Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Chicago architecture watch: The Trump Tower is back on track, says Blair Kamin:
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Today's edition of my Notebook Reader, a daily digest of noteworthy public discourse, is off the presses.
Number of the day: 400: Americans who die each year from heat-related illnesses, more than double the annual fatalities from tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods combined, says Eric Klinenberg.
Word of the Day, from M-W: abecedarian \ay-bee-see-DAIR-ee-un\ (adjective)
*1 a : of or relating to the alphabet b : alphabetically arranged; 2 : rudimentary

Example sentence: The children recited an abecedarian chant, beginning with "A is for apple" and ending with "Z is for zebra."

The history of "abecedarian" is as simple as ABC -- literally. The term's Late Latin ancestor, "abecedarius" (which meant "of the alphabet"), was created as a combination of the letters A, B, C, and D, plus the suffix "-arius"; you can hear the echo of that origin in the pronunciation of the English term (think "ABC-darian"). In its oldest documented English uses in the early 1600s, "abecedarian" was a noun meaning "one learning the rudiments of something"; it specifically referred to someone who was learning the alphabet.The adjective began appearing in English texts around 1665.
So there's an ombusdman for ombudsmen. Who knew? Much-needed, given below:

The Chicago Tribune has just bought Chicago Magazine, continuing its ravenous gobbling of local (and national) media.

Publisher Scott Smith cheerfully announces in a memo: "This acquisition allows Chicago Tribune to continue expanding the ways in which it serves local readers and advertisers in Chicago, just as it does through several other targeted publications it owns and operates."

Underscore the word "advertisers" in the above. The winners in this deal are the Trib's ad sales people, who can now sell meatier ad packages that include space in the Trib and Chicago mag (and WGN TV and radio and...) The readers are losers, since they will get less reporting and writing done by fewer people spread over more media synergistic space, as the Trib and Chicago mag start to share resources.

Meanwhile, what of Steve Rhodes' media column? How can he possibly claim to speak as an independent watchdog of local media? A friend who just came to the Trib from Chicago mag says one of Steve's worries will be having his e-mail address end in "" and then ask for tips. As Romenesko asks, is this the end of profiles of Trib people?

Not to bite the hand that feeds me, but how can the Trib come across as so self-righteous about its ethical hairsplitting on the question of the Ground Zero photographer while smugly plowing ahead with this disservice to its readers, this watering down of their media diet? (And don't get me started one of the all-time major breaches of conflict of interest, the Trib's ownership of the Chicago Cubs...)
Cleaning out my notes on blogging, here's a Time Inc. magazine editor I got to know in New York whose judgement I respect:

I think the blogs-vs-old media story is overblown, largely because when the media reports on itself, the hall-of-mirrors effect magnifies everything. That said, many blogs are a refreshing alternative to the stale and predictable punditocracy, but ... offer no real challenge to the meat-and-potatoes business of news gathering.
Letters to Sports Illustrated about its recent NASCAR cover:

- Thank you for your article on the booming interest in NASCAR (NASCAR Nation, July 1). After I started following NASCAR in 1996, I found I did not miss talk of collective bargaining agreements, lockouts and strikes, inflated egos, trade demands, salary caps, athlete arrests and drug use. NASCAR is about real people. The drivers are great role models, and their accessibility to the fans is unmatched in any sport. Can you imagine being able to listen to Shaq's thoughts during a game the way fans can tune into their favorite drivers, via radio scanners, during a race? DEE DEE MULLENIX Las Vegas

- NASCAR may yet replace baseball as America's national pastime, but I wonder if this is necessarily a good thing. In your picture of two bikini-topped fans, I can make out at least five Confederate flags in the background. Somehow I doubt that those flags are being flown only to commemorate the tradition of gentility and charm that the South is known for. How many drivers in NASCAR are nonwhite? NASCAR races are fun to watch, and the drivers are certainly very skilled, but until the sport acknowledges its lack of diversity, I don't think NASCAR deserves all the fawning adulation that it gets. MARK JEANFREAU, New Orleans

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

My latest story for the Tribune:

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Thought of the day: More Blogathonning, please! 48 hours after I rose from my post-Blogathon hibernation, I feel, strangely, fine. I'm awake and chipperly chatting with people at work, and on as normal a sleep schedule as I ever am. I napped for the last two hours of the event, then slept three and a half hours, and got 8-9 hours each of the last two nights. Not as bad as I thought. I just turned in my article for the Tribune; it will be running Friday. I got 190 unique visitors on Blogathon day, I appreciate the interest.

Sunday, July 28, 2002

That's it. I made it 24 hours straight. Tribune Charities is $100 richer, which would be even more comforting if I were more than half-conscious...good night (or morning), and I won't be blogging again for a few days, if not a few weeks...

Here is an index of highlights (again, using the term generously) from my blog during Blogathon:


The end is in sight. The light at the end of the tunnel is the rising sun. I really have enjoyed this, although my body is now violently protesting the lack of sleep; I haven't felt this ill in a while...thank goodness the following is pre-written:

I thought I should end by doing a little more explaining about what this blog is about; particularly what you might see when you come back here (don't worry, I'll mostly shelve the metaphysical discussions about the ontological nature of words).

As I said in my Blogathon Guide, I keep my blog 1) as a personal resource for column ideas and links, 2) for writing practice, to keep my writing gears greased, and 3) to try to contribute a little substance to the high-waste world of the blogosphere. My topics include news, politics, media, culture, history, religion, the arts, movies, sports, and anything else that catches my fancy.

I also post e-mail feedback to my stories in the Tribune and elsewhere. Recently I've been posting anecdotes and other quotes from sources I picked up from the cutting room floor when my stories go to print. I find this a fascinating extension of the journalist's job; every other forum I enter, the more accountable and helpful I am to readers, and that can only be good for everyone.

This does raise some interesting questions. Should I be bashing the Tribune Company in my weblog, since they write my paychecks? (Andrew Sullivan was cut loose from the NY Times in part because of his Times-flogging in his blog.) Could someone sue me for defamation of character based on something I post in my blog ?(which laughably assumes I have any wealth worth suing for...) In the meantime, it remains a great outlet for writing and communicating.

One last angle to explore here on the question of the future of words, and that's the hyperlink. Basically, a hyperlink is a word like this that links to something else, in this case home page. The hyperlink, developed two or three decades ago, changes the fiber of the word more than anything else, and largely for the better. For centuries words were printed on a page, dried and dead until the paper was destroyed. With hyperlinks, the basis of blogging, words take on a new dynamism. They organically connect to other ideas, other words, or images or sounds. The interconnectedness is unprecedented. The downside is that blogs can link without context, fraying the fabric of the text until it is so broken down that all hope of context and coherence is lost.

Literacy Online calls hyperlinks "the computer's capacity to create such fluid textual structures and present them interactively to the reader," and continues:

The computer as hypertext constitutes a new writing space with qualities unlike those of the previous spaces of handwriting and printing. No longer ancillary to printing, the computer as hypertext earns a distinct place in the history of writing. The shift from printed book to electronic hypertext becomes a watershed as important as the shift from manuscript to print in the fifteenth century.

And although I will bemoan the e-book's eventual corrosion of bound books, I will grant the authors this:

Hypertext calls for a redefinition of the book ... A printed book is an artifact that you can hold in your hand; it is a sequence of pages bound between two covers. Physically and metaphorically, a printed book claims to cover a subject. But in fact no book is complete in itself. Any book contains echoes, references, and often direct quotations, from other books.

And that is why the fluid format of the Web, and weblogs in particular, contain a nugget of promise.

