Thursday, April 28, 2005

Book of American Pastimes, 1866 Posted by Hello

Introduction to "Peverelly’s National Game"

From America's National Game, edited by John Freyer and Mark Rucker, Arcadia, June 2005.
On September 24 and 25, 1844, at the St. George Cricket Club Grounds along the East River in Manhattan, the first international cricket match took place between the United States and Canada. The American team was drawn from several New York, Philadelphia, Washington City, and Boston clubs, all hotbeds of cricket. The match drew over 20,000 spectators, according to contemporary reports, many of them with a gambling interest in the outcome.

A year later, almost to the day – September 22, 1845 – a four-oared regatta was held at Hoboken’s Elysian Fields, a pleasure ground for New Yorkers, especially the legions of country lads who had streamed into the city looking for work. Rowing was America’s first modern sport, in that competitions were marked by record keeping and prizes yet also provided spectator interest for those with no pecuniary interest. The first boat club to be organized in the United States was named the Knickerbocker, in 1823.

It may not have been a coincidence when on the day following the regatta some New York City gentlemen who were already playing the new game of baseball at the Elysian Fields organized themselves into a club, which they called the Knickerbockers. The game had been played earlier, of course. Recent finds have substantiated that a game called baseball had been played as early as 1823 in New York and 1791 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. But the Knickerbockers claimed the palm for being the first true club not because they were first to play the game; they knew that the New York Club had played the game before them. Rather, like their upstanding brothers of the scull, sail, and wicket, the Knicks created a constitution, had regular days for play and practice, admitted members upon due consideration, and conducted themselves in accordance with written rules. Also, in what has been a neglected consideration, they were accorded pioneer status because their name left no doubt as to the heritage upon which they were based: the universally applauded Dutch rather than the reviled British.

It is this fluid state of American sport that Charles A. Peverelly sought to document in 1866 with his Book of American Pastimes, Containing a History of the Principal Base Ball, Cricket, Rowing and Yachting Clubs of the United States. The author had witnessed the explosion of interest in baseball over the previous ten years, but he could not have known how soon cricket would forever lose all claim to being an American pastime. Nor could he have anticipated the tertiary role that yachting and rowing would come to have in is own lifetime.

What John Freyer and Mark Rucker have done in extracting the baseball content of Peverelly’s book is commendable and overdue. Apart from Peverelly’s National Game, as it is now retitled, being the first baseball book (not counting paperbound annual guides and other ephemera), this book has been unavailable for so long that much of its information has become lost to researchers and aficionados of the early game. What did the early team uniforms look like? Where were their playing grounds located? Who were their officers, year by year since their founding? Those features alone, plus the extensive treatment of such pioneer clubs as the Knickerbocker of New York and the Olympic of Philadelphia, make the republication of Peverelly’s baseball section a watershed event. But there is more, so much more, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Through an act of historical imagination, the reader may place himself in the years immediately following the Civil War, for which he will be richly rewarded with a thousand glittering prizes.

Yes, the prose is arch and, though typical of the period, sometimes even less digestible than that of his peers: “Dodworth’s Band was in attendance to enliven the scene, and all the arrangements were exceedingly creditable to the taste and liberality of the committee who had charge of the festive occasion.” As a sportswriter Peverelly was exceedingly fastidious, more Felix Unger than Oscar Madison. And yes, the book is not a page-turner, driven by a strong narrative; it is a book to peruse, to consult, to take pleasure in knowing it resides on your shelf.

Study the original Knickerbocker Rules. “[Rule] 9th.–The ball must be pitched, and not thrown, for the bat.” So why is that fellow on the mound today called a pitcher and not a thrower? (“Pitcher” is just a vestigial relic of the old game, as is the phrase “McGillicuddy was knocked out of the box.”) “[Rule] 10th.– A ball knocked out the field, or outside the range of the first or third base, is foul.” Does that mean that what we would call a home run was a foul ball? (Yes. The Knicks’ playing ground was along the North (i.e., Hudson) River and they couldn’t afford to lose any of their expensively handmade baseballs.) “[Rule] 11th.–Three balls being struck at and missed and the last one caught, is a hand out; if not caught is considered fair, and the striker bound to run.” Is this the same rule that survives today and once made Mickey Owen infamous? (Yes. It’s as old as three strikes and you’re out, and maybe even older, as it echoes the rules of town ball, in which there was no foul territory.)

