Stories behind the stories — Feb. 9, 2013

Trying something out because I rarely write anymore but read more widely than ever. In my day job, I deliver the news of the day in several industries. But there’s always the story behind the story — the context, the background, the human interest, or just the fun and silly.

Each weekend (I hope!?), I’ll try to offer some links that offer something beyond the recent headlines — and to do so without ripping off my employer and the great Dave Pell. We’ll see how this goes.

Lies and the lying liars
Story: Lance Armstrong sued for writing “nonfiction” books that are full of lies. Meanwhile, an Australian library announces it will move Lance’s two memoirs to the fiction section.

Behind the story: Turns out the library didn’t sanction that decision. Sigh. As for the lawsuits, The New Yorker explores the plaintiffs’ deep feeling of betrayal, why most sports memoirs are boring and simplistic, and what the hell books are supposed to mean, anyways:

Short of a legal proceeding, how are disenchanted or disappointed readers to find redress? That question leads to others: What kind of commodity is a book? What can we expect a book to do for us? And are there particular situations in which we might expect to get our money back?

Stick a fork in humanity
Story: There’s a “smart fork” coming out that will tell you to slow down, fatty, when you’re eating too quickly.

Behind the story: Do we have such little self-control that we can’t know enough to eat at the right pace? Or do we actually have no desire to self-police ourselves in any way? This is not simply a question of medicine, physiology or psychology, but also one of morality. As Matthew Flinders writes:

My concern with the launch of the ‘smart fork’ is that it arguably reflects an unwillingness to deal with the moral arguments that underlie the obesity endemic in large parts of the developed world. …
Is it possible that we ‘hate’ politics simply because, unlike those unfeasibly self-contained, sane, and reasonable grown-ups that we are assumed to be by liberal politicians, most of us still behave like disturbed children (or political infants) who simply don’t want to take responsibility for our actions or how they impact on the world around us? Or — to put the same point slightly differently — if the best response we have to the obesity crisis is an electric fork then in the long term we’re all forked.

Snail mail social sharing
Story: The Post Office is breaking the law and ending Saturday delivery in August, and it lost $1.3 billion last quarter, which was somehow good news.

Behind the story: Despite astounding declines in the amount of physical mail shipped, the Post Office remains a powerful societal force, has better security than e-mail and is a vital to the reliability and pricing of rivals UPS and FedEx, argues Richard R. John (More from Esquire, too). Time for Congress to realize that:

In 1899, Postmaster General Charles Emory Smith called the post office the “greatest business concern in the world.” He had it wrong. The post office is a public service with a civic mandate central to American business, society and civic culture — not a business. But if it is to survive, Congress must allow it to start acting like one.
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