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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: June 25, 2011

John Wilcock


a rip-off according to rising complaints on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s not just the phenomenal cost that puts students in hock for years after graduating, but that millions of people do pretty well in life without a college degree, everybody from Henry Ford and John. D. Rockefeller to Bill Gates and Steven Spielberg. And the huge fees — private nonprofit four-year colleges charge, on average, $27,293 per year — are at least partly due to the excessive academic salaries.

“Universities, like corporations, claim they need to pay the going rate for top talent. The argument is dubious — who exactly are they competing with for the services of these managerial titans apart from each other?” writes William Deresiewicz in the Nation. The salary of at least a dozen college presidents tops $1million, he adds. “Academia is not supposed to be a place to get rich. If your ego can’t survive on less than $200,000 a year (on top of the prestige of a university presidency) you need to find another line of work.”

The situation is no different in England where, according to New Statesman columnist Laurie Penny, university vice-chancellors take home salaries in excess of $330,000 and claim, “like chief executives,” they deserve their huge salaries because theirs is a stressful job. “How curious, then, that some others find the time to earn thousands of pounds on the boards of drug companies and arms dealerships.”

Eilidh Whiteford

Edward Vaisey

SEX IN POLITICS is assuredly in the news in England where a new website, invites constituents to vote for which politician they’d most like to sleep with. The site’s originator Francis Boulle, a 22-year-old reality TV star, says: “The more you vote, the more accurate the rankings will become.” Prime Minister David Cameron is 101st out of 506 male MPs on the site (there are 648 MPs altogether. Contenders for top place change all the time, but in the lead at the moment are the Scottish National Party’s Eilidh Whiteford (Banff and Buchan) and the Conservative Edward Vaisey (Wantage). Understandably, pols themselves are not too happy about this latest attempt to popularize democracy. Lib Dem blogger Paul Walter says haughtily: “Young people’s political ambitions are, almost invariably, shaped by role models. Those role models should be held up for their passion and views, not looks.”

KEITH OLBERMANN WAS more or less kicked out of MSNBC for being outspoken, but it’s he who’s likely to have the last laugh. “I don’t think they expected this would be the outcome,” he says. “They expected, ‘OK, he’s going to go away now, probably for so long that nobody would be interested in bringing him back.’” But almost immediately he was brought back — by Al Gore who saw in him a perfect fit for his Current TV show, on which he’ll make his debut next week. “We’re not doing this for me to have a home,” Olbermann, 52. told Rolling Stone. “We’re going to take the MSNBC’s business away from them — that’s the idea, to do it better.”

His new show, in the same time slot he filled for eight years, will again be what the Hollywood Reporter calls “the primetime counterweight to the conservative firebrands on Fox News.” It was averaging about one million viewers and with two years left on the $7m annual contract forbade his move to any competing cable news outlet. At Current TV he will reportedly be paid $10m a year and will oversee much of the other programming. “It’s been fascinating to see the assumption that this was some sort of bizarre move for me,” he says. “I have achieved what I wanted to achieve, and I’m better off at some place where they not only like what I produce but also trust me to be the one to produce it.”

Most of all he values his independence at the new Countdown, which will reprise some of his familiar bits such as the worst person in the world. “The corporation is one of the great unheralded inventions of destruction,” he muses, referring to the networks. “It is a way to absolve from any personal liability, a bunch of people. They form together in a massive id and do whatever they want.”

HOW LONG REMAINS in one’s life, is a question that most people have probably asked, and soon there may be a way to find an answer. It all depends on something called telomeres which prevent the straggly ends of your chromosomes from getting tangled. “We know that shorter telomeres can cause a short lifespan,” explains Dr. María Blasco of Madrid’s Spanish Cancer Research Center who devised a blood test to read a person’s biological age (the rate at which they are aging). And she predicts it will become commonplace within a few years. Unfortunately, she says, the test can only offer clues how healthy you’ll remain and not tell you in months and years how long you will live. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter, say scientists at the University of Utah. “And when they get too short, the cell no longer can divide and becomes inactive or ‘senescent’ or dies. This process is associated with aging, cancer, and a higher risk of death. So telomeres also have been compared with a bomb fuse.” Of course, there’s always a downside to any new discovery, and in this case, it concerns life insurance companies who might start pricing their policies on when they’re likely to pay off.