My friend Nathan once mentioned that one of the casualties of e-mail is the joy of looking through old letters a generation later. E-mails you wrote in college are gone when you graduate, vanishing under a delete function. Whereas before you would pass on letters by grandma or mom to the kids. The thought made me go through my e-mail folders and print some correspondence that stood out, and file it in my college scrapbook.
Hunger is clawing at my insides. I just looked out the window and did a double take as I saw the sky brightening with the hint of Chicago's sunrise. I need a nap, see you at six.
Relevant clipping from Time magazine a week or two ago by Harold Bloom, author and literary critic:

Regard for poetry has slipped a great deal. That is because at its best, with very rare exceptions, even simple and very direct poetry is now quite difficult for most readers. But what is not difficult for most readers? In our society, in which the screen dominates and everything is visual and the flood of information is incessant, teaching people how to read is a major enterprise.
From The Electronic Word

How can one argue that rhetoric, an education built on the word, has regained its centrality when the word itself shows every symptom of radical decline? When the test scores that measure popular literacy worsen each year? When the logos, the long-lasting Western centrality of the word, seems to evaporate before our eyes, and the characteristic Western conception of self and society with it?

Ouch. I actually would make more of a case that the Internet has revived writing in a TV age, but again, I can't argue with the literacy tests and the tripe I've seen on the Web today.

Back to reverence and words--when there are fewer words we value them more. In Augustine's day, books were so scarce and costly that they came with no spaces between words and paragraphs; owning a book was like owning a Mercedes. Today I can walk into any number of Bargain Books outlets and scoop up any number of nonsensical titles for $3.98. I can buy the New York Times for a buck. With spaces between the words. But when words hit the Web, and appear and disappear like lightning, they have almost zero value, they hardly exist at all. We have gone from reverence to hardly noticing.

In Quentin Schultze's aforementioned upcoming book, he mentions how Vaschlav Havel came to value reading and writing while a political prisoner in Europe. He was allowed only four pages of written correspondence each week, with the threat of censorship and no promise that they would ever be delivered. Havel writes that he came to treasure each word on each page; he realized what a gift communication was. The danger of blogging is that the easy ability to do it endlessly means we stop caring about words themselves; and judging from many blogs I've seen today, that is exactly what has happened.

This is how I put it to a friend earlier this week in an e-mail: "Words in cyberspace are ephemeral, fleeting, and nonexistent at the push of a button, whereas they were held, pre-Gutenberg, in reverence, and ever since, words on paper have been enduring, anchored on the page, held in the hand."

This notion of the divinity of the word is intriguing to me. Getting back to the staggering volume of words in the age of the blog, it certainly is exponentially more difficult to think of words as sacred or even slightly special when they are so cheap and so plentiful. I'm not saying we should return to the age of deifying words and reserving them for the elite, but cherishing words is an idea I would hope is retained in this century.

I suppose some would want to read all sorts of spiritual things into the fact that the founder of Blogathon is an athiest, who posts athiest news headlines at her blog (it turns out she's very sweet to talk to), and although I'm a firm believer in God (it seems to me it takes incredible faith to be an athiest), I'm going to call off those dogs. Here it is the dead of night and I'm talking about the spiritual side of blogging... back to longtime blogger and word treasurer James Lileks to steer us back on course, from an e-mail reply to my question about the McDonald-ization of writing a couple years ago.

This is the golden age of text. More words fly over the net in the course of a day than were published in the entire 19th century. (Rough guess, unscientific.) The level of disquisition isn't great, but for one glorious moment in human history millions of people are banging out millions of words every day and millions of people are reading them. Most of those words, of course, seem to be an effort to prove correct the million-monkeys-typing-Shakespeare-by-accident theory, but if I can judge from the scrawls on the back of my substantial old postcard collection, people have been committing drivel for a long, long time. Chat rooms are nothing but bilge pumps. E-mail is as good as the sender. Web pages permit the publication & dissemination of ideas and projects that would have languished unread just 15 years ago. On balance: it's good. Of course, I ate at McDonald's today, so that should tell you something.

From On Literacy, an engaging sociological history of literacy, even if it doesn't pierce right to my question of the ontological nature and technological elasticity of words (what is this, 3 in the morning?)

Philosophers of the ancient world and the early Church evolved the celebrated Logos doctrine, best known from the opening verses of the gospel according to St. John: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Many volumes have been written to explicate the word Logos, but the translation of the Authorized Version is entirely apt. In the Logos doctrine, God is not merely thought to be like language in its most sublime sense, he is equated with it.

Words were worshiped, then, throughout history, for their indirectly or directly divine nature. Perhaps this is what contributed to the sad legacy of written words being the privilege of the elite--the church, the government, the few educated--for centuries. The average person throughout human history, until the 20th, simply did not encounter many words on a daily basis.

This is why my magazine editor in New York I talked to last summer said the bemoaning of the state of reading in an MTV age is off the mark--only very recently in history has mass literacy been the norm; before that people used speech, song and images to communicate. So do people today. So what's the problem?

I knew I'd be thinking about this topic of the future of words, so I went to the library this week. I used to love libraries as a kid--the sweaty smell of books idling on endless shelves, the hushed tones that made it feel like a church, the promise of new ideas bouncing off the shelves at you. Being back in a library -- and the massive Washington Library in the Loop, no less -- was an anchoring experience for this word hound. All the shelves, all the words, all the wisdom and history; every writer should spend time in such surroundings to be humbled by them.

Here's what I found for the topic of the day: The Psychology of Literacy by Silvia Scribner and Michael Cole, On Literacy by Robert Pattison, Literacy Online by Myron Tuman, Writing Space by Jay David Bolter, and The Electronic Word by Richard Latham. Tidbits of their wisdom, yanked from the page to the screen, to come. As you read, keep in mind the current issue of the transition in medium and what it means for the word (holy cow, I just sounded like a professor or something).

First, from the Psychology of Literacy:

In Plato's day, for the first time in history, a large part of the populace knew how to read and write in an alphabetic script, and the written text was becoming a serious competitor to oral literature as the vehicle for transmitting the cultural store of knowledge. ...

Socrates pointed out that ... letters might weaken memories and lead to forgetfulness, as learners came to rely on external aids for reminiscence. ... Socrates feared that the discovery of the written word would have the show of wisdom (they would know the letters) without the reality (they would not necessarily grasp the true ideas).

Resonant words in a new rhetorical age.

I'm staring to feel weak--I'm running on pizza, macaroni and cheese, cookies, and licorice--just writing that makes me feel a little queasy. I've got to do some writing ahead and start taking 28 minute naps. But I have so much left to write about!
This words and waste question unfurls a deeper question about the fundamental nature of words in a digital age. How do words themselves, and our relationship with them, evolve with new technology? For centuries, scrawlings on paper have represented words as a steady medium. Only in the last few years have printed representations of words become a new life form--a form that instantly appears as a byte on a screen, a flash of light, and can evaporate every bit as instantly with the stroke of a key. (Remember the old typewriters, with the arms that would leap up to slather a letter onto a page? WordPerfect makes it look like a quill and ink.)

The question is, what does that do to words and how we see them and interact with them? This article from the Tribune late last year is a good, but very limited start:


As I've said, the most mind-boggling thing about this whole exercise is the sheer scope of blogging. There are hundreds of thousands of blogs out there, hundreds of millions, maybe billions of words. Today alone I will write about 10,000 words in this weblog. The volume of the blogosphere is enough to alphabetically suffocate the brain (that's right, alpha-bytes). Just imagine sitting in front of all day, with its up-to-the-minute listing of recently updated blogs, and reading everything that is posted. It's a recipe for insanity. That we can make any sense of all of this sea is staggering.

This question of the volume of information in a digital age reminds me of an intriguing piece in the Washington Post a couple years ago on the Library of Congress and its struggle to cope with the mass of data being force-fed down its throat. In some cases preservation or mere retention of data means converting from some delicate physical storage to digital bytes. The mass seems to be too much for the maw.

I fished out the file and put it up at my file site:


I think I'm catching my second wind. I don't feel that sleepy and my fingers haven't fallen off yet; they're still tapping away at my laptop as fluidly as they were 10 hours ago.

