Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

14 September 2011

Coming Out!


[For a brief comment on Elizabeth Warren’s Senate run, click here.]

This fall, I’m “coming out” from my anonymity.

My reasons for anonymity were well considered, and I’ve explained them in some detail. What has changed? Well, when your wife, sister and best friends all say the same thing, it would be impolitic not to listen. They all advise me to edit these essays, organize them and publish them electronically in book form on various topics. With well over 500 essays, there are at least two or three books here.

The same idea had occurred to me many times. Much gets lost in this huge blog, whose 500-plus index entries are repeated under various headings. And many a post could benefit from cogent, organized collection with others.

You can blog anonymously. You can tweet anonymously, if you like bumper stickers and the spirit moves you. But can you publish books anonymously?

I don’t think so. When people take the time and trouble to read a whole book of nonfiction, they want to know who you are. Authors like “George Eliot” and “Andre Norton” could get away with pseudonyms for fiction when the minds of the “fair sex” didn’t get the respect they deserved. But who in this age of beggared privacy wants to read a whole book of fact and analysis not knowing who the author is? My sitemeter’s many hits on my unrevealing personal profile suggest, “Not many.” So does a commenter.

One other thing has changed, too. I’ve retired from full-time teaching. I still dabble in short courses, and I may yet teach a full semester under conditions known only to my Dean. So my major reason for staying anonymous—that my blog might impair my professionalism before full-time students—just doesn’t apply any more.

There are other reasons for keeping anonymous, namely, avoiding the “flag” of ideology, trying to get readers to focus on my ideas and not me, and trying to do some good without grabbing credit.

All are good reasons. But as it turns out, all are a bit quixotic. Ideological readers will classify and dismiss you on the slightest pretext. Many would-be readers appear already to have done so, moving on to the next blog after spotting “Obama” in my blog description. Such is our partisan divide. You cannot persuade those who habitually think ad hominem to do otherwise in a single blog, especially if you can’t get them to read it.

As for taking credit, well, Sarah Palin taught me something. Here’s a woman who has little to offer but greed, ignorance and stupidity. Yet she’s gotten millions to pay serious attention to her, and she’s made millions doing it. Talk about exploiting your fifteen minutes of fame!

What’s her secret? Relentless and shameless self-promotion. In our time, and maybe in all times, that seems to matter even more than ideology and the merit of one’s ideas.

We all have our faults. When the shameless self-promotion genes were passed out, I wasn’t in the queue. I always thought that good ideas would prevail on their own merit, without special advertising. Was I naïve!

So, at the age of 66, I’m going to try to learn something new. I’ll be like a baby learning to walk. Probably I’ll be comical. But please laugh with me, not at me, as I try to learn a new skill that may get my ideas more exposure.

Blogs are free. I have nothing against free. I like free, especially when I otherwise would be the one paying. And with the reduced appetites of age, I’m comfortable enough not to need an income supplement. So I’ll keep this blog up and free, but not the books I derive from it.

Samuel Johnson (the author of the first English dictionary) wrote, “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” I’m not quite sure what he meant by that. In his time, landed gentry wrote without much care for money because they didn’t need it. Maybe Johnson was describing then-rare writers like him, who didn’t have titles or land.

But I think he was touching on something deeper: writer’s insecurity. How do you really know that people like what you write? Talk is cheap and blogs are even cheaper (let alone tweets). The only way you really know whether people like what you write is whether they are willing to shell out a few bucks for it. It’s a kind of applause that can’t be denied. I guess I want to test whether my non-academic writing can garner some of that.

Another reason why I want to come out is that I have more to tell. I’ve withheld much of my personal history because it would identify me. In doing so, I’ve lost some credibility that my education, multiple careers, and life experience might give me. Once I come out, I can describe the relevant facts of my life boldly.

The final reason for coming out is people. There aren’t that many commenters on this blog. But I feel I’ve come to know some of the repeaters. By holding myself aloof and anonymous, I can never really know them. I’d like to exchange e-mails (as much as I have time for) with some and maybe even meet some in the flesh. You can’t do that anonymously: masked balls are out of fashion.

So the only question left is when. As I learn the new (for me) skill of self-promotion, I’m going to create a little suspense. I like Thanksgiving. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, it’s my favorite holiday.

Thanksgiving celebrates no military victory, no defeat, no religion, no saint or sinner, no political or social cataclysm. It venerates the simple beauty of native people, misnamed “Indians,” taking clueless white visitors under their wings and teaching them how to survive a first harsh winter in a new land. It’s a model for pure human and ethnic relations that could only have come from the Garden of Eden, which we of European ancestry left when we started to colonize.

So that’s the day I’ll come out. It’s a day of leisure when readers can reflect on what really matters in life. Then you’ll learn all you want to know about me (maybe more!), and I’ll be a real face, not a question mark.

Until Thanksgiving, then, when I come out!

P.S. I will keep blogging in the interim, but at a slower pace. I’ll also be working on those books.

Footnote

Just after I wrote a first draft of this post, I read a comment from a reader named Janet Camp. It’s so apropos that I publish it below verbatim:
Hello Jay,

Your writing is clear and concise, but unless you “come out” and use your real name, it’s just more words and cannot make much difference. Your NYT post today was excellent as well, but again, what does “Old Curmudgeon” tell us? It helps that you got the #1 slot, and I will visit this blog again, but I truly wish more bloggers would be more public about their backgrounds.

Elizabeth is Running!

This may be old news to many readers of this blog, but it’s now official. Elizabeth Warren is running for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts. She’s running against Scott Brown, the not-too-crazy Republican who took Ted Kennedy’s old seat in a special election after his death.

