Tuesday, December 31, 2002

This is my last chance to wish readers Happy Holidays, or, as one of my favorite Christmas cards of all time (thanks Ruth!) put it:

To Whom It May Concern:
This is to inform you that you are wished a merry period of time up to and including December 25th and a happy period of time after, but not including, December 31st. The dates, December 26th to December 31st inclusive, can also, for purposes of this wish, be considered a time of merriment and/or happiness, at your discretion. Please be advised that wishes for peace, goodwill, comfort, and joy are also in effect as of this correspondence.
[Inside:] Thank you for your cooperation.
Today I am reminded that 2002 wasn't any old year in my life. I graduated from college, married Andrea, moved to downtown Chicago, started working for the Tribune, wrote the first two chapters of my book. I have known the highest thrills of my life along with the darkest, loneliest moments that mark such transitions. It's as hard to believe that both fit so tightly in the span of one year as it is to consider that tomorrow begins another 365-day cycle of life (however artificial a distinction it is). And so my hope for 2003 is profoundly different from this day last year: I hope for more of the same--more of the same fulfillment in my writing, my living downtown, my marriage. I hope Andrea and I adjust to living with each other and function more smoothly, and I similarly hope for some measure of stability in the occasionally frustrating relationship I have with the Tribune as a freelancer. And as with last year, I hope for a sense of direction in the midst of the questions and choices that face Andrea and me. I can only return to my entry for my 23rd birthday this year, September 26, to sum up my thoughts on New Year's Eve: "[It] humbles me [to see] the blessings God has granted. If my life contributes in some small way to his kingdom, year in and year out--only then (in addition to the worth he grants through grace) does this meager milestone of the universal speck of my life count for anything."
Nobody writes like Steve Rushin. Nobody uses words like he does; nobody sees things the way he does. You can't say, as you can with most great writers, that he writes like so-and-so, or his style is reminiscent of such-and-such. Rushin is truly unique. He embodies what a professor of mine calls presticogitation--sleight of mind, or thinking that is so swift and impressive that it baffles the observer. An SI editor I showed my college clips to said I was ruining myself by trying to write like Rushin, and he was right. Still, if there's one other writer I'd want to be reincarnated as other than G.K. Chesterton, it would be Rushin. And despite the SI editor's comments, I was innappropriately proud of how Rushinian I thought this piece of mine this summer turned out:
http://metromix.com/top/1,1419,M-Metromix-Home-X!ArticleDetail-18015,00.html

All of which is an introduction to saying that CNNSI.com finally has a link up to Rushin's columns:
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/inside_game/archives/steve_rushin/

I was about to re-subscribe to SI with Rushin in mind; now I don't have to. Still, I feel the same way about this as I do about Catherine Zeta-Jones doing cell phone commercials--it's like filet mignon being served at Wendy's. A higher form of something in a cheapening context. Zeta-Jones ruins any semblance of big screen mystigue by having her image splattered over TV screens. Rushin's words have an aesthetic transcendence when affixed to the glossy page--now, he's one of 4,971,342 Americans writing on the Web about sports. Still, I'm thrilled.
I proposed a story on gerund newsspeak to Columbia Journalism Review while in New York, but it didn't materialize. I was just referred to an excellent story on the distasteful phenomenon in the NY Times:
temporary link from nytimes.com
Etymology Today from M-W: gormandize \GOR-mun-dyze\
: to eat greedily

"Gormandize" entered English in the mid-1500s as a modification of "gourmand," a noun borrowed from French in the 15th Century. "Gourmand" is a synonym of glutton and was originally fairly disparaging in tone. Likewise, "gormandize" was an unflattering term when it first came into use. But since the 19th century the meaning of "gourmand" has softened (probably under the influence of "gourmet," which is quite complimentary). "Gourmand" now usually suggests someone who likes good food in large quantities but is not necessarily a slobbering glutton. "Gormandize" is still not especially flattering, but it can imply that a big eater has a discriminating palate as well as a generous appetite.

'Tis the season. Incidentally, M-W.com has finally put up a link to its e-mail Word-of-the-Day newsletter:
http://www.m-w.com/cgi-bin/mwwod.pl

Previous E.T.

Saturday, December 28, 2002

Quote of the Day
"Nice to see things are finally going your way."
David Letterman, to Tom Hanks, on the success of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," which Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson helped to turn into a movie.

Number of the Day: 671
Thousands of American homes that have outhouses, as opposed to 510 thousand that have TiVo, according to Advertising Age.

Previous Quote and Number
I trimmed this from my book manuscript about integrating heaven and worldview, but I thought I'd retain it here. As the scope of my faith grows, so does the scope of my doubts, but what has been a comforting realization for me over the last couple years is that it is as hard not to believe as it is to believe. I tied the essay below to this train of thought:

When GQ magazine asked celebrity Jennifer Lopez about her third marriage, which came about within months of her second, she said, “I’ve made commitments to people and done things that I thought were right at the time. I just follow my heart. You do what you need to do at the time for what you need at the time.” Listen carefully: it sounds vague and dismissive, but it’s actually a profession of faith, a declaration of a moral philosophy that integrates Lopez’s belief and behavior.

This is longer than most thought postings, so you can click here to skip to the next entry, Places&Culture.

Thought of the day: Why atheism is a faith
Human beings of at least childlike mental ability are incapable of separating their beliefs from their actions, or they will experience what psychologists call cognitive dissonance. So it’s not a question of whether you believe in something or not. It’s what you believe, and how your beliefs resonate with your life, the biblical story, and the world you see around you.

To declare that the deity does not exist, that life is purposeless and random, that religious wisdom is invalid, that Truth is a farce, and that heaven is a silly dream, is to articulate a belief system about the contours of human existence. Which is impossible without faith. The sales pitch for atheism is that it’s sensible and level-headed, but in truth it requires an emaciating tug on the imagination, and a diligence in the face of life’s withering persecution of the human will to believe.

To not believe in God is as hard for a finite, meager mortal to think and declare as to believe in God. As Christians must wrestle with the vexing question of how there can be a God if there is pain and suffering in the world, so atheists must struggle with the question of how there cannot be a God with joy and pleasure in the world. There is no logical, scientific answer for why sex is enjoyable or chocolate tastes good—reproduction and sustenance could be unremarkably functional in order for life to go on.

As a Christian I would argue that the two—belief in God, belief in no God—are not equal in degree of difficulty; the latter is more difficult, since it must be done without the aid of inspiration in the face of natural wonder, the resonance of the Logos or word of God, the solidarity of a throng of believers past and present, and the stark fact that the potentially intolerable chaos of social order is at times, even often, livable and enjoyable. Take each of these segments by themselves, and they may not be all that convincing (or they may). But when taken as an inspiring whole, the sum is greater than the parts.

For me, the most inescapable view of God is that of artist and designer. Someone has to answer for the profound fact that the pageant of natural and social life plays out day to day, century to century, without imploding on itself—much less that this pageant can at times bring joy and peace. “Whoever is responsible,” writes Philip Yancey, “is a fierce and imcomparable artist beside whom all human achievement and creativity dwindle as child's play.”

To view a Monet painting and believe that the form and beauty of the work could not come from a random splattering of meaninglessly projected paint droplets is to understand the logic of believing in intelligent design, and the illogic of denying it. To view nature and society, more amazing than a million Monets, is to see it as a work of both imaginative art and practical engineering, and to then trace it back to the author. “There [is] something personal in the world, as in a work of art,” said G.K Chesterton. “Magic must have a meaning, and meaning must have someone to mean it." On the other hand, it takes faith to belittle the splendor of a sunrise. Or, as Chesterton said, "The worst moment for the atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank."

Indeed, even though we know that God uses evolution in his management of the natural world—and may have even used it to bring the natural world into being—this is just a description of a master at work, like a biography of Michelangelo. Oddly, faith and science are often seen to be at odds. But the more we learn about science, the more adjectives we have for God. And the more we sense that the world is not stagnant but is a work in progress—is building toward something. As the apostle Paul says, God will bring his work “to completion.”

