Friday, August 30, 2002

Kit-KatsMoney&Culture File...or is that Money&Candy? Nestlé may be looking to buy Hershey and gobble up over half the U.S. chocolate candy market.

See also: the only known all-chocolate blog:
• Previous M&C
Comics are suffering the end of a stand-up boom, says the CS Monitor:
Etymology Today from M-W: will-o'-the-wisp \wil-uh-thuh-WISP\
1 : a light that appears at night over marshy ground; *2 : a misleading or elusive goal or hope

The will-o'-the-wisp is a flame-like phosphorescence caused by gases from decaying plants in marshy areas. In olden days, it was personified as "Will with the wisp," a sprite who carried a fleeting "wisp" of light. Foolish travelers were said to try to follow the light and be led astray into the marsh. (An 18th century fairy tale described Will as one "who bears the wispy fire to trail the swains among the mire.") The light was first known, and still also is, as "Ignis Fatuus," which in Latin means "foolish fire." Eventually, the name "will-o'-the-wisp" was extended to any impractical or unattainable goal.
• Previous E.T.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

baseball strikeThis says it well (click for larger image). As I've posted before (click here), I will be sorely disappointed if there's no strike--if all this folly and self-immolating greed doesn't backfire on the owners and players, and destroy their livelihood worse than they fear each other will--it's a shame. strike update

Thought of the Day and Notebook Reader may return tomorrow...but maybe not. It's a bad week, and next week will be too.
Media&Culture File
Time graphicIt's a frightening new world of advertising, says Time, with product placement pervading every nook and cranny of life.,9171,1101020902-344045,00.html

Good thing we have and to help us sort through the mess.

Related: Sun-Times' Phil Rosenthal on the trouble with TiVo
Good to see my alma mater, Calvin College, show up on The Princeton Review's rankings of the nation's top 345 colleges (roughly 10% of the country's schools), trailing only Rice in the "best academic bang for your buck" category, and scoring 18th on "best quality of life." Just because it's four blocks away from where I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, because it's relatively conservative, and because I work among people with big-name diplomas, I forget that Calvin is one of the finest liberal arts schools anywhere, and I would have been my loss had I gone elsewhere.
Sports&Culture File:'s Bill Simmons keeps a diary of his (roughly) umpteenth viewing of Hoosiers. Plus an archived comparison of the movie and its real-life inspiration, the 1954 Milan High state champion basketball team:

Also, Slate's Robert Weintraub makes the case for Randall Cunningham, who won more MVP's than Joe Montana, to make football's Hall of Fame, with this observation about the sudden revolution Cunningham helped spur:

When Cunningham was drafted in 1985, black QBs were still a rarity. Doug Williams' historic Super Bowl win was still two years away, and the idea that fast, athletic blacks could succeed at the position was anathema to head coaches around the league. It took Buddy Ryan, a defensive guru who understood the kind of pressure a game-breaker like Cunningham could put on a defense, to prove that a black scrambler could not just survive but thrive in a league increasingly based on speed. Nowadays, with Kordell Stewart, Donovan McNabb, and Michael Vick making a QB who can run or pass seem a necessary part of modern football, it's easy to forget the Mesozoic Era when Randall was a curiosity. Yet it was only 15 years ago.

Earlier at Slate, though, Justin Driver says to guard against stereotyping black quarterbacks:

NFL commentators speak incessantly of a New Breed of quarterback. The New Breed is agile, swift, and black. The Old Breed is stationary, strong-armed, and white. This categorization, however, is deeply flawed. There is nothing novel about the so-called New Breed. By lumping these players together, the sporting world ignores the lesson of Doug Williams and Warren Moon: A quarterback's race need not dictate his style of play.

Finally, I finally found the link to this NY Times Magazine piece on men and sportscasting:

Previous Sports&Culture

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Link of the Day:
The weblog of, a hub for most of the country's major newspapers, spotlights the click-worthy.
Number of the Day: 1.2
Billions of dollars the baseball owners stand to lose by cancelling this year's playoffs and World Series, including up to $500 million in penalties to Fox, which has the World Series TV rights.
Previous Number of the Day
Thought of the day: Does God care about our feelings?
Only after the 20th Century and the rise of psychology, psychiatry, and Oprah could we ask such a question. Imagine going up to Jonathan Edwards, watching him wipe his brow after roasting his congregation with "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" (will the actually versatile Edwards be forever remembered as a one-sermon man?) and meekly uttering, "Um, pastor, I'm just going through a hard time right now and I'm wondering if you could ask God just to be there for me." Not that that's a wholly bad prayer. I just can't imagine Edwards being too fond of it.

But now, in a self-help age in which churches can seem more interested in consumers than disciples, God-talk is increasingly emotional. My wife and I were talking yesterday about Bible studies we went to in high school and college, and both regretted how vague and sentimental they tended to be, filled with saccharine statements about "going through a really hard time" and "I just felt God's presence" that were seldom fleshed out meaningfully for the gathered group. I have the same reaction to the "Footprints" poem, which furthers the model of Christ as Shoulder To Cry On--which again, is not incorrect but does seem incomplete when we're talking about the sovereign of all creation and culture. Is our faith, and our vision of God, not smaller when we see him too much as a coffee break companion and too little King of creation? (Historians say the imagery of Christ changed dramatically in the late 19th Century from angry parent to meek shepherd, when male church attendance went down and pastors thought they had to please the ladies.)

I hate myself for snootily questioning the substance (though not the authenticity) of those people who felt so in touch with their faith, and I know that my wife and I are, to our peril, practicalists in our faith, favoring our heads at the expense of our hearts. And surely, emotions are a segment of faith without which faith would wither. So my question is: what role do our personal emotional narratives--when we're feeling up and when we're feeling down--play in our faith? How legit, or at least useful, is it to pray: "Lord, I'm feeling down, help me to feel closer to you"? This was roughly the unspoken prayer that spilled from me as I sat down in church on Sunday, distraught by a fight with my wife--but doesn't that make my faith sound fickle, and isn't that awfully individualistic when you're supposed to be joining the body of believers in a common voice of worship? I'm not saying you leave your sorrows at the door, I'm saying in this society we see faith and worship as a pick-me-up.

I quoted theologian Robert M. Price is this Chimes piece about feel-good faith. He says that if you listen to evangelicals long enough, you start to think that “God sent his only begotten Son, the second person of the Trinity, to earth to be crucified and resurrected just so the pietist can become a nicer guy … the reality of Christ is effectively limited to a source for individual sanctification, even for spiritual coziness.” Andrew Sullivan puts it this way in this online debate about the existence of God: "Belief in God is not a question of filling a need. God is not the utilitarian answer to human anxiety. If he were, he would be outclassed in many ways."

So how legit is emotion as a barometer of faith, and what does it mean that faith feels stronger when we're in a good mood and weaker when we're depressed? Faith does play an emotional function: it contributes to an emotional sense that things are right in the world, it gives us contextual order. But when is this the Spirit, and when is it seratonin?

Previous Thought
Earlier Thought: Change the world? Footnote: My question was how necessary or helpful it would be for everyone (or most) to agree on how to change the world. It may not be possible, but is that because people can't agree on how to see the problem (i.e. the rich calling poor nations under-industrious or even blessed, the poor seeing the rich as hoarding) or because they have practical differences about proposed solutions? While I stew, here are a couple more globalization links:
Film festivalWatched West Side Story in Grant Park last night, the finale of Chicago's Outdoor Film Festival, settling into those nylon expando-chairs (which roughly half of the crowd of a few thousand owned) and watching the swift, low evening clouds dust the glimmering night skyline, at one point shrouding the Sears. A spectacular outdoor venue for a classic movie.

