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Ted Koppel, randomized

Ok, so Jack Shafer at Slate doesn't think Ted Koppel is a good columnist. Not having read Koppel myself, Shafer's article doesn't give me any reason to agree or disagree. Shafer disagrees with Koppel's substantive claims, but how does that make Koppel a bad columnist?

More to the point, Shafer says that Koppel is a bad writer. As proof, Shafer offers up random sentences from Koppel's book extracted with the help of Amazon's "Koppel Randomizer." From page 126:

Rosafina, now an elderly cat entering her eleventh summer, is making it difficult to work. She keeps trying to walk across the keyboard of my computer, clearly for no other reason than that I do not want her to do so.
I've had cats all my life and this pretty much hits the nail on the head. Not boring at all!

The problem is that the Randomizer can make almost anyone look bad. I'll pull out my own jerry-rigged Randomizer and show you what I mean:

I'm going to guess that these [on-campus law firm] interviews aren't actually very useful for learning much about students or about employers. That's probably not their purpose. In only twenty minutes, the only thing that a student can count on learning about a firm that goes beyond what they've learned already is that the firm isn't (or is) peopled entirely with troglodytes.
[Me, from a post on this blog, August 30, 2004.]

The shower was now over, and a rainbow above the eastern woods promised a fair evening; so I took my departure. When I had got without I asked for a dish, hoping to get a sight of the well bottom, to complete my survey of the premises; but there, alas! are shallows and quicksands, and rope broken withal, and bucket irrecoverable.
[Thoreau, Walden, p. 167. Give me Koppel's cat, please...]
The most common cause of personnel wounded in action recently are due to roadside bombs. These are land mines or booby traps made out of locally available materials or another piece of ordnance, such as a cannon shell. These were used as far back as the Vietnam War. The IED today are larger as they are intended to damage the armored vehicle as well as the personnel inside of it.
[From the blog Doctor. Highly recommended, but you'd never know why.]

Of course, there are exceptions to this random-is-often-banal rule:

Much later on, when Nourishing was old and grey around the muzzle, and smelled a bit strange, she dictated the story of the climb and how she heard Darktan muttering to himself. The Darktan she'd pulled out of the trap, she said, was a different rat. It was as if his thoughts had slowed down but got bigger.
[Terry Pratchett's The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, p. 221.]

If Ted Koppel is such a bad writer, I'd hate to see what Amazon's Randomizer could do with Jonathan Franzen's latest novel. (Go ahead. Try it!)

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