Friday, October 31, 2003

Number of the Day: 47
Millions of U.S. residents who speak a language other than English in their home, as of the 2000 Census. 28 million speak Spanish, 2 million Chinese.
The Week

Previous Number
Thought of the Day: Are historians inherently nostalgic?
Is there a certain built-in nostalgia that comes with (or precedes) being a historian (an historian, for stuffier readers)? I was thinking about this while plowing through a dense 400-plus page analysis of the decentralization and suburbanization of New Haven, Connecticut. The author goes into meticulous detail while chronicling the midcentury decline of central New Haven, listing many of the businesses and social groups that disappeared as the highways were built and people migrated to the burbs. Pages and pages and charts and charts on who was there and what was lost. Implicit in them is dismay over their demise and disapproval of the privatization of life--the way cars, television, and other technology have replaced the former ways of face-to-face city living and isolate us. At one point the author acknowledges that, yes, the old city could be foul and noisy, so let's not get carried away (see the related Jonathan Franzen quote at my page on Chicago's Union Station, where I get rather nostalgic myself). But the thrust of his writing, as purely reportorial as it seems to aspire to be, is that "progress" isn't necessarily progress. I wondered how much this lament is fundamental to the writing of history. Do historians take an interest in studying the past not just because they think we can learn from it, but also because they are personally nostalgic for it? Are they especially prone to romanticizing history as they thumb through colorful portraits of historical battles or black-and-white television footage? (Black-and-white footage evokes a realm that is separate from our full-color--and increasingly sensory overloaded--present, and we may unconsciously forget that the referents of such images were full-color and as "normal" as anything we lay eyes on today.) This may be mostly true of liberal historians--who, like the author I'm reading, are dubious that the explosion of capitalism and technology has made the world substantially better and long for a simpler age--but also of conservatives--those who fondly recall the valor and honor of World War II soldiers (a glossy outlook deconstructed here) and bemoan the cultural subversion of the Sixties. Are all ideologues living in the past, or at least overeager for the present to conform to it? How much does this impair their analytical powers?

Previous Thought: illusory regret

Thursday, October 30, 2003

My B&C blog is idle this week. So here again is the summary for last week:

Reflections on sacred spaces: When my new home church, the gorgeous neo-Gothic Fourth Presbyterian, was invaded by Cameron Diaz, "pay-per-view" cathedrals in Italy, and more on how cultural values shaped the history of church architecture in America. Also, a postcard from Phil Christman in St. Paul; Wal-Mart goes to China (while store #3297 speaks out in The Onion); The Eighties are back (again); homeless hotels in New York City; the too-much-homework myth; The Vatican as "saint factory"; a roundup of the most well-written recent movie reviews; and more... link/archive

Or, some digest segments from the archive worth revisiting:

3/17 | 4/7 | 4/28 | 6/9 | 7/7 | 7/14
Number of the Day: 85,000
"Walk"/"Don't Walk" signs in New York City, which are being replaced by Hand/Person Walking signs at the cost of $28.2 million. (If you don't like the change, you can, presumably, talk to the hand.)
-New Yorker

-Previous Number
Thought of the Day: illusory regret
I started thinking about regret today. I have some mildly major decisions to make, and fear of regret is a by-product of the decision process, both before and after. What triggered my thinking initially was the sight of a graying businessman on the El today, and the weariness conveyed by his face. Writers always read too much into these things, and accordingly I pegged him as someone bearing the weight of former dreams that never flourished, the results of choices he made, consciously or unconciously. And the relevant regret. Pick your metaphor: regret pricks you as you trace your memory, or it aches somewhere inside you, an occasional nuisance. (See, this is reading far too much into the sigh of an old man.) I was thinking about how foolish regret is, despite its power over us, the part of us that dreams and aspires. Regret usually bears the implication that you could and should have done something differently to achieve a different result. I was thinking today, on the front end of these decisions I have hanging over me, how illusory this assumption is, that we can do things and decide things and get a certain direct result. Life is so full of unintended consequences and unexpected twists and turns as to render regret erroneous--who can say whether choice x would have yielded result y? Some regrets are important corrective measures--I shouldn't have wasted my money or time on such and such a class or job or person. But others are illusions: if only I had gone back to school, or not gone back to school, if only I had married younger, or married older... These are idle pursuits. Life is about making a choice, following your heart, taking a step, and then adjusting on the fly to whatever happens next.

-From my B&C blog: Regret 'lacks immediacy,' says William O'Rourke
-Earlier Thought: What does selfless ambition mean?
-Previous Thought: The problem with listening
Randomly Interesting

-Blackout prompted some New Yorkers to study insect sounds they heard, from the New Yorker

-Fireplace logs made of recycled coffee grounds burn brighter and hotter, from the New York Times.

-Colleges luring students with with hot tubs and other luxuries, from the NYT.

-Cliques and bullies in the blogosphere, from the Wash. Post.

-New York City mails letters to pedophiles telling them to mind their own business on Halloween, from the Wash. Post.

Previous R. I.
Etymology Today from M-W: brouhaha \BROO-hah-hah: hubbub, uproar

There is a bit of a brouhaha over the etymology of "brouhaha." Some etymologists think the word is onomatopoeic in origin, but others believe it comes from the Hebrew phrase "bârûkh habbâ’," meaning "blessed be he who enters" (Ps 118:26). Although we borrowed our spelling and meaning of "brouhaha" directly from French in the late 19th century, etymologists have connected the French derivation to that frequently-recited Hebrew phrase, distorted to something like "brouhaha" by worshippers whose knowledge of Hebrew was limited. Thus, once out of the synagogue, the word first meant "a noisy confusion of sound"-a sense that was later extended to refer to any tumultuous and confused situation.