Ever since the Enlightenment responded to the history-wide plague of narrow-minded religious institutions with a detached belief in science and rationality (and who is the mastermind behind those?), the assumption developed and remains dominant in our society today that it is more logical and less sentimental to not believe in God. Could it be that the true zealots are those who see the stars and remain defiant, and that believers are sometimes the ones who make the most sense?

None of this is to try to logically prove God or fully discredit athiesm, either of which is impossible. Trying to fully comprehend God is like trying to run Windows98 on a pocket calculator—we just don’t have the cognitive and spiritual equipment. To experience fellowship with God is a spiritual experience that requires the soul stirrings of the Holy Spirit. Besides, the apostle Paul says that now we see as through foggy glass; then we will see in full.

It is only to observe and submit that since everyone already functions according to certain beliefs which, throughout life’s experiences, must resonate with the world we see in front of us, we would do well to consider the biblical story, the coherent story of a world made, perverted, saved, and eventually completed. Believing in heaven, then, is not like believing in Santa Claus; it is rather a relevant extension and fulfillment of our faith and our observations about the natural and social world. Since we find ourselves alive in the middle of this existence, staring at the sea or standing on a city street, it would be stubborn to refrain from trying to articulate a coherent system of meaning that begins to define what we see and give meaning to our days.

My book in progress: Living in the Hope of Heaven
Previous Thought: the ontological privilege of the postmodernist?
Places&Culture from
NY Times

NY TimesBAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 25 — The musicians of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra, elegant in black tie or long black skirts, were just settling into their places on the final night of their Christmas week concerts when the electricity failed and the performance hall was plunged into darkness. For a while afterward, the performance unrolled with a dreamlike quality. A note from the oboe floated through the pitch black, guiding the players tuning their instruments, until candles affixed to the music stands illuminated their scores. The musicians played an initial overture and then the tenor soloist, Emad Jamil, sang the Agnus Dei from Bizet's "L'Arl├ęsienne." But with each turn of the sheet music, the players grew increasingly nervous about the risk of igniting the barely legible pages. So they stopped before the final Bach piano concerto. "We might as well have been playing in Bach's time," Mr. Jamil later joked ruefully. "But at least I could forget myself in the music. For a short period of time there was nothing but music. It's very hard living with the thought that soon we will have another war."
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/26/international/middleeast/26BAGH.html

FERRARA, Italy — On a recent night at the Blue Elephant recreation center here, a clutch of parents watched adoringly as dozens of 3- and 4-year-olds sprinted through a colorful playroom, bounced on the cushioned floor or doodled on drawing pads, aglow with creative pride. It was Italy as outsiders still imagine it: child-worshiping and family-loving. But there was something wrong with the picture. Most of the parents were gazing at one, and only one, child. That was true of Gianluca Valenti, who said that giving his son any siblings would be too exhausting and expensive, and of Barbara Lenzi, who said that more than one child "doesn't seem to make sense." ... It touched on an increasingly worrisome reality for Italy and other European countries whose fertility rates have plummeted over the last decades, shifting one-child families close to the statistical norm. In Spain and Sweden, Germany and Greece, the total fertility rate — or the average number of children that a woman, based on current indicators, is expected to give birth to — was 1.4 or lower last year, according to the World Health Organization.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/26/international/europe/26FERT.html
Letters: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/28/opinion/L28FERT.html


Previous P&C
History&Today: George Will's always-intriguing year-in-review column:

United Airlines and the Boston diocese of the Roman Catholic Church had reason to remember the aphorism of Frank Borman, who was president of Eastern Air Lines before it went bankrupt: “Capitalism without bankruptcy is like Christianity without Hell.”,

Will's annual column features news that played to little fanfare but has lasting significance:

A mouse’s genome has been mapped. Humans and mice have about 30,000 genes. Less than 1 percent are unique to either species.
http://www.msnbc.com/news/847681.asp

Previous H&T
Arts&Culture File
The year in television was all about getting back to normal. Unfortunately, the medium succeeded. By summertime, things were so normal, so far removed from the elevated future some had predicted in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, that "American Idol" and, briefly, "The Anna Nicole Show" were sensations. Things were so normal that "The West Wing," a show about issues and governance, had lost viewers so that "The Bachelor," a show about a serial French-kisser from Missouri, could gain them.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/chi-0212270071dec27,1,1293150.story

PARIS, Dec. 21 — Accidents happen. In fact, they have always happened, from the asteroid that presumably wiped out the dinosaurs to the great fire that razed central London in 1666. ... But many more are human accidents provoked by the very technology that we celebrate: they represent the dark face of progress. Paul Virilio, 70, a French urbanist, philosopher and prolific writer, began developing this thesis after the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the United States in 1979. Now, he believes, we are more accident-prone or rather, technology and communications have made accidents more global in their impact. In his view, if an accident was long defined as chance, today only its timing and consequences are hard to predict; the accident itself is already bound to occur. ... Now, as a sort of pilot project for a Museum of Accidents, Mr. Virilio has been given a chance to illustrate what he means in an unusual exhibition called "Unknown Quantity," on display at the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art here through March 30. Accompanying it is a large catalog in which, amid myriad photographs of every imaginable natural and man-made disaster, Mr. Virilio elaborates on his argument that recalling accidents is the best way of avoiding them.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/26/arts/design/26ARTS.html

NY TimesIn the living room of Laura Carton's apartment in Manhattan hangs one of her artworks, a photographic portrait of a serene-looking horse. A storm is brewing in the dramatic sky behind the animal. Nothing in the image would suggest that it is the backdrop for a pornographic scene. That, Ms. Carton said, is exactly the point... Because of her fascination with pornography, her training as an artist, and her patience and skill with Adobe Photoshop, Ms. Carton is making inroads in the contemporary art world. Her digitally altered pornographic images recently appeared in two gallery shows in New York and will be part of another next month at White Box in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. ... In studying the backdrops of pornographic scenes, she became interested in the context, in deconstructing the images. "Why aren't the bodies just shot on white backgrounds?" she wondered. The answer, she found, was that pornography, like other storytelling forms, employs narrative technique.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/26/technology/circuits/26artt.html


Previous A&C
10 fix-its for McDonalds, from USA Today
http://usatoday.com/usatonline/20021212/4695044s.htm

Earlier: More advice for the Golden Arches
Meant to post this before the Lott fiasco blew over. There's no defending Lott, as I wrote earlier, but there is this letter:

Whatever [Lott] meant, people such as Lott critics Al Gore and Jesse Jackson should remember that Thurmond was a Democrat, not a Republican, when he ran for president in 1948. Also, it was the Democratic Party that made Southern Democrats chairmen of most House and Senate committees, where they could block racial progress from the 1870s until the 1960s. And when the civil-rights bills of the 1960s were finally passed, a larger percentage of Republicans voted for them than Democrats.Remember that when Thurmond became a Republican, he had left the party of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and joined the party of Abraham Lincoln.
-Del Hambley Kalamazoo, Mich.
http://usatoday.com/usatonline/20021212/4695005s.htm


Earlier: Lott unfit for governance
From my files, A.O. Scott on reincarnations of Dr. Seuss, from the NY Times Magazine in 2000:
http://www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/20001126mag-seuss.html
Urban Issues Watch
NEW DELHI, Dec. 25 — Birendra Singh normally goes to work hanging off a door of an overloaded bus that belches smoke and goes nowhere fast in New Delhi — India's gritty, traffic-clogged capital of 16 million people. That all changed today when he boarded a new commuter rail system, a part-underground metro seen as a leap forward for this city with about four million vehicles. "It is so beautiful," Mr. Singh said. "Now we have trains like they have in foreign countries."
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/26/international/asia/26INDI.html

''There's definitely a growing trend toward harsher treatment of the homeless,'' says Donald Whitehead, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington. ''But what's significant is we found that none of the cities doing crackdowns had enough shelter space.''
http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20021227/4734683s.htm

Previous U.I.W.
I thoroughly enjoyed Catch Me If You Can, an entertaining but well-crafted story that reflects the thoughtful touch of Spielberg. It got me thinking about what fascinating stories and personal drama lie behind seemingly unsexy and often neglected headlines--in Catch's case, bank fraud *yawn*. Take this blurb, for example, which was buried in the back pages of Thursday's NY Times. Can you imagine the kind of stories that must lie behind this terse, dry account?