“We never knew that (the Marvel artwork) would end up so popular and be in galleries and be auctioned off for thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars. We didn’t have room. The printer would always send us back the artwork on big boards…we had them piled up in our office, a small office. When someone would come up to, say, deliver our lunch from the drugstore we’d say, ‘Hey kid, before you go, grab some of this artwork, take it with you.’ We couldn’t get rid of it.”
Stan Lee talking to the LA Times’ Patt Morrison


THOSE SHOPWORN CLICHES about psychoanalysis which scoff about penis envy or the Oedipal complex are so last century writes Molly Knight Raskin in Psychology Today, an essay that declares that therapy has special relevance to today’s wired world. Technology, she affirms, can leave us feeling “distracted, over-stimulated, hollowed-out, and alienated,” quoting psychoanalyst Rodd Essig’s affirmation that while technology compels us to live in a constant presence, “psychoanalysis connects us with memory, the past, and what we want next. It stretches the existential muscles that are atrophying when we’ve spent too much time with our Blackberries.” Essig, a trainer and supervisor at New York’s William Alanson White Institute, maintains that such mental discipline is a way “to recapture the important piece of life that is being leached out of our experience.” The magazine’s story, titled The Great Idea That Wouldn’t Die, makes a largely defensive case for the continued relevance of analysis — “a profound exploration of the human inner world of desires and impulses.”

“OVER-ACHIEVING BRATS” is what designer Simon Doonan thinks of today’s youth — “a bunch of…materialistic, conformist, mentally turgid losers whose only discernible skill is the ability to sext pics of their genitals to each other.” The former Brit arrived in the US in 1978 and landed a job as Barney’s window-dresser from which he was fired earlier this year. About to turn 60 he married fellow designer Jonathan Adler in 2008 and now writes a column for Slate in which appeared his comparison of youth then and now. Lifetime achievement awards once went to octogenarians, he pouts, but now a kid of 22 can win the ‘Most Important Fashion Designer in History.’

THE WILCOCK WEB: If there really was a God looking down on all this mess, he might be tempted to move everybody in the world to a different country overnight and then sit back and have a good laugh …. Earth is the insane asylum for the universe…..Full-time politicians should be just that, banned from taking additional jobs. If they complain they can’t afford it, let them get out; it’s not that there’s any shortage of better applicants to replace them….… Our constitution protects aliens, drunks, and U.S. Senators, noted Will Rogers….. It’s so pretentious for anybody to give themselves such a ridiculous name as The Edge…. A previously unknown mineral consisting of sulfur and titanium crystallized inside a meteorite has been discovered in Antarctica. Can’t have been easy to detect as it’s said to have covered an area one-thousandth the thickness of a piece of paper…. Unsuccessfully completing the 103-mile swim between Cuba and Florida back in 1978, Diana Nyad, now 60, is about to make another attempt…. The easiest way to find something lost around the house is to buy a replacement …..A Lenovo laptop with a sensor that will focus on your eyes and act accordingly;



an electric bicycle with no spokes or wires; 3-D phones that don’t need glasses; and a radio that, when connected to your shower, is driven by a water-powered generator — all in the ‘What’s New’ pages of Popular Science….NBC’s revival of the stupidest show of last year, The Marriage Ref, must be solely because of their fear of alienating producer Jerry Seinfeld…. Meanwhile, Daily Mail critic Chris Tookey called The Hangover, Part 2the worst sequel in the history of cinema”…. MISFORTUNE COOKIE: It is a simple task to make things complex, but a complex task to make things simple ….The Mexican government says that in the past four years, it has recovered 60,000 guns traceable to dealers in the United States…. Virgin Airlines’ boss Sir Richard Branson is planning to enter the banking business…. ….“Nobody is more covetous and greedy than those who have far too much,” says Christopher Hitchens…. Which is more boring: modern dance or reading reviews about it?……..“All great truths begin as blasphemies.” — George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)