Culture of Fear

From a great article by Amy Wallace in Wired about the anti-vaccine movement:cover_wired_190

“Pseudo-science preys on well-intentioned people who, motivated by love for their kids, become vulnerable to one of the world’s oldest professions. Enter the snake-oil salesman.”

Please read.


Where the Sky Fell

imagesFrom my column in the November issue of Madison Magazine:

In the hills of far western Wisconsin, there is a hole that, when first made, was four miles across and three quarters of a mile deep. It is called, in a somewhat understated way, the “Rock Elm Disturbance,” and it was made by a giant rock that hit the ground from outer space.

I drove there because I wanted to see an impact crater with my own eyes. It was something I’d wanted to do since a few years ago, when I was happily reading along in Bill Bryson’s witty and informative book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, when I came across some PIA02940_modest-1startling facts.

According to Bryson, some “two thousand asteroids big enough to imperil civilization regularly cross our orbit,” and as many as “millions” of smaller ones—big enough to destroy a city—do, too. The number of known “near-earth asteroids” has gone from ninety-seven in 1980 to 6,384 today. [updated numbers here] The first planet killer wasn’t even spotted until 1991, and near misses are thought to happen as many as two or three times a week.

Read the rest here.

Something To Do With Love

David Foster Wallace on Art and Love, via Zadie Smith in Harper’s.images

“I’ve gotten convinced that there’s something kind of timelessly vital and sacred about good writing. This thing doesn’t have that much to do with talent, even glittering talent. . . .Talent’s just an instrument. It’s like having a pen that works instead of one that doesn’t. I’m not saying I’m able to work consistently out of the premise, but it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved.”

Restless Legs Reading

lagos_city_scene_nigeriaIf you’re in New York this week, I’ll be doing a reading as part of the Restless Legs Series along with fellow Best American Travel Writing 2009 anthologees Tony Perrottet, who will share his story about sex museums in Europe, and Elisabeth Eaves who will be reading about the nuances of ecotourism in Central np-cover-200wAmerica.  Also present will be series editor Jason Wilson, as host.  Come down to the Lolita Bar (266 Broome St.) on Wednesday (Oct 21) at 7pm to hear all about it.  As usual, I’ll be discussing vanishing genitalia, thugs, guns and the changing face of Nigeria.

The World’s Largest Ball of Twine

CIMG2143A couple hours east of Minneapolis is the world’s largest ball of twine.  I was driving past it recently, and had to stop and have a look. It was massive and awe-striking. It made me proud to be a part of the human race.  Sadly, 20 years of sitting untended doesn’t do wonders for a twine ball, and its edges have CIMG2136started to sag, making it more lump than ball.  I think it’s time for a new and better twine ball.   When, I wonder, will the younger generations be shamed into action? When will a newer and bigger creation arise from the prairies?  Gen X?  Gen Y?  Gen Z?  I ask:  Where are your twine balls?  The future is now.  Start winding.

Best American Travel Writing 2009

book_BATWAt an internet cafe in Bamako last spring, I got one of those rare emails that makes your day, or your week…or your year, depending on how exciting your year is.  It was from Jason Wilson, letting me know that a story I did for Harper’s, A Mind Dismembered:  In Search of the Magical Penis Thieves, had been chosen by Simon Winchester for inclusion in the Best American Travel Writing 2009.  This is always nice to hear, of course, if only because it makes you feel like maybe you’re doing something right after all.  In any case, I’ve got a copy of the book now, and I’m happy to report that it’s a great year for the anthology, with lots of fantastic work in it.  I’ve talked enough about my story, so let me recommend a few others:

Matthew Power’s piece “Mississipi Drift,” is one I read when it came out, and it was awesome: The tale of some anarchist “boat punks” who build a raft to float down the river as a kind of metaphorical middle finger to powers that be.

While living in Germany, Chuck Klosterman wrote some thoughtful, funny dispatches for Esquire, like the one in which he compared America to a meth lab.  Another of these essays, “Who is America?” is in the anthology, and is a great look at America through German eyes.

Bronwen Dickey’s story “The Last Wild River,” also just received a Gold Lowell Thomas Award, and rightly so.  The story is a vivid meditation on the impact of her father’s book, Deliverance, on the Chattooga River, on the south, and on herself.

In “The Pervert’s Grand Tour,” Tony Perrottet takes us though the sex museums of Europe:  The Marquis de Sade’s castle, Casanova’s prison cell and the British Museum’s “Secretum.”

And finally, although not in the actual anthology, listed in back under “Notable Travel Writing” is Katie Krueger‘s story “My Senegalese Cousin, the Rice-Loving Pig,” one of best pieces of travel writing about Africa I’ve seen lately, and a very fun read.

There are many more. But to read them for yourself, you’ll have to pick up a copy!