Back to words and waste, technology and wisdom:
Tech expert David Gelernter on the perils of imagining the Internet will solve school's problems:

The Internet, said President Clinton in February, "could make it possible for every child with access to a computer to stretch a hand across a keyboard to reach every book ever written, every painting ever painted, every symphony ever composed." Pardon me, Mr. President, but this is demented. Most American children don't know what a symphony is. If we suddenly figured out how to teach each child one movement of one symphony, that would be a miracle…It's as if the Administration were announcing that every child must have the fanciest scuba gear on the market - but these kids don't know how to swim, and fitting them out with scuba gear isn't just useless, it's irresponsible; they'll drown.
More at

Instapundit, writing the other day about another blogger with a huge following, the fascinating James Lileks. Gives you an idea what kind of pressure readers put these big bloggers under:

LILEKS, as usual, says it best: "As much as I feel guilty about light bleatage, I've always thought that the phrase "blogging will be light today" is akin to saying "the free ice cream cones will be 27 percent smaller today." It's still free ice cream."

Yep. I actually got cautionary emails from people telling me that I'd lose readers (or worse, "market share," as a couple put it) if I didn't post new stuff daily while on vacation. Oh no -- losing non-paying readers! I love this, but it's a hobby, not a job, and the responsibilities that go with it are those that accompany a hobby, not those that accompany a job.I think that most readers realize that -- but some don't. And a lot of the blogger-critics seem to forget that blogs aren't bigshot media operations that claim to cover all the news that's fit to print and to do so (chortle) in an unbiased fashion, but rather personal operations run in someone's spare time, by people who have an axe to grind and plenty of fury to turn the wheel.That blogs often outperform the big guys anyway doesn't change that. It just makes it sweeter.

I just got done watching Rain Man with my wife, what a powerful but unsatisfying movie (the ending seems incomplete, seemingly deliberately). I'd never seen it before. One of the all-time great acting performances from Dustin Hoffman as the autistic and alien but unthreatening Ray, and Tom Cruise stretches to portray a glimmer of change in the snotty Charlie--it's convincing (but only because we want Tom to settle down and stop whining?) The scene with the pancakes at the end is classic; the scene in the doctor's office helps re-write the definition of what human love can be. I picked a good one to help melt away the countdown to 8 a.m.
You may have wondered, why do I insist on proper caps, punctuation, and the whole deal? And why have I been writing out URL's completely at the bottom of posts? (OK, you may not have wondered that at all, but I wanted to explain it.)

There's no rule that says that just because it's the Internet, it has to be lower case, poor punctuation and spelling. Part of it is just the journalist and grammar nut in me, part of it is an attempt to bring some more structure to an often unstructured format. As for the URL's, I like to see what I'm linking to before I go there, and the structure of the tree of a URL is often helpful in seeing what kind of site it may be (front page? main sub-page? random article?) When words are simply highlighted throughout a paragraph, you aren't telling the reader where you're going and why. (I've succumbed to that recently today simply because writing out all the links would bog down the blog. [I just wrote "blog down the bog." Must be after midnight.])
For the most part, it's been fun though. And I'm not even done ranting about blogs and the future of words...
I may have come across as a little snide about blogs below--yes, I appreciate the irony in talking about blogs in a blog, but my (and Schultze's) point about trying to add to discourse can still hold water--it's been tough trying to carry out Blogathon and spending a day at home with my wife--with AOL plodding along on my dialup, and I feel this obligation to the screen at the expense of this real person next to me. Flesh instead of bytes, that's a workable priority order for me.

Saturday, July 27, 2002

The word blog itself suggests, by onomatopoeia, the verbal disgorging it represents. Doesn't it just sound like a synonym for "barf"? "Oh, no, the dog just blogged all over the new carpet!" I much prefer the more dignified (and explanatory) "weblog," but I've been saving space and honoring the genre by saying "blog" all day.

Seen at a Salon blog recently: "My friend Robert just informed me that the word "blog" is the ugliest word in the English Language. So I changed all references to "blog" to weblog. Thanks Robert."

Not a bad start.

Quote of the day:
"Furious activity is no substitute for understanding."
H. H. Williams
11:30 and I'm already yawning. 8 a.m seems about 17 hours away.
Quentin Schultzemy professor 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!" ...

The problem is that bloggers typically do not see their role as contributing to a shared public life. Instead, they tend to blog as a matter of purely personal and often self-disclosing venting of personal feelings. Too often blogging becomes a strangely public form of talking to one's self about intimate matters, whether faith or personal relationships. The best blogging is truly journalistic--aimed at contributing to the public good, not to personal catharsis. ...

There is no high-tech means to instant friendship of lasting merit. ... In fact, the extent to which we spend time online rather than in person, the weaker our communities will become. We need to be sharing lengthy meals together, walking together, volunteering together, worshipping together and the like--not blogging. We need to revive traditional Christian social practices such as hospitality, friendship, neighborliness and Sabbath leisure. Only if these kinds of practices are strong can we really afford blogging.
The question of wasteful blogs may seem like a so-what--if people want to burn their lives away posting to weblogs, what harm is it to anyone else? But the twist here is that while the sales pitch of blogs is their opportunity for self-expression, their function may be to create a massive, multi-segmented temple of ego worship. And if that exists by the hundreds of thousands, it's worth noticing the addition to our environment. In a broken world, we seek opportunities to project ourselves, our names, our lives, in sometimes god-like ways, and the Internet is a classic example. The post from above--"Well, here I am, I don't know what to write"--is one of the many sites where Having A Site is a priority over having something to say, in part because Having A Site means its Mine and my name is out there. That's why I try to make my blog more about issues, news, and writing than about Me.

Andy Dehnart, whose Web and writing accomplishments I respect, says he likes following certain weblogs where he can encounter different personalities, different dramas and even different characters in the stories that are unfolding in real time. But to me most weblogs sound the same--they're written in the same voice and sound and feel a lot a like. I know there are exceptions. But overall it seems to be digital narcissism--falling in love with your reflection on the screen.
A couple years ago I posed the issue of words and waste in the information age to James Lileks who was one of the original bloggers:

The level of disquisition isn't great, but for one glorious moment in human history millions of people are banging out millions of words every day and millions of people are reading them. Most of those words, of course, seem to be an effort to prove correct the million-monkeys-typing-Shakespeare-by-accident theory, but if I can judge from the scrawls on the back of my substantial old postcard collection, people have been committing drivel for a long, long time.
Part of the reason I asked whether blogs were all about quantity and verbal effluvium was my search of a few blogs this week that turned up the following insights:


- In my continuing campaign to remind you all that life on Earth sucks, here are some articles about space.

- Well here it is, my first post and I have no idea what to write. I guess i will start by reminding you all of what I am all about. I work for a computer software company in the sales department as sales administrator...basically I am the gopher to the sales managers and I sit at a desk all day. If you're ever online between 8:30am-5:30 pm M-F then you'll see me. ... [more droning bio] I just started a relationship technically a week and a half ago and I have never been so scared. I want to trust her and let her into my heart. ... [sentimental drivel] ... I just hope and pray every day that for once my intuition is right.

- I feel like crying. My doom fishie is dead. I am a horrible fish mommy. But I son't know what I did. I didn't do anything differently. But he is dead. He is all floating upside down. But he twitches every so often. And I know dead things do that, but what if he isn't dead? [more unintelligible nonsense] ... Doom fishies are not supposed to die. *sniffle*

- Hey Everyone! I was sitting here thinking.... Hmmmm I need ppl to talk to so I'll stay awake. I don't have many friends (mostly cause I'm a jerk in real life ... So Why not just see if I could get some kind of
contact list goin for all the ppl taking part in the blog-a-thon.

We used technology to get to the moon, now we're doing this.
And the 9:30:
Nine at night and I just went outside for the first time--that has to be seriously unhealthy at some physical or psychological level. The elevator was as stuffy as a gym bag, but once outside on the sidewalk, the air, though warm, was comfortable. I went to Starbucks with my wife for a caffeine jolt, the first time I've ever been there after sundown. Then we walked down Division between Dearborn and State, a thumping block of bars and the yuppies who make them their habitat. A couple of nutcases were poking their heads out the sunroof of a limo like the mechanical prairie dogs in the arcade game. The proud Hancock stands tall over it all, its necklace of red, white, and blue lights still pulsating through the high night sky. But coming inside to our apartment never felt so cool, or so quiet.
OK, the 9:00:

It seems to be a digital projection of the old adage about monekys typing Shakespeare by accident: get enough typers and eventually you'll have brilliance by mathematical probability: "two primates, two computers, and we're already rivaling shakespeare," is the slogan of the blog worldwiderant.

