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
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
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
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
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
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
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