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from "Two Weeks in Forever," by Peter van Agtmael, New York Times, 14 October 2009
excerpt Into the scrum

From his experience as a founder of Global Voices, an aggregator of citizen media from around the world, Mr. Zuckerman says he has learned to value the roots laid down by a community of bloggers.

In Kenya, he said, bloggers were important commentators and reporters in 2007-8 on a disputed election, and people would ask why there were so many bloggers in Kenya.

It turned out, he said, that “Kenya has the second-most bloggers in Africa and that mostly they are not writing about politics; many are writing about rugby.” There was, he said, “a fascinating latent capacity — people who knew how to use the tools, knew how to write well, to tell a story with words and pictures.”

The Russia-Georgia war, he said, offered a contrast.

“Suddenly a bunch of people flocked to blogging tools,” he said. “We had never heard about of lot of those people. A number of people were manufacturing blogs from whole cloth for propaganda purposes. It was hard to know who they were, if they were credible. In Kenya, we knew who they were; we knew their favorite rugby team.”

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

Today marks the launch of a new online magazine from the New York-based International Arts Movement, The Curator. As editor-in-chief Alissa Wilkinson writes, The Curator will seek “to encourage, promote, and uncover those artifacts of culture . . . that inspire and embody truth, goodness, and beauty.” Amen to that, sister—expect us to follow The Curator’s progress with great interest in the coming weeks and months, and no doubt to steal, er, I mean, excerpt and repost, some of its best material.

Alissa was one of the early readers and reviewers of Culture Making, and I’ve been grateful for her intelligent enthusiasm for the book, and more importantly for her discerning eye for signs of hope and opportunities to cultivate and create. Best wishes, Alissa and team!

from "Letter from Beijing: Fun and Games," by Anthony Lane, The New Yorker, 1 September 2008

The morning of Friday, August 15th, was one of unaccustomed freshness in Beijing, and it brought forth two objects, both wreathed in legend but hitherto hard to spot. The first was a boiling ball of gases some ninety-three million miles away, known as the sun. . . .

I spoke with . . .  Jay Lyon, of Canada, after he had held his nerve and taken two matches, one on the heels of the other, on the Archery Field. His first victim had been Xue Hai Feng, of China, who was ranked No. 18 at the games, twenty-nine places above Lyon, so it was quite a scalp, and he had then seen off Brady Ellison, of the United States. What was boosting him that day? “Sweet little e-mail from my mom. She said, no matter what, the sun’s still going to come up tomorrow.” Mrs. Lyon was clearly not in Beijing, where the chances of that were around fifty-fifty. “And, if I don’t do well, she’s going to kick my ass,” he added, lovingly. The other mystery weapon in Lyon’s quiver was Phil Towle, a performance coach back in the States, whose online messages had been an inspiration. “He’s also been a psychologist for Metallica,” Ryan said, as if to justify the gentleman. I had to steady myself against a passing volunteer. Metallica has a psychologist? What, exactly, is it repressing in its sylvan melodies?

from "Joseph Mitchell's true facts," by Garth Risk Hallberg, More Intelligent Life, 25 August 2008

This summer marks the 100th birthday of the late Joseph Mitchell, who helped to redefine the art of journalism. In 1938, when Mitchell wrote his first profile for the New Yorker, the notion of the reporter as stylist was still a novelty. By 1992, when the omnibus ”Up in the Old Hotel” hit bestseller lists, it was ubiquitous. The recent republication of Mitchell’s finest collection, ”The Bottom of the Harbor”, brings back into focus innovations that have faded into familiarity or fallen into neglect. It couldn’t have come at a better time. Our current crop of reporter-stylists would do well to study the qualities that make this book remarkable.

Chief among these is patience. Contemporary magazine journalism often seems torn between ratifying conventional wisdom and railing against it. The twin temptations of sensationalism and contrarianism hover over online discourse, in particular. Not that technology is solely to blame; as a newspaperman in the 1930s, covering the Hauptmann murder trial and interviewing George Bernard Shaw for the Herald Tribune and the World-Telegram, respectively, Mitchell was near the centre of the media circuses of his day. Once the New Yorker freed him from deadline pressure, however, Mitchell conserved his attention for (and lavished it on) subjects he felt it might dignify.

It turns out just about anything is fascinating if you look at it hard enough. What Mitchell chose to look at, in his increasingly lengthy “profiles”, were the remnants of Old New York that were disappearing beneath the city’s relentless growth: waterfront rooming-houses (“Old Mr Flood”), petty criminals (“King of the Gypsys”), Epicurean ritual (“All You Can Eat for Five Bucks”) and, in “The Bottom of the Harbor, the maritime life of a city most people forget is an archipelago.

from "Inside Mugabe's Violent Crackdown," by Craig Timberg, The Washington Post, 5 July 2008

President Robert Mugabe summoned his top security officials to a government training center near his rural home in central Zimbabwe on the afternoon of March 30. In a voice barely audible at first, he informed the leaders of the state security apparatus that had enforced his rule for 28 years that he had lost the presidential vote held the previous day.

Then Mugabe told the gathering he planned to give up power in a televised speech to the nation the next day, according to the written notes of one participant that were corroborated by two other people with direct knowledge of the meeting.

But Zimbabwe’s military chief, Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, responded that the choice was not Mugabe’s alone to make. According to two firsthand accounts of the meeting, Chiwenga told Mugabe his military would take control of the country to keep him in office or the president could contest a runoff election, directed in the field by senior army officers supervising a military-style campaign against the opposition.