As if to illustrate the principle that if you have enough bloggers eventually you can find anything, I found these Web pages on the mathematical probability of monkeys typing Shakespeare:

Here's one:
It has been suggested that an evolutionist first used the now familiar parable of monkeys typing Shakespeare. "It was, I think, Huxley, who said that six monkeys, set to strum unintelligently on typewriters for millions of millions of years, would be bound in time to write all the books in the British Museum. If we examined the last page which a particular monkey had typed, and found that it had chanced, in its blind strumming, to type a Shakespeare sonnet, we should rightly regard the occurrence as a remarkable accident, but if we looked through all the millions of pages the monkeys had turned off in untold millions of years, we might be sure of finding a Shakespeare sonnet somewhere amongst them, the product of the blind play of chance." (Jeans, Sir James, The Mysterious Universe, New York, Macmillian Co., 1930, p. 4.) More recently, the classic monkey myth was employed by Hawking. After citing the monkey illustration he comments, "very occasionally by pure chance they will type out one of Shakespeare’s sonnets." (Hawking, S.W., 1988, A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes, p. 123) This is absurd. The assertion that the monkeys *will not* in fact perform this feat is as close as we can get to a scientific fact.

There you have it. Here's another one.
AOL just crashed--I'm actually stunned this is only the first time today. Now let me go rehash that 9:00 post...
The halfway point seems as good a time as any to raise the nagging question that hovers over the blogosphere: are blogs a colossal, global, technological waste of time? All those entries from so many ordinary (or worse, not-so-ordinary) people, day after day--people discovering blogs this day of Blogathon might be asking, What's the point?

The giddy promise is the infinite space of the Web -- you can journal till your techno-heart's content and never get to the bottom of the page. But is that the downfall of blogs as well--the quality is trying furiously but futilely to keep pace with the quantity? It's a losing battle. For Blogathon, bloggers enhance their output, and as I noted before, there's some good stuff going on. But as a phenomenon overall blogging may be about just taking up space.
24 posts, and only halfway home! It's going to be a long night.
Since blogging is like talk radio, you would expect sports blogs to be a big part of the phenomenon. But the number of regularly updated and quality sports blogs is surprisingly few. More in this article. One counterexample:

Here's a fascinating article from the Trib a few months ago on the juxtaposition of NBA stars and button-down Moody Bible Institute students, brought together by basketball, from my file site:
One last (hah!) thought on the print news/weblogs tussle. I remember last fall seeing a Chicago Sun-Times front page on the arrest of John Walker Lindh. The front page was a screen showing CNN with Walker being carted away. CNN was running live feedback from its viewers, and there was one e-mail posting printed on the bottom of the TV screen: "Leave him there. He's no American." So if you're keeping score, this was a case of a television network broadcasting e-mail, all of which was frozen in time by a newspaper. How's that for new media?
Thank goodness for supper. I've hardly eaten all day. Of course, I haven't burned that many calories...

My best friend Nathan, the Northern Roving Reporter, transports us to the region of the Hudson Bay, at my file site:
Will has written up a strikingly thorough analysis of the China-Taiwan conflict for the benefit of Blogathon. It's posted at my file site:
My friend Will checks in from Beijing:

regarding your pondering your lack of outside-the-US travel, I don't think I've got any necessary advantage over you. Before I ever went to China there were many times in America where I felt like a foreigner. I'm sure everyone has felt this. Everyone has experienced what it feels like to be an outsider, to feel like you don't belong, or that people aren't speaking your language, even if it's only in a metaphorical sense. The one thing you do get by leaving the country, however, is a taste of what life would be like without all the little things you take for granted but are an essential part of your sanity. In China, food is a big thing. It's all so strange and so foreign that after awhile, you just want to say, "Enough! Can't you people eat like normal Americans?!" It makes you realize that it's the little things that make life in a foreign country so drastically different. I never thought there was anywhere in the world where you couldn't get good bread, or cheese, for example. I went nuts my first time in China, because neither of those things is readily available. (Apparently they don't appeal to the Chinese palate.) Neither can you get deodorant here; you have to have it shipped from home. Think that pastry looks appetizing? Take a bite. You'll find some delicious red bean paste in the middle. As one commentator has said, in Asia, at some point you begin to lose your inner moorings, and you can either resist it, and going home having not learned anything, or you can let it happen, go some kind of crazy and come home a different person. I think that's a nice summary of learning/growing in general. That's all it is, you grow when you travel, but you don't need to travel to do it.
This weblog itself is an interesting convergence of media--a newspaper reporter covering an event that takes place on the Web, writing about it in real time on the Web, and then writing an article for the newspaper. It's a break from convention perhaps not seen in the Trib's Tempo section since a few years ago, when the Trib published a series of e-mail interviews with precocious author and MTV "Real World" star Dave Eggers and his brother Bill (archived here at my file site)

It was published with the e-mail text in a different font, with Web-ish sidebars along the side with additional bits of information. All this on the same printed page as veteran columnist Bob Greene--it was unusual for a broadsheet. It will be interesting to see how the Trib lays out my article.
In the discussion of newspapers on paper and on the compuer screen, I'm also thinking about the element of place. Each morning I walk across Michigan Avenue, one of the great city streets in the world, and through the golden revolving doors of the Tribune Tower, a temple of journalism complete with a marble lobby with chandeliers. The thought of all the history the building represents, of the great journalists who have worked there, and the buzz of the place as deadlines come and go, injects me with energy as a journalist.

Today I'm working from my home, in khaki shorts, shuffling back and forth from the kitchen, talking to my wife, staring out the window. My "office" is my living room. I miss the energy, but the freedom is interesting.

A footnote on the paper question: The NY Times says it publishes "all the news that's fit to print." Actually, it runs all the news that fits in print. Weblogs allow for infinite space and free publishers from the boundaries of physicality.
The other thing about this question is that weblogs, void of any credibility and convenience to replace the tradional newspaper, actually amplify a paper's reach. Times stories are linked to by most of the main blogs; same goes for the Washington Post. I read, and link to, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which I couldn't do before the Internet. The same goes for NPR, which has a fine Web site and can enter mainstream discourse like never before; though they have to take their heads out of the cyber-sand and realize the possibilities of blogging, which they seem to fear:

And one other thing about paper. A professor of mine has over 12,000 books at his home. What will e-books mean for him? he asks. The word he uses, though, to talk about the timelessness of books, is their "tactile" quality--the feel of holding a book in your hand and flipping the page, sticking a bookmark in between actual pages. I also love the tactile qualities of a newspaper--I fold it under my arm, tear out articles I want to save, underline things, and generally love the feel of it in my fingers. It's like Nicholas Cage in "Family Man"--"I love the feel of a crisp new Wall Street Journal in my hand each morning." Newspapers' value goes beyond simply the information they relate.
I just stepped out into my apartment hallway, where the fire escape door is propped open and allows the sweltering air to enter. And I realized--I haven't been outside the apartment today. I've been in the apartment 18 straight hours. And haven't been outside yet. That will have to change...

More on newspapers on paper in 15 years? Rich Gordon:

There will be a portable news source absolutely; will it be on paper? I think that's hard to answer. Whether electronic devices can take on enough attributes of paper to be a reasonable substitute for paper, if it gets to that point, paper goes away, but so what? It's still a regularly delivered product designed to be read, carried around with you.

Gordon says the NY Times only needs to fear if it is caught off guard by this prospect, and he says it's clear they're readying for it.

I heard Fareed Zakaria, the Newsweek columnist, speak on this subject when he lectured at my college this winter. He said you have to keep in mind the 3 B's: the beach, the bedroom, and the bathroom. That's where people want to read, and so far computers are inferior at facilitating reading in them.