Note that each detail in Peverelly’s ledger may extend to a story you know or one day will. “On the 13th of August [1855],” the author writes of the Knickerbockers, “the uniform of the club was again regulated. Blue woolen pants, white flannel shirt, with narrow blue braid, mohair cap, and belt of patent leather. With the exception of a change of cap, the uniform has ever since remained the same. On the 27th of August the first flag staff was raised, and the Knickerbocker banner unfurled.” That banner, a triangular pennant with a “K” in a circle on a background of a red panel and a blue one, went to the grave with James Whyte Davis, a Knick since 1850 who kept it on his dresser after the club disbanded in 1882, and insisted that he be wrapped in it upon burial. In 1899 he was.

Born in the Boston area in 1821 or 1822, Peverelly moved to New York as a young man and worked as a bookkeeper and clerk while scribbling a few sports reports, but he led an active social life. In 1846 he had been a committee member of the Young Bachelors’ Society, and thus may have had something to do with staging the annual Bachelor’s Ball, a Valentine’s Day institution in New York since 1827. In 1848 he became a charter member of the Atalanta Boat Club, which lasted nearly a century, and through his reporting of boat races he soon became recognized as one of the nation’s experts. A New York Herald story of June 25, 1869 states that a race on the Hudson was won by a boat named for the “veteran aquatic authority Charles A. Peverelly.” By this time he had abandoned baseball reporting because his eyes were weakening. When he died in his eighty-fourth year on November 7, 1905, at his son-in-law’s home in Brooklyn, Peverelly was the oldest living member of the Atalanta.

Who likes to read in an Introduction that the book he is about to commence may not be good but instead is good for him? Yet that may be said of any book approached incorrectly. One does not curl up in bed with the Encyclopaedia Britannica. And one does not look for helpful information about house repair in Gone with the Wind. Peverelly’s National Game has lain unread for so long that it is like a treasure chest with an obdurate lock. But the key, dear reader, is in your hand.

--John Thorn

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Jim Creighton amid the Excelsiors Posted by Hello

Baseball's Legacy of Deceit

From the Woodstock Times of April 14, 2005:
On September 27, 1865, gambler Kane McLoughlin paid $100 collectively to William Wansley, Tom Devyr, and Ed Duffy of the New York Mutuals to dump a baseball game the following day to the Brooklyn Eckfords. “The Mutuals, fresh from two well-earned victories at Kingston — for a silver ball — and Poughkeepsie,” according to the New York Times, “presented an excellent nine in good trim for action, yesterday” in a game played at the Elysian Fields of Hoboken. However, in the fifth inning the wheels came off the wagon, as the Mutuals allowed 11 runs through “over-pitched balls, wild throws, passed balls, and failures to stop them in the field….” Attempting to compliment the Eckfords, beneficiaries of a 23–11 cakewalk, the Times reporter noted that their “pitching came nearer to the Creighton mark in accuracy of delivery than any we have seen since his death [Jim Creighton was the star pitcher of the Brooklyn Excelsiors].”

Wansley, the catcher, made so little attempt to hide his skullduggery (six passed balls, no hits in five at bats) that rumblings about something being rotten in Hoboken were aired in the press immediately. Confronted by the Mutuals president, Wansley confessed and implicated his partners in slime; all three were banned from play, but only briefly (upon his return Duffy hung on long enough to earn an entry in the baseball encyclopedias by playing in the first professional league, with Chicago in 1871).

Thus baseball had its first scandal though hardly its last, as one may deduce from having read the sports pages any day this year. Oddly the Times reporter invoked as a counterfoil to the plotters the late lamented Creighton, struck down in his youth only three years before. Yet this seeming paragon of virtue was not only the game’s first great pitcher, he was also its first great cheater, as will be detailed below.

In truth, the worm was in the apple when the game was still in its Eden. Both ladies and gentlemen were openly betting during the amateur ball matches of the early 1850s; established teams like the Knickerbockers and Gothams would raid others of their best players; and when admission was first charged — on July 20, 1858, for a Brooklyn-New York All-Star match — the snake asserted its control of the garden: winning and dollars were what counted now. Over the next seven years all the elements that characterize the modern game entered baseball: enclosed stadiums, “revolving” (free agency), illicit payments, open professionalism, on-field cheating, spectator rowdyism, and “hippodroming” (game-fixing); by the time another decade had passed, alcoholism, speculative capitalism, and even drugs infested the game as well.

By the turn of the century, America’s fascination with rogue heroes — in baseball, in business, in politics — was firmly entrenched, the clucking of moralists notwithstanding. Joined at the lip forevermore are King Kelly and Jose Canseco, Jay Gould and Bernie Ebbers, Boss Tweed and Tom DeLay.