Usage Nuances from M-W: salubrious \suh-LOO-bree-uss\
: favorable to or promoting health or well-being

"Salubrious" and its synonyms "healthful" and "wholesome" all mean favorable to the health of mind or body. "Healthful" implies a positive contribution to a healthy condition (as in French chef Jacques Pepin's Simple and Healthy Cooking, which features recipes using "more healthful ingredients"). "Wholesome" applies to something that benefits you, builds you up, or sustains you physically, mentally, or spiritually (as in centenarian Julia Bunch’s recipe for longevity: "hard work and wholesome country living" - Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 12, 1985). "Salubrious" is similar to the other two, but tends to apply chiefly to the helpful effects of climate or air.

Previous E.T.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

My latest Tribune story:
On Rockford College's response to Chris Hedges' controversial antiwar commencement address:,1,3015745.story

Incidentally, an early report on the speech in the Rockford Register-Star last May contained one of the worst sentences I've seen in a while:

[Hedges] criticized military heroic ideals that grow during war. The fervor sacrifices individual thought for temporarily belonging to something larger, he said.

Paging an editor, or an English teacher...

One of my professors responded to the story this way:

This shows outstanding leadership, taking a "bad" experience and elevating the experience of students and the role of the college as a
whole! I think that I learn from this that, every "crisis" situation presents a unique opportunity, and can be an opportunity for enlarged growth and development individually and collectively.

Which was--as you will not be shocked to learn--the angle of the story. But couldn't you spin this the other way, and ask, what good will endless high-minded deliberation by these ivory tower dwellers do to win back trust in their blue-collar town?

-My Tribune portfolio
Number of the Day: 2.9
Inches by which the average height of a seven-year-old in South Korea exceeds that of a seven-year-old in North Korea.
-Harpers Index

-Previous Number
Thought of the Day: The problem with listening
I finally pinpointed my problem with listening, as ungracious as it sounds. As I mentioned, I'm rereading Anna Deavere Smith's Talk To Me, a visionary work about communication in media and politics. In it, Smith eloquently talks about the importance of trying to hear people--not just listen to their words but try to hear what's happening behind them. (Funny, we usually talk about "hearing but not listening"--and yet I think the reversal in meaning in that sentence works.) As I noted earlier, Smith says that this sometimes happens when a speaker's syntax runs off the rails, and so she transcribes her various interviews verbatim, with all the um's and run-on sentences of some of the most articulate people in Washington captured on the page. I'd been thinking about this some more after hearing Mitch Albom speak at Borders here on Michigan Ave. on Monday. He steered my thinking away from the power structures of business and politics with which I am occupied as a journalist, and back toward the countless "ordinary people" who have fascinating stories to tell and whose insignificant (as it seems to them) lives go mostly unchronicled, while boring celebrities are amplified endlessly. (Albom's new novel is about one such person, based on his uncle, who felt his life didn't amount to much but goes to heaven and meets people who prove him wrong). It renewed my commitment to go out and tell unexpectedly interesting stories about unexpectedly interesting people. Which only happens by listening. A related idea still camping out in my brain was about technology, which, as Quentin Schultze points out, does nothing to improve our listening, only our "messaging." All the sales pitches about new communication gadgets entice us to express ourselves or to fiddle with buttons, at the expense (they don't mention) of becoming better listeners and consequently better people. And so the need is plain for patient, selfless, curious listening to people and the truth that lies in their stories.

But as I was thinking it over, I identified the cause of my minor discomfort with this mission to listen, which I felt guilty about but want to get down on paper (or in bytes). If you believe, as my fellow Calvinists (including Schultze) always have, that all humans are inherently corrupted by sin to some extent, what caveat does that add to our listening? How much does listening serve to facilitate another person's self-absorption? Because of our fall into sin, everyone is prone to deceit and distortion in our communication, whether out of pride, greed, ignorance, or carelessness. We miscommunicate to serve ourselves or out of oblivion to truth. Most of us do not do this to the grotesque degree of Ken Lay in the last year of Enron's existence, but at moments here and there in daily life, our communication can obscure as much as it enlightens. The optimistic humanism of Smith and Albom--who tend to believe that our better angels are what invariably shine through when the human spirit is allowed to come up for air in moments of connection between people, leaves little room for a caution about discernment when we listen, about how much to become absorbed in people's stories and how much to remain detached so as not to follow them when they stray from the truth. (This is why, as much as I am dubious about the notion of a journalist's "objectivity," it is a useful reminder not to speak too definitely from one point of view). The reason I feel guilty about saying this is that the message of Smith and Albom seems so pure and so righteous, and it mostly is: we must be listeners in life, living with patience, open-mindedness, and empathy in a fast-paced world. But at the risk of being too cynical, I'm going to keep reading their books with this grain of salt: humans are dually, maddeningly capable of communicating truth and of missing it.

-Previous Thought: As things get 'better,' empathy gets worse
-Earlier Thought: Are people basically good or evil?
-Earlier Thought: The difference between 'effective' and 'good' communication
To snooze or not to snooze: Reviews of Madeline Albright's memoir "Madame Secretary."

New York Times:
It is unlike any other by a secretary of state ... She writes, one of her goals was "to be sure the main character didn't bore people to death."

The Atlantic Monthly (2nd item):
Such books promise to be boring, for when a former Cabinet officer--unlike, say, a record producer--reminisces, she perforce adopts the sonorous and bloated tone of one writing A Work of History, as she chronicles, for example, her speech endorsing "intercultural communications." ... Madam Secretary ... is neither better nor worse than others of its ilk.
This Shouts & Murmurs (I was about to abbreviate that and then realized...) is a clever deconstruction of the self-righteous rhetoric of interest groups, playing with all the usual cliches about moral outrage over social wrongs. Plus, since its subject is the inevitability of death, it puts the outrage of those oh-so-urgent causes in perspective. This earlier Shouts was an even funnier spoof of Donald Rumsfeld ordering breakfast. And finally, just because I don't want to lose any links to anything by Anthony Lane, here's Lane on "Sylvia."