What do you think? New York Times on paper in 15 years?
The newspaper on the desk beside me still has me thinking about weblogs and the future of print news. I posed the question by e-mail this week: Will there be a New York Times on paper in 15 years?

Andrew Sullivan of

of course there will. it's just that readers will also want to compare its coverage with lively criticism and rival coverage from the internet. the times won't disappear, thank god. but its monopoly power will be greatly diminished.

The Times sent me this speech by publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., brimming with confidence:

and told me there's a bet going over whether weblogs will outrank the Times in "a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007." Martin Nisenholtz, the CEO of New York Times Digital, has bet 1,000 dollars that the Times will win:

Readers need a source of information that is unbiased, accurate, and coherent. New organizations like the Times can provide that far more consistently than private parties can. Besides, the weblog phenomenon does not represent anything fundamentally new in the news media: The New York Times has been publishing individual points of view on the OP ED page for 100 years. In any case, and weblogs are not mutually exclusive. ...

Well, it's not that simple. But take a look:

I've transferred to my desk by our bay window, which affords a beautiful 18th-floor view of the Near North Side near Division and Dearborn. The gray morning has succumbed to a solidly sunny afternoon, and sitting by three windows is doing wonders for my eyes, which are beginning to glaze over. Not even halfway home yet...
I spoke yesterday by phone to Paul Grabowicz, who will be co-teaching UC-Berkeley's course called "CREATING A WEBLOG
ON INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ISSUES." The journalism course will cover "copyright issues, the battle over free music downloads and peer-to-peer networks, deep linking to Web sites, etc." and will feature a student-produced weblog that contains articles and other online documents, student's articles about relevant issues, and student commentary. Says Paul:

The course is symptomatic of increased interest in using a weblog as a journalistic vehicle. ... What is going on here is that there’s an interesting form of communicating and providing information that some journalists are seeing if we can adopt without destroying what already exists, with a more professional journalism approach.

One of reasons chose weblog for [this course] is that it seemed like a very interesting and ideal way to try to cover something that has constant breaking news, documents that are avail online such as court opinions or briefs that are being filed, resources you can point people to, and a lot of discussion, and a weblog combines a lot of that. ... We're trying to take some aspects of traditional journalism and blend them into things that have changed in journalism because of the Web and digital networks.

Are weblogs here to stay on campus? "I've seen a lot of other fads come and go," Paul says. "It's hard to say what the traction is. I think they will be around, but how good is it as a learning tool? I don't know."

More on blogs on campus:

Gordon helps keep a weblog about electronic media and publishing at Medill's Web site.

What is more common, though, than courses about weblogs are courses that use them.
English 332: Seminar in the Novel at Centenary College in Louisiana, requires students to keep a weblog of their reading (index here), as does Writing Interpretive Papers at Saginaw Valley State in Michigan. Other courses in journalism and publishing use either a group or individual weblogs as assignments for the course.

Last week I interviewed Andy Dehnart, a producer with an online recruiting service in Chicago, keeper of a weblog on Reality TV, and guest lecturer on weblogs at Medill's "News and New Media" course, who says the academic intrigue of weblogs is how they create a new genre of writing:

The format just lends itself so well to a new kind of personal expression, and I really think we're seeing the birth of a new genre of writing and personal narrative within them. There has been journal keeping for hundreds of years, but ... now there's also the fact that you're going to publish to potentially an audience of millions, so it's not exactly writing in a closed space. The diverstiy is unparalleled just because of the web's reach. Plus there's this whole ephemeral nature of it. The writing tends to be more spontaneous, more of a transcript of your thoughts at that moment, which people critized saying there's not thought to it ... but it has a tremendous amount of value, because never before have we seen so many people's thoughts captured instantaneously.

Andy expects the presence of weblogs in the classroom to continue, and to become more of the subject matter:

You'll probably see a lot more interest in issues surrounding blogs: what happens when people you know start reading them, being anoynmous versus actually writing under your own name, can you libel someone in a weblog, will a weblog ever be sued for that. What the academy can bring is not necessarily any validity, because blogs don't need academics studying them to be validated. But the academy brings the ability to research and look into them, explore them and give a good perspective about what's going on and what will be going on in the future.

I'm going through my notes on weblogs and the academy. The introduction of a course on weblogs this fall at UC-Berkeley has been cited as the sign that blogs are being co-opted by the establishment (and, says one of the course's professors, Paul Grabowicz, conversely a sign that the academy has lost its mind).

Rich Gordon, professor of new media at Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, says the academy is just playing catch-up:

What's happened is a couple years ago, a few people had begun weblogging, but the mainstream press and society didn't realize it was going on. The only people aware of it was the techie community. ... All of the suden in the past 6-12 mo the mainstram media, and society have discovered weblogging, and along with that is a huge proliferation in the number of weblogs.

Overheard on the Blogathon bulletin board:

- Too early to think such negative thoughts. But, I am beginning to question as to whether or not I will make the whole 24 hours. Questions such as "I only have one phone line, what if I sign offline and can't get back on?" and "What if I sleep through the egg timer?" are starting to form in my mind. Eventually, I am going to run out of material, as well.

- What is the quickest way to return to your normal sleeping schedule after the 'thon?

- The best way to do that is to take a 4-5 hour nap after the Blogathon, then, wake up and stay awake until your normal sleeping time, however, go to sleep about 1-2 hours before you usually do. Your mind should be back to normal in 1-2 days.

Ah, the life of a blogathoner...

The discussion continues about which time zone has it best--Europe and Australia start in the afternoon, America's West Coast gets up early in the morning. Here in Chicago we have it about right: 8 to 8 in the morning.

Trying to coherently summarize how Blogathon so far is like explaining a mob scene. Most of the couple dozen blogs I scanned are indeed being updated every half hour, though a few are slacking and others don't appear to have even started. The range of creative ideas is striking, making for something of an e-renaissance: there are short stories, poems, songs, pictures, and other stabs at profundity, some of which simply defy category or genre. My biggest frustration is that few bloggers introduce themselves, so you can't tell who they are or where they're coming from; you only know they're blogging.

Here's a full list of the highlights:

which include these:

A different book review every 30 minutes

Shoe of the Hour

10 Movies in 24 Hours

24-hour music webcast, no repeats

Biography of a different monk every hour

Just got an e-mail from Cat Connor, founder and manager of Blogathon. She's surviving the crunch admirably. Her weblog features pictures and descriptions of unusual architecture from around the world, definitely worth a bookmark.

I interviewed Cat several days ago by phone. She's 37 and lives in Portland, Oregon, working as an automation support specialist (she notes the acronym there) for U.S. Probation, District of Oregon. I asked her how she got started working with computers.

I fell in love with computers when I was a teenager. I'm old enough to remember the first computer show where there was a Commodore 64 and we were all awed by the color screen [laughs]. I thought Tron was really cool. Computers, they still have that magic for me. I still get that thrill of connecting with people from Singapore ... connecting across the globe is a pretty amazing thing for me.

Cat says she doesn't remember how or why she got started blogging, but she does remember hatching the idea for Blogathon:

That was when I first started blogging, I had just been doing it for a few months, and I tend to stay up all night anyway, so I thought, Gee, why don't I just stay up all night and blog, and we'll see what happens. I just did it by myself.

At that time there was a tool out there called Power Bloggers, and a lot of people followed it, and it had updates for the most recently updated blogs, and I blogged every 15 minutes for 24 hours and stayed on the top of that darn PowerBloggers list for the whole time, and got quite a bit of attention, and posted some really weird stuff. I got really tired and started blubbering about my mother.

The anniversary for that came around, and I decided it would be really fun to do it again, but why do it for nothing? Why do it alone? you know It was fun but pointless. that's when I kind of posted the idea to my blog, hey would anyone else do this with me, if I do this for a charity would you sponsor me, and I got some positive responses, and put it all together in a few days, did everything manually--that was quite the chore, thank goodness we've got some automation this year.

Just two years in, and Blogathon, as of 1 p.m. Central this afternoon, has 213 bloggers with 2,125 sponsors, so far raising $52, 446.17 (more than double the number of bloggers and dollars from last year).

