Friday, February 28, 2003

My latest Tribune story:
On Poetry Slam founder Marc Smith, in the Friday section:,1,7564229.story

My Tribune archive

Thursday, February 27, 2003

My latest B&C blog:
Debut of my monthly book review roundup, plus link-laced commentary on secularism and evil.

Coming next week: My Timeline column for February, with bonus links to be posted here at my notebook. Check back Monday.

My B&C blog archive
Onion Headline of the Week:
"Terrorism "Not Likely" Cause of Fire at Local Laudromat"

Elsewhere in the issue, a healthy poke at the women's movement (of which, I should note, I'm a fan):
"Women Now Empowered By Everything a Woman Does"

And the issue's Point-Counterpoint:
Point: "No Blood For Oil"
Counterpoint: "Exactly How Much Oil Are We Talking About?"

David Letterman last week: "Richard Gephardt has announced he will enter the presidential race. Of course, Gephardt ran in 1988, but he was no match for the irresistable charisma of Michael Dukakis."
Etymology Today from M-W: fructuous \FRUK-chuh-wus\
: fruitful

Most people enjoy a good piece of fruit, and it seems that this was also true in ages past. In fact, the connection of fruit with "enjoyment" was so strong in ancient Rome that Latin used the same word, "fructus," to mean both "fruit" and "enjoyment" or "use." A rich crop of English derivatives grew from that root, including "fructuous," "fructose" (a sugar found in fruits), "fruition" ("the state of bearing fruit"), "usufruct" (the right to use or enjoy something), and even "fruit" itself. "Fructuous" comes from the Middle French adjective "fructueux" and the Latin adjective "fructuosus," both ultimately derived from "fructus."

More E.T.: usage notes: jocose
1 : given to joking : merry
2 : characterized by joking : humorous

When you need a word to describe something (or someone) that causes or is intended to cause laughter, you might pick "jocose" or a synonym such as "witty," "facetious," or "jocular." Of those terms, "witty" suggests cleverness and quickness of mind, while "facetious" is a potentially derogatory word for a lame or ill-timed attempt at humor. "Jocose" and "jocular" both imply a habitual waggishness and fondness for joking.

Previous E.T.

Monday, February 17, 2003

My latest B&C blog:
Presidents' Day essays on the cultural impact of the presidency, plus my interview with Bonnie Hunt.

My B&C blog archive
My latest B&C article:
This book review for Books&Culture has finally been posted. I've been wanting to post it for a while, because it captures one of the central tensions in my thinking and writing--and my conversion to a left-wing Christian--over the past two years: where is the line between "alternative consciousness" and dysfunctional cynicism?

Also, I never posted my first article for B&C, on the Internet, morality, and community:

The piece refers to my interview with Virginia Postrel, which I posted in full last week in my B&C blog:
A letter writer to the Times defies the supposed conventional wisdom that Canada's health care system is too flawed to be instructive to the U.S.

Re "Long Lines Mar Canada's Low-Cost Health Care" (news article, Feb. 13):

It's time to distinguish between an imperfect health care system and no health care at all. I am an American living in Montreal, where last year my husband and I needed two surgeries, four emergency room visits, radiation and chemotherapy, nuclear medicine cardiology and assorted tests. Our care was timely, compassionate, comparable to care in the United States — and free.

Back home, we paid outrageous insurance rates for uncertain coverage that excluded any care we were actually likely to need. Our Quebec friends cannot comprehend the notion of "pre-existing conditions" or "denial of payment," and we've come to view the American health care system as backward and discriminatory.

The philosophical choices are telling: the United States provides optimal care for a few, no care at all for many; Canada provides good care for all its people.
Part of President Bush's sales pitch on war with Iraq is that America is a champion for good in the world. But to believe that you have to ignore our record on foreign aid, which is borderline immorally selfish. Bush's proposed budget only begins to correct this, says the NY Times.

America ranks dead last among wealthy countries in foreign aid as a percentage of the economy. The new program helps, but the ranking remains unchanged. Foreign aid is less than 1 percent of the budget, and most of it goes to military or economic support for strategically important, but not particularly needy, friends — mainly Israel, Egypt, Colombia and Jordan. This furthers American interests but should not be confused with development aid.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Randomly Interesting
As I state at left, the media is at its best when it abandons its lazy news ruts and shows some random but useful curiosity about the world and its cultural patterns. I try to highlight this in my Places&Culture strand, but here are some curiosity-oriented articles I trimmed from my B&C blog.

Satirical spammer sends out mass e-mail from President Bush. From the NY Times.

Whatever happened to Anita Hill? The Boston Globe fills us in.