Major league, even if our baseball team is only Single A: My earlier disgust with my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan, has--upon moving from it--been replaced by fierce pride. So I was glad to see this surface on an e-mail list-serv I'm on:

According to official designations of metropolitan areas contained in the 2000 census, only ten states have larger second-largest cities than Michigan (Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Virginia, North Carolina, New York, Tennessee, and California). The greater Grand Rapids metro area has nearly twice the population of the entire state of Wyoming.
Mickey Kaus has the best take on the Gregg Easterbrook brouhaha. He's the hardest-hitting but most fair. The episode is a little worrisome after my earlier blog about Christians in the media. Instapundit was all over the frightening firing by ESPN.
Not to ruin the previous post, but Julia Keller's front page essay after Game 7 was poignant--and, Michael Miner reveals at the end of his column this week, written in 20 minutes.
Ten years later, the journey of the 1984 Cubs is completeThe Cubs open the 1994 World Series on my Super Nintendo against the Yankees in Wrigley Field, having won 92 regular season games to New York's 91. The Yankees ousted the team with the best record, the 102-win White Sox, in Game 7 of the ALCS, and thank goodness--the Sox' bats would have been far more terrifying to face after the Cubs edged the homer-happy Braves in the NLCS.
Game 1: Mike Morgan v. Jimmy Key. Morgan hangs a curve in front of Wade Boggs in the top of the 3rd and Boggs blasts it for a home run and a 1-0 Yankees lead. It stays that way until I pinch-hit Glenallen Hill for faltering leadoff hitter Dwight Smith in the bottom of the 6th; Hill sends one over the fence to tie it at 1. In the 7th, Sosa singles and then scores from first on a Rick Wilkins double to make it 2-1. Dan Plesac comes in to relieve Morgan in the 8th, puts the go-ahead run on base with two walks and one out, then gets Don Mattingly to hit into a double play. Scrub Eric Yelding hits for Plesac and gets a single, then scores on a Hill triple. Myers gets the save. Cubs win 3-1, lead the series 1-0.
Game 2: Greg Hibbard v. Jim Abbott. Steve Buchele, my best hitter in the postseason, strikes out with runners on first and second to end the 1st inning and keep the game scoreless. The Yankees load the bases in the top of the 2nd but I strike out the pitcher to get out of the inning. In the bottom half, Sammy Sosa leads off with a double and advances to third on a double by Wilkins. Then Wilkins is doubled up on a caught line drive and the pitcher strikes out to end the inning. Still scoreless. In the bottom of the 4th, Mark Grace skies one to the warning track but is retired. The next batter, Buchele cranks it over the wall and it's 1-0. I load the bases again in the 6th but fail to score. Hibbard strikes out the side in the 7th. Sosa triples with one out in the bottom half of the inning, but neither Wilkins nor Rey Sanchez can get the ball out of the infield. Still 1-0. But setup man Jose Bautista is dominant in the 8th, as is Randy Myers in the ninth, and the Cubs hang on. Cubs win 1-0, lead the series 2-0. On to the Bronx.
Game 3: Jose Guzman v. Scott Kamieniecki. Sosa's solo homer makes it 1-0 in the top of the 2nd. Jose Vizcaino gets on in the 3rd with an infield single, Dwight Smith bunts him over to second, and Karl Rhodes knocks him in on a triple to left. 2-0. Then Hill, in the lineup as a DH, blasts a 2-run shot to make it 4-0. Guzman is in command of the punchless Yankee lineup and has a one-hitter going. Sosa, who will go 4-4 on the night, gets on to lead off the 6th before another Wilkins homer makes it 6-0. Myers completes Guzman's one-hitter. The Yankees have 15 hits through three games to the Cubs' 29. Cubs win 6-0, and are one game away from a World Series sweep.
Game 4: Greg Hibbard v. Jimmy Key. Dwight Smith leads off the 1st with a triple and is tripled home by Rhodes, but no one can get Rhodes home. 1-0. Hibbard scatters five hits over eight innings on three days rest, but I can't get more than one baserunner on against Jimmy Key for the next six innings. Then Rhodes leads off the top of the 9th with a solo homer to make it 2-0, and we go to the bottom of the 9th. Myers allows a leadoff single but gets the next two batters. Danny Tartabull comes to the plate representing the tying run with two outs. Cubs' fans hearts leap to their throats as Tartabull launches one deep into center field, but Smith chases it back, camps under it, makes the catch, and delerium descends on Wrigleyville.

-Previous Summary
Etymology Today from M-W: maudlin \MAWD-lin\
1 : drunk enough to be emotionally silly
2 : weakly and effusively sentimental

The history of "maudlin" owes as much to the Bible as to the barroom. The biblical Mary Magdalene is often (though some say mistakenly) identified with the weeping sinner who washed Jesus' feet with her tears to repent for her sins. This association led to the frequent depiction of Mary Magdalene as a weeping penitent, and by the 16th century even the name "Magdalene" suggested teary emotion to many English speakers. It was then that "maudlin," an alteration of "Magdalene," appeared in the English phrase "maudlin drunk," which, as one Englishman explained in 1592, described a tearful drunken state whereby "a fellow wil weepe for kindnes in the midst of his Ale and kisse you."

Usage Nuances from M-W: beguile \bih-GHYLE\
1 : to deceive by cunning means
2 : to draw notice or interest by wiles or charm
3 : to cause (as time) to pass pleasantly

"Deceive," "mislead," "delude," and "beguile" all mean to lead astray or frustrate, usually by underhandedness. "Deceive" implies imposing a false idea or belief that causes ignorance, bewilderment, or helplessness (as in "they tried to deceive me about the cost"). "Mislead" implies a leading astray that may or may not be intentional (as in "I was misled by the confusing sign"). "Delude" implies deceiving so thoroughly as to obscure the truth (as in "we were deluded into thinking we were safe"). "Beguile" stresses the use of charm and persuasion in deceiving (as in "they were beguiled by false promises").

• Previous Usage Nuances here and here
Previous E.T.