It blows me away, it just, yeah, it kind of restores my faith in humanity working on this. The first thing I did to set this up was go through a bunch of charity sites and look at who I wanted to use as suggested charities, and working on this is just so good for my soul, I don't think I'd ever give it up, you know, I get so cynical. It's something that I don't think a lot of people spend their time on the Web just going through charities for a day, and it's very restorative. But the numbers, yeah, the numbers have stunned me. I'm anxious to see how we end up, because usually there's a surge in sponsorships the day of, so we'll see. It's exciting to sit an hit refresh and see people show up.

Meet Cat


Like talk radio, the grassroots-ness of blogging seems to have given it a right-wing slant. This has to do, recently, with patriotic reflexes after September 11, and more broadly, with the perception that the media is liberal. I've ranted a lot before (here's a bit ) that while reporters typically vote for Democrats, the function of their work is not necessarily to liberalize the nation (if it were, the media would look at LOT different, and wouldn't make as much money for big corporations). Still, there is a function in grassroots bloggers keeping the institutional media accountable both for reporting errors and what I call cliches of vision--cookie cutter stories that ignore other ways of framing an issue and event.

Andrew Sullivan is usually cited as Exhibit A in the blogging revolution. His blog has thousands of readers a day (one of the few to have more than a hundred hits a day). A former writer for The New Republic, New York Times Magazine, and frequent contributor to the Sunday Times of London, Sullivan supplements his essay writing with daily mini-commentaries and reader e-mail at his weblog. I was first interested in Sullivan when I learned he was an openly gay conservative, which you don't see every day. I've been disappointed, though, at how predictable he has been since September 11--reliably cheerleading for the Bush Administration every time they open their mouths. What's the use of that? InstaPundit, the other major news weblog, is also slanted to the right, but is more flexibile in representing other points of view. The irony is these weblogs have arisen to respond to the narrow-minded institutional media, but liberal blogs like mine are arising to yap at the heels of the massive Weblog-istoctracy of Sullivan and InstaPundit's Glenn Reynold's.

Let's open the mailbag:

As a blogger for almost a year. I write more for more of personal journaling. Certainly linking to a web is a part of Blogging. It gives your reader a glimpse of who you are. I say your blog is more of a news blog where we can keep up to date on info on what going around in the world around us. But it doesn't really gives an aspect of who YOU are. For me I started blogging out reaction of 9-11 but now I blog because I want to give a unique aspect of who I am as a person. I am a gay asian male and there isn't a lot of us out there. And I have readers that get inspired because they finally found someone that they can relate to. About half of my readership is outside of the United States, so in a sense I am their voice where there is supression of the gay life especially in Asia. That is what blogging is to me.

Chris Chin

I'll respond to this in a second...

My station just started weblogs for some of our photographers. It all started with a sports photographer, who sent in logs while he was on the road during March Madness... and on Tobacco Road, there's plenty to write about. (there'd be more if UNC gets their act together!) Then some of our news photographers wanted in on the act... we just started a few weeks ago... you might drop by... The photogs really like doing it... and I think it gives some good, behind the camera perspective... but I wonder if bloggers would be pissed about a TV station "institutionalizing" blogging...


(Chocolate and more chocolate: Shaun's Blogathon blog is

Your mail at

I'm finally going to break for that breakfast and shower. See you back here at noon.
Here are the highlights (using the term generously) of my blog so far today:

- Welcome to Blogathon
- Guide To My Blog And Blogathon
- Link of the Day: The World Clock
- Today's Notebook Reader
- Intro to Blogging
- Blogging Going Mainstream?

Still to come: the politics of blogging, blogs and journalism, blogs and college courses, about Blogathon, interview with Blogathon founder Cat Connor, the future of words, your e-mails, dispatches from my friends in Beijing and Northern Canada, and more. See you at noon.
Another twist on the mainstreaming question: blog purists aren't happy with how "warblogging" is taking over. Ever since September 11, right-wing bloggers have been filling the Web with war propaganda and steady news about the so-called war on terror. Andrew Sullivan is a classic example (though most warbloggers have much, much less reach than he does)--more about Sullivan and the politics of blogging later on, but for now, here's an article on warblogging and mainstreaming from the NY Times a couple months ago, posted at my file site:
I'm also wondering, is there something inherently anti-mainstream about blogging? The idea that it's just you and your thoughts against the world, with no editors, no supervisors, no authorities to answer to--is that liberating in a way that is mutually exclusive with the notion of blogging going mainstream? Meanwhile, do we need the "old institutions" to rant against for blogging to be blogging? Let me know what you think by e-mail.

So this raises the question, is blogging going mainstream, and if so, how do bloggers feel about it? The answers seem to be "yes" and "bad," with asterisks by both. First, it's impossible to announce precisely when something as amorphous as blogging has Arrived (I suppose my article in the Tribune could be seen as the day newspapers co-opted blogging, and no doubt wails of protest will echo around the Web), and besides, even if the Trib and every "establishment" media institution or college syllabus got its claws on blogging, there would still be hundreds of thousands (and soon millions) of personal journals on the Web that would never be widely read, that would still feel as organic and small as the day in 1999 when launched. Ironically, the more the Tribune talks about blogging, the less fringe it may feel but the more diverse it will be--as people who wouldn't have encountered blogging on their own find out about it from traditional sources, and add a different twist to the blogosphere. So on the second question of how bloggers feel about this, we must consider that diversity was the point to begin with, so for blogging to leap its techno-subculture walls is a step forward.

Still, the San Fransisco Chronicle will raise the issue of whether blogging is being "co-opted." Others, like Wired magazine ("Blogging Goes Legit, Sort Of"), have as well--all fixated on the fact that a UC-Berkely course this fall will cover weblogs. There are a lot of misunderstandings about this. More on this later, here are the articles for now:,1383,52992,00.html
Oh, and I forgot Salon, which just launched its blog service. With this online magazine, which has been around for a few years now, it's a case of New Media trying to keep pace with newer media. Similarly, MSNBC, furiously merging NBC TV, Newsweek magazine, and Internet news, has launched a blog or two as well. Speaking of Microsoft, which of course owns MSNBC, it should be pointed out that the MS-owned webzine Slate has been posting Today's Papers, a daily digest of major newspaper articles, for years now, so blogging is nothing new.
I just picked up today's Tribune; I've been online for two straight hours and hadn't gotten to the paper yet--which may serve as a fitting example of a) newspapers struggling to stay relevant in a digital age, b) my lack of a life today, or c) both. Someday soon, every newspaper will have a weblog on its website. The London Guardian does; in fact, the old lady of London just announced its Best British Blog competition. The Christian Science Monitor, which has a helpful blog overview here, has one of the better news blogs out there. As for the American establishment, the NY Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and most other major papers all have their forms of newsletters that they offer to send to readers, summarizing the news of the day and linking to relevant articles. But there still is a built-in reluctance to jump on the blogging bandwagon, and the feeling, on the part of purist bloggers, is mostly mutual. on blogging:

Weblogs are a grassroots phenomenon. They weren't created in a board room and unleashed on waiting consumers. They were created by people with something to say in a format that works well on the Web. With all of the media attention and debate surrounding weblogs, it's easy to lose sight of what they are: people speaking and connecting online. We called this site Blogroots because we feel it's important to keep this grassroots nature in mind.

Blogroots sniffs at the New York Times for its Q&A column yesterday on blogging: "The Times doesn't say who's asking -- chances are they wrote the question as well as the answer." And the site notes William Safire, godfather of Old Media, weighs in on blogging this week in his On Language Column. So it must be official: blogging has made it.
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Diaries have been around for centuries, stuffed under mattresses or hidden in sock drawers, their pages containing the soul searching of countless anonymous authors. For this genre to adapt to a new format with the advent of a new technology may seem less than remarkable. But with the blogging revolution a shift has taken place: when you blog, there's the strange possibility, and in any case, the feeling, that your thoughts are being broadcast to the world. For some people this doesn't impede them at all; they blather on about their cat, their friends, their bodily functions, with abandon. Others try harder to reward the readers who visit their journals by not wasting their time.

