Extra, extra

Mary
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A la Slate's "Today's Papers," I glean the best stuff from the country's top three newspapers so you don't have to:

"Forging Ahead in Moscow," from the LA Times
Persey Tours was barely keeping the bill collectors at bay before it started offering fake vacations last year. Now it's selling 15 a month — providing ersatz ticket stubs, hotel receipts, photos with clients' images superimposed on famous landmarks, a few souvenirs for living room shelves. ... Of course, it's not the real thing. But in Russia, this is a distinction that easily can drift into irrelevance. If there is a world capital of audacious fabrication, it must be Moscow, where fake is never a four-letter word.

"Tom Wolfe's Washington Post," from, duh
"At a Washington party," Thomas Wolfe once observed, "it is not enough that the guests feel drunk; they must feel drunk and important." Classic Wolfe! Piercingly funny and perceptive... instantly quotable... exposing the vanities of the elite. So why is it so... unfamiliar? Because you won't find the line in the familiar Wolfe canon -- "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test," "The Right Stuff," "Bonfire of the Vanities." No, it was discovered in a vast unexplored trove: the daily journalism Wolfe produced as a police and features reporter for a full decade before he morphed, in the mid-1960s, into... Tom Wolfe.

"Flesh Trade," from the NYT Mag's Freakonomics column
How's this for a repugnant situation? Take someone you love, perhaps your spouse or your sibling, and find a stranger who will accept a really big bet that your loved one will die prematurely — and if indeed that happens, you pocket a few million dollars. This, of course, is how life insurance works. And most Americans don't find this idea repugnant at all. They used to, however. Until the mid-19th century, life insurance was considered "a profanation," as the sociologist Viviana Zelizer has written, "which transformed the sacred event of death into a vulgar commodity."

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July 14, 2006 - 6:26am
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