John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: January 6, 2011

John Wilcock


[ What follows are from columns from previous years ]



THE WILCOCK WEB: In an innovative experiment ostensibly to examine the role of genes, researchers at the University of Buffalo used a laser to install a fluorescent advertising logo on the wings of a butterfly…..After a spate of “fratricidal incidents,” the Indian army has enlisted yoga instructors in an attempt to bring down stress levels in its ranks…..“Wrongly translated or bizarre” English is so common on Shenzhen street signs that the local newspaper has launched a “spot the errors” contest….. Thailand’s zoo has found an eager market for the bookmarks, paper fans, key chains, and notebooks crafted from the poo of its two pandas…. Russia is planning to erect a statue of Sherlock Holmes… Rotterdam’s new sustainable Dance Club will feature rainwater toilets, “biological beer,” and a dance floor whose surface contains crystals that generate electricity when trodden or danced upon…. A study in which CFO magazine asked air travelers for their biggest complaints found 75% listed cramped seating….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….. “No one traveling on a business trip would be missed if he failed to arrive.” — Thorstein Veblen (1857-1929)

(jan. 6/07)


THE WILCOCK WEB: The micro-needle technology that Hewlett-Packard uses in its inkjet printers has been adapted to a one-inch patch containing thousands of needles which can be programmed to deliver medication…. The New Yorker’s cheesy PR-driven supplement, Movies Rock (68 pages of glossy ads), merely demeans the magazine’s literary reputation…. Opening this month to coincide with Liverpool’s turn as European Capital of Culture, the new hotel called A Hard Day’s Night has wallpaper based on the Sgt. Pepper album cover….“A slash of red on the mouth has a clear relation to genitalia, sex and the menstrual cycle and wearing it is a sign of female power,” declares Poppy King, described by the Times as ‘the lipstick maven’…..In the Hong Kong branch of Madame Tussaud’s, visitors can dress up, dance, and pose for pictures in wax versions of Rembrandt paintings or alongside Tiger Woods and the British Royal family….The long-defunct DeLorean gull-winged car is about to make a comeback, revived by a former mechanic from the company, Stephen Wynn, who plans to offer them for $57,500….Alaska Airlines, followed by American Airlines and Virgin, plan to install satellite-linked onboard WiFi in their plane by spring….Fighting a losing battle in an era when copyright is on its way out, the Entertainment Software Association is targeting kindergarten classes in an attempt to deter illegal downloading. The battle against teenagers is presumed already lost…. Next March, American and British contestants will compete in an Abu Dhabi version of The Apprentice with property tycoon Al Fahim acting in the Donald Trump role…. Almost two decades after Andy Warhol’s brother opened a museum dedicated to the artist in the tiny Slovakian mountain town of Medzilaborce, locals have finally come to accept it and a hotel has been built across the street to accommodate the rising number of visitors…..“If fifty million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.” — Anatole France (1844-1924)

(Jan 12/08)


THE WILCOCK WEB: This month, Washington state will be the first to implant radio-frequency chips in drivers’ licenses in an experimental plan to speed border crossings….Chinese contemporary art is selling for millions of dollars, propelled by increased collecting by adman Charles Saatchi who’s usually ahead of the pack….And there’s a growing demand for Iranian art following the $601,000 sale of Farhad Moshiri’s crystal-studded map of the world…. Considering how un-amusing New Yorker cartoons are, you’ve got to have sympathy for University of Michigan students who are apparently being taught a course in humor by the magazine’s cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff…. “Good comedy is never frivolous. It’s based on human experience, on human adventure, on human feelings. So it has to be profound,” observes Mel Brooks…..A letter in The Week suggests that some of Britain’s rural post offices, threatened with closure, should rent space in local churches which are usually empty…. Sue Grafton, whose 20th novel T is for Trespass is just out, says her career began when she didn’t have the money to fight a bitter divorce. She’d lie awake at night “and think of ways to kill him. But I knew I’d get caught so I decided to put it in a book and get paid for it”…. “There are old mushroom hunters and bold mushroom hunters,” goes the old saw, “but no old, bold mushroom hunters”….. Simple magic tricks such as how to make a quarter disappear and how to bend a spoon are explained along with hundreds of other things at WikiHow….Contradicting the notion that the 14,000-strong Starbucks chain is putting mom-and-pop coffee houses out of business, Taylor Clark’s book about the company says there were 585 coffee houses in the U.S. 20 years ago and now there are 24,000 (10,000 of them Starbucks)…. “Technology is the knack of organizing the world so that we don’t have to experience it.” — Max Frisch (1911-91)

(Jan. 19/08)


