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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: August 14, 2010

John Wilcock

“The cold war is over and we’re still acting as if America has to protect everybody in the world. The average American has no sympathy for keeping 15,000 marines in Okinawa 65 years after the war ended.”
— Congressman Barney Frank

‘SELF-IMPORTANT CYBABIES’ is how columnist Eric Alterman refers to most of the correspondents who cover the White House, a group he says “grow increasingly irrelevant with the creation of every new news source, every individual blog post.” Writing in the Nation, he claims that reporters climb over each other “like gerbils in a crowded cage” not to examine the substance of anything — and especially not to further the interests of working people or the unemployed — but to try and catch someone, preferably the president, in an ‘off-message’ remark, a private moment, or an emotional outburst. This last goal has lately become a kind of obsession, he charges, of the ”childish insularity and ego-driven myopia” of this press corps, “so offended are they by Obama’s preference for calm, reasonable arguments.”

THOSE INDIAN NICKNAMES for sports teams received more support from the media than they deserved, according to Extra, which cited North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux as an example. Of the 72% of sources noted as “pro-nickname,” less than one-third were identified as American Indians according to the Media Watch Group’s monthly newsletter. The state’s board of Higher Education has banned the use of the name and logo starting with the current season, backed by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights which describes such names as “false portrayals (which) block genuine understanding of contemporary Native people as fellow-Americans.”

“It is my experience that age is meaningless. I’m no different now than I was — I’m just more interesting….you reach a certain status that has a kind of iconic quality. I get several letters a week from girls I don’t know, in their twenties and thirties, who would like to be my girlfriend — much more so now than when I was  20 or 30 years old.
— Hugh Hefner talking to Los Angeles magazine.

CHRISTO AND JEANNE-CLAUDE, internationally-renowned public artists for 40 yearshave spent a decade seeking permissions for their projected Over the River in which eight sections of the Colorado River near Salida will be temporarily shaded with fabric panels, Now J-C, who handled most of the bureaucratic wrangling, is gone and Christo is left to cope with a 6”-thick, 2,000-page report from the Bureau of Land Management which is soliciting comments until August 30 after which they will decide whether or not to issue a permit for the project. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to attend public hearings (which began last week) but you’ll be doing Christo a favor if you inform the Bureau of your support and the easiest way to do this is via the acclaimed artist’s website at where the project is explained more fully. By snail mail, write to the Bureau at BLM Royal George Field Office, OTR Comments, 3028 E. Main Street, Canon City, CO. 81212.


the Ojai Orange #10, June 2002

THE MYSTERY OF WHY so many on-line shoppers abandon that cute, little shopping cart before completing their purchase, is revealed by Stores which explains that almost half of the consumers polled do so when they realize how much the shipping costs will be. Recovering the abandoned carts is the retailer’s next problem, the mag says, and this should be combined with “remarketing” which, in effect, means reminding the potential customer of the relevance of your brand.

NOT GOOD ENOUGH is how we too often assess ourselves when we’re always comparing ourselves to other people says Psychology Today. It terms it “the Contender Syndrome” and suggests that it stems from the proliferation of social networking and the “public blaring of the fabulousness of other people’s lives.” The Contender Syndrome is subtly different from envy, the mag explains, in that, it’s more a sense of not living up to yourself than aiming to be Albert Einstein (or the equivalent). Much healthier, it suggests, is to be  “self-referential” believing that one’s competitor should be not somebody else but oneself. “Self-referential people,” says psychologist Shane Lopez, “see themselves as the marker. They care about their own performance not how they measure up compared to that guy over there”.

WHAT INVENTORS NEED is lots of advice, explains Popular Mechanics, whose July issue devoted five pages to the subject. Calling individual inventors (such as Edison, Bell, and Carrier) “the engine of American industry,” the mag warns that only six percent of the hundreds of thousands of patents granted go to individuals; that the time needed is double what you expect; the expense four times what you estimated and that the average patent approval takes three years to come through. And tireless dedication is needed. “If you can’t afford intellectually and emotionally to fail,” says Dean (Mr. Segway) Kamen, “if your ego would be wiped out, then don’t do it.” Maybe most important of all is to keep a meticulous log (endorsed frequently by a notary) because “the burden of proof falls to patent applicants to demonstrate that they were the first to conceive of an invention. If the idea’s good, somebody’s probably going to steal it. If no one’s trying to steal it, the idea’s probably no good.”

