Tuesday, May 28, 2002

With the wedding just over a week away, I just wrote my new name for the first time, recording it for a mailing list. And I'll admit, it was a little startling: Nathan Kloostra Bierma. (My wife's birth name will become her and my middle name.) The name I've had since I arrived as a pink raisin at the Duke U medical center, the name that was on my kindergarten desk, my high school trophies, my college transcript--now it's split up and transformed, the most familiar set of words I've known are strange and new. It's something of a metaphor of the meshing our two lives in general.

But of course, this cognitive dissonance is exactly what half the population--the female half--has dealt with for hundreds of years, and recent attempts to inject some balance into society, i.e. the women's lib movement, are still not as far advanced as to prevent the awkwardness a woman faces in the milestone of marriage: changing such a foundational symbol of your identity simply because women were second-class citizens for all of human history, and in many ways still are. As an article at the wedding site The Knot, in a useful treatment of this issue, says: "The evolution of women's roles aside, society still expects you and your husband to have the same last name." As I wrote recently in the Det. Free Press, my wife and I are facing a lot of weird old-fashioned ideas as we scrape out a more balanced view of family in the 21st Century. It can be disorienting for the man as well as the woman.
Reading to catch up on:

What 'Friends' has to offer lit professors, from the Chronicle of Higher Education:


If magazines are any indication, masculinity is in crisis, says Andrew Sullivan in The New Republic:

Good stuff from one of my favorite political journals, The New Republic (injecting a modicum of levelheadedness into the ideological knee-jerk world of political writing): Diane Roberts says speech codes aren't, as conventional wisdom has it, about supressing a particular ideology, but rather about broadly preserving college adminisitrators' imperialism. And Jonathan Chait on an unsung Bush coverup, about the budget.
Media bias update: scandal trumps ideology, says William Powers in the National Journal. I agree.
John Updike in a Writer's Digest interview (from January, actually--I've been behind on my reading pile):

We're past the age of heroes and kings. If we can't make up stories about ordinary people, who can we make them up about? ... Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it's up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting. It's a rare life so dull that no crisis ever intrudes.

Monday, May 27, 2002

He may come across as a quasi-pacifist at times, but columnist Mitch Albom's Memorial Day 2001 column is poignant one year later:

Fiske keeps up with several Japanese veterans. He has asked their forgiveness, and they have asked for his. Last week, at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, the 80-year-old bugler lifted the mouthpiece to his lips and blew taps one more time. "I believe in defending the United States," he says, "but if you think war is going to solve anything, it isn't." And he's right. Taking pride is good. But Fiske knows this: On Memorial Day, the best way to honor those who have died in wars is to scratch away at the hatred that starts them.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

The latest evidence of the lunacy of diets is the finding of a new gremlin--or, actually, ghrelin, says the Seattle Times:

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Dick Cheney's disconcerting second job as scooter salesman, from Reason magazine:

And although it would be sure to make the veep grumpy, I'm tempted to go see Second City's latest gag when I move down to Chicago--it's a spoof on post-9/11 corporate greed, in an attempt to hail the return of irony.
I've been avoiding the Dallas Morning News because of its conservative bias, but they put me to shame with a sensible editorial this morning on Cuba:

Despite its name, there is nothing especially original about President Bush's Initiative for a New Cuba,....Longtime Cuba watchers will recognize it as the old U.S. policy dressed up to look new....It is time for the United States to acknowledge that the embargo has failed to budge Mr. Castro and that it has little chance of doing so. It is way past time for the United States to seek to trade with Cuba as it does with other Communist countries, such as China and Vietnam, in the warranted belief that economic interchanges can foster political change.

Another useful editorial on a supposedly urban-conscious proposal for a Wal-Mart in Dallas, and one more on ill-fated Edison Schools Inc. in Dallas.
Latest gem from The Onion :

Thursday, May 16, 2002

I'm a little underwhelmed by the pre-9/11 hijacking hints scandal. The media is putting on its finest Bob Woodward outfit and screaming what-did-he-know-and-when-did-he-know-it about President Bush. I am no Bush fan, but Condi Rice is right--"hijacking" means two different things before and after the actual attacks. Hindsight bias kicks in now, and says we should have seen it coming, but this was one of the most un-see-coming-able events in world history. Besides, had the White House sounded air raid sirens after its CIA briefing, they would have been scolded by the still-numb public for being alarmist and by the airline industry by being bad for business. I'm not saying the FBI and CIA--or the White House, for that matter--should get A's on this one; but federal agencies being sluggish is less than page one news.

