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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: June 11, 2011

John Wilcock


“Trader Joe’s is for overeducated and underpaid people, for all the classical musicians, museum curators, journalists — that’s why we’ve always had good press, frankly!”
Joe Coloumbe, who founded Trader Joe’s in Pasadena, and sold it to a German grocery chain 20 years ago.


EVERYBODY LOVES TRADER JOE’S with its gourmet food at affordable prices. And some of us even love the store’s monthly catalog, whimsically titled the Fearless Flyer (“always free and worth every penny”). Its author is clearly an aspiring poet, in thrall to familiar pitchman jingles like “higher in protein and lower in carbs” and “most authentic traditional ingredients” or even “spicy but not too spicy, tangy but not too tangy, sweet but not too sweet.” (Is there a school that teaches this sort of stuff?) TJ’s amanuensis is fond of the occasional giddy flight such as “Suddenly these cheeses appear in our sights as though the masters of the universe are actually paying attention to our most wanton desires.” Well, that got my attention, mandating a close study of the hustle for Trader Jacques Spreadable Bleu. As for the Cabernet Pot Roast, it’s “a true one-pot meal that is destined to make your life easier and more delicious,” and the Organic Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup is “a velvety smooth concoction with a subtly flavored tomato base.” (As it happens, it’s delicious.) Admittedly our fearless show-runner — if one might borrow the phrase — goes over the top occasionally. “We’d like you to think of TJ’s Country Italian Salad,” the Fearless Flyer cajoles persuasively, “as your ticket to an Italian vacation, without the high price of a plane ticket, hotel accommodations, and trip insurance. If you believe a salad can be such a truly economical alternative to actual travel — and we do — this salad fits the bill.”


Bargain(n) : “a transaction in which each participant thinks he has cheated the other.”
— anonymous


THE SCARY-LOOKING LIONFISH, a predator from the Pacific which was unintentionally introduced into the Atlantic, has colonized much of America’s East Coast and has become an ecological threat. Menacing or decorative, according to your point of view — they are popular in home aquariums — they have to be dealt with before they overwhelm native populations, say experts. But maybe the best way is to eat them. Pterois (their marine name) are a “delicious, delicately flavored fish,  similar in texture to grouper,” advises the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

THE WORLD’S BEST RESTAURANT is what some have called it, but it has probably served up more disappointment than meals — not from the meals themselves, but the frustration of potential diners unable to make a reservation. Two million people a year are reported to request a booking during the brief season, but only 8,000 find a place at the table. All this will end next month when elBulli, the gourmet paradise near the Catalonian fishing port of Roses closes down. Despite an average meal tab of around $400, the restaurant habitually loses money according to its ebullient owner Ferran Adrià who took charge in 1987. He finances the deficit with lectures and books, about one of which a New York chef forecast that his colleagues “will gape in fear, and awe, and wonder” and ask ‘What do I do now?’” The 2008 book, A Day at elBulli, included such recipes as pine nut marshmallows, steamed brioche with rose-scented mozzarella, rock mussels with seaweed and fresh herbs, and passion fruit trees.

The restaurant, which employs 42 chefs and has become renowned for its wildly unconventional experiments with cooking, is often the subject of sarcastic comments for its use of such things as foams and liquid nitrogen. One of a score of items on a Synthesis of elBulli Cuisine reads: “Taste is not the only sense that can be stimulated: touch can also be played with (contrasts of temperatures and textures), as well as smell, sight (colors, shapes, trompe d’oeil, etc.), whereby the five senses become one of the main points of reference in the creative cooking process.” Despite some contradictory statements, the restaurant is predicted to reopen as a “creativity center” in 2014.

SARAH PALIN PRAISED! It’s not a notation you see too often these days, and especially not in a scholarly shrine like the Atlantic, but that magazine’s June issue devotes eight pages to politics’ favorite scapegoat. True, the story is headed The Tragedy of Sarah Palin, but most of it is a lament for what might have been. Joshua Green brings attention to Palin’s early role as Alaska governor when she courageously took on the oil companies that were strangling her state. “Palin seems to have been driven by a will to advance herself and a virulent animus against anyone who tried to impede her,” he writes, “But this didn’t prevent her from being an uncommonly effective governor while she lasted. On the big issues at least she chose her enemies well and left the state in better shape than most people, herself included, seem to realize or want to credit her for…What if she had tried to do for the nation what she did for Alaska? The possibility is tantalizing.”