Monday, October 20, 2003

This week in my B&C blog:
Reflections on sacred spaces: When my new home church, the gorgeous neo-Gothic Fourth Presbyterian, was invaded by Cameron Diaz, "pay-per-view" cathedrals in Italy, and more on how cultural values shaped the history of church architecture in America. Also, a postcard from Phil Christman in St. Paul; Wal-Mart goes to China (while store #3297 speaks out in The Onion); The Eighties are back (again); homeless hotels in New York City; the too-much-homework myth; The Vatican as "saint factory"; a roundup of the most well-written recent movie reviews; and more... link/archive
A soldier tells a reporter in the first frame of this editorial cartoon in the Indy Star: "Today we reopened a school in Baghdad and built a soccer field in Tikrit, but we still have a lot of work to do." The reporter turns to the camera: "Our soldiers are bogged down in a quagmire with no exit strategy." I identified this media reflex in this item in my B&C blog, but concluded that if both Friedman and the Weekly Standard say they have good reasons to criticize Bush about Iraq, that says something. But constant contrarian Jonathan Rauch makes the media-are-blowing-it-out-of-proportion case in the National Journal.
Cubs continue playoff charge on Super Nintendo MLBPA BaseballWrigley Field remains open for business on my Super Nintendo, where, at last report, the Cubs were even with the Braves, 2-2, in the 1994 NL Championship Series.
Game 5: In Atlanta, Sammy Sosa opens the scoring in the first inning with a bases loaded single to put the Cubs up 1-0. David Justice ties it with a homer in the second, followed by a 3-run blast by Steve Buchele
in the bottom of the inning to give the Cubs a commanding 4-1 lead. The score stays put until the eighth, when Justice strikes again with a 3-run shot of his own, and the game goes to extra innings. In the top of the tenth, backup shortstop and rarely used pinch hitter Rey Sanchez stands in with the bases loaded and slaps a single. Randy Myers comes on to close it out, and the Cubs head back to Wrigley with a 3-2 series lead.
Game 6: Jose Guzman opens the first inning with two strikeouts. A Ryne Sandberg RBI triple and Steve Buchele RBI single give the Cubs a 2-0 lead. Catcher Rick Wilkins adds a solo homer to make it 3-0 in the 4th. In the fifth, leading 3-1, with one Brave on base, I give Fred McGriff yet another intentional pass to get to Terry Pendleton, who punishes me with a three-run blast to make it 4-3 Braves, and they hang on to win and send the series to Game 7.
Game 7: Greg Hibbard (a 15-game winner in real life) is stellar, shutting out the Braves on four hits in 7 1/3 innings. Jose Vizcaino finally comes up with a huge hit, knocking in a run on a double in the 3rd, followed immediately by a Dwight Smith RBI single to make it 2-0. Hibbard hangs on, Shawn Boskie provides serviceable setup work, and Myers, after putting McGriff on base in the ninth, closes down the Braves to send the Cubs to the World Series. They face the Yankees, who beat the White Sox in Game 7 of the ALCS. A Cubs-Yankees World Series--what might have been this year; what will be in a virtual realm.

Previous Summary

Back to '04: We'll always have the NLDS, when Kerry was killer. More: The National Review on the logic of curses, Miami's Dan LeBatard on the marvel of the Marlins.
Etymology Today from M-W: sententious \sen-TEN-shuss\
: given to or abounding in aphoristic expression or excessive moralizing
: terse, aphoristic, or moralistic in expression

Nowadays, "sententious" is usually uncomplimentary, implying banality, oversimplification, and excessive moralizing. But that hasn't always been the case, nor is it universally so even now. The original Middle English sense of "sententious" was "full of meaning," a sense adopted from Latin "sententiosus" (from "sententia," meaning "sentence" or "maxim"). In Modern English, too, "sententious" has sometimes referred to what is full of significance and expressed tersely. Or sometimes "sententious" simply suggests an affinity for aphorisms, as when it refers to the likes of Ben Franklin's Poor Richard (of almanac fame), the homespun philosopher given to such statements as "early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."

Previous E.T.
Excerpt for my B&C blog from
"Too Much Homework? Too Little?"
Chicago Tribune editorial
October 12, 2003
original link

Discussions about the burdens of homework should include an acknowledgement of why it exists: to reinforce or expand upon material covered in class; to help students practice independently the skills they're learning at school; and to develop the study habits they'll need as their educations progress.

There are a few things schools can do to help balance the demands on their students. Some principals, for example, set specific days on which teachers of various subjects are asked to administer their tests: for example, English tests on Mondays, math on Tuesdays, social studies on Wednesdays, and so on. This isn't giving students an easy ride; it's allowing them to deploy their resources--their time, will power and energy--to maximize their chances of effectively demonstrating what they've learned.

When complaints about homework hit high decibel levels, there's a protocol parents can follow to evaluate, and maybe ease, the burden:

- Ask to see your child's daily assignments, and estimate how much time you think they should consume.

- Measure the time your child actually spends doing those assignments. Time spent on the phone, or instant messaging, or winding down from an after-school job, doesn't count.

- If your estimate and your child's work time are out of whack, speak with his or her teacher. One question to ask: Has my child learned how to study this material, how to do this kind of work?

Together, you'll probably find a solution. One rule of thumb--not that all educators agree on it--is that students should get 10 minutes of homework per grade per night: 30 minutes a night for third-graders, an hour for sixth-graders, two hours for high school seniors. For many kids, that would require the assignment of more homework than they currently receive.

Remember, though, that becoming an educated person involves learning not just the material presented in classes, but also learning about oneself. There's much to be said, students, for doing your best, for pushing yourselves to your limit. But if, in your zeal to succeed, you push too far beyond your personal limit, you're likely to wind up unhappy--and doing shoddy work.