Howard Kurtz, in his Media Notes, points out that it has taken quite a while for people to get mad at the government for being, if not asleep, at least drowsy at the wheel before September. The political correctness of terrorism's aftermath squelched a lot of criticism, probably unhealthily so.
So there's a World Cup blog. It may in fact be one of the best ways to get news about what is, after all, the most internationally celebrated event to get zilcho coverage from the American media:
Why the Internet was created: to have things like the Samuel Johnson quotes page:
Seen at the San Diego U-Trib: Ms. Record, accountant; Dr. Fish, oceanographer, and other nominal coincidences. Also, the best tagline for bobble-head dolls to date: "nod squad" (actually, chances are that's been used 147 times already):

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Det. Freep cartoonist Mike Thompson on the only good reason to slack off on your history:
Reading a lot about politics lately made me want to look up some info on logical fallacies. There's a complete scientific index at http://gncurtis.home.texas.net/, and a simpler one at http://www.datanation.com/fallacies/index.htm
Robin Williams politically incorrect stand-up tour, soon to hit San Diego, is due in part to the erstwhile threat of a Hollywood writers strike, says the U-Trib:
Developers are brewing a possible new player on the Chicago skyline:
Clever Mother's Day Letterman Top Ten featuring maternal scoldings for Christina Aguilera, Jeff Gordon, and Dave himself:
Already the Star Wars reviews have been shifting from as-bad-as-Phantom-Menace to no-wait-it's-good-this-time (check out Richard Corliss in Time)--and Episode Two hasn't even opened yet. Count Star Wars fan James Lileks among the grumblers, though: "George Lucas writes dialogue duller than a preschooler's scissors...can't write, can't direct, can't pace. These would seem to be liabilities in a movie director."

Good Time cover piece by Joel Stein, albeit overstated, on Spider-Man and movies as our only remaining national conversation:
The balanced and insightful New Republic writer Jonathan Chaithas a provocative piece in Slate today, picking apart the conventional wisdom of the NY Times and others. "Palestinian terrorism does not result from Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza," he writes, "but from Israel's existence." I'm not sure I agree, but it's worth a read:

Monday, May 13, 2002

When I spent last summer at Columbia U in New York, I was stunned to see the size of the mausoleum bearing the remains of Ulysses S. Grant, one of the most unremarkable presidents resting in one of the most remarkable monuments in the country--a mini Capitol rotunda bulging from the shores of Riverside Park. Now a new wave of deifying Grant is underway, part of a new wave of historical leadership mythology, says Chris Suellentrop in Slate:


Sunday, May 12, 2002

Quote from Robert Manning, former editor of the Atlantic:

Cynicism deflects attention from our far more widespread flaw, incorrigible sentimentalism.
Magnolia Fun Chum, North Neck, and Jesus: coming to a Coca-Cola vending machine near you? Not anytime soon, says James Lileks:

Thursday, May 09, 2002

I appreciate all the level-headed feedback to my Detroit Free Press op-ed yesterday. For the curious, the positive is edging out the negative roughly 60-40. The most common complaints are that 1) I belittled full-time mothers and 2) I underestimate how sacrifices are necessary for parenting. The Freep's subtitle and cartoon that ran with my article may have set the wrong tone for what I was trying to say, so let me try to clear it up:

I said in the article I don't criticize Hughes for doing what she felt she had to do. That's her call; I'm not running her life nor wish to. What irked me, as I said at the beginning, is how American culture in the 21st Century still accepts the recent assumption that such a move is logical for a woman but not for a man. Why are only women expected to make these kind of moves? Why is it seen as natural for a man to put his career over the kids, but not for a woman to do so, and not for a man to put kids over a career (I say this expecting to be a full-time Dad at some point in my life, so don't accuse me of being numb to family).

Of course, in a truly balanced world, society would function so that neither career nor kids loses out much more than the other, and neither man nor woman is expected to have unique responsibilities inherent to their gender. As for parental sacrifice, America should be much more tolerant of the need for it in a healthy society, and the Church should be much more tolerant of those who feel they are called to serve in certain jobs that may require them to sacrifice some or all of their family capacity. In the meantime we need to change the conventional wisdom that men should worship careers and that women are ineligible for one at all. And here I guess it is relevant to point out that Hughes will still be pulling it major dough as a part-time consultant to the President. Sitting in the family room with phone in hand, the bucks piling up...maybe she's found an effective balance between work and family after all.

Nice write-up in Chicago Magazine on Joyce Winnecke and Bill Adee, Chicago journalism's super-couple who made the Sun-Times a must-read (in news and sports, respectively) and will now try to translate that energy to the very different climate of the Tribune. Includes this Winnecke quote about the Trib from 1999: "I don't think it would be fun to work at a paper with unlimited resources."


A lament for the death of pre-modern classical architecture in skyscrapers, with the post-9/11 outlook for the skyscraper looking very foggy:


Wednesday, May 08, 2002

A version of my family values rant ran in the Detroit Free Press this morning:

Here's the lengthier piece from my student newspaper, Chimes:

And, once again, the relevant paragraph from Peter Perl's profile of Tom DeLay in Washington Post Magazine:

For all of Tom DeLay's public espousal of Christian values, particularly his deep commitment to family, he privately has nursed a terrible estrangement from his own mother and three siblings. After the 1988 death of his father and the rise of his career in Washington, DeLay cut off contact with all three siblings, and seven years ago he stopped attending DeLay family gatherings. He has not seen or talked to his mother, Maxine, in two years, even though she lives about 10 miles away from Sugar Land; or did he invite any of them to his daughter's 1999 wedding or even mention his mother in the published wedding announcement.