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 25 (AP) — A woman has been arrested on charges that she brokered dozens of fake marriages for men from the Middle East and North Africa seeking United States citizenship.... The authorities say Ms. Whiteside, who was charged with three counts of filing a false document and is being held in lieu of $100,000 bail, arranged phony marriages between low-income women in the United States and foreign men, mostly from the Middle East and North Africa. Ms. Whiteside may have set up 200 marriages over several years, the authorities said. She has pleaded not guilty.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/26/national/26MARR.html
Etymology Today from M-W: nonchalant \nahn-shuh-LAHNT\
: having an air of easy unconcern or indifference

Since "nonchalant" comes from French and Latin words meaning "not" and "be warm" respectively, it's no surprise that the word is all about keeping one's cool. We can trace "nonchalant" to the French words "non," meaning "no," and "chaloir," meaning "concern." "Chaloir," in turn, comes from the Latin "calere," meaning "to be warm." Synonyms of "nonchalant" include "cool" (as in "she's a politician who keeps cool during a debate"), "composed," (as in "a reporter who is composed and at ease in front of the camera"), and "collected" (as in "a teacher who is collected and well-prepared").

Previous E.T.

Saturday, December 21, 2002

Latest Tribune article: A miscellany of Christmas Web sites, including why "Miracle on 34th Street" was released in May:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/chi-0212200289dec20,1,132144.story

My Tribune archive
I interviewed a police training specialist this past week, and asked him why he orders his officers not to put their finger on the trigger when they draw their guns. I thought his response, by e-mail, was interesting:

We train officers to put their finger on the trigger only when they want a bullet to leave the barrel. There is a natural desire to put the finger on the trigger when one anticipates needing to fire quickly (such as covering a dangerous suspect with his hands hidden from view). However putting the finger on the trigger prematurely increases the risk of an unintentional discharge. The amount of time saved by having the finger already on the trigger is only about 1/3rd of a second. That time savings has to be weighed against the known physiological effects of high stress arousal, such as a loss in finger dexterity and muscles tensing. The fraction of a second lost can be made up through better tactics like using distance and cover to improve an officers ability to react to a threat. ...

On two occasions I have had to suddenly react to a deadly force threat. In both instances I decided to fire and reacted instinctively. owever, the "slow motion time effect" I experienced enabled me to continually observe the threat. In both cases I was able to hold my fire as the situation changed in the 1-1.5 seconds that elapsed before the trigger was fully pressed. One of those situations included an unarmed man jumping in the line of my intended fire.
Sports&Culture File: As I suspected, the Tiger Woods controversy is now officially in beating-a-dead-horse territory, according to my editor who killed this column from me. If you're keeping score, that makes this a killed column about two killed columns...

Such was the self-described "intramural squabbling" at New York Times headquarters over two sports columns about Tiger Woods and the Augusta controversy that people seemed more interested in whether they ran than what they actually said.

I'm happy about the former but worried about the latter. Their tone was alarmingly dismissive, with one column basically saying that good-ol-boys-will-be-good-ol-boys, and the best you can do is just line up your putt and try not to notice. "Please, let Tiger Woods just play golf," Dave Anderson wrote. "He's not a social activist." The controversy "isn't Woods's fight any more than it's any other golfer's fight,” Anderson said. "I think there should be women members," he quoted Woods as saying, "but it's not up to me."

The controversy may be annoying to Woods, but it happens to be a matter of credibility. Imagine if Woods were a vegetarian but had dinner at a steakhouse. "Hey, I'd rather they didn't serve big slabs of meat," he might say," but the restaurant will serve whatever it wants to serve. I just eat here." To which Anderson might chime in: "C'mon, he's a hungry customer, not a waiter. Just let the man eat."

The problem is that being a sports star isn't like being president, where you choose to run and people vote you in. To be a superstar is to be a leader, like it or not. Your influence is like social currency you receive right along with your seven-figure checks, and you spend it one way or another no matter what you do. "I am not a role model," Charles Barkley famously pleaded in a commercial several years ago. Sure he was. So is Woods.

Still, athletes and columnists often try to separate sports from the social dynamics that shape them, carving out an escape world that has no context in the real one. This seems pretty silly. Jackie Robinson couldn't pretend he was just a baseball player. Muhammad Ali wasn't just a boxer and Howard Cosell just an announcer. Jimi Hendrix and Madonna couldn't pretend they were just musicians. They were all symbols of social change, and they knew it. For Woods to say he's "just a golfer" seems delusional. You have a responsibility to the society in which you have such a prominent place.

Without that awareness, you allow your fans to get cynical about your integrity. A few years ago Woods made a commercial for Nike where he said, "There are still courses in the United States that I am not allowed to play because of the color of my skin.” How crassly commercial and transparently hypocritical to speak out against discrimination only when you get a Nike check for doing so.

The difference, many point out, is that Woods isn't a woman. But in Augusta's case, racial and gender discrimination are cut from the same cloth--old-fashioned values from another era, to which the club stubbornly clings as if out of courage. Had Woods come on the scene before 1990, when Augusta invited its first black member, would he still have used the "just a golfer" line to wash his hands of it?

The most common remaining complaint, voiced by Harvey Araton, the Times' other initially silenced columnist, is that feminists have bigger fish to fry than worrying about an elitist upper class club like Augusta--ignoring the symbolism such a seat of power would carry.

USA Today's Christine Brennan, whose column prompted Martha Burk to write a letter to Augusta in the first place, recently reported that Burk has spent most of the last few months making speeches about an international women's rights treaty, working women in America, and other issues not sexy enough for media saturation. But when Burk grants interviews to reporters about Augusta topic and answers their questions, she gets written off as a self-promoter and a zealot.

You fight the battles you can fight when they're right in front of you. That's what Martha Burk is doing. It's what Tiger Woods should be doing too.

Previous Sports&Culture
Etymology Today from M-W: jeopardy \JEH-per-dee\
*1 : exposure to or imminence of death, loss, or injury : danger
2 : the danger that an accused person is subjected to when on trial for a criminal offense

Centuries ago, the Old French term "jeu parti" didn't mean "danger," but rather "an alternative" or, literally, "a divided game." That French expression was used for anything that represented an alternative viewpoint or gave two opposing viewpoints. "Jeu parti" passed into Anglo-French as "juparti," and from there it was borrowed into Middle English and respelled "jeopardie." At first, the English word was used to refer to the risks associated with alternative moves in the game of chess. Almost immediately, however, the term came to be used more generally in the "risk" or "danger" sense that it has today.

Previous E.T.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

Sports&Culture
The National Basketball Association yesterday awarded its next expansion franchise to Robert L. Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, making him the first African-American to become the principal owner of a major professional sports team. Mr. Johnson will pay a $300 million expansion fee for the new franchise in Charlotte, N.C., which will begin play in the 2004-5 season.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/19/sports/basketball/19NBAA.html

Sports Illustrated: Whether he likes it or not, Johnson is officially now a pioneer. According to the Sports Business Journal, he would be the only black majority owner among the 120 or so teams that make up the four major pro sports. Considering the large percentage of minority athletes in those sports, it's rather striking.
http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/inside_game/marty_burns/news/2002/12/18/burns_viewpoint/


Golf clubs don't hurt people, people do: Gun maker Smith&Wesson will put its name on a line of golf clubs, adding to a non-ballistic repertoire that already includes golf umbrellas and tees. As this columnist points out, it gives a whole new meaning to asking "What'd you shoot?"
http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20021205/4675375s.htm

-Refining Title IX:
http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20021218/4709970s.htm

Sports Beat: Who would have thought there's a "D" in "Dallas"? The Mavericks have become the NBA's new defense department (except, said USA Today on Tuesday, for the Bad Boys-ish Indiana Pacers):
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/27/sports/basketball/27MAVS.html

Parity in the AFC, puke-rity in the NFC: 13 of 16 AFC teams have 7, 8, or 9 wins; 4 NFC teams do. 9 NFC teams have 3,4,5, or 6 wins.