So select a course load you can manage, dig into your homework--and unless there really is a problem, please hold your complaints until your assignments are finished and stowed in your backpack. Your parents will be glad to attest that they never, ever complained about homework--so why should you?link

Friday, October 17, 2003

Before the Red Sox travel back to Boston this morning, they should check to see if Pedro is on the plane, or if Grady Little left him out on the mound in Yankee Stadium. If you don't believe in curses, then how do you explain the horror that has afflicted Cubs and Red Sox fans this week? "Clutch hitting by their opponents" is too banal a cause; it doesn't convey how tantalizingly possible the opposite outcome was, nor does it explain how eerie it was that things fell apart in the exact same situation for both teams. Yes, the Red Sox were five outs away, with a three run lead, their best pitcher on the mound. Just like the Cubs. And then fate awoke at the switch and threw it.

Now I really don't have the stomach to watch any of the World Series, even though the scrappy Marlins yapping at the heels of the creaky oft-champion Yankees would be, in any other year, something to see.

The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy and Bob Ryan sum up the mood in Beantown. Believe me, guys, we Chicagoans can empathize:

And so a new generation of New Englanders has learned the risk of rooting for the Red Sox. They will tease you for months. They will tell you they are different from their forebears. They will claim that what happened before has nothing to do with them. They will make you believe this really is the year. But in the end, they will fall and sometimes they will do it in excruciating fashion. The weight of the Boston uniform is always too heavy. ... In perhaps the most painful game in franchise history -- no small statement given the Sox' penchant for macabre moments -- the Sox last night lost the American League pennant to their century-old nemisis, the New York Yankees.

The reward for all that fidelity will surely come in another life. There is no indication it will ever materialize in this one. With five outs to go, it was there. It was tangible. The Red Sox were going to beat the Yankees. They were going to the World Series, and, of course, they were going to win it. ... But the story never, ever changes.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

For Cubs and fans, cruel and usual punishmentHow long can one measly goat nurse a grudge? I felt like I'd gotten a massage with jagged rocks last night, and this is just my first full year living in Chicago. I really feel for those who have followed the Cubs their entire lives and saw this year as their reward, only to see the same tragic drama one more time.

There is a perverse appropriateness to how it all happened. With a new manager this year and an abrupt turnaround in the standings, with all the new faces from the trades, with the incongruous jubilation of the division title and the defeat of the Braves, and with this being a new century, there was this feeling that maybe all the history was just that--history, in the past. Game 6 was a bus-collision-like reminder that yes, this is still the Cubs and always will be; there is no outrunning history.

Already yesterday on the radio postgame show, the announcers were trying to console us with how promising things will be next spring training. Wait Till Next Year, basically. With this young pitching and Dusty and being defending division champions for once.... But that's completely missing the point. This year's playoffs proved just how little logic there is to it all and how irrelevant the regular season is. When a wild card goes to the World Series and the Cubs lose three of the strangest games they've ever played within the span of one series, it just shows how long and pointless those 162 games are. Sure, the Cubs look good on paper heading into next year. But they couldn't have looked any better on paper then they did bringing the LCS back to Chicago up 3-2 with Wood and Prior ready. If that 3-0 lead in the eighth of Game 6 with Prior isn't a sure thing, then nothing ever will be until the final out of a decisive Cubs win in a World Series, and there is absolutely no consolation for Cubs fans until that moment. Besides, it's hard to relish the long march back when that march means another dogfight with Houston and St. Louis next year, and then perhaps another zany series with the Braves or even the danged Marlins if the Cubs get that far again. With as screwy as baseball is, you just have to seize on your chances when they're right in front of you. This was their chance.

-Previous Cubs posting

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

This week in my B&C blog:
A look at Chicago magazine's interview with Cathleen Falsani, along with my thoughts on Christian journalists as writers, not missionaries. Also: the debate over government privileges for native Hawaiians; my friend Sara VanderHaagen with a postcard from Boston; Michael Wolff on why file sharing is anti-blockbuster, Gross versus O'Reilly on NPR; the history of the murder mystery cliche "the butler did it"; and more... link/archive
Number of the Day: 44
Percent of federal and state welfare budgets in 2002 spent on cash handouts to welfare recipients--as opposed to child care, job training, and other services--down from 77 percent in 1997.
NY Times

-Previous Number of the Day
Thought of the Day: As things get 'better,' empathy gets worse
I've been trying to nail down how, exactly, our individualistic, fast-paced, "progress"-minded culture empties us out as people. Why is it that, as I heard Eugene Peterson say last month, "As we get faster and faster, we become less and less"? One suggestion came to me yesterday in Anna Deavere Smith's interview with Studs Terkel in her book Talk To Me. Terkel says: "[There's] less and less awareness of pain in the other." That was a new one to add to my list of casualties of a commercial culture: lack of contemplation, more interest in "using" people than knowing people, abandonment of communal and traditional ties.

Less awareness of pain in the other. Empathy. Being empathetic to the suffering in other people. That was one of the most emphasized qualities of Jesus Christ in the gospels. Christ had three years in which to do his life's work, and yet he never rushed an encounter with anyone, ever. This kind of empathy gets lost in the rush of our culture in which we are always chasing something--"success," "achievement," wealth, things. We chase just about everything except meaningful relationships.

The Terkel interview came after Smith's reflections on how the rhythm of character's speech on stage can reflect how they are making themselves vulnerable--or even how a character is losing his mind, as in the case of King Lear, who abandons iambic rhythms for trochaic ones in his outburst "Never never never...". Smith observed that politicians today are generally incapable of (prohibited from?) making themselves vulnerable, which only weakens our trust in government.

Not, I would note, that we have a lack of expression about suffering in our culture. My only question for Terkel is how fine a line there is between not concealing our suffering and whining about it. For example, few people who asked me in the last year how my marriage was going gained much of an understanding of just how much marital discord has been tearing at my insides. My standard line, which is honest but incomplete, has been: "Well, marriage has its challenging and rewarding moments." This is partly, frankly, my adherence to the idiotic Protestant ethic that No One Likes A Whiner And Suffering Builds Character So Don't Dwell On It. (You all but had to sign this statement on paper where I grew up.) Despondence is--after a certain point--self-centered. Besides, when someone asks how you're doing, it's almost always just making small-talk; we live with shameful oblivion to the profundity of the question, "How Are You?"