THE WILCOCK WEB: Performed by the London Oratory School Choir, the DVD Santa Subito! — a musical montage of film of the late pope, John Paul II — is set to become the Vatican’s best seller with its potential audience of one billion Catholics worldwide…The most overrated of all NYTimes columnists, Maureen Dowd, is a big favorite with her media chums, but some of the red-haired reactionary’s recent effusions are just silly compared with her fellow columnist Gail Collins….Celestial Seasonings claims that not having a string tag on its teabags saves 3m pounds of paper a year…..“I get to exorcize whatever demons I have by making movies,” confesses Tim Burton. “Movie-making is like an expensive form of therapy. Only you don’t have to pay for it. Other people pay for it….A couple of English Parliamentarians want to pass a law banning sex for money but no mention, as usual, of politicians prostituting themselves ….A cheerful pessimism is the only proper response” to politics, wrote Simon Carr in the Independent….The Japanese have invented a car that can climb steps…..Nearly two-thirds of the 86,000 books published in Britain last year sold on average 18 copies….“Today is a disastrous day. If you can’t beat ‘em,  join ‘em” is a sample of the “cautious” rather than “negative” mottoes that New York’s Wonton Food company is inserting in its fortune cookies…. Pasta palindrome: Wonton? Not now….. Now there’s a microwave that can be powered from the cigarette lighter outlet in your car (…..The Economist calculates that filling up an SUV’s gas tank with ethanol uses up enough maize to feed a person for a year….. “Only a malicious person is always at his best.” — Somerset Maugham (1864-1965)

(Jan 26/08)



THE WILCOCK WEB: In the age of the ubiquitous cell phone, British Telecom has declared that iconic red phone booth obsolete, and is hoping that villages will buy the remaining 12,700 for “atmosphere”…. “The downside of the Internet,” opines Cate Blanchett, “is that speaking — or writing — has become the point in and of itself. I’m of the opinion that it’s okay to be silent, to not speak if you don’t have anything to say”….Specializing in creating oneof-a-kind firearms, the Boblin Co. has constructed a Colt out of 14 carat gold (why?). It’s priced at $75,000…. The roundest knight at King Arthur’s round table was Sir Circumference. He acquired his size from too much pi Peter Raducha….In a letter to the London Times, a reader writes: “When picking and cooking wild mushrooms, always keep one of them uncooked to take with you later to the hospital…. Spectra Watermakers, a California company, has already sold its Solar Cube for use in remote regions of Pakistan, Chile, and Venezuela. Operating on solar and wind power, it can transform sea water into 1,500 gallons of fresh water without needing the diesel fuel required by other systems…Why is sentencing so long after conviction?….A neo-fascist party in Italy hoping that Benito Mussolini will live on is offering couples $2500 to give their babies the former Fascist leader’s name….. The 35-mile-long tunnels under the Swiss Alps won’t be completed until 2015 but tourists can already take exploratory rides ($100 roundtrip) in half-mile-deep elevators at the two stations en route…. Deft Definition: Hipatitis: Terminal coolness……What the company ( calls a “digital quill”, records what you say, or any other audio when you write. It plays it back whenever the tip retouches those words… A one-person seaplane with folding wings ( so it can be stored in the garage is tested enough to be available for sale in 2010….Australian Wool Innovation has produced a men’s suit that can be washed while worn in the shower and then hung up to quick-dry….“Stupidity is the deliberate cultivation of ignorance.” — William Gaddis (1922-98)

(Jan 3/09)

When the Michelin Guide reduced the three stars for his Milan restaurant to one, chef Gualtiero Marchesi sarcastically remarked he was “giving back” his single star. Taking him at his word, Michelin removed the star and his entry from their Guide…. All human beings have three lives, claims Gabriel García Márquez, public, private, and secret…. Specializing in creating oneof-a-kind firearms, the Boblin Co. has constructed a Colt out of 14 carat gold (why?). It’s priced at $75,000…. Even if you record your TV programs on Tivo to watch later, you’ll still notice the commercials as you skip thru them, is the heartening news for advertisers presented by researchers at a Boston college….The traditional incandescent light bulb will be banned from next month in Ireland, the first democratic country in the world to do so…. Repeating the telephone number three times in a 30-second radio commercial is now so commonplace, that some advertisers are going for four….Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie…..Reminding readers that it was a newspaper (the Detroit Free Press) that won a news and documentary Emmy for its video, TelevisionWeek suggests that making new media might rescue old media….George Carlin said that he asked in a bookstore where to find the self-help section,  and the saleswoman said it would defeat the purpose to tell him…. I’m so naïve I thought that after an all-losing season, they’d fire the players before the coach….A network of cooling pipes under the sand and giant fans blowing gentle breezes are ingredients of the “refrigerated beach” at Dubai’s classy Palazzo Versace Hotel….A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion…..The world’s largest collection of DNA profiles is the 4.5 million stored by authorities in Britain where a new regulation mandates that the 850,000 of them not associated with crimes be destroyed….Cool Earth Solar of Livermore, CA. is experimenting with placing solar cells inside balloons and stringing them up to produce more energy, more cheaply than flat rooftop panels…. Vaccination without needles is offered by Intercell USA which applies a patch from under which a tiny strip of sandpaper is pulled to remove enough surface skin for the vaccine to work…. “Happiness is nothing more than good health and a bad memory.” — Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

