Friday, January 30, 2004

Latest published piece:
My op-ed in the Baltimore Sun on the different lists of Top Ten TV shows for over-50 and under-50 viewers:,1,3225365.story

USA Today said last year that 9 TV shows now appear on both of the Top 20 lists of black and white viewers--the most overlap in more than ten years.
The Mekong River
This week in my B&C blog: The state of feminism, and what a new wave of attention to "opt-out" working moms misses (including half the population: men). Plus the Jews of Uganda and the future of Cambodia's Mekong River (pictured). LINK/ARCHIVE Coming next week: January news in review and book blog.
City of HoustonUrbanism Watch
A couple of articles, from the W.Post and Blair Kamin in the Trib on the city of Houston as it prepares to host the Super Bowl. (Of the many fun facts about Super Bowl Sunday, I came across this one this morning: Domino's Pizza expects to deliver 1.2 million pizzas this Sunday, twice as many as any other Sunday.)

Here's Blair:

HOUSTON -- Twenty years ago, this was the city of the future. It had ribbons of freeways, not mass-transit rail lines. It had a series of skylines rather than a single downtown skyline. Instead of an open-air ballpark like Wrigley Field, it had the Astrodome, the enclosed, air-conditioned stadium that was dubbed, with characteristic Texas hype, "the eighth wonder of the world." The Houston that will host the Super Bowl on Sunday is a very different place. Or, more accurate, it is trying to be different. The nation's fourth largest city just opened a 7.5-mile light-rail vehicle line that runs from downtown to just past Reliant Stadium, where the Super Bowl will be held. Along the line is a three-block pedestrian mall where "jump jets" shoot water 40 feet into the air. The Astros, meanwhile, have abandoned the Astrodome for a retro stadium, Minute Maid Park, whose brick walls behind home plate mimic -- you guessed it -- Wrigley Field. Something is starting to change here: Since the oil boom went bust in the mid-1980s, city officials, real estate developers, urban planners and architects came to realize that the city of the future wasn't particularly livable or attractive, even though it was studded with trophy skyscrapers.

And, staying on the subject of sports and cities, the New Yorker on the latest stadium scheme in New York City:

New York is a big town, with a lot of teams, and we don’t have to look nearly so far back in time—or to such nostalgic standbys as the Brooklyn Dodgers—to come up with noteworthy stadium and arena unveilings for comparison. Remember Fred Wilpon, the Mets owner, posing for photographers in 1998 with his Ebbets Field-inspired mockup? At half a billion dollars (retractable roof included), that was a bargain compared with the latest estimates (just last month) for a Yankees home in Macombs Dam Park, in the Bronx: eight hundred million, with about half to come from the public coffers, and half from Mr. Steinbrenner. The West Side Jets stadium dream is more ambitious still, with a price tag above one and a half billion, all told. ... In the past few years, the Islanders, too, have announced plans for a new Coliseum, and the Knicks and the Rangers have continued agitating for a new Garden.... Only the Giants seem content to remain where they are. So if there is a stadium-seat manufacturer looking to expand his business, let him come here, where a quarter million new seat orders await processing. To be fair, unlike just about every town in the land, the New York area hasn’t seen a new big-league stadium or arena built since the Carter Administration, and that was in New Jersey, in the Meadowlands, from which the Nets are now bolting. But it’s hard to think of a city that has built seven.

Previous U.W.
More from the Eden of ephemera--the e-mail forward:

Each year the Washington Post's Style Invitational asks readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing only one letter and supply a new definition. Here are some of the 2002 winners:

Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.

Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.

Giraffiti: Vandalism painted very, very high.

Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

Inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
Etymology Today from M-W: satiety \suh-TYE-uh-tee\

1 : the quality or state of being fed or gratified to or beyond capacity : surfeit, fullness
2 : the revulsion or disgust caused by overindulgence or excess

You may have guessed that "satiety" is related to "satisfy," "satiate" (meaning "to satisfy fully or to excess"), or "sate" (which means "to glut" or "to satisfy to the full"). If so, you guessed right. "Satiety," along with the others, ultimately comes from the Latin word "satis," which means "enough." English speakers apparently couldn't get enough of "satis"-derived words in the 15th and 16th centuries, which is when all of these words entered the language. "Satiety" itself was borrowed into English in 1533 from the Middle French word "satieté" of the same meaning.

