A writer passes

I was thinking that I should start reading the work of Tony Horwitz. I was intrigued by early notices of his latest, about Frederick Law Olmstead’s trip through the South before the Civil War. These notices reminded me how interesting his other books look.

Anyway, he’s gone now, at 60 years of age. He left an impressive body of work, but he gives hints that it came at a price. I just reserved his John Brown book from the library. Perhaps Katja and I will stop by the Brown homestead in Lake Placid next month.

WSJ obit.

NYT obit.

Since I’m thinking about writers and death: I learned new things about Bill Buckner, who died a couple of days ago. After a fateful night in 1986, Buckner spent his life in infamy for the grounder that went through his legs. Yesterday I replayed that inning on YouTube. His notoriety seems profoundly unfair: All these years I’ve assumed his error let in both the tying and winning runs.

But no: Relievers Schiraldi and Stanley blew the two-run lead. The score was tied when Mookie Wilson dribbled the grounder that he had a fair chance of legging out anyway.

OK, if Buckner had fielded it cleanly, he might have preserved a tied game, allowing the Red Sox another inning. But that’s not the same as blowing a World Series. It was an unfortunate error, but it was deeply unfair for him to be subjected to so much abuse.

What do writers have to do with Buckner? Why, of course, it’s writers–unimaginative hack writers–who have written the legend of Buckner’s error, reinforcing and reminding and inflating and embellishing.

NTSB file: N26617 Cessna 182, Louisburg-Hilton Head, three aboard

This happened March 1. An instrument-rated pilot took off in a Cessna 182 on a dark, stormy night, and crashed shortly after takeoff. He had two passengers with him.

Here’s a write-up, which says the plane was in the air for less than 20 seconds. I’m not sure that’s correct, given that the plane crashed about two miles away from the airport. It’s possible that the reporter was told that the TRACON controller only had radar contact for 20 seconds.

According to the same article, one of the passengers was making her first plane trip.

Passing thoughts about the dying dailies

So it took me about five minutes and change to read the Sunday Durham Herald-Sun. That wasn’t surprising. But it’s a marvel that, amid all the carnage, the wasting away, the self-amputations, some things remain the same. The “funnies,” for example: The Family Circus is still in syndication, as are Hi and Lois, Beetle Bailey, and more. But the Herald-Sun recently dropped Doonesbury, and it seems like hardly anyone noticed. They also dropped the execrable Mallard Fillmore.

I’m not sure if this was designed to be a zero-sum change, something to appease both liberals and conservatives, or what. Doonesbury was, of course, the best comic strip in the paper, but I’m not sure Mallard Fillmore was the worst. In fact, I only read two strips. Guess which two?

The other thing I notice has not changed in 40 years is the presence of the Sunday Parade magazine. I used to read the thing when I was a kid. Even then I knew it was garbage, but I read the “Walter Scott’s Personality Parade” on the inside cover, and the “Ask Marilyn” column. Ah, the “Ask Marilyn” column, featuring answers from Marilyn vos Savant, who supposedly has an IQ of 230.

(True story from my adolescence: My friend Jimmy and I were discussing Marilyn vos Savant’s IQ. I said something like, “How can it be that high? It can’t go over 200, can it?” And Jimmy said, “What do you think happens when you hit 200? You explode?”)

(Today, Wikipedia says that vos Savant’s IQ is a matter of some controversy. And it offers some support to my notion that an IQ shouldn’t exceed 200!)

The amazing thing is that not only is Parade continuing to be published, but the same crappy features are in it, along with the same ads for commemorative coins and products for old people.

To be sure, today’s Parade is but a shadow of its once-mighty existence. It’s a smaller tabloid now, and it has 24 pages. “Walter Scott’s Personality Parade” and “Ask Marilyn” are still there, although poor Ms. vos Savant, who is now in her 70s, is reduced to one question and about 200 words.

Who publishes this thing? Is it profitable? Why is it still a staple of non-major Sunday dailies? And who reads it? (A clue could be on this cover here: A teaser for a vapid feature with a photo of … Sonny & Cher.)