John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: October 4, 2008

“The trouble with practical jokes, is that they often get elected.”
                          — Will Rogers (1879-1935)

HALF A DOZEN European communities are now experimenting with the idea of removing all traffic signs and traffic lights from their downtown areas to encourage better driving behavior. In the German town of Bohmte where the center — referred to as “a naked square” — is shared by bikers, pedestrians, cars, and trucks, 13,000 vehicles each day, courteously make way for each other. “The whole village has become more human. We look at each other, we greet each other,” says Ulrike Rubcic. Last year Bohmte (pop: 13,315) had 50 traffic accidents; so far this year, none. The only rule is to always give way to the person on the right, and the plan “brings people closer to rediscovering and appreciating cities, not only as traffic places but also as human, social places,” states Heiner Monheim, a traffic management expert at the University of Trier.

WHY IS THERE something, rather than nothing? was one of the questions submitted to the Notes & Queries section of Britain’s Guardian newspaper which solicits answers from readers. Among the many replies was one from a Canadian reader: Because something is somewhere but nothing is nowhere. Next question: How wide is a rainbow?

AFTER BEING LONG scorned, rosé wine has suddenly become popular in France with reports that it will account for one out of every five bottles of wine sold. “The big change,” writes Tim Hayward in the Guardian, ”is among younger French drinkers who see it as a light-hearted festive drink and seem to have scandalously little time for the niceties of label, vintage, grape varietal, or origin”.

THE RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT is suing a New York bank for $22.5 billion in a Moscow court which makes Fortune magazine think that this is one battle that the U.S. probably won’t win. “Moscow’s commercial court is widely regarded as not only a place susceptible to corruption,” the mag says, “but one in which judges simply lack the judicial independence to rule against important state interests.” The case stems from the questionable actions of a Bank of New York vp back in the 1990s that allegedly resulted in laundering money and wire fraud. Fortune explains that any judgment, while not enforceable in the U.S., might be in some of the 100 other countries in which the bank does business.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, Russia may be just waiting for the excuse of another bitter disagreement with Ukraine to seize the Crimean port of Sevastopol which is home port for the navies of both countries. The Berliner Zeitung explains that three-quarters of the Ukrainian port’s population is ethnic Russian and they complain of being increasingly besieged as Kiev tries to redefine it as a Ukrainian city with that language predominating in schools, hospitals, and cinemas. If another little war breaks out, warns Newsweek, it would make recent events in Georgia look like “a sideshow.”

BICYCLES AS ARTWORKS — that was the project sponsored by the Italian cycle maker Cinelli which donated 13 classy frames (usually costing thousands of dollars) to artists who agreed to beautify them. Clowns and cartoon characters were the most popular creations but only one — by Barry McGee — went into limited production, selling for $2,100 apiece. All went on show this month at the opening of Lance Armstrong’s bike shop, Mellow Johnny’s, in Austin, TX.

VIRGINIA ARTIST Andreas claims to have redefined the term mixed media “by connecting philosophy, psychology, political science, literature, and cinematography.” He devoted a full-page ad in Art News explaining that he does not sell his major works because he “did not want to distract this development with marketing.” The Corcoran Museum in Washington, DC, will stage a retrospective of Andreas’ works next year, after which some will be sold — value enhanced, of course, by the show.

THE WILCOCK WEB: What piece of skullduggery can we expect from the GOP this month as they fabricate their traditional “October Surprise”?…. And will anybody turn up to picket the Oct 19 annual convention of the Mortage Bankers Association in San Francisco?…..It’s 75 years since the California legislature adopted the unfair and undemocratic rule that a simple majority doesn’t decide things. But the only people who can change it, are the only ones who wouldn’t benefit from the change…. “Everyone says they’re building a museum, but most of them just say it to try to get discounts,”  complains Damien Hirst, $200million of whose works (fabricated by his 150-member staff) sold at Sotheby’s last month….“Big bondholders and creditors generally go to the front of the line in a corporate bankruptcy and small parties are forced to the back,” says a newspaper report. In a less avaricious society, it would be the other way around….If rightwing pastors want to defy the principle of separating church and state by giving political sermons, let them join the rest of us and pay taxes….George H. W. Bush was president when the Savings and Loans went bust.  George W. Bush is president when the banks got into trouble last week.  Can’t wait to see what happens to the U. S. when Jeb gets his turn,” writes columnist Bob Patterson…. Could it ever be possible to imagine a society that didn’t exist on debt, one where nobody (including short sellers) bought anything they didn’t have the cash to pay for?…. A winner in the Washington Post’s competition for new words was Sarchasm: the gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it …. Every election since 1980 has been won by the candidate with the top-selling Halloween mask. So far this year, Obama masks are 4% ahead of those for McCain…. The men who make revolutions are always despised by those who profit from them.” —Françoise Guizot (1787-1874)