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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: March 10, 2007


YOUNG PEOPLE TODAY are so addicted to fame, writes Lakshmi Chaudhry, that often it’s become the most important — and sometimes the only — factor in their lives. “Fame is now reduced to its most basic ingredient: public attention. And the attention doesn’t have to be positive either… farting to the tune of Jingle Bells, for example, can get you on VHI.” She quotes YouTube founder Chad Hurley as saying that everybody at the back of their minds wants to be a star, adding that simply being on TV has become the ultimate stamp of recognition. “So have we turned into a nation of egoists, uninterested in anything that falls outside our narrow frame of self-reference?” Ms. Chaudhry asks in the Nation. “The latest iteration of digital democracy has… left us ever more in the thrall of celebrity, except now we have a better chance of being worshipped ourselves (but) if everyone is onstage, there will be no one left in the audience.”

FIFTY THOUSAND PEOPLE have already clicked onto to watch a rack of cheeses mature at the English firm of West Country Farmhouse Cheesemakers. The maturing process takes one year and a company spokesman says, “It puts watching paint dry, in the shade. If you happen to tune in at the right time you will even get to see them being turned over.”

“Ugly as it is, the expression ‘Yeah right,’ is a useful recruit to our language’s army of colloquialisms. In two words it says ‘pardon me but I find that inherently unlikely, and I think we both know why’” — says London columnist Matthew Parris.

IN GREECE, AAN ECONOMOC FOUNDATION estimated that the black market, which accounted for 35% of domestic product, must be reined in. “We must change a warped mentality that makes tax evasion a feat (when it’s actually theft) against society” declared Finance Minister George Alogoskoupis. But tax evasion is so commonplace that the change could take two or three generations, explains another official. “Greeks are a defiant people.”

WITH REVENUES FROM India’s film industry estimated to double to $3.4 billion in the next few years, “Bollywood’s top producers and studios have awoken to the possibility of earning money other than from the box office” says Derek Bose, author of a book on the subject. In practice this means merchandising everything from movie hero action figures (such as those modeled on Krrish, Bollywood’s singing, dancing, black-caped ‘Superman’-type) to mobile phone ring tones. With Hindi films gaining a world-wide audience, partly due to Indian expatriates, Bollywood claims an audience of 3 billion, bigger even than that of Hollywood.

WATER, A UTILITY THAT most people take for granted, says CFO magazine, “is suddenly hot.” Most waterworks are owned by municipal governments which tend to be fiercely protective of their franchises since water is viewed more as a birthright than a saleable commodity, the magazine says, but investors are eager to get into such companies as American Water (18 million customers in 28 states), part of an industry that outperforms Exxon, Wal-Mart and Home Depot. “We have long considered water infrastructure as an attractive investment opportunity” says Win. J. Neuger, CEO of AIG Global Investment Group.

HONG KONG OFFICIALS, worried that its three-year tourism boom may be over following the growth of plushy gambling resorts in Macau, is considering embracing gambling itself, particularly after Singapore planned to follow the lead of Macau (which has now over taken Las Vegas as the world’s most lucrative resort).

Speaking Personally

For the first time in more than a decade, this longtime newspaperman is not in print and I have mixed feelings about being a writer merely on the Web. On the one hand friends can read me all over the world, but on the other I have gone from having thousands of readers to hundreds.  (When I worked for the London Daily Mirror, long ago, my readership was four mlllion). Since 1996, at the initial invitation of Jim Buckley, I have been writing a regular column for the Montecito Journal for which I was paid $30, but my recent request for a raise — after complaining that after more than 200 columns, a professional writer merited more than four cents a word — was indignantly rejected by both Jim and his son Tim, who now runs the paper. First I was transferred from the paper itself to the MJ website, then dropped altogether.

My two previous collaborations with Jim over almost 40 years of our ‘friendship’ both collapsed because of a similar miserly attitude. I guess people who value money over friendship don’t change as they get older, which is probably why Jim is a Republican. Or maybe it’s the other way round.

I have never been much good at selling myself. Back in September 1972, when I was running the Underground Press Syndicate, the New York Times ran a 3,000-word piece about me based on my $5-a-day books. It was headed: John Wilcock: An Influential Man Whom Nobody Knows. and while I’m still unknown, it’s safe to say I no longer have any influence whatsoever, at least partly because Insight Guides for whom I wrote/edited 25 books has a policy of downplaying its specific authors because of the necessary regular revisions.

Why am I telling you this pathetic tale? Because if somebody out there can steer me to an agent or a publisher, he/she will be suitably rewarded. Think of this column as a giant classified ad.

I have three impending projects:

  1. A  sort-of biography based on my never-published autobiography by the talented lady who wrote a September 2006 cover story for the VCReporter, bearing my portrait by Andy Warhol and titled “Mr. Underground”. This is in outline form. (Story is linked to my Wikipedia listing)
  2. The Weed That Changed the World, a comprehensive compendium with my collaborator Bob Perlongo about marihuana comprising sociological, psychological, medical, historical, religious, and political changes; and
  3. A compilation of some of the 1,200 pages from the Ojai Orange which during its five zeitgeist years, has covered everything from art to anarchy (sometimes the same thing), from invisibility to Alice in Wonderland. All 50 issues of this magazine, as well as recent columns, are on this web site, as you may have noticed.

Next week’s column, a return to normal, will be about Vietnam, from which I have just returned. Vietnam is also the subject of both the video on this site, and the March issue of the Ojai Orange which has previously devoted issues to China, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Greece, and England.