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September 3, 2001—Why Are We Drinking Plonk?

In Truro Perhaps.  Last week we offered the thought that all wine is coming out of the same virtual vat, making it relentlessly average. We suggested that you should search far and wide for gems, and insist on paying only "C" prices for the "C" quality you will be getting in most cases.

A Boston writing friend, creator of lucid fiction, also knows there is no longer any "truth in wine." However, he just had a respectable $11 bottle from Truro, away on the Cape, so he suspects we may find occasional joys in the 10% of U.S. wine made outside of California.

By the way, I got it wrong on Red Mountain. A Washington chap tells me that it went for $1.49 a gallon, the clear favorite of impoverished students in the 1960s.

Gene Bem, just starting a champagne and spirits enterprise in Florida called Bubbles LLC, writes us about several distortions ('bubbles") in the economics of the worldwide wine market. To a great extent, he says, the new kids with money in their pockets are buying status and labels, not taste, when they pick their hooch. We assume, therefore, that the investment bankers who have populated Lutece for 20 years, ordering French without finesse, now have kindred spirits in all the capitals of the developed world.

Bloom Understands.  This weekend C-Span rebroadcast a 6/28/00 interview with Harold Bloom of Yale and NYU, occasioned by his book, How to Read and Why. You can, and we do, disagree with Bloom on 1,000 points, but thinking people will find it hard to contradict his main thesis: The counterculture has overwhelmed culture throughout the world. A sort of neo-Platonic gibberish has set in where absurdum orthodoxies have stifled understanding. This surely adds complexity to our national debate about education, since often more education dollars only serve to buy more education mediocrity, once quality is out the window. "C" again.

Can we not argue that it is cultural decline itself that has overwhelmed quality in all spheres--wine, education, products and services, the character of our governance? The ultimate righting of our political economy seems inextricably tied to a revival of quality in our culture.

Bloom reserves particular despair for The New York Times, finding its book review and Sunday magazine to be muddled organs of political correctness and ignorance. And, for him, it is all downhill from there.

Some Magazines Back. Things are never as bad as they seem, Mr. Bloom. Even with the homogenization of our newspapers, new cultural channels have emerged. C-Span is absolutely superb, and it is just getting better. Be it unnoticed, The Atlantic has supplanted The New Yorker as the home of long reportage that becomes the basis of serious books. The New Yorker, meanwhile, is back from the dead--after the unfortunate Tina Brown period (in this respect, see Judy Bachrach's Tina And Harry Come to America)--with particularly fine medical coverage and useful interpretations of our media culture by Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point.

Democracy and Education. Years ago, John W. Gardner wrote about democracy and education. In its way, it dealt with the present conundrum. How do you keep the needs of the moment from swallowing the whole of our future? How do you mix rare and popular in the same glass? If you are going to have a viticulture, you absolutely must have a culture that exalts quality.

P.S. We learn today that every October certain Buddhists in Japan pray for our culture, hoping that it will not fade away into digital space but will be preserved for the use and pleasure of future generations. (See http://abcnews.go.com/sections/scitech/DailyNews/preservation010708.html.)


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