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shameless pleading





March 2011 Issue

Semper Ubi Sub Ubi


Hey, it’s still March.

So Big Love is over. It actually improved a bit in its final season. But, like most HBO productions, it suffered from weak writing and had an infuriating tendency to wander off into absurd subplots. And, like so many HBO shows, it killed off its most interesting characters early on, in this case Harry Dean Stanton, who was drop-dead perfect as polygamist patriarch Roman Grant. I think it’s interesting that the only two characters who came close to Stanton in depth (and acting ability) were Chloe Sevigny and Matt Ross playing, respectively, his daughter Nikki and psychopathic son Alby. I’d watch a spinoff set in the Juniper Creek compound if they’d bring Roman Grant back.

Awesomely evil.

Elsewhere in the news, giving the evildoers of the world a run for their money in the Machiavellian Scheming department, the clever gnomes at Facebook recently unleashed a “feature” whereby unaffiliated websites (such as this one) can replace their native commenting system with “Facebook comments.” Because, you know, everyone who really counts is already on FB and those who aren’t can quick like a bunny run off to join if they have a sudden urge to post a comment at, say, TechCrunch.

Predictably, the malcontents and anti-social elements who resist every step on the path to our great and glorious future under the wise leadership of Chairman Zuck have sprung forth, sabotaging our collective morale with defeatist whining, wailing about “privacy” and other quaint un-Web 2.0 relics.

There actually are advantages for websites adopting the Facebook commenting system. People are more well-behaved, at least in theory, because their comments are tied to their Facebook accounts and they are, therefore, unlikely to say anything in comments that would offend their mothers. The comments also bounce back to Facebook and may show up on the commenters’ friends’ stalkers’ pages, giving the host page a PR boost.

But when Facebook talks about “convenience,” they mean convenience of advertisers and identity brokers, who stand to reap bushels of demographic intel from this scheme. Bottom line, I don’t think requiring your readers to join Facebook and have their privacy compromised by multi-dimensional tracking goblins just in order to leave a five-word comment is either reasonable or desirable.

Besides, it’s not as though our comments here at TWD are overrun by trolls. I read all comments before they appear, which sometimes takes me a few days, depending on the weather, but that hardly strikes me as an onerous task. The only comments I haven’t approved so far are pathetic comment spam (of which we get quite a bit) and the few that have employed abusive language toward other commenters. You’re free to call me an idiot, but not your fellow readers. Anyway, please do comment!

Incidentally, you don’t have to be registered on this site to leave a comment. The form asks for your name and email address, but that’s hard-wired and I haven’t figured out how to change it. In the meantime, feel free to make up a nice name and email address. I’d actually advise against entering your actual email address.

And please do send in questions! Lotsa lotsa questions. It makes my job easier if I have lots of questions.

Onward. Recently, Frank Rich, in his last column for the New York Times Sunday Magazine before leaving for New York magazine, recounted a simile that William Safire used to explain what it felt like to write a regular newspaper column:

“Safire … was fond of likening column writing to standing under a windmill: No sooner did you feel relief that you had ducked a blade than you looked up and saw a new one coming down.”

After writing the newspaper column behind this website three times a week without a break since 1994, I can say that I’ve never seen a better metaphor for the relentless tyranny of a regular deadline. Producing a column essentially every two days means that I am frequently writing paragraphs in my head when I’m walking the dogs, and the relief I feel when I finish a column is like getting home from work at midnight and realizing that you have to be back there at 6 am.

Don’t worry, I’m not working up to announcing that I’m stopping. I can’t imagine not doing this. And writing this stuff used to be a lot more strenuous; when I first took over the column completely after my father died in 1994 (we had been collaborating for a few years at that point), I was suddenly faced with writing six columns per week, a schedule that had been set when my father was writing it for the old Bell Syndicate in the 1950s.  That quota had always struck me as a bit nuts when we were sharing the work, but I definitely wasn’t going to be able to do it on my own. So I bit the bullet and told the papers that carried the column that I’d be halving the product. It turned out that nobody was running all six columns anyway, so they really didn’t care.

My relief didn’t last long. Somehow I drifted into writing another, completely separate, weekly column for the New York Daily News, and then yet a third weekly feature for the Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger. I was also working four days per week for a large Manhattan law firm. Hey, I drank a lot of coffee. We lived on the Upper West Side at the time, where the byzantine alternate-side parking rules meant that you had to spend at least an hour a couple of times every week sitting in your double-parked car while they swept the streets (if, that is, you wanted a parking space south of the Bronx for the next three days). So I’d grab a gallon of coffee and a legal pad and go sit in the car writing my columns longhand while garbage trucks and taxicabs crawled by inches away. It was actually weirdly restful.

When we first moved to East Possum, Ohio, I thought I’d have plenty of time to write other things, and I did manage to produce three more books in the first few years. Living in a house built in the 1860s on several acres of land, however, turned out to be nearly a full-time job in itself, much of which seemed to involve heavy lifting and obstreperous machinery. But even then I could often do two or three columns in a single day with no problem.

That changed in 2006 when, after at least twenty years of intermittent but gradually worsening symptoms, I was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis. I’m still walking around, albeit often with a cane, but I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t affected my work. There are days I can’t see the screen very clearly, for instance. I make far more typos. And I write much more slowly. But as these things go, I rate myself as very lucky.

Unfortunately, the decline in my personal health has been mirrored by the collapse of the newspaper business, and I have lost several of my most remunerative print outlets as they sank beneath seas of red ink. Sic transit big chunks of my income. The publishing world is in similar straits, and, as I noted a while back, this stupid disease has put paid to my backup career, pole-dancing at the Denny’s up by the interstate.

The bottom line to all this is that reader subscriptions and contributions have become increasingly important to our survival over the past three or four years. So please consider subscribing.

One of the problems I’ve had with subscriptions is that I hate asking people for money. So people subscribe for a year, they forget to renew, and I am put in the position of either sending reminder notices (i.e., asking those people for money again) or simply letting the one-year sub turn into a five-year sub. I actually suspect that there are at least a few people going on ten years, but it’s hard to find them. There’s also the problem that, even if I could zero in on the “legacy” cases, I’ve never been able to cut off anyone’s subscription for non-payment. I just can’t do it. Every year or two I try to send out reminder notices to subscribers, but it all gets very confusing.

So in order to at least keep track of things more easily, I’m switching to the PayPal subscription program for all new subscriptions, which means that at the end of the year PayPal will send out a note asking you to re-up, which I hope folks will. If you can’t swing it then, don’t worry.

I’ve also created a TWD Sustainer Subscription, which deducts $5 per month from your PayPal account until you tell it to stop (either through your PayPal account page or via the “Unsubscribe” button you’ll find below and on our Subscribe page).

I hope (really, really hope) that readers who enjoy this site and have to wherewithal to do so will become Sustaining Subscribers. Hey, it’s only 17 cents per day!

Sustainer Subscription – $5 per month – Automatically deducted from your PayPal account each month.


To cancel a subscription, click the button below. You will be taken to a PayPal page where you can cancel. You can also cancel any subscription from your PayPal profile page.

Lastly, as I say on our Subscribe page, fifteen bucks can be a lot of money if you’re retired, disabled, unemployed, or on a restricted income for whatever reason. If you are in such a situation and would like to subscribe but can’t swing it at the moment, please write to me via the question form. You won’t be the only one.

And now, on with the show….

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