Monday, March 31, 2003

My latest Tribune article: On baby boomers in career transition:

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My latest B&C blog:
Monthly news-in-review; monthly book blog.

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Trimmed from the news-in-review:

U.S. nukes Florida
Life expectancy rises
Bombings in the Philippines and Israel
Cuban hijackers detained
Tractor standoff in D.C.
Mysterious illness spreads worldwide
Supreme Court upholds 3 strikes
Vatican weighs in against war on Ash Wednesday
More 'Millionaire' cheats, this time with pagers.
(From late Feb) Black twins born to white couple in mishap
Violence and charity on MardiGras.

More obits:
Bill Carlisle, Grand Ole Opry performer, 94
Judy Wilson, children’s book publisher
Robert Mitchell Hanna, urban spaces designer
Robert Leonard, founder of Ticketmaster
I filled out my NCAA brackets with scorn--how silly do you have to be to fill in your picks with any expectation that your forecast will resemble the crazy finishes and Cinderella teams that inevitably emerge once the ball is actually tipped?

Then I got excited as the first round fell into place approximately as I scribbled it would: I picked 13 seed Tulsa and 11 seed Central Michigan to win, and 11 seed Southern Illinois, which lost by a point. The only first round winners I missed were Butler, California, Missouri, Purdue, Oklahoma St., and Utah. My only Sweet 16 misses were Marquette, UConn, Butler, and Auburn. (Then it gets ugly--I got 5 of the Elite Eight, one of the Final Four, and o-fer from there on out.) This is disillusioning because I haven't followed college basketball as little as I did this year--not only that, but I had half as many wrong calls in the first round as a friend of mine who knows college hoops far better.

The unpredictability is one measure of the absurdity of NCAA pools. But so is the drama. We love buzzer beaters and the crazy hope that a sleeper school can put together a Final Four run. Without that guarantee of volatility, we wouldn't watch. So why exactly do we put our money on certainty?

Incidentally, now that the championship favorites have disappeared, I'm pulling for Kansas to win it all; Roy Williams is one of the best coaches, and best people, to have several championship-caliber teams over the last 15 years and no championships to show for it.

Monday, March 24, 2003

Saturday, March 22, 2003

With my plea yesterday for some healthy ambivalence in the blogosphere about the war in Iraq, I may have left my own views too vague. Here's my dilemma: Saddam Hussein is a curse to his country, and is screwing around with the U.N. now as surely as he's been screwing around with them for 12 years. What's the point of the U.N. going about its business, passing resolution after resolution, if Hussein keeps responding with occasional half-assed disarmament? However, it seems more likely than not that for whatever weapons Saddam has tried to hang onto, he is smart enough not to rock the boat beyond his borders (unlike North Korea, which has no regional counterbalancing force--Iraq is surrounded by them), and any intention of his to attack North America seems purely hypothetical.

This may not seem like an ideal time for the glib generalities of Maureen Dowd, but this observation sums up my feelings about how disproportionate the attack on Iraq is.
It still confuses many Americans that, in a world full of vicious slimeballs, we're about to bomb one that didn't attack us on 9/11 (like Osama); that isn't intercepting our planes (like North Korea); that isn't financing Al Qaeda (like Saudi Arabia); that isn't home to Osama and his lieutenants (like Pakistan); that isn't a host body for terrorists (like Iran, Lebanon and Syria).

What's worse, President Bush's dubious connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq seems downright manipulative. Saddam is not and won't soon be on Osama bin Laden's Christmas card list; the latter seems to regard the former as too establishment and secular for his tastes; the former regards the latter as too anarchist to be considered noble. Could followers of the two someday cross paths and make nice? Yes, but in the months or years until they do, we have North Korea pointing missiles at our ass. The logic of this Al Qaeda-Iraq connection is an interesting permutation of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" logic. In this case, the logic is, the enemy of my enemy's enemy is my enemy's friend. This is cause for war?

Friday, March 21, 2003

Since around-the-clock television coverage, with its blurry videophone images and mysterious explosions, can bring as much befuddlement as clarity about what is going on in Iraq right now, I strolled through some other blogs mistakenly thinking I could gain some perspective.

I started with some right-wing blogs, where the story was this: The surprise strike on Saddam's bunker Wednesday night triggered a war that is going so smoothly and precisely that it's depriving military officials and the rest of the world of the element of suspense. Allied troops are marching in, confident as they are righteous, slowing only to accomodate Iraqi troops--who, absent a leader who may be dead or at least humiliated, are surrendering with the urgency of desert wanderers discovering water--and pausing to stoop and pat the heads of grateful children in liberated Iraqi towns, with expediency that justifies the effort and embarrasses critics (this is what turns me off about blogs--the number of warbloggers who are more interested in how the French, the U.N. Security Council, and peace protesters are looking foolish than in anything occurring inside Iraq).