(Jan 24/09)


THE WILCOCK WEB: For $30 you can buy a huge calendar with a bubble to pop for every day of this year (….  Advocates of delaying the switch to digital television (Feb. 17) because not enough viewers are ready, are opposed by stations that claim it will cost them an extra thousands of dollars a month to maintain dual signals….Having just banned advertising on state-owned TV channels after 8pm, France hopes to eventually ban it altogether in a year or two in hopes of ending fruitless battles” with commercial television….And now that smoking is banned in Amsterdam bars, business is booming for the Rain Showtechniek company that sells a machine which reproduces the smell of cigarettes without the smoke… Kevin Alderman, better known as Stroker Serpentine at the sex shop he runs on Second Life, is devising an alternative online sex world called Eros 3-D where he claims sexual encounters will be almost real….Atheism is a non-prophet organization……The world’s best-known clock, London’s Big Ben, just began a year’s worth of celebrating its 150th birthday….Voters want a fraud they can believe in, says the cynical Will Durst…. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are currently 33 people looking for work in the U.S. for every ten openings…. Memo from the Cowboy Palace Saloon “Your garbage disposal probably eats better than 30% of the people in the world”…..What’s been termed President Abraham Lincoln’s “death warrant” — the handwritten pass sending his bodyguard on an out-of-town mission three days before his assassination — is among the exhibits at the just-opened Huntington Library exhibition till April 27) celebrating the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth…SAD is what’s being reported in the Rockies, meaning “sudden aspen decline” due to the bark beetle killing off hundreds of thousands of trees….The karaoke machine was voted “most annoying gadget in a British poll….Education authorities schools in Yorkshire ruled the word ‘schools’ had “negative connotations” and now describe themselves as “advanced learning centers”….Bureaucracy, the rule of no one, has become the modern despotism.” — Mary McCarthy (1912-89)

(Jan 31/09)



THE WILCOCK WEB: Greece has imposed a 90% tax on bankers’ bonuses….And Whack-a-Banker, a new game at a pier arcade in Southwold, Sussex, has customers happily hammering away flattening heads… …The Getty Museum stages a one-day class (Jan 16, $145) in creating illuminated manuscripts….Posing in her scanties for GQ, January Jones says that since she took on the role of Don Draper’s ice-cold wife in Mad Men, “all of a sudden I’m getting these lonely mom and wife offers”…. One BBC pundit forecasts that after about a year Tiger Woods will be back playing better golf than ever….Discerning viewers deserted NBC’s Tonight Show by the thousands when the vapid Conan took over. TV Guide’s chart showed ABC’s Nightline moving steadily into the lead. And if NBC now has to pay O’Brien $40m to dump him, serves them right for signing such a stupid contract…….After imbibing lots of sake, hundreds of near-naked men will mingle at outdoor Hadaka Matsuri festivals across Japan next week. Mud and near-freezing temperatures are invariably involved…. Don’t bother writing to Robert Mankoff, the humorless New Yorker cartoon editor, asking him to explain even his own cartoons, because he doesn’t reply…. Stanley Kubrick’s Napoleon: The Greatest Movie Never Made is now a 3,000-page package of books offered by Taschen for $700…..Labeled as “anthropology,” Details describes its two-page definition of the douchefag as “a plucked, preened party boy who’s taken being gay to new heights of tackiness”…. Three women in Ireland, challenging that country’s strict anti-abortion laws, have appealed to the European Court on Human Rights….. Now that so many student textbooks are priced above $200, it’s taking 25 hours of minimum-wage work to pay for each one, comments Publishers Weekly…. A lipstick-sized container called Le Whif, developed at Harvard, delivers the taste of chocolate via the nose…. New York City’s 40,300 arrests for pot smoking last year — at least twice as many as pre-Bloomberg years — were 87% blacks and Latinos….The spectacle of two of America’s greediest companies, Fox and Time Warner, battling each other would certainly make a good TV program….“Don’t let anyone tell you that lenders are villains and borrowers (aren’t),” wrote a Westport, Conn, reader to the Wall Street Journal. “It’s time to bring back debtors’ prison”……“Finance is the art of passing money from hand to hand until it finally disappears.” — Robert W. Sarnoff (1918-97).