Previous Sports&Culture
On Writing
Jed Perl, The New Republic
There are a great many ways that a writer can approach an artist and each of them is inadequate for one reason or another. An author who aims for a finely detailed view of the artist's life may leave us with only a shadowy sense of the work itself, while the writer who lavishes razor-sharp analytical skills on a particular painting or sculpture can sometimes lose track of that smidgen of matter-of-factness that ties even the loftiest achievement to day-to-day experience. Evaluating visual or documentary evidence is always a complex business. How does an author weigh the firsthand testimony of an artist? What can be extrapolated from the work itself? To what extent should the cultural situation out of which an artist emerges be taken into account, and should this situation be presented as background or as an animating factor in some more immediate sense? And what of the countless man-made objects whose creators remain entirely anonymous or about whom we have only the most fragmentary information? ...
http://www.thenewrepublic.com/doc.mhtml?i=20021202&s=perl120202


Previous On Writing
On Writing from NBierma.com
Recycle Bin
From Blogathon:

July 27, 2002
Quentin Schultze, my mentor and author of the forthcoming Habits of the High-Tech Heart, e-mailed a response to my query about blogging. This may come across as party-pooping, but it's a good balance to all the giddy blogo-promotion going on.

One of the great ironies of the information age is that so many people feel lonely and isolated from others. Years from now anthropologists will probably conclude that our society was media-rich and communication-poor. No society ever had more means of communication, yet no members of a society ever felt so out of touch with one another. Blogging, like personal Web pages and live Web cams, is one way that individuals can speak out and feel like they matter in this impersonal world. Blogging is a public way of saying, "I'm here. I exist. Please acknowledge me!" ...


About Recyle Bin
Previous Recycle Bin

Saturday, December 14, 2002

Quote of the Day
"I'm sure this is funny, but at the end of this I want to have some bread crumbs leading back to my dignity."
Al Gore, vetoing a Saturday Night Live skit about flatulence, according to comedian-advisor Al Franken.
Actually, Mr. Vice President, since this is SNL we're talking about, there's no need to assume the proposed skit was funny.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/14/arts/television/14TTVW.html
Number of the Day: 531
Factor by which the average executive's salary exceeds that of his or her average employee, compared with 12 in 1960, according to CBSMarketWatch.com.
Previous Quote and Number
My latest Tribune story: on the proliferation of pedicures:
http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/chi-0212120283dec12,1,6100517.story

My Tribune archive
"Chronological snobbery," complacency, and The Simpsons
Revisiting my daydream last week on Jefferson and postmodernism... First, on a lighter note from a recent re-run of The Simpsons, in which Moe opens a bar and is asked about his abstract art.

"It's po-mo." Blank looks all around.
"Ya know, postmodern?" Blank looks.
"OK, it's weird for the sake of weird." Everybody nods and voices acknowledgment.

Will's responses are always poignant, and his latest dispatch from Beijing is no exception:
I think the thing about postmoderns is that they _think_ they're better than their ancestors. C. S. Lewis called this "chronological snobbery." Deconstructionism, which for me is the most articulate (if such a thing is possible) postmodern thought, has taught that nothing is sacred, or at least that nothing is immune from being made unsacred. That which is sacred, if you lean on it too hard, will soon become unsacred. In essence, our view of the past is not something we inherit, but something we create -- we impose meaning on it, because by itself it is a huge, lifeless void. All life is like that. God did not give us a wonderful universe premade -- he gave us the potential for such a thing, but he left the creating up to us. We've known this intuitively since time immemorial, I think, but not until people like Marx came along and made us aware of what we call "culture" actually is did we think it over consciously. We wrote novels, poems, and plays, we philosophized and scienced, we sang and danced our way through life without thinking why; we just knew life was so much better with them. We accepted the authority of the Bible without thinking why, really -- we knew authority was something good. Now we know that all human beings are under the influence of some controlling narrative -- ie, an ideology -- and that God made us that way and gave us one perfectly suited to us -- the Bible. If we are on stronger ground now, it is not our gadgets that did it for us. Postmodernism is proof of God's unflagging attention toward us, and his desire to shake us out of our complacency that we, like moths to the flame, go back to again and again.


Earlier: Thought of the Day: the ontological privilege of the postmodernist?
Arts&Culture File
NY TimesFRANKFURT-YOU are what you buy. If that truism describes life in a consumer society, so does its corollary: you are how you buy. Artists have long been intrigued by this latter notion — that is, the aesthetic aspects of how we look at, savor and acquire the temptations and rewards that the material, and materialistic, world has to offer. Now, "Shopping," an exhibition perched between art and everyday life, has brought together a range of contemporary works that address these themes. The show originated at the Schirn Kunsthalle here, where it recently closed, and will open in England at Tate Liverpool later this month. It proposes that every discerning shopper is something of an artist, too — or at least a natural aesthete.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/08/arts/design/08GOME.html

NY TimesOn Friday ... Alexander Payne's screen adaptation of Mr. Begley's book is released in New York, Los Angeles and, fittingly, Omaha, Schmidt will receive an exquisite comeuppance. In transferring his story to film, Mr. Payne and Jim Taylor, his screenwriting partner, have exacted a karmic payback for the character's snobbery and insularity. Albert Schmidt has been reincarnated as Warren Schmidt, a newly retired executive at a medium-size insurance company in Omaha. ... Culturemongers, in the meantime, both mock and celebrate the ordinary guy, the average American, who is at once an allegorical figment and a person who lives at a specific address, holds a particular job and drives a readily identifiable kind of car. He is both scapegoat and tragic hero, martyr and buffoon — an archetype whose manifestations include Willy Loman and Homer Simpson. He struggles and strives, but he can never win: when he is happy, his contentment reflects the lamentable (and often laughable) constriction of his soul; when he is sad, his suffering indicts the cruelty and materialism of the social order.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/08/movies/08SCOT.html

Time magazineCharles Sheeler was trained as a painter at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts — and throughout his life that is what he chiefly considered himself to be. For the most part, art history tends to treat him the same way. The show of Sheeler's photography that runs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, through Feb. 2, then moves to New York City, Frankfurt and Detroit, is the first major museum exhibition devoted entirely to his work with a camera. ... In 1927 the Ford Motor Co. commissioned Sheeler to spend six weeks photographing Ford's immense new River Rouge assembly plant near Detroit. Ford Plant, River Rouge, Criss-Crossed Conveyors, one of the most famous images in 20th century photography, divides the plant into a multitude of planes, angles and openings with an unmistakable resemblance to the buttresses and steeples of a soaring medieval church. It's no surprise that the next lengthy photo series that Sheeler worked on was a study of the great French cathedral at Chartres. He had already treated the Ford plant as a house of God.
http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101021118-388940,00.html
Just had hit number 4,000 since Blogathon on July 27, 2002. Of course, a thousand or more of those hits are mine, but thanks to everyone else for reading.
From my filing cabinet...a campaign to shame AOL by collecting 1 million of those environment-unfriendly promotional CD's, seen last month at the BBC
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/2440911.stm

BBC
Places&Culture from
Wash.Post

ANTIGUA, Guatemala--The thing is, he doesn't even like rap that much. As he sees it, it's filled with sin: violence, naked women, drugs and greed. Stuff that a priest is supposed to renounce. But if you're a padre, like Fray Richard Godoy, and you want to save souls, and those souls happen to be hooked on hip-hop, then, if you're smart, and young, and know your way around a beat, maybe you'll get over your repugnance and find yourself bustin' a rhyme. In your robes. Arms up. Raising the roof.
For Latin America's most popular -- and possibly only -- rapping priest, this makes for a complicated relationship with an art form about which he's got mixed feelings.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A53011-2002Dec13.html

Washington PostVOI, Kenya--There are chubby elephant footprints all over Jacqueline Mwaviswa's farm. But she doesn't think they're cute or even interesting. Love of the floppy-eared, six-ton elephant is something for tourists and wildlife conservationists, says this grandmother of 15. She's upset because an overnight elephant rampage around her village last week left her entire food supply for the next two months -- her cashew nuts, her cassava and banana trees, her mangos and maize -- trampled and devoured by the world's largest living land mammal. In Voi and the other poor rural villages that ring Tsavo National Park in southern Kenya, elephants...have not only destroyed $30,000 worth of food, but have also killed four people since April, causing schools in the area to close and local leaders to urge villagers to arm themselves against marauding wildlife.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A34366-2002Nov10.html


Previous P&C
Etymology Today from M-W: emblem \EM-blum\
*1 : an object or the figure of an object symbolizing and suggesting another object or an idea
2 : a device, symbol, or figure adopted and used as an identifying mark

"For forty years I have fed upon dry salted fare -- fit emblem of the dry nourishment of my soul." (Herman Melville, _Moby Dick_)

Both "emblem" and its synonym "symbol" trace back to the Greek verb "ballein," meaning "to throw." "Emblem" arose from "emballein," meaning "to insert," while "symbol" comes from "symballein," Greek for "to throw together." "Ballein" is also an ancestor of the words "parable" (from "paraballein," "to compare"), "metabolism" (from "metaballein," "to change"), and "problem" (from "proballein," "to throw forward"). Another (somewhat surprising) "ballein" descendant is "devil," which comes from Greek "diabolos," literally meaning "slanderer." "Diabolos" in turn comes from "diaballein," meaning "to throw across" or "to slander."