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

I did find it odd, though, that the urban settings were so polished and somewhat glamorized, making for an artificial, and not gritty, street atmosphere. I seemed out of place to be plastering these sterilized visions of city life, with twirling gang members, on a giant screen just miles away from Chicago's impoverished South and (yes) West Sides last night.

It turns out the urban backdrop for the movie was actually the condemned Manhattan zone that gave way for the gleaming Lincoln Center.

Opening dance sequences were shot on the upper west side of Manhattan where Lincoln Center stands today. This area was condemned and the buildings were in the process of being demolished to make way for Lincoln Center. The demolition of these buildings was delayed so that the filming of these sequences could be completed.

Other trivia from IMDB:
- The actors in the rival gangs were instructed to play pranks on each other off the set to keep tensions high.
- Although the producers tried to keep the different gangs separate during filming to create tension, Russ Tamblyn (Riff), said that he knew of at least one 'Jet' who was roommates with a 'Shark' through filming.
- An update of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet," the script was originally meant to be about a Protestant boy falling in love with a Jewish girl. The working title was East Side Story. After a boom of Puerto Rican immigration to New York in the late 1940's and 1950's, the story was changed.
History&Today: I meant to post this earlier from the NY Times: The powers that be at Mount Vernon says it's time for the Father of our Country to get a makeover. The old man just isn't luring the tourists in a (post-?)MTV age. Trying to make history sexy is nothing new, of course (literally so in the case of Thomas Jefferson), but am I the only one having a hard time believing that even sacrosanct George now needs to be hip?

Say goodbye to the stern and remote George Washington, the boring one who wore a powdered wig, had wooden teeth and always told the truth. Embrace instead the action hero of the 18th century, a swashbuckling warrior who survived wild adventures, led brilliant military campaigns, directed spy rings and fell in love with his best friend's wife. ... Stirred to action by what they say is an appalling decline in what visitors know about Washington, they have embarked on a radical course. Their goal is to reposition the father of the country for a new era. Among the tools they plan to use are holograms, computer imagery, surround-sound audio programs and a live-action film made by Steven Spielberg's production company. The film may be shown in a theater equipped with seats that rumble and pipes that shoot battlefield smoke into the audience.
Previous H&T
Architecture footnote: For goodness sake, says Carol Vinzant in Slate, put the Sears Tower on the Illinois quarter! As Vinzant observes in a detailed breakdown of quarter designs, most states favor tacky, vague references to icons from their colonial or frontier history. Why not emblazeon the loose change with the majestic silhouette of one of America's proudest skyscrapers? (Here are my Sears pictures.)
Architecture Watch
London's City HallI just recently encountered this picture of London's City Hall, an abstract, glass-encased shell across from Big Ben. It opened for business just over a month ago; I'm embarrassed, as an amateur architecture critic, that I wasn't aware of it. Now I'm all the more eager to keep my promise to my wife to take her to London within a decade.
Here's the city's website on the building:

Also, Benjamin Thompson died last week. The designer of Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace, Thompson preached my sermon on the importance of art and architecture being pervasive and relevant to all areas of life, and not just leisure for the elite:

"For art to be part of our life we must live with it, not just go to museums," Mr. Thompson said in a 1963 interview in The New Yorker. "In a way, things like museums and Lincoln Center kill art and music. Art is not for particular people but should be in everything you do -- in cooking and, God knows, in the bread on the table, in the way everything is done."

A promoter of lively urban centers, "he was just as much an advocate as an architect; of vital cities, human commerce, lively design and good eating," says the NY Times obit:

Previous Architecture Watch

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Latest Trib piece: On TheraDate on the front of today's Tempo:

Here are some comments from Dr. Berscheid that were clipped:

If the opposites myth persists, says Berscheid, it’s because people who seem to offset each other actually aren’t that different down deep. "There are exceptions to every rule, and they all stand out and become salient," Berscheid says. "Every time you see an instance of what looks to you as an odd couple, two opposites, then we fish up this idea that opposites attract, but they don't. People may look opposite on the surface, but below the surface, with attitudes, education and so on, they may be very similar."

And here's a picky point that Levenson raised--he quoted the divorce rate as 50%. Here's how I worded it, although this was trimmed as well. See if it makes sense:

Levenson says opposites actually repel, and that the national divorce rate proves it. (For every two weddings in the United States in the 1990s, there was approximately one divorce, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While this is often inaccurately calculated as a 50% divorce rate, the number of divorces is still a tiny fraction of the number of existing marriages in the country.)

My Tribune archive
Places&Culture from
NY Times

HICKMAN, Ky. — There have been days lately when Mildred Johnson has had to park half a block from her storefront office. The reason, she said, is Kelly Laster. Mr. Laster moved here a year ago from Collinsville, Ill. For $9,000, he bought the old brick building that Citizens Bank abandoned 12 years before and put a pawnshop in it. Two months ago, he opened a doughnut shop next door, so now Ms. Johnson and other people in town have a place to go for lunch. In the bank's mahogany-walled boardroom, now his office, Mr. Laster said, "Next, I'm opening a produce shop." In the fall, he added, "I'm running for mayor." Like roses blooming in graveyards, entrepreneurs have brought new life to some of the comatose old towns along the Mississippi River. Creating new businesses, reinventing old ones, maneuvering around the megastores that sucked away the towns' businesses in the first place, they are resurrecting communities — or at least stalling their demise.

When Ghanaians immigrate here, they quickly display the timeless yearning of new Americans for owning a house. What makes the Ghanaians different is that the house they yearn to own is in Ghana. That explains why an odd business has sprung up on the Grand Concourse, that boulevard of dreams for earlier generations of immigrants. It is called Ghana Homes Inc., and its principal enterprise is helping Ghanaian immigrants, some of them living pinched lives as taxi drivers and nursing home aides, to buy houses in Ghana even if the buyers may never actually return to Ghana to live.

Previous P&C

Monday, August 26, 2002

My last two weeks at the Tribune, and the work is piling up so postings here will temporarily go down. Stay tuned and the quantity, and quality, will hopefully be back to previous respectable levels. For now, enjoy the past couple weeks and my links page.
Etymology Today from M-W: apotheosis \uh-pah-thee-OH-suss or ap-uh-THEE-uh-suss ("th" as in "think")\
1 : elevation to divine status : deification; 2 : the perfect example : quintessence

Among the ancient Greeks, it was sometimes thought fitting -- or simply handy, say if you wanted a god somewhere in your bloodline -- to grant someone or other god status. So they created the word "apotheosis," meaning "making into a god." (The prefix "apo-" can mean simply "quite" or "completely," and "theos" is the Greek word for "god.") There's not a lot of Greek-style apotheosizing in the 21st century, but there is hero-worship. Our extended use of "apotheosis" as "elevation to divine status" is the equivalent of "placement on a very high pedestal." Even more common these days is to use "apotheosis" in reference to a perfect example or ultimate form. For example, one might describe a movie as "the apotheosis of the sci-fi movie genre."

