Look At Me Right Now! .com

June 10, 2014

Social media has ushered in – among other things – an age of staggering egocentricity. Any mook with a mobile phone can, with sickening ease and speed, announce anything to the world. Idealists regard this ability as the freedom of unregulated self-expression. In truth, not every aspect of every self is worth expressing. Too seldom does somebody with an intelligence quotient greater than the number of letters in the English alphabet announce something interesting about something interesting. Too often, social media is little more than an open sewer in which worthwhile self-expression suffocates in dim-witted self indulgence. The ability to tell anybody anything has fooled many into thinking anybody cares. Granted, those many probably did not require much effort to fool.

Why do we visit museums? To see worthwhile art. What if museums let slip standards and filled themselves with every cartoon from a third grader’s penmanship notebook? We would not visit. Or visit once, just for the novelty.

Once, publishing a thought to more than the number of subscribers to a neighborhood newsletter required a threshold level of intellect and  at least a nodding acquaintance with the language in which publication was attempted, and typically applying that aptitude to something worth the effort and cost of publication. This was a golden age in which “selfies” did not exist – or, if they did, were not inflicted upon readers like mustard gas. Discretion existed. It was understood that, just as restraint is the essence of taste, an absence of restraint proves an absence of taste.

When effort and cost ceased to constrain publication, so too did quality.

Worse than a simple absence of taste (which is a personal problem) is an overinflated sense of self-importance (which can present a public problem). Those unrestrained by taste in an age of social media are free to indulge a staggering egocentricity which insists people other than their parents care that they are a) sooo tired of waiting in line at Starbucks ha ha ha!, b) thanking all my peeps for the bestest birthday wishes!!! feel sooo loved, or c) omg so so so excited for Glee season finale!!!!!!!!!!

Cost and effort, the safeguards of publishing which once kept the thoughts of morons safely out of sight, are hence mourned.

This may be an ironic stance for a web log to take. The medium was once rightly derided by Joe Rago of the Wall Street Journal as the provence of “the blog mob” – a territory to be avoided. But drastic times, etc. Public discourse used to be a marketplace of ideas. Entry to the market meant having something worth selling. Nowadays, the cost of admission is a cartload of garbage with which to abuse shoppers.


Watering Holes: Anthony’s Bar

May 4, 2011

10 S. Broadway

St. Louis, Missouri

(314) 231-7007

Cribbing from recent Pulitzer Prizer Joe Rago of the Wall Street Journal, “there is something out of time about lunching” at Anthony’s Bar. Mr. Rago turned the phrase in describing his luncheon with William F. Buckley, Jr., in New York City, but we’ll take it; standing on the shoulders of giants, etc.

Saint Louis, Missouri boasts exactly one restaurant worth three Michelin stars: Tony’s, a redoubtable Italian institution down-town on Market Street and Broadway, near the river. The Bommarito family has run it for generations and, in years past, ran also a small waiting room on the ground floor of the office building in which it operates. The room was originally a reception area for dinner guests, who could sit in one of the bolted-down leather stools around its oblong, polished wooden-slat bar and have a drink while their tables were made ready.

The reception area was one small room, two stories tall, fitted out in floor-to-ceiling wood, that oblong bar in the middle and a handful of lower circular tables around it. Two-story blackout curtains cut outside light, keeping things clubby. One white-shirted barman worked the counter, one white-shirted waiter the tables. That waiting area became Anthony’s, a restaurant in its own right, some years ago. The Bommaritos still run it, and thankfully keep it stubbornly athwart decades. Service at Anthony’s moves as quickly as fossils turn into gasoline.

Today, Anthony’s is open mainly for lunch: lawyers and bankers generally, blue shirts with white collars and cuffs. Tasselled loafers or maybe horse-bits, alligator belts, that crowd. Occasionally it’s open after ball games, too. The menu is, put generously, spare: three kinds of hamburgers (plain, with cheddar cheese, or with Bleu cheese), a beef tenderloin sandwich, a Ceasar salad, a daily special. Sometimes soup. Old-fashioned glass Coca-Cola bottles, the small ones. Every table gets one glass bowl of Lay’s baked potato chips, unlimited. “Out of time” is an apt description; a time capsule unto itself, more so.

This is Joe Rago.

April 19, 2011

Wall Street Journal editorialist Joe Rago stirred up unnecessarily strong feelings some time back when, in that paper’s pages, he questioned the value of blogs. The meat of the argument was that there are no fact-checking or stylistic guardians at the blogospheric gates – indeed, there aren’t even gates – and, as a result, blogs spew opinions which are both mis-informed and terribly written, thereby polluting the marketplace of ideas.

The mainstream media, flawed as it may be, endeavors at least to preserve some standard of factual accuracy and facility with the king’s English.

The blog mob fired back, mainly via its championed electronic platform, to defend itself and denounce Mr. Rago. Most of the counter-offensive was appropriately analphabetic. One recurring theme: “Who is this Joe Rago character? He’s barely ten minutes out of Dartmouth (where he was a member of Phi Delta Alpha and edited The Dartmouth Review), and already he thinks he’s O.O. McIntyre? And anyway, who was O.O. McIntyre?”

This week, Mr. Rago – all 28 years of him – was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for editorial journalism for his work covering healthcare legislation. It’s a well-deserved honor and your editorial staff disloyally wishes him well, and wishes also he would write more often about Warren Zevon.

Joe Rago, editorialist.