Monday, December 31, 2001

Not to demean what happened on Sept. 11, but I sloppily calculated that over 30 times as many Americans have died from heart disease since the planes hit as those who died in the attacks (I read somewhere that heart disease kills over 15,000 Americans every two weeks). Over 25,000 times as many Americans died from heart disease as from anthrax in the same span. Deaths from heart disease, too, are awful, life-changing, shattering, and many hit victims as innocent, spouses as young, families as undeserving. Again, not to understate the horror of the terrorist attacks, but death is all over, in many forms and sizes, and though newspapers sell copies by framing certain deaths in a dramatic narrative of good-versus-evil or by scaring us about supposed epidemics, we must not simplify the awfulness or the goodness we can know in this world. 2002 will bring an unfathomable amount of death and suffering and birth and joy. To which I can only say: Come quickly, Lord Jesus, that your kingdom may be complete.
The jury is still out on exactly why and how the Twin Towers fell, and investigative teams are frustrated by the politics keeping them from digging in to the evidence:
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Numbers: Tourism is Michigan's second most profitable industry, behind manufacturing, employing 150,000 people and collecting over $600 million in taxes, $11 billion in total revenue. But Michigan spends less than half of what Illinois spends on tourism ads, and some wonder if Michigan is serious about supporting and expanding its tourism industry. (Detroit News)

Saturday, December 29, 2001

In 2001, I proposed to my girlfriend, saw Times Square and the rest of New York City for the first time, and stared up at the Sears Tower in Chicago the night of September 11. In 2002, I will get married, graduate from college, get my first job, and likely move out of West Michigan, where I grew up.

These life milestones continue to pass, even as historians will sum up this past year in one day in September. In 2002, Osama bin Laden will either be captured, killed, commit suicide, or be lost forever, and the country's mood of patriotism and uniformity figures to wane as foreign affairs get less black-and-white with the diffusion of terrorists into smaller camps in more obscure countries. That is, barring another terrorist attack, in an airport or state capitol or mall. The nation will try to dig out from a recession, and perhaps try to put education and poverty back on the front burner. One wonders how we will remember September 11 one year from now.
When the American Dream collapses on itself; a story you don't usually here in the typically-mythologizing media:
link for below:
The story of my life: not enough hours in the day for all I want to read:
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The best cartoons of 2001:

Saturday, December 22, 2001

I heard a Where-Are-They-Now type of segment on NPR's Car Talk this afternoon. They followed up on a woman who had first called in about a grinding sound she was hearing when she backed out of her driveway. She took it in to the shop and they thought they fixed it. When she drove away, the car was making the same sound. She took it back and they asked what she had done when she got back in the car: "I just started the engine, turned the air conditioning on..." Aha, it was the air conditioning. Living in a warm climate, she took it for granted. The mechanics turned it off to work on the car. The Car Talk guys had no clue it was the AC when the woman first called in. To me it illustrated how we take for granted certain fixtures in our lives, and look for only what we expect to see - as did the mechanics who turned the AC off and then examined the power steering. The AC wasn't on their radar. We all live in these grooves of worldview, out of necessity, out of numbness, but sometimes we need to zoom out.
Tell your friends you read about curling today:

Monday, December 17, 2001

Astronaut Frank Culbertson returns to a post-Sept.11 world:

It's a win! The Lions are now just terrible, not awful. Mitch Albom:

Thursday, December 13, 2001

You can arrange for a written White House birthday greeting, but only as a senior special. You have to be 80 or older to apply, or have a 50th or higher wedding anniversary. Never mind Bush's campaign pledge to "leave no child behind":

Tuesday, December 11, 2001

I read at RefDesk that the pound sign, #, is called an octothorpe. Who knew?
Back in Grand Rapids, and I feel deflated by the soul-less suburbs after living off the energy of the city. It is soothing, though, to have a quiet room that's not blanketed in roommates' clothing. I'm just trying to make the most of the chance to sit and write for a while before I get back to the grind of classes. But I left a part of my heart, the left ventricle, to be specific, in the Loop, in the greatest city in the world.

Thursday, December 06, 2001

LA Times TV critic Brian Lowry wrote a column on the challenges facing TV networks in the wake of the decline of Survivor and Millionaire. Since he often seems to enjoy talking about the tight spots his subjects are in, I asked him by e-mail if he would trade jobs with a network executive, and what would be the first thing he would do. He writes.

