‘Idol Tsunami’

The impending new season of Fox TV’s “American Idol” is already striking terror into the hearts of competing networks, declared Variety in a front page story last week. The show is scheduled to run “45 highly-rated hours” from January 16 through May, dominating two or three nights each week – what ABC’s programmer Jeff Baden calls the “Idol tsunami.” Variety discussed the Fox show in near apocalyptic terms claiming it has already “vaporized” 20 series competing with it, “piling up the body bags (and) defying the laws of Nielsen gravity with its jaw-dropping popularity.” NBC’s scheduling chief, Mitch Metcalfe, says: ”It’s this hurricane that blows in. We know it’s going to come...and we just have to buckle down and prepare for it as best we can.”

Scent of Style

Smelly hotels are becoming popular since the Hyatt Park Vendôme in Paris hired perfumer Blaise Mautin to turn the hotel’s atmosphere and interior into “a signature fragrance…as essential to the hotel’s identity (as) its modern aesthetic.” Combining 18 ingredients (including patchouli, extract of sweet Brazilian oranges and sandalwood), the final aroma impregnates the premises of six other Park Hyatts around the world and guests at other upscale hotels in Tokyo, Monte Carlo, Calcutta, Hong Kong and London are greeted with signature fragrances in what’s been termed “sensory branding.” Ingo Schweder, director of the Mandarin Oriental’s spas, says: “Smell is under-leveraged, and because of the overload from sight and sound, people are more receptive and more sensitive to communication via scent.”


At first, sophisticated admen were skeptical about the idea of a demented duck selling insurance. But that was before Aflac made advertising history, with its 90% brand recognition, and was enshrined on Madison Avenue’s Walk of Fame. The duck appeared in a Lemony Snicket movie, made Forbes’s list of top 25 Power Brands and prompted the company to redesign its logo with the gawky bird front and center. “Many people can relate to the duck,” comments TelevisionWeek. It ”represents many of us who are frustrated from not hearing our voices heard.”

Thank You for Not Smoking

More than 300 staff and police have been alerted to ensure that passengers on the 110-mile-per-hour Beijing-Tibet train do not smoke because oxygen is pumped into the carriages as the train reaches altitudes of more than 5,000 feet and a spark could cause an explosion. (Two-thirds of Chinese men smoke and the journey takes 48 hours.)

Telling Stories

In her new book, “The Expected One” (Simon & Schuster), Kathleen McGowan says she has “sacred blood” and claims to be a descendant of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. Publishing News says it’s being described as “semi-autobiographical” and mirrors the author’s life – “a woman who experiences holy visions and sets off on a journey to find the missing gospel of Mary.” Others are skeptical. On the USA Today website, one critic accused McGowan of constantly reinventing herself on Internet forums to fit the latest trend: as “a spy for the IRA, a pagan high priestess…and now the spawn of Jesus and Magdalene…If there is one thing Ms McGowan has exhibited…it is her talent for writing fiction.”

The Dead City

French novelist Marc Levy trashes Paris and praises London (where he has lived for five years) in his bestseller, “Mes Amis Mes Amours.” London, he says, is filled with exciting new buildings whereas “ninety-nine percent of Paris doesn’t even belong in the twentieth century. Paris is like a dead city with no progress while everything here has the buzz.”

Brain Cells with Brains

If the assumption is correct that the brains of all animals (including humans) work in the same way and that keeping the mind busy prolongs life, neuroscientists had some good news for those attending a recent conference in Atlanta. With the knowledge that new brain cells grow every day in the brains of rats, the researchers chemically tagged one day’s cellular input and then put a test group through a “learning process” (specifically blowing a puff of air into their eyes to cause blinking, but preceding the action with a sound). Predictably, the group learned to blink as soon as they heard the sound, and when the scientists later checked they found that the new brain cells had matured whereas those of the “non-thinking” rats had died.

Welcome to the Jungle

Copyright law, once tagged “an engine of free expression by the Supreme Court” is more often these days “an engine of corporate censorship,” declares the Columbia Journalism Review in a story headed “Copyright Jungle.” It says copyright is an incentive to bring work to market, rewarding writers for their creations, but it also has the potential to “lock up knowledge, insight, information and wisdom” and has been used by large multinational media companies who have “twisted it toward their own short-term interests.” In this, says CJR, the companies have been aided by Congress, which, by extending copyright protection for work created decades ago, robs people of their legacy.

The Wilcock Web

For a mere 40 bucks you can order a truffle tree for your garden, its fungal spores embedded in oak and hazel seedlings at www.truffle-uk.co.uk…. Hearing something you like about someone you don’t is how columnist Earl Wilson described gossip…. “The problem with beauty,” explains Joan Collins, “is that it’s like being born rich and then getting poorer”…. “I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world,” says author J.K. Rowling. “I’d rather they were independent, original, funny, a thousand things before thin”…. In Germany, shoppers peel off excess packaging at the checkout and leave the supermarkets to deal with it, reports The Week, and in Ireland a tax on plastic bags means people take their own bags to the store… The e-mail of the species is deadlier than the mail, says Stephen Fry…. Expect a spirited counterattack after the January publication of James Scurlock’s book, “Maxed out: the Book the Debt Industry Doesn’t Want You To Read.” Publishers Harper/Reference promise “a large publicity campaign” and predict “extensive media coverage” …. Hamburg scientists concluded, after a lengthy study, that redheads have the busiest sex lives… More than 3 million plots on the moon have been sold due to a loophole in the 1967 Outer Space Treaty that failed to outlaw the practice…. The desire for fame is the last infirmity, cast off even by the wise – Tacitus (c. 55-120 AD).

John Wilcock’s column and weekly travel show can be accessed at www.ojaiorange.com.