E.T. bonus: usage watch: A subtext to the NY Times sports columns controversy: one of the columnists, Harvey Araton, committed the offense of honoring the ghastly concoction, the virulent adjective "impactful": the cause of women membership at Augusta, compared with other feminist issues, he wrote, "is not as earth-shattering or as impactful on women's lives in America.'' *Sigh*

Previous E.T.

Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Seen at Steve Rhodes' Chicago media column: quote from Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times columnist: "The Sun-Times, it's not a class act sometimes." I was in the Tribune Tower on Sunday, and sure enough, the quote had been printed out in large type and tacked to the cubicle wall of a staffer of the Trib's RedEye.
http://www.chicagomag.com/pressbox/120502pressbox.htm
I just realized something I should have realized two weeks ago. I've been pestering the secretary of Father Wall of Old St. Pat's, the oldest church building in Chicago, to arrange a brief phone interview with him for my Tribune story. She keeps blowing me off, consistently and transparently. I realized I should have told her I'm not writing about scandals, just some historical background of the church. But boy, is the church that touchy these days?
Politics&Culture File
From my bedside magazine to the laptop screen: P.J. O'Rourke in the November Atlantic:
What is obnoxious about the motives of politicians--whatever those motives might be--is that politicians must announce their motives as visionary and grand. Try this with the ordinary activities of your day: "My dear wife and beloved children, I say to you this--I will mow the lawn. Lawns are a symbol of America's spacious freedoms and green prosperity. Such noble tokens of well-being and independence must not go untended, lest we show the world that liberty is mere license and see the very ground upon which we stand, as Americans, grow tangled with the weeds of irresponsibility and be fruitful only in the tares of greed. I will give the grass clippings to the poor.
http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/2002/11/orourke.htm


-Maybe it takes a Minnesotan to put geopolitics in layperson's terms, writes the Minneapolis MinnST
Just read Thomas Friedman's latest column on North Korea:
The best way to understand the North Korea problem is to imagine a small neighborhood in which one of the neighbors, an unemployed loser, has placed dynamite around his house and told all the others that unless they bring him Chinese takeout food every day -- and pay his heating bills -- he will blow up his house and the neighborhood with it. The local policeman, affectionately called Uncle Sam -- whose own house is safely across town but who walks the beat in this neighborhood -- is advising the neighbors not to give in. 'Very easy for you to say,' the neighbors tell Uncle Sam. 'But we have to live with this guy.'


"That chatty, just-a-regular-guy-telling-it-like-it-is tone has been a Friedman trademark since 1995, when he got the columnist gig that he calls "the best job in the world," says the Strib, which profiles the columnist.
http://www.startribune.com/stories/462/3518802.html
Recycle Bin:

August 30, 2002
Comics are suffering the end of a stand-up boom, says the CS Monitor:
http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/0830/p18s01-almp.html

August 28, 2002
Watched West Side Story in Grant Park last night, the finale of Chicago's Outdoor Film Festival, settling into those nylon expando-chairs (which roughly half of the crowd of a few thousand owned) and watching the swift, low evening clouds dust the glimmering night skyline, at one point shrouding the Sears. A spectacular outdoor venue for a classic movie.

I'd never seen WSS before, nor did I study Romeo and Juliet (on which it's based) in school. What I was struck by was how precocious the story was in how viscerally and lucidly it captures and anticipates the urban angst of the late 60s and beyond. The movie was released in 1961. At once it speaks to the riots of the 60s, the urban decay of the 70s and 80s, and the gentrification of the global 90s, and so personally and passionately. Barely a year after Eisenhower, it also contains a lively satire of social-pscyhobabble about the causes of gangs (in the Jets' song to the police lieutenant) that is far beyond more tired debate of late.
continued...


About Recycle Bin
Previous Recycle Bin
Etymology Today from M-W: voracious \vor-AY-shus\
1 : having a huge appetite : ravenous
*2 : excessively eager : insatiable

"Voracious" is one of several English words that derive from the Latin verb "vorare," which means "to eat" or "to devour." "Vorare" is also an ancestor of our "devour" and of the "-ivorous" words, which describe the diets of various animals. These include "carnivorous" (meat-eating), "herbivorous" (plant-eating), "omnivorous" (feeding on both animals and plants), "frugivorous" (fruit-eating), "graminivorous" (feeding on grass), and "piscivorous" (fish- eating).

E.T. Latin phraseology bonus, also from M-W: ab ovo \ab-OH-voh\ (adverb)
: from the beginning

"Ab ovo usque ad mala." That phrase translates as "from the egg to the apples," and it was penned by the Roman poet Horace. He was alluding to the Roman tradition of starting a meal with eggs and finishing it with apples. Horace also applied "ab ovo" in an account of the Trojan War that begins with the mythical egg of Leda from which Helen (whose beauty sparked the war) was born. In both cases, Horace used "ab ovo" in its literal sense, "from the egg," but by the 16th century Sir Philip Sidney had adapted it to its modern English sense, "from the beginning": "If [the dramatic poets] wil represent an history, they must not (as Horace saith) beginne Ab ouo: but they must come to the principall poynt of that one action."

Previous E.T.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

Isn't that the truth: Headline in The Onion:
"Presidents Washington Through Bush May Have Lied About Key Matters"
http://www.theonion.com/onion3845/report_presidents_lied.html
History&Today
Strom Thurmond turned 100 this week (read or listen). This summer, Maxim magazine ran Nine Things Strom Thurmond Is Older Than (what's funny is, it's Maxim, but I heard it on NPR):

1. AM/FM radio
2. Human flight
3. The Panama Canal
4. Wristwatches
5. Tea bags
6. Ice cream cones
7. The World Series
8. The states of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii
9. Dick Clark

Incidentally, this is the latest example of why Trent Lott isn't fit to be county drain commissioner, much less Senate Majority Leader.

Speaking Thursday at a 100th birthday party and retirement celebration for Sen. Thurmond (R-S.C.) in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, Lott said, "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." Thurmond ... was the presidential nominee of the breakaway Dixiecrat Party in 1948. ... He declared during his campaign against Democrat Harry S. Truman, who supported civil rights legislation, and Republican Thomas Dewey: "All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches."
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A20730-2002Dec6.html


Previous History&Today
Two Christmas questions: Why does Gap air jazzy commercials with the cozy lyrics, "People all over the world, join hands!" that feature individual dancers? What happened to the hand-joining? Or does "people all over the world" include the seven-year old working 14 hours in a sweatshop in Latin America who stitch the mittens being modeled?

And second, since all the angels in the Bible were male, how come all the angel figurines in stores--and star of "Touched by an Angel"--are female?
Sports&Culture File:
Roone Arledge, television pioneer. Obits:
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/06/obituaries/06ARLE.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16092-2002Dec5.html
http://abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/arledge_obit_021206.html
http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/A/htmlA/arledgeroon/arledgeroon.htm


If you read only one thing about Arledge--heck, if you read only one thing about the history of television in the 20th Century--let it be Steve Rushin's Sports Illustrated essay for his "1954-1994: How We Got Here." It appears in The Best American Sports Writing 1995.

