the column of lasting insignificance...
—for May 30, 2015 by John Wilcock

from the archives…

“The United States has five per cent of the world’s population, 25 per cent of the incarcerated people and 50 per cent of the world’s lawyers. The legal profession takes about 10 per cent of the country’s GDP, approximately $1.5 trillion, a sum close to the entire GDP, depending on exchange rates, of Russia, India or China. US criminal justice is based on the almost completely corrupt manipulation of the plea bargain…”
--Conrad Black in the Spectator

REAL DEMOCRACY is the way the Greeks once did it, says Joshua Davis, and maybe we should go back to that. Of course it would mean a few changes, starting with the random selection of citizens who would spend a few days listening to debates between experts representing all candidates , then voting on behalf of all of us. With a population of 313 million, the US would need about 100,000 voters to deliver a reliable margin of error. “The concept shouldn’t be so shocking”, Davis writes in Wired. “We rely on randomly elected citizens to serve on juries where they make life and death decisions (and) every time we take a drug that’s been through clinical trials, we tacitly except that the experience of a small group is applicable to the general population”. Small-group elections would save millions of dollars a year, eliminate the way that elections can be bought by wealthy individuals and allow more honest discussion of candidates’ merits. At present, says James Fishkin, director of Stanford’s Democracy Center, voters make snap decisions after watching 30-second TV ads “making leadership choices based on whether they like a candidate’s hairstyle”.

WHAT’S BAD TASTE? People have been asking that question for a long time, especially about art, with examples ranging from Maurizio Cattelan’s 1999 painting of the Pope hit by a meteorite to the kitschy trifles of Jeff Koons.“Exhibiting bad taste is one of the simplest ways for art to attract notice” says Art News, pointing out that Cattelan’s “bad boy image and impish mockery” has been immensely profitable for him. Sometimes it has defined a career as with the late German artist Martin Kippenberger whose Street Lamp for Drunks is but one example of a misshapen career. Not to overlook, of course, John Waters--”once the epitome of bad taste as a filmmaker” has become “an art world eminence” says the mag, adding that judgments of what is good or bad taste are often viewed as a masquerade for class privilege. “Make people feel smart” says art critic Peter Schjeldahl ”and they will put up with anything”.

WITH SURFERS NOW numbering 35 million worldwide the most popular beaches have become so crowded that sometimes regulars resort to violence to keep out newcomers. “Surfing is not like golf” says former European champion Pete Jones. “You can build more golf courses but you can’t make more waves”. Wave machines or the building of artificial reefs have offered some relief but meteorological research has come up with a better solution. “Models show that much of Africa’s 16,000-mile coastline abounds with the right kind of waves” reports the Economist, “and at many of those beaches there are no surfers at all”.

“The real definition of success is essentially, How comfortable are you in your own skin…I remember growing up, we’d go to see friends of my dad, or other people in the industry, at their Beverly Hills home, and they had all this art and all these cars, and I remember shrinking from it. I’m not saying that it’s better to be raised in an atmosphere of poverty, but I’m telling you that the inherent by-product of success in this industry is affluence and materialism, and it’s every bit as destructive as poverty”
—Robert Downey Jr. talking to Esquire

NASA ASKED THE world’s top aircraft engineers for ideas on how to improve flight performance including the use of less fuel (a Boeing 747 consumes five gallons per mile) and Popular Science reported these ideas: (i) Add winglift by substituting turbofans that are 40% wider and allow for steeper descent and short approaches as well as reducing noise; (ii) Lockheed Martin’s Supersonic Green Machine, with its inverted V-tail and engine under the wings, would almost eliminate the familiar boom from the defunct Concorde model; (iii)Make the wings thinner and wider (they would fold up on the tarmac) and install batteries in the Boeing 737 and cruise on electric power at high altitudes.

A year and a day later the wolf stopped by as planned. He made conversation about this and that but you could tell from the way he favored his gums that all was not well. Later the driving pool shifted. I had no idea that you were planning to stage an operation but it’s all right this time. Then I read your account and was duly impressed. Right at the edge of the sea where the land asserts itself.

WHAT DO YOU THINK of this? Is it sense or nonsense? (see below).

MAKING DRINKS MORE EXPENSIVE is the way that Britain is trying to cut down on the excessive alcohol consumption which has earned the country a reputation for drunken louts, a situation which politicians describe as ‘a blight on society’. Binge drinking has been rising. “The British Isles have long been soaked in drink” says the Economist. “Can a floor price sober them up?”. A University of Florida study of consumption in more than 30 countries found that a 10% price rise led to a 4.6% cut in drinking. Britain’s plan is to set a minimum price of 64c per unit of alcohol (roughly the amount of a small glass of wine).“Alcohol is not an ordinary commodity” says Katherine Brown of the Institute of Alcohol Studies. “It is a drug and should be treated as such”.

