John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: May 30, 2009

ANTHONY VILLARAIGOSA, labeled with ‘Failure,’ fills the June cover of Los Angeles Magazine which accuses LA’s mayor of neglecting his job in favor of “seizing opportunities and satisfying ever-larger appetites.” In other words, seeking to run for governor after failing to fulfill his promises to the city since he was elected three years ago.

Some of these campaign vows, as listed by writer Ed Leibowitz, are education (“our schools are still a shambles”), the environment (“which side were you on?”), and affordable housing (”the least affordable metropolitan area in America”).

The mag says it is bitter “because you promised so much…You had charm, poise, and vigor and you spoke in cadences that reconciled reason and compassion.”

In 3,000 words or more, Los Angeles details what Villaraigosa has and hasn’t done, while urging him to “resist the urge to bound up the career ladder faster than even term limits compel you.”

In a happy ending, Dear Mr. Mayor is invited to redeem himself by staying for a second term in “the gang capital of the world” and resolving at least that one issue “to remind us that you once stood for something more than political advancement.”

The INEVITABLY FAST-sinking  Los Angeles Times has so much extra space to waste that they’re devoting double-page centerfolds to merely the name of the paper along with a collage of meaningless pictures. Could somebody explain to these dimwits, that readers of the paper already know its name and non-readers (at whom the ad is presumably aimed) won’t see it?

The argument continues about whether or not the business press should have offered readers a more accurate picture of what was going on before everything not-so-suddenly collapsed. Writing in Columbia Journalism Review, Dean Sparkman said the only way to prove it was to read all the stories the business press had run on the subject between 2000 and 2007. And so he read more than 2,000 of them.  ”The business press,” he wrote, “is the sole means by which normal citizens would know of what was going on in the lending industry and on Wall Street” and it soon started to suffer, he suggested, from the Stockholm Syndrome so that the “warnings” it issued didn’t sound to readers like warnings at all.  As corruption heated up, coverage “generally downshifted into…service and consumer pieces….the business press subsequently lost its taste for predatory lending investigations, and developed a case of collective amnesia about Wall Street’s connection to sub-prime, rediscovering it only after the fact.”

YOU MIGHT EXPECT  that a magazine called Smart Money would have some tips on how to cash in on those poor wretches entangled by the foreclosure mess, so predictably the June issue carries a story on The New Prospectors. These are the vultures descending on homes offered at bargain prices in places like Las Vegas, San Diego, and Detroit. “They buy bundles of 200 to 1,000 homes…for 20 to 30 cents on the dollar, hire locals to rehab, rent out the most promising properties and abandon the rest,” the mag explains. “Some see it as their last shot at making back the savings they’ve lost in the stock market.” Detroit — “America’s bleakest big city” — is said to have 67,000 homes in foreclosure with the median price at $5,800.

IT’S 29 YEARS SINCE Jerome David (”JD”) Salinger gave an interview but reporters still trek up to the author’s home in Cornish, NH, to report on how they didn’t get an interview. The latest, Tom Leonard, revealed that the famous author of Catcher in the Rye (published in 1951 but still selling 250,000 copies a year) is occasionally seen at a café in nearby Windsor eating a spinach and mushroom sandwich, and sometimes shopping at the local supermarket with his younger (by 40 years) wife Colleen, who is apparently as friendly as her husband is reclusive. Leonard, like dozens of aspiring interviewers before him, never got to speak to JD (who was 90 in January) but in the Spectator repeated rumors that the house held two unpublished novels and 15 manuscripts locked in a safe.

ACTIVE LAND MINES are scattered all over the world, more than 110 million of them in 68 countries, and now a Danish company, Aresa, has developed a plant that changes from green to red when it detects nitrogen dioxide leaking from an underground explosive. Called the Bio-Senser, it is a genetically modified tobacco plant whose seeds can be dropped from a plane over areas that ten weeks later are scanned for signs of leaves that have changed color.

“I am the most interviewed person in China,” says artist Ai Weiwei even if I cannot be published here…I live under a government that espouses an ideology I believe to be totally against humanity…The government should be elected by the people and act according to the will of the people…”
— from the Index on Censorship’s conversation with the “digital dissident.” He called for the Chinese to re-establish “the basic value of contemporary thought” and to “discuss what kind of a government we should create.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: The Dems should have dumped that hypocrite Pelosi long ago….And if they’re debating new names, how about the Republican Greed Party?….Surely there must be some way of barring irrelevant amendments being added to important bills?….. “God seems to have left the receiver off the hook,” wailed a frustrated Arthur Koestler ….. Because drinking caffeine “increases people’s emotional arousal” (reports the European Journal of Social Psychology) you’re more likely to change your opinion about controversial topics after imbibing…. In time for hosting the Olympics in 2012, London is bringing back the iconic double-decker red buses but with lighter aluminum frames and hybrid engines…..The U.S. Embassy there, incidentally,  owes almost $5 million in congestion charges that drivers are charged for entering the crowded downtown area, but refuses to pay on the grounds that they’re above the law…. An Indian company is developing a urine-based soft drink with herbs added, and toxins and the smell removed …..Writing poetry is like trying to catch a black cat in a dark room reflects Robert Greacam….. Under its recession-fighting plan called Kidvantage, Sears promises to replace any clothing that wears out before the child grows out of it….The number of visitors to the online video site Hulu increased almost 500% in the past year reports TelevisionWeek…..Renewing its beguiling series Breaking Bad for a third season, cable channel AMC is starting to get the same surprised acclaim as it did for MadMen….If we’d pulled out of Iraq four years ago the country would have solved its own problems, for better or worse, by now….Will that criminal Cheney ever shut up and go away?…. ….. is one of several companies which are instituting tracking systems so that buyers of farm produce can trace the route it followed…. A huge building on Manhattan’s Lower Broadway was offered for sale at $29 million last week — a 50% reduction from its earlier price….And shouldn’t the Long Island Gotti mansion (currently on sale for $4m) have been confiscated long ago as a product of illegal gains?….Deft Definition: Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly…..Disagreeing with the legislation aimed at banning erectile dysfunction ads on television, Advertising Age asks “What’s next: do feminine hygiene ads make you uncomfortable?”…. Legislators in half a dozen states are pushing bills that would force Amazon to collect taxes on mail order items….“Any girl can look glamorous,” advised Hedy Lamarr. “All you have to do is stand still and look stupid”….German scientists have developed a metallic form of plastic that can conduct electricity….“All political parties die at last of swallowing their own lies.” — John Arbuthnot (1667-1735)