Monday, June 30, 2003

My latest B&C blog:
June news in review, starring Gregory Peck, Strom Thurmond, Sammy Sosa, Howell Raines, Katharine Hepburn, the Supreme Court, and more. Plus my June book review roundup:

My B&C blog archive

My latest Tribune stories:
(you can log in with name and password of "nbiermaread")
On the nursing shortage nationwide and in Oak Park:
On a River Forest college's children's reading program:
(see also the Wash.Post on the nationwide nursing shortage)

Trimmed from my June news in review:
I should have included Larry Doby, the first African American to play in the American League, in my obituary roundup.

Nirvana's "Smells Like..." named the best song of the last 25 years

Wildfire spreads out West

NBC secures 2010 and 2012 Olympics rights

Chief Moose resigns over sniper book flap

Tulia 12 freed

First monkeypox in Western hemisphere

Poles approve EU membership

FCC votes to ease ownership rules

Finally, clipped from a Weird News site:
A 70-year-old man and a 60-year-old woman pleaded no contest to public indecency in New Philadelphia, Ohio, in June after their arrest for engaging in sex acts in a booth at a Hardee's restaurant. Though it was the couple's first lewdness charge, the prosecutor told the judge that it was not the first time they had done something like that. [The Times Reporter (Dover-New Philadelphia), 6-5-03]

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Urban Issues Watch from the NY Times:

NY Times

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., Feb. 12 — More than 100 acres of the New Jersey Meadowlands would be developed as a family entertainment complex with an indoor ski slope, indoor surfing, a Formula One racetrack, a minor league baseball stadium and office towers, under a $1.3 billion redevelopment plan chosen ... by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. ... No taxpayer money will be needed for the project, he said, though future mass-transit access would require public money. ... While some federal environmental hurdles have been overcome, New Jersey's state government and an army of environmental groups have remained opposed to the project and threatened legal Armageddon over the plan. Today, the developer said it was prepared to donate the proposed mall location, known as the Empire site, to the state and invest substantial money in cleaning it up.

Downtown is the only part of Los Angeles that looks and feels like a big city, with soaring office towers, bustling convention hotels, vintage Art Deco commercial buildings, warehouses, restaurants and — in the daytime — crowds on the streets. Even after dark, downtown is starting to hum. "With the buildings lit up, it's really just gorgeous at night," said Colleen Camp, a film producer and actress. The skyline has changed drastically since Sgt. Joe Friday had on his police badge the image of the 450-foot granite and terra cotta tower of City Hall, the tallest building in town when the original "Dragnet" was a popular television series in the 50's and 60's. With new earthquake-resistant engineering, 10 skyscrapers ranging from 700 feet to 1,017 feet rose between 1972 and 1992.

Previous U.I.W.
Etymology Today from M-W: vagary \VAY-guh-ree\
: an erratic, unpredictable, or extravagant manifestation, action, or notion

In the 16th century, if you "made a vagary" you took a wandering journey, or you figuratively wandered from a correct path by committing some minor offence. If you spoke or wrote vagaries, you wandered from a main subject. These senses hadn't strayed far from their origin, since "vagary" is probably based on Latin "vagari," which means "to wander." Indeed, in the 16th and 17th centuries there was even an English verb "vagary" that meant "to wander." Nowadays, the noun "vagary" is mostly used in its plural form, and vagaries have more to do with unpredictability than with wandering.

Previous E.T.

Monday, June 23, 2003

I just returned from a week of camping in glorious northern Michigan, and hope to ramble on soon about the thought it planted in my head: what is it about nature that we try to improve upon with our artificial environments? Until then...

My latest B&C blogs:
Civil War edition, including a reflection on Chicago's Camp Douglas prison camp.

The problem with poll-dominated presidential election coverage, with 500 days to go until Election Day:

My B&C blog archive

My latest Tribune Magazine Q&A:
Art Garfunkel: Are he and Paul Simon about to make up?
Chicago Beat
I was thinking that since I blog from Chicago, my blog ought to be a little more about, ya know, Chicago. Thus the first installment in my hopefully regular "Chicago Beat" ("In the Loop" was taken, three times over). (You can log into Tribune stories with my name and password of "nbiermaread.)

