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Peter Canby Goes Bonkers: Has the New Yorker’s Fact-Check Honcho Lost His Mind?

October 9, 2010

Unhappy famous authors can respond to criticism in many different ways. If my fact-checking of New Yorker-based email addresses is correct, and if someone hasn’t gone to great lengths to pull my leg, then it would seem that unhappy famous author Peter Canby, a senior editor at the New Yorker who also heads the magazine’s famously rigorous fact-checking department, chose to respond to my criticism of his book The Heart of the Sky in a strangely self-defeating way:

Since I’m someone of little consequence, and of even less erudition, I ought defer eagerly to all powerful people of great  privilege who find time in their busy schedules to visit my unimportant little-known blog and apprise me of my errors and instruct me in the basics of sophisticated, civilized prose. 

When someone as powerful and important as Peter Canby urges me to “expand [my] poisonous little pea brain to imagine things might have changed [in Cancun] in the twenty years since [he was] there,” I can’t but take his criticism very much to heart.

In less than five minutes spent perusing the Web, I expanded my poisonous little pea brain to such startling proportion that I was able to confirm that:

* Some thirty-six years ago, Agustín Landa Verdugo, the man responsible for Cancun’s initial city plan, also designed and built the Hotel Hyatt Cancun Caribe, a structure with seven floors, all of which were accessible by elevator.

* Exactly twenty years ago, Cancun was also home to the nine-story Gran Melia, the eleven-story Fiesta Americana Grand Coral Beach, the twelve-story Omni Cancun, and any number of other hotels boasting multiple floors and functioning elevators.

As all these hotels had, and continue to have, a great many Maya employees, it would be remarkable indeed to encounter urban or rural Maya entirely unfamiliar with elevators or many-storied buildings, especially those working in the hotels. It’s even more astonishing that Maya with access to satellite television would prove unfamiliar with same.

(I didn’t even need to do any fact-checking to discern that anyone living in 1990 with satellite television in their home was very likely familiar with the concept of the elevator.)

Peter, I’ve read your book cover to cover, and several parts of it, including the chapter on the Talking Cross, multiple times.

Your accusing me of intellectual laziness, and of calling myself an “expat,” is especially puzzling, given that anyone reading would immediately see that we poke fun at the term “expat” and use it in only the most ironic sense.

If you’re unhappy because I chose to highlight only one chapter from The Heart of the Sky, please know that I would consider it  a great privilege to subject the book to thorough page-by-page scrutiny.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. October 9, 2010 6:35 pm

    One way to find out if your leg is being pulled: Trace the IP address on the “peter canby” comment. Go to your WP dashboard, click Comments, copy the IP address that appears under the alleged name, and paste it into the field at You’ll get a location. Anyone you know live there? Maybe someone with a sense of humor and too much free time?

  2. October 9, 2010 7:15 pm

    @ Feral Worker

    Thanks for the tip! The IP address comes up in Pound Ridge, NY, which appears to be where Peter Canby lives.

  3. October 9, 2010 10:29 pm


  4. Night Supervisor permalink
    October 10, 2010 4:41 am

    Famous Sayings My Mother Taught Me:

    “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” – Thumper

    “If you live in a glass house, don’t be throwing rocks at people.” – Confucius

    “Me thinks thou dost protest too much.” – modified from Shakespeare’s Hamlet -Act III Scene II

    “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I have become as sounding brass and a tinkling symbol.” – Paul

  5. Ye Olde Gringoe permalink
    October 10, 2010 1:20 pm

    Congratulations, Herr Doktor Professor Kinbote! is so delicious in its controversies that it’s very quickly becoming my most favorite Website.

    Since I am an amateur enthusiast of Mayan history, and because I love visiting the Yucatan peninsula for its wonderful Mayan archeology and ruins, the famous Peter Canby‘s angry and childlike attack on you is very, very interesting to me!