Previous E.T.
Morning news from B.Globe

Bearing bottled water, cameras, and strollers, about 600,000 people descended yesterday into a cool, subterranean sliver of Boston's future. With the zeal of tourists, they snapped photographs of steel rods and hulking construction equipment, and with the attitude of true Bostonians, they pronounced judgment as soon as they re-emerged into the sunlight: The newly submerged Central Artery is a marvel. When it opens in December, the northbound side of the 11/2-mile-long tunnel will ferry vehicles beneath the streets of downtown Boston and empty them onto the soaring Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Bridge. Offered the chance to walk the route before they drive it, people began lining up at 8:30 a.m. for the noon tour. Massachusetts Turnpike Authority officials had to open the tunnel 40 minutes early to relieve crowding on the streets above.

NAGCHU, Tibet When Chinese officials recently announced the laying of the first tracks in an ambitious railway project to link the restive and long-isolated people of Tibet to the rest of China, they vowed that connecting the world's highest plateau to ''the modern world'' would bring unprecedented economic opportunity. But away from the ears of government officials escorting a group of foreign journalists, Tibetans contended that the $2.4 billion initiative would only draw more Han Chinese residents, the country's dominant ethnic group, who have been migrating steadily to this area over the last decade, bringing with them karaoke bars, discos, and signs in Chinese script that most locals can't understand. ''The train is for them, so the Chinese can come here,'' said a former herder from this northern grassland region through which two-thirds of the roughly 700-mile-long railway will pass. ''They are robbing our land of precious minerals and will use the train to take them away faster. "

The number of Americans confined in jails and prisons grew by 1.3 percent last year to reach an unprecedented 1,330,980 inmates, while the total behind bars in Massachusetts remained virtually unchanged, according to state correction officials and figures released yesterday by the US Justice Department. But a closer look at the state numbers yielded little cause for optimism, according to state officials, even though the number of people in Massachusetts prisons and county jails actually dropped 0.1 percent in 2001. As the state's prison population fell 3.1 percent - a figure that looked like good news for a system that lost three lower-security prisons to budget cuts this year and which is currently running 29 percent over capacity - that drop was offset by a jump in the number of people being held in county jails for lesser crimes.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Weekend reading: One of the most thoughtful religious blogs I've found is written by Peter Nixon: It was covered in the Tribune the same day my blog story ran. Today Nixon links to this story on ex-Catholic Latino Protestants in the Raleigh News-Observer:
I've spotlighted Nixon and a few other quality faith blogs at my slightly updated links page (see bottom).
Will takes issue with the Rick Shenkman e-mail at my file site:

Thoughts like this, this idea that Americans are credulous and myth-susceptible where other cultures are not, seems to have much currency among today's intelligentsia, albeit latent and not much talked about. I do not deny that Americans love their myths, but neither do I assert that other people don't. ... Peace, prosperity and freedom, many say, are simply Western ideas that don't apply to other cultures. Huh? If there is one thing people everywhere at all times have had in common it is the desire for "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Usually they disagree on who deserves it and how to get it, but the basic principles are the same. There's no point arguing this; it's axiomatic if you know the world beyond your frontdoor. National or regional cultures are merely stories we tell each other to bind ourselves together to pursue our common interests.
The baseball strike could silence the legendary voice of Ernie Harwell, says Detnews

Ernie Harwell has no control over baseball's labor problems. Clearly, no one with a lick of sense does. So unless an unprecedented cloud of reason wafts over the owners and players, the Detroit Tigers' season will clank to a premature halt Aug. 30. At their current pace, that could deprive them of 17 additional losses. More important -- at least to many people -- a strike could deprive Harwell of a farewell broadcast.
An e-mail response at Slate to Virginia Hefferman's review of Sex and the City, which I clipped for my Notebook Reader. Hefferman wrote, "The show's themes now seem less consumerist."

I find this quote remarkable, given that season five has been beating us over the head with product tie-ins. To my count, at least three per episode, and that's only counting prominent logo placements accompanied by a few lines of endorsement by the primary characters. I'm giving the producers the benefit of the doubt in assuming references to Vogue magazine, Conde Nast, and popular clubs are not compensated.

A major plotline revolved around Charlotte buying a book on that she was too embarrassed to purchase in a store. During one scene, a screenshot of Amazon's website was shown three separate times. It became a two minute commercial on a cable channel we pay $10 per month for. The actual site then had a "Sex in the City" page with book recommendations for viewers.

Then there was the scene with Carrie drinking a McDonald's milkshake, carefully held with the logo facing the camera. She happily droned on for 20 seconds about how much she loves McDonald's strawberry shakes. Longtime viewers were amazed that Carrie would be seen in a McDonald's, much less publicly sing its praises.
Railroads the route to post-Cold War diplomacy? From Wash.Post

President Vladimir Putin pressed North Korea on Friday to forge a new Asia-Europe freight route by extending Russia's trans-Siberian railway across the Korean peninsula to bypass China. Putin, speaking after almost four hours of talks with North Korea's reclusive Kim Jong-il, said the new link would help revitalize Russia's depressed and underpopulated far east. The encounter outside the city of Vladivostok comes at an important political juncture with communist North Korea and industrialized South Korea edging closer to each other after almost half a century of icy stand-off. Under Putin, Russia is actively courting Pyongyang after a cool period immediately after the Cold War. The United States, while bracketing North Korea part of an "axis of evil," is keen to reach a deal with Pyongyang to stop it developing nuclear weapons.
What do to with Enron charity donations? ... Hurricane researcher remembers Andrew 10 years later
...and other important but neglected discourse in my Notebook Reader:
Previous Reader
ElvisOne week after the 25th anniversary of his death, my Elvis story runs today in the Tribune. Funny how a few minor copy editing moves altered the tone and it doesn’t quite sit well with me. The original is here.

Elvis is one of the few American icons whose death is more meaningfully commemorated than his life, and there’s just an eery—if often tacky—tone surrounding his “posthumous vitality,” as I called it in the article. But before you get too weepy over Elvis’ demise, these little-known-facts fromTrib reporter Rob Elder are a reality check about some of the Elvis mythology.,1419,M-Metromix-Home-X!ArticleDetail-17902,00.html

Other links:
People magazine has a nice little pictorial gallery:,10492,105211,00.html

Rolling Stone on the 21st Century marketing of Elvis:

NY Times editorial on the 25th anniversary and his cultural legacy:

The Atlantic has archived a review of “When Elvis Died” (I think the sub-hed is a misprint here):

And finally, in the Tongue-in-Cheek department, did you know Elvis shot JFK? When you think about it, it just makes so much sense.

Footnote to my story: One of the things I was struck by Tuesday night was how Elvis was projected as quintessentially American. In the show, “he” sang, as the original did while alive, “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and wore red, white and blue. He was, of course, spoken of as a hero, an American legend. The show was billed as something of a family fun night, and children gathered around the stage. Ironically, in the 50’s Elvis was an unspeakable rebel, challenging America’s placid mood and ironclad norms. Now he’s seen as a throwback to an innocent time.

story link: ...2002_08_18_nbiermafile_archive.html#80615131
Etymology Today from M-W: babblative \BAB-luh-tiv\

"Babblative" is a chatty member of the "ative" family, a collection of several hundred English words ending with the Latinate suffix "-ative" (which means "relating to" or
"tending to"). "Babblative" appeared in the 1500s, but it wasn't the first word-related member of its clan. "Talkative" has been around since the 15th century. Other verbal family members are more recent, but their heritage is distinguished. "Writative" (meaning "given or addicted to writing") was apparently first used by Alexander Pope in a 1736 letter to Jonathan Swift. (He wrote, "Increase of years makes men more talkative but less writative.") Younger still, "scribblative" (meaning "given to verbose and hastily written writing") was probably coined in 1829 by Robert Southey when he wrote of "professors of the arts babblative and scribblative."

