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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: October 30, 2010

John Wilcock

“Most politicians wait until they get elected to get indicted. I’ve already been there. I’m saving the voters time and money.”
former madame Kristin David, hopeful candidate for governor of New York

KEEPING THE PEACE means breaking the bank — that’s the scam being pulled off by public safety unions that represent police and firemen according to Daniel Foster who complains of the reluctance of many of the aforementioned to accept the cuts imposed on everybody else. He quotes an estimate from the Bureau of Economic Analysis which says that in addition to generous health insurance, sick leave, and pension benefits, state and local employees earn — hour for hour — 34% more in wages than do workers in the public sector. In Oakland, for example, compensation for police and firemen accounts for 75% of the city’s expenditures —  average total compensation for officers being $162,000 in a place where the median family earns less than one-third of that.

Responding to threatened layoffs, the Oakland police chief listed 44 situations he regretted his reduced force would be unable to respond to including burglary, grand theft, extortion, and fraud. “Throughout these crises,” writes Foster in National Review, “the unions have succeeded in casting the choice between public safety and layoffs, avoiding reductions or even talk of, their extravagant compensation packages…We must take care that public safety workers are not allowed to hide behind the badge. That they are our heroes, does not excuse them from taking part in the difficult choices that must be made to restore solvency to state and local governments.”

Crop formation in Wiltshire
from June of this year.
The Week

MOST FOLK NOW accept that crop circles are man-made and many of the artists who make them, including the original pair (Doug Bower and David Chorley) have demonstrated how they are done. But there are still hold-outs who insist that at least some creations are made by extraterrestrials. Many of these believers gather at the canal-side Barge Inn at Honeystreet in the county of Wiltshire where Croppie Ale is quaffed by fans from all over the world. They regard it as Crop Circle Central, a place says the Field Guide’s author Rob Irving, where people can take “a vacation from rationalism.”

BAMBOO GROWS LIKE a weed, with some species adding a couple of inches per hour, and has been used as a building material for centuries in the developing world. Its advantages over wood are numerous, writes Elizabeth Best in Miller-McCune magazine, being cheaper to plant, faster to grow, and harvested by using less fossil fuel. Growing best in warm, wet climates it has been the subject of workshops in Vietnam, Nepal, India, Indonesia, and China where the World Bamboo Organization has been teaching its value for building.

WHO WOULDA THOUGHT that excessive shopping could actually be dangerous? That’s the opinion of psychologist April Lane Benson who says it isn’t just that shopaholics get into fights with their loved ones over their behavior, but also “they’re put on probation at work because they’re caught shopping online or they’re working two or three jobs to pay off their credit cards. Their personal lives are in shambles because of the secrecy and the humiliation.” A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry estimates that about 18 million Americans have a retail habit so intense that it places their relationships or careers in jeopardy and the reason why obsessive shopaholics do it, says Psychology Today, is that they must shop to feel that everything is okay. During shopping jaunts, the mag explains, “a brain area called the nucleus accumbens floods with dopamine, the same chemical that’s released during sex and cocaine use.”

INDICATIONS OF LYING might be frequent use of swearwords; opting for the third person instead of using “I”; and exaggeratedly calling something ‘fantastic’ instead of ‘good’. Those are the conclusions quoted in the Economist of a pair of researchers from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business who analyzed the transcripts of thousands of conference calls… “Deceptive bosses, it transpires, tend to make more references to general knowledge (“as you know…”) the mag reports, “and refer less to shareholder value, perhaps to minimize the risk of a lawsuit.”

THE WANING OF NASCAR, whose 75 million fans once made it the country’s most-watched sport (after football), has increasingly seemed to be what Harper’s now calls “a clunker.” Attendance at races has plummeted, its plotlines have stopped infiltrating such Hollywood blockbusters as Talladega Nights and Herbie Fully Loaded, and at the recent Daytona 500 seats were removed and prices cut. “Victory at the track now appeared to be in the hands of the technicians in the lab rather than in those of the shade-tree genius mechanics or the gutsy drivers,” the mag says, adding that after 62 years the drivers had become “too corporate and bland,” the races too boring. Part of the blame it attributed to NASCAR’s wider geographical vision. Said one owner: “The South built this sport. It’s regional. That’s what it’s all about. It started to go wrong with the races up north.”

