The woman who owns Tallula apparently called my editor at the Guardian yesterday and yelled at him. Among her points (and all this is hearsay): (a) I am not qualified to review expensive restaurants because I am too poor; (b) the paper's job is to help her restaurant stay in business.

This made me really happy. I was kind of disappointed that I hadn't heard anything from them.

For a person who is generally pretty clumsy ...

I am weirdly good at catching grapes in my mouth.

I just did six in a row.

Most self-absorbed post ever!

Correction of the week

From the Observer:

Our interview with American literary sensation Benjamin Kunkel (Review, last week) was accompanied by a panel of quotes from US reviews, supplied by his publisher. One, from Entertainment Weekly, read: 'Kunkel has succeeded in crafting a voice of singular originality' and omitted the next line: '- one you want to punch in the mouth.'

via Bookslut.


Someone has finally come up with a scientific explanation for why Jews are smarter than everyone else.


Nice to be Noticed

Everyone's favorite smart conservative Ross Douthat links to my piece on A La Carte cable TV.


Less than meets the eye

Maud Newton writes:

At Moby Lives, Paul Maliszewski talks with Michael Finkel, a former New York Times Magazine writer who was fired for using "improper narrative techniques" in his article "Is Youssouf Malè A Slave?" The piece ostensibly focused on a West African boy who worked in the cocoa fields, but when writing and revising, Finkel "blended details from the life of Malè, a real boy, with the experiences of others in similar straits."

After his dismissal, Finkel admitted he’d made a mistake, "retreated to his home in Montana and stopped writing for publications." He told a journalist that he planned to digest what had happened and write about it himself. Now he’s done that, in True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa, which reportedly discusses not only the controversial article but the strange relationship Finkel developed with a suspected murderer who fled to Mexico and adopted Finkel’s name.

"One of the themes of this book," Finkel tells Maliszewski, "is this whole issue of what’s true and what’s not. What stories are true? What does non–fiction mean? What is thought of as good journalism? Accurate quotes? If I say to you, "I’m a girl named Jennifer" and then you report, "Mike Finkel is a girl named Jennifer," is that good journalism? It’s an accurate quote, but it’s completely false. You’ve not broken any rules of journalism, you’ve just written something completely false. That complexity is at the heart of this whole story."

This is the sort of thing that seems at first like it might be interesting, but upon closer examination turns out to be a very stupid and self-serving justification for making shit up. If a journalist were to quote Mike Finkel saying "Mike Finkel is a girl named Jennifer," they would indeed have broken a rule of journalism if they didn't give readers enough information to know that Mike Finkel is in fact not a girl named Jennifer. Sometimes in political journalism, reporters don't do enough to convey to readers that a quote by a politician is false or misleading. But they should, and there isn't any debate about that. This "complexity" is not really very complex at all, and has nothing whatsoever to do with taking stuff that happened to one person and writing that it happened to another.

More interesting, maybe, is the frequency with which things that at first look sort of interesting turn out only to be interesting to the sort of people who spend enough time in cirlcles where interesting things could potentially happen (and who therefore have developed a pretty good sense of the surface appearance of interesting things) but are in fact incapable of the sort of serious critical thinking that would allow them to distinguish the actual interesting things from the impostors. It's sort of a shame that the world must genuinely be more interesting to these stupid pseudo-intellectual type-people. Or maybe its actuallly less interesting to them, since if you can't distinguish between interesting and stupid you're probably not getting the full benefits of the interesting. Anyways, I'm not pointing any fingers at anyone other than Mike Finkel, but I feel like this keeps happening. I'm now going to see if I can think of any other examples.

Follow-up by Gabe: The mendacious-reporter memoir is apparently a new literary form for our era. Stephen Glass followed his making-stuff-up-in-the-New Republic career with a novel about a young reporter named Stephen Glass who makes things up. Jayson Blair blamed his serial plagiarisms and fabrications at the NYT on mental illness in Burning Down My Masters' House. I haven't read either book, so I don't know if they examine bullshit issues about the nature of truth. But all of these books, by virtue of their very existence, fall victim to another confusion: the writers confuse the fact that people are paying attention to them with the idea that people give a shit about them.

The reason we started this blog ...

was to link you to things like this.


Trite Polite Shite on Fright Night

One thing I've been thinking about lately is how polite people in America, and particularly Washington DC, are. Most of the time this is nice. But sometimes it sort of goes too far, and you get the feeling that they're getting a weird and pathetic kind of satisfaction out of being so polite and being able to think of themselves as such polite people.

Yesterday I was in Borders waiting in line to pay. The guy in front of me was paying, and he and the cashier, a man, were, typically, being very polite to each other throughout the transaction. I can't remember the exact words but it basically went something like this:

CASHIER: How are you today?
CUSTOMER: Good, how are you?
CASHIER; Good, thankyou.
CUSTOMER: You're welcome
CASHIER: Will that be all for you today?
CUSTOMER: Yes it will, thankyou.
CASHIER: Sure. Would you like to sign up to receive new offers electronically?
CUSTOMER: No thanks (pause, as if fearing his answer was insufficiently polite) Thanks for the offer though.
CASHIER; You're quite welcome. You have a great day now.
CUSTOMER: Thankyou, and you do the same.
CASHIER: I certainly will, thankyou.
CUSTOMER; You're welcome.

This seemed to pretty much cover things, but as I stepped forward to pay, the customer thought of a new polite thing he could say, which he used as his parting shot:

CUSTOMER: Happy Halloween.

A stroke of genius! This momentarily flummoxed the cashier, who at first, trying to leave as small a gap as possible between the customer's polite remark and his own riposte, started to say, "And you do the..." But then he realized that that didn't quite work, syntactically, so he finally went with, "And to you." But his stumble had made things a bit awkward, and the customer left without another word, thank god.