Previous E.T.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

Number of the Day: 5
Percentage below which vacancy rates have fallen in residential space around Ground Zero, down from 45 percent late last year.
Yesterday's Number
Thought of the day: though elitist, a down-to-earth person in high office
I wouldn't vote for George W. Bush if he were running against Godzilla, and I still wince while watching his press conferences. Fielding questions yesterday in Crawford, he stuttered and blanked out like a freshman high school debate student, at one point turning to Donald Rumsfeld next to him and asking, "What's the word?" It's embarassing to have him lead the free world. And yet, there's a part of me that appreciates his sincerity--he may be unintelligent and condescendingly vague, but it's impossible for him to actually play a different character as Reagan and Clinton did. They did so much damage to the office of president by turning it into a character to project rather than a person to be. And for his many faults George W. is at least a down-to-earth person in the highest office in the land. No, he doesn't belong there, but there's an authenticity to him that has long disappeared in most career politicians. I imagine you just forget how to be real after awhile. But Bush is sincere. As embarassing as he can be, Bush is at least someone you can watch and say, there's a human being I can relate to--and almost live his incredible story vicariously. It's a sick game, one I deeply hope we as a country end in 2004, but for now, it is at least a change of pace from the smoke-and-mirrors of Reagan and Clinton.

Yesterday's Thought
Footnote: Let no one mistake W for a plainfolks everyman, though. This is someone who would be in a sorry state had his name not handed him business and now political power. If he were George W. Smith, you think he'd have a D.C. zip code right now?
Greg Budzban, a mathematics professor at the U of Southern Illinois, calls for a pre-emptive fan strike on August 29 in a passionate essay. I don't say this often, but the Trib's Bob Greene says it best: "Millions of Americans will be deeply disappointed, even depressed, if the big-league baseball players DON'T strike."
Do you suppose David Slade has a busy job, or is a latter-day Maytag Repairman? He's the Internship Program Director for the Bill Clinton's Harlem office. You can send in your application by downloading this PDF.
Family&Culture File:

Michael Lewis, Slate
One of the many surprising things to me about fatherhood is how it has perverted my attitude toward risk. ... My emotions are [now] easily manipulated by cheap dramatic tricks involving the suffering of small children, and by the current media hysteria about what is in fact an ordinary rate of child murders. ... Small children are also a mood-altering substance with financial consequences. Their effect on the human mind is the opposite of Prozac. ... I am no longer as open as I once was to helping out people I don't know, especially when those people need a bath. Several times a week I have a vaguely hostile response to a stranger that I would not have had if I didn't have children—for instance, when I see a bum loitering in the park near our house.

Ellyn Spragins, NY Times
The idea of fathers raising a generation of sons who choose to be stay-at-home dads themselves is a lovely bookend to the long established trend of women entering the work force. But, as we've learned from that, few people can make such an important decision and find it's right for all occasions and all life stages. There's going to be more to this fathering story. So let's not push these men into a new category and call them Mr. Moms. Let's just say they're parents-in-progress, like so many of us. ...2002_08_11_nbiermafile_archive.html#80332086

Timothy Noah, Slate
The Times wedding pages are built on the false assumption that the weddings of wealthy non-celebrities constitute news. They're an anachronistic holdover from the days when newspapers carried "society" pages unabashedly celebrating even the most trivial events in the lives of the local (usually WASP) elite. In those distant times, it made a certain amount of sense. For one thing, America did not profess in 1940 to strive for the same degree of egalitarianism that it aspires to today. And on a practical level, newspapers—even the New York Times—were local institutions in communities that really were governed by relatively small, readily identifiable local elites. Today, Times readers and the distribution of economic and political power are more national and diffuse. It's no longer reasonable to assume that most Times readers have the slightest idea who these people celebrated in the wedding pages even are. So why do the wedding pages persist? Not because they convey news, but because the tiny number of people who are wealthy or influential enough to get their weddings written up would have a fit if this privilege were taken away.

Yesterday: Places&Culture

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Number of the Day: 1,500
number of wallets lost annually at Grand Central Station
Yesterday's Number
EU to pry lid off French perfume industry secrets ... Simone star's secret identity...
and more in today's installment of my Notebook Reader, a daily roundup of important and/or interesting headline's beneath the radar:
Yesterday's Reader
Bonus thought (boy, is my brain burbling brilliance today...or just wandering uselessly...)
A friend who just got a cell phone urged me to call, "especially on nights and weekends!" This idea of financially beneficial times of the day to talk is odd to me: a conversation commenced at 8:59 is costly, at 9:00 it's free. Quantifying speech that way just seems wrong. The thing is, I'm tempted to call people when the clock ticks 9 just to wallow in the vastness (like the woman in the ad who calls her husband's phone just to get him away from the remote). And then I thought, imagine if prayer were said to be best on nights and weekends--would we pray more earnestly or confusedly if there were certain windows of time to talk to God?
Thought of the day: change the world? start by making up your mind
Each time I concoct an idea to change the world, I'm torn between two impulses--can-do, Think Big ferocity and crippling practical humility. On the one hand, nothing ever changes if everyone wallows in conformity and accepts the world the way it is--it takes courageous, entrepreneurial social attitudes to reduce sexism and inequality in society's institutions, to spread the gospel, to replace business-minded efficiency with intellectual substance in education, the church, the media, society as a whole. (And the above is just half of my to-do list in life...) On the other hand, it is an advanced form of arrogance to think that one flawed mortal out of 6 billion alive and many more dead can actually transform the social environment on the planet, except for micro-settings like my family and office.

In my 20s, and inspired by a Kuyperian vision for social change, I lean toward the former: change can happen, I can know what it is, I can write about it and take a tangible step to at least not pollute (if not exactly cleanse) the social atmosphere, and set an example in doing so. But hand-in-hand with Kuyperian quasi-triumphalism is Calvinist absolute depravity, which says that because of every human being's brokenness, I am no more apt to change the world through and for Christ than I am to muck it up with my own selfish pride. I mean, I subscribe to the Downstream model of thinking about social change: you could rescue drowning people as they float by you, but after five people in a row, you'll go upstream to clean the clock of whoever is throwing them in. That's why I see politics as a chance to address problems on a macro-level. BUT power is corrupting, and corridors of power are snakepits of egos. Besides, even if you did have political power to change the world, you'd have to get everyone (or a majority) to AGREE with you. I was thinking about this when I saw that on Sunday, the NY Times Magazine published a cover story on (roughly, though it was decently nuanced) why globalization harms the poor and how it should change. Earlier that week Times resident libertarian columnist Virginia Postrel had written a piece on how Bad Globalization is a myth. So how are we supposed to go out an implement the Mag's 9-point plan if we can't even agree if the diagnosis is apt, let alone the prescription? But is that even the correct model for change--the powerful agree, and it happens? I'd like to read this Malcom Gladwell book, The Tipping Point, which I understand analyzes how major social change happens in small, surprising ways. After all, celebrated, even agreed-upon plans for change can go nowhere, and unexpected ones can flourish. What's a world-changer to do?
What do you think?
Yesterday's Thought
Footnote: This has been my dillemma as an intern at the Tribune: I look around and see things that people who have been here don't see; I envision change, I envision improvement, I envision, all utopian-like, how the Tribune could really transform this metropolis. But not only do I have the least power of anyone in the building to do it, I also have to kiss up and shed my would-be maverick skin in order to come back here some day and actually be in a position to change something, by which time I may lose my fire. The Conformist Insider and the Independently-Minded, to find the middle ground.
Last night, covering an Elvis-impersonator concert at Navy Pier, I shook the hand of the man who used to announce "Elvis has left the building"--the King's old tour manager. I believe this may be the most magical celebrity encounter, albeit a little indirect, in my little lifespan. I will be washing the hand, though. Story in the Tribune on Friday.
Headlines presented here without comment. It's Make-Your-Own-Sun-Joke Day.

