Marc Eisen was probably the Harold Ross of Madison journalism. How many young journalists were mentored by Marc, who, for many years, edited the Isthmus weekly. Few care more deeply about good writing. Marc is a print man, whilst I have gone over to the other side.
I sparred with Ben Manski on WHA radio's Week in Review program a few months ago. The young firebrand was then attempting to launch his own blog on this website. It only occurred to me afterwards that on the way out of Vilas Hall, he was asking me for tips. Here is what I would have told the young blogger: lower your standards. Just pump it out. At best, your electronic logorrhea is nouvelle Beaujolais: meant to be drunk soon and quickly. Can't you tell?
Print, on the other hand, lasts. (Witness the Dead Sea Scrolls, Essenes or no.) Writing for print requires a higher standard. More discipline. Your news "hole" is 200, 300, 800, 1600-words. No more, no less. It forces one to write tight. To make very word count. Wasn't it Hemingway who labored to write "one true sentence." The man wrote standing up, at a typewriter. I am old enough to remember a newspaper editor instructing me to "put fresh paper in my typewriter." It was his way of saying, rewrite. Who rewrites any more? For that matter, what's a typewriter? (I still have my Olympia, purchased at Stemp's Typewriters on lower State Street in 1967 before I entered college. Mr. Stemp lived on a short street named after him not far from my home in Orchard Ridge.)
I do not write enough for print - and want to, while there still is print to be written on. Some friends and acquaintances suggest I ought to write more. But I have a blog, I protest. They don't see it. They see paper. It gets thrown on your doorstep. It cannot be ignored. Paper is real, paper is official, paper is canonical. There is "the paper of record" but no "website of record."
Eisen is now free-lancing - helping the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute take its WI magazine "up to the next level." WI exists both in print and on-line. (Sunny Schubert, late of the State Journal, writes the cover story in "the new WI Magazine.")
Marc takes a well researched look into Wisconsin's own endangered newsprint specimens. [Paperless Future: "Overtaken by the Web and battered by the recession, Wisconsin's 32 dailies are in a world of hurt."]
At least five years ago, Marc predicted to me the demise of print journalism. Now we receive the incredibly shrinking Wisconsin State Journal, smaller to the touch and, I fear, impact. Monday, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (who comes up with these names) went on-line. The Denver Rocky Mountain News a week or two ago. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune is bankrupt. So, too, the Chicago Tribune. Detroit's newspapers distribute to homes only three days a week. Time, itself a shadow of what it once was, lists The 10 Most Endangered Newspapers in America.
Call me a dinosaur. If the world comes down to one last print periodical, I will find it, order up a coffee and a blueberry scone, and enjoy a Saturday morning with my quality newsprint.
I want that tactile feel of folding the publication to the article I am reading. Yellow highlighting piquant passages. Outstanding articles get the Blaska seal of approval, a circle enclosing a checkmark. A sign that my beloved Lisa may enjoy the same article.
Newsprint and eggs
For the past few years, SunPrint in the glass bank on the Square was my Saturday morning hangout. A breakfast of their trout scrambler and a bottomless cup of coffee and the passing downtown scene completed my enjoyment. The soundtrack was usually first-rate. I discovered Amy Winehouse that way. Had sworn I was listening to a contemporary of Bessie Smith. It did not hurt that from time to time I met some acquaintance. Outdoor writer Brian Levandel and his lovely family introduced themselves once.
Lately, I have been frequenting Barnes & Nobles off Mineral Point Road, behind West Towne Mall. I know, it's a chain. But looky here, I can buy my N.Y. Times and Wall Street Journal, drink a cup, eat a scone, then go in search of a book.
That's the other thing, I have taken up reading books again. How did I ever get out of the habit. I am exercising. I have lost 20 pounds. I am working the treadmill. And I am reading.
This bicentennial of Lincoln's birth got me into James McPherson's 1988 "Battle Cry of Freedom" and James L. Swanson's "Manhunt, the 12-day Chase for Abraham Lincoln's Killer."
Incredibly detailed. It took John Wilkes Booth two hours to die. Paralyzed by a bullet through the neck, he asked to be laid on his stomach, thinking it might be more comfortable, and stuck his tongue out when he wanted moisture from a proffered wet towel. I don't know, I find stuff like that fascinating.
Then I remembered a long-ago book review and ordered Alexander Waugh's Fathers & Sons detailing his father Auberon (great name!) and grandfather Evelyn, the author of Brideshead Revisited. So now I am reading Waugh grandpere. And John Cheever.
The Library of America came out with Cheever's Collected Stories and Other Writings in hardcover on acid-free paper. It folds flat and comes with an integral ribbon page marker. Only wish that it detailed the typographical font used in the text.
What a glorious mess of a man, judging by this Sunday N.Y. Times review of his biography, written by Blake Bailey, who edited the short story collection and a companion Library of American tome, also out this year, of Cheever's novels.
I suspect I will like Cheever. I know I will savor him more in a handsomely bound edition such as the one I am now holding in my hands. (Well, my fingers are presently typing.) Does that make me an antiquarian? I blog. I bought an iPod Nano. I download tunes from iTunes (but mostly I am porting over my compact discs. My vinyl and cassette audio tapes are frozen in amber). I can build a web site. But no Kindle for me. Facebook was already a bridge too far. I will not Twitter.
When her glass was nearly empty, she stared angrily at the dark air in front of her nose, moving her head a little, like a fighter. I knew that there was not room in her mind then for all the injuries that were crowding into it. Her children were stupid, her husband was drowned, her servants were thieves, and the chair she sat in was uncomfortable. [Cheever: "Goodbye My Brother," Collected Stories.]
Criminalizing due diligence
The Dane County Board, on a voice vote, refused to bring out of committee an ordinance last month that would have criminalized landlords who refused to rent to convicted criminals. Yes, convicted criminals would have been a protected class in Dane County. The ordinance was offered by liberals, including Public Protection and Judiciary Committee chairman Paul Rusk. But The Kathleen ordered it stuck in committee until she safely got re-elected April 7 (she hopes).
Now we have a bill in the state legislature that would do the same thing. Thank you to the ever-alert Thuy Pham-Remmele, our alderman here in District 20 on the southwest side of Madison, for this alert:
Wisconsin Assembly Bill AB22 will make criminals a protected housing class, forcing local sex offender and nuisance ordinances to be abandoned, style='color:#00097F'> and making it a Class 1 felony to discriminate in housing because of an arrest or conviction record. This is a serious concern to housing providers and our communities, and we urge you to contact your legislators to oppose AB22.
Assembly Bill 22 as introduced by Democrats Schneider, Grigsby, Annette Williams, Kessler and Vruwink.
Bailing out the victims
Will wonders never cease! Joe Nocera in the March 14 the New York Times names billion-dollar Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff's accomplices: "His Victims."
Just about anybody who actually took the time to kick the tires of Mr. Madoff's operation tended to run in the other direction.
(A financial adviser said) "It is a real lesson that people cannot abdicate personal responsibility when it comes to their personal finances."
... People did abdicate responsibility - and now, rather than face that fact, many of them are blaming the government for not, in effect, saving them from themselves.
Investors blaming the S.E.C. for their decision to give every last penny to Bernie Madoff is like a child blaming his mother for letting him start a fight while she wasn't looking. [N.Y. Times: Madoff Had Accomplices: His Victims]
Everyone wants a do-over. But this is a democracy. Somnambulance does not produce Minutemen. If we trust the government to run our affairs … well, look where the S.E.C. got us. Yes, the agency was asleep at the switch. So were too many of its constituents.