- I took a walk today to the creepy brown brick Gold Coast mansion--blanketed in ivy, windows shrouded by curtains--where Reid Selseth allegedly amassed a despicable collection of child porn. I couldn't believe the irony of what I saw on the doorknob: a cable TV flyer with a picture of a child saluting. (I squinted but couldn't make out the punch line explaining why the child was saluting). Unbelievable. Inside, Selseth, who is now on suicide watch, reportedly kept hundreds of dirty photos, some of kids as young as 4 years old. Now the grinning visage of this young girl greets passersby.

- A column in this morning's NY Times said that the Yankees-Mets series has lost its luster some seven years after interleague play resumed, but my first White Sox-Cubs series as a Chicagoan was a thrill to watch on TV. The Sox soiled Wrigley Field with two commanding wins on Friday and Saturday, knocking the Cubs from first place, before a dramatic 2-1 Cubs win yesterday--the first baseball game I've watched at least five straight innings of in some time. There was third base coach Wendell Kim waving in the tying run in the eighth inning--which beat the throw by half a foot--one day after harsh criticism of his green light for a runner who was thrown out by three city blocks. This was indeed a series played and coached with passion; now each team plays a crucial division series before reuniting on the South Side this weekend.

- The police waited until the furor over their March 20 crackdown on anti-war protesters (which I viewed with rapt attention from the north on Lake Shore Drive)--a crackdown that was far less violent but comparably uncalled for than the famous 1968 Democratic convention brawl--died down before releasing most of those they arrested. They should have let them off the hook in March, but were too sheepish (either that or the bureaucracy was that dense, or both).

- A woman loses her balance while adjusting her shoulder bag on an L platform and falls to a tragic (and reportedly gruesome) death, and how does the Tribune frame it in the first sentence of its story? "... halting service to one of the busiest elevated routes and affecting an estimated 60,000 rush hour commuters." Boy, what an unlucky afternoon for those commuters... Sheesh, how about some perspective.
From one of my former college roommates, Matthew Rip, who is now with the Peace Corps in Cameroon:

I am doing well. The first week in country was pretty boring. we were staying in a hotel in Yaounde and we had meetings and shots and medical interviews at the peace corps office. We were not supposed to go out unless we were going from the hotel to peace corps or back theother direction. We did get an opprotunity to go to a soccor game. It was an exhibition match with the
both sides belonging to the cameroonian national team. we got special
seats on the side of the stadium reserved for special government
officials. toward the end of the second half the people on the opposite
side, in the general admission, got up and moved like flock of birds or a
school of fish towardthe exits. The game was called off and the players
were escorted off the field. Rumor has it that the stadium is built with
a certain amount of give in it and when the stands are full (it was free
admission so there were alot of people there) the staduim moves. The
other rumor is that the staduim is poorly constructed and that is why it
moves. at any rate the people on the lower deck got scared and left in a

I am now in training in Banjoun, it is just south of Bafusam. I am
staying with a host family. when I arrived the mother was in the hospital
and there was a sister and two highschool age brothers in the house. now
that the mother has recovered, the sister has returned to university in
Yaounde. one of the brothers is visiting another older sibling so there
are only 3 of us in the house right now. Many other trainees have
families with a lot of children and some extra adults as well.

Training is going as well as can be expected. I am learning some french
It seems to be a slow process to me, but when I stop to think that I
have had less than 2 weeks of lessons, I guess i am doing alright. I will
most likely be assigned to the southwest province, most of the available
posts are there. There are three math-science posts in francophone
areas, north and east provinces. since all but one of themath science
voluteers started at the "novice low" french level there is some concern
about who will get stuck there. I indicated in my placement interview
that i would be willing to put in the extra effort to learn french, but I
think he had other people in mind for those spots.

I did some laudry the other day. I washed two pairs of pants and a shirt
and that was enough. I gave therest to my brother to do. he did some
yesterday and finished to day. It is so humid here that things take aout
2 days to dry. I offered to pay for the laudry service but he declined.
although he did say he would like some cookies and apples from town,
since I was comming to Bafusam to the cybercafe.
Eiffel TowerThe Eiffel Tower has been lit up after a 5-month installation of 20,000 bulbs. This picture from the NY Times and other coverage is summarized at a blog called The Eye Opener.
Etymology Today from M-W:
osculate \AHSS-kyuh-layt: kiss