An Ohio woman has been jailed for allowing her three children to get severely sunburned at a county fair. The woman, Eve Hibbits, 31, of Brilliant, Ohio, faces three felony counts of endangering her 2-year-old daughter and 10-month-old twin sons. She is scheduled to have a preliminary hearing today. "As soon as I looked at them I could tell," said Sheriff Fred Abdalla of Jefferson County, in eastern Ohio. "It looked like the children had been dipped in red paint. It was 95 degrees, and they were literally baking."

NASA said today that it had found a missing $159 million spacecraft, thanks to a half-dozen telescope images that confirmed that the craft, possibly broken in two, was orbiting the Sun.
Says CNN's Jeff Greenfield in Slate

In the late summer of 1994, I found myself in the Rose Garden with the president of the United States and two other reporters—part of a Clinton schmoozefest offensive. As the gathering ended, I abandoned my journalistic purity to offer a suggestion about the just-launched Major League Baseball strike. "You know, you might want to look at the Taft-Hartley Act," I said, referring to the 1947 law that gives the president the power to halt some strikes for up to 80 days. "Doesn't this strike affect the national health and safety?" Failing to notice the tongue in my cheek—my own tongue, to be sure—Clinton looked at me as if I had taken complete leave of my senses. Coincidence or not, that was the last time I was invited to any private, semiprivate, or public event with the president.
Places&Culture File:

The results are in. Walking out of your door is more dangerous in some of Chicago's outer suburbs than in Chicago itself. That conclusion comes from examining two sets of data. First, the study looked at traffic fatalities to assess the danger of leaving home for work or to run an errand or to pick up the kids from a soccer game. Then it looked at homicides by strangers, the murders that strike down people going about their routine business, the murders associated with dangerous neighborhoods. Such homicides account for 20 percent of the total, with the rest occurring between friends, lovers and relatives. ... The results are a testimony to the seeming inability of humans to accurately assess risk. It turns out leaving your door is twice as dangerous in Grundy County as it is in Chicago. (That's 3.3 traffic fatalities and stranger homicides per 10,000 people in Grundy versus 1.4 in Chicago.) ... A similar pattern was found over a four-year period in and around seven other cities: Baltimore, Dallas, Houston, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Two Anne Arundel County police cruisers soon loomed in the rearview mirror. Yet despite his terror, Langston did not panic. Just a few more miles, he knew, and they would reach a place of refuge: a town that black people governed and allowed county police to enter only by invitation. A town where his family and other prominent African Americans owned elegant summer homes and held dinner parties at which piano sonatas were played and politics were discussed. A town beyond racism's reach. Called Highland Beach, it was Maryland's first majority-black municipality, and it is believed to be the nation's oldest African American resort.

Previous P&C

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Quote of the Day:
"I have no problem whatsoever in walking on red carpets, because I've certainly washed enough of them in my life."
Benedita da Silva, a former maid who became Rio de Janeiro's first black woman governor
Number of the Day: 2.4
Percent of SUV drivers in New York who use cellphones while driving, three times the percentage of car drivers. Overall usage dropped from 2.3 percent to 1.1 percent since a state law banned drivers from using cell phones.
Yesterday's quote, link and number
Um, remember the Pentagon? You know, where 184 people, more than the number who died in the Oklahoma City bombing, were killed September 11? It was somewhat forgotten in the shadow of the World Trade Center ruins, and now workers are moving back in to the damaged section. I can't believe how little coverage the Pentagon has gotten compared to Ground Zero, and even this piece is unoriginal, reading like military propaganda until about halfway through:
Boom? Bust? Both?
Here's why I'm so freaking confused about the economy: two blurbs, both from the front page of USA Today's Money section yesterday:

Economic recovery may have 'hit a wall' in July; Chances of a double-dip recession have increased to 20% or more
WASHINGTON -- Anxious economists are downgrading their forecasts, and some crucial sectors of the economy are pushing the likelihood of a rebound into next year because of the abrupt slowdown in the economic recovery."

Rally extends into 4th week
Investors fixated on the chances of a double-dip recession and whether CEOs would sign off on the books may have missed something more important: a rally. Stocks rose for a fourth-consecutive week for the first time since May 2001.

Recession? Consumer spending is good, the housing market is booming, and the GDP was up 6.1 percent in the first quarter. This is complicated. Alan Blinder, formerly of the Federal Reserve and now economics professor at Princeton, wrote last month in the NY Times:

Those who get their economic news from television may come away with the impression that the economy and the stock market are two sides of the same coin. If the market is heading south, then the economy must be, too. But it's not true. The United States economy is most emphatically not falling right now. The stock market may be the TV star. But it is the economy that generates the jobs and puts the food on our tables. And fortunately, the economy is doing much better than the market.

It's confusing, so the media focuses on "national mood" news about the economy that oversimplifies things, said Wall St. bigwig Holman W. Jenkins Jr. last month at Slate:

Thank you for not using the words "restore investor confidence." Have you noticed how almost every solution touted by everybody sounds like it's meant to jolly up investors so they start throwing money at stocks again? I swear if you read Hank Paulson's speech or listen to anything Harvey Pitt says, it seems as if they think the best reform is one that serves its psychological purpose without changing anything substantively.

My advice is to read the rest of Blinder's breakdown for an accessible explanation of where we stand.
Notebook Reader is back, after a hiatus, of which there might be more thanks to my schedule over the next few weeks. Anyway, women gaining ground in governor's races and other important discourse below the media's hype radar in today's edition:
Previous Reader
Thought of the Day: would we be better of if everyone went to college?
Of course we would. And yet ... As I was chewing on this NYT piece and this e-mail from the prof who runs the History News Network, I started thinking about some of the contrarian talking points. I believe it was Ellul who said the problem with higher education is that rather than creating the most well-adjusted citizens, it can become a detached elitist left-wing subculture. Indeed, if you're interested in the most extreme left-wing groups, look at the student organization bulletin board at a college campus, not the lunchroom at the factory or other places the educated look down their noses at. College faculties are collections of 60s holdovers, often liberal with blinders. As a liberal myself, I'm not completely disappointed by this, and I'm grateful to my college for taking me beyond simple-minded conservatism. But at mainstream state colleges and universities across the nation, students are gettting their supposed wisdom filtered through very narrow channels.