I spoke with Perl by phone yesterday. He keeps in regular contact with DeLay's siblings, and says nothing has changed in the year since his piece appeared.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002

For some, the meaning of the moment equals its distance to a celebrated other moment, and on the Web this is sometimes measured in seconds. There's an online live countdown for the next shuttle launch, New Year's Day 2003, the Kitty Hawk Centennial, and, of course, Star Wars. So who has less of a life--the jedi geeks or those who find it necessary to anticipate the anniversary, to the second, of Wilbur and Orville?
I was looking for the planet alignment the other night; I could only spot two of them from my suburban front lawn--Mercury and Saturn, I think. They flared liked floodlights in a parking lot. NASA is all over the extraterrestrial traffic with a daily update site and amateur pictures from around the world:
How's this for blogging in an online news age: I'm linking to a cartoon by Tom Tomorrow, the wry but levelheadedly liberal cartoonist, which is linked to (from webzine Salon) on his blog, which was referred to by John Leo in his national column, which was linked to (through the NY Post's website) by the mainstream blog of Poynter's Romenesko. All of which is merely to introduce this funny cartoon. It's Tomorrow's parting shot at U.S. News, where it turns out he briefly worked:
Numbers: 27: Millions of slaves in the world today, according to Disposable People author Kevin Bales on NPR today.
Poynter's Dr. Ink dissects the cliche that journalism should "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." The original quote from Finley Peter Dunne was actually complaining about how newspapers had too much power--not prescribing how they should function:

Th' newspaper does ivrything f'r us. It runs th' polis foorce an' th' banks, commands th' milishy, controls th'ligislachure, baptizes th' young, marries th' foolish, comforts th' afflicted, afflicts th' comfortable, buries th' dead an' roasts thim aftherward.

The afflicting scoop:

Monday, May 06, 2002

comAs simple-minded debate barrels on about the success of Bernard Goldberg's "Bias," I still don't think I'll read it, since I despair that either Goldberg, his critics, or his supporters fully understand the following:

A) any professional organization has its subculture and social norms, so the presence of unspoken assumptions and political correctness (partisan, class-wise, or otherwise) makes the media elite a normal organization (as much as they brag to have superhuman powers of objectivity), not a sinister conspiracy. No organization is as good as it needs to be at overcoming its institutional routines and worldview to empathize with as many people as it needs to. The problem is the media's flaws are most visible, since their job is to communicate to us about how they see the world. In the case of the media elite, the norms are the product of homogenous educational background, unimaginative professional routines, self-censorship, etc. Yes, the norms do include Democratic voting. But that is not the full story of what is going on here.

Conservative inconsistencies:

- Most conservative critics refuse to demonstrate noble objectivity or even balance in their critiques. They slap the liberal label on everyone who isn't them, even though profound political differences exist across the left half of the political spectrum. I'm saying this as a Nader voter, but I can make a good case that Al Gore does not equal Al Sharpton; the difference between these men, though, is negligible to most conservatives. Meanwhile, conservatives disallow liberal complaints about the media--its corporate homogenization, its reinforcement of old-fashioned gender and family norms, its pre- and probably post-Enron under-covering of corporate crime, etc., etc. To say that only conservative critiques of the media are valied is simple-minded and, yup, biased.

Stephanie Salter puts it well in the SF Chronicle:

From where I sit -- a grouchy member of mainstream journalism for 30 years - - it looks like a dozen giant, for-profit conglomerates now own most major print and electronic news outlets. The day that their agenda is to pander to welfare moms, labor unions, peace and affirmative action advocates, environmentalists and enemies of unbridled capitalism -- well, that's the day I'll be the happiest damned liberal in the whole global village.

- Second, conservatives can't gush enough about the human capacity to overcome social environment when it comes to poverty and crime, affirmative action (which I actually oppose), and so forth. And yet they so broadly deny most reporters' capability to do just that--to overcome certain supposed social influences to be liberal and slanted and instead do a professional, balanced job. The vast majority of reporters are far more interested in doing a professional, balanced job than they are in political activism. When they fail, the possibility that they are bloodthirsty party hacks is only one among several more likely explanations.

In my humble opinion, the most important problems in the media are 1) overall dumbing down and poor writing quality of news stories, 2) the warped interest in entertainment stories as actual news, 3) presenting almost all political news as a jockeying of runaway egos, not discourse about policy (which politics, defying the odds, sometimes actually is), 4) presenting foreign and urban news as little more than a record of violent events void of context... and then maybe political slant. If political slant were the biggest problem in the media, the media would be a heck of lot better.

Below is the useful point-counterpoint in the SF Chronicle, followed by a thorough critique of bias-crying columnist John Leo in the, yes, liberal Daily Howler: