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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: December 4, 2010

John Wilcock


“The US computer industry..employs only 166,000 — fewer than in 1975 when the first PC was assembled — while the industry in Asia employs 1.5 million workers, engineers, and managers…they make the products Americans know as Dell, Apple, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, and Intel. The US government can confront (this) by altering bottom-line incentives for multinationals based here…by laying a stiff penalty on corporations that continue to offshore more production than they create at home.”
—William Greidert in The Nation.


IT CAN’T BE MUCH LONGER before people start to realize what a ridiculous amount of time they’re wasting on Facebook and Twitter and all the other vapid social sites. Too embedded worldwide to fade away and, of course, invaluable in certain circumstances, Facebook will nevertheless eventually start shedding its more fad-obsessed members as more and more of them come to appreciate that there are also advantages to being disconnected.

Ari Melber’s radiantly explicit “review” or explication of the Facebook movie, The Social Network, quotes an early e-mail said to have been sent to a Harvard friend in which Zuckerman boasts he has info on thousands of students. The friend asks how he did it? Zuck: I don’t know why…they “trust me”…dumb fuckers.

A recent book, Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers dealt with some of the drawbacks of this near-universal digital involvement, among them — ironically— social isolation (from real life). There’s a backlash brewing, suggests John Mecklin, editor of the super-slick Miller-McCune (the non-profit magazine of an educational foundation) who wrote that digital gadgets and ever-increasing interconnectedness “are losing their cool.” Mecklin says he talked to Powers who suggested that “young people are beginning to question the idea that having ever-more digital screens, networks, and applications will bring happiness and success…let’s figure out whether the Web is the greatest productivity tool ever invented or a destroyer of initiative and long thoughts.”

WHAT’S THE POINT of the US Treasury storing all that gold? asks James Picerno in an Atlantic story illustrated by piles and piles of it — part of a hoard worth $300 billion. “In an age of soaring deficits, our gold reserves earn no income, incur huge storage costs, and save no practical purpose short of a politically unworkable renaissance of gold-based money,” Picerno writes.

QUOTING FROM SOMETHING called ChinaHush, Utne Reader illustrates a new solution to easing congestion on the roads. It’s the Radical Straddle Bus which runs atop the highway itself, straddling two lanes of traffic and allowing room in the middle for cars to pass underneath. Cheap to build and easy to install, claims the Shenzhen Hashi company, it will make its debut on a 115-mile stretch of road in Beijing next month and will allegedly cut traffic congestion by at least 25%.


Radical Straddler


AS EVERYBODY HAS recently learned, banks are the biggest legal crooks known to our civilization and hardly a day goes by when they’re not thinking of another charge with which they can gouge the public. The latest example is with that innovative system in which small loans were made available to Third World peasants to start businesses. Of course, in no time the profiteering banks jumped in to turn it into a big business (for them) with interest rates so high that the idea has now been corrupted into near extinction. Long gone are the days when we thought banks were responsible, honest, or even concerned about the communities they bleed. “Want to get away with murder? Become a bank,” writes columnist Allan Sloan in Fortune, calling them “the biggest danger to the U.S. capitalist system,” the current scam being ‘the foreclosure fiasco.’ With friends like these, Sloan concludes, “the capitalist system doesn’t need enemies.”

THE RICHEST MAN in Europe is how Forbes describes its cover-man, Bernard Arnault, the listing of whose companies occupy an entire page in the magazine and range from Pucci, Dior, and Donna Kazan to Hennessy, Krug, Moet & Chandon, and Hublot watches ($21,000 each). Arnault, 61, has 60 brands in his stable, the mag says and is worth $39bn while supervising 2,468 stores around the world and currently thinking about opening in Lhasa, Tibet. His LVMH empire is the world’s “largest purveyor of luxury goods” and described by Vogue’s Anna Wintour as “pretty much unstoppable.”

AND SPEAKING OF GREED, what a bunch of selfish snobs most Indian tycoons are, says a columnist in Hong Kong’s Asia Times, pinpointing the likes of steel baron Lakshmi Mittal who spent $65m on his daughter’s wedding or liquor magnate Vijay Mallya who drapes himself in gold and diamonds. This, in a land where millions try to survive on a dollar a day or less. Instead of giving to the poor or building schools, writes Sudha Ramachandran, the moguls concentrate on “flaunting their wealth.”