See also: http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/S/htmlS/sportsandte/sportsandte.htm

-Lucid sports columnist Christine Brennan inadvertently started the Augusta brouhaha with a column last spring that prompted Martha Burk to write Hootie Johnson a letter. In the meantime, Brennan's been hearing a lot about how Burk is barking up the wrong tree, that the cause of getting (mostly) rich white women into an elite club of (mostly) rich white men isn't most people's idea of social justice--that feminists, in other words, have bigger fish to fry.

I called Burk on Wednesday to ask her about this. In the past few weeks, she told me, she has appeared at a news conference regarding United Nations family-planning funds, moderated a panel on the economic conditions of working women in America, spoken at a news conference on the international women's rights treaty and written a column on how the bankruptcy bill affects women. It turns out she writes a monthly syndicated column that appears in small newspapers around the country, and, to date, she said she has not written one word about Augusta. The only reason she has so much to say about Augusta is because reporters and commentators call by the dozens and ask her for her opinion. Then some of them complain that she's spending too much time talking about the issue. Fascinating, isn't it?
http://www.usatoday.com/usatonline/20021205/4675402s.htm


Previous Sports&Culture
If the media's so liberal, then how come two of three wings of the Fourth Estate--talk radio and cable "news"--are so belligerently conservative, while members of the third--the establishment newspapers and news networks--are so worried about the "liberal" label they restrain themselves into reticence? asks, to that effect, E.J. Dionne in Wash.Post
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A16431-2002Dec5.html
When not to downsize your seasonal sign-changer: Seen next to the checkout counter at Borders on the Magnificent Mile earlier this week. "Hot? Thirsty? Borders' own bottled water $1.49." It was 25 degrees outside.

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Number of the Day: 85
Percent of Saudi women who are wearing the wrong bra size, as estimated by one of the country's few female lingerie salespeople. Most women are so uncomfortable with male salesmen, she said, that they just guess their size.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/12/03/international/middleeast/03JIDD.html
Quote of the Day
"Irony is the hygeine of the mind."
Elizabeth Bibesco, quoted in The Week magazine.
Previous Quote and Number
My latest Tribune story: On presidential candidates and Internet domain names.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/features/lifestyle/chi-0212050077dec05,0,7738921.story

This interesting tidbit was trimmed:
Early in 1999, Republican consultant Karl Rove spent over $4,000 to register a variety of Web addresses for George W. Bush, including obscene ones he redirected to Bush's official campaign site, www.georgewbush.com. Rove also registered domains that included potential running mates, providing one of the first signs of who was on Bush's short list (though Dick Cheney was not among the names).


My Tribune archive
Thought of the day: the ontological privilege of the postmodernist?
Can I wax Henry Thoreau's tush? Are my amateur philosopher friends more impressive than the Founding Fathers? Does any given Washington Post staff reporter today do more sophisticated work than Nietzsche? In other words, do the finest minds and most distinctive literary voices of the past take a back seat to the most ordinary writers of today, simply because today's writers do their work in a dizzying, brain-jarring postmodern context, and yesterday's geniuses didn't? Most of the time-transcendent figures we admire most--Aristotle, Shakespeare, George Washington--tended to live in a pretty straightforward--or at least simpler--world, one of black and white, good and evil, homogenous cultural environments, linear modes of thought. Modernism, in other words, or pre-modernism, provided them a solid and authoritative definition of reality--what is true, what is good--that people alive now don't have. Few of the busts in the Thinking Hall of Fame had to deal with postmodernism--the pervasive idea that everyone's reality is relevant, that thinking and writing are not linear, that perspective, bias, and nihilism pull the rug out from under any certainty about "Truth" (masterfully clear and vivid essay on this here).

Think of it this way: Thomas Jefferson was a brilliant mind, a mad genius who rose before dawn to devour books on science and philosophy. His writing and political leadership altered human history, redefined liberty, got the world thinking about democracy. But Jefferson, as many have pointed out, despite his words, never had to live in a world where all people were actually considered equal. He lived in the context of a neo-British social hierarchy, where white male landowners were up here in society and women and black people were down there. By contrast, while I am a 40-watt bulb next to Jefferson's football-stadium-floodlight, I, unlike him, share a city where people of various races are equal citizens, where democracy is deep and real extends to Chicago's South Side. I ride the El down to Comiskey Park, and right in front of me an African-American youth wearing a bandana is bellowing belligerent rap lyrics to his companion, and while I soothe my spooked wife that rap does not a villain make, that part of our discomfort is our failure to relate to the gentleman's cultural context (in which rap may just be ordinary music, not the murderous cry it sounds to us)--and balance this with the assurance that I can resent the young man's rudeness without being racist--I realize that I am in the first generation or two of humankind to have to think this way, to frown upon reflexive racism in mixed cultural contexts. Thomas Jefferson, standing there on the subway, steadying his wig with one hand and gripping the overhead bar with the other as the car jostled about, would have sneered at this youth as a savage (in his Notes on Virginia he says worse things about more virtuous people). Now, none of this makes me a fraction of the writer and thinker that Jefferson was, but still, I live in this world, I think this way, and Jefferson didn't. Heck, the simple fact that I've watched television and Jefferson didn't is food for thought.

Or take Thoreau. When he wanted to have an epiphanous experience, he trotted down to, what, his backyard? and sat by Walden pond. This quarter-mile (or whatever) trek was his journey to wisdom for the ages. And I think back to last week, when I took the bus a few miles down into the Loop to do a story for the Tribune on downtown churches. I wrote about how a small downtown Jewish congregation shares a converted warehouse with an Episcopal church. On Friday nights, they drape a worship banner over the cross. This is the postmodern, non-linear, multi-contextual world I and hundreds of more talented writers write about today--where irony rules and society isn't simple. Thoreau sat on his ass by a pond and pondered (root word there?) the rhythms of the soul, but never took such a bus ride as I did last week. Now, a pond may indeed be a more dynamic, complex, meditation-worthy place than a major metropolis in the year 2002, but I'm just saying that while, writing-wise, Thoreau is Babe Ruth and I'm playing T-ball, it's I who have the choice of sitting by a pond or living in a multicultural metropolis, while Thoreau didn't have that choice. And I can't decide--what does that mean?

In the world of Jefferson, Thoreau, Martin Luther, Abraham Lincoln, Charlemagne, wisdom was pretty straightforward--you read the canon of the day, you read and wrote endless essays and books that were very methodical and linear, you spoke in long, dependent-clause-laced paragraphs that had topic sentences. (This is the historical utopia of Neil Postman, author of "Building a Bridge to the 18th Century"). Canon? I just wrote an article (to be published and posted here in a couple of weeks) that referred to Moulin Rouge and Shrek in the same breath as I quoted theologians Walter Bruggeman and Richard Mouw while making an argument about faith and culture. To me, television writer Aaron Sorkin of "The West Wing" can communicate truth about the human experience in one of his pithy sentence fragments and be more compelling than a long dusty book about philosophy. This morning I was thinking I should write a series of short stories as a weblog, with four or six main characters living in a mid-size city who have to negotiate technology, social issues, faith and relationships in their evolving environment (more on this later). I could link their names to character descriptions and defining moments earlier in the weblog. I could post digitally scanned pictures as scenes from their town. I could write short entries and long entries, I could write an entry today that related to an entry four months ago, and link the two, bridging everything in between. Before weblogs, no one could ever write in such a non-linear format--from Chaucer to Dickinson, Plato to Poe, as deeply spiritual as their lives and writing were, the written word was still just an inked symbol on papyrus; on the Web, it's a dynamic unit of multi-layered communication.

So what does it say about the wisdom and historical transcendence of the above geniuses that they thought about politics without ever having seen a campaign commercial, thought about communication without having talked on a cell phone, thought about gender identity without ever having seen Madonna or a female Senator? Was something missing? (And what, for that matter, are we missing, not having lived in the next hundred years?)