"Osculate" comes from the Latin noun "osculum," meaning "kiss" or "little mouth." It was included in a dictionary of "hard" words in 1656, but we have no evidence that anyone actually used it until the 19th century (except for scientists who used it differently, to mean "contact"). Would any modern writer use "osculate"? Ben Macintyre did. In a May 2003 (London) Times piece entitled "Yes, It's True, I Kissed the Prime Minister's Wife," Macintyre wrote, "Assuming this must be someone I knew really quite well, I screeched 'How are you,' . . . and leant forward preparatory to giving her a chummy double-smacker . . . Perhaps being osculated by lunatics you have never seen before is one of the trials of being a Prime Minister's wife. She took it very well. "

Usage Watch: gauntlet
In passing in his NYT Magazine column this week, William Safire says that "gauntlet" actually means "a glove used as a challenge." This, he says, is "not to be confused with gantlet, a lane of punishment, as in 'to run the gantlet' -- ah, skip it; sometimes distinctions ask too much."
This indeed figures to be a lost nuance, going the way of "stamp your feet" (vs. "stomp") and "champing at the bit" (vs. "chomp"). Well, there are greater worries in the world.

Previous E.T.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Sammy Sosa and I will both be out of action the next week or so: I'm heading out for a week of vacation and won't post again until the 23rd. If you're looking for something to read: Malcolm Gladwell's essay "The Social Life Of Paper" will change the way you think about technology and progress. Here's the Skeptical Inquirer on Bigfoot and the myth that we only use 10 percent of our brains. I pondered weblogs and the future of words in a 24-hour marathon, or blogathon, last summer. You can catch up on my B&C blog archive, and there's all kinds of thought-provoking stuff in this and other back issues of B&C. If you're still looking for something to read, try

You can also preview a revamped version of my Chicago page.

I will have a B&C blog posted at on schedule the next two Mondays.

More to come on the 23rd. Until then I'm going to try to shut down my brain.

Here again is my latest B&C stuff:

Why there will be sidewalks in heaven, featured at
See also my book on heaven, in progress

Blog: the rising prison population, plus the limits of knowledge.

My B&C blog archive
One of my favorite movie speeches of the last ten years, from Good Will Hunting (this is an early draft of the script I found online so some things may have changed). Will has just been offered a job with the government.

WILL What did I think?
A beat. Will has obviously been stewing on this.
WILL (cont'd) Say I'm working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. So I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never had a problem with get killed. (rapid fire) Now the politicians are sayin' "send in the Marines to secure the area" 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number got called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some guy from Southie takin' shrapnel in the ass. And he comes home to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile my buddy from Southie realizes the only reason he was over there was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And of course the oil companies used the skirmish to scare up oil prices so they could turn a quick buck. A cute, little ancillary benefit for them but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. And naturally they're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink seven and sevens and play slalom with the icebergs and it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil, and kills all the sea-life in the North Atlantic. So my buddy's out of work and he can't afford to drive so he's got to walk to the job interviews which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin' him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he's starvin' 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat the only blue-plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State.
A beat.
WILL (cont'd) So what'd I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. I figure I'll eliminate the middle man. Why not just shoot my buddy, take his job and give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? Christ, I could be elected President.
Cleaning out some old e-mails from friends and other smart people before I go on vacation...

My friend Nathan went skydiving for the first time earlier this month. He reports:

What a trip . . . you hop out of the plane and just plummet for thousands of feet -- cheeks waggling madly, clothes flapping, buffeting in the wind, quick glance at the altimeter gauge wheeling around to zero, then a tap on the shoulder, time to pull the rip cord, can't find it, instructor tugs it, quick deceleration as you get out of the cloud cover and then hanging free, moving slowly over an enormous quilt of grass fields and plowed fields and power lines and train tracks and houses and farms . . . pull on the togs to turn this way and that, practice the landing form, then coast in for an easy landing, standing up . . . people rush in to grab the parachute . . . and it's over. The only problem: it wasn't long enough. I definitely want to do this again.

More adventures: his on-the-scene report from a supersized human funnel at a mall in Edmonton this past winter. I think it appeared in the Edmonton Journal.