The NY Times previews the Matisse Picasso exhibition.
A war-prone president surrenders in the war on poverty: Bush budget dismantles the Great Society, says the Boston Globe.
Capatalism at its most disgustingly intrusive: the privatization of water, from the NY Times.
"Last year, 8.8 million lives were lost needlessly to preventable diseases, infections, and childbirth complications. ... None of them had to die." A series from the Boston Globe.
The Great Lakes should freeze the most they have in six years, says the Chicago Sun-Times. I can see the ice forming on Lake Michigan from my Near North Side apartment's fire escape--a spectacular sight.
"Two Precincts, Two Worlds" from the NY Times.
Centenarians reminisce about San Fransisco real estate, in the SF Chronicle.
Believe it or not, Ireland is banning smoking in pubs, says the Boston Globe.
Parasomniacs and their weird behavior during sleep, from the NY Times Magazine.
Architecture Watch

When you take the Boston skyline as a whole, it's depressing. There was a whole generation of dumb boxes that look like the upended packing crates the real buildings were shipped in. After that came a generation of jokey so-called Post-Modernist buildings, such as International Place, by architect Philip Johnson, which is gift-wrapped in a skin of paste-on Palladian windows. Tired wit replaced genuine innovation. Johnson wasn't even trying. To be fair, it didn't happen only in Boston. Most American cities went through the same phases. But a place like Los Angeles spawned a lot more invention than Boston. Maybe that's because there's no context there. Designers feel more free from constraint. LA is the exception, though. Compared with places like Europe and Asia, we in the United States are a timid culture architecturally.

Fed up with concrete "boxes'' being added to Chicago's storied skyline, Mayor Daley and city planners are laying down the law to developers and architects of high-rise buildings: Come up with better designs. Surprise us. Challenge us. Just don't bore us. ... "Instead of just plain old boxes, we want something different,'' Daley said Friday. "Developers better realize that. Also, the public wants it, as well.''

Previous A.W.
Is Google News perfect? Machines will never best human brains in delivering the news, as the automatically generated portal's coverage of the Columbia disaster suggested. A couple hours after mission control lost contact with the shuttle and pieces of debris streaked like comets through the sky, this was the leading headline on Google News, with a link to a three-hour-old story from the Washington Post:
"Columbia streaks toward landing"

Also, note the spiritual tone of both the Reagan Challenger speech and Bush Columbia speech.
Urban Issues Watch from
The Boston Globe

A CITY IS CONSIDERABLY more than the sum of its parts. This is especially so of Boston, a place largely defined by its abundance of history and lack of space. Yet make no mistake: The parts do matter. Perhaps the single most remarkable aspect of the Big Digeven more than the expense incurred, the upheaval caused, or the prodigies of engineering requiredis the spectacle of a city afforded the chance to reimagine a not-insignificant swathe of itself. A forest springing up on the edge of the Financial District? An enormous boardwalk hard by the Aquarium? Moving the Chinatown gate? When the Central Artery finally does go underground (now set for the end of 2004), these are some of the answers offered to the question of what we want the reclaimed land to look like.

A yearlong Globe investigation found hundreds of ... errors committed by the Big Dig's management company, which is led by one of the world's largest engineering firms, Bechtel Corp. of San Francisco, and includes another industry titan, Parsons Brinckerhoff of New York. ... The Globe investigation included scrutiny of 12,000 changes to more than 150 construction and design contracts, review of 20,000 pages of project documents, and more than 100 interviews with current and former Big Dig officials, construction specialists, and contractors. The chief findings: During the 17 years it has managed the Big Dig, Bechtel has neglected to perform basic work called for in its contracts, such as conducting crucial field surveys of the elevated Artery, and verifying the locations of utility lines and buildings such as the FleetCenter. ...

Previous U.I.W.
Etymology Today from M-W: supercilious \soo-per-SIH-lee-uss\
: coolly and patronizingly haughty

Arrogant and disdainful types tend to raise an eyebrow at anything they consider beneath them. The original supercilious crowd must have shown that raised-eyebrow look often, because the adjective "supercilious" derives from "supercilium," Latin for "eyebrow." (We plucked our adjective and its meaning from the Latin adjective "superciliosus.") The term has been used in English to describe the censoriously overbearing since the late 1500s, when playwright Ben Jonson used it thus: "There are, no doubt, a supercilious race in the world who will esteeme all office, done you in this kind, an injurie."

More E.T.: Latin derivatives: demulcent
: soothing

"Demulcent" derives from the Latin verb "demulcere," meaning "to soothe," which comes from a combination of the prefix "de-" with "mulcere," an earlier verb that also meant "to soothe." As an adjective, "demulcent" often applies to the soothing nature of medicines, but you could also use it to describe such things as a soothing melody or a soothing demeanor. The noun "demulcent" is used for a gelatinous or oily substance that is capable of soothing inflamed or abraded mucous membranes and protecting them from further irritation.

More E.T.: Indian derivatives: Golconda
: a rich mine; broadly : a source of great wealth

In the 16th century, Golconda was the capital of the Qutb Shahi kingdom in southern India. The city was home to one of the most powerful Muslim sultanates in the region and was the center of a flourishing diamond trade. Magnificent diamonds were taken from the mines in the hills surrounding Golconda, including Darya-e Nur (meaning "sea of light"), at 185 carats, the largest and finest diamond of the crown jewels of Iran. By the 1880s, "Golconda" was being used generically by English speakers to refer to any particularly rich mine, and later to any source of great wealth.

Previous E.T.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Thursday, February 06, 2003

My latest Tribune article:
On elite use-of-force training sergeant Patrick Kreis:

My Tribune archive

My latest B&C blog:
The month in news links; Aniston goes "good":

My B&C blog archive

Saturday, February 01, 2003

My latest Tribune article:
On the changing nature of the urban church, beginning with Chicago's oldest church building, Old St. Patrick's.

My Tribune archive