the column of lasting insignificance: March 1, 2014
by John Wilcock
THERE’S A LOT OF fussing and cussin’ in financial circles, about a book about to be published this month. What’s got everybody agitated is Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics. The book has already been published in France where it was described by one French newspaper as “a political and theoretical bulldozer,” and might explode here. But unquestionably it is an arcane and difficult text for the lay reader to get into. A prudent analysis of data from twenty countries, from the 18th to 21st centuries, Capital is predicted to “transform debate and set the agenda for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality”.
Writing in the New York Times, Thomas B. Edsall wrote that capitalism, according to Piketty, confronts both modern and modernizing countries with a dilemma: entrepreneurs become increasingly dominant over those who own only their own labor. And while emerging economies can defeat this logic in the near term, in the long run, “when pay setters set their own pay, there’s no limit,” unless “confiscatory tax rates” are imposed.
PROFESSOR DUMPSTER is what he calls himself. He’s a real professor, Jeff Wilson, and it’s a real dumpster that he’ll be living in for the next year, in a demonstration of what he claims will be a demonstration of “sustainable living”. The Spartan-like prof sold all his possessions and moved into the 6x6ft green garbage box last month. “Can you have a pretty good life living in one percent the size of the average new American home, on one percent the water and one percent the energy, with one percent the waste?” was the rhetorical question he posed to his students at Austin’s
DISSOLVE CONGRESS is the headline to a Harper’s story which more or less urges
that we get rid of the whole worthless lot of them, and start afresh. Millions of people must think that’s a great idea; if only it were possible. “What America needs is a revolution like the one the French had in 1789 when they stormed the Bastille” writes essayist Jean-Philippe Immarigeon, who admits that “there is noting more tiresome to an American than to be lectured by a Frenchman”. But, he says, it happens that the nation of Lafayette “possesses a curious loophole that might stop the United States from making a fool of itself”. What it is, he explains, is a parliamentary device which authorizes the president to call for new elections—for everybody—instead of making the voters wait a year or two, an eternity in the Internet age and a period in which the American public are no longer in charge. Offering “a cure for constitutional crisis”, Immarigeon points to the year 2007 when 70% of Americans favored getting all troops out of Iraq but were ignored.
WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE about a program that offers and fills eight million jobs in everything from simple construction—road and bridge creation—to literature and the arts? Many libraries still have on their back shelves regional guides produced by the program; most communities can point to public buildings or parks that were built and paid for by a government that once had the sense to spend its money on people, not propping up ineptly-run banks. Of course, as older readers know, we’re talking about the imaginative Works Progress Administration (WPA) which created millions of jobs between 1935 and 1943, at a total cost of $13.4bn, between ten and 30% of it kicked in by state and local governments. So why couldn’t WPA be repeated today? Apparently we could afford to give the banks $4.6 trillion.
BY THE TIME Alex Ferguson quit managing Manchester United last year, after 27 years on the job, the team was and still is the most popular and successful in the world. Now he’s a cover story in the New Statesman and has been described by the BBC as “the greatest living Briton”. The Ferguson formula is not transferable, the mag insists, “because he is a product of a world that is almost extinct”. Short of suggesting that this is a result of social, economic, and political changes, NS doesn’t amplify this further, but it does remind readers of some of the contradictions in the multimillionaire manager’s career which began—the working class son of a Glasgow shipyard worker—as a union boss and staunch socialist. How could he reconcile his socialist principles with his unwillingness to criticize the (Malcolm) Glazer family, his “rampant capitalist” employers at Manchester United? He was asked on television. His answer is not recorded, but the mag added: “He doesn’t view a desire to be paid what one is worth as ignoble”.
THE WILCOCK WEB: Solar distillation isn’t the only way to get fresh water from the ocean. The ice that forms atop sea water is pure enough to drink. How frustrating that the huge sheet currently covering the Great Lakes can’t be lifted up and dropped onto California’s parched Central Valley….Now Russia’s dictator will forever be known as Pussy Putin….On a roll in Norway is what the state television channel NRK calls “Slow TV” with the most popular recent program—people knitting for hours—was watched by 1.3m viewers….Why do late-night shows have just bland dummies as co-hosts? Oh, scratch that; the answer’s too obvious….Jerry Seinfeld’s ignorantly old-fashioned diatribe about the USPS merely illustrates he’s out of touch with realities… Kazahkstan says it’s bigger and more important than its neighbors and to avoid confusion seeks to drop the ‘stan’ and be known as Kazakh Eli….. Bottles of champagne in Selfridge’s famous Oxford Street store are delivered gingerly from vending machines by a cushioned robotic hand……Only an idiot would regard that two-page New Yorker poem by universally worshipped Anne Carson as pathetic nonsense. So I’ll be the idiot….….“I have not met anyone worth a damn who was not irascible” declared Ezra Pound….Comparing Google’s $100m gift to its chairman Eric Schmidt with JPMorgan Chase’s $20m for Jamie Dimon, NYTimes columnist Steven M. Davidoff remarked about how different were “the divergent public views on pay” ….Already known as an adulterer and cheat before he married her, Wendy Deng maybe didn’t surprise Rupert Murdoch with allegations about her subsequent affairs with Tony Blair and Eric Schmidt ……Is Texas musician Ted Nugent the most obnoxious man in America?….Ten states have agreed to remove from job applications the question asking prospective employees if they have ever been arrested or accused of a crime, a question described by Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop, as a contemporary “red letter”…..Gluten-free, adopted as a fad by people who don’t need it, will soon pass….Those scratch-’n-sniff perfume ads in magazines may soon start including the aroma of foods, according to the Journal of Consumer Research, reporting on the success of combining pictures with smells of chocolate cake….The cost of a coffee at one Parisian café is €1.40 but rude customers who don’t say ‘please’ are charged €7 ….. Exclusive rights to coffee dispensing in Sochi’s Olympic grounds were awarded to McDonald’s, but NBC has its own secret Starbucks site with baristas from its 60 Moscow outlets serving the network’s 2,500 staffers….”Ninety percent of human wisdom” declared author Robert A. Heinlein, “is the ability to mind your own business”… That Colonial-era favorite, applejack, is making a comeback reports the Wall Street Journal with farm-based micro-distilleries popping up all over the country….….With Scotland’s vote for independence only seven months away, the results will hinge on whether the small country (pop: 5.3m) can be self-supporting when detached from the rest of Britain…“If at first, an idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it.”—Albert Einstein (1879–1955)
Bakewell and Chatsworth 2013 (part 1)
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— Manhattan Memories: Chapter One--Chatting with Marilyn Monroe
— Manhattan Memories: Introduction.
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November 21, 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