey Brin. “Big data is going to make us all healthier. What kind of diet should certain people be on? Are there things that people are doing that make them really high-risk for cancer? There’s a whole group of people who are100-plus and have no disease. Why?” The mag says that what 23andMe offers covers less than 1% of the entire genone but even that contains data on more than 254 factors. “The end result could be a wholesale shift in the way we treat illness, a move away from our current diagnostic model to one based on prevention”.
ONE IN TEN of American kids are said to suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) according to a survey by the Center of Disease Control, but for an ailment that is diagnosed 25 times more often in the U.S., than the U.K. many skeptics claim that it’s an affliction that doesn’t actually exist. “Parents are loath to get their child labeled”, says Mary Baker, president of the European Brain Council. “Children are easy or difficult. That’s the diagnosis in society”. Bloomberg Businessweek claims that critics over-diagnose ADHD and too readily treat even mild cases with medication. They quote a warning from British child psychiatrist Sami Timini that Europe is heading down the same path, a tendency to regard child behavior as a medical condition. “The first line treatment for all people should be psychological approaches. We don’t have any evidence that short-term benefits of medication can be sustained”. Much of the skepticism, the mag explains, stems from the prospect of drugmakers promoting and then profiting from new drugs for previously unheard-of conditions.
MAKING BIG BUCKS out of housing lawbreakers has prompted a series of ACLU-sponsored videos, Prison Profiteers, which examines what the Nation describes as “a range of exploitative practices born of for-profit prison services”. There’s an obvious conflict of interest in the practice, the mag asserts, because companies obviously want to keep those cells full. “A powerful financial incentive is created, not just to cut corners in the services they’ve been hired to provide, but to push for policies that fuel mass incarceration”.
SENSORY DEPRIVATION is referred to by its growing number of fans as “floating” and since its invention by Dr. John C. Lilly at the National Institute of Mental Health has spread around the world. Writing about Oregon’s Float-On in Portland, the largest such center in this country, the Nation says they’re starting to appear everywhere on the West Coast and offer “a lingering and sometimes unintended sense of mental ease”. One person quoted in the story said the experience had made her see how she “fit into the world”. The mag claims that floating relieves pain by easing the force of gravity on the skeleton, boosting the immune system “by lulling you into a state of light sleep, and enhances performances in sports by helping your muscles repair more quickly from the trauma of training”.
THE FAST FOOD INDUSTRY is nothing like a friendly, socially-beneficial enterprise when you take a closer look at it, as does Thomas Frank in Harper’s. And any idea that the franchises are owned by local mom-and-pops should be jettisoned immediately. “The latest Burger King franchisee, for example, is a publicly-traded company in Syracuse, New York that owns 566 local restaurants…Today the chain is little more than a shuttlecock for private equity”. Similarly, groups such as Sun Capital Partners, Consumer Capital Partners, Fog Cutter Capital Group, and Roark Capital between them own the likes of Bojangles, Boston Market, Arby’s Cinnabon, Carvel, Smashburger, Johnny Rockets. “The Wall Street folks have seen a good thing—a reliable source of revenue made possible by rock-bottom wages”.
STATES SPLIT UP rarely because it’s not an easy process, but there are almost always some working towards it. Conservative activists in Colorado dreamed unsuccessully of a ‘North Colorado’ or ‘New Colorado’, reports Bloomberg Business and a couple of northern California ranching counties would like to set up the new state of Jefferson. Five Western GOP counties in Democratically-dominated Maryland have similar dreams and Arizona’s Pima county failed last year to get enough support for a referendum . The last state to pull of the maneuver was a century and a half ago when West Virginia broke off from Virginia after it joined the Confederacy.
THE WILCOCK WEB: Where’s the reduction in Congressional salaries to match the cuts the 99% are taking?.... Scotland Yard, investigating the scandal about Rupert Murdoch’s minions eavesdropping on people’s telephones, is finally catching up with the obviously similar activities of rival newspapers such as the Mirror, edited at the time by that likely liar Piers Morgan who claims to have known nothing about it… Some cause happiness wherever they go. Others whenever they go….”Down the rabbit hole, maybe (Edward) Snowden is in deep cover playing some counter-counter-intelligence game” muses Will Durst. “And that alleged activity of his: bona fides to build up the legend”…..Questions are belatedly being asked about the millions of dollars of dubious subsidies that are handed over to the already-rich sugar producers in this country, enabling them to keep prices 35% higher than in the rest of the world …..Gucci’s owner. the covetous LVHM company, bought a crocodile farm ($2.5m) to ensure a steady flow of crocodiles to make into $50,000 handbags for rich bitches….“The first step towards philosophy” said Denis Diderot, “is incredulity”…..Unsurprising to learn that the bruisers of the religion of brutality & statistics bully each other off the field as well as on….Chrysler and the Los Angeles Police Dept have teamed up to streamline the touch-screen system in patrol cars which currently is unnecessarily cumbersome as it incorporates graphics, video, license plate recognition, data files and two-way radio….Texas governor Rick Perry, who wants to ban abortion, isn’t a Catholic, but he did once proclaim that anybody who doesn’t believe in Jesus will go straight to hell….Viewed from the inside, the pomegranate is surely the world’s most beautiful fruit….….”Only by adopting what is superior about the foreign countries can we rectify what is wanting in China” declared the prescient Empress Dowager Cixi (d.1908) of that country….. There’s no “V” in the Welsh language, so purists urge that the village usually called Varteg should be changed to Farteg. Villagers complain the name would be embarrassing…“Don’t interfere with somethin’ that aint bothering you none” advises The Ol’ Farmer…..How childishly self-important are those folk who can’t wait for the plane to start before turning on their iPads…. London’s prestigious National Gallery is selling an 11-inch toy to accompany its Van Gogh exhibition—a soft doll of the Dutch post-impressionist with a Velcro detachable ear….Following the example of Australia, Mexico and Canada, Britain is debating whether to print its future currency in plastic which critics say is too slippery….Being fined means nothing to a rich, corrupt politician. If convicted of anything, he or she should be removed from office immediately…..”An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics”—Plutarch (c. 46–120 AD)
For the next few weeks, some of JW’s old Village Voice columns from the 1950s will appear in this space as he recuperates from an operation for lung cancer.
Bakewell and Chatsworth 2013 (part 1)
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Timothy Leary, Mexico, Magic Mushrooms, and REEFER MADNESS (Part One)
October 31, 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