Jim Creighton keeps company with all those worthies. Although he is known to few fans today, he was the greatest pitcher of his day. Famous principally for his exploits on behalf of the champion Excelsiors of Brooklyn in the years 1860 to 1862, he possessed an unprecedented combination of speed, spin, command — and an illegal but imperceptible wrist snap — that virtually defined the position for all those who followed. Prior to Creighton, pitchers had been constrained by the rule that “the ball must be pitched, not thrown, for the bat.” This meant that (a) the ball had to be delivered underhand, in the stiff-armed, stiff-wristed manner borrowed from cricket’s early days and (b), in the absence of called strikes, an innovation of 1858, or called balls, which came into the game six years later, the ball had to be placed at the batter’s pleasure: the infant game of baseball was designed to display and reward its most difficult skill, which was neither pitching nor batting, but fielding.

Creighton was born in Mahnattan on April 15, 1841, but he grew up in Brooklyn. At the age of sixteen he and some neighborhood youths started a junior baseball club which they called Young America. It played a handful of games in 1857, and then disbanded. Jim then joined the fledgling Niagaras of Brooklyn, for whom he claimed second base. Playing shortstop was George Flanley, another accomplished young player.

In 1859 the Niagaras challenged the Star Club, then the crack junior team. In the fifth inning of the game, with the Niagaras trailing badly, their regular pitcher, John A. Shields, was replaced by Creighton. Peter O’Brien, captain of the Atlantics, witnessed this game, and “when Creighton got to work,” he observed, “something new was seen in base ball — a low, swift delivery, the ball rising from the ground past the shoulder to the catcher. The Stars soon saw that they would not be able to cope with such pitching. Their captain, after consulting other base ball players present, sent in his wildest pitcher. They, by these tactics, were enabled to win the game, which resulted in the breaking up of the Niagara Club, and Creighton and Flanley at once joined the Stars. The next year he with Flanley joined the Excelsior Club.”

How to explain all this movement? According to the sporting press, Creighton was a high-principled, unassuming youth whose gentlemanly manner and temperate habits were ideal attributes for the amateur age of baseball; all the same, he became (at the same time as Flanley) baseball’s first professional, through under-the-table “emoluments” from the Excelsiors, who were hungry to surpass their Brooklyn rival, the Atlantics. Just as he changed the game forevermore by breaking the rule against the wrist snap, so did he assure that skilled baseball players could never again be content with field exercise followed by a bounteous table.

At the same time that Creighton was extending the frontier in baseball he was also a prominent member of the cricketing fraternity. The national sport of England and its boyish variants like wicket had been played in America since the Colonial period, and when the all-England team crossed the Atlantic to play against (and drub) selected American clubs at the Elysian Fields and elsewhere, Creighton took part in the contests. English cricketer John Lillywhite, on seeing Creighton pitch a baseball, instantly saw the dilemma that overmatched American batsmen faced: “Why, that man is not bowling, he is throwing [i.e., employing a wrist snap] underhand. It is the best disguised underhand throwing I ever saw, and might readily be taken for a fair delivery.”

On October 14, 1862, in a baseball match against the tough Unions of Morrisania, In four trips to the plate through the first six innings he hit four doubles. In the next inning something happened. John Chapman of the Atlantics later wrote: “I was present at the game between the Excelsiors and the Unions of Morrisania at which Jim Creighton injured himself. He did it in hitting out a home run. When he had crossed the [plate] he turned to George Flanley and said, ‘I must have snapped my belt,’ and George said, ‘I guess not.’ It turned out that he had suffered a fatal injury.”

Creighton had swung so mighty a blow — in the manner of the day, with hands separated on the bat, little or no turn of the wrists, and incredible torque applied by the twisting motion of the upper body — that it was reported he ruptured his bladder. (Later review of the circumstances, aided by modern medical understanding, pointed to a ruptured inguinal hernia.) After four days of hemorrhaging and agony at his home at 307 Henry Street, he passed away on October 18, at the age of 21 years and 6 months, having given his all to baseball in a final epic blast that the cinematic Roy Hobbs might have envied.

But is that the way it really happened? Creighton’s last run home instantly ascended to the realm of myth, giving baseball its martyred saint. Obsequies included such syrupy statements as: “His death was a loss not only to his club but to the whole base ball community, which needed such as he as a standard of honorable play and ability.” Rule-breaking, revolving, sub rosa professionalism, all were now to be dismissed. Icon making was in full production.