Also, a professor of mine on Robert Putnam and individualism post-Sept.11 and my friend Will on religious freedom and moral order (links aren't working, just scroll through for them here)

And here's one from Phil on women in office:
i think we get an idea of jesus'
feelings on the matter when we compare his treatment
of women to that common (as i understand it) in
first-century rabbinic judaism. as far as the early
church, it looks like women were taking their freedom
in christ so far that paul had to write and ask them
not to "lord it over" (the verse is commonly
translated "have authority over") a man.
and in another way, i agree [that] to some extent the proof of spiritual claims is in the pudding. if i experience what i
can't help but understand as spiritual growth under a
woman's tutelage, that OUGHT to affect my position on
women in office. the bible safeguards us from
deriving wrong lessons from experience, but in some
ways too our experience must safeguard us against
wrong interpretations of the bible. for example, the claim that "god is love" only means something to people who have some idea what love is. ... i have to import something from my life in this way in order to be able to read the bible
without going #E$ing insane.
Randomly interesting items found while scrounging the archives of the Washington Post:

-The FBI is enlisting teenage girls to tutor them on how to sound like, well, teenage girls while trying to trap sexual predators in Internet chat rooms.

-Coach not playing your kid enough? Sue him. Where would this country be without lawyers.

-The Chicago owners of a double-A baseball team in Montogomery, Alabama announced the team's name would be Biscuits. But Southerners can smell Northerners trying to sound Southern a mile away.

-What to do with the Houston Astrodome? The city has a surfeit of massive entertainment and convention edifices. But to some it's a source of civic pride for a city starved for historical identity.

-Speaking of historic preservation, one such cause in Boston doesn't have to do with the Revolutionary War. It's a trailer park that was threatened by a car dealer.

-If you build it...they'll just stare at it. Researchers in upstate New York studied how animals responded to highway underpasses, to see if building more would reduce roadkill. Most of the animals looked in and then walked away. A few humans used them, though.

-Whatever happened to Wes Boyd, the creator of the flying toaster screensaver? He's now a progressive political activist, founder of the petition site and featured speaker at a progressives convention last week.

-Previous Randomly Interesting
Follow-up to my earlier posting on baseball attendance, from's daily newsletter:

Baseball's declining crowds are hardly a secret. Attendance is down 3.2 percent from this time last season -- and that was down 6 percent from 2001.
But some places have it worse than others. Milwaukee, for instance. Only two
seasons after Miller Park opened, crowds are averaging 17,300 -- some 4,400
less than last season. At the same time, the season-ticket base has dropped
below 8,000 full-season packages, a level not seen since the mid-'90s at old
County Stadium. It's so bad that team officials are thinking about shutting
down the upper deck. "Yes, we're looking at it," Richard Cox, the Brewers'
vice president of stadium operations, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
"But there are lots of implications. We are reviewing our options and we'll
explain them to our staff." The action would mean moving about 400
season-ticket holders from the upper deck to lower sections. Tom Olson, who
heads Sportservice, the Brewers' concessionaire, is all for it. "I say let's
concentrate on where the people are," said Olson. "If there are a few
hundred people up there, let them move down." No word if this affects Bernie

Also, I'm a sucker for random baseball stats, like this one from the SI newsletter: The Texas Rangers swept the Yankees at Yankee Stadium last month for the first time in their 43-year history.
Etymology Today from M-W: jettison \JEH-tuh-sun\
1 : to throw (goods) overboard to lighten a ship or aircraft in distress
2 : discard

"Jettison" comes via Anglo-French from the Old French "getaison," meaning "action of throwing," and ultimately from the Latin verb "jactare," meaning "to throw." The noun "jettison" ("a voluntary sacrifice of cargo to lighten a ship's load in time of distress") entered English in the 15th century; the verb has been with us since the 19th century. The noun is also the source of the word "jetsam" ("jettisoned goods"), which is often paired with "flotsam"("floating wreckage"). These days you don't have to be on a sinking ship to jettison something. In addition to literally "throwing overboard," "jettison" means simply "to get rid of." You might jettison some old magazines that are cluttering your house. Or you might make plans, but jettison them at the last minute.

- Previous E.T.

Monday, June 09, 2003

My latest B&C writing:
Why there will be sidewalks in heaven, featured at
See also my book on heaven, in progress

Blog: the rising prison population, plus the limits of knowledge.

My B&C blog archive

Monday, June 02, 2003

My latest B&C blog:
May news in review and May book review roundup. Enough reading to kill a week of lunch breaks or wipe out a weekend.