    So, I have a few thoughts to offer on this matter:

    => In Peter Canby‘s book The Heart of the Sky he makes this comment about a Mayan gentleman he meets, “The Ladino clothes he was wearing didn’t seem to belong on him.”

    This is a very hilarious thing for an important New Yorker writer to say.

    As Prof. Kinbote has noted, Why isn’t Mr. Canby obliged to wear the native dress of his ancestors???

    Maybe because everyone in Manhattan and at the New Yorker offices would laugh uproariously when they saw him walking about very proudly dressed as an 18th century Scandinavian shepherd!

    Is Peter Canby completely unaware that there are many 100% full-blooded Maya who are computer programmers and engineers and doctors and, yes, even writers?

    Peter Canby wants the Maya to wear “traditional” Mayan clothing so that he can enjoy an “authentic” and “exotic” travel experience!

    He seems to hate the fact that the Maya believe they have an absolute right to dress exactly as they please and participate in “Western” society exactly as they please!

    Peter Canby is unhappy because Prof. Kinbote had the cojones to speak truth to power!

    ==> I have reviewed the very funny “elevator incident” in question as it appears in Peter Canby‘s book, The Heart of the Sky and I think it holds the true key to his very strange anger about Prof. Kinbote’s criticisms.

    Anyone who has spent time among Mayan people would know for certain that they place a high value on humor and jokes.

    What is completely obvious in the “elevator incident,” and in other incidents recorded in The Heart of the Sky, is that the Maya were joking around with Peter Canby, but he is so much in love with his arrogant idea that the Maya are “noble savages” and innocent children that he cannot see that the Maya are taking the piss out of him!

    It must be very embarrassing for an important writer and editor at the New Yorker to be exposed as utterly credulous, unsophisticated, and naive.

    ==> Finally, it is indeed odd that Peter Canby chose to respond to Prof. Kinbote with childish name-calling such as “idiot” and “pea brain,” etc.

    A truly sophisticated famous writer would have responded by dismissing Prof. Kinbote’s criticisms in a polite, classy, and witty way. Such a response would have extinguished the controversy and made Peter Canby appear like an intelligent and clever gentleman.

    But Peter Canby‘s “schoolyard insults” not only make him seem crude and juvenile, but also make his readers question the New Yorker‘s judgment in making Peter Canby the director of the magazine’s fact-checking department!

    Congratulations, Herr Doktor Professor Kinbote, for making so very interesting, funny, and exciting!

  6. October 10, 2010 6:13 pm

    @ Night Supervisor & Ye Olde Gringoe

    That review was already almost a month old and wasn’t even on the front page anymore, and it wasn’t one of the more popular posts on this site. Why he decided to comment at all, let alone the way he did, is beyond me. It was already well under the radar before he swooped in with his bizarre ad hominem rant.

  7. Pokerino permalink
    October 11, 2010 7:15 pm


  8. Dances With Chihuahuas permalink
    October 13, 2010 2:05 am

    I think the poor guy was feeling unappreciated one night after a rough day of fact-checking, someone wasn’t appreciating his fact checking, and so he decided to google himself. Unfortunately, it backfired on him and he was unable to control his rage when he found he was still unappreciated. What he has failed to learn after all these years is that everyone feels unappreciated sooner or later in life, we all make mistakes, we all must learn to deal with criticism, and we all get made fun of. When I was in High School, I got made fun of because I had two outfits to wear, and not that long ago, someone told me they wanted to puke every time they saw me. It is better to deal with these moments in life with a sense of humor, a little bit of humility, or just say nothing at all…as I did when someone said they wanted to puke everytime thay saw me. As Scarlett O’Hara reminds us, “Tomorrow is another day.” … maybe, I will be able to stop making people puke.

  9. October 29, 2010 8:46 pm

    I think you are missing the point. If Peter Canby thinks you are an immature piece of shit, you are an immature piece of shit. Don’t be defensive. It only proves his point.

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