"Other than the money, no, those jobs don't appeal to me, and never really have. The first thing I'd do is blame everything on my predecessor. Then I'd probably go to five writers I truly respected, talk about a concept and tell them to go make a show, no research, no interference. Couldn't do any worse, and it might be great. I'd either succeed or go down in a blaze of glory."

Lowry columns
The reply is signed Gary L. Bauer, but who knows. I e-mailed various religious leaders, including Bauer's "Campaign for Working Families" (Al Gore's own cause), with the question: What do you see as a greater affront to Christ this holiday season: Harry Potter or Santa Claus?

"In some ways, the greatest affront is the commercialization of Christmas, which has turned it into a holiday for getting things instead of a time to reflect on the greatest gift of all time!"

When I sent e-mail queries to contacts at various political websites, I expected some rantings of couch potato crazies. But the response of Mike Silverman of was reasonable enough, and I can't help but agree. One of my questions was about people's view of big government since Sept. 11, and what it means for social programs, and here's what he writes:

"I think the events of Sept. 11 and what has happened since have made a lot of people realize the importance of the government -- not so much a new view as simply the re-assertion of an old view. Namely, that when the country is threatened, there is no other institution that is capable of protecting and acting for all of us then our government. Private industry does great in providing consumers a wide
choice of soda pop flavors and laundry detergents, but when it comes to matters of life and death, only our democratically-elected (at least usually :-) government has the authority and capability to act in all of our interests. At least that's my 2 cents!"

Wednesday, December 05, 2001

My letter to the Atlantic Monthly in response to their December cover:

The heart of our nation today is not "Red America" or "Blue America," but Suburban America, which is neither Red nor Blue. It is the emblem of the postwar American family dream, the home of wide lawns, double stall garages, and our national gathering place, the mall. Suburban America is where the majority of Americans live. It's who Hollywood makes movies for, who Gap is trying to sell clothes to, who the Big Three long to sell cars to. It's the America neither Bush nor Gore could count on though both desperately wanted it, and indeed, the suburbs split straight down the middle this past election--a useful representation of the electorate in a race that essentially ended in a tie. That this reflects an ideological divide rather than a flip-of-a-coin choice between centrists is dubious. Brooks, only briefly, and almost parenthetically, acknowledges that there is no significant red-blue gulf between suburbs here and there, but does not do justice to the weight of this reality. Instead, he exaggerates and gawks at unsurprising surface quirks of cultural extremes, an exercise with a confusing purpose in a time of national crisis.
Numbers: 72 : Percent of Americans who don't know their neighbor, according to culture watcher Bill McKibben, quoted in the Louisville Courier-Journal:

Is there virtue in deriding a murderous madman? On the punchline frontlines, Leno and Letterman lead the charge against bin Laden:

Robert J. Samuelson of the Wash. Post writes about economics with more clarity than most; here's his column on the background of the recession:
I am generally sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians in Israel, but Thomas Friedman's column in the NY Times this morning is right on:

The latest wave of Palestinian terrorism comes "in the face of the most far-reaching U.S. and Israeli offers ever for a Palestinian state. While those offers of more than 90 percent of the West Bank, Gaza and part of East Jerusalem may not have been sufficient for Palestinians, they were a serious opening bid. The right response was a Palestinian overture to the Israeli people to persuade them to give up 100 percent — not murderous violence. That's still true. Two weeks ago a Gallup Poll showed nearly 60 percent of Israelis favoring a Palestinian state — a remarkable figure after a year of violence. Also, President Bush just publicly endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state. In other words, it's not as if Palestinians' aspirations were being ignored and their only alternative was violence."

Talk about shooting, or bombing, yourself in the foot. What near-sighted, narcissistic nonsense.
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Tuesday, December 04, 2001

My letter to Newsweek:

I am sorry Linda Angeloff Sapienza had a bad experience with a charismatic branch of Christianity, and I understand her sense of alienation in the face of Bush's pious rhetoric, but I am taken aback by her implied contradiction in the sentence, "While my mother endeavored to bring me to God, my father taught me about the solar system and Newton’s laws of motion." The solar system and the natural world which Newton's laws of motion describe are God's fingerprints. "Physics and logic" are tools to explore the masterpiece, and the author, of creation. To me, walking and meditating, as Sapienza describes, is a good way to get closer to the very God her Sunday School classmates were looking for on folding chairs. But to place rationality at odds with the God of the mind, and consider faith just a superstition, is a strange exercise.