THE SMELL OF A CAR is in the process of definition by Ford which, according to Forbes, employs five engineers, “with exceptionally sensitive noses,” in a laboratory assessing odors emitted by everything from cup holders and air bag covers to floor mats and seat covers. The ultimate aim of such research, explains Derrick Kuzak, one of the company’s vice presidents, is to pinpoint a scent that “produces a sense of well-being inside a Ford.” The company wants every car it makes to look, feel, and even smell like a Ford, the mag observes.

FORTUNE SAYS THAT its cover piece is the first revealing story about Oprah Winfrey’s new cable network, but the truth is, it doesn’t reveal very much beyond the fact that she had second thoughts about abandoning her huge daytime audience (12m+ at its peak) for a channel that may offer fewer than half that. On the other hand, how could she resist a 50% share of something that would give her complete control without having to put up any money? Oprah, 56, who began as a Nashville, TN, news anchor aged 19, is now reportedly worth $3bn, and analysts forecast the new Oprah Winfrey Network could be worth at least that within a few years. She’s committed to devoting 70 hours a year of air time but will supervise a whole raft of new shows such as a six-part documentary series about Sarah, Duchess of York’s “transition to the real world.”

AMONG THE 30+ BOOKS I wrote during my 30 years as co-editor of The Witches Almanac, were three on the subject of magical places in Europe and South America. All are long out of print, but publisher Tim Beckley has recently republished one as part of Occult Journeys Through South America with a lengthy introduction by Tim R. Swartz. Details from

THE WILCOCK WEB: The more incumbents — of either party — that get tossed out, the better….Many white Americans continue to deny that the Tea Party is driven by mostly elderly white people’s refusal to accept a black man as president,” wrote Evan Julien in a letter to the Nation…. Future oil spills might be contained by encircling them with booms dropped by plane over the site followed up with bus-sized robots to suck up the oil…. No wonder Supreme Court Justices don’t want TV intruding into their court: it would demonstrate too clearly how politically biased they are …. And, judging by her demand for an apology from Anita Hill, it would certainly seem that Justice Clarence Thomas’s wife has also been lied to all these years…..Scooping up a few locusts from the expected millions now on the way, Australian scientists plan to glue tiny reflectors on their backs thus enabling the hordes to be tracked by pilot-less drones… Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak….. If your car could travel at the speed of light, would your headlights work?.… Another fraudulent Afghan election invalidated? Wotta surprise….In its 12-page section about the apocalypse, Wired lists a few imperishables with an indefinite shelf-life to store in your cave: Spam, Velveeta, Hostess Twinkies along with pouches of Starkist tuna (3 years)….Many who encounter (her) report feel simultaneously charmed and intimidated,” is Forbes’ assessment of cover girl Arianna Huffington in an issue featuring “The 100 Most Powerful Women”….. Customers in stores with the new MyBestFit kiosks are offered a complete 10-second body measurement without having to get undressed…. It doesn’t matter how much they argue about trying to control Medicare costs, nothing will work until they rein in the greedy insurance companies (good luck with that).… “No one can build his security upon the nobleness of another person,” wrote Willa Cather….Duchy Originals, the brand of biscuits, honey, and jam owned by Britain’s Prince Philip, will be available in the U.S. soon, launched by the classy Waitrose supermarket chain….Britain’s Tesco supermarkets have introduced a so-called “drive-through” service which allows customers to pick up in the parking lot orders that have been made online…. Venice councilor Alberto Mazzonetto criticized the city’s gondoliers for singing “culturally deficient” songs such as Volare or That’s Amore instead of genuine Venetian melodies….Drinking two glasses of water before every meal almost certainly causes a loss of weight says Scientific American, reporting research from Virginia Tech….… China’s “one-child-only” policy, having produced an unbalanced population ratio of 120 boys to every 100 girls, is predicting that by 2020 the country will have 20 million bachelors unable to find a mate…. MISFORTUNE COOKIE: It is a simple task to make things complex, but a complex task to make things simple…..“Common sense is not so common.” — Voltaire (1694-1778)