Lit’ry Life: March 19

Some good stuff passed before my eyes in the last few days but there is never enough time to read it all.


Starting with an obscure journal only available to members of the Massachusetts Audubon Society — Sanctuary — is the spring edition devoted in its entirety to the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the book credited with kicking off the eco-movement, banning DDT, and leading to the restoration of avian species such as the Osprey (which, come to think of it, must be ready to return to Cotuit Bay any day now).

Carson took on the chemical industry and government regulators with a bleak ringing of the alarm that pesticides and rampant pollution were trashing the environment. A resident of Duxbury on Massachusetts’ South Shore, her insights were local ones and led to massive reforms, and a lot of personal attacks.


Mass Audubon is a quintessential Massachusetts non-profit, founded in the early 20th century to stop the devastation of the tern population by the fashion industry which keyed in on the particularly stupid notion that sticking a bird’s wing in a ladie’s hat was a good thing. Sanctuary is not available online and is one of those member only things. I have been a long time member because Mass Audubon owns Sampson’s Island/Dead Neck in Cotuit, manages it as an Arctic Tern rookery, and have rangers who come around checking for membership cards if they find you lounging on the sand.

The Atlantic

The April issue is a strong mix of sweet and sour. On the sweet side is a piece by Blackhawk Down author Mark Bowden on the man who broke the banks of several Atlantic City casinos without resorting to card counting or other tricks. Don Johnson is a veteran gambling industry manager who took advantage of the economy’s effect on the Casino’s policy to discount a gambler’s losses from 10 percent to 20%. I was unaware that the heavy hitting gamblers, aka “whales” can negotiate a break on their losses or a stack of free chips to get them to the high roller tables. Johnson knew the casinos were greedy, wasn’t known as a particularly successful gambler and therefore wasn’t regarded as dangerous to the bottom line, and then just swooped in and played smart blackjack and took them down on the order of $10 million.

On the sour side: a lengthy cover profile of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke with the provocative teaser “Ben Bernanke saved the global economy. So why does everyone hate him?” Big macro economic policy pieces are rough going for me. I don’t have an appetite for the dismal science, but Roger Lowenstein is the master of making financial matters palatable and even exciting. The former WSJ writer’s biography of Warren Buffett remains one of my favorite business books. Anyway, if you want to get smart on the state of economy, Bernanke, and how he pisses off both sides of the aisle with the Fed monetary policy, this story is for you.

Finally, a look at Rahm Emanuel’s first year as Mayor of Chicago. I thought he brought a lot of intelligent f-bomb dropping testosterone to the Obama White House during the dark days of 2009 and this piece presents a hyper, hands on, technocrat in action in  the City That Works.

The New Yorker

I’ve only found the time to read John Seabrook’s story [behind the paywall, sorry] in the March 26 issue about hit making song writers and producers and how they churn out number one “smashes” with great precision for big name artists like Rihanna.  The process is fascinating, involves a Blackberry and a “box” running ProTools, and a strange process of mumbling out phrases to hooks and rhythms. Somehow, at the end of the conveyor belt, a song emerges.

End note: ever wonder why magazine dates are so far in the future? The dates aren’t for the readers as much as they are the day newsstand vendors are supposed to take their copies off the rack and replace them with the next edition. Hence I am reading a March 26 New Yorker on March 19. On March 26 the news vendors pull this issue and replace it. Now you know.

New York Times:

I like David Carr’s column this Monday morning on how reporting by people with an agenda used to be called propaganda. He tackles the Foxconn/Apple manufacturing abuse one-man-show fiasco at NPR perpetrated by monologist Mike Daisey who prevaricated and committed many calumnies in his quest for entertainment. Hey, the issue isn’t whether or not Chinese electronics factory workers are abused or work too much for too little so we can dote on our shiny Apple toys: it’s about Daisey fibbing and blowing it at the expense of good journalists like the Time’s Charles Duhigg who actually reported and sourced the same story, albeit without the drama that makes for good theater and podcasts. Carr deftly co-indicts the poor guy who made the Kony 2012  “documentary” and then folded under the attention and scrutiny to the point where he had to take off his clothes and dance naked in a sidewalk while committing felonious mopery.


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