Then I swtiched over to some anti-war blogs, where the story is just as stark: U.S. forces, in a ill-advised fit of bullying, are impetuously attacking a country that is not threatening it, each step they take a more emphatic demonstration of their defiance of international order and financial prudence, since no explanation of how to pay for this campaign has been offered, which only international leaders and peace protesters sagely understand.

In short, confirmation bias has set in--the epistemology that goes: what is going on is exactly what I thought would happen. Boy, the blogosphere sure does improve on old-fashioned "objective" reporting, doesn't it! Just once, I'd like to read one blogger say, Here's something I didn't expect, which may lead me to rethink some aspect of my views, or at least feel some healthy ambivalence.

This much seems to be true: as of Friday afternoon in the U.S., forces are about one third of the way to Baghdad, which has been weakened by a withering barrage of missile attacks. There are no clear signs Saddam Hussein is in control; the Wednesday strike, evidently a last-minute deviation from the plan (however sincerely it was disseminated) to start with an air-war phase and then send in the troops, seems to have kicked Iraqi leadership in the knees. The announcement by the Turkish government that they will send in their own troops at will to resist a potential flow of refugees, stranding U.S. forces in northern Iraq between the Turks and Kurds, may be the first of many signs that re-drawing boundaries in a Saddam-less Iraq will be a contentious process.

Random observations and snippets from around the Web:

How news producers think: If we fail to introduce news coverage of the war with radar-screen graphics and thumping war-movie music, viewers will fail to realize that the events we are broadcasting--namely, a world superpower attacking another country's capital city with missiles and bombs--is of significance. Show of hands in the control room here: who wants to call our coverage "America At War" and who likes "America Attacks"?

Says Dennis Miller:
- You can take this one to the bank: Saddam and bin Laden will NOT seek UN approval before they try to kill us.
- If you are anti war and even an outright "America Basher," to bin Laden you are still an "infidel" whom he wants dead.
- Be careful: if you believe in a "vast right-wing conspiracy," but not in the danger that Hussein poses, the only job you may be able to get is as an Ivy League college professor.

UPDATE: says this may not be from Miller

• I couldn't believe how tacky and tasteless this lead sentence was in yesterday's Wash. Post about TV Wednesday night's TV coverage.
The war has already claimed its first victim: ABC News. The network not only jumped into the story about 11 minutes behind ...

How shallow do you have to be to get this caught up in which-network-beat-which-by-how-many-minutes game at a time like this, much less to make light of war's victims with a lead like that?

• Some friends of mine on an e-mail list-serv, responding to this story about Montreal hockey fans booing the U.S. national anthem:

> No offense, Canucks, but this is an example of why, sometimes, my criticism of your country is sometimes slightly more serious than joking. On a related note, what's the general feel on the war from a Canadian standpoint? Is this booing indicative of the population at large?

> It's probably best not to criticize an entire country based upon the actions of a few morons. Plus, American hockey fans were booing the Canadian national anthem before Islanders games during the Stanley Cup playoffs last year (ironic, considering most of the players on the Islanders are Canadian). I think these occurances may be indicative of the lack of political savvy and tact on the part of hockey fans, rather than the country as a whole. As far as Canadian opinions on the war go, there's the usual irrational America-bashing, but there's also a lot of intelligent commentary. I imagine most Canadians are against the war, though. On a somewhat related side-note, I've been watching the CBC's coverage of the war, and I have to say that it's head and shoulders above the coverage given by CNN (and of course much better than FOXnews).

• This is what I linked to above from Tom Tomorrow:

When you need some money to pay for war--and you've already promised your rich contributors a huge tax break--well, you can always squeeze disabled veterans a little tighter:

"By a vote along party lines, the majority members of the House Budget Committee passed and reported for a vote by the House a budget resolution that would cut $844 million from veterans’ medical care next year and $9.7 billion over the next 10 years. In addition, the budget resolution would cut $15 billion from the disability compensation and other benefit programs over the next 10 years."

Support the troops, indeed.

• Surely, the most ardent of pro-war bloggers can agree this war is about reluctantly plucking Saddam from power, right? And securing the peace, right? Well ... here's Mickey Kaus:

I suppose it would be good to kill Saddam Hussein with the opening shot of the war. But it's not hard to imagine circumstances in which it would not be good ... What if the new leader actually turned over a whole bunch of chemical and biological weapons Saddam had been hiding? It might be very difficult to justify continuing an invasion in those circumstances -- and yet the job would once again be left half-done, or three-quarters done. ... Could we trust the new government? ... We might end up with the opprobrium of the world, but no crowds cheering us as liberators, no "prosperous and free" Iraq and no guarantee of disarmament.