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Thursday, January 22, 2004

Latest Tribune article:
My story on the evolution of historic Maxwell Street, currently being redeveolped by the U of Ill. at Chicago. I'll excerpt the article and include my pictures next month at my Chicago album. ... /chi-0401200323jan21,0,4800232.story
Number of the Day: 11.9
Millions of "major crimes" reported to police in 2002, an increase of less than one-tenth of a percent from 2001, according to the FBI, which also found that crime decreased in cities while suburban and rural crime rose.
-Wash. Post

-Previous Number

Thought of the Day: Depression in pre-modern times
As I mentioned here, I've been intrigued by portions of Jay Griffiths' A Sideways Look At Time, which argues that since industrialization we have lost an organic and spritual sense of time (connected to nature's cycles of daylight and the seasons), and instead are governed by unnatural mechanical measurements of time. (I love her point that the "leap-second" added each year to line up with the earth's rotation goes to show how measured time is more precise than actual time, casting doubt on the idea of temporal precision in the first place.) I agree with much of Griffiths says, in between her ranting against all things modern. I appreciate her poignant and vivid portrayals of what we call "primitive" cultures, and how the rhythms of their lives more fluidly align with the patterns of nature. I also appreciate Juliet Schor's less poetic and more scientific account of "free time" in history in her book The Overworked American (which I quote in one of my book chapters here). Medieval agrarian society, Schor argues, for all its hardships, afforded more leisure time then we have today, despite the supposedly salvific arrival of "modern conveniences."

Still agreed. But as I was thinking about the patterns of living in the distant past, I started wondering about--of all things--depression. I struggled with some sort of depression last year, much of which I spent alone and at home. I was trying to free myself from "the tyranny of the urgent" (I forget whose quote that is). No rat race for me. I wanted time to read and reflect in the midst of the rush of this big city. But I was under-stimulated. And isolated. It was an emptiness that may have spared me from stress but was not sustainable. And now I wonder: did people in pre-industrial history, for all the virtues of their "simpler life," ever suffer the same thing? Was there an emotional price to pay for the harsh limits on their imagination and curiosity--the geographical, economic, and technological limits? Granted, the human imagination may have had more depth and breadth before all those modern evils came along and shaved it down. But how much of a psychological blow were the hardships of those medieval agrarian people, especially those who paused from their labor to look up to the lofty spires on the castle of the lord for whom they were slaving away? (For me, getting busier--taking on four part-time jobs and submitting to a big boost in stress has helped relieve signs of depression. If it's a "tyranny of the urgent" I'm under, it's not an altogether unwelcome reign.) Here's my other question about pre-industrial depression: If it existed, was it caused by isolation? What pre-industrial people had that many post-industrial people do not was social connectedness--what Robert Putnam calls (oh-so-capitalistically) social capital. Our isolated suburbs of today (and the possibly related rise in documented depression) are a far cry from the communal campfires of yesteryear. But was there loneliness around the campfire, in the same way there is loneliness today on the crowded city street? Would that social connectedness have worsened the pain of dysfunctional, abusive, or otherwise controlling relationships, from which modernity allows people to (at least physically) distance themselves? Would it have left people feeling trapped? And would that be depressing?

Of course, all of these ideas--depression, possibilities, individual needs--are modern inventions that mostly eluded those campfire gatherers (and sorry to be so sloppy and condescending in these generalizations). The rise in documented depression over the last half-century may only reflect a rise in the ability and knowledge to document it, not to mention its victims' awareness of its possibility. But since some forms of depression are biochemical, it would seem likely to have deep roots in human history. I'm sure there have been studies of depression in less modern cultures living in modern times that would answer my question. And I need to read another Christmas present I received--Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies--to see beyond the generic pre-industrial/post-industrial historical labels. But I wonder what the question of individual psyche and social connectedness in history would teach us.

As I was typing this, the sun, which washed out my screen as it ascended in the sky, necessitating shut shades, moved behind a tall building, completely altering the textures of light in my surroundings and allowing me to reopen the blinds. A tall building that was not there before industrialization. There are still natural patterns to life, composing a new rhythm of their own.