But Terkel's point is crucial. Think of all the seemingly trivial situations that compose our daily lives in which empathy between two people is all but impossible--a transaction with a bank teller, a fast-food order at the drive-thru, passing a co-worker in the hallway, talking with a client on the phone, even asking your kid "How was school?" at dinner and having them mumble "Fine" between bites. In all of these most ordinary and common interactions, no awareness--perhaps no possibility of awareness--of another's suffering, worries, regrets, or grief can flourish--even though it is this awareness that makes us human, that distinguishes us from machines. The more these fly-by encounters typify interpersonal communication in our lives--and the more that we idealize the disembodied "personalized" greetings on an ATM, AOL, or on ("Hello, Nathan L.K. Explore what's New For You today!") the more empathy suffers.

-Previous Thought: business jargon and the fine arts
-Earlier Thought: is effective communication a virtue?
-Earlier in this blog: Steve McKee on "personal marketing"

Monday, October 13, 2003

Number of the Day: 3.8
Millions of millionaire households in the U.S. in the first half of 2003, up 14 percent from the first half of '02. NY Times

-Previous Number and Quote of the Day
Thought of the Day: business jargon in the fine arts
Interviewing a couple of tiny theater companies on the North Side for a Tribune story, I was struck, and disheartened, by the business jargon that kept seeping in to the speech of some otherwise creative artists. One theater calls their teen outreach program "ProjecTheater," in the MidWordCapital syntax of a charity of a Fortune 500 company. A coordinator for Gallery 37, the city's summer arts program, says working with this theater has been a "smooth collaborative effort." One playwright and director of what is pejoratively called a "fringe theater" explains the purpose of their youth programs: "You need strength in a lot of areas to be a viable organization, not just getting good reviews." Viable organization? Strength in a lot of areas? Is this the manager of a reportedly kinky show currently playing or the White House press secretary?

It got me thinking, if people this artsy-fartsy are talking like PR for Philip Morris, what does that show? That corporate-speak has leaked into all areas of life, and not even the most urbane outpost is safe? Or merely that when it comes time to organize yourself into an institution--to administrate--be it a corporate headquarters, a church, or a fringe theater, this is the natural mind-set?

-Previous Thought of the Day: contemplation as congruence
Jinx? Post-cover Kerry gets a no-decision against the fishThe Cubs lose last night, and fans start thinking: if anything goes wrong with Prior (who gave up a couple dingers to the fish already), we're one game away from blowing it. Still, the Cubs can't do much more about Josh Beckett's 2-hitter than the Braves could do about Prior's in the LDS. Cub Reporter concludes, "There is nothing to be done."

Answers, or suggestions, to my pre-LCS inquiries:

> Can anyone other than Moises Alou hit worth beans?

Try Sammy Sosa, Alex Gonzalex (holy cow!), Aramis Ramirez, Randall Simon, and even Doug Glanville. Each has crushed home runs or clutch hits.

> Can the Cubs win again if they don't?

It's a moot point, but Wood and Prior have not been as dominant as they were against the Braves. Thank goodness the point is moot.

> Are the Cubs primed for a letdown after climbing Braves Mountain? ... Is the Marlins' momentum a worse threat than the Braves' power?

Letdown? Probably not. Not only does the atmosphere around Wrigley prevent any tuning out, but the extra inning games--1 and 3--were so back-and-forth and weird, with both teams clawing to get ahead, that the Cubs could not be criticized for not showing up. They were caught off guard, to say the least, to abruptly be down 5-4 after blowing the 4-0 first inning lead in Game 1. As for the Marlins' momentum, it's not so much momentum as nagging weapons--the minute you think you have them pinned down, Pierre gets on and Pudge is hitting him in. With the Braves' power, you either snuff it or you don't. As in the Old Man and the Sea, you never quite know when the Marlins will die.

> Without Wood and Prior, aren't the Cubs basically, say, the Colorado Rockies? Is it good or bad for baseball that two pitchers could own a series the way they did?

The hitting makes them look much more worthy. As for an 88-win team making the World Series, it's not as though the '97 Marlins or '02 Angels were franchises for the ages. A long-suffering team getting redemption is better for baseball than a yawner squad like the Braves enjoying well-earned success.

> Will the OBP of the top of the Marlins' lineup catch the Cubs off guard, since they didn't have to deal with many baserunners against Atlanta?

A little bit, maybe, but so far the defining baserunning play of the series was Castillo's error that bailed out the Cubs in pivotal Game 3.

> Will the series boil down to whether Zambrano or Clement can get one win, leaving Wood and Prior to get three between them?

No, it boiled down to Remlinger saving Wood's no-decision game in Game 3 and the Cubs' bats giving Clement a huge cushion he didn't actually need in their Game 4 win.

> My safe bet is Cubs in six, but I won't be shocked if it's five--hope that didn't jinx them any more than they already are...

Hard to bet against Prior. It would have been good to have the Cubs close it out so that Prior could start Games 1, 4, and 7 of the World Series, but Wood in 1, 4, and 7 and Prior in 2 and 5 will be a tall order for the Yankees or (doubtfully, now) Red Sox.

The other good thing about bringing the LCS back home is having the pennant celebration in Chicago. I'll be lapping Wrigley again with my Walkman on tomorrow night, and plan to take some pictures of the dancing in the streets should the Cubs pull it off.

Here's my picture of Waveland Avenue during the LDS:

A professor of mine who once taught in the Middle East recalled leading a discussion on what it means to be Jewish. The only consensus that could be reached: You are a Jew if you call yourself a Jew and can get the majority of people who call themselves Jews to agree with you. (The same definition was established for "Arab.")

Now I read this in Terry Mattingly's column about the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-2001, "the most detailed statistical portrait of American Jews ever assembled."

