A good friend of mine, one of the most respected critics in the country, replied to my email yesterday. I had written my usual monthly missive to him and got this in reply:
“Okay, what are you not saying? I think I know you well enough, by now, to know when you’re preoccupied about something and, Sport, your email reeked of that. Spill.”
I called him and we talked for about thirty minutes. He asked why. I told him: for the first time in the history of this blog – and for one of only three times in my entire 40 year career as a writer – I deleted a fistful of reader responses. I told him why. “Flamers,” I said, “Nothing but that ‘you’re an idiot and you don’t know what you’re talking about’ stuff.”
“Have you been clear about your rules for the blog?” he asked.
“I really only have one,” I replied, ” ‘Make a substantive argument’. That’s it…Well, except for a couple of minor ones.”
“Have you spelled that out?” he said quickly, “Did you put it out on the page, repeat it, and stick with it?”
“Well,” I shrugged, “Anyone who’s read the blog more than once should…”
He made the sound of a fire alarm buzzer. This is what, over the years, we’ve come to call our “Bull___t Detector”.
“Gotta be clear,” he chuckled, “I know you. You assume a LOT. Not everybody who reads the thing has read every entry. Say it. Say it at least once a year; twice if necessary.”
“I…think I did,” I replied.
“Check,” he said with finality, “I do it at least twice a year, now that this thing is so ungodly large and unwieldy. Do it. Today.”
Well, the guy’s made himself a household name, so who am I to argue? So…here goes: In this blog, I extend credit to the readers that they – here in the Twitter Age – have decided that the lengthy things I write are worth reading. I’m grateful when you do read. BUT, you cannot apply the trendy Twitter-savvy reading habits to anything as lengthy (okay, wordy) as this. I wrote about a new “session” beer and NOBODY replied with anything about that beer. Every single respondent fixated on one phrase, that I erroneously assumed they’d understand, and went off on interplanetary tangents based on that. Here’s the phrase:
“For a lot of people, it’s a term they use to excuse their habit of lapsing out of craft brews and back to the lager/pils crap they drank as teenagers.”
This was taken to mean that I hate all lagers, disregard the entire tradition of German beer, and favor “extreme beers”…when what I assumed they’d get was what I meant: that the stuff they sneaked in high school was – as is the case for 99% of us – the BudmillerCoorsPabst garbage their Dad drank. I even got one guy from Europe, raised in a completely different beer culture, who told me I should stick to reviewing wine, since it’s obvious I don’t like beer or know anything about it. To your left is one of my Top Five All-Time favorite beers; quite German, and the stuff wears better, over the long haul, than your favorite jeans. I also love beers from, by actual count, sixty-three other German breweries, and that’s not to mention the Czech, Austrian, and Middle European beers of those styles that make me all gooshy inside. The “‘lager/pils crap they drank as teenagers” are NOT German beers. They’re cheap, crappy American bastardizations of those real German/Euro lagers and they bear little or no resemblance to the styles their cynical, greedhead producers stole to make them. And anybody who claims to know beer should have gotten what I meant there instantly.
In a more recent post, I wrote 272 words – out of a 3,000-word post, on things about Tacoma, Washington, that most people found to be negative. It was nothing but scene-setting, intended to illustrate how strange and wonderful it is that a T-town brewery is making some of the best cutting-edge sour beers I’ve found yet, there in a solidly blue-collar town where you’d least expect to find them. A couple dozen people latched onto those 272 words and harangued me via social media for a solid ten days, which shifted the focus of the post completely away from a brilliant brewery, making it All About their wounded civic pride. And cast me – a guy who, even as I write this, is in the process of moving to Tacoma, Washington! – as someone who hates Tacoma.
Less than 10% of the content of a post, taken completely out of context.
Extrapolating anyone’s bona fides from one line or one paragraph in the latest post in their blog or newspaper is almost certainly doomed to failure.
So, here are the Rules for this blog. The P-I version of this bloglet carries a disclaimer which makes it very clear, right up top there, that, quote, “This is a seattlepi.com reader blog. It is not written or edited by the P-I. The authors are solely responsible for content. E-mail us if you consider a post inappropriate.” Unquote. The rules are mine, as is the blame for them.
1. Make a substantive argument. I’m not creating a forum for anybody whose only conversational gambit is, “You suck!” If you post anything like this, about me or another respondent, your post will simply not appear at all, ever, here because I have to approve all posts before they show up in the comments section. If you have a logical argument with what I write or see something that you know is factually inaccurate, make the point and it will be respected and left alone. The definition of “a logical argument” is NOT simply stating an opposing opinion and expecting me to change my mind. An “argument” is defined as “a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.” That means that, if you expect to change my views or persuade me that I’ve spoken in error, you’ll have to provide a hella persuasive argument and probably some proof of what you say. Otherwise, you have zero chance, because I assure you, if I wrote about it, I’ve thought about it. And, if you’re just flaming, do it elsewhere.
2. If you’re not going to READ the post, don’t reply. Reading is a process involving thought. If anyone had read and understood the words, “For a lot of people…” in what I wrote about session beers, all the rabid replies wouldn’t have been necessary. If you take things out of context, I’m deleting your post.