(Jan 16/10)


THE WILCOCK WEB: Ultimately, whatever the obstacles, the only long-range solution to a world-wide drought is to tap the oceans ….The fact that bank robberies almost halved last year is being attributed to the increased use of “Wall-Mart style” greeters who welcome customers. “The last thing a bank robber wants to be is noticed,” says Douglas Johnson who handles security for the American Bankers Association… …“People always have concern about the government doing too much,” sighs Gallup Poll editor Frank Newport, “even when it’s regulating financial institutions they don’t like”…. Republicans probably chose David Steele to be chairman of the Republican National Committee because he’s black, not because of his intelligence. He’s still black, and now they’re stuck with the fact that he’s not smart….Google’s stock values may go down if it pulls out of China but its integrity rating will go way up…. Famous German auto company Bugatti, whose cars fetch as much as $2.9 million, has produced an electric kettle ($300)…… The trouble with life is there’s no background music …The Daily Telegraph reports that although there are 60,000 council-controlled street cameras in Britain, only one crime per year is solved for every 1,000 cameras….AT&T’s current TV commercial demonstrates — that with answers now available so quickly — the quiz show “phone-a-friend” option is now obsolete….Samuel Pepys began writing his diary 350 years ago this month…. Sensational performer that she is, Lady Gaga sure is a rotten singer….Why do Americans call it football when the ball almost never touches their feet?….Washington attorney Mark Greenbaum says there is a “rapid flow of attorneys into a marketplace that cannot sustain them” and this will force prices down. Great! Keep ‘em coming…. Conan is childishly petulant for a multi-millionaire who’ll come out ahead no matter what happens. What egos these crybabies have….An Australian research team claims that five million tons of chicken feathers, abandoned every year by the poultry industry, might be transformed into synthetic fiber to replace or supplement nylon and polyester…Al Gore, it seems, is a not-very-good poet….Doubtless it’s being able to watch that exciting nightly battle footage — the American soap opera serial writ large — that makes gungho warriors so anxious to keep the war going… A couple of well-directed missiles sent to the Somali coast would work wonders at reducing the piracy….. “The economy is so bad,” says Phil Proctor “that if the bank returns your check marked ‘insufficient funds’ you ask if they meant you or them”….“What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?” — Bertholt Brecht (1898-1956)

(Jan 23/10)


THE WILCOCK WEB: Shouldn’t those unelected Supreme Court Justices be interviewed on Meet the Press to explain their controversial decisions just like the other politicians?….Does USPS really need to waste money on advertising? Is there somebody who doesn’t know it’s there?… If that greedy twerp Conan O’Brien is being paid $30million+ to go quietly, you’d think he could afford a few bucks to pay off his employees…. The Year of the Tiger, which begins on February 20,  nothing to do with the golfer, refers to the Chinese New Year……. “Optimism can keep a fool from accepting failure,” quoth Ernest Hemingway…. Newsmax says that street crime has become so prevalent in Mexico that vigilante groups are springing up all over. “The government is failing to provide security and people are turning to some brutal alternatives,” observes Guadalajara crime expert Rossana Reguillo….. Big companies should be prohibited from hostile purchases of other companies if they have to go into debt to do it. (Yes, Kraft, that means you)….New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s bank-size bonuses to his already-overpaid assistants, only confirm the adage that he has more money than sense….California’s Second Sight company has developed a retinal implant that converts video images into electrical images that help the blind to see….. He thought he saw an eye doctor on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian….. Star Analytical Services, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is developing a doctor’s telephone that will enable diagnosis of a cough from the sound….. Why do they lock gas station bathrooms? asks Phil Proctor. “Are they afraid someone will clean them?”Pope Benedict thunders about “the obsessive search for the perfect child” after genetic researchers predict it won’t be long before in vitro fertilization techniques enable potential parents to choose such traits as skin color, intelligence, or even an aptitude for sports….. Do members of Congress ever refuse bribes?…..”Floor tiles, made by the US company PowerLeap, generate electricity when people walk over them…. UC Santa Cruz is seeking a trained archivist to oversee its collection of Grateful Dead memorabilia…..The female equivalent of Viagra may turn out to be flibanserin on which tests will continue for another year….“Love is the answer, but while you’re waiting for the answer, sex raises some pretty interesting questions,” quipped Woody Allen…… More than half of the citizens of Jordan are Palestinian, so why is that not the long-desired Palestinian homeland? Apparently, because the Jordanian government (i.e. King Abdullah II) manipulates things to ensure that the majority never takes control….“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.” — Seneca the Younger (c.4BC to AD 65)

(Jan 30/10)

[ JW says: “You have to read my column regularly, to understand what I am doing.” ]