We'd have at least two other major problems if everyone went to college. First, alcoholism would go up, as America's otherwise potentially useful underclassmen would continue to drink themselves stupid every weekend. This is enlightenment? It's bacchanalia behind the ivy. And then there's the mind-numbing success narrative--many colleges breed in students the belief that people are there just to sit, take notes and tests, receive a formal-looking piece of paper, for the sole purpose of getting a high-paying job. Fewer schools inspire students to love learning more than money, to be promiscuously curious about the world, to become not just a learned but a perpetually learning adult, interested in the fullness of life. Sometimes I wonder if you learn the most, and the best, outside the classroom. That's why I'm shelving my graduate school plans for the time being to be a journalist, where I get to actually go out and see the world and talk to people, rather than just read about it in a dorm room or library.
What do you think?
Previous Thought
Money&Culture from this morning's newsstand:

"Boom shared by all races in Chicago"
Chicago Sun-Times front page headline, August 20

"Rich 90s failed to lift all: Income disparity between races widened greatly, census analysis shows"
Chicago Tribune front page headline, August 20

Actually, both are right. As the Trib says: "The good news: Poverty and unemployment among all racial and ethnic groups fell in the city and region as a whole, although this data was collected before the current economic downturn. Nevertheless, in Chicago, nearly 30 percent of blacks, 20 percent of Latinos and nearly 18 percent of Asians lived in poverty in 1999. That's compared with just 8.2 percent of whites who reported incomes below the poverty line."
Income-by-neighborhood census chart
Etymology Today from M-W: ambrosia \am-BROH-zhuh or am-BROH-zhee-uh\
*1 a : the food of the Greek and Roman gods b : the ointment or perfume of the gods 2 : something extremely pleasing to taste or smell 3 : a dessert made of oranges and shredded coconut

"Ambrosia" literally means "immortality" in Greek; it is derived from the Greek word "ambrotos," meaning "immortal," which combines the prefix "a-" (meaning "not") with "-mbrotos" (meaning "mortal"). In Greek and Roman mythology, only the immortals -- gods and goddesses -- could eat ambrosia. Those mythological gods and goddesses also drank "nectar," the original sense of which refers to the "drink of the gods." "Nectar" (in Greek, "nektar") may have implied immortality as well, as it probably translates literally as "overcoming death." (Even today, you'll often find the words "ambrosia" and "nectar" in each other's company.) While the "ambrosia" of the gods offered immortality, we mere mortals use "ambrosia" in reference to things that just taste or smell especially delicious.
Previous E.T.

Monday, August 19, 2002

Link of the Day:
"Holding unsuspecting media types accountable for their oracular pronouncements." Lists bold and often unfounded predictions by pundits for the purpose of public ridicule.

Quote of the Day:
"My favorite part is just seeing those monstrous jets roaring with their thrusters. It's just a nice family thing."
Gary Solomon III, Chicago resident attending the city's Air and Water Show. How exactly do those two things go together?

Number of the Day: 17: Percent increase in free trips claimed by frequent fliers in the last 12 months, adding to the airline industry's headaches.
Recycled Thought of the Day: One of my college mentors, Bill Romanowski, adds helpfully to my thought here and article elsewhere on the American view of morality

It's what I call the Wizard of Oz syndrome. Dorothy and her friends have within themselves everything they need to secure their own destiny and salvation, and their journey helps them realize that. As Christians we realize we don't do it on our own. We need God. It's a very different way of looking at the world.

Even evangelical Christians sometimes trip up on this and frame personal salvation as an Oprah-style improvement exercise. Romanowski's fascinating book has won the Gold Medallion from the Christian Publishers Association, a well-deserved honor from an unlikely source.

Calvin College news release:
History&Today It's the 25th anniversary of the death of Groucho Marx:
Blog Watch:
The latest blog headlines being linked around lately...more at my Blogathon page.
How could a tech-savvy paper like the San Jose Mercury-News write a intro-to-blogs story so late in the game?
Newsweek also tries to keep up:
On file:

A journalist's view from Pakistan:
Somewhat related: The NYT says college papers are much more popular on dead trees than online:
It's good, but unlikely, to see the staid old NY Times continue to try to prove its progressive mettle by deciding to list same-sex unions in its Weddings pages. 'We recognize society remains divided about the legal and religious definition of marriage,'' says editor Howell Raines, but "we acknowledge the newsworthiness of a growing and visible trend in society toward public celebrations of commitment by gay and lesbian couples ... The Styles pages will treat same sex celebrations as a discrete phenomenon meriting coverage in their own right.'' NYT-owned Boston Globe will mull this over:
Latest Trib piece: another of my valuable contributions to major public discourse: How To Waste Time:
more of my Trib articles

E-mails Eric Zorn: "Only one time in the nearly 20 years that the Tribune has been electronically archived has any writer touched on the question of what the Q in Q-Tip might stand for. Today, however, it happened twice..."

That was in my story and in Dawn Turner Trice's column, "Caring teacher left lasting mark on 1st graders." "I had watched the way he listened intently to enthusiastic and wide-eyed students who always had something important to say or ask, like: "Tell me again, when is `Y' a vowel?" and "Do you know what the `Q' in Q-Tip stands for?"

The only other citing was a Tribune Magazine report ten years ago on an author of a book of little-known facts. So I helped made history. My epitaph is nearly complete.
Etymology Today from M-W: canard \kuh-NARD\
1 : a false or unfounded report or story; especially: a fabricated report 2 : an airplane with horizontal stabilizing and control surfaces in front of supporting surfaces; also : a small airfoil in front of the wing of an aircraft that increases the aircraft's stability

The French had an old saying (going back to Middle French), "vendre des canards a moitie," literally, "to half-sell ducks." It meant "to fool" or "to cheat." That expression led to the use of "canard," the French word for "duck," to mean "a hoax" or "a fabrication." English speakers adopted this "canard" in the mid-1800s. The aeronautical sense of "canard," used from the early days of flying, comes from the stubby duck-like appearance of the aircraft. "Canard" can even mean simply "duck" in English as well, but this use is limited to the specialized realm of cooking. The French word itself is ultimately derived from "caner," Old French for "cackle," a word of imitative origin.

Previous E.T.
Places&Culture from
NY Times

LAKE LOUISE VILLAGE, Alberta, Aug. 13 — It is the most famous picture postcard image of Canada's Rocky Mountain splendor: lovely Lake Louise shimmering under the giant Victoria glacier and surrounded by a dense forest of spruce and fir trees. Normally, the only interruption to the tranquillity is the occasional thunderous clap of ice breaking off the glacier, bringing cries of glee from tourists paddling canoes below. But the emerald lake in Banff National Park has become a battleground between a large Canadian hotel chain and environmentalists who say they must make a stand here to save the country's 39 national parks from developers

The only sound in this flat green settlement on the Mississippi River is the whisper of leaves. Just off the Grande Rue, at a shrine beside the abandoned rectory of the gothic brick Immaculate Conception Church, visitors press a green button on a wall to look inside. An automated door swings open to reveal a view of the Liberty Bell of the West. No one is in there. No one seems left in Kaskaskia, the first capital of the state of Illinois, from 1818 to 1820. The bell, 11 years older than the one in Philadelphia and almost as large, was King Louis XV's gift to French settlers here. More than 2,000 people lived here once. But the Census Bureau found only 9 in 2000, down from 32 in 1990. Flood upon flood, most recently the Great Flood of 1993, have left Kaskaskia an island with more egrets than people.