3. Don’t expect me to automatically agree. You make your argument, I THINK about it, and I reply. The reply may very well not be me coming around to your viewpoint. Make no mistake about it: I’ve been at this a LONG time. I’ve actually been studying and learning about beer and brewing for nearly three times as long as I’ve studied wine, even though that’s the original thrust of this blog. My beer journey started in 1967, in London, and I’ve been consumed with it since. I’ve been selling wine since 1993 and dealing with it as a chef for 20 years before that. The opinions expressed here are the result of selling literal tons of wine and beer to people who trust my judgment. I’m not at all concerned with having anybody think I’m cool. I’m NOT cool. And I have just about zero patience with snobbery in anything as subjective as beverages. In short, I know what I know, I just don’t write about what I don’t know, and unless you’re very persuasive, my views will likely not change. It does happen: a reader sent me this post two years ago:
“The following is incorrect: “The sour comes about by virtue of introducing “critters” (as brewers call them) like brettanomyces and lactobacillus bacteria into the mash and letting the little buggers basically take over.” The bacteria and yeast is introduced during the fermentation. There is such a thing as a sour mash but but that would only deal with cultivating lactobacillus that appears naturally on the grain.”
I’m guilty of one of the things I least respect: loose talk. A couple of brewers I know use “mash” to refer to the grains in the boil and to the fermenting beer. That’s verbal shorthand but it’s also inaccurate. I should have known better than to write it. I acknowledged the error and thanked the guy. It was a substantive response. No matter how much egg winds up on my face, those stay in the blog. And here, in the WordPress site that I own, they WILL stay. The P-I’s version of WordPress auto-deletes all comments after 30 days. I get no say in the matter. Tons of great comments have been lost that way. Here, I get to decide if and when things get deleted and I would surrender a digit before I’d lose valuable comments because, as I’ve learned the hard way, they’re more rare and precious than diamonds.
4. If you want to argue or name-call use the email. Attached to this blog is an email reply box labeled “The Fool’s Email“. You’ll find it on the home page, as the last button up top. I check it at least four times a day. I put it there because one of the things that eventually made me give up well-paying gigs as a newspaper critic was the near-universal attitude of editors that columnists should never engage in discussions – or worse, arguments – with readers. As an editor in DC told me, “Your column is your opinions and, once made, you cheapen them by trying to defend them. You’re the one with the column, not the cranky reader.” I hate that attitude. If I stick my head up, as I regularly do in this blog, I should be willing to answer substantive – that word again! – questions from those who use their valuable time to read it. The ratio of email responses to what’s posted on the blog runs, on average, about 25-1. I get tons of emails and, unless they’re just, “You suck!“, I try to answer every one. And, yes, I will argue like a freakin’ wildcat via email. I will NOT here on this page.
5. There is no fifth rule. That’s it. This will be repeated annually, I guess. If your post disappears, you’ll know why. I very much appreciate everyone who takes their valuable time to read this blog, even those who think I’m a fathead. At my advanced age, I’m acutely aware of the shortage of time in one’s life and I honor anyone who’s willing to grant me a bit of theirs. And I hate it that there have to be any rules for any blog but…as you’ll quickly find, if you read any of the P-I SoundOffs attached to most articles in the news sections, there’s a lot of the “You suck!” crowd out there. I’m NOT their friend. I’m a cranky old ridge-runner from the mountains of Virginia and my life is simply too short to suffer trolls gladly. And if you’re one of those poor, deluded souls who actually believes that anything worth saying in life should be able to fit into a Twitter post, The Pour Fool is not written for you. Please click on that little “X” in your browser’s upper right-hand corner and return to Twitter because this blog is written for people who think, speak in complete sentences, and care about making what they say abundantly clear. Thanks for reading “The Pour Fool”. Next time, back to the beer and wine…
I hope this doesn’t come off to nit picky, as I hate hair splitting online, but maybe being even less like Twitter when you write is in order…
“lager/pils crap” should maybe be the much longer; ‘Major american brewer adjunct light lager.’
<—-[couldn't find the email button on the native blog]
John: It would probably be more accurate but I can’t go back and unsay what I wrote originally. That was the phrase I used so that’s what I’m stuck with. But the context tells it all: “the lager/pils crap they drank as teenagers.” I know today’s kids are seeing a LOT more different beers in the fridge than I and others my age did but the numbers bear out that what is still found in MOST American fridges is BudMillerCoorsPabst. Still, here in 2015, the mass-produced adjunct lagers account for 84% of all domestic beer sales, so the statement stands as I wrote it, mainly because those who don’t see those shit lagers know full well that I’m not talking about them. But your version is also somewhat inaccurate because the US is by NO means the only producer of those garbage beers. Corona, Tsing Tao, Swan, Sapporo (some Sapporo; they also make some great beers) Beck’s, Heineken, Molson, Red Stripe, Tiger, Tusker, Presidente, Estrella, Cristal, Hinano…adjunct lagers are being brewed and consumed all over the planet. I’m not tossing out all those mediodriities just because they’re not made here.