march 07



Binyavanga Wainaina – whose Granta article “How to Write About Africa” (“Make sure you show how Africans have music and rhythm deep in their souls, and eat things no other humans eat”) I suspect was unironically slipped inside the N+1 style guide – now names Ryszard Kapuscinski as “the guy who came up with my all-time classic lines about Africa.”

That accusation alone should get me to dismiss the Polish writer, but even together with Jack Shafer’s condemning piece, “The Lies of Ryszard Kapuściński: Or, if you prefer, the “magical realism” of the now-departed master”, I can’t forget the powerful images in The Open World in the New Yorker last February, which I immediatly sent to all my friends. His description of his first trip out of Cold War Poland – to India – and the contrast of their spirit and poverty is simply astonishing. Meghan O’Rourke says there should be room for “literary journalism”:

Of course, no one wants to encourage budding Jayson Blairs. There is a line between aesthetic enhancement and outright fabrication; what’s at stake here is something closer to judicious manipulation of fact than to Stephen Glass’ invention-stews. Newspaper journalism always ought to be thoroughly factual. (H.L. Mencken’s fabrications in the Baltimore Herald, for example, are indefensible.) And in an ideal world any partly invented magazine story would come with a warning attached, as did Tom Junod’s controversial profile of Michael Stipe in Esquire in 2001. But the combination of fictional technique and factual reporting can get at something that factual reporting on its own can’t (even if it is dangerously tricky to regulate). If it didn’t, the practice, dating back at least to Daniel Defoe’s Journal of a Plague Year (1722), would surely have been squelched by the power of the ethical argument against it.


After all, films never encounter this trouble – the greatest irony being Shattered Glass, which gleefully changed the gender of Jonathan Chait to create a character and combined the personalities of many other real New Republic staffers to employ a more concise and comely cast.

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Xeni Jardin’s latest NPR podcast deals with the case of Kareem Amer, the jailed Egyptian blogger. She discusses the sad reality of torture in Egyptian jails and speaks to Constantino Diaz-Duran, whose hard work brought much attention to the case.

Kareem’s father has said that he would like to see Islamic Sharia law applied. This would give Kareem three days to repent, or face execution. As dire that sounds, this may be one of his last remaining options. On Monday, an Egyptian court rejected an appeal for Kareem’s release, a move the U.S. State Department has condemned.

Xeni Jardin, btw, has really stepped up her game with a new focus on technology in developing nations. A few months ago, she had a series of fascinating podcasts out of Guatemala. There’s more on her personal site

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Mother Jones: Four years of it so “bill me later.” Best political magazine on the web does the math

Boing Boing: Jasmina Tesanovic on the anniversary of Zoran Djindjic’s assassination. “without him, history limps and crawls back into the dark.” (read her archives.)

Consumerist: Tax tips for the self-employeed also, Best Buy is still shamelessly fucking you over

Slate: Here come the mind-reading machines

Coffee: Make your own cappuccino. The Bialetti espresso percolator is twenty bucks and will make you feel like a Fellini femme fatale

Music: Lavender Diamond, la la lovely

Wired: Jim Henson’s early teleplay, The Cube

(image: the Logan Circle Traffic-go-round courtesy of Mark Jenkins)

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Everytime you purchase a boring book by JoSaFo, Marisha Pessl, or Lauren Weisberger, the odds of finding more talented writers get even slimmer. The sad fact is, the people that could be writing the sort of things that speak right to your soul, are likely too busy shoo-ing off collection agents to get their manuscripts in shape. The Independent explains:

The average author earns about £16,000, a third less than the national average wage, it is revealed. So what? They’re doing what they love. But hidden behind that figure released by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) is a grimmer truth: when you take away the superstars who are earning shedloads, the actual figure for the rest is closer to £4,000

[“Jane”] is now on her fourth book, in her forties, with a devoted band of readers. They see her on stage at literary festivals, elegant and eloquent and just a little bohemian, and think: “There is a writer who’s made it.” They don’t know that the advances have dwindled down to £10,000 a time (from which the agent and taxman take their share; and for a book that usually takes about two years to write). They don’t see the bills threatening to make her sell her house.

Jane doesn’t want me to use her real name in case it upsets her publisher or fans. Neither does she want them to know that she works in the local Waitrose for cash, as well as teaching and tutoring.

“People come and see me all bright-eyed, dreaming of being a writer,” she said. “They’ve got the idea that anyone can do it. That’s what people think: that it’s so easy. I wish! I tell them I’ve been training since I was seven.” Others do have talent. “They tell me it’s their calling. I say it will have to be. I don’t want to crush them, but the best advice if you want to eat is: ‘Do something else.’”

Jonathan Lethem said in his WTF-are-you-doing-if-you-haven’t-read-this-yet brilliant Harper’s article that he got $5,000 for his first novel, which took three years of work – you calcuate that as an hourly rate. Thankfully, that didn’t stop him, as he’s pretty much the one name keeping the publishing industry from looking like literary Idiocracy.