Case in point, Mukesh Ambani, India’s richest man, whose 27-storey house with three helipads and a cinema in Mumbai is bigger than Versailles and cost $1bn.


“Most contentiously, (Andrew) Hacker and (Claudia) Dreifus contend that professors’ research gets in the way of education (by which they mean teaching). What if colleges and universities were to shed their research components so they could focus on education?” they ask.
— Review in The American Prospect on ‘Higher Education? How Colleges are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids-and What We Can Do About It’.


OH, THE IRONY of that lawsuit in Santa Barbara against the Boy Scouts who are now being chastised for not noticing that one of their Scout leaders was molesting young boys, at more or less the same time as the Scouts were being reviled and attacked for not allowing young gay lads to join the organization. Of course, pederasts and gays are not necessarily the same, as gay organizations have always claimed, presumably maintaining that screwing young boys is okay as long as the ages of both partners are acceptable. And what age would that be?



FRIENDLY PARKING TICKETS are being dispensed to drivers by the Cambridge, MA. transportation department which claims it wants to debunk the idea that giving out a ticket is a hostile action. What makes the ticket different is that it’s illustrated with a yoga pose, part of a public art project by Rhode Island School of Design professor Daniel Peltz. Reporting the story, Stores magazine says victims “shouldn’t let the citation salutation upset their inner tranquility and instead should opt for yoga.”

CONSUMERS ANXIOUS TO ADD new boasts to their resumes are taking it to extremes, reports the Journal of Consumer Research, sleeping on beds of ice in the growing number of Ice Hotels and eating bacon-flavored ice cream, for example. “(People are) attracted to these activities and products,” the report’s authors write, “to build their ‘experiential CV’ — a desire connected to people’s striving to use time efficiently and productively.”

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: The corruptness of the Senate has no better illustration than the tradition that allows a solitary senator to hold up just about any legislation until his bribe is big enough….Egypt rejects as “interference” the observers we planned to send to ensure fair elections. No comment though on the interfering way we hand them billions of dollars a year….Considering how big Sarah Palin’s ego will be by 2012, how could she resist running for the top job? ….… Unless they want to get fooled again, voters in 2012 should give their votes only to candidates who sign an iron-clad pledge to end the un-winnable war immediately….Every day, 400 names of suspected terrorists are added to the National Counter-Terrorism Center’s watch list says its director Michael Leiter…. Of course, rumor has it that all of TSA’s millions of searches, pat-downs, shoe shuffles, and confiscations over the past few years haven’t identified a single terrorist ….That phony Taliban leader we’ve been bribing for years to talk to us isn’t the only imposter in Afghanistan; there’s also Hamid Karzai who’s been pretending to be a democratic president…. A major aim of the aircraft industry, says New Science, is to reduce weight in planes by replacing miles of copper wiring with an intricate sensor-linked wireless system….New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff ran one of his own cartoons in a recent issue. It was just as unfunny as those of his contributors….London’s famous black taxis are being made in China with a left-hand drive, for use in Paris….Beer drinking is sharply declining in Germany, of all places, where product from the four biggest global brewers share less than one-fifth of the market, but 1,300 local breweries have prospered until recently…. Do not argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience…. .Many of the mince pies and puddings that English super-markets are already selling will be past their sell-by date before Christmas…. How could otherwise serious people take a self-promoting nonentity like Fran Lebowitz, mistress of the obvious utterance, seriously? ….With the installation of 3G connections, climbers reaching the 17,000ft base camp on Mt Everest are now sending videos and emails….. Nude models wearing dresses sprayed directly onto their bodies took part in a recent London fashion show (Google ‘Fabricon Spray-On’ to see the process)….. Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg’s unisex hospital gowns, which can be opened at either side, are being tested in the Cleveland Clinic…. A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don’t need it…..Don’t waste money jailing the organizers of cockfights — just use their own knives to cut them up a bit….The only antidote to TSA woes is to lay off flying for a while…“If you don’t have enemies in life, you have never stood up for anything.” — Winston Churchill (1874-1965)