Tag Archives: journalism

On Bullshit

Philosopher Harry Frankfurt, in his 2005 work On Bullshit, presents a definition of, and perhaps an example of, bullshit. Not to be outdone, noted vacuole Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Flapdoodle: Handy Pull Quotes for the Working Thinkpiece Writer, shows how you can have a successful career based on nothing at all, as long as your flapdoodle provides handy pull quotes for the working thinkpiece writer. Well-known pronunciation shibboleth Thomas Pinker, in his book How to Have Perhaps Even More Influence than Gladwell by Writing a Large Book which No-one has even Read, has conclusively demonstrated how to have perhaps even more influence than Gladwell by writing a large book which no-one has even read.

The reader, in her 2017 work Milking It: How I Got Sick of Blog Posts Which Flog One Idea to Death, may observe that she has grown sick of blog posts which flog one idea to death. The present author’s work in progress, The Use of a List of Imaginary Books as a Vehicle for Satire is an Established Literary Technique Dating Back to Rabelais (at Least), argues that, on the contrary, the use of a list of imaginary books a a vehicle for satire is an established literary technique dating back to Rabelais (at least).

He also admits that the abandoned draft of his blog post “An earnest and depressing argument that if the Trump administration shows anything, it is that the language of political journalism has become a desperate manipulation of clichés and idées reçues in a hopeless attempt to avoid dwelling on an atrocious reality” is an earnest and depressing argument that if the Trump administration shows anything, it is that the language of political journalism has become nothing but a desperate manipulation of clichés and idées reçues in a hopeless attempt to avoid dwelling on an atrocious reality. It’s not a fun read.


Review of reviewers

This blog needs feeding, so in 2014 I’m going to post a short review of every book I read. Handily, the (UK) Telegraph’s shortlist for its “Hatchet Job of the Year 2014” award provides a set of convenient examples of how I will not be reviewing books. I didn’t read the full reviews, because that would be horrible.

1. Craig Brown on Frederic Raphael and Joseph Epstein’s Distant Intimacy: A Friendship in the Age of the Internet

A newspaper book reviewer criticises a book for “bashing authors and artists more successful than themselves”.

2: Rachel Cooke on Ann Widdecombe’s Strictly Ann: The Autobiography

Is the device in which the reviewer poses a rhetorical question and then replies in the affirmative unbearably arch and tiresome? Yes. Special marks for use of hopeless archaism “Alas, […]”.

3: Lucy Ellman on Douglas Copeland’s Worst. Person. Ever.

Accuses author of “adolescent humour” in a sentence which contains the phrase “gross you out”. Arch, unfunny wordplay on title of work under review.

4. AA Gill on Morrissey’s Autobiography

Uses unforgivable reviewer cheat-code “tome”; compounds sin by qualifying it with the tautological adjective “heavy”. Enjoying AA Gill is like sucking up to the schoolyard bully: you’re a coward and he’s still a blockhead.

5. Peter Kemp on Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch

Deadly reviewer-speak: “famously a decade in the writing”

6. Frederic Raphael on John Le Carré’s A Delicate Truth

“Le Carre affects, as so often, to be making daring revelations…” Sentence in which author is accused of affectation is itself ineptly affected.

7. David Sexton, Eleanor Cotton’s The Luminaries

“Catton never shows, she tells, wagging on in the most officious way.”


8. Herdley Twiddle on Paul Theroux’s Last Train to Zona Verde

As I detest Theroux I have no doubt that he deserved this. I can promise that no review of a Theroux book will appear on this blog, and that if I had been christened Herdley Twiddle I would write under a pseudonym, so as not to be upstaged by my own byline.

Alexander Cockburn

Sad to hear the news that Irish-American journalist Alexander Cockburn has succumbed to cancer at the age of 71. To borrow one of his metaphors, it was exposure to Cockburn’s journalism at a tender age, via a chance discovery of his 1988 anthology Corruptions of Empire, which inoculated me against the error of thinking that his friend Christopher Hitchens had an admirable prose style.

Here is a collection of his articles. It’s nice to see that this includes a piece about the excesses of New York dining. Most of the obituaries I’ve read are strictly about his political work, but Cockburn is one of the funniest and most acute food writers I’ve ever read, and I’ve never forgotten his gloss on a recipe for cold fish curry:

Short of lowering one’s naked foot slowly into the weeds at the bottom of a pond it is hard to imagine a more depressing experience.


Despite the fact that I haven’t bought their products for five years, Fairfax is still associated in my mind with the idea of a “quality newspaper”, a cultural formation (intrepid, intelligent reporters at the bottom, wealthy but small-l-liberal proprietors at the top, cryptic crosswords somewhere in between) which was always a bit of a romanticised myth but which is now clearly doomed.

I want to say “well we’ll just have to do without it, it’s not like they’ve been helping much for the last two decades” but that would just be me trying to act tough. I miss quality newspapers.