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    Tuesday, August 07, 2007

    Rant: All The News That’s Print To Fit

    It’s day two of the incredible shrunken newspaper. Yesterday, the New York Times cut one-and-a-half inches from the width of its pages. This hard on the heels of another increase in price. The Times has managed to convince some fools to pay more for less.

    Meet one of those fools.

    I have a more romanticized notion of the daily paper than most people my age. Blame my father. Not that he was an ink-stained wretch. He worked at the airport, and every day he’d salvage whatever newspapers were left behind on planes and spend the night paging through them. He’d walk through the door with a stack so thick a cop in a James Ellroy novel could beat a guy with it. Not just the New York rags, but papers from around the globe. Occasionally a copy of the Sun would be in the mix, and I’d ogle the page 3 girl while pretending to broaden my horizons. The idea was fixed in my head from a young age: reading the paper is what grown-ups do.

    I’ve been subscribing to the New York Times for years. Not too long ago, I was about to break the relationship off. The size change and the rate hike were factors, but the main reason was much simpler. I was tired of reading the paper. If I didn’t tackle it early enough in the day it became a burden, like a troll dwelling under a bridge I had to cross on my way home.

    Me: I can’t believe enough shit happens in the world to fill this damn thing every day.

    Rosemarie: You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to. You’re allowed to take a day off.

    Me: I can’t. It’ll know.

    The Times’s checkered recent history didn’t help. The excesses in the Wen Ho Lee case. The Jayson Blair scandal. Judith Miller’s flawed reporting on WMDs in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. I’d gone from thinking of the paper of record as an institution, like marriage, to thinking of it as an institution, like the Department of Motor Vehicles.

    Whole sections of the paper I never even look at. I could not describe under pain of death the contents of Thursday Styles or House & Home. The magazine irks me, largely because of Deborah Solomon’s odious feature in which she puts condescending questions to accomplished people. I hate the sports coverage because it slights the Mets in favor of the Yankees.

    Then we have the op-ed pages. I skip the editorials. Maureen Dowd’s poisonous coquette act has been tiresome for 12 years. Every Nicholas Kristof piece on Africa is the same. (There, I said it.) One out of every seven David Brooks columns is interesting; the others are unhinged because of Brooks’s desperation to cling to his conservative bona fides while appealing to the paper’s liberal readership. And if Thomas Friedman explains how “going green” makes sound business and political sense one more time, I will track him down and tear out his transit cop mustache with my bare hands.

    When the letter announcing the increased rates arrived, I snapped. That’s it, I said. I’m not standing for it. I can read the damn thing online, the way I read the local Seattle papers, and for free.

    I logged onto the Times website to cancel my subscription. What followed was a curious exercise in number crunching.

    Do I get $6.40 worth of value out of weekday delivery of the Times? Obviously not.

    Do I get $6.50 out of Sunday delivery of the Times? Hell, no. The national edition doesn’t even include much of the good stuff. Rosemarie likes the crossword puzzle, but not that much.

    Do I get $12.80 out of seven-day delivery?

    Hang on a minute.

    Yes. Yes, I do.

    I need to read the paper. I have to get my news from somewhere, and I haven’t watched it on TV since Lynne Russell left CNN. The Times is to newspapers what democracy is to systems of government according to Churchill: the worst we have, except for all the others.

    And I don’t want to read the Times online. I spend too much time staring at my computer screen as it is. I never finish anything beyond a certain length anyway. (This post is getting dangerously close to that limit.)

    Online, I’d only read articles that interest me, about culture and politics. I wouldn’t see striking photographs or pullquotes that might draw me in. I might miss the bylines of Times staffers like Jack Hitt and C. J. Chivers whose reporting is always worth a look.

    Also, it’s difficult to drag a laptop into the bathroom. I admit it, I read in there. It’s the only place where I multitask. The rest of the time, baby, I’m focused like a laser. (Incidentally, the new smaller size makes restroom reading even easier.)

    Portability has an added benefit. One of the great pleasures in life is reading the Times in coffee shops. While everyone else huddles over their laptops or has inane conversations on their cell phones, I pore over the vital issues of the day. It’s one of the rare times in life when I truly feel like an adult. Like a grown man. And I’m willing to pay close to thirteen bucks a week for that privilege.

    But three bucks for the coffee? That’s another story.

    Miscellaneous: Links

    Behold the awesome power of animation! From the great comedian Louis CK.

    Salon (yes, you’ll have to sit through an ad) interviews blogger Paul Clarke of The Cocktail Chronicles, who sings the praises of a local watering hole I may have mentioned once or twice.

    New York magazine discovers that winning a competition reality show like Project Runway or Top Chef is no guarantee of success. And this comes as a surprise to whom, exactly?

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    Tuesday, July 17, 2007

    Book: Things I’ve Said But Probably Shouldn’t Have, by Bruce Dern (2007)

    Dern subtitled his book “An Unrepentant Memoir,” and he’s as good as his word. His co-writers Christopher Fryer and Robert Crane are wise enough to organize the material and then stay out of Dern’s way as he walks through a long career “playing people that live just beyond where the buses run.”

    The result reads like a long, rambling conversation with the actor while he’s waiting to be called to the set. Dern’s voice can be courtly one minute, referring to actresses he admires as Miss (Miss Bening, Miss Sally Field), and juvenile the next. Dern is refreshingly frank about sex but discusses it like the Midwestern teenager he once was, talking about “humpers” and getting into some puss. He isn’t shy about airing his grudges and his dislikes. (He calls Al Franken “a poor man’s Art Metrano,” for me the high point of the book.)

    Dern also expounds at length about what excites him to this day about acting, namely capturing actual human behavior onscreen. He cites several of these living moments, called “Dernsers,” with many coming from my favorite Dern movies, Smile and Diggstown. His comparison of Matt Damon’s performance in Good Will Hunting and Ryan O’Neal’s in Love Story has me ready to watch both movies again. And he makes it plain how his devotion to long-distance running has brought discipline to his life and work. This warts-and-all book goes on the (very) short list of acting memoirs worth reading.

    Newsstand: The New Yorker, July 9

    I just caught up with Alex Ross’s article on the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, who became a popular favorite during his life but never received the respect of the critical establishment. He died without completing what was expected to be his masterwork. There’s a lot of music theory in the article that’s beyond me, but a great deal that seems applicable to the arts in general. Two quotes in particular struck me. The first, from Danish composer Carl Nielsen’s 1925 book Living Music:

    “The simplest is the hardest, the universal the most lasting, the straightest the strongest, like the pillars that support the dome.”

    And American avant-garde composer Morton Feldman, from 1984:

    “The people who you think are radicals might really be conservatives. The people who you think are conservative might really be radical.”

    Of course, that one ain’t just true of the arts.

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