Four years ago there were maybe a dozen blogs, two years ago, a couple hundred, and this year alone hosts over 375,000, according to Cat Connor, founder of Blogathon. The word "blog," a crude contraction of "weblog," now appears in an online dictionary of marketing terms.

Some of the original bloggers explain the recent revolution best: Rebecca Blood has written an essay on the history of weblogs and has just published one of the first books devoted to them. Meg Hourihan, one of the founders of, writes about blogs here.
I'll be trying to extract much of the mundanities of my personal life from my weblog today. For some bloggers, this is a violation of a basic tenet of blogging. Others will be grateful. This highlights a tension in blogging that has been there from the start: are blogs more about personal journaling or about linking to the Web?
e-mail me
Here's today's edition of my Notebook Reader, a daily digest of noteworthy public discourse.
Yesterday's Reader
I need breakfast and a shower. I was hoping to have posted more by now, but doing this on a dial-up connection is brutal. Oh well, there's plenty of time for posting.... I'm just about to post my Reader, a daily news roundup. Then I'll begin an overview of recent blog news. Stay tuned...
Link of the day:
The World Clock will help us keep track of what time it is where people are blogging from, and just how much their body clock is being knocked off course. There's also for up-to-the-second precision.
I just posted a little Guide to My Blog and Blogathon for those poking their heads in at this site and wondering what's going on. I've posted it at my File Blog, where I stash lengthy posts that would bog down this blog. As the Guide says, I'll be keeping an index of key themes that link to key postings as I write, to try to bring a little method to the madness. The Guide is at:
This is the first time I've ever gone to work in my underwear. I'm sitting at my kitchen table with my laptop in front of me, stacks of notebooks and manilla folders on each side of me, and my wife looking on disapprovingly behind me. I just woke up and opened the blinds, and it looks like the gloomiest day of the week, with the rain tapping a steady rhythm on our air conditioner, so it will be a good day to be tethered to the computer, keeping my weblog, or "blog," for Blogathon 2002. I'm joining 212 other bloggers from around the world who have all agreed to keep our blogs for 24 hours straight, updating them at least every 30 minutes. Each of us is blogging for charity; my sponsor is the Tribune Co., which will donate $100 to Tribune Charities if I make it the whole way. 8 a.m. tomorrow seems an awfully long time away, but as I look at the articles and jottings I've collected around me, my thought isn't, how am I going to make it, but how am I going to write about everything I want to write about in a measly 52 posts?

Friday, July 26, 2002

Tomorrow is Blogathon! I'll be posting at least every 30 minutes from 8 a.m. Chicago time Saturday to 8 a.m. Sunday. I'll be writing about a little bit of everything, but the central themes will be the state of blogging, recent blogging news, what's out there in the blogosphere, blogs going on campus, blogs and journalism, and finally the state of the word in the age of the blog. [breath] That should carry me through the night! I'll be adapting my blog for a story in the Chicago Tribune. Check back tomorrow and send me questions and comments by e-mail. Here's the teaser in the Trib today:
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Quote of the day:
"I get picked on pretty bad. People say: 'You got knocked down by a fish?' It's not any ordinary fish. It's a huge fish."
Tallahassee boater Danny Cordero, victim of a leaping sturgeon (you have to read it to believe it):
Number of the day: 30,000 Gallons of sewage disgorged each day by cruise ships, according to the Sunday Times of London, quoted in the Globe and Mail:
Here's my Notebook Reader for today, a daily digest of noteworthy public discourse:

Yesterday's Reader
John Madden's new deal with ABC means he'll also be making SportsCenter appearances on, and generally being overexposed like crazy by, sister cable network ESPN. And now comes the news that Madden is making a comeback on TV commercials, too, with a new deal with Ace. I like Madden, but have your volume control ready.
President Bush will give an exclusive interview this September 11 to Scott Pelley, a fine reporter on a fine newsmagazine, 60 Minutes II on CBS. Ari Fleischer says granting just one interview "allows a real focus on what the president wants to say." He didn't say it spares the president from gratingly repetitive questions and an emotionally draining interview regime, but you get the idea. In age of Barbie anchors, it will be good to have the gravitas of Dan Rather, Christiane Amanpour, Ed Bradley, Steve Kroft, Andy Rooney, and other wise veterans capturing the mood of the first 9-11 anniversary for CBS. More from Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post:

Thursday, July 25, 2002

Link of the day:
This Los Angeles Airport Monitor tracks airplanes by moving them across a map in real time. Zoom out to 96 miles and they look like ants swarming a picnic crumb. There's one for Atlanta, too.
Number of the day: 30: Percent drop in tourism at Pikes Peak in June, after a 5 percent rise in shutterbugs in May. Tourists are freaked out by the fires out West, although 23.8 million of Colorado's 24 million acres are not burning, from the NY Times.
Rob Lowe leaves West Wing: From the beginning he was the most intractable star of the brilliant WW, reportedly disappointed the moment Martin Sheen agreed to do all 22 episodes of the show's first season, not just 4. Lowe, who seemed to sign on with the show on the basis of being its focal point, wanted to be the man. He's hinted at leaving earlier, so this is less than a surprise. The circumstances are quite Lowe-ian: he's pouting over getting much less dough than Sheen, although he is getting a little more than the rest of the cast--all of whom were nominated for this year's Emmy's, unlike Lowe. Lowe's character--a razor-sharp, savvy political operative who embodied the show's irony and wit--will be missed; the never-content Lowe will not.

AP writeup at my file site:
Quote of the day:
"You can [blame] a little bit of it, maybe, on the heat. People being confined in their houses, which may or may not have air conditioning."

East St. Louis Police Chief Delbert Marion on what the heat wave has to do with an increase in domestic violence, thus connecting the unconscionable assault of women with the thermometer.
Leave it to the testosterone-pumped, give-em-hell Bush Administration to alienate one of the most popular politicians in the era of unpopular politicians, and one of the world's great peacemakers: Colin Powell. A fine profile in today's NY Times, which I randomly noticed was picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald (don't ask). So Powell's ticking clock is internationally known; that must do wonders for his diplomatic leverage.

And, speaking of Starbucks, I noticed the NY Times navbar is now sponsored by the proliferating coffee peddlers. Sheesh!
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Today's installment of my Notebook Reader, a daily digest of notable public discourse, is off the presses at my file site:
I said earlier this week that I was keeping an eye on Keith Olbermann. Now he's just landed a columnist gig in Salon, which is a great fit for him, although I'm afraid of being cut off once they put his pieces on premium. His first column is free, and makes the surprising connection between the baseball strike and the first anniversary of September 11, which could disgracefully coincide.

As baseball players march obliviously and self-righteously toward a strike that could bankrupt several franchises and eliminate 20 percent of the jobs in their industry, they are, from all evidence, wrestling only with exactly when to threaten to walk out. Sources disagree on the logic patterns, and even the process of selection. But they are uniform in reporting that the players are terrified of the public reaction should they actually be out on strike on Sept. 11.
The Starbucks-ization of the world: Business 2.0 breaks down all the numbers:,1640,41189,FF.html
Here's a twist: Joe Lieberman has been wearing a groove in his shin, kicking himself for promising to stay out of it if Gore runs in '04. His growing desire to run has been oh-so-thinly disguised as he shakes hands in coffee shops in New Hampshire and beyond. But what if, Michael Sneed asks, he announces his candidacy later this year? Technically, if he beats Gore to the punch, he won't be infringing on his former running mate, since Gore won't officially be a candidate! It's a technicality only a politician could love.
Thought of the day: the need to be outside the box to see the box: I thought of this while paging through a coffee table book on cities of the world last night around the corner at Barnes and Noble on State Street. Each flip of the page transported me to a unique point on the globe--the grandeur of Berlin, the sandy vastness of Cairo, the art of Paris, the concrete timelessness of London, the glitz of Las Vegas (Chicago, to my disgust, was ommitted from the tour).