The survey defined a Jew as someone whose "religion is Jewish, OR, whose religion is Jewish and something else, OR, who has no religion and has at least one Jewish parent or a Jewish upbringing, OR, who has a non-monotheistic religion, and has at least one Jewish parent or a Jewish upbringing."

Guess that narrows it down ...
E-mail forward on Friday from a computer instructor of a community college adult education program:

The [other] day a new student walked into our library area and glanced at the encyclopedia volumes stacked on a bookshelf.

"What are all these books?" he asked.

Somewhat surprised, I replied that they were encyclopedias.

"Really?" he said. "Someone printed out the whole thing?"

Earlier in my B&C blog: Is Google a brain?
Etymology Today from M-W: fulgent \FULL-jint\
: dazzlingly bright : radiant

"The weary Sun betook himself to rest; — / Then issued Vesper from the fulgent west." That's how the appearance of the evening star in the glowing western sky at sunset looked to 19th-century poet William Wordsworth. "Fulgent" was a particularly apt choice to describe the radiant light of the sky at sunset. The word derives from the Latin verb "fulgçre," meaning "to shine," a root which is itself akin to the Latin "flagrare," meaning "to burn." English speakers have been using "fulgent" to depict resplendence since at least the 15th century.

From my Notebook in 1999: the fulgence of autumn

Previous E.T.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

CubsCubs Questions:
On my mind at the start of tonight's NLCS, which I will experience by osmosis as I walk laps around Wrigley Field with my Walkman tuned to the game...

- Can anyone other than Moises Alou hit worth beans? Can the Cubs win again if they don't?

- Are the Cubs primed for a letdown after climbing Braves Mountain? Dusty said this summer that the Braves are the only team the Cubs didn't play evenly at some point during the season. Is the Marlins' momentum a worse threat than the Braves' power?

- Without Wood and Prior, aren't the Cubs basically, say, the Colorado Rockies? Is it good or bad for baseball that two pitchers could own a series the way they did?

- Will the OBP of the top of the Marlins' lineup catch the Cubs off guard, since they didn't have to deal with many baserunners against Atlanta?

- Will the series boil down to whether Zambrano or Clement can get one win, leaving Wood and Prior to get three between them? predicts the Marlins in six, which surprised me. Yes, they're hot, but the Cubs have the upper hand. My safe bet is Cubs in six, but I won't be shocked if it's five--hope that didn't jinx them any more than they already are...

See also: My new page on Wrigley Field
The second item in my B&C blog digest tied to the first with this line from David Brooks:
"Within their little validating communities, liberals and conservatives circulate half-truths about the supposed awfulness of the other side. These distortions are believed because it feels good to believe them."
Seen at G&M's SS's:
Optimism assumes, or attempts to prove, that the universe exists to please us, and pessimism that it exists to displease us. Scientifically, there is no evidence that it is concerned with us either one way or the other. The belief in either pessimism or optimism is a matter of temperament, not of reason. Bertrand Russell
On hold with the Better Business Bureau of Chicago, this is what I heard:
"For other matters, or if you do not have a touch-tone phone, press 0 at any time."
My latest B&C blog:
September news in review, the White House leak flap and more:

-My B&C blog archive

Trimmed from my news in review:

-Howard Kurtz on rapid-fire news controversies of the end of the month

-Bush officials reported to illegally leak name of CIA operative

-Athens behind schedule in preparations for next year's Olympics

-Milwaukee reviews school voucher program

- Patriot Act expanded

- Record number of West Nile cases

-Judge calls government’s Do-Not-Call registry unconstitutional

-Pre-9/11 hints of attacks disclosed by prisoner

-Churches sued for calling selves Catholic

-Latin Grammys heavy on glitz

-Measles making a comeback

-Gates grants to battle malaria

-Poverty rose in 2002, report says

-President Taft said to have been sleepy

-Soccer game between anarchists and communists halted by authorities

-Medicinal function of "comfort food" studied

-Minor earthquake registers

-WUSA folds as women's World Cup opens

-Quayle bust unveiled in Capitol rotunda

-Previous Timeline Extra

Follow-up to my obituary roundup: the still-reverberating words of the silenced Johnny Cash

Man in Black
by Johnny Cash (1932-2003)

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there's a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin' in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he's a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you'd think He's talking straight to you and me.

Well, we're doin' mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin' cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we're reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought 'a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin' for the lives that could have been
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen' that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen' that we all were on their side.

Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man in Black.

(c) 1971, House of Cash, Inc. link

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Three followups to my postings on contemplation:

- "Art begins where thinking ends." Alfred Stieglitz, 1910

- I reminded myself, in light of the baseball posting below, that you can't spell "analysis" without "anal."

- And this e-mail forward I got this week:

A philosophy student died, went to heaven, and found himself before St. Peter. "What was it you did on earth?" "I studied philosophy," replied the student. "Well done. Expound, then, a point of philosophy that will demonstrate truth." Thus confronted with the request, the student felt his mind go blank. For an agitated moment or two, he could find no point he could make. And then he cried out, "At the moment, I can think of nothing adequate, but I tell you what: If you expound a point, I will show you how to refute it...."
I wrote in the Trib last year that is one of the best baseball blogs there is for both hard-core number crunching and good writing--an all-too-rare combination. Look at how he breaks down one seemingly simple sequence in the Twins' opening win against the Yankees. Some call it geekiness; I call it being aware of the game's complexity in order to enjoy in on a deeper level than beer-drenched bachannalia.

Let's review how Cristian Guzman scored the first run of the game:
- He reached 1st base on an infield ground ball because second baseman Alfonzo Soriano was playing Guzy too deep.
- Guzman made it to 3rd base because he was running on the 3-2 pitch that Stewart hit. He was running because Gardenhire trusts Stewart not to strike out on a full count. It was a full count because the Yankees had been defending the hit-and-run with calls like a pitchout.
- Guzman also made it to 3rd base because the third baseman made it clear to the umpire that he had missed the tag the first time.
- Guzman scored on a short fly ball to center field that never scores a run - unless the runner is as fast as Guzman, the center fielder is as limited as Bernie Williams, and the coaching staff recognizes all that and sends him.