- My B&C blog archive
I've been doing a lot of thinking, and plan to do some writing, on how belief is (in part) socially constructed, including how belief (in the markets, individualism, self-redemption, etc.) is disseminated in American culture. So I'm wondering about this quote from Os Guinness I found in an old issue of B&C (see this too). Do you think it's true?

"Of the roughly 20 civilizations in the course of human history, if you take on Toynbee's reckoning, Western secular civilization is the first that has no agreed-on answer to what is the meaning of individual life."

More on looking for meaning in life in Chapter 1 of my book in progress and tracing the social roots of belief in my letter to an athiest
Thought of the Day: Poe and The Matrix
My editor trimmed this from my Matrix blog at B&C a couple weeks ago, and rightly so--it was too muddled. I've tried to resuscitate it here; see if it makes any sense...

What would Edgar Allan Poe make of The Matrix? For Poe, the most haunting evil lay within the mind and the reality it perceives. The Matrix, whose first sequel opened [last month], was just the latest example of a very different (if equally paranoid) philosophy of evil and reality. It holds that the greatest dread is not Poe's belief that the reality we perceive is poisoned by evil, but rather the possibility that this reality is only an illusion, and that evil itself lies in another dimension. Ostensible reality is not evil's torture chamber that serves an obviously ominous purpose, as in Poe's stories and poems; instead it is evil's inviting playground that serves an elusive purpose.

(Now I'm wondering how this all jives with my Calvinist belief in total depravity ... I need lunch.)

Previous Thought of the Day: Why atheism is a faith
Moment of lucidity from a recent left-wing boilerplate syndicated column:

Now what you hear in Washington, just as among the exhausted and confused American officials in Iraq, is, "But we overthrew a horrible dictator!" That is both true and, in its own way, virtuous. But does that mean that we take on the Burmese junta, the Rwandan mass murderers, the Turkmenistan prisons-keepers, the Congolese militias, the Syrian and Iranian torturers, the ...? (Sorry, running out of space.)
One of those homespun, simplistically populist (in the case of #2) but not totally useless e-mail forwards (here's another one [um, try here]):

Twelve things you should learn by age 40:
1. Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.
2. For every action, there is an equal and opposite government program.
3. If you look like your passport picture, you probably need the trip.
4. Bills travel through the mail at twice the speed of checks.
5. Junk is something you've kept for years and throw away three weeks before you need it.
6. Eat well, stay fit, die anyway.
7. Men are from earth. Women are from earth. Deal with it.
8. A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand.
9. Opportunities always look bigger going than coming.
10. By the time you can make ends meet, they move the ends.
11. Experience is a wonderful thing. It enables you to recognize a mistake when you make it again.
12. Middle age is when broadness of the mind and narrowness of the waist change places.
E-bayers wouldn't shell out more than $154,000 for Johnny Carson's boyhood home, only a few thousand more than the home's owners just paid for it.

See also this feature in AARP magazine on Carson's post-"Tonight Show" seclusion by a former writer on the show.


- "Pat McCormick was the only other staff member who seemed to play by different rules. He came and went as he pleased and was on and off the staff many times. During the streaking craze of 1974, Pat once raced across the stage—buck naked—during Johnny's monologue. Afterward, Johnny refused to let NBC fire him. (I'll always remember Pat not for his tush but for a classic joke he wrote after a major California earthquake: "Due to today's earthquake, the God Is Dead rally has been cancelled.")"

- "The first thing Johnny did each day was review five or six sets of jokes—usually about 20 jokes per set—submitted by each of the writers. He took pride in deciding almost instantaneously which ones to put onto cue cards for the monologue, completing the entire process within minutes. Frankly, I always thought that rush to judgment was the main reason some of those jokes died."
Etymology Today from M-W: banausic \buh-NAW-sik\
: relating to or concerned with earning a living -- used pejoratively; also : utilitarian, practical

>Each summer, countless college students set aside their books and turn to more banausic tasks, such as waiting tables, to earn tuition and spending money for the coming year.

The ancient Greeks held intellectual pursuits in the highest esteem, and they considered ideal a leisurely life of contemplation. A large population of slaves enabled many Greek citizens to adopt that preferred lifestyle. Those who had others to do the heavy lifting for them tended to regard professional labor with contempt. Their prejudice against the need to toil to earn a living is reflected in the Greek adjective "banausikos" (the root of "banausic"), which not only means "of an artisan" and "nonintellectual," but also "vulgar."

- Previous E.T.