Five items worth checking out; four of them neither family-related nor involving Oprah
1) 'Mosque' speech. Last year I mentioned that, off the top of his head, Barack Obama gave an answer about "American exceptionalism" that would be very hard to improve on even if you had weeks to edit and refine.
Obama's successive answers about the New York Cordoba House/"mosque" controversy, by contrast, could very easily be improved on. Proof is here, from Clive Crook, who writes the perfect paragraph that should have come out of the President's mouth. Too late to correct the earlier answers, but let this be a guide for the future.
2) US News Rankings. This is too snarled a topic for me to do more than mention at the moment. I speak as a one-time editor of US News who wrestled with "improving" those rankings through two annual cycles. (Locus classicus on this topic, by Amy Graham and Nicholas Thompson, here.) I always was impressed by Reed College's idiosyncratic and brave refusal to participate in the process. If more schools had done that early on, the ranking system could never have taken off. Now it's way too late for that strategy, and the only alternative is to encourage so many varied rankings that no one list has disproportionate effect.
Here on our site, Reed's current president, Colin Diver, explains how the process has gone from Reed's point of view. This is a reprise from a college-special issue of the magazine a few years ago, but the themes are evergreen. Bonus note: fans of J. Anthony Lukas's may-it-be-read-forever book Common Ground will recognize the name of Reed's president. In an entirely different life, Diver and his family were central figures in that book, which describes the political, racial, cultural, and class politics of the Boston school-desegregation battles of the 1970s.
3) Back to the "mosque." Out of nowhere, the controversy over Cordoba House near the World Trade Center site has become a defining, which-side-are-you-on matter. As I said from the start: I am on Mayor Bloomberg's side. People are taking sides now that will, and should, be remembered for a long time. I am impressed, among other entries on this site, by the clarity of Michael Kinsley's view on the topic, and the various voices recently at the Daily Dish (eg this), and Jeffrey Goldberg (!), here and here and many other times. As he mentions in that first linked item, this is a moment that cries out for George W. Bush's voice. (Not a sentence I imagined myself ever writing.) Seriously, and by surprise, people's values are really being clarified by this issue. Keep track of where they are lining up, or declining to be counted.
4) We Are Number Two. Many people, including me, have mulled over the question of what it means that China has now overtaken Japan as the second-largest economy in the world. Just now on our site, Damien Ma advances the analysis considerably.
5) Dreaming in Chinese. Today Jennie Rothenberg Gritz of our staff has put up a short video interview with one Deborah Fallows, author of the forthcoming Dreaming in Chinese. I am a biased source on this topic so I'll just say, if it's good enough for Oprah and Nat Geo Traveler it's .... probably the ideal book. At left, opening "B roll" shot from the interview, on the Bund in Shanghai.