MINING OUT IN SPACE is the business plan for Planetary Resources, a company that claims the 9,000 asteroids nearest to earth contain trillions of dollars worth of platinum, gold and other metals. The company (its investors include James Cameron and Ross Perot Jr) will investigate, first with telescopes and then with spacecraft, reports The Week which says the toughest part of the operation will be when robots are sent to scoop up the minerals. All this within the next seven years and—if water is found—may lead to “a permanent future in space”.

WHAT DO YOU THINK of this (see above)? It’s the first verse of a poem (in the New Yorker) by John Ashbery, America’s most admired poet. The only change -- in the way the lines were originally laid out—was made to illustrate how poets get away with calling balderdash, ‘poetry’.

THE WILCOCK WEB: This week’s winner of the A-hole Award: of course, is that arrogant guy who runs JPMorgan Chase after losing the firm $2bn+ and accused his critics of not understanding the market…Donating a similar amount to alleviate poverty could be a suitable apology…. ....Afghanistan's US-hating Hamid Karzai is expected to kiss ass at the NATO summit for just long enough to ensure that we'll continue offering him billion-dollar bribes after we leave his benighted country.... Four of the world’s 21 largest companies are banks in China whose banking system is the world’s third largest….Ten years from now, Euro currency will be valuable as antiques…After years of preparation, the Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner, 43, is on the verge of making his 23-mile drop from a helium balloon above New Mexico, passing thru the sound barrier and temperatures that will fall to -70 degrees…The 2,800 staff that NBC is sending to London to cover the Olympics is more than four times as many as the BBC is using…. Frequent flyers who rack up 25million points with Virgin Australia can trade them in for a spaceflight….….At less than half the price of regular mail, Graham Eccles delivers about 100 same-day letters

Penny Farthing Bike
photo credit: Emily Cunnngham/Guardian News & Media

around Bude, Cornwall on his penny-farthing bike…..And for $3,200 apiece, British Telecom is selling 60 of its iconic red telephone booths. Shipping is extra…. Japan’s NEC has invented a battery one hundredth of an inch thick which takes only a minute to recharge reports the Kiplinger Letter which says it will be used in credit cards, subway passes, hotel keys….. You eat more if the color of your plate is the same color as your food claims the Journal of Consumer Research….German authorities are seeking some way to stop the extreme Muslim Salafist sect of handing out millions of copies of the Koran; 300,000 have already been distributed….Worried by the notion that strollers along New York’s elevated High Line park would always be looking into her windows, Hyemi Cho blocked off the window with a self-portrait of herself. Now, most strollers stop and photograph it…. “Rush Limbaugh accused Obama of waging a ‘War on Marriage’ observed Will Durst. “Everything’s a ‘War’ with this guy. Bet he calls breakfast a ‘War on Pancakes’”….. . “Admiration” explained Ambrose Bierce, “is our polite recognition of another's resemblance to ourselves….. After 14 years of research, Japan’s Suntory company finally managed to breed a blue rose. Something about the need for more Blue Rose concentrated metal ions and a higher pH……….Beijing’s cab drivers are threatening a strike because their base fare ($1.60) hasn’t changed in a decade and these days much of their time is spent stalled where neither traffic nor their taxi meters move….….”In this age which believes there is a shortcut to everything” advised Henry Miller, “the greatest lesson to be learned is that the most difficult way is, in the long run, the easiest”…..Because people are getting married later (or not at all) there has been an increase in “pre -nups” by single couples who want to protect their assets says Money magazine…. With his new novel, Watergate, Thomas Mallon presents Richard Nixon as a surprisingly human figure….A study in Science says test subjects transferred from a red room to a blue room doubled their creativity…And another, conducted by Consciousness and Cognition, says that two drinks—but not more—improved test subjects’ creativity… Writing in Forbes, Singapore’s former pm Lee Kuan Yew says his country is trying to reverse the worldwide decline in the birth rate by opening a bank account for each new child and matching the parents’ contributions to it….Tradition is tending the flame, it’s not worshipping the ashes –Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)

Does anybody have a copy of the tabloid Other Scenes that I published in the 1960s or National Weed that I edited in the Seventies?


National Weed (1974, issue #3)

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Marijuana--The Weed That Changed the World

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in the press...

Now on Boing-Boing!