Creighton’s Excelsior teammates mourned his loss at their black-draped clubhouse at 133 Clinton Street and subscribed toward a fine monument over his remains, still visible in Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery. But the Excelsiors were not at all sure that it was a good thing for baseball to take the blame for Creighton’s death; this might not promote the healthful properties of their new game. What if his injury had been sustained a day or two earlier, say, at a cricket match? The Excelsior president, moved to propagandize for baseball’s spotlessness as well as Creighton’s, offered cricket as the villain of the piece.

Baseball, today universally recognized as a vibrant anachronism, was not always a backward-looking game in which the plays and players of yore set unsurpassable standards of excellence. Creighton’s death implanted the game with nostalgia, which along with cheating remains its lifeblood.

--John Thorn

Monday, April 25, 2005

Bronx Bombshells

This review appeared in the Boston Globe on Sunday, April 17, 2005:

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City. By Jonathan Mahler. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 356 pp., illustrated, $25.

When Jonathan Mahler, the author of this problematic portrait of a once-great city, was 8 and visited the New York of his father's childhood for the first time, ''it didn't take long to figure out that this wasn't the place I had imagined." Fun City had become Fear City, and the liberal vision that had once opened the golden door to millions now looked like a dead end. Nothing seemed to work any longer: not the government, the schools, the hospitals, or even union labor. Ethnic, class, and racial tensions simmered. The Bronx in particular, home to baseball's greatest franchise and the city's most bitterly disenfranchised, had become the poster child for urban blight.

In 1977, everything in New York seemed to come to a full boil, including a July power blackout that triggered looting and arson. The spectacle of shirtless young men walking the streets carrying televisions and sofas atop their heads horrified the nation yet in retrospect appears to have been a cleansing event, marking the bottom that the city had seemed intent on hitting after decades of lofty vision and abysmal governance. Truly an annus horribilis for New York, 1977 nonetheless provides Mahler with a gold mine of great settings, players, and themes. Was it the city's worst year ever? Though a historian might argue for 1835, 1863, or 1911, the logic of Mahler's choice is compelling.

The rich backdrops include a fiscal crisis, a deliciously dirty mayoral campaign, and bell-jar subcultures from socialite disco at Studio 54 to punk rebellion at CBGB to gay cruising at the West Side piers before the long shadow of AIDS. And as hinted at in the title of the book, there is Yankee Stadium. The tale's players? Oh, so many: Ed Koch, Billy Martin, David Berkowitz (''Son of Sam"), Rupert Murdoch, George Steinbrenner, Abe Beame, Mario Cuomo, Bella Abzug, Reggie Jackson.

Still, the presence of the baseball boys, through contiguity with players in other spheres, hints at an interdisciplinary resonance that fails to materialize through most of the book. While Mahler's intent is for the portraits of the individuals who epitomized New York to create a portrait of the city in its special madness, the author's impressionistic aggregation of points shimmers from afar but disintegrates up close.

What the New York of 1977 wants is a Bosch, not a Seurat. And Mahler is sometimes that infernal sort of landscapist, grabbing a reader's attention and admiration. This is a maddening book, pleasing in its parts, delightful in its evident craft, yet ill conceived and constructed. Viewed from afar, at the proposal stage, this Lego construction -- all edges, neither curves nor sinew -- may have appealed because all the stories took place not only in the same city but in the same year. This approach works for almanacs. But for those who come to the book for its baseball there is too much on mayoral politics; indeed, there is no baseball at all for long stretches, including a long, brilliant section on the anatomy of the blackout but a blackout for the reader who is looking for Thurman Munson. For those who come to the book to learn about mayoral politics and the behind-the-scenes power plays of banking institutions and state and federal governments, there is too much here about baseball.

Although the book is organized chronologically, it still echoes a shoebox of index cards or its computerized equivalent. With no chapter titles, no table of contents, and stunningly no index, the designer was reduced to placing the author's name on every verso page, as if we would forget. Even the photo insert -- with its plethora of grainy, splotchy, thumbnail images -- mirrors the drive to shoehorn in everything of seeming worth.

