So Long, Mr. Whipple

Stuever: Even now — in the era of erectile-dysfunction television commercials, or teenage girls extolling the latest in cardboard-applicator tampons — we still don’t quite know how to advertise something as simple as toilet paper. That whole area remains the great conundrum of Madison Avenue, which is how we wound up with singing toilets that just got super-scrubbed, and the Ty-D-Bol man, and the depiction of any and all bodily fluids as being bright blue. All sorts of anthropomorphic creatures populate the throne room in lieu of frank talk. For a long time, to demonstrate how wonderful toilet paper is, people in commercials rubbed it against their . . . faces.


Check out Emma Downs: This is a story about people and pies.

But it’s also a story about the domino effect of a good deed. Specifically, how one good deed – the purchase of a couple dozen pies – led to the construction of a gingerbread house, a smile on the face of a soldier stationed in Baghdad and dessert for nearly 90 people.


Would you name her?

From Rex Smith, editor of the Albany Times Union:

I’m doing something here that’s not very nice: I’m letting you know that I know something you don’t know. And while I’ll tell you why I’m keeping this secret, I will not tell you what I know.

I know — in fact, several of us in the Times Union newsroom know — who was riding in the car with ex-U.S. Rep. John Sweeney when he was driving drunk on the Northway last Sunday morning. A lot of people are curious about the woman, but you’re going to just have to stay that way.

Of course, if the woman wanted to talk to us, we would share her story with you. But she has chosen to remain silent, and we’re going to honor her privacy.

Ever since reporters first learned about Sweeney’s arrest, there has been a lot of curiosity about the account of state troopers that a woman was on Sweeney’s lap when he was pulled over. The troopers hadn’t seen her at first, they said; they were startled to realize there was a passenger in the car, along with the driver.

Locked Down

From the Post and Courier in South Carolina, Glenn Smith, Tenisha Waldo and Schuyler Kropf: A chorus of flushing toilets fills the silence as inmates wake for breakfast. At 6:31 a.m., the darkness dissipates when the fluorescent lights in the dayroom buzz to life and flicker on. Two women emerge from their cells to clean.

Like clockwork, at 6:35 a.m., the breakfast trays arrive. Officer Davida Breschers calls for the bottom floor inmates to eat first. Most rush to the line with bundles of soiled linen tucked under their arms. Today is laundry day.


In the department of Books That Have Been Out A Long Time But That I Just Discovered How Awesome They Are, I would submit a Richard Preston title called The Hot Zone. It was not a bestseller because it pandered to the masses; it was a bestseller because it showed us how brilliant and page-turning the best nonfiction narrative can be. The first chapter alone — in which a man in Africa goes deep in a cave and comes out with an almost unimaginable sickness — is worth the price of the book. Here, from Preston’s own Web site, are a few of his words about craft:

When I’m researching a book, I conduct large numbers of interviews with the people I’m writing about. I also try to experience their world from within. I take notes by hand in a reporter’s notebook, using a mechanical pencil. These days, when I’m climbing redwoods, I keep the pencil tied to myself (a mechanical pencil falling 35 stories becomes a deadly missile.) In researching a book, I’ve ended up with as many as 60 notebooks full of scrawled notes.

I write many drafts. A book seems to reveal itself slowly. The characters come alive on their own, and they end up showing me where the story must go. “Nameless” and “Vertical Eden,” the first two chapters of The Wild Trees, went through at least 20 drafts. I’m passionately interested in the relationship between the human species and nature. I like to reveal nature by showing human character engaged with nature, often in a life-or-death situation, such as Nancy Jaax’s first meeting with Ebola virus (in The Hot Zone), or Steve Sillett’s first climb of a redwood, (in the opening of The Wild Trees). What makes these scenes powerful is that the people are verifiably real and the universe is the actual one we live in, not the universe of a novelist’s imagination. Thus the scenes have a versimilitude that can exceed that of the novel, and can take us into the heart of human experience.

I do a lot of fact-checking. I read passages aloud to my subjects on the telephone while asking them to correct facts and tiny details. Fact-checking is like sharpening the focus of a lens, revealing new detail. It is especially important with scientists, who expect and need accuracy from journalists. I rewrite passages based on what my subjects tell me. In this way, I try to maintain respect for nature, for narrative, and for the integrity of human achievement.

Twenty drafts.

What’s the most you’ve ever written?

Who here has taken something that was really pretty good and scrapped it almost entirely because you knew it could be better?

Mrs. G

Libby Copeland: Politics and Judi Giuliani have not always gone well together.

In recent months, as her husband’s presidential campaign heated up, Giuliani was pilloried in the New York press as a social climber. A Vanity Fair profile accused her of demanding a separate seat on planes for her Louis Vuitton handbag. The former mayor’s campaign started pulling her back from public events.

But as she proved yesterday during a women’s fundraiser downtown, Judi Giuliani — or “Mrs. G,” as she called herself — is most emphatically back.

“I look at these faces and they just energize me,” she tells reporters. “I’m beginning to understand what my husband likes about politics.”

Springsteen, The Writer

Dwight Garner channels Richard Ford on Springsteen: It is a uniquely American celebrity, rewarding excellence that’s unquestionably native, prizing an apparently natural phenomenon that turns out to be wonderful, as if a kid could sign up for metal shop and in a few semesters produce a Henry Moore. We like our excellence even better with history, confident that what we’re seeing and liking so much is a product of years’ work performed in obscurity, of dues-paying. In Springsteen’s case, this lets us believe he’s earned us – though there’s an answering generosity in his music that offers everyone a sweet insider’s feel, an assurance that no matter when we first took notice, we were in on things from the ground floor.

And here’s my favorite YouTube clip.

War’s Assault On The Mind

Paul Salopek: MOGADISHU, Somalia — Abdulrahman Habeb was a man with problems, the most pressing of which involved a barrel of tranquilizer pills.

The barrel — containing 50,000 capsules of fluphenazine hydrochloride, a potent anti-psychotic drug ordered from America—was boosting his patients’ appetites. This was not good. Patients at Habeb Public Mental Hospital were scaling the facility’s mud walls to scavenge for food outside, in the war-pocked streets of Mogadishu. One had been shot.

“They don’t stop when sentries say ‘Halt!’ ” said Habeb, the director of the only mental health clinic in Somalia’s capital. “How could they? They are mentally ill.”

Hard Act To Follow

Yesterday was the Great American Teach-In. Roll-your-eyes assignment, right? Check out Leticia Stein’s story: TAMPA – Betty Boudreaux admits she panicked a little when she saw the military paratroopers in the main office. She thought the Great American Teach-In was a day to “come in and talk about what you love.”

Then she learned how three members of the U.S. Special Operations Command Parachute Team showed what they do for a living. They jumped from a plane 13,000 feet above Lowry Elementary School on a cloudless, crisp Wednesday morning.

Boudreaux arrived at her daughter’s second-grade classroom shortly after the crimson smoke that trailed from the paratroopers’ feet had cleared. She was carrying a Target shopping bag.

“Who loves math?” she asked with an oversized smile.