Boy, what a bummer it would be to actually get rid of the guy we can't seem to get our minds off and have to stop this little tea party just when it was getting good, huh?. No, really, Kaus and others say, this war is a last resort, a desperate attempt for permanent peace!

This clip from the always incisive journalist James Lileks is being passed around the blogosphere:
5:17 PM News report: Hans Blix admits that he would have never have found all the WMD. Thanks, Hans. Much obliged. I’m guessing that he was paid by the week, not by the discovery; if we’d given him a bonus for Finding Stuff, and the bonus exceeded what he would have made in a year of desultory squinting, we might have had the material breach in week one.

... The local news said that many high school students had walked out and gathered at the U to demand that the war stop now - the King Canute Brigade, if you will. The most delicious line came at the end of the report, noting that the University itself was currently on Spring Break, but many students planned to leave class when they resumed on Monday.

God forbid you should leave St. Petersburg a few days early to assert your principles.

NOTE: Some week-in-review thoughts and links coming Monday in my B&C blog.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Latest B&C story:
The true meaning of "reality TV": my Web review of the verite documentary Domestic Violence:

Latest B&C blog:
Media violence and worldview; plus the University of Chicago's application essay questions

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Monday, March 10, 2003

Latest B&C blog:
What does "weak economy" actually mean? Plus, downsizing hits the Seven Deadly Sins.

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Speaking of downsizing and holiness, this blurb from The Onion wonders what would happen if God looked at things like a CEO:

God Quietly Phasing Holy Ghost Out Of Trinity
HEAVEN—Calling the Holy Trinity "overstaffed and over budget," God announced plans Monday to downsize the group by slowly phasing out the Holy Ghost. "Given the poor economic climate and the unclear nature of the Holy Ghost's duties, I felt this was a sensible and necessary decision," God said. "The Holy Ghost will be given fewer and fewer responsibilities until His formal resignation from Trinity duty following Easter services on April 20. Thereafter, the Father and the Son shall be referred to as the Holy Duo."

Saturday, March 08, 2003

Randomly Interesting file
Previous Randomly Interesting

Dogs are in four percent more of American homes than cats, Americans spent $38 billion on the lottery in 2001, and indispensable public discourse about our country in the U.S. Census’ statistics summary, reported on in the Associated Press.

Catching up with the 20th Century in time for the 21st, Wheaton College finally lifts its Puritanical ban on dancing and partially lifts its ban on drinking. Then again, most American colleges could use a ban on drinking.

The cast of Les Miz prepares to close the Broadway production, from the NY Times.

It was just like the Battle of Chancellorsville, only this one was in Central Park and Al Roker was doing the weather. A first-person account of a Civil War recreation that served as a promo for "Gods and Generals," in the NY Times.

Women making inroads as doormen…er, doorpeople, from the Times.

Tchaikovsky's piano has seen its better days, but it’s still a highlight of the composer’s birthplace museum, says the Times.

How military reservists deal with home financing issues, from the Times

What does “organic” even mean anymore? A new food law only muddies the waters, says the SF Chronicle.

Mexican monarchs have recovered from a record die-off, says the Times.

Reality TV is hard on Hollywood writers, from the Times.

Celebrities are popularizing an unlikely fashion trend--religious T-shirts, apparently worn, at least in some cases, satirically. From

About Randomly Interesting
Sports&Culture File

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The faint outlines of a Major League Baseball team are beginning to appear in the Great Northwest. There are sketches of a 40,000-seat stadium, the beginnings of a $350 million financing plan and prospective sites featuring grandstand views of Mount Hood. In the three decades since baseball was last played in Washington D.C., the sport has awarded franchises to seven other cities. And now, as baseball proponents in the District and Northern Virginia attempt to seize what may be their best opportunity to return baseball to the nation's capital, yet another suitor, Portland, has emerged as the main alternative if baseball bypasses the Washington area once again.

Referees, umpires and other sports officials from pro leagues to the recreational level increasingly are under siege from coaches, players and a critical populace grown accustomed to a replay culture. A recent string of verbal and even physical attacks from coaches and administrators in pro and college games is exceeded by less publicized attacks in high school and recreation leagues -- two or three cases of physical abuse each week, according to the National Association of Sports Officials. ''It seems whether it's Little League or Pony League or just high school all the way up to the professional ranks, regardless of the officiating, there is just more abuse and verbal attacks than any year I can remember,'' says Dave Parry, the Big Ten's supervisor of football officials.

Previous S&C
Urban Issues Watch from the NY Times:

The nation's urban centers remained strong magnets for people commuting to their jobs in the 1990s despite substantial economic growth in the suburbs, according to Census Bureau data released today. From New York City to Los Angeles, the number of workers who commuted from the suburbs to counties at the center of metropolitan areas continued to eclipse the number of workers who traveled from central counties, where the big cities are, to the suburbs. ''The central county still dominates the direction of commuting in most of metropolitan America,'' says Robert Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech. ''The center holds.''