Previous E.T.: obligatory Christmas cheer
Etymology Today from M-W: juggernaut \JUG-er-nawt
1 [chiefly British] : a large heavy truck
2 : a massive inexorable force, campaign, movement, or object that crushes whatever is in its path

In the early 14th century, Franciscan missionary Friar Odoric brought to Europe the story of an enormous carriage that carried an image of the Hindu god Vishnu (whose title was "Jagannâth," literally, "lord of the world") through the streets of India in religious processions. Odoric reported that some worshippers deliberately allowed themselves to be crushed beneath the vehicle's wheels as a sacrifice to Vishnu. That story was probably an exaggeration or misinterpretation of actual events, but it spread throughout Europe anyway. The tale caught the imagination of English listeners, and by the 19th century, they were using "juggernaut" to refer to any massive vehicle (such as a steam locomotive) or to any other enormous entity with powerful crushing capabilities.

Previous E.T.

Monday, January 19, 2004

This week in my B&C blog: Review of NYU's new blog on religion and the press; the news from Embarrass, Minn., and Celebration, Fla.; plus the real state of the Union, the privatization of the military, the scourge of "managerial English," and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
Coming Distractions:
Clipped from ABC News' The Note

— Jan. 19, 2004: Iowa caucuses
— Jan. 20, 2004: President Bush delivers the State of the Union, D.C.; Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) deliver the Democratic response to the State of the Union, D.C.
— Jan. 27, 2004: New Hampshire primary
— Feb. 1, 2004: Super Bowl XXXVIII, Houston
— Feb. 3, 2004: Delaware presidential primary
— Feb. 3, 2004: South Carolina Democratic presidential primary
— Feb. 3, 2004: Missouri presidential primary
— Feb. 3, 2004: Arizona presidential primary
— Feb. 3, 2004: New Mexico Democratic caucuses
— Feb. 3, 2004: Oklahoma presidential primary
— Feb. 3, 2004: North Dakota Democratic caucuses
— Feb. 7, 2004: Michigan Democratic caucuses
— Feb. 7, 2004: Washington Democratic caucuses
— Feb. 8, 2004: Maine Democratic caucuses
— Feb. 8, 2004: 46th Annual Grammy Awards, Los Angeles
— Feb. 8, 2004: NHL All-Star Game, St. Paul, Minn.
— Feb. 10, 2004: Virginia Democratic presidential primary
— Feb. 10, 2004: Tennessee presidential primary
— Feb. 10, 2004: District of Columbia Republican caucus
— Feb. 14, 2004: Nevada Democratic caucuses
-- Feb. 15, 2004: NBA All-Star Game, Los Angeles
— Feb. 15, 2004: NASCAR Daytona 500, Daytona Beach, Fla.
— Feb. 17, 2004: Wisconsin presidential primary
— Feb. 24, 2004: Idaho Democratic caucuses
— Feb. 24, 2004: Hawaii Democratic caucuses
— Feb. 24, 2004: Utah Democratic presidential primary
— Feb. 29, 2004: 76th Annual Academy Awards, Los Angeles
— March 2, 2004: Super Tuesday: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Mass., Minn., New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Vermont
— March 7, 2004: Season premiere of "The Sopranos" on HBO
— March 9, 2004: Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Miss. primaries
— March 13, 2004: Kansas Democratic caucuses
— March 16, 2004: Illinois presidential/state primary
— March 20, 2004: Wyoming Democratic caucuses
— March 20, 2004: Alaska Democratic caucuses
— April 3-5, 2004: NCAA men's basketball Final Four, San Antonio
— April 4-6, 2004: NCAA women's basketball Final Four, New Orleans
— April 5, 2004: Opening day for Major League Baseball
— June 24-27, 2004: Green Party National Convention, Milwaukee
— July 13, 2004: 75th Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Houston
— July 26-29, 2004: Democratic National Convention, Boston
— Aug. 14-29, 2004: Summer Olympic Games, Athens, Greece
— Aug. 30-Sept. 2, 2004: Republican National Convention, New York City
— Sept. 30, 2004: Proposed presidential debate at the University of Miami, Miami
— Oct. 5, 2004: Proposed vice presidential debate at Case Western University, Cleveland
— Oct. 8, 2004: Proposed presidential debate at Washington University, St. Louis
— Oct. 13, 2004: Proposed presidential debate at Arizona State University, Tempe
— Nov. 2, 2004: Election Day
Etymology Today from M-W: nosocomial \nah-suh-KOH-mee-ul\

