21 April 2009

By the way, I know that I haven't been blogging a lot recently, but I've switched a lot of the action over to Twitter. If you're still interested in what I have to say about things (with the added advantage of it being 140 characters or less), you can find me there.

16 April 2009

Now that they've finally paid me, I can officially announce that my latest novelette is being published in this magazine later this year. I'll let you know when it comes out!

11 April 2009

Apart from explaining the bribes and backroom deals that helped keep Robert Moses in power in New York for over three decades, The Power Broker has a lot to say about an issue that is currently receiving a lot of attention: the role of newspapers in modern American democracy.

The book does not cast newspapers in a flattering light. By courting publishers and bribing reporters, Moses was able to grossly manipulate media coverage of his construction empire. The Times comes off looking worst of all (the only paper that stood up to Moses at the height of his power was, ironically, the Post.) Eventually the newspapers turned on him and exposed scandals that led to his downfall, but they were literally thirty years late.

The message is this: if newspapers are democracy's only hope, we're in a lot of trouble. Unfortunately, they probably are the best way to keep public officials accountable. Investigative journalism is expensive and difficult, which categorically rules out television news as a replacement. The blogosphere might break a few stories, but I doubt bloggers can match the investigative skills (not to mention journalistic ethics) of veteran reporters. If newspapers survive in more than a few cities, I will be happy. I'll also be hoping that media critics on the internet will be able to call out newspapers when they're not doing their job so that Moses's tactics don't work in the future.

04 April 2009

The Bobcat Bite is a couple of miles from where I grew up, and I just learned it was named best burger in the US by Bon Appetit magazine. (Apparently this happened a couple of years ago, but I'm slow to learn these things because I don't watch the Food Network.) Anyhow, this is a cute little documentary about why their burgers taste better than everywhere else.
In The Power Broker, Robert Caro describes the rise of "Impy," the New York City Council President who became mayor in 1950 when William O'Dwyer resigned to become Ambassador to Mexico:

The nomination of this totally unknown minor Tammany ward heeler to the city's second-highest elective office, the position of succession to the mayoralty, had "staggered . . . even the most imaginative among political reporters." And so had the explanation of how he had obtained the nomination. At a last-minute reshuffling of the 1945 Democratic ticket, the leaders finally agreed on Lazarus Joseph for Comptroller, and then realized that since O'Dwyer was Irish and from Brooklyn, while Joseph was Jewish and from the Bronx, the slate could have ethnic and geographic balance only if its third member was an Italian from Manhattan -- and were unable to think of a single Manhattan Italian official they could trust. After hours of impasse, one leader reasoned that since legal secretaryships to State Supreme Court justices carried a respectable salary for which little or no work was required, they would have been given only to the "safest" of Democratic workers. Pulling out a little "Green Book," the official directory of city employees, he turned to the list of legal secretaries, ran his finger down it looking for a name that even the dumbest voter would be able to tell was Italian -- and came to Vincent R. Impellitteri. . . .

. . .this explanation seemed almost unbelievable -- until one met Impellitteri.

I'm not sure whether to feel insulted or excited about my future job prospects.

02 April 2009

Sources tell me the Guardian fell for yesterday's Moscow Times story about Russian PM Dimitri Medvedev's limousine for the G 20 conference, coined (among other things) "the hippopotamus." Apparently the vehicle has more armor, more weapons, and more rear window curtains than President Obama's limousine, and contains a desk with six telephones and a shower. The vehicle is capable of withstanding a small nuclear attack "if the wind if blowing in the right direction."

01 April 2009

What I learned this April Fool's Day: fake plastic insects do not need to look perfectly realistic in order to scare people. They just have to be unexpected.