My family and my wife have been, among them, to London, Paris, and Germany in the past few years. I've lived in New York and Chicago and considered that a big deal for a Grand Rapids native. But as my college courses, and now my job, have taken me into the thick of cultural studies, I've been thinking--do you have to have a sustained international experience to best view American culture? I try to think of myself as a skeptical, creative, and constructive cultural critic. But can you really do it without removing yourself? The problem may be complicated by the fact that I'm living in the heart of Chicago and loving it--I eagerly immerse myself in the city each day. Then I consider my friend Will who's spending the summer in Beijing, and my best friend Nathan, who has been living in the Northwest Territories, and I realize--they have the most sincere skepticism of their native cultural contexts, not to mention the most compelling praise. I promised my wife I'd take her to London within ten years; I wonder how my work and my worldview will change when I follow through on it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Link of the Day:
Long Bets ponders several long-term possibilities and offers yes and no arguments. The topics range from the metaphysical (By 2020, someone will win a Nobel Prize for work on superstring theory, membrane theory, or some other unified theory describing all the forces of nature click here) to the classic sports bar wagers (The US men's soccer team will win the World Cup before the Red Sox win the World Series--Ted Danson weighs in on this one! click here)
The main product of Taiwan's government-owned Tobacco and Liquor Corporation may be in trouble: a 53-year-old cigarette brand named--no kidding--Long Life, "because of a proposed law forbidding any marketing claim or suggestion that cigarettes are clean, safe or healthy," from yesterday's NY Times:
I meant to post this with my marriage rant the other day: "Who Needs a Husband" from the NY Times:
And today's letters to the editor in response to the column:
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My ongoing series on why I'm sometimes embarassed by my profession (then again, nah, TV is a different breed): cheesy TV news headlines. In tomorrow's Tribune, an ad for WGN News at 9: "Help on picking the right style of yoga--and tips to avoid getting hurt." Stop the presses. Then there is the recent series in Baltimore on "How to Escape a Submerged Car," whose melodrama exceeded its substance (seared here by critic David Folkenflik). Reminds me of Sam Donaldson, his ABC talk show run nearing an end, reflecting on the banality of his newsmag "Primetime Live" in this week's TV Guide: "If you like murder or rape or multiple-birth or diet-pill-of-the-week stories and want to watch them, fine. But if we say it's ABC News, we should be a little bit better than that." Alas, he may as well be a dinosaur for such a common sense observation. Commercial news is an oxymoron. Or, as the Washington Monthly put it, the fluff problem is a case (pun intended) of "Substance Abuse."
My best friend Nathan is an adventurous journalist who is beginning his career trekking around Northern Canada. He's producing some interesting stuff, and his writing shows the promise (in my personal, completely objective opinion) of one of the next great Canadian narrative reporters. Here's a recent piece I've posted at my file site.
Thought of the day: Finding the ordinary-ness in the extraordinary. One of the functions of beginning my career in Chicago is to take the city off the pedestal in occupied in my mind. In my constant weekend trips down here throughout college, and even during my semester down here last fall, I revered Chicago as a celestial city, an image the city's majestic skyscrapers and ethereal relationship with Lake Michigan may invoke in the newcomer. But now I live here, and am starting to get used to the ordinary-ness of it. It doesn't cease to be a fascinating place, nor my favorite city on earth, but Chicago is composed of ordinary people, going about ordinary business on streets and sidewalks, businesses and parks like anywhere else. At first I, my mind wrapped around postcards, found that surprising.

I thought of that this morning while walking down the Magnificent Mile to work on a cool summer morning--a dream I never wanted to wake up from. While this glamorous stretch of Michigan Avenue is enjoyable, I (and most Chicago purists) bemoan how it is an artificial tourist construct--a pseudo-world tourists visit and then tell themselves they've been to Chicago. The city's true riches, seldom explored, are its historical neighborhoods South and West, in Oak Park, in unmarked lots (such as the one where the famous Haymarket Riots took place), and these are anything but touristy. And yet. Walking down Rush and then Michigan today I saw the most normal sights you can see--a doorman at a hotel, perhaps a student spending his summer lugging bags for the snooty; a worker hosing down the sidewalks of a streetside cafe, the security guards and cleaning ladies in the cathedral-like Tribune Tower where I, in awe, work. Ordinary people with ordinary stories, sadnesses, and delights, and ordinary energies as they carried them out (although city life does add a bit of a spark to people's step), despite their seemingly magical surroundings. But when I say "ordinary" I don't mean to drain the drama from these people's lives; as I writer, I'm convinced that each person is a book waiting to be written.
James Brosnahan, attorney for John Walker Lindh, on his client and September 11, in Newsweek:

He had nothing to do with it. Nothing. You do not attack civilians based on the Qur’an. You don’t commit suicide based on the Qur’an. As it became more and more clear that Osama bin Laden had done all of this, John wanted to get out of [Afghanistan]. He wanted to go home. But he couldn’t for fear of death. You don’t hail a cab when you’re fighting with the Taliban up there.

Brosnahan is more than a little paranoid, blaming the brouhaha about his client on a post-9/11 squelching of civil liberties. I mean, this guy was with the Taliban. Still, it's worth pointing out that until about last October, the Taliban, though not on our Easter basket list, was not an avowed enemy of the U.S. as was the Al Qaeda mob. People are acting as though this guy was having beers with Osama, or worse.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

I suppose it's a trivial detail in a sad, strange story from Sweden in this morning's NY Times, but I noticed that this woman's lawyer, apparently famous, is Leiff Ericksson. I had to double-check that the original Leif Ericsson was spelled differently:
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Thought of the day: The spiritual function of temperature. I walked outside my apartment building on the Near North Side this morning and was gently greeted by the coolest morning I can remember since moving here in June. It was only Sunday that my wife and I were weighed down by a 97 degree summer day at Union Station after riding back from Grand Rapids, and since then we've hardly wanted to move off the couch near our fiercely battling air conditioner on the 18th floor. But the tenderness of the atmosphere this morning was refreshing, and not just physically. I remember my mom saying she just felt like a different person after we got central air in our house--before that, she felt like she was moving in slow motion in the sweltering summer heat. Indeed, my mood this morning was altered just by stepping outside and feeling the 70 degrees against my face and seeing the aqua of the sky. Temperature is more than just environment, I think. It can shape the soul.
John O'Sullivan in today's Chicago Sun-Times "When Pope John Paul II arrives in Toronto today for the World Youth Day Congress, he will be arriving on a continent that still seems largely religious--and leaving a continent that has apparently abandoned religion for agnosticism and the pursuit of material affluence."

Also in today's paper, Richard Roeper does a nice job of dismantling the rabid assaults of Ann Coulter:
Number of the day: 61: Percent of American adults using the Internet, up from 46 percent two years ago, according to the NY Times:
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Monday, July 22, 2002

The city of Detroit begins kissing up to the Democratic party today, hoping to land the 2004 Democratic Convention. You have to be a severe case of a political junkie to care much about this, and if you're on the Detroit committee, you have to be a little delusional to think that having the convention will be all that much of an economic boost to the city. It hardly ever is, and with conventions' gradual plunge in significance accelerated by a front-loaded '04 primary schedule, the next round of conventions will be a joke (the Dems are talking about scheduling for September, while their nominee will be settled in February or March). Still, a hosting convention would mean a lot, symbolically (i.e. rebirth), to Detroit or New York, more so than fellow candidates Boston and Miami.
"Market forces have no intrinsically moral direction," says Arianna Huffington. "Which is why, before he wrote 'The Wealth of Nations,' Adam Smith wrote 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments.' Ethics should precede economics. But it’s not inevitable that it will." I'm an Arianna fan, but as a Christian liberal, I'm fascinated anytime liberals talk about ethics. Liberals make it their job to say there are no absolutes, only differing perspectives, and that the problem with religion is that it forces one particular institutional view on otherwise independently minded people. So then what is the source of liberals' moral outrage? Didn't these CEO's cooking the books merely have a different interpretation of reality? Or are the Ten Commandments in play here? But I'll always cheer on Huffington et al in her rants against corporate greed, which to her credit she was making before it was recently hip.