: acquired or occurring in a hospital

"Nosocomial" is a word that usually occurs in formal medical contexts; specifically, in reference to hospital-acquired sickness. We hope you never encounter "nosocomial" as part of your own medical diagnosis, but if you do, you might want to remember that the term descends from "nosocomium," the Late Latin word for "hospital." "Nosocomium" in turn traces to the Greek "nosos," meaning "disease." That root has given English other words as well, including "zoonosis" ("a disease communicable from animals to humans under natural conditions") and "nosology" ("a classification or list of diseases" or "a branch of medical science that deals with classification of diseases").

Previous E.T.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Grace Lee BoggsThe best way I could think of to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday was to go hear 88-year-old author and activist Grace Lee Boggs, a marvel of a woman, a sort of reincarnation of Mother Jones. She spoke at UIC last night on King and "global citizenship." Like King, she has tough things to say to both the powerful (clue in) and the powerless (revolution starts with your own soul, not your opponents). I was impressed not only by her intelligence and energy, but mostly by how she has avoided becoming cynical and bitter (though far from naive) over the decades. A brief portion of my interview with her will run next month in the Tribune's Sunday Magazine. Here are a few questions that were cut.

Here, by the way, is what I wrote here two years ago on the rhetorical rhythm of the "I Have A Dream" Speech.

What does King have to do with "global citizenship"?
Boggs: King began to enlarge concept of citizenship beyond the legalistic way we see it, such as whether or not we're allowed to vote. He thought of it not in terms of rights but of responsibility. King thought of fundamental concepts such as love, citizenship and freedom in a very expansive way, as stretching our humanity. The Vietnam War then and the Iraqi war now give us the opportunity to look at citizenship more broadly, at how we extend it to the world. In this country we tend to narrow it rather than stretch it.

King is remembered and celebrated for his role in the civil rights movement, but his opposition to Vietnam and other political stances made him a controversial figure. Does popular remembrance of him gloss over how controversial he was? Do you think he would be controversial today?
Boggs: Absolutely. He was very controversial when he was alive, we tend to forget. Only by being controversial was he able to give leadership to the struggle for civil rights in this country. I think he would be controversial today.

You've spent a lifetime reading. Do you find any fresh ideas in anything you're reading now?
Boggs: I'm reading two books now. One is Race and the Cosmos, which I find very exciting. It asks, how do we get beyond thinking in terms of race, and categories, and instead in terms of the whole human race. ... The other is Against Race. it says race is a box that no longer contains all the multiplicities, given the changes taking place even in biotechnology. We can't look at externals in terms of judging human identity.
Your media diet: The subject came up on a list-serv of friends and proved provocative. Here were my overly indignant two cents...

My bookmarks are here: There are about 125, but I only read a few leisurely and a only dozen or so for my weblog at

I used to try to dutifully follow "hard news," and I still pick up the New York Times (the tree-icide version) about every other day, but since I've started the weblog my appetite for hard news has waned. For one thing, I'm sick of the implication that Howard Dean and Iraq are the only two things that are important and interesting in this wide world, and I'm tired of the predictable preaching about said subjects on both the left and right (I've ranted here before about the ambiguity deficit of most political writing, so I'll move on). I try to register a broader range of current events, places, and ideas in my blog. Something my journalism professor said in a class at Calvin stuck with me: make an effort to read and write what will still be worth reading two weeks from now. In my opinion, very little in the news media meets this standard. Think of it this way: who among us would benefit from going back and re-reading news coverage leading up to the 2000 election? How much that was said before Election Day and the ensuing mess was all that worthwhile? (And what does this bode for all that we're about to read this year :(

One other note: for opinion writing I recommend loyalty to columnists, not publications. The NYT's David Brooks, for being a conservative willing to criticize Bush, and the New Republic's Peter Beinart, for being a Democrat who is hard on Democrats, have more credibility in my eyes than the usual assemblers of rhetoric. They're good writers and good analysts. I say find a voice or four whom you trust and stick with them.