MAJOR LEAGUE EATING, the company that has organized more than 80 gluttonous contests in the past year, is the main player in “the grotesque world of competitive eating,” writes William Saletan in Slate. What began as a minor event at county fairs has become “a full-scale industry complete with stars, managers, contracts, corporate sponsors and professional leagues” with feats that are more and more outlandish. Contestants have eaten one-eighth of their body weight in eight minutes and the winner of the recent Coney Island event ate 68 hot dogs in ten minutes. Saletan predicts that it is this example of the “depravity” of modern America that will be seized upon by future historians.

EVERYBODY’S MOTHER, in an earlier generation, used to admonish their finicky kids with ‘Eat up; think of all those starving Chinese.’ How things have changed. Now it’s estimated that one in four Chinese is obese and sales of slimming products in the country reached $750m last year. “It can be hard to ask a generation that remembers mass starvation to consider fat as the enemy,” muses David Kirchoff, CEO of Weight Watchers which just opened four branches in Shanghai.

PROMOTING GERMAN AS “the language of ideas” is the self-appointed task of the country’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, who has joined with transport minister Peter Ramsauer to stop his countrymen using so many Anglicisms. Such phrases as ‘powered by emotion’ and ‘driven by instinct’ are mentioned, offered among 7,200 examples listed in a German dictionary, Verein, where they are said to crowd out German words. Ramauer claims he knows of ”no country in the world where people treat their own language so disrespectfully.”


Wotta surprise! Billionaires trying to evade taxes?

THE WILCOCK WEB: If they had any concept of sensitivity, Muslims would choose some other site for that Manhattan mosque. Mayor Bloomberg, smugly proud of a ‘tolerance’ that looks more like appeasement, says the terrorists would win if the mosque wasn’t allowed. Doesn’t he have it the wrong way round? ….Banned in France, the face veil (niquåb), is described as representing a “sexist, inegalitarian, and violent” ideology by La Figaro which asks why its self-righteous defenders are so “disturbingly blind” to Islam’s ”creeping apartheid”…. A  film that parodies Osama Bin Laden — a big hit in India — has been banned in Pakistan as “offensive to Muslims”…. And, in a fit of political correctness, a mall in the northern England town of Rochdale added a couple of hole-in-the-ground toilets to accommodate their Middle Eastern customers…..Credit card transactions that require signatures are “a waste of time,” says Jamie Henry of Walmart which is refining its smart card so that it doesn’t need them…Having published The Strategic Victory last week, Fidel Castro is now working on the second volume of his memoirs…“Many people feel that paying the leader of a charity a six-figure salary is outrageous,” says Ken Berger whose Charity Navigation researches non-profit groups ….What’s the point of voting for anything if the people who lose can have the courts overturn the vote?….. Anybody who’s been in political office for 34 years should be investigated by the Ethics Committee whether she’s accused of anything or not….How can the IRS possibly justify giving that California real estate billionaire a $1.4million rebate? Chief Justice John G. Roberts promised during his confirmation hearings not to make new judicial law. Predictably, he’s proven to be a liar….. “Conservatives feel they deserve everything they’ve stolen,” quipped Mort Sahl….. As many banks don’t pay interest today,  why not switch your funds to one that does?….Why are gays so intent on challenging the ban on them giving blood when it’s their blood that is most likely to be tainted?…..You might think that with 13,000 locations in more than 50 countries, Starbucks would be easily the biggest coffee retailer. Not so. Apparently, Folgers (which also makes the coffee served in Dunkin Donuts) is America’s biggest packaged coffee retailer…. Those ignoramuses who are still bemoaning the release of the only man convicted of the Lockerbie bombing seem unaware that he was framed on planted evidence by the CIA and paid witnesses…. “An ideal form of government is democracy tempered with assassination.” — Voltaire (1694-1778)