JOHN WILCOCK: Leaving the trial, I realized Kennedy had just been killed.
February 12, 2015

The New York Years - Boing-Boing

July 13, 2012

Manhattan Memories: an autobiography
By John Wilcock (, 2010)
excerpt from A Book Review By Marshall Brooks
Provincetown Arts Annual 2012/13

On the Ground
John Wilcock had lived in the Garden of Eden he would have started the world’s first under- ground newspaper there. One can easily picture it: a paradisiacal incarnation of John’s 1960s legendary tabloid, Other Scenes, featuring a lively threesome on its cover and an interview inside with the snake, who, it turns out, really dug (in the argot of the day) cool, mellow people. An Eden on $5 a Day guide would have been sure to follow, precursor to the dozens of travel books that John Wilcock actually has methodically researched and authored over the years, beginning with Mexico on $5 a Day in 1960 for enterprising guidebook publisher Arthur Frommer. Still traveling the world at age eighty-four, no moss grows on John Wilcock, which Manhattan Memories makes clear. But there is more.

(The complete review begins on p.175)

December 1, 2011

On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S
reviewed by Steve Heller in Imprint
On the Ground
The Underground Press, as it was called, was a groundswell of media activity running the gamut from radically political to seriously satirical. A new book, On the Ground: An Illustrated Anecdotal History of the Sixties Underground Press in the U.S. (PM Press) Edited by Sean Stewart (who between 2007 and 2009 owned and operated Babylon Falling, a bookstore and gallery in San Francisco), recalls the Underground epoch. Through interlacing interviews with Emory Douglas (Black Panther), Paul Krassner (The Realist), Art Kunkin (The L.A. Free Press), Abe Peck (The Chicago Seed), John Wilcock (Other Scenes), Jeff Shero (The Rat), Trina Robbins (Gothic Blimp Works) and many more (including Al Goldstein of Screw), the remarkable journals that shaped my life (and career) are revived as oral history.

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November 28, 2011

The Book Bench - Loose leafs from the New Yorker Books Department
New Yorker Online
Check out the first installment of Ethan Persoff's serialized comic-book biography of the publisher and writer John Wilcock.

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October 22, 2011

The New York Years

An authorized comic book biography of John Wilcock,
art by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

This is a book length comic series on John Wilcock. People who enjoy focusing on underground and alternative media are occasionally familiar with John's work, but most often the response is "who's that?" Outside of small press historians and collectors, John remains very unknown. Which makes no sense, the more you learn about him. We're very excited about the opportunity to tell his story. Art for THE STORY OF JOHN WILCOCK is by me and co-conspirator Scott Marshall. Story comes from an extended and ongoing year-long interview with Wilcock, himself. The focus is John's years in New York, roughly 1954-1971.

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January, 2011

The Return of the World's Worst Businessman

Sneak Peak “The Return of the World's Worst Businessman”
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PMc Magazine

John Wilcock is not what you would call a household name, and yet, he has had a measurable impact on art, journalism and culture-at-large over the last century. He co-founded Interview with Andy Warhol. He also was one of the co-founders of The Village Voice. He has written for countless print and online publications: Frommer’s, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Mail, The East Village Other, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Ojai Orange, etc. So why, one feels inclined to ask, is he relatively unknown? The answer seems simple: Wilcock has called himself “the world’s worst businessman.” This self-description makes sense because listening to him one hears the voice of a writer and a traveler and an enthusiast, not at all the voice of a businessman. In an age when it seems like everyone is all about business—art as a business, fashion as a business, everything as a business—it is refreshing to hear someone self-identify as “the world’s worst businessman.” It seems less like he has failed as a businessman and more like he has refused to become one. In addition to all his other accomplishments,...

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Monday, November 15, 2010

A Reader Comment from the recent New York Times Frugal Traveler post
RN—Sydney, Australia

Not only did John Wilcock shake up staid publishing in the USA, from the Village Voice to the East Village Other, his influence extended to several continents, including Australia & the UK, where - in his mild mannered way - he pushed the boundaries of image and speech. The counter culture was nothing but a dull puddle, until John kicked out the jams and ignited the Underground Press, which attracted absurd prosecutions, that of course boosted circulations. An unsung hero of the sixties,

indifferent to self promotion and the hoarding of gold, it is great to see John get a dash of recognition.

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October 27, 2010

A Budget Travel Pioneer on a Time When $5 a Day Was Real (Frugal) Money Frugal Traveler

by Seth Kugel
John Wilcock at the New York Times

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.

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and in print...

Manhattan MemoriesManhattan Memories
An Autobiography
by John Wilcock

"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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