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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: June 30, 2007


Dear Los Angeles Times,

I have come to think of your newspaper as the Daily Donald, studded as it is each morning with at least one, and often two or three fuzzy pictures of realtor Donald Sterling boasting about how generous he is. (If he really wants to help charities, why doesn’t he eschew the ads and just give them the money?)

Together with a pathetic book review, juvenile columnists such as Joel-whatever-his-name-is; the firing of Al Martinez; a dropped TV weekly listing; endless essays promoting millionaire third-rate “stars” of questionable talent that few of us have ever heard of; and a magazine that seems to have few ideas beyond issues devoted to Men’s Fashion, Women’s Fashion, Expensive Cars and Restaurants, and Rich People’s Gardens. All this coupled with acres of newsprint devoted to the vapid trivia of clubs, bands, fashion, and Hollywood, lay the paper open to justifiable charges of extreme anti-intellectualism. There are positives, of course, and they include the still first-rate foreign, political, and business reporting; most editorials, art & architecture; the lengthy Column One features and the humanity of Steve Lopez.

However, it’s hard to understand why West is such a soporific, unimaginative production. Maybe it would benefit some of its clue-less editorial elitists to study any one of the half dozen London Sunday paper supplements which still believe stories should be engaging, enthralling, engrossing, or at the very least, interesting.

In view of all this, it will hardly come as a surprise to learn that, like many others, I am canceling my years-long subscription to the paper in favor of the much-superior New York Times.

Los Angeles Times failed to print this letter.

John Wilcock — the column of lasting insignificance

THE BEST ESSAYIST IN AMERICA (although Bush fans might disagree) is Lewis H. Lapham, the legendary former editor of Harper’s (for 30 years) whose monthly ruminations were invariably the most intelligent to be found in any contemporary journal. Although he retired last year. Lapham’s active mind kept churning and in the fall he’s back with Lapham’s Quarterly “to help us to use history to find our way to the present.” The premise is simple: look to the wisdom of such age old savants as Tacitus, Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare and apply their wisdom to contemporary issues. “The method assumes that profound observations of the human character and predicament don’t become obsolete” Lapham muses, adding with characteristic literary flair, that ”a knowledge of history arms us with our best weapon against the enemy of our own ignorance.” The quarterly’s first issue will be in October.

HASTENING THE INEVITABLE collapse of Zimbabwe, president Robert Mugabe any moment now, plans to seize majority shares in all the country’s foreign-owned businesses, turning them over to members of his Zanu-PF ruling party. Harare economist John Robertson explains that the dictator has run out of farms to transfer to his supporters and “now he is looking for new areas of the economy to hand over.”

IT’S NOT A JOKE when Food Bank of Alaska announces that it has signed an agreement with State Troopers to retrieve and process road kill from the highways around Anchorage. The dead creatures in question, however, are moose which are frequent victims of unlucky motorists. Similarly, the Food Bank will retrieve moose carcasses killed on Alaska Railroad tracks and distribute packages of ground moose to 300 soup kitchens across the state.

“I COULDN’T REALLY ACCEPT a teetotal woman in the same way that I couldn’t accept a woman who doesn’t eat. And it’s so pretty to eat and drink; there is such an elegance in those acts. I often think that women are blessed with a far more delicate palate, that they are more sensual creatures in general, and therefore able to enjoy the divine liquid better than a big, fat Frenchman like me” — actor Gérard Depardieu in The Spectator

A NEW SUNDAY NIGHT trends program, CW Now, on that network in the fall will eschew actual commercials in favor of “integrating” segments by such advertisers as WalMart, Kraft and Procter and Gamble. Now termed “content wraps” which will run seamlessly during the commercial breaks they are regarded as preferable to product placement but are for the same reason — to counter the growing use of digital video recorders which let viewers fast forward through spots.

MANUFACTURING THE 100 BILLION plastic bags used annually by shoppers costs 12 million barrels of oil according to the Guardian which reveals that most of them are made — and returned for recycling to — Shenzen, a former village south of Hong Kong which has become of the world’s biggest cargo ports. “It is cheaper to ship a container of waste from London to Shenzen than it is to truck it to Manchester” the mag says.

ONLY A FEW SCATTERED systems have harnessed the power of the waves to create electricity reports the Economist but interest is growing. There are “wave farms” off Cornwall and Scotland’s rugged north coast and the system being set up off the Portuguese coast by Ocean Power Delivery will eventually supply a relatively meager 15,000 homes. “But with governments all over the world thinking about climate change and under pressure to show their green colors,” the magazine says, “the tide may be turning — politically, at least.”

SHELF SPACE BEING INADEQUATE major supermarkets have been pressuring the detergent companies to package their product in smaller bottles, so by the end of this year most bottles will be downsized by half. Although the price will remain the same, the detergent will (allegedly) be twice as concentrated. “People will be mad, washing machines will overflow and people will call customer hotlines a lot” forecasts Bruce Cohen, described as “a consumer products strategist.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Now that we’ve learned that all senators, and most of congress are multi-millionaires, what a pity there isn’t a law mandating that they use their own money for re-election, thus no longer being beholden to all the people who bribe them…. With a 50% chance of rain falling on August 8 as the Beijing Olympics opens next year (based on 30 years of records), authorities will have five planes standing by loaded with silver-iodine pellets to seed the clouds …. Referring to the new $600million U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Hong Kong’s Asia Times comments: “Nothing more perfectly sums up the futility of George Bush’s war than this perfect folly…” All new cars are to be equipped with automatic tire-monitors after research has shown that under-inflated tires lead to the wastage of more than one billion gallons of gas each year…. Tracy Mann, a UC psychologist, says that when most people quit ”yo-yo dieting” they’re heavier than when they began…. The demand for private jet planes — which can cost up to $50million — is so huge, says the Wall Street Journal, that potential buyers may have to wait “several years” for delivery…. For the first time in more than a century, houses with thatched roofs (whose insulation reduces utility bills) are being built in England…. “When people are free to do as they please” explained Eric Hoffer, “they usually imitate each other&….rdquo; The lease on Manhattan&’s iconic Tavern on the Green doesn’t expire until the end of 2009 but already greedhead Donald Trump is bidding to take it away from the daughter of legendary restaurateur Warner LeRoy… Lucy O’Donnell, a 43-year-old housewife in Surrey, was the subject of a painting surrounded by stars by John Lennon’s son Julian when they were in school together 40 years ago. Julian told his father he’d titled it Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. The song came later….” Doing something is a damn sight better than being someone” observed British columnist Roy Hattersley… …20% of the intrusive CCTV cameras in the world keep an eye on the British… Clint Eastwood will write the introduction to the Warner Brothers history being written by Richard Schickel and George Perry. There’ll also be a TV documentary…. The men who make revolutions are always despised by those who profit from them. — Francoise Guizot (1787-1874)