Archive for November, 2010

Pet Peeves and Half-Baked Opinions – Get ’em Here!

November 28, 2010

I quoted The New Yorker writer Professor Louis Menand on bloggers last week. He thinks we mainly offer half-baked opinions and pet peeves, unlike real book authors who write with long-term, more important goals. Actually he calls bloggers’ opinions “off-the-cuff” but, if I were his editor, I would have suggested “half-baked”.

As for pet peeves, one of mine is staff writers from print journalism snidely looking down their noses at bloggers, some of whom are not half-bad writers. (I’m talking to you, Dr. Menand. Just because you get paid to practice your art does not mean that the unwashed multitude possess only pet peeves and uncooked opinions.)

True, fundamental differences between bloggers and book authors exist. Few bloggers, other than those already on the staffs of print organs, acquire their calories by writing for money. Worse, bloggers don’t have editors, copy-editors,and fact checkers.

But those are about the only differences. Bloggers, like “real” writers, write to share insights, to gratify egos, or to get laid. Bloggers write for the same reasons writers have always written, only with less hope of getting paid for it. Which makes blogging the purer art. (Take that, Mr. Menand!) Besides, who knows which will last longer, inked words or words swimming in swamps of ones and zeroes.

Not that Mr. Menand doesn’t know what he is about. Only a fine writer could write, An Englishwoman lecturing Americans on semicolons is a little like an American lecturing the French on sauces.” (Although, I have to tell you, I wonder about that “a little.” )

Writing, he writes, “. . .is an instrument that was invented for recording, storing, and communicating. Using the relatively small number of symbols on the keyboard, you can record, store, and communicate a virtually infinite range of information, and encode meanings with virtually any degree of complexity.”

Sounds like what all writers do, even bloggers.

For a blogger, I am old fashioned. While I can contemplate with equanimity a day when I can read The Washington Post only on my computer screen, I recoil in horror at the thought of not holding The New York Times in my hand. Or The New Yorker, for that matter. My print subscription now carries with it the ability to read any back issue of the magazine online and that is fine, but this week’s issue, I want in my hand and I do not read the articles online, even though they appear before I receive my print copy. And no electronic device will ever replace holding a book for me.

In fairness to Mr. Menand, he limits his observations about blogging versus books, “[t]o this point in the history of civilization.” But it would be a dim-witted blogger indeed who did not see the sarcastic barb hidden in that phrase.

Perhaps I am too hard on Mr. Menand. It’s not his fault that most of my favorite New Yorker writers are dead.

Because of that, I give him the last word, Wisdom on the page correlates with wisdom in the writer about as frequently as a high batting average correlates with a high I.Q.: they just seem to have very little to do with one another. (I wonder about that “very” too.)

In that regard, I should note that, unlike me, Mr. Menand has published books. But then, so has Lisa Scottoline.


The photo of Dr. Menand is from the Library of Congress and was taken by John Y. Cole. The blogging poster is from



Happy Thanksgiving

November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving to our U.S. readers and we hope you enjoy the holiday.  Instead of eating bird, this woman was sharing her food with one.

By the way, the first Thanksgiving dinner may not have featured wild turkey. Eel was more likely. Any readers having eel for dinner today?

Cultural Recluses

November 21, 2010

Dick Cavett

A dear friend often accuses me of being a “cultural recluse” and she is absolutely correct. But that doesn’t mean I don’t read Louis Menand, the cultural critic of The New Yorker. Of course, people who read The New Yorker may be cultural recluses themselves. Few New Yorker readers probably care much about Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan or that other young woman who can’t get herself together. And the only reason I know that Bristol Palin is a finalist on “Dancing with the Stars” is that I was in Los Angeles last week and that kerfuffle made the front page of the struggling Los Angeles Times. (And now you know why that newspaper is struggling.)

In this week’s issue Mr. Menand – that’s how you can tell I’m a cultural recluse, I refer to people I don’t know as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” and “Ms.” – writes a review of a new book about late-night television. I don’t watch late-night television, or any other kind of television, except the World Series and MacNeil-Lehrer, a news program which, I’ve heard, has been renamed.

In his review of the book and the history of late-night television Mr. Menand notes that Dick Cavett, once a host of such a TV program, has published a book of his blog posts for the New York Times. He writes,

A blog is a means of sharing your pet peeves and off-the-cuff theories of everything with the entire planet. To this point in the history of civilization, that is not what a book is. In a book, normally, one’s eye is on a somewhat farther horizon.


Not this blogger. At my back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near and I write for the ages, just like you read for the ages. Not for us the sacrifice bunts. Let others edge the runners around the bases, here we swing for the fences.

Which is another way of me telling you that I’ve not had much time to consult my muse; so blog posts have been few.

Updating Election Punditry

November 3, 2010

Real political pundits never do retrospectives of their own predictions. But I am not a real pundit, so I do.

As I write this morning, one of my specific predictions from last week remains up in the air, the Alaskan Senate race. And I missed one entirely: California marijuana went to a stinging defeat, primarily because old people voted and young people couldn’t be bothered. Stoned, maybe? Or they just didn’t care, since the law isn’t enforced anyway?

But my fundamental point, missed by all the pundits I’ve read, that our democracy is conservative and stable is as true today at it was yesterday. Certainly not much will change in Washington over the next two years with political power so evenly divided. The House will pass Republican legislation and send it off to the Senate for burial. The president will propose legislation he knows has no chance of passing and the silly pundits will begin writing nonsense about the 2012 election, which President Obama will lose unless Ben Bernanke succeeds in hurrying the economic recovery along. Apparently money is the only factor that drives American voters.

It all puts me in mind of Abraham Lincoln who said, “Elections are the people’s business and, if they get too close to the fire, they’ll find they have to sit on the blister.”