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This week is SXSW “Interactive,” and now the blogs are flooding with Twitter plugs.

What is it? Todd Levin explains: “Imagine there is a tiny invisible girlfriend sitting on your shoulder, constantly whispering in your ear, demanding to know what you’re thinking at that precise moment. Now, imagine you decide to answer every instance of her question by sending a text message to her, and all of your friends. That’s kind of what Twitter is like, and we’re positive it’s here to stay! ”

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For several years, my friend Nik Schiler has created visually stunning mandalas and mosaics out of cartography – public domain maps from the U.S. Geological Survey.. Today the Washington Post profiles his work in a long feature story.

Schiller barely pauses on the way to his computer, which he fires up to reveal hundreds of his map creations. They are places you know – the Mall, Adams Morgan, Georgetown, plus other U.S. cities and war-torn ones abroad. But the streetscapes – photographed from above at a resolution fine enough to just make out cars and people – have been warped and woven into kaleidoscopic mosaics, arabesques, spheres.

So Big Brother really is watching – and Schiller remixes this surveilled reality to render geography as politically pointed art. The results have stunned his former geography professors and amazed the federal cartographers who commissioned the original aerial pictures for more mundane purposes, such as aiding developers who are gentrifying neighborhoods, such as, um – U Street!

“To change the world, start with the maps,” says Schiller, who is co-chairman of the Statehood Green Party in Washington. “As insignificant as my art may be, it’s still an extension of my feeling that each of us has the capacity to change things.”

Of course, the best place to take a look is at Nik’s website, where you are bound to be impressed by the sheer number of maps and his clever intricacy. Take for example this map of Israel and Palestine.

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The Red Cross has some creative ads outside SF’s Justin Herman Plaza:


Too bad Amnesty International never brought their similar (and superior) 2005 ad campaign to the states:


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26 IS THE NEW 46

Kids + internet normally equal a glib feature story in some major New York publication, but this one, by Emily Nussbaum, actually struck a chord with me – even in spite of the header, “The greatest generation gap since Rock n roll.” The young woman featured in the article is my age, 26, “an old lady, in Internet terms.” My first year in college was the year Ethernet (and AIM) went mainstream.

Once a famous author I can’t recall was asked if childhood was painful for him. He said, “Well, I had a childhood.” I often wonder if things might have been better given the opportunity to “network”with the likeminded rather than just starring at them at lunchhour wishing they’d just talk to me or I’d finally have the guts to talk to them. But then again, we all know about cyber-bullying by now.

Part of the reason it’s a great article is that Nussbaum spent a lot of time interviewing Clay Shirky:

Clay Shirky, a 42-year-old professor of new media at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, who has studied these phenomena since 1993, has a theory about that response. “Whenever young people are allowed to indulge in something old people are not allowed to, it makes us bitter. What did we have? The mall and the parking lot of the 7-Eleven? It sucked to grow up when we did! And we’re mad about it now.” People are always eager to believe that their behavior is a matter of morality, not chronology, Shirky argues. “You didn’t behave like that because nobody gave you the option.”

None of this is to suggest that older people aren’t online, of course; they are, in huge numbers. It’s just that it doesn’t come naturally to them. “It is a constant surprise to those of us over a certain age, let’s say 30, that large parts of our life can end up online,” says Shirky. “But that’s not a behavior anyone under 30 has had to unlearn.” Despite his expertise, Shirky himself can feel the gulf growing between himself and his students, even in the past five years. “It used to be that we were all in this together. But now my job is not to demystify, but to get the students to see that it’s strange or unusual at all. Because they’re soaking in it.” …

Shirky describes this generational shift in terms of pidgin versus Creole. “Do you know that distinction? Pidgin is what gets spoken when people patch things together from different languages, so it serves well enough to communicate. But Creole is what the children speak, the children of pidgin speakers. They impose rules and structure, which makes the Creole language completely coherent and expressive, on par with any language. What we are witnessing is the Creolization of media.”

That’s a cool metaphor, I respond. “I actually don’t think it’s a metaphor,” he says. “I think there may actually be real neurological changes involved.”

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Bono, Oprah, Christy Turlington, and company spent $100 million on marketing. The worldwide charity gross: $18 million

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Salon: “[The Secret] is like having the Universe as your catalogue. You flip through it and say, ‘I’d like to have this experience and I’d like to have that product and I’d like to have a person like that.’ It is you placing your order with the Universe. It’s really that easy.”

Google Video: Chris Marker’s La Jetee (in English)

AFF: My new column on the “killer asteroid”

Art: Niki de Saint-Phalle: color goddess. My god, I can’t wait til I get to Barcelona

Wired: Best Buy admits to their website price scam, but you’re still going to buy your ipod from them.

The Phoenix: Is it sacrilege to say I really didn’t like The Children’s Hospital?

Me-fi: What do windows sound like?


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