The news of an runaway American youth joining the Taliban, and his father's pleas for mercy, put the current conflict there in perspective. Most of the Taliban fighters are in the same boat as the American: lost, confused, impulsive, drawn to a magnetic religious icon, and now full of regret. Much like the Jonestown cult that claimed so many Americans. Demons they are not. More like lost, pitiful, and downright sad.

Larry King Interview with American's father:

Monday, December 03, 2001

One of the most practical patriotic things Americans can do is less convenient and easy than putting little flags on our car attennas, but it has to be done. If Americans would abandon SUV's, it would relax the grip of oil-slick, terrorist-harboring Persian Gulf nations on our nation's balls. Arianna Huffington writes something to that effect, anyway:
In the learn-something-every-day department, from Rug Hooking Online:

Q:I recently saw a program on TV that featured someone hooking with a tool that looked like an egg-beater. What is this technique and where can I find information on it?
A: The tool you described is often called a Speed Hook, which is used in a rugmaking technique called punch-hooking (the speed-hook is one punch hooking method). In punch hooking, the rug's loops are made by pushing material through the backing, instead of pulling the fabric up with a hook.
My Dad, an indefatigable Lions fan, writes by e-mail:

"I don't know why everyone is complaining about the Lions. We wanted someone to come in and turn the team around, and MM and MM have done just that--turned the Lions around from a 9-7 team to an 0-11 one. Perhaps we should be careful about what we wish for."

Numbers: 62: Average income, in thousands of dollars, of court reporters and closed captioners in the U.S. Quick reflexes pay off. There are over 50,000 such workers in the country, according to the National Court Reporters Association
Good tips for letters to the editor of the News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash:

David Schwimmer acknowledges celebrity existence is vapid and longs to do something more meaningful with his life, in the London Observer: "We can really use more - and better - teachers in this country. I would like to teach in a state school. I think I have a lot to offer in that area.... Isn't it time to maybe give something back?" Quoted in The Week
Silicon Valley celebrates the 10th anniversary of Stanford physicist Paul Kunz leading the U.S. onto the World Wide Web:
A friend from Richmond is plenty miffed about the slippery court fiasco at last week's MSU-Virginia game. He e-mails:

"Whoever thought it was a good idea to put a basketball hardwood court over a frozen ice surface is an idiot.... This is a complete embarassment to the city and community. It is highly doubtful that ANY big game like this - let alone THIS game, if it is resumed or re-played - will come back to this city for
a VERY long time.... I'm going to demand a refund - AND feel entitled to a voucher for this
game, should it be made up, WHEREVER it's played ... whether it's in Charlottesville, East Lansing, or Sri Lanka.... What a circus. Boneheads."
I am so sick of simple-minded, exhaustingly predictable war hawks like Charles Krauthammer whose testosterone starts flowing all over their warped worldviews the minute we drop a bomb. Across from another tired propaganda release by Krauthammer in this morning's Chicago Tribune is a more sober, incisive piece by In These Times' Salim Muwakkil:
bin Laden for Time's Person of the Year?
"It's clear the portrayal doesn't match reality," says one researcher of TV news:
An Egyptian professor writes in the Wash. Post that Arab TV network al-Jazeera isn't the primary propaganda pump we thought it was:
The dreaded TV screen crawl, perhaps a necessity on September 11, is now a more of a nuisance than ever:

Saturday, December 01, 2001

Overheard on a bus on Halsted this afternoon. "The Bulls accidentally won a game! They lost 10 in a row and then it was like, 'Whoa, we won one!'"
I've never experienced the national anthem at a sporting event like I did at the Maple Leafs-Blackhawks game last night at the United Center. The stars and stripes stretched across the digital screen strip that winds around the facing of the second deck as the stirring bass belted it out. Fans, who usually snooze through the song, started cheering at the first line, and kept cheering throughout, boosting their volume at "the rocket's red glare." It took two periods to get that loud again. I'm still nervous about how patriotism can become a crutch for lazy thinking, but last night I liked standing in the back row, third deck, surveying that scene.

Game reports on the 2-1 Toronto win, the first Blackhawks loss in Chicago this season:
Chicago Tribune:,1984,169010,00.html
Toronto Star:
George Harrison:,,2-2001554468,00.html