John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: January 2, 2010

John Wilcock
the column of lasting insignificance


[ What follows are selected items from this column
all of which were posted in December 2006 ]


THE IMPENDING NEW SEASON of Fox TV’s American Idol is already striking terror into the hearts of competing networks declared Variety in a front page story just before Christmas. The show is scheduled to run “45 highly-rated hours” from January 16 through May, dominating two or three nights each week — what ABC’s Jeff Baden calls the “Idol tsunami.” Variety discussed the Fox show in near-apocalyptic terms claiming it has already “vaporized” 20 series competing with it “piling up the body bags” and defying “the laws of Nielsen gravity with its jaw-dropping popularity.” NBC’s scheduling chief Mitch Metcalfe says: “It’s this hurricane that blows in. We know it’s going to come — and we just have to buckle down and prepare for it as best we can.”
— December 30, 2006

CHINA IS RAPIDLY buying up Africa’s oil, metals, and farm produce reports the Economist, but it’s questionable how much it is offering in return. Offering low wages and less than desirable working conditions in some of the companies it now owns, bringing in thousands of their own workers instead of hiring local labor, undercutting local business with cheap Chinese products, and insisting countries drop recognition of Taiwan are some of the accusations the magazine makes. And “China’s lack of interest in human rights” has been a boon to Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe (who) “has turned to China for political and economic support — and got it.”

IN RESPONSE TO A ROCK MUSIC magazine’s list of “the 50 coolest people” (mostly unknown names non-music fans have never heard of), the Independent devoted two pages to the 50 Most Uncool People.  Among them were Elton John (“crimes against fashion too numerous to mention”);  Paris Hilton (“Paris Travelodge, more like”); David Hasselhoff (“a mystery wet patch around his groin on a recent plane journey”); Sarah Ferguson (“vulgar, vulgar, vulgar”); and Graham Norton (“nowhere near as funny as he thinks he is”).

ALLOWING PUBLIC OFFICIALS to stay in office so long, subject to no accountability and virtually no check, is a peculiar — and deeply undemocratic — feature of American democracy charges Herman Schwartz. He’s writing about the Supreme Court, the last ten members of which to leave served an average of 26 years, and of which there have been only 110 members in our entire history. “The anomaly of our system,” Schwartz writes in The Nation, “is compounded by the fact that someone can be handed such power by a partisan Senate vote of just 51-49. And yet…most Americans do not seem to care.”

AUTOMOBILE OWNERSHIP is growing so fast in China that McDonald’s (770 outlets in the country so far) plans to make half of all future ones drive-thrus. “The opportunities are huge,” boasts the company’s Asia boss Tim Fenton who says that within a few years, China will have a middle class bigger than the current US 300 million population.  A new deal’s being signed with Sinopec, the state-owned oil company to plant the Golden Arches at gas stations all throughout the country.  The pace of change has been incredible,” says Fenton.  “A few years back it was all bicycles.”

PATTI BOYD, a young Eric Clapton groupie back in the Sixties, married George Harrison after meeting him on a movie set. The marriage unraveled due to her husband’s infidelities and she went back to Clapton. Her autobiography — a story of “drama, struggle, and ultimately affirmation, according to Headline Publishing’s Val Hudson — will be “the most exciting, talked-about, and publishing sensation of 2007.”

SMELLY HOTELS are becoming popular since the Hyatt Park Vendôme in Paris hired perfumer Blaise Mautin to turn the hotel’s atmosphere and interior into “a signature fragrance…as essential to the hotel’s identity (as) its modern aesthetic.” Combining 18 ingredients (including patchouli, extract of sweet Brazilian oranges, and sandalwood), the final aroma impregnates the premises of six other Park Hyatts around the world and guests at other upscale hotels in Tokyo, Monte Carlo. Calcutta, Hong Kong, and London are greeted with signature fragrances in what’s been termed “sensory branding.” Ingo Schweder, director of the Mandarin Oriental’s spas, says: “Smell is under-leveraged, and because of the overload from sight and sound, people are more receptive and more sensitive to communication via scent.”

ANTICIPATING NEXT YEAR’S blanket ban on public smoking, the British American Tobacco Company is promoting Snus, a form of snuff sold in teabag-like pouches to be chewed in the mouth. Safer than smoking tobacco but still reputed to cause oral cancer, Snus is currently banned by the EU which nevertheless has promised to review its stance.

