Monday, February 23, 2004

This week in my B&C blog: The Web, geography, and the sustenance of our concept of place in a digital world. Plus: the 21-gram soul myth, what presidential candidates are reading, baseball's "sabermetrics" goes mainstream, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
Sex and the CityI liked the Sex and the City series finale overall. A little predictable, but it struck a decent balance between resolving storylines and setting up the upcoming movie. Miranda's resolution was the best--a poignant full-circle arrival from her prickly first-season self. Still, I was unsettled by how a show that purportedly glorifies singlehood couldn't rest until each character was paired up: Carrie with Big, more or less; Charlotte and Miranda finding husbands and embracing family values; and even Samantha settling in with a steady. The writers have always suggested that they prize good character development over good feminism, but I wonder what subtle messages the finale sent to single viewers about their social adequacy.

Steve Johnson puts it this way this morning in a negative review, talking about Carrie taking back Big:

Isn't rejecting a man who had delivered her so much maltreatment what a truly modern woman would have done?

Yesterday, the NY Times ran a conversation about whether or not Carrie should get married.

And here's my earlier essay on Sex and the City and belief.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

This week in my B&C blog: Soccer and globalization: why the world is like one big spinning soccer ball. Plus: carnivorous bullfrogs in South Africa, Jane Austen and theology, Charlie Brown and philosophy, life in the "forest canopy"--the final frontier, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
This morning I interviewed Cindy Chupack by phone for a Tribune piece on the legacy of Sex and the City. She's one of the show's writers and executive producers; she wrote the "Attack of the 5'10 Woman" and "Plus One Is The Loneliest Number" episodes, among others. I'm quoting her in my story about the adult language in the show, but here are some of her other comments:

It was fun to figure out what would still shock the other characters. There were things Miranda was still nervous to say out loud, like in the dirty talk episode. ... It was fun to see the embarrassment of what they're talking about. Charlotte in the up-the-butt episode--at the table reading, she couldn't believe she had to say this. I think it was one of the funniest episodes because of this. ...

The best part of writing this show was realizing [that you had] a small consensus of women ... who had a good sense that what we were going through was more typical of what women go through. Then you would get the feedback from women saying, my husband, my boyfriend--that's me. ...

For me, I have a group of girlfriends, most of them married with kids, and we have more explicit conversations about sex than we used to. I think that's nice. Sometimes there's a batten-down-the-hatches feeling, a sense that you can't really talk about your problems because it's too late, you're married, and you face things alone. It's always helpful to talk with friends, to go ahead with the feeling that nothing is taboo.

I also asked Chupack about the final episode. Yes, the ending has been selected from the various ones they filmed, and no, she's not saying what it is. So I asked her about trying to tie up all the show's loose ends in a mere 45 minutes.

Michael Patrick King wrote the last two episodes. He's notorious for having trouble contain episodes to within 30 minutes. There's a lot we're trying to do--we have four girls and four full stories. We're amazed how much we pack into 30 minutes. But there's a little bit from the prior episode that we moved to the last episode.
Number of the Day: 2
Factor by which the number of miles Americans drive annually has increased since 1963.
-B. Globe

-Previous Number
Thought of the Day: 'The hours' and the universe
Is the world dramatic? Does a lot happen in it? Of course it is, and yes it does. The cosmos swirls and roars with activity, from the orbits of galaxies and the fission of stars to the activities of billions of people on Earth and the molecular reactions that drive all of life. It's busy, all the time. But what strikes me, in sporadic moments of silence, is just how quiet it can all seem. Not necessarily peaceful or restful--sometimes just quiet and empty. I live in downtown Chicago, and yet, at times during the mid morning or early afternoon or evening, I look out my window at the stoic skyscrapers, and, unless I peer down to the sidewalks below, I see no evidence that anything or anyone is moving. It's creepy. This sense of isolation no doubt contributed to some apparent depression last year, my first full year of working from home. I do not always find it relaxing. I usually find it maddening. I thought of this while riding home from an interview with a source in Evanston yesterday. On the way back, I thought how much different my morning would have been had I not left the apartment, gotten on the train as it rattled its way north, seen the buildings scanned by the window, and met with what turned out to be a vivacious person for a fascinating conversation. On the way home, I read the paper, with its unending stories of houses burning, people dying, and leaders resigning--monotonous melodrama that suggests that human existence is loud, dizzying and chaotic. As I look out from my apartment, that narrative seems remote and contrived.