As one who came to this book with lifelong passions for baseball and the history of New York, I must say that the political portions of the book are superior to the well-trod tales about the Yankees of 1977. In this year when Treasury Secretary William Simon lectured New York on the perils of civic liberalism and President Gerald Ford turned his back on the city's financial plight --the 144-point Daily News headline was ''Ford to City: Drop Dead" -- Mahler depicts the struggles of Koch, Beame, and Cuomo in a tone that is thoughtful, affecting, and sweetly sad. Treated less sympathetically is Abzug, a politician who is remembered today principally for her ability to antagonize: ''Abzug, pure product of old New York that she was, clung stubbornly to her utopianism, convinced that if she shook her broken snow globe hard enough, she could make the flakes fall again." Yet read from this June 1977 campaign speech, as depicted in the book, and say that you don't wish her voice could soar today:

''Almost every day we can read editorials in our leading newspapers telling us not to expect much from City Hall. . . . The people with this outlook say we will continue to lose jobs and population. They say let's encourage the poor to get out of town and let's tear down their neighborhoods. Let's continue to attack the unions because we have to drive down wages. . . . They say let's get rid of free tuition and the municipal hospital system, shut down child care centers, senior centers, libraries and fire stations. . . . That's not my vision, and I know it's not yours. You have invested too much of yourselves, too much sweat, time and thought into our city to settle for a spiral of further cutbacks and reduced services that will only hasten the decline of New York."

New York has rebounded since its nadir of 1977, but as what? As a glittering international city, obsessed with money and celebrity as never before. The Gotham that I love, the one transformed from the underside of the Gilded Age to a ''paradigm of New Deal plenty," in Mahler's phrase, left town not long after the Dodgers and the Giants, in 1958. So ''Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning" is something of a bittersweet celebration of the new New York, in which liberal icons like Abzug and Cuomo seem losers while the heroes are a formerly liberal mayor, a carpetbagger from Cleveland, and ballplayers and bankers in pinstripes. Some rebound.

--John Thorn

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Altercation #15 Posted by Hello

Blogito Ergo Sum

From the Woodstock Times, April 8, 2005:
In February 1994 Richard Snyder, chairman of the Simon & Schuster empire, was asked to comment on the growing phenomenon of self publishing. “I do not believe,” he sniffed, “that any good book ever went unpublished.” Rolling in their graves at that moment were Jonson, Donne, Blake, Byron, Pope, Shelley, Dumas and, among many self-published Americans, Poe, Crane, and Whitman. Some paid printers to publish their work, before such practices came to be termed “vanity publishing”; others set up private presses and produced very fine examples of the bookman’s craft. The press of Horace Walpole is a well-known example; William Morris’s Kelmscott Press is another.

Publishers had come into being in England around 1680, when some booksellers not licensed to print books under the authority of the Crown through the Stationers Company paid proxy Stationers for the use of their name and their royal protection. The Company of Stationers had been formed by Queen Mary in 1557 to oversee the “art and mystery” of printing (and principally to institutionalize the Crown’s oversight of potentially seditious publications). Wholesalers (“wholesalemen”) came into being around 1700 and soon thereafter a network of wholesaling “congers” who, with their warehouses, permitted booksellers to sell the wares of many printers. While printers remained Stationers, the term that described the bulk of their day-to-day trade, they slowly transformed from direct sellers (retailers) of their own output to wholesale producers of books and newspapers to be sold at shops that did not have printing facilities.

Indeed, the very notion of a modern publisher who provided advance funds to authors as well as providing for sales, production, and modest promotion was not well entrenched until the 1850s. Until then, in the four centuries following Gutenberg, the do-it-yourself (or in today’s hurried parlance, DIY) publishing model might include an author’s finding his own customers by building a subscription list for a prospective title before he commissioned its printing.

Beginning in the 1970s, the advent of the photocopier, increasingly cheap offset technologies, and the internet has produced an explosion in DIY publishing: zines (self-published magazines or newsletters, deriving from the term “fanzines”); blogs (personal journals or filtered links to interesting stuff on the web, deriving from the term “weblogs”); and “alternative” or small-press publishing ranging from punk “comix” to low-volume, on-demand book publishing. Underlying this entire movement since the personal computer became ubiquitous in the mid-1980s has been desktop publishing, which permitted amateur artists and writers to publish at little or no cost and to engage in utopian rhetoric about the glories of disintermediation (removing the hated middleman).

Professional artists and designers, however, as well as traditional publishers and printers, initially viewed desktop publishing as a solution in search of a problem. For them, not only was this technology an enabler of banal writing, bad typography and worse design, it also led to visual clutter and marketplace “noise” … like graffiti and rap. And like those two rebelliously grating modes of self-expression, zines and blogs have come to be prized by the young in large measure because they are dismissed by most adults.

