Here are today's must-reads:
Imagine a pop song. A perfect pop song, if you will: simultaneously guileless and sly, hooky yet understated, with strings like heart flutters and vocals like a sugar cube dissolving into a smiley-face mug. It’s a love song, or at least a crush song, and it charmed its listeners much like its subject charmed its singer. The song was small, compared to the bloated anthems elsewhere on the charts and their audiences; its own was, at first, mostly regional. Tastemakers heard it, then moguls who were de facto tastemakers, and it spread to listeners who knew nothing about the singer except this beautiful thing she’d written. They fell in love at first listen. They gushed. They sang along. They recorded karaoke videos and public swoon mobs and re-enactments of its summer-love video. They sent it to No. 1 for seemingly the entire summer and sent its singer to what looked an awful lot like dazed stardom. They funded a whole new album, which billed itself as inspired by early Madonna, Robyn and the Cars, a trio made to send poptimists into arpeggiated glee. They loved her enough to accept a prefab duet with a whey-voiced Ben Gibbard wannabe. She made it work; she was triumphant. And then the album came out, bought only by a dwindling fraction, and then the follow-up single tumbled out of the charts, and then she was not.
What impels us to watch, to hunger for more disaster and mayhem, and to keep on watching long after we’ve learned all there is to know? Wake Forest University English Professor Eric C. Wilson gathers some clues in his new book, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away. We never feel more alive than in times of distress, danger, and calamity, Wilson writes, whether we experience it directly or at a televised remove, watch it dramatized in a movie, or read it in a novel. He cites a psychologist to theorize that our morbid curiosity has an evolutionary function: Being well-informed about dangers and potential dangers helps us survive; finding points of empathy through which we can connect with those who have suffered allow us to build lasting bonds. Wilson discusses the cultural appeal of fairy tales, horror films, and “documentaries” likeFaces of Death; he recycles the now-standard view that gruesome and graphic stories prepare the young for adulthood; and he reminds us of how Aristotle schooled us in the value of catharsis to explain our fascinations with the perverse.
Preventing errors from appearing in the magazine is not a simple process. For openers, you need to know that in addition to the basic reporting pieces, we also check “The Talk of the Town,” the critics, fiction, poetry, cartoons, art, captions, the table of contents, certain of the several-paragraph-long essays in the “Goings On” section. We also fact-check the contributors page, the cover wrap, the letters column, all the press releases, and a good deal of the recently mounted Web site.
To start checking a nonfiction piece, you begin by consulting the writer about how the piece was put together and using the writer’s sources as well as our own departmental sources. We then essentially take the piece apart and put it back together again. You make sure that the names and dates are right, but then if it is a John McPhee piece, you make sure that the USGS report that he read, he read correctly; or if it is a John le Carré piece, when he says his con man father ran for Parliament in 1950, you make sure that it wasn’t 1949 or 1951.
Or if we describe the basis on which the FDA approved or disapproved the medical tests that ImClone used for Erbitux, then you need to find out what the complexities of that whole situation were. And of course, this kind of thing has consequences, because if you get it wrong, it matters. We also work on complicated pieces such as the ones we’ve been running this fall about the Pentagon’s top-secret team that is trained to snatch nukes away from belligerent countries, or the piece about the Predator drone that had a clear shot at Mullah Omar, for better or for worse, and didn’t take the shot because the CENTCOM attorneys were not clear on the legality of that operation.
But the unfortunate thing is that when The New Yorker is wrong on these allegations, which we are from time to time, the cry goes out not for the writer or for the editor but for the fact-checker. In the department, we refer to that as the Shoot-the-Fact-Checker Syndrome, which is one of our occupational hazards.
These are some of the other things I've been tweeting about today:
- from @THREsq: "Carly Rae Jepsen, Owl City's Adam Young Sued for Allegedly Stealing 'Good Time'"http://pjblack.me/Q6cfZV #lws008 #lwb486
- "Phil Coorey leaves SMH for Financial Review" http://pjblack.me/RqwZGU
- "The strange allure of disaster porn" from @jackshafer http://pjblack.me/Q64cwg
- "Looking for political meanings in films during election time" http://pjblack.me/RqqCmS
- "Shashank Tripathi, Last Night's Twitter Villain @ComfortablySmug" http://pjblack.me/RqfsyI
- "Hurricane Sandy: A Perfect Social Media Storm" http://pjblack.me/RqfaIa
- "Despots and their favourite drinks" http://pjblack.me/Q5pF8D
- it looks pretty good: "Windows Phone 8 review" http://pjblack.me/Q5pDgR
- "Cycling's Secret: It May Be The World's Cleanest Sport" http://pjblack.me/RpOYNC
- "Google’s Gmail Launches New Compose Email View And Reply Experience That Will Save You Time" http://pjblack.me/Q5pDxE
- "The Most Surreal Images Of Hurricane Sandy" http://pjblack.me/W4PNmI
- "Are Disney And George Lucas Hiding Something?" http://pjblack.me/T3PrHh
- "Alone Together, Again" http://pjblack.me/PG7DtK
- i'm beginning to think it is possible romney will win: "Why Romney will win" says frank donatelli http://pjblack.me/SZJviq
- the presidential election looks like it will be close: "Seven takeaways from the Pew poll" http://pjblack.me/SZISoR
- from @TheEconomist: "Prostitution: Old profession, new debate" http://pjblack.me/Q3QR7F
- "The Story Behind The Famous FedEx Logo, And Why It Works" http://pjblack.me/RlHdIH
- from @citmedialaw: "Twitter, France, and Group Libel" http://pjblack.me/RlGXJF #lwb480
- "Sea Level Rise During Hurricane Sandy Will Be Typical For NYC By 2200" http://pjblack.me/W4PGHX
- "In Storm Deaths, Mystery, Fate and Bad Timing" http://pjblack.me/W4Pt7E
- "Fact-checking at The New Yorker" http://pjblack.me/RlG1F7
- "Newspaper Endorsements From Across the Nation" http://pjblack.me/RlrF7I
- i did not know this: "All's Fair in Love and War: Lance Armstrong's 'Blood Doping' Method Used to Make Super Soldiers" http://pjblack.me/Sq2gOq
- very strange: "Japanese DVD Lets You Go on a Dinner Date without an Actual Date" http://pjblack.me/SaTd1n
- "Online no substitute for teachers" http://pjblack.me/SpYvIZ #auspol #highered
- "Are We All Copyright Infringers?" asks @johndvillasenor http://pjblack.me/SaIlR8 #lwb486
- "The problems with anonymous trolls and accountability in the digital age" http://pjblack.me/SpUYu2
- "Will the Internet Prediction Machine Change Politics?" asks @bigthink http://pjblack.me/SpUGDF
- "A Web of Answers and Questions: Background Checks and Personal Ethics in the Age of Google" http://pjblack.me/SaEVxF
- poor carly rae: "How the Internet Killed Carly Rae Jepsen" http://pjblack.me/SpUjZI
- from @time: "Girls on Film: How Innocent Pictures Feed the Internet Porn Machine" http://pjblack.me/SaDLSP
Follow me on Twitter @peterjblack.
And you can get my latest links anytime on my Rebelmouse social media front page.