Brown is smart and popular, and he’s got a big head start. And this is Warren’s first political campaign. So she will have a tough race. But I can’t think of anyone I would rather see in the US Senate, or anyone more worthy to sit in Ted’s old seat.

I’m sure Ted is pulling for her. I’ve just fulfilled my pledge to donate $500 to her campaign. If you want to take our country back to the side of reason and restore our middle class, I hope you’ll do your part, too.

This is a woman who’s fought courageously for a fair shake for ordinary people for decades, first as a law professor and then as an appointed Obama-Administration official. She’s fought for us despite the most vile chauvinism from the likes of Richard Shelby and others. Now she needs our support. If you’ve ever lamented the dearth of truly outstanding women in politics, now’s the time to dig deep.

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7 Comments:

  • At Fri Sep 16, 09:54:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Thanksgiving is my wife's favorite holiday! She is from Thailand but she too loves the food and historical significance of Thanksgiving....no religious overtones just a day enjoy a day off work, reflect on the history of America, enjoy family and be happy. And enjoy a healthy turkey meal.

    Can't wait to read your first book! Will you please send the first copies to Ann Colter and Fox News?

    Best Regards, R.H.

     
  • At Sat Sep 17, 12:51:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Jason said…

    Hi Jay,

    I'm excited that you're revealing your identity. You're the most insightful political thinker of the many that I read, and it is a bit strange having my opinions shaped so much by someone I know so little about.

    I do think you should do more self-promotion of your blog. If you were getting traffic proportional to the quality of your analysis, you'd have too many comments on each post to read. The books may help with promoting your ideas, but online promotion is more important -- people will click a link much more readily than they'll type one in from a book. There's a lot of good (and also plenty of bad) advice online about how to build blog traffic, and I'm sure you could master it if you choose to focus on that for a while. I know you don't have an instinct to promote yourself, but you do have an instinct to educate, and I think that promoting your existing body of work is going to educate far more people, per unit effort, than just about anything else you can do with your time.

    I do hope the books won't slow the rate of posts on your blog for too long. Much of the value of your writing comes from how current it is, and I hope you'll continue to weigh in on important debates as they take place.

     
  • At Sat Sep 17, 02:05:00 PM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Dear Jason,

    Besides being very flattering (for which I thank you), you comment is well thought out. I will certainly take it to heart.

    For anyone who writes about current affairs, the struggle between currency and depth is constant. It never ends. One person can’t be both current in all things and insightful in some. Thinking takes time and requires perspective.

    So you have touched upon one of the most difficult aspects of honest nonfiction writing, even for a retired person like me. You will note, for example, that the bit about Elizabeth Warren on this page is a few days late, precisely because I've been thinking about other things.

    One thing that concerns me about our American culture today is the tendency to trade currency for depth. You see it in the superficiality of most daily news, let alone in something like Twitter.

    We all have only so many neurons and so much time. If we spend them on whatever’s happening right now, will we have any left over for making real progress?

    That’s the question I’m struggling with these days. I think it’s also a question with which every analyst constantly struggles. Leading New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, for example, recently retired from writing columns to write one or more books. There may be monetary reasons for doing so, but depth and the chance to make a greater impact weight heavily.

    As you will see when I come out, I am an experimentalist by nature. If the first book works well, I may downplay the blog for a time. If not, I may come back full force. But I'll try to keep up this blog as much as I can in any event.

    Thanks for your good advice and your support.

    Jay

     
  • At Tue Sep 20, 05:34:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey "Jay" -- glad to hear that you are coming out of the anonymous closet. You are not really a blogger, but an essayist, and one of the better around. There is so much crap out there (on the left ... I only read Andrew Sullivan on the right and these days he hardly qualifies) that your blog is a breath of (long-winded, but that's why I read you because you "do" depth) fresh air. I'd be interested to see what kind of blogging community you could create =here. I suspect the length of your posts encourages the type of audience that might have something interesting to say. Anyway, I'm a longtime fan, so I look forward to "meeting" you.

    Best,

    Doug from DC

     
  • At Thu Sep 22, 09:54:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dear Jay,
    The best thing that ever happened to me was discovering Diatribes of Jay.
    I'm looking forward to the more than 500
    essays turned to three books. Truth be told, I print your blogs as much as I can.
    Your essays help me become a better person. I truly appreciate your brilliant
    mind, and understanding of what influence
    people in several aspects of their lives.
    I'll give your books to special relatives and friends in the hope that
    it will give them enlightenment and joy just as it did to me.
    Happy Thanksgiving sa iyo.
    C

     
  • At Thu Sep 22, 10:52:00 PM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dear Jay,

    I was overjoyed upon your announcement to divulge
    your identity. I've been curious and wondering who this brilliant, talented and gifted writer.

    I can relate and understand your predicament to stay anonymous due to your position as an educator that could jeopardize your profession. Compiling the 500+ blogs into a book is an excellent idea. I will be looking forward to the publication of you book.

    Good luck,
    MAM

     
  • At Sat Sep 24, 10:08:00 AM EDT, Blogger jay said…

    Thank you all for your support, readership, and comments. It's feedback like yours that keeps me going, despite the difficulty of “breaking through” to a wider audience.

    As for being “long-winded,” I plead guilty and am trying to improve. (My wife thinks so, too.)

    As I transfer my long-windedness to a more appropriate medium (books), I’m going to work on writing shorter pieces and even brief comments on this blog. My piece on Palestinian statehood today is an example.

    But I confess that I like to handle a subject thoroughly, and that often involves length. Much of our national decline comes from trying to fit complex, nuanced subjects onto bumper stickers.

    So I welcome readers like you who can put up with a bit of long-windedness to tackle a subject properly. I just hope you can help recruit others.

    Warmest regards,

    Jay

     

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