Everywhere you turn on Washington's fashionable Embassy Row, a new palace-size building is under construction, a testament to the frenzied competition of other nations to gain attention in the capital of the last remaining superpower. More than a dozen countries have built or are in the midst of building embassies the size of castles. They come adorned with faux towers and real waterfalls in what one diplomat called "neo-this and made-up-that architecture." From these castle-bastions, foreign diplomats conduct what they call the new Washington diplomacy, an explosion of events geared to reaching the broadest possible audience in hopes of being heard above the din of other countries competing for the same elusive prize of influence.
Previous P&C

Friday, August 16, 2002

Quote of the Day:
"The hinge of a door is never crowded with insects."
Chinese proverb
Link of the Day:
What does your phone number spell? I entered mine and it said it doesn't spell anything. I was strangely disappointed.
Number of the Day: 4
Rank of Canada, up from 9 one year ago, among 14 countries as a response to this Harris Poll question: "If you could spend a vacation in any country in the world, outside the United States, and you would not have to worry about the cost, what one country would you choose?"
Letter from an ex-dot-commer:

Today is my last day at a web design company I’ve worked for since August 1999. In the span of three years, I have: survived 13 rounds of lay-offs; moved offices twice; sat in five different cubicles; received three complimentary massages; drank, approximately, 732 free beverages, mostly seltzer; reported to four different supervisors, bosses, or mentors; received one promotion, two department changes, and a raise; been paid twice what my mother earns as a teacher, and made more than three times what my father was paid at my age, with child; sat frozen at my desk by a large window overlooking Park Avenue, unable to move even my fingers, in complete panic and fear, having no idea what was happening or why; watched a friend vomit outside our office once the leftover IPO champagne was finished after-hours; complained about my boss in front of her husband, the CEO, who generously gave me a job in the first place and then, wracked by guilt and shamed, approached him and apologized, nearly freaking out, explaining the whole thing and about to cry and then a little startled, even more ashamed when he laughed, patted my shoulder, and explained he hadn’t heard a thing but ‘it didn’t really matter anyway’...

And it goes on like this!
• History&Today: On the 945th anniversary of Macbeth's death, it's worth revisiting a defense of the real-life namesake of Shakespeare's play, says G&M

"The real Macbeth, it seems, was Lord of Moray in the 11th century and was, by the standards of the time, a decent and an honourable man," wrote Brendan McWilliam in The Irish Times in 1995. "He legitimately succeeded Duncan I as king of Scotland -- not by stabbing the latter as he slept, but after killing him in battle in a fair fight. Moreover, Macbeth's 17-year reign was genial and a prosperous time for Scotland and came to an end . . . when Duncan's son Malcolm assassinated poor Macbeth at Dunsinane near Perth."

Who knew?
They're practicing for tomorrow's air show here on the lakeshore, and it's scaring the $*&! out of me. If you don't know there's an air show on, you'd think it's the second coming of September 11 in the Loop, as planes streak over skyscrapers and drown out conversations. It took me three or four flyovers before I stopped being startled.
One liberal and one conservative rant for today: From yesterday, Mickey Kaus deconstructs a NY Times series slanted to scare people about child welfare.
From my file, Molly Ivins bashes simple-mindedness on school prayer:

We had one of those "What was he thinking?" moments with Gov. Rick (Goodhair) Perry the other day. The only governor we've got decided to bring back that old bone of contention: prayer in the schools. Nice timing, guv.The very first clause in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution establishes freedom of conscience. The majority does not rule anyone's faith. If we wanted the state to coerce faith, we would have voted for the Taliban. Look, as we all know, the religious majority in Texas is hardshell Southern Baptist. Splendid people, the Southern Baptists, but the fact is, if the rest of us had wanted to join their church, we would have done so. Our next biggest faith is Catholicism, and if the governor wants to spend the rest of his term convincing Baptists to say "Hail Mary," that's fine by me. As is obvious to all but those of the most limited intelligence and the governor, by the time you get the Catholics, Jews, Episcopalians, Methodists, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, Church of Christers, Buddhists, Sikhs, New Agers and the County Line Salt of the Earth Church of the Predestinarian Faith to sign off on one prayer, it begins "To Whom It May Concern, If There Is a Whom." Prayer in school is quite perfectly legal, and is especially common before algebra exams. Mandatory prayer organized by, led by and broadcast over the public address system by paid agents of the state is unconstitutional.Matthew 6: 5 and 6.

Bring your thinking caps. I met Will in a class at Calvin. It is hard work for him to be boring--he is so well-read and well-spoken that he intriguingly tackles philosophy, religion, literature, and a little of everything else in his thinking, and now in his weblog. I'll bookmark it to the left.

In an e-mail, he says in a few words what I was trying to say in many more: "I love the liturgy because it reminds me of who God is, not who I am, which is all contemporary services do for me." I'll let that be today's Thought of the Day.
Important follow-up to my breakdown of personal media and public responsibility--this provocative memo about writing vs. reporting from the Arizona Republic. "We have to get reporters away from the mistaken notion that we are writers first and reporters second. ... We are not about writing. We are about getting facts and telling people about them." Recipe for boredom and irrelevance right there. Although I'm sympathetic to the problem of lazy reporting, I think bad writing is actually one of the top three problems in media. I've rebutted this the way I want to in my earlier rant, and I'll again link to this fabulous Wash. Monthly symposium on objectivity:
The Phoenix New Times, which posted the memo, spoofs the Republic in this PDF. Good for some chuckles.
Citicorp CenterArchitecture Watch: Manhattan's Citicorp Center gets a sturdier leg. Roughly the 24th anniversary of the quiet panic surrounding the realization that the building was in grave danger of being toppled by an approaching hurricane, which prompted welders to stiffen in clandestinely during the night. Here's yesterdays NY Times article:
And the website for PBS' documentary that featured the bizarre '78 episode:
My pictures of the building last summer:
Previous Architecture Watch
Word of the Day from M-W: tatterdemalion \tat-er-dih-MAIL-yun\
1 *a : ragged or disreputable in appearance b : being in a decayed state or condition : dilapidated 2 : beggarly, disreputable

The exact origin of "tatterdemalion" is uncertain, but it's probably connected somehow to either the noun "tatter" ("a torn scrap or shred") or the adjective "tattered" ("ragged" or "wearing ragged clothes"). We do know that "tatterdemalion" has been used in print since the 1600s. In its first documented use in 1611, it was used as a noun (as it still can be) in reference to a person in ragged clothing -- the type we might also call a ragamuffin. ("Ragamuffin," incidentally, predates "tatterdemalion" in this sense. Like "tatterdemalion," it may have been formed by combining a known word, "rag," with a fanciful ending.) Within three years of the first appearance of "tatterdemalion," it came to be used as an adjective for anything or anyone ragged or disreputable.
Never mind, someone stole my pool car. So...
Thoughts&Culture from
NY Times
Anyone who doesn't recognize the power of "post" in intellectual strategy just hasn't been watching. It can gel loosely related phenomena into a major intellectual movement or cultural vanguard without having to be very precise about what unites them or what they are rather than what they are not. Postmodernism is the reigning example. ... Those who study, articulate or propound the beliefs and practices by which most of humanity tries to place itself in relationship with the transcendent should post themselves. They should simply drop that old-fashioned word "religion." What they are about, they should announce, is "postsecularism."
out of the office until this afternoon; re-enjoy this past week until then...