Are blogs and zines just extensions of the disco era’s CB Radio craze, which permitted one to connect over great distance despite having nothing to say? (Here’s a blog entry, in full, from Slashdot: “wow. I was walking to school yesterday, and I found this big fat tube just lying on the ground. I picked it up, and it spent the day in my locker. I took it home. It’s cool.”) Does self publishing require a sense of audience — i.e., having something to say that might be of interest to others — or is it merely self-expression, a stance or an attitude useful for inflating one’s sense of psychosocial empowerment, like the rampant teen “grrrl” zines?

Or is a worthwhile examination of self publishing not at all about such conventional considerations as craft or audience acceptance … that like the Starkist brand’s Charlie the Tuna, we just don’t get it? (He was studying fine art because he thought he needed to acquire good taste, having misconstrued the message that what he needed to do was taste good.) I am beginning to think so. Zines and blogs, and maybe even graffiti and rap, are interesting simply because they exist, although of course there will be better and worse examples of each genre. They all represent efforts to tell a story, to declare one’s very existence even if no one is listening — that is, to declare one’s existence to one’s self. While blogs are launched onto the worldwide web and thus have a theoretical audience of millions, in actuality all but a handful lay claim to a real-world circle of friends, family, and coworkers — a nanoaudience. Taking off from Andy Warhol’s now tired claim that everyone will be famous for 15 minutes, Martin Schwimmer neatly observed that in the blogosphere “everyone will be famous to 15 people.”

Following the impulse from which all art is created, a DIY publishing effort comes into being because it must, and thereafter it is asked to perform no function; it is because it is. In the eighteenth century and earlier, women in particular created a rich epistolary and private-journal culture because no one was offering money for their words. Their letters and daily musings formed a self-publishing as well as a self-revelatory phenomenon, even more so than email today because of the greater commitment and sensory resonance that accompany the word written by hand.

Printed zines and alternative press (as opposed to electronic publications) are similarly tactile and thus complex bundles, making demands upon their creators for ever growing levels of expertise in matters editorial, graphic, printing, promotion, fulfillment, and the all-important matter of distribution. These folks may be caught up in an oppositional attitude toward majority culture, but they are at heart old-school. They struggle to find readers, they work to distinguish themselves from their packs of competitors, and the best of them aim to change the world, or at least their little chunk of it, one page at a time. These are the impulses that drove the Soviet-era samizdatniks, that drove Walt Whitman to self-publish Leaves of Grass, that drove the unknown cave painter at Lascaux. The power to create is magical, maybe even a gift from the gods, and it may be celebratory or transformative of its culture. Today as before, mass media tends to celebrate and preserve, leaving to outsiders the responsibility to challenge and change.

What explains the impulse to engage in so difficult a task as self publishing in print? For certain people, its very difficulty is a prime source of its appeal. With all the talk of zines as a hip or quirky trend, there’s no getting around the fact that production is grindingly hard work, especially in the hours after one has completed a 9-5 job. It is this new but old work ethic that makes zines so appealing to print veterans like me, regardless of how we may feel about a publication’s content. A laudable local example (i.e., Kingston, New York) of a print zine is the recently launched Scenery, published by Katie Cahill and Zac Shaw, while Altercation, a locally based but nationally distributed music quarterly published by Justin and Donna Habersaat, is celebrating its fifth year of publication.

Certainly the barrier to entry in blogging is lower. So while printed zines have the most in common with historical forbears, it is blogs, especially the celebrated muckraking ones, that have provided the bulk of recent innovation and influence. Blogs are all the rage these days in part because they are so easy to set up, and they’re free. But they’ve bee around since 1993, with the first being Tim Berners-Lee’s "What’s New?"page at, which pointed to new websites as they came online. In fact, the original model for Yahoo! was also basically a web filter that pointed to cool places to go on the web; the syndicated content and bounteous features came later, as they have for Google. Weblogs that point to other places on the web, even other blogs, quickly became so self-referential as to be inconsequential, which is where the personal or journal blog came in.

Invoking Jacques Derrida or Jean Baudrillard, media savants have hailed blogging as a weapon against “global information hegemony.” I don’t know about that, but I was moved last week to write to my three sons: “Gents, I have just started a blog. Yes I know I’m the last kid on my block to do so. It will feature my work but also yours if you like. I did this in about half an hour, and I can edit the page pretty easily, including adding links that you suggest, photos, etc. I’d like for this not to be a family photo site, but instead a place where strangers might find good stuff to read.” This hybrid blog, joining journal with filter, is the one you from which you now read.

Maybe next week I’ll buy a CD by Mos Def or Public Enemy.

--John Thorn