Thursday, September 27, 2007

Thursday Odds & Ends

Here are a few things I've come across lately that I thought worth sharing. Each one hit my interest in some way or another.

The Breast Writer in America. Novelist Phillip Roth, in a rare broadcast interview on NPR's Fresh Air show this week, observed that "the body has been just as much a landscape (for me) as Newark, New Jersey (his hometown)." This is a man, after all, who wrote an entire book in which he imagined being a woman's breast. He also said "a journalist is as different from a novelist as anything can be." Three guesses which type of writer the famously arrogant Roth thinks is superior.

The New Straight Talk Express? Now that John McCain has given up talking straight, perhaps he could cede the nickname of his former campaign bus to a Senate colleague. West Virginia's venerable Senator Robert Byrd, who now ranks as the second-longest serving U.S. Senator in American history, may have been a member of the Ku Klux Klan as a young man. But he does have a distinct way of ignoring all the normal syrupy niceties of the position and instead simply calling things what they are. "Congress has already appropriated $450 billion for this nefarious, infernal war," he said publicly the other day, in response to the White House's official request for yet more billions for Iraq. We could use a little more straight talk like that.

Bing There, Done That. Stanley Bing, the pen name for a CBS p.r. executive, has been writing witty, literate, edgy stuff about corporate life for years, first in a column for Esquire (or was it GQ?) and now in Fortune. I noticed the other day that he also has a blog, where he expands on his fine-tuned ruminations. He also draws an amazing number of comments. Anyway, it's worth checking out.

Logrolling In Our Times Gets a Refresh. It was once famously observed of Sir Christopher Wren, architect of London's St. Paul's Cathedral, that 'if you seek his monument, look around you.' The late, great Spy Magazine was like that in the journalism and magazine field. Even though it's been dead for many years, it was so beloved that people still talk about it more than some magazines that have survived. Co-founders Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter put out a coffee table book about the mag not long ago, and this site archives much of its stuff for fans. But the magazine remains alive in more than just memory banks. Many of its best innovations have since become widely used tropes in media, like the separated-at-birth photos of famous people who look eerily alike. But one of my favorite wicked delights was a regular feature called "Logrolling in Our Times," which documented mediocre writers who mutually showered each others' books in fawning bookcover blurb praise, failing to disclose that their own work had previously been materially advanced by the praise of counterparts. Some bloggers I know are guilty of this. Sometimes it's harmless, other times obnoxious. But always, it reminds me of how Spy would have savaged the practice with its sharp needle.

A Couple of Interesting Citizen-J Initiatives. The Sunlight Foundation does excellent work on trying to induce more transparency in government. One of its most important initiatives is this site, which tracks Congressional earmarks. Those corrupt end runs around the normal legislative process actually figured (at least in a small way) in my deciding to leave a job some years ago. I'll tell that story some day soon. In the meantime, though, do check out this site. And while I haven't yet looked around this Hispanic citizen journalism site much, I do love its great design and especially its catchy name, the Quepassa News Network (Spanish for what's up?)


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