For my B&C blog, I mostly browse the New Yorker, Atlantic, New Republic, CBS' 60 Minutes site, the Boston Globe's Ideas section, the Washington Post's Outlook section, The Week's Briefing, and lately have dabbled in the Smithsonian and two polar opposites: the Economist and the Chicago Reader. The result may be construed as "non-required reading," but I just don't have the appetite for all-Dean-all-the-time.
You have to see it to believe it: the official portrait of former Gov. Jesse Ventura as unveiled in the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul.
Etymology Today from M-W: duende \doo-EN-day\

: the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm

The word "duende" comes from Spanish, where it translates literally as "ghost" or "goblin," and is believed to derive from the phrase "dueño de casa," which means "owner of a house." The term is traditionally used in flamenco music or other art forms to refer to the mystical or powerful force given off by a performer to draw in the audience. The Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca wrote in his essay "Teoria y Juego del Duende" ("Play and Theory of the Duende") that duende "is a power and not a behavior ... a struggle and not a concept." Nowadays the term appears in a broader range of contexts to refer to one's unspoken charm or allure.

Previous E.T.

Monday, January 12, 2004

This week in my B&C blog: All about seeing things: articles on acuteness of perception and fluidity of consciousness. Plus, the presidential candidates' "faith-hopping," the descendants of colonial Loyalists in New Brunswick, overfishing in Europe, the punctuation of academic books, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
I don't recommend many e-mail forwards, but this one gets good towards the end:

You know you're living in 2004 when...

1. You accidentally enter your password on the microwave.

2. You haven't played solitaire with real cards in years.

3. You have a list of 15 phone numbers to reach your family of 3.

4. You e-mail your friend who works at the desk next to you.

5. Your reason for not staying in touch with friends is that they do not have e-mail addresses.

6. When you go home after a long day at work you still answer the phone in a business manner.

7. When you make phone calls from home, you accidentally dial "9" to get an outside line.

8. You've sat at the same desk for four years and worked for three different companies.

10. You learn you've been laid off on the 11 o'clock news.

11. Your boss doesn't have the ability to do your job.

12. Contractors outnumber permanent staff and are more likely to get long-service awards.

13. You read this entire list and kept nodding and smiling.

14. As you read this list, you think about forwarding it to your "friends".

15. You got this e-mail from a friend that never talks to you any more, except to send you jokes from the net.

16. You are too busy to notice there was no No. 9.

17. You actually scrolled back up to check that there wasn't a No. 9, didn't
Etymology Today from M-W: borborygmus \bor-buh-RIG-mus/

: intestinal rumbling caused by moving gas

Unless you're a gastroenterologist, chances are you never knew there was a name for those loud gurglings your stomach sometimes makes. And looking at the word itself, you might think it's just some crazy coinage invented recently by someone who thought the word matched the rumbling sound. But actually, "borborygmus" has been part of English for at least 240 years; its earliest known use dates from 1762. We picked it up from New Latin, but it traces to the Greek verb "borboryzein," which means "to rumble."

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Saturday, January 10, 2004

This week in my B&C blog:
Julia Keller's reflections on darkness without dread, plus the state of Japan's "hidden Christians," Howard Dean and religiosity, doing the math on the Gilded Age, the sled dogs of Greeland's Inuit, two people you haven't heard of who will make news in 2004, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
Etymology Today from M-W: mantic \MAN-tik\
: of or relating to the faculty of divination : prophetic

The adjective "mantic" comes from the Greek word "mantikos," which itself derives from "mantis," meaning "prophet." (The mantis insect got its name from this same source, supposedly because its posture - with the forelimbs extended as though in prayer - reminded folks of a prophet.) Not surprisingly, the combining form "-mancy," which means "divination in a (specified) manner" (as in "necromancy" and "pyromancy"), is a relative of "mantic." A less expected, and more distant, relative is "mania," meaning "insanity marked by uncontrollable emotion or excitement" or "excessive enthusiasm." "Mania" descends from the Greek "mainesthai" ("to be mad"), a word akin to "mantis" and its offspring. And indeed, prophesying in ancient Greece was sometimes believed to be "inspired madness."

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