John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: October 28, 2006


AFTER A SURVEY showed that nine out of ten pedestrians along London’s crowded Oxford Street showed “sidewalk rage” towards slow walkers, a group called the Fast Lane Campaign came up with the idea of splitting the pavement in two. Marked with different colors, the slow lane would be for tourists, window-shoppers, and “people who couldn’t walk for more than a minute without stopping to send a text message” and the other lane would enforce a minimum speed limit of 3mph. Alas, the idea was officially shot down. But now, two years later, it’s back again with a planned survey in November to seek public reaction. “This is still a huge challenge for us” says Jace Tyrrell, spokesman for a local shopkeepers’ group. “Everyone knows that the biggest challenge on Oxford Street is congestion”.

Executing people by firing squad in front of large crowds is being phased out in China which wants to offer the world a more humane face in advance of the 2008 Olympics. So the new method, reports Asia Times, is to have a four-man team pick up a prisoner from jail, park somewhere quiet and kill him by lethal injection. China is estimated to conduct 8,000 executions a year and to sell the bodies for medical transplants.

Explaining why his early shows were so “theatrical”, Elton John says: “I was stuck at a piano which is not a glamorous instrument. It’s a nine-foot wooden plank. You can’t utilize it like a guitar; you can’t move with it. Also, I wasn’t a sex symbol like Bowie, Marc Bolan, or Freddie Mercury so I dressed more on the humorous side, because if I was going to be stuck at the piano for two hours, I was going to make people look at me. I had to give people a bit of fun.”

THE WORLD’S BIGGEST retailer, Wal Mart, is a big hit in America but isn’t doing so well abroad. It has already pulled out of Germany and South Korea this year and as shopping habits have been changing in Britain, its subsidary, Asda, is losing market share there. Not only are low prices less of a consideration these days with British shoppers, but a recent survey revealed that whereas a trolley of 100 common items bought at the market leader, Tesco, would cost $330.26, the same batch from Asda saved a mere $1.40. The Economist says that Asda missed the boat in two other ways: the rise of the celebrity chef prompting more shoppers to seek out top quality and the escalating demand for organic foods which the WalMart clone ignored until recently

The Subject of Flatulence is not one that is widely discussed in respectable publications so it was something of a surprise to find the October Saturday Evening Post drawing attention to its current prominence. “By any name — paint-peeler, pocket thunder, fart, or foghorn” mused the SEP, “gas gets lots of culture play.” It recommended attention to the website www.trafon (try it backwards) whose owner, Bill Downs, it described as “an old fart”, and whose expressed aim is to “create awareness&.rdquo;

DOES MAGNET THERAPY WORK? A pair of Drexel University researchers were amazed to find that a Google search of the subject yielded 459,000 Web pages adding up to a billion-dollar international industry. And all this despite the lack of evidence that attaching magnets to yourself cures anything or improves health in any way. “The message seems quite clear” writes Bruce Flamm sarcastically in the Skeptical Inquirer. ”Why bother with doctors and medicines when magnets are safe and effective.” Ridiculing the claims for magnet magic as “absurd” — some actually promise to cure cancer — the British Medical Journal calls it “useless magnet therapy.” There’s even a $12 magnet pet collar which claims to “keep your cat or dog in excellent health and vitality.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: Vowel-free names such as Levi’s DLX jeans, Motorola’s SLVR phone and the Flickr website (for photo sharing) connote “cool and modern” says the Boston Globe and stem from the growing acceptance of shorthand in text messaging…. “Never miss a good chance to shut up” advised Will Rogers…. A recent lottery jackpot topped $250 million with the odds against winning 175 million to one. Bone-headed lottery officials say this is the way to increase the number of bettors. But supposing there had been 250 winners, each gleaning a cool mil? Wouldn’t that be wider publicity?…. Backpacks with super-thin solar cells providing a seven-watt charge are promoted in Outside magazine…. Karin Schwarz, a Brazilian artist who portrayed Barbie as a lesbian has been threatened with a suit by toymaker Mattel…. Could any well-informed reader possibly disagree that currently the two most newsworthy magazines in the English language are the Economist and the Spectator? The latter, with Deborah Ross, also has the most amusing food columnist…. Peter Greenberg, who researched a backstage show about airlines, says flight crews earn commission on every meal they sell — “they’re trying to turn (buy-on-board food) as a profit center….” The solitary license for what’s termed a “super casino” in England is supposed to be up for tender, but the Daily Mail charges that the fix is in and that it will be granted to US billionaire Philip Anschuitz…. Aromatic wood boards of cedar, maple and ash impregnated with spices are being offered for barbecue grills by the Fire and Flavor Grilling Co. Meanwhile, LC Premiums new Pop Art toaster has added coloring kits to its interchangeable plates which allow different images to mark your slices of toast…. “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous,”  mused Mark Twain, “he will not bite you. That is the principle difference between a dog and a man.” Visitors to the new Eco-Shark center at Playas del Coco on Costa Rica’s Gold Coast are invited to swim in a tank-full of sharks which one of the Center’s guides describes as “a fairly placid lot….” Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor liberty to purchase power.Benjamin Franklin  (1706-90)