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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: December 11, 2010

John Wilcock


“Thomas Jefferson’s original draft said, ‘life, liberty, and land.’ This obviously alarmed his land-owning friends, so for ‘land’ they substituted the ‘pursuit of happiness’ which, besides destroying Jefferson’s alliteration, is quite meaningless.”
— Ralph Hill, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex
— letter in the London Times.


THE PREDICTABLE ATTEMPTS to frame, degrade, or disable Julian Assange will only succeed in earning additional friends for WikiLeaks which, more and more, will prove to be the most important counter to the WikiLies emanating from every country’s leaders.

THE TELEVISION WORLD has changed irrevocably since the days when public-spirited dreamers thought up the idea of a channel that wasn’t beholden to a corporate bottom line. “Public TV? It Would Be a Good Idea,” says a headline in the Media Watch Group’s newsletter Extra meaning that it was a good idea 40 years ago — and it would be a good idea today if only PBS hadn’t become just like any other commercial channel.

These days, Extra claims, there is “little to distinguish most PBS public affairs programming from for-profit offering,” in a system that is named public “but where the same elite voices dominate the conversation.”

The magazine zeroes in on NewsHour, PBS’ flagship news program (owned by John Malone’s profit-seeking Liberty Media) which it says continues to feature sources drawn largely from a narrow range of elite white male experts. It also criticizes the hiring of Jon Meacham to replace Bill Moyers Journal. Meacham’s hire, it says, “send(s) a clear and troubling message about PBS’ priorities given that the then-editor of Newsweek was a fixture on commercial TV pundit shows and a consummate purveyor of middle-of-the-road conventional wisdom with a conservative slant.”

ENOUGH ALREADY! with the Hitler comparisons screams Berlin’s Der Tagesspiegel calling it “preposterous” the way Republicans keep comparing our mild-mannered president with history’s most evil dictator. The same goes for George Bush, Ayatollah Khamenei, Hugo Chavez, and Donald Rumsfeld, all of whom have tagged their enemies with the Hitler label. Foreigners should remember, the paper says, that people who haven’t started a world war and exterminated ethnic groups are not “like Hitler.”



BEING TOUCHY FEELY is a crass way of describing the work of Katherine Kuchenbecker who studies haptics — the science of incorporating touch into human-computer action so that when you touch a virtual object it feels like the real thing. Working with the University of Pennsylvania, she designed Verro Touch, an invaluable tool for surgeons who can work on a patient without even being there. Kuchenbecker, 32, who says her dream is to make haptics as convincing as photography, leads the “Brilliant 10” list in the November Popular Science which described her experiment equipping test subjects with a “safety vest.” This can simulate hitting a wearer with a bullet. “People jump out of their skin,” she reports.

LIARS AND HYPOCRITES are hardly in short supply at the United Nations but it’s hard to understand how any decent delegates would be willing to so much as pass the time of the day with Myanmar’s Thant Kyar. This is the barefaced murder-enabler who recently told that organization that there were no political prisoners in his “peaceful, modern, and democratic state.” Some of us may recall that criminal Tariq Aziz, who long ago fronted for Saddam Hussein until retribution caught up with him. He was sentenced to be hanged so maybe we can hope that Burma’s spokesman will eventually suffer a similar fate. The address of Burma’s UN delegation is 10 E 77th St NYC 10021. Write and ask Thant about all the women’s underwear he’s received in the mail. (Google: ‘panties for Burma’).

DESPITE BEING ONE of the world’s top supermarket chains with stores in 30 countries, France’s Carrefour is packing up in Southeast Asia, closing almost 70 branches in Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. it stubbornly stuck to “big box” stores for too long, says the Economist, and picked unsuitable local partners whereas its British rival, TESCO, moved into the rural districts and teamed up with successful local chains.

DARK TOURISM INDEED! It’s an appropriate title for the tale about the Cambodian government’s plan to develop a theme park devoted to the Khmer Rouge. It will be located in an area where the brutal regime murdered as many as 15% of the country’s population. The Cambodian Ministry of Tourism plans to restore 14 buildings in Anlong Venong including dictator Pol Pot’s house and the bungalow where he conveniently died.

SENATOR AL FRANKEN can draw an accurate map of the U.S. from memory in two minutes reports the National Geographic and it ran a map showing how to remember many of the states by thinking of them in blocks:

+Those on the 49th parallel (WA, ID, MT,ND, MN)

++The four corners
(AZ, NM, CO, UT)
+++Two boxing gloves
(MI, MN)
++++Odd shapes
(NJ, like a peanut)

ONLY STERNER WARNINGS ABOUT the threat to whales and dolphins are likely to slow the speed at which wind turbines are being erected off Britain’s coast. Nearly 500 of them are already operating there, and. hoping to install hundreds more, is the British Wind Energy Association which says it could create more than 45,000 jobs. In opposition, environmentalists have maintained that currently every unit of electricity produced by wind costs twice as much as one generated by a coal-fired power plant.

HAITI NEEDS HELP and one of the easiest ways is if you’ll kick in a few bucks to plant some trees there. Go to and decide how many of your Christmas gifts can be contributions in the name of your friends. You’ll receive cards you can pass along to them, explaining these kind deeds on their behalf. Seeds for new Haiti trees, honeybees for a poor family in Honduras, ducks and geese for a child in China, even a llama for peasants in Bolivia — they’re all in the Heifer catalog.


MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Manhattan Memories, might make a good Christmas present for somebody and of course, buying one ( would be giving me a Christmas present, too! If you have a Kindle the book only costs about ten bucks.

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

available at (in paperback or for your Kindle)
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THE WILCOCK WEB: How about holding back those billions we donate to Egypt and Afghanistan until they hold honest elections?….London Times columnist Vernon Bogdanor advocates copying the democracy of 5th c, BC Athens and selecting pols randomly instead of electing them, because “ordinary citizens are quite capable of undertaking complex government tasks”….Amazon has been accused by the London Daily Mail of running fake reviews by rival publishers criticizing each other’s books….The Scottish Tartan Authority (who knew?) says too many men with kilts aren’t wearing anything underneath and baring all is “childish and unhygienic”…. India’s Gou Brands Private have distilled an aftershave from cow’s urine….“The trouble with being punctual,” laments Franklin P. Jones, “is that nobody’s there to appreciate it”….Why must we continue to accept cable companies’ regional monopolies when competition would end blockages and lower costs?… Italian antiquarians have angrily denounced as unauthentic, Silvio Berlusconi’s addition of a new penis to the ancient statue of the god of Mars, replacing one chipped off in ancient times….Idaho’s Solar Roadways has been granted $100,000 by the U.S. Department of Energy to develop photovoltaic panels that can be embedded in roads and parking lots to produce energy… “Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity,” quoth some heavy-thinker…Is there any connection between the facts that Mexico, one of the world leaders in violence and murder, doesn’t believe in the death penalty?…. A rousing round of applause for the most fascinating actress currently on television, Archie Panjabi, 38, celebrating her supporting actress Emmy award nomination for The Good Wife…. Those petroleum-based packing bubbles that get stuffed into parcels to keep the contents from shifting about are about to be replaced by a new type, a form of fungus from mushroom roots made with one-eighth of the energy and environmentally better…. The philosophy of one century is the common sense of the next …..A group of Harvard students have devised a soccer ball that just has to be kicked around for a while and then it can be connected to an LED which provides three hours of light …..“True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.” — Socrates (469BC-399BC)