Wandering Eye: John Updike's trip to Baltimore, the gross details of the FDA's oral history, and more

Jefferson Morley unloads on his former WaPo colleagues in Medium. The first part is about Cuba and so, ya know, yawn. The much longer second part is about the movie about the late reporter Gary Webb, who WaPo investigative reporter Jeff Leen says "was no journalist hero," a word construction nearly as befuddling as what he says next: "he had pursued the 'extraordinary' allegations that the CIA was involved with cocaine traffickers. He said he found that that 'extraordinary proof was always lacking.'" Perhaps. But there was plenty of ordinary proof and supplemental evidence, which Morley uncovered starting 25 years ago in the Washington City Paper. Summed up, Morley says, “My reporting indicated that there was a U.S. government policy of protecting the CIA's favorite large-scale cocaine traffickers while pursuing a policy of mass incarceration of small-scale traffickers in the same substance." What's so extraordinary these days is that this fact—to which the CIA admitted in 1998—is still not part of the public's basic understanding of the agency, and the country, all these years later. (Edward Ericson Jr.)


John Updike came to Baltimore in 1967 at the invitation of Hopkins alum and professor John Barth. Updike, the author of dozens of books, including "Rabbit Run," had sworn off public readings, according to the literary website The Millions (for which I have previously written), but an offer from Barth changed his mind and got him hooked on his own voice. So when Barth, the era's arch experimentalist, invited Updike in 1974, the nation's premier realist, to Baltimore, the two had become friends and Updike confessed, in accepting the offer, that he seemed "to be undergoing that American, or is it menopausal, experience called separation. Hence the urban address below. I work, eat, sleep, and read all on the same head of a pin-sized apartment, and seem happy in a way, or at least less asthmatic."

Updike then asked if he could bring a "a mature American female" along with him (it should be recalled that Hopkins fired the greatest philosopher America had ever produced, Charles Sanders Pierce, for living with a woman who was not his wife about a hundred years prior) and ultimately brought along Martha, the women to whom he would remain married for the rest of his life. Updike gave his talk and "The next morning, Barth and Shelley and Updike and Martha went on a literary tour of Baltimore. They visited Edgar Allan Poe's grave. They went to the H.L. Mencken House. They got soft-shell crab for lunch. Then John and Martha got on a plane back to Massachusetts." Of course, we're always looking for literary bits about Baltimore, but the fascinating part of the Millions account is the long friendship that this trip inspired between two authors who, though as different as possible in style, immensely admired one another. (Baynard Woods)


Rick Paulas of the Los Angeles community television station KCET dug through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Oral History Project, which collects transcriptions of interviews with longtime agency officials, and found what he calls "perfect golden nugget[s] of amazingness." Among them: "cigarette butts, candy wrappers, and other nondescript filth" in Pepsi Cola products; how Listerine admitted that "maybe it doesn't do exactly what we claim it does"; "tea that was very high in strontium" from radioactive fallout; and ketchup and tomato juice made "out of those wormy tomatoes . . . as high as 20% infested." In light of this, bear in mind that the U.S. Government Accountability Office last year found "inconsistent oversight, ineffective coordination, and inefficient use of resources" in the federal government's food-safety efforts. (Van Smith)

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