The question pivots, I think on the odd phenomenon of the resonance of these voices in an ever-changing age. Abraham Lincoln could speak to us about our country when the World Trade Center fell, even though he had never seen a skyscraper. Mark Twain and G.K. Chesterton remain two of the funniest, most ironic writers ever to write, even though they'd never seen a sit-com (come to think of it, that may be the reason they were two of the funniest, most ironic writers ever...) Shakespeare is one of the most eloquent writers ever on the drama of human relationships, even though he (probably) never met an interracial couple. Augustine shapes my faith because what he wrote centuries about about the City of God profoundly informs how I view Chicago today. (This can be taken too far--a new book about Queen Elizabeth I as CEO seems rather lame.) Put another way, a Boeing machinist isn't necessarily more visionary about aviation than the Wright Brothers simply because she knows what to do with a wrench and a rivet. It's not only that these brilliant minds may well have been brilliant in any age they were plopped down on the earth--perhaps Thomas Jefferson, riding the subway, would have been an influential multiculturalist or had a piercing insight into the current affirmative action case before the Supreme Court--it's that their wisdom directly speaks to a common human experience we live out in a different time.


Related earlier thought: postmodern awe for absolute truth
Related earlier thought: the contextual problem with wisdom
Previous thought: ambitious service an oxymoron?
Aging--and previously considered dispensable--baby boomers are no longer a blind spot for advertisers, says CBS
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2002/11/29/eveningnews/main531266.shtml
Family and Culture File
-Earlier this year, Calvin College provost Joel Carpenter e-mailed to say he basically agreed with my anti-family values column (in Det. Freep and Chimes), but...

I'm not sure industrialization, per se, made for the change in roles, however. It certainly did not for the working class, at least in the early stages of industrialization, when women and children were most prized for work in the mills. The "cult of domesticity," as it has been called, was more an urban middle-class ideal, and had something more to do with the exclusion of women from the "white collar" business world, where up through the end of the century, I think, secretarial jobs were held by men. But that's a small quibble. I agree that family values has become a code word for individual nuclear family interests vs. the world, rather than the more communal, extended-family values of the village and neighborhood. Those are the "traditional values" we really have lost.


-When a family goes tube-less, a few weeks ago in NWeek

We want our daughters, Jazzy, now nearly 6, and Gigi, 3, to be as active as possible, physically and mentally. So when a babysitter asked whether Jazzy, then 1 year old, could watch [TV], we thought about it—and said no. When we look at our inquisitive, energetic daughters, we have no regrets. And our reading of the research makes us feel even better.... Kids who watch more than 10 hours of TV each week are more likely to be overweight, aggressive and slow to learn in school, according to the American Medical Association. For these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV for children younger than 2 and a maximum of two hours a day of “screen time” (TV, computers or videogames) for older kids. We are convinced that without TV, our daughters spend more time than other kids doing cartwheels, listening to stories and asking such interesting questions as “How old is God?” and “What makes my rubber ducks float?”
http://stacks.msnbc.com/news/829885.asp

-Cover story: TV can be good for kids: ‘Television viewing is a much more intellectual activity for kids than anybody had previously supposed.’

I dunno, I'm hanging on to the Aristotelian golden mean here: all things in moderation. I think our self-indulgent culture has forgotten what moderation feels like.

-Suburban chronicler David Brooks recently in NY Times Magazine:

SimsI don't know if it strikes you as odd that of all the arenas of human endeavor, the one that has produced the best-selling computer game of all time is the American suburb. There are other games about intergalactic warfare, supersonic-jet dogfights and inner-city car theft, but none of them attract the same fanatical following -- and no game attracts any sort of following among women -- as the Sims. You install the Sims on your computer and you begin the game, and what do you see? A subdivision. There's a little ranch home over here, a colonial over there, a larger McMansion up the hill.... There's no winning and losing in the Sims. No points, no end. In the game, as in life, you just keep doing the dishes until you die.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/24/magazine/24SIMS.html

Previous Family&Culture
I pitched a story to the Tribune on the rise and fall of the Netscape browser--once a widespread Web icon, Netscape is now used by only 3 percent of Web users according to a recent NY Times report, with 96 percent on Internet Explorer; it was closer to 65%-35% in favor of Explorer in 1999. But my editor already had the answers to the questions I proposed to ask:

In a last gasp during the browser wars with Microsoft, Netscape made its source code public in the late 90s. Then AOL bought Netscape in 1999 and the name pretty much disappeared into the AOLTIMEWARNER vortex. AOL launched a Netscape version called Mozilla but it never went very far, and Netscape is pretty much finished unless AOL decides to put major marketing money behind it. The old version of Netscape that you remember as a free download no longer exists.


You can get it here, though:
http://wp.netscape.com/download/archive/client_archive47x.html

Netscape browserThe most welcome aspect of Netscape's decline is the loss of the vacillating Waiting bar at the bottom left of the browser. Bouncing back and forth like disturbed water in a bathtub or a presidential candidate waffling on the issues, it was the most annoying illusory symbol of progress since hold music on customer service hotlines.
Places&Culture File from
NY Times


SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 23 — High above the streets on rooftops flat and wide, nearly a dozen sun-gazing contraptions are shedding new light on this city's foggy reputation. Resembling lunar probes on spindly legs, the machines are equipped with sensors that measure solar energy. Readings are transmitted by radio to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, where engineers plot them on a computerized "fog map" of the city. The Solar Energy Monitoring Network, as the rooftop system is known, is the backbone of an unusual effort to transform San Francisco into the country's largest municipal generator of solar power and other renewable energy.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/24/national/24SOLA.html

TOKYO— In many countries, it is illegal to smoke indoors, but legal to smoke outdoors. In Tokyo, people light up with abandon in restaurants, taxis and many offices. But now on some congested downtown sidewalks, new red-and-white stencils mark zones where it is illegal to smoke outdoors. Health-conscious Americans might suspect the new rules are an effort to shield nonsmokers from secondhand smoke, or to put a dent in cancer rates. But to Japanese critics, the new outdoor smoking ban suggests that officials in this tidy nation worry more about singed suits than sooty lungs.The new rules, which apply only to premier districts of central Tokyo, are intended not to promote health, but rather to cut the litter of discarded cigarette butts and to reduce damage to clothing on busy sidewalks.
http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/29/international/asia/29TOKY.html


Previous P&C
Recycle Bin
One of my biggest pet peeves about blogs is how amnesiac they are; they place such a primacy on the latest post--indeed, in the case of the majority of blogs who fixate on political headlines or personal minutiae, the only value in what they post is how up-to-the-minute they are--that once a post slides down the screen and into the archives, it's effectively flushed out of existence.

As I write at left, this blog tries to avoid the "news cycle" mentality, and instead be more randomly and consistently curious and informative. That's why I string together certain categories of this blog (such as Places and History) with "Previous" tags. And that's why I'm starting this Recycle Bin feature--digging through my archives and finding something that's worth reading now as much as when it was written. I'm not saying this first entry is anything earth-shattering, I'm just trying to question the conventional wisdom that weblog writing must be inherently ephemeral, here one moment and gone the next, with no lasting weight. Ideas and observations are powerful not for their immediacy but for their historical resonance. (Now, to the minutiae...)

July 19, 2002
Seen in a Skokie courtroom this morning while waiting 19 hours (as it seemed) for a case I'm covering to come up: a court reporter scratching her ear. I must say, I've never thought about that before. What happens when you're clackety-clacking away while the judge or an attorney is droning on and then--uh oh--you're seized by the urge to cough or scratch your nose? It must be one of the great underrated human dramas; in fact, with my limited knowledge of court shows, I would guess this has never been addressed on prime time television. Maybe this is slightly overblowing it. I've posted this site before, but here 'tis again, promising, "Find a Court Reporter" [near you]. For what? Transcripts of a celebrity roast you're planning? Records of a tense first date? Is everything a for-hire service now?
http://www.courtreporters.com
Etymology Today from M-W: tantalize \TAN-tuh-lyze\
: to tease or torment by or as if by presenting something desirable to the view but continually keeping it out of reach

Pity poor King Tantalus of Phrygia. The mythic monarch offended the ancient Greek gods. As punishment, he was plunged up to his chin in water in Hades, where he had to stand beneath overhanging boughs of a tree heavily laden with ripe, juicy fruit. But though he was always hungry and thirsty, Tantalus could neither drink the water nor eat the fruit. Anytime he reached for them, they would retreat from him. Our word "tantalize" is taken from the name of the eternally tormented king.