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Quote of the Day:
"Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."
St. Francis of Assisi
The slow but necessary death of the college lecture, "that mysterious process by means of which the contents of the professor's notebooks are transferred by means of the fountain pen to the pages of the student's notebook without passing through the mind of either," from
NY Times
Vanilla CokeVanilla Coke is off to a good start, says Time. Unlike New Coke, and Pepsi's latest creation, Pepsi Blue, which tastes and looks like Windex, Vanilla Coke actually tastes good.,9171,1101020812-333893,00.html
Thought of the day: time and worship
"I like connecting to something older." I think those were the exact words of my friend yesterday on the topic of church worship. We each attend Fourth Presbyterian here in Chicago and appreciate the formality, the beauty of the cathedral, the interesting preaching and intellectual engagement. His quote may seem a fogey-ish statement for two men under 40 to endorse, but we both have our problems with the Overhead Projector Revolution in churches over the past two decades--play the drums, make some noise, flash the words onto the overhead, and POOF! you have Instant Relevant Worship (TM). It's emotional, it's engaging, but it's also fleeting, here one moment and gone the next--just another momentary flash pulsating at us in our modern MTV culture. It doesn't feel connected to anything that came before it, nor, like my friend said, does it often have clear theological roots, which may make you roll your eyes but can anchor and sustain the experience of worship.

Connecting to something older. We seem to have dwindling opportunities to do so today. Touring historic sites, voting, celebrating Christmas--these rituals place us in time, in the context of something larger, tying us to other human experiences beside our own. In an MTV world there are no such ties, little context, little that is larger than yourself except for the projections of performers before you. So each Sunday I like to sit in church, try to take it all in, let my eyes leap to the grand arches of the building around me, sing or recite familiar words, participate in the ongoing story and fellowship of the Church, and feel my soul come out of its media-battered shell during a rare hour of actual peace and renewal.
Previous Thought
Word of the Day from M-W: purfle \PER-ful\
to ornament the border or edges of

Today we use "purfle" mostly in reference to setting a decorative inlaid border around the body of a guitar or violin, a process known as "purfling." In the past, "purfle" got the most use in connection with adornment of garments. "The Bishop of Ely . . . wore a robe of scarlet . . . purfled with minever," reported an English clergyman in 1840, for example. We embellished our language with "purfle," first as "purfilen" in the 1300s, when we took it with its meaning from Middle French "porfiler." Related to "purfle" is "filigree," which is used as a noun for ornamental work made of fine wire, and also as a verb meaning "to adorn with filigree." "Purfle" and "filigree" share the Latin source "filum," which means "thread."
Money&Culture File
Now is the time that gold—solid, immutable, real—should be rocketing toward $800 per ounce, yet the yellow metal has confounded its long-suffering devotees by remaining tethered to the $300-per-ounce level, where it has been stuck for years. Either things are not as bad as they seem, or gold may finally be losing its ancient status as the investment of last resort. "About time," mutters the ghost of John Maynard Keynes, who long ago pronounced gold "a barbarous relic."

Deep in the pine forest of the Russian north, a battle is being fought over the shape of a Russian economy increasingly concentrated in the hands of just a few tycoons. ... The scene is more than just a fine piece of Russian corporate theater. These are the front lines of a phenomenon that has transformed the economy in the last three years. A handful of large business groups have been moving through systematically, buying up entire industries.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Consumer Reports does the math on book buying and other essentials in its back-to-school guide. Wait a minute, when did DVD's become must-haves for schoolgoers? Heck, in grade school I was glad to get colored pencils.
Chicago Architecture Watch: 311 S. Wacker changes hands:
A related thought to below: I've noticed a couple of examples of so-called gentlemen's agreements lately--there was the case of the out-of-town Broadway review and talk show bookings. I was just thinking, isn't the term "gentleman's agreement" very British, very deferential, and in the light of my rant below, very un-American? But again, we value these things to keep society ticking.
Thought of the Day: the tension between democracy and power.
America was founded as the anti-Britain, rejecting hierarchy and elitism in favor of democratic ideals. That was the idea anyway (see the Dec. of Independence). It was part ideology, part geography--the new continent had so much more land mass that the equation of land ownership with power no longer made sense: there was enough breathing room for anybody to be anyone they wanted, own as much land as they wanted, and escape from the tight, stuffy social hierarchy of Britain. Hierarchy works better on a small continent than in an vast, untamed new wilderness. Then again, no one was stuffier or more elite than the Founding Fathers--a well-educated, aristocratic breed who valued deference, looked down upon women, and calculated slaves to be 3/5 of of a person. Egalitarian these guys were not.

Since then our economic ideals have always seemed to clash with our democratic ones--we don't really want egalitarianism--anyone being just as important, having just as much power, as anyone else--we just vaguely think we sort of want it. Otherwise we wouldn't so laud the powerful and envy the rich. Otherwise we wouldn't view the poor as an undeserving, underachieving lot that just has to work hard, the American way, in order to prosper (I would submit most of the poor are hard-working, and most of the rich are not and some of them never were). I was re-reading Anna Deavere Smith's Talk to Me and came across this quote from Hayden White, professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz:

The assumption is that the free market and democracy go hand in hand. If you buy into the free market, you have to take a certain amount of unemployment, a certain amount of exploitation, a certain amount of corruption, and so forth. It has nothing to do with democracy. ...That's been the greatest triumph of Western capitalism, to identify democracy with the free market.

Insert Enron rant here. Now, of course our economic mechanisms look good compared to the tyranny of Communist and dictator states, and I don't want to downplay that. I'm just saying that I think we value power more than democracy would suggest we would: if we really believed "all men [sic] are created equal," we wouldn't willingly play politics so much in our workplaces, our homes, our churches, heck, our softball leagues. We value seniority, putting in your dues. I was comiserating with a reporter here at the Tribune about how the mentality is that you graduate to the Tribune from other places, not necessarily that you are a better writer than someone with less newspaper experience, which some major newspaper reporters indeed are not. Then I was thinking about this scenefrom Mr. Holland's Opus the other night where Mr. Holland is waiting in the lunch line in his first day of school, and the football coach comes along and tells him to move to the front of the line: teachers don't wait with the students. "High school is not a democracy," the coach says. We value these imbalances in power, however small a scale they may be on. We function according to seniority, putting in your dues, earning it. Sometimes that has little or nothing to do with equality.

Previous Thought
Footnote:This tension between equality and elitism has throbbed through American political thought. Walter Lippman was one of the great American journalists, and yet he believed news should come from an oligarchy of elite journalists--ministers of culture. As I wrote before, do we really want everyone to vote? Similarly, look at Argentina--this creep is democratically elected, and the U.S. supports a coup that removes him (he's back now). We're saying, we, an elite few, know better than the masses--there is no inherent wisdom in democratic decisions (as I believe Tocqueville put it: the tyranny of the majority).
Word of the Day from M-W: perpend \per-PEND\
1 : to reflect on carefully : ponder; 2 : to be attentive : reflect

"Perpend" isn't used often these days, but when it does show up it is frequently imperative. As such, its use can be compared to the phrase "mark my words." "Perpend" arrived in English in the 15th century from the Latin verb "perpendere," which in turn comes from "pendere," meaning "to weigh." Appropriately, our English word essentially means "to weigh carefully in the mind." "Pendere" has several descendants in English, including "append," "compendium," "expend," and "suspend." "Perpend" can also be a noun meaning "a brick or large stone reaching through a wall" or "a wall built of such stones," but that "perpend" comes from a Middle French source and is unrelated to the verb.