COPYRIGHT LAW, once tagged “an engine of free expression by the Supreme Court” is more often these days “an engine of corporate censorship,” declares the Columbia Journalism Review in a story headed Copyright Jungle. It says that copyright is an incentive to bring work to market, rewarding writers for their creations, but it also has the potential to lock up knowledge, insight, information, and wisdom and has been used by large multinational media companies who have “twisted it toward their own short-term interests.” In this, says CJR, they have been aided by Congress which, by extending copyright protection for work created decades ago, robs people of their legacy.

THE BREAKDOWN OF public order in Iraq will never be remedied by American forces declare the co-authors of Out of Iraq (Simon & Schuster) a book that claims that the longer we remain in occupation the more recruits will join terrorist ranks. In their new book, extracted in Harper’s, former presidential aspirant George McGovern and policy wonk William R. Polk point to the huge U.S. bases (with “aspects of permanency”) in Iraq which symbolize and personify a hated occupation and with which “no Iraqi government will ever feel truly independent.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Skype co-founder Niklas Zennström forecasts that telephone calls will eventually cost nothing. “You don’t pay for each email or each web page you unload; it’s the same with phone calls. That’s where it’s going. It will be free”….After yet another gibe from the British press about the expected influx of immigrants when Romania joins the EU next month, the country’s biggest paper, Libertatea, fired back by accusing the Brits of exporting “pedophilia, drunkenness, and hooliganism”… Undeterred by the weak dollar, affluent American tourists are still flooding into London prompting the flagship of the InterContinental chain to charge $9,000 a night for the best suites in its newly refurbished hotel….. Britain’s Labor government spent more than $2 billion on ‘consultants’ last year, many of whom charged almost $5,000 a day for their advice. What do government departments actually do if so many of their plans come from outside?…Britain’s richest teenager Daniel Radcliffe, 16, received $200,000 for the first Harry Potter film, $13 million for the latest….  .“American movies today are aimed at three kinds of audiences: kids, cokeheads, and those seeking any kind of loud and vulgar stimulation with which to fill up a gaping inner emptiness for a couple of hours” — Michael Potemra in National Review….Since it started airing its Deal or No Deal show, NBC has split with its partner almost $25 million in income from viewers’ text messages…. Venice authorities, studying a $125 million plan to pump millions of gallons of water into the sand below the city hoping to stop it sinking any further, was warned that the sand would rise at different levels and damage scores of buildings. One expert called the idea  “science fiction”….. On sale at some stationers: antiversary cards for bitter folk who seek to celebrate the date of their divorce…. If your car could go straight upwards, says the astronomer Fred Hoyle, space wouldn’t be remote at all — only one hour’s drive away…. London publisher Headline plans to draw attention to its books next year by making them slimmer than, and taller than, existing formats… WalMart discovered that stores that employed greeters who said ‘hello’ and offered assistance to customers reduced shoplifting by 35%… Using plastic resin instead of wood pulp for the pages, London publisher  Charles Melcher will produce a series of waterproof books for reading in the bath or at the beach…..A new powerful pogo stick, the Flybar 1200, costs $400 and can bounce its rider six feet in the air… Eyebrow transplants are the latest craze among people who want to look like their favorite celebrity says Dr. Richard Rogers who charges about $3,800 for transferring hair from the back of the head to the eyebrows….. Extending the easing of its gambling laws, Britain will allow poker — for limited stakes — in pubs from next fall …..“Carbon offsetting” is the new charge by travel companies added to airline tickets based on what they term “the CO2 emissions of the flight” and the cost of compensating for them….. The fastest growing section of the luxury fashion business is accessories and especially oversized handbags some of which Gucci ($1000), Chanel ($1700) have been fetching outlandish prices….. Friendly tax breaks and accessibility are credited with London’s appeal to billionaires according to Forbes which says that of the city’s 23 billionaires, only a dozen are British of whom the best known is Sir Richard Branson ($2.8 billion). …“There is more to life than increasing its speed,” suggested Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)
(All previously posted: Dec.06)

“The U.S. estimates (our) cost at $500,000 per soldier per annum. Most Afghans live off less than $10 per month, have little or no education, and will never leave their home area much less their country. Yet, we are told these poverty-stricken peasants represent a threat to us so great that we send our young men 4,000 miles to kill them or be killed…100,000 soldiers at $500,000 is $5bn, double the entire budget of Afghanistan… One billion spent on (the country’s) resuscitation would win us more friends and cost us no lives.” — letter in the Independent