Only a fraction of the globe is inhabited by life that can be seen without a microscope or magnifying glass, as far as I know. That means that each day there are vast stretches of created space where nothing humanly visible transpires. This inspires the industrialist to conquer the wilderness and impose human activity upon it. It confuses the theologian, who wonders whether God created a surfeit of space for his own amusement or our breathing room. It baffles me. I am astounded by the contrast between the hum of the city when I walk through it and the blankness of the quiet moments I experience and quiet places I imagine elsewhere. And I am worried that I do not usually sense the presence of God potentially transcendent moments. Perhaps my senses are shot thanks to our noisy culture. Perhaps God just is not burning to say very much to me right now (that he hasn't already said in Scripture and through other people). Perhaps, even, the terror of the emptiness of the universe is a form of awe of it.

As I was writing this, it was eerily quiet around me, and then my wife called me on my cell phone. Sometimes such an intrusive alarm--particularly when it corresponds to her--is inexplicably uplifting.

Previous Thought: Depression in pre-modern times
Mel Gibson's 'The Passion'I can't get over the self-defeating impulses of various parties involved in the "Passion" controversy. First, the baffling centuries of persecution of Jews by Christians for "deicide," even though the Bible clearly places the responsibility for the necessity of Christ's death on all people--and besides, had the Romans refrained from killing Jesus, it would have disrupted God's redemptive plan. Meanwhile, those who stirred up the controversy about Mel Gibson's movie and alleged it was anti-Semitic served only to amplify attention to the movie, ensuring that it would be a blockbuster instead of a blip on the national radar.

The Newsweek cover story wasn't bad, especially in showing how Gibson not only exaggerated the role of Jewish leaders in Christ's execution, but also fails to see that they didn't have the political capacity to play such a role. But the Newsweek story scoffs at the veracity of the supposedly tendentious Gospel writers while accepting the historian Josephus as gospel truth. As Eugene Peterson said in his lecture on Josephus last fall here in Chicago, Josephus was a manipulative opportunist who abandoned all his principles to schmooze his way into a comfortable post in the Roman Empire. Whether or not his dubious personal integrity casts doubt on his accuracy is another matter, but it should be noted that the Gospels are so unflattering to both Christ and the disciples that they make unlikely propaganda.
John Kerry's sudden emergence after the Iowa caucus shows how screwy the media's momentum game is, but I hope it will be just as screwy after John Edwards' strong second place showing yesterday in Wisconsin.

After voting for Nader in 2000, I feel obliged to be more pragmatic this time around to prevent Bush's re-election. But after yesterday I'm tempted to vote my heart and go with John Edwards in the Illinois primary (which will come after Super Tuesday, likely taking any real pressure off my conscience). He's the most positive, energetic, authentic candidate in either party, and more importantly, he has done better among independents than Kerry has. The only disadvantage he has in comparison with Kerry is the "gravitas" factor. The visual of Kerry towering over Bush on the debate stage is better than the visual of Edwards' boyishness next to a sitting president (well, I guess he'd be standing). Still, this election could be won in two states: Tennessee and Florida, and if Edwards can convince people he has a better chance than Kerry in those states, he deserves the nomination.
Etymology Today from M-W: susurrous \soo-SUR-us ("oo" as in "good")\
: full of whispering sounds

"Susurrous" derives from the Latin noun "susurrus," meaning "a hum" or "a whisper," and may be a distant relative of "swarm" (think of the collective hum of a beehive). "Susurrus" also occurs as an English noun, with the meaning "a whispering or rustling sound." Of the two English words, the noun is the oldest (it debuted in 1826); "susurrous" came onto the scene about thirty years later. Both of these were preceded by the noun "susurration," which appeared in the 14th century and means "a whispering sound, murmur." Today "susurrous" is used to describe any kind of sound that resembles a whisper: a light breeze through a tree, perhaps, or the murmurs of intrigued theatergoers.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

This week in my B&C blog: Harvard sociologists' possibly dubious link between religious faith and economic development. Plus: The 'furniture capital' of China, avocado thieves in San Diego, seven myths about evangelical voters, the emptying of the nation's breadbasket, still studying the Soviet Union, what caffeine does (and doesn't do) to you, and more ... LