Friday, August 01, 2003

Useless blogging?

The subject of useless information came up in recent blogs. Of course you never know when something is really "useless." My own best example of that is a job interview I had in Chicago in October 1986. It was a lunch with the publisher of a real estate trade magazine. We talked about commercial real estate, of course, but he was really more interested in talking about other things, such as the Civil War -- he was a Civil War enthusiast. One of the reasons he hired me to be an editor there, I am certain, was because I could hold my own in that discussion. I didn't (and don't) have a scholarly grasp of that conflict, but I did (and do) know a fair amount.

Still, you can't load up on useless information in hopes of impressing someone who might be in a position to help your career. Such things never happen by plan. It has to be for its own sake.

No less a mind than George Orwell weighed in on useless information, in his essay "Why I Write": "So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take a pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information."

In the same vein, my brother Jay writes: "I agree entirely: learning new things, especially wholly unexpected things, things with no obvious practical application, is one of life's great pleasures. It wouldn't be overstating it to say that the flow of new information is one of the things that keeps me alive, almost as necessary as oxygen and perhaps on a par with caffeinated drinks.

"As it happens, I did know that Sir Arthur wrote the tune to 'Onward Christian Soldiers' and a number of other tunes. It was the sacred music that got him his knighthood, in the mid 1880s, not his collaborations with W.S. Gilbert. Queen Victoria was reportedly unimpressed with their operettas and gave Sir Arthur his knighthood despite of them. Gilbert had to wait until the reign of Edward VII for his.

"Here's another collection of essentially useless but fascinating information: President Grant's granddaughter, Julia Grant, who born in the White House in 1876, married Prince Michael Cantacuzene in St. Petersburg in 1898, an officer in the Imperial Army. The Russian Cantacuzene family were descendants of the Voivodes of Wallachia (Vlad the Impaler belonged to this family) and claimed (rather dubiously) a connection with the Byzantine emperor of that name.

"Princess Julia and Prince Michael left Russia at the time of the Revolution. Thereafter she wrote two volumes of memoirs, Revolutionary Days: Recollections of the Romanoffs and Bolsheviki, 1914-1917 (1919) and My Life Here and There (1921) and lived to be 98 years old. They have a number of American descendants, one of whom I believe to be Rodion Cantacuzene, who practices criminal defense law in Midland, Texas. (He appears to use the name Ian Cantacuzene, too, judging from postings to Google, but Rodion is the name that appears on the roster of the State Bar of Texas.) There you have it: a descendant of General Grant and Vlad the Impaler defending the lowlife of the Llano Estacado."


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