Previous E.T.

Tuesday, December 03, 2002

Seen last week at G&M's Social Studies:
"Civilized ages inherit the human nature which was victorious in barbarous ages, and that nature is, in many respects, not at all suited to civilized circumstances."
Walter Bagehot

A corollary of sorts to the excerpts of Michael Pollan's "An Animal's Place" I posted last week:
To contemplate such questions from the vantage of a farm is to appreciate just how parochial and urban an ideology animals rights really is. It could thrive only in a world where people have lost contact with the natural world, where animals no longer pose a threat to us and human mastery of nature seems absolute.
I was reading the sequel to Politically Correct Bedtime Stories at, oddly enough, bedtime last night. The revised Little Mermaid, which has become, of course, "The Little Mer-Persun," includes this observation by a mer-persun who has just surfaced for the first time: "[She] told of how humans were obsessed with making machines that saved themselves labor, then spent lots of money in special clubs for the privilege of keeping their muscles toned."

And here's the PC account in "The City Mouse and the Suburban Mouse" of the suburban mouse being harassed by a homeless person: "As he stepped out of his car, he was asked for a monetary donation by someone supporting himself outside the reigning capitalist paradigm."
NewsweekInteresting counterintuitive cover of Newsweek this week. I couldn't help but think, has the pressure ever been greater for two young people not to jump the gun than it is now for Chris Nicoletti and Amanda Wing, the two teen cover subjects? Imagine the scandal they'd have to endure if she ends up pregnant before they march down the aisle. It would be like Jared the Subway guy getting caught downing a bucket of wings at KFC.
http://www.msnbc.com/news/841604.asp
I loathe the WSJ editorial board for its reflexive rightism, and I suppose I should, for the sake of prizing critical thinking over straitjacketing ideology, equally loathe the NYT's Paul Krugman for his reflexive leftism. It's just that I agree with him more. Today he offers a more mathematical riposte to the WSJ-ers complaints that the poor don't pay enough taxes, which I scoffed at last week. As he summarizes the WSJ: "The government mustn't do anything good, because then people might not realize that government is bad. Understand?"
http://nytimes.com/2002/12/03/opinion/03KRUG.html
Etymology Today from M-W: juxtapose \JUK-stuh-pohz\
: to place side by side

A back-formation is a word that has come about through the removal of a prefix or a suffix from a longer word. Etymologists think "juxtapose" is a back-formation that was created when people trimmed down the noun "juxtaposition." Historical evidence supports the idea: "juxtaposition" was showing up in English documents as early as 1654, but "juxtapose" didn't appear until 1851. "Juxtaposition" is itself thought to be a combination of Latin "juxta," meaning "near," and English "position."

Previous E.T.

Monday, December 02, 2002

A sharp-witted friend with an ax to grind weighs in on my Keith Olbermann post from last week:
...2002_12_01_nbiermafile_archive.html#85381606
Sympathy for wide-waisted McDonald's litigants? Yes and no, says this letter writer to the NY Times:

Re "Don't Blame the Eater," by David Zinczenko (Op-Ed, Nov. 23):
There's plenty of fault to go around in explaining the problem of obese children.
Our society is one in which children are carpooled, no one walks and very few bicycle. We are overscheduled, so it is difficult to shop for and prepare healthy meals and snacks to bring along. Further, we are gluttons. One can find healthy foods in fast-food places; it is not required that one consume double orders of fries and milkshakes at every outing. What's needed is a little discipline, a little thought and a little physical exercise.
FRANCINE FLEISHMAN, Lido Beach, N.Y., Nov. 24, 2002
Etymology Today from M-W: cordial \KOR-jul\
1 : tending to revive, cheer, or invigorate
2 a : sincerely or deeply felt *b : warmly and genially affable

"Cordial" has the same Latin root ("cor") as "concord" (meaning "harmony") and "discord" (meaning "conflict"). "Cor" means "heart," and each of these "cor" descendants has something to do with the heart, at least figuratively. "Concord," which comes from "con-" (meaning "together" or "with") plus "cor," suggests that one heart is with another. "Discord" combines the prefix "dis-" (meaning "apart") with "cor," and it implies that hearts are apart. And anything that is "cordial," be it a welcome, a hello, or an agreement, comes from the heart.

E.T. bonus, also from M-W: origins of riot act, as in: "She read her the riot act."
Many people were displeased when George I became king of England in 1714, and his opponents were soon leading rebellions and protests against him. The British government, anxious to stop the protests, passed a law called the "Riot Act" which allowed public officials to break up gatherings of 12 or more people just by reading aloud a certain message. That message warned those who heard it that they could be arrested and imprisoned for years if they didn't immediately separate and go home. By 1819, "riot act" was also being used more generally for any stern warning or reprimand.

Previous E.T.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002

History&Today: Thanksgiving edition
• The menu for the first Thanksgiving dinner included fish, venison, corn, squash, berries, and corn bread. There's no record that turkey was on the table.

Benjamin Franklin, advocating the turkey as the national bird:
The Turkey is in comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America.... He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.
http://www.clickondetroit.com/sh/holidays/stories/holidays-20001113-135438.html

From this morning's Chicago Tribune: the disappearance of the true turkey:
Glenn Drowns and other preservationist farmers fear the old-fashioned gobblers will vanish forever--unless more people can be persuaded to eat them. The factory birds are engineered to grow up fast and with lots of white meat. They spend their entire lives inside, being conceived, hatched, reared, slaughtered and packaged without spending a single moment in sunlight.All white and with short legs, they little resemble the darker, colorful, fan-tailed turkeys of the past. And according to Drowns, they aren't nearly as flavorful.

But a handful of giant turkey processors so dominates the market with cheap, conveniently packaged birds that most farmers quit raising traditional farmyard turkeys decades ago. Varieties that once strutted and preened by the millions--black Spanish, slate, buff, chocolate, auburn, white Holland and royal palm turkeys--now are almost gone. ...

If the Pilgrims at the first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621 served turkey, it would have been wild ones they hunted. A few years later, however, an English domestic variety, the Norfolk black, returned to the New World with 17th Century British settlers, and all present-day varieties probably trace back to those settlers' flocks and the wild turkeys they mingled with. ...

The dire straits of the old-fashioned turkeys became apparent in 1998 when the American Livestock Breed Conservancy, a national group working to conserve genetic diversity in farm animals, conducted a national turkey census.
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/showcase/chi-0211270352nov27.story


• But of course, you can't really understand Thanksgiving's place in American lore without understanding the antithetical day that follows it: the king of all shopping days, The Day After Thanksgiving. Lest there be any doubt about which is the more American day, remember Thanksgiving 1939, which was officially moved up one week by President Franklin Roosevelt in order to lengthen the shopping season. Ever since, we've been similarly hurrying our gratitude and hastening our gratification, as I pondered in this post-Thanksgiving walk around the mall I took a few years ago:
http://nbierma.freeservers.com/america/mall.html

Related: What if Friday were Buy Nothing Day? and Anna Quindlen on the problem with patriotic consumption

Previous History&Today
Etymology Today from M-W: benison \BEH-nuh-sun or BEH-nuh-zun\
: blessing, benediction

"Benison" and its synonym "benediction" share more than a common meaning; the two words come from the same root, the
Latin "benedicere," meaning "to speak well of, bless." But which of the two words do you think has a longer history in English? If you guessed "benison," give yourself a pat on the back. Records show that "benison" has been used in our language since the 14th century, but "benediction" didn't appear in print until nearly a century later.


Previous E.T.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

Seen at the Globe&Mail's Social Studies, clipped from the LA Times:

Refrigerator rights: A degree of intimacy that permits some people to freely help themselves to anything at your house without scorn. "[Y]our best friend from second grade, the woman you've talked with every Sunday evening for 25 years, would have instant refrigerator rights even if you hadn't actually seen her for months or years," writes Joy Dickinson in The Dallas Morning News. Dr. Will Miller, a U.S. therapist, ordained minister and corporate speaker has recently published Refrigerator Rights: Creating Connections and Restoring Relationships (Perigee).