One could write a whole column on the decision by Guzman to try and get to third, whether it was crazy, where the umpire was set up on the play, and Boone's "tag". And don't even get me started on that hit-and-run at-bat.

That's what being a baseball geek is. It isn't just about crunching numbers, though it helps not to be afraid of them. It's about studying the game, and learning more, and enjoying the game that much more because you understand exactly how crazy Guzman's decision was. full post
Farewell to arms: I've always wondered why pitching is so hard on a starter's arm that he can't do it again for four days, but not so hard that he can't do it again on the fifth. A column earlier this week by Eric Zorn on the science of the pitching arm answers my question. More, including a graphic of Mark Prior's pitching form, in yesterday's Trib.
To give the Cubs all the luck (ideally good luck) I can against Atlanta, I've been playing the 1994 NLCS (which never occurred) between the Cubs and Braves on my Super Nintendo MLPBA Baseball. I played the last week or so of September to set the stage. The Cubs lit up Andy Ashby and the Padres 11-0 in their regular season finale and clinched the old NL East (and home field advantage in the LCS) when the then-great Expos lost to the Pirates. Against the Braves, the Cubs were shutout in Game 1 despite registering 10 hits against Greg Maddux; evened it up in Game 2 with a 13 hit explosion, including the go-ahead home run by Steve Buchele, my most productive hitter; then blew a 3-2 fifth inning lead in Game 3, surrendering the game-winning RBI to Damon Berryhill with the bases loaded; and just pulled even by battering Maddux again in Game 4 with a 4-run first inning (including a Dwight Smith triple, a 2-run homer by Buchele, and a solo shot by Sammy Sosa), and then desperately hanging on (with stellar relief work by Dan Plesac, Jose Bautista, and of course, fireballer Randy Myers) for a 4-3 win. (It may sound like the game is easy, but I've struggled mightily to move base runners, especially against Maddux, and to keep old Braves Ron Gant, Fred McGriff, and David Justice inside the fences). Meanwhile, in the ALCS, the White Sox just pulled even with the Yankees, leaving Chicago two best-of-three series away from an All-El World Series.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Note: I've been thinking lately about what to do with this blog; how to make it worthwhile and not just a place to dump links to my other blog, while recognizing that it would take an impolite dose of self-importance to expect readers to keep up with not just one of my blogs, but two. The happy medium may be to try to revive my pre-B&C feature, the Thought of the Day, making it both shorter and more frequent. That way this blog will be potentially worthwhile but not time-consuming. We'll see how it goes.

Thought of the Day: contemplation as congruence
My query about the contemplative life was unwittingly answered by Eugene Peterson, whom I heard speak on my birthday last week. My report on his talk is here at B&C. But to directly tie it back in to my query, the answer seems to be: yes, I was doing it wrong. "Contemplative" should not mean as monastic isolation, which can degenerate into aimless navel gazing (can you believe that medieval mystics actually practiced fixation on the navel as an aid to meditation?). Quiet moments of meditation still are necessary in a noisy culture, but in moderation. This isn't exactly what Peterson came out and said, although he did tell me afterwards, "It's important not to be too self-conscious ... the emotional experiences [of peace and assurance] come unbidden, they really do." The point of his talk was that the purpose of contemplation is congruence--the alignment of who we are and what we say and do, a harmony of the ends we seek and the means we use to achieve them. This is sounding a little New Age-y, so read the B&C piece for what faith has to do with it.

I'd already been thinking, after spending some days back in Grand Rapids, that I should consider and pursue contemplation less as an end to itself and more as an enrichment of an active social life. I should not only say that I don't like the ivory tower approach to the life of the mind; I should mean it. So I decided to make some changes, including joining a sports league, Fourth Church's volunteer tutoring program, maybe a book club, going to therapy, doing more of my writing in the library and other places away from home, and trying harder to actually stop working when I stop working at the end of the day. This may prove to have the endurance of a quickly-discarded New Year's resolution, but it's worth a try.

Previous Thought: The worth of the examined life
Watched the Cubs last night at Finn McCoul's on Division, nearly fell off my stool when Kerry Wood hit that double. Still concerned about middle relief and Sammy's weak bat (loved his hustle on the near-double, though), but assuming the faltering Zambrano drops one tonight, the Cubs can look to Prior to get it done at home Friday and then either Clement at home or Wood back in Atlanta to wrap it up over the weekend. One of the team's biggest wins in half a century (even if that's not saying much...)
Do unto others: So Jonathan Chait of The New Republic, one of my favorite political commentators, writes a piece about why he hates Bush. The foghorns in the conservative commentariat resound in anger. Who'd-a-thunk?

In an online followup, Chait points out how the foghorns (along with the typically astute David Brooks) missed the exit for the high road. He also shoots down conservatives' argument that liberals' fondness for Howard Dean and Wesley Clark betrays their senility. Chait says that doesn't add up: "So first Democrats were so fanatical with rage that they were willing to nominate a candidate who couldn't win. Now they're so fanatical with rage that they'll nominate a candidate merely because they think he'll win."

As for the high road: "The timing of Brooks's plea for civility is a tad suspicious. After Republican culture wars softened up Clinton, and tainted Al Gore, paving the way for Bush's election, suddenly it's time to declare president-hating out of bounds."

Finally: "If Brooks wants to proscribe all Bush-haters, not just the conspiracy-mongers, then what he seeks isn't a higher level of discourse but raw partisan advantage."
Watched There's Something About Mary when it was on Sunday night, then dialed up's trivia the next morning, as I usually do after watching a movie. It said the dropping of Ben Stiller from his stretcher at the ambulance door was unscripted and accidental; when it was determined he was OK the directors decided it was funny and kept it in.