ANOTHER feature of the Libeskind plan that is almost sure to change is the 1,776-foot tower, though the architect said last week that he "would not give up" that height. Besides the symbolic value, 1,776 feet would be almost exactly the altitude of the broadcast mast on the north tower of the trade center. But will the broadcasters come? "We would love to be on that tower," said Edward Grebow, president of the Metropolitan Television Alliance, composed of 11 New York area stations. "The problem is the timing." The broadcasters are planning a 2,000-foot tower, designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, in Bayonne, N.J. ... "We're going to build a 2,000-foot tower in Bayonne," Mr. Grebow said. "That will dwarf the Libeskind tower at the trade center, which, believe us, is not what we want but where we are being forced to go."

A defining characteristic of New York City is its economic diversity, the juxtaposition of people of disparate circumstances in limited space. The gap between top and bottom is greater in New York than in most cities in the country, and people at the extremes often live closer together. In the 1990's the disparity in many neighborhoods became more pronounced, census data show. As the economy boomed, income inequality grew. And as the population swelled and real estate prices soared and crime waned, the affluent pushed deeper into neighborhoods they had once shunned.

Previous U.I.W.

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Latest B&C blog: Timeline February 2003
My February news-in-review column, along with my two cents on I am Sam:

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Not every headline fits the theme or space of my month-in-review, so here's my

More on Columbia:
The shuttle's muddled history and future, from the New Yorker
Wanted: Cooperative rugged individualists to be astronauts, from the NY Times.
Latest findings in investigation don't clear up the mystery, from USA Today.
Bush's comforting words and the Houston memorial service , from the Wash. Post.
Debris theft, from the Washington Post, here and here.

More on Iraq:
President Bush earmarked zilch in war funds in his 2004 budget (to avoid giving the public a figure to fixate on).
Also in economic news, Bush's tax cuts were criticized by Alan Greenspan.

And more on terrorism jitters: transatlantic travel is down.

For the cynical who think our military presence in Iraq is just about oil, how do you explain that we only sent 3,000 troops (third item here) to protect another cherished resource: chocolate, in the Ivory Coast? USA Today framed this story of death and suffering overseas as a bummer for Valentine-minded Americans.

Speaking of Valentine's Day, ABC and CNN called off their marriage on Feb. 14, while NBC announced the latest gimmick in reality TV: Who Wants To Marry My Mom. Canada announced that off-the-air marriage is also on the rise.

In a month in which the Chicago and Rhode Island nightclub stampedes showed the harsh side of the public square, bystanders were seen doing nothing to report or tend to a homicide victim in at a Washington D.C. gas station.

More random news:
One former presidential candidate, Pat Robertson, had surgery, as did a current one, John Kerry.

Charlton Heston again played Ben Hur, this time in a cartoon.

A fleet of limos from Yugoslav dictator Tito went on auction block

White House disclosed installation of solar panels

Berliners welcomed American film stars at festival

A Texas student picked on for his creationism

Labor protests erupted in China, where one prominent activist was convicted.

Anti-Iraq hackers were called off by the U.S. government

Idaho reinstated the death penalty, and court ruled that states can give a death row prisoner antipsychotic medication to make him sane enough to execute.

60 percent of meat plants were declared to be unsafe

War worsened in Colombia

A fire ravaged a South Korean subway

Yahoo considered a French court ruling that banned access to Nazi memorabilia online auctions

Police found stolen Beatles tapes

AMF bowling was put up for sale

The Pentagon mulled cremations for Gulf casualties

The Saudis were found to have aided a terror suspect's wife's escape

An explosion rocked a Lagos bank

Australian animal welfare officers raided the setting of the TV series 'Skippy', to save neglected animals

The EU invited controversial Zimbabwe President Mugabe to come to Paris

BP announced plans to form a Russian oil company

The IMF approved a loan to Ecuador

Martina Hingis hinted about leaving tennis, while Jane Pauley announced she was leaving NBC

In the column I talked about sports greats, but one future great had a bad month; LeBron James was ruled ineligible and his school pulled the plug on ESPN game coverage.

The death of the 113-year-old man mentioned in the column leaves Fred Hale Sr., 112, the oldest American man.

Other obituaries:
Amy Bess Williams Miller helped found a Shaker village and museum. Sigmund Timberg was a lawyer for New Deal agencies. Felice Marks Lippert founded Weight Watchers 40 years ago. Dr. Neville Colman was a DNA expert and founded a Manhattan youth soccer league. John Westergaard founded the mutual fund. Clyde Douglas Dickerson was a Watergate doorman and saxophone performer.

Fred Hudson, president of the Frederick Douglass Creative Arts Center, was a mentor to African-American writers and actors.

January timeline bonus:
Sharon wins big in Israeli elections