the column of lasting insignificance...
A RACE TO THE BOTTOM might be a way to describe the current worldwide interest in exploring the deep, dark sea. Because of the intense pressure down there, only five manned submarines can dive to 15,000 feet but if we can extend that reach another 5,000 feet (one mile) most of the world’s oceans would be open to exploration. “The payoffs could be huge” says Popular Science, not only for marine biologists but for mining, gas and oil companies in search of new resources. Woods Hole’s Alvin, which explored the Titanic at 12,500 feet is being reconfigured so that it can reach 21,000 feet, the current maximum depth achieved by a Japanese sub, and China is reported at work on a model to reach 23,000 feet. Woods Hole also owns the unmanned submersible Nereus which has visited the deepest place in the ocean, the Marianas Trench (35,770 feet below the surface), just east of Guam in the Western Pacific. But it would be impossible to enable a human to survive at that depth.
JULY THE 30TH was the one-hundredth anniversary of the day that the Ohio-born brothers, Wilbur and Orville Wright sold the U.S. government its first airplane. It cost $31,250, was driven by a 25hp engine and could reach a top speed of 40mph. Three months later Wilbur demonstrated another plane by circling the Statue of Liberty and making a 33-minute flight up and down the Hudson River.
TALK ABOUT LESE MAJÈSTÉ! How could anybody question the veracity and sanctity of the I CHING, of all things? Charles Sullivan, a teacher at Portland Community College, that’s who. In the current issue of the Skeptical Inquirer he refers to the ancient Chinese oracle’s ambiguity, obscurity and synchronicity, concluding cheekily that “the book’s wisdom is no more mysterious than randomly flipping through a book of proverbs for advice “. Like other forms of divination, he explains, the generality and obscurity of the I Ching’s answers allow multiple, ambiguous interpretations, invoking “the mysterious feeling that it somehow does seem to work”. Sullivan compares it to the so-called Barnum Effect where we “tend to notice things that confirm our beliefs but ignore or downplay those things that don’t”.
BECOMING TOO POPULAR is the major concern of the 2,200 citizens of the Colorado ski resort of Telluride which last weekend celebrated its annual Cajun Festival and next month welcomes guests to its 36th annual film festival. They even have a term for the growing renown—Aspenization, a reference to its ritzy neighbor, 100 miles to the northeast. “A cautionary tale” is how novelist Antonya Nelson describes Aspen, a town that “made deals with developers, forsook its roots in ranching and mining and sold its soul for a hefty check”. Aspen’s locals, she warned in the Smithsonian, “priced themselves out of their own homes” and there are increasing signs that the former silvermine burg of Telluride is “following in the footsteps of a scary elder sibling”.
KNEELING DOWN hasn’t been seen much, but women popping the question is apparently getting more common. “We get maybe 20 to 25 inquiries a week from women who want to propose” reports John Cordova who works for Robbins Brothers, a California store that specializes in engagement rings. But the owner of a wedding registry says we’re not likely to see many men boastfully showing off their engagement ring to their buddies. ‘The engagement band is just a sales tactic invented by jewelers to trick young couples into spending money”: he sniffs.
THE WILCOCK WEB: There’ll never be enough money for universal health care until it’s clawed back from rip-off insurance companies…. Offered the choice between a tedious Letterman and the vapid O’Brien, it’s hardly surprising that so many late-night viewers have turned to ABC’s Nightline….MGM released The Wizard of Oz 70 years ago this month…. Does Bob Mankoff, the New Yorker’s cartoon editor, ask contributors to explain their cartoons before he prints them?…. Utah scientists have devised a battery that can store power from rooftop solar panels…Companies whose bottled water comes from the tap should be obliged to admit it on the label….And if water is H20, why can’t they produce it wherever it’s most needed, by combining hydrogen and oxygen?.…George W. Bush will presumably get millions for his recollections but what would really be worth the cover price would be to see the first version he wrote himself, without help…. Microsoft’s absurdly overrated Bing is so inferior to Google it’s ridiculous to even compare them….President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed has opened a fund “to pay for a new homeland” if climate change forces evacuation of the Indian Ocean islands (whose highest point is seven feet above sea level)…. The Oxford English Dictionary is about to publish a 600,000-word Thesaurus…. “Making predictions is difficult” mused Sam Goldwyn. “Especially about the future”:….We live oh-so-politely in what must certainly be the rudest era in recorded history” declares Todd Schwartz in a piece in Oregon Humanities magazine which points to the discrepancy between political correctness and the “slasher-movie mentality” and bad manners that envelop us…..Presumably the loathsome Glenn Beck, who thinks the president is a racist, hasn’t read any of Obama’s books…..Dolce & Gabbana is selling $275 T-shirts…. Replies to The Advocate which asked its gay readers what they were looking for when visiting New York’s Fire Island: love (4%); lust (9%); a tan (22%); all of the above (65%)…. “Television’s obsession with the youth market is 20 years out of date and it’s high time TV executives caught up” writes Mariella Frostrup in the Daily Mail….“There are still some fee-free ATMs all over the country and you can get a list of them at www.allpointnetwork.com …. ”Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing himself”—Leo Tolstoy (1928-1910)
This column first appeared on 8/1/09
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February 12, 2015
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