EVEN UNDER the driest terrain in the desert, there’s usually water if you go far enough down and the invention of Peter Hoff’s Groasis Waterbox nurtures tree saplings with droplets for long enough for the roots to reach it, reports Popular Science which has awarded the device its Green Technology Grand Award. Once the tree has penetrated the dry soil far enough to be self-supporting, the box is removed and wrapped around another sapling.


“We’re so lucky as TV actresses because we get an intimate relationship with 150 people — our crewmembers — pretty much daily. When you do a movie, you get introduced to so many people, you don’t know their names, and then in two months it’s over, and you never see them again. With us, we actually have this family”.
The Good Wife’s Julianna Margulies talking to The Hollywood Reporter


AMERICA’S PRIVATE (for-profit) prison system now houses 10% of the country’s prisoners but is coming under increasing fire from critics who charge it as being more dangerous and less open to rehabilitation than government facilities. The biggest of the companies. Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which has contracts with 19 state prisons and is estimated to gross $5bn a year, is accused of being run by “amoral penny pinchers” which lobbies the government to increase the already high state of detention/ “When every prisoner is a daily $100 bill,” says Bloomberg Businessweek, “you’ll do everything you can to get as many of them as you can.” CCA spends up to $2 million a year to lobby for more “clients” but the company calls this figure “minuscule.”


After John McCain’s inevitable loss in the presidential election, the rightwing GOP will conclude that Mitt Romney was an unlucky hero and will nominate him in 2012, when he’ll lose again…
(The Wilcock Web, Feb 23, 2007)


THE WILCOCK WEB: The UN’s former boss Kofi Anan and a group of “high profile world leaders” declared the 40-year-old “war on drugs” to be a failure and should be abandoned. But Obama and Mexican president Felipe Calderon are too myopic to take advantage of this excellent cover for doing something sensible, and turned down the idea, opting to continue what everybody but them knows is an extravagantly wasteful losing policy….….“Social desirability pressure” is what causes people to tell poll takers what they think they want to hear rather than their true beliefs, according to UC Berkeley’s Alexander Janus. He reports In Social Science Quarterly that 34% of interviewees said that immigration should be kept at present levels but a more disguised poll assessed that figure at almost double….Why do you always choose the right man inside the USA and the wrong man in other countries?” was one of the questions submitted to an Egyptian website for the attention of Hillary Clinton on her visit to the country…. It will be 2013 before the $5bn undersea power grid is completed off 350 miles of America’s East Coast. But when completed it will be the base for the Atlantic Wind Connection which will produce as much power as ten coal-fired plants…. ….“A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned to walk forward,” declared Franklin Delano Roosevelt…. Frustrated with being the last place dealt with by the international financial markets, Samoa is to advance its calendar by one day so they’ll be the first….
Rabbit jumping began in Scandinavia but now has 22 clubs in Germany and the sport is spreading across Europe. Twelve hurdles about 15 inches high line the course…..….Sponsored by a $517million contract from the…military, Northrop Grumman is building a 300-foot helium-filled airship which can lift 200 tons and stay aloft for 21 days….“The smug belief in our superiority exists,” writes Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. “American exceptionalism ought to be called American narcissism. We look perfect only to ourselves”…. …Popular Science warns people carrying credit cards embedded with radio frequency identification (the device that enables the bearer to just point the card at a cash register) that any thieving passer-by with a $70 RFID reader can point it at your pocket or briefcase and copy the number…..It would be costly to desalinate enough sea water to satisfy the parched needs of Beijing. But wouldn’t it be cheaper than transporting six trillion gallons of water per year 800 miles, relocating 350,000 villagers, and building 400 sewage plants?….Wearing a suit with sneakers is “Hollywood’s current look,” says the Hollywood Reporter…. “Humor can get in under the door,” said G.K. Chesterton, “while seriousness is still fumbling at the handle”…. More than 250 wrongly-convicted prisoners have been exonerated by DNA testing in the past 30 years (17 of them were on death row) according to Brandon. L. Garrett’s new book Convicting the Innocent. In three-quarters of the cases, guilt was established as a result of faulty eyewitness identification….“There is no such source of error as the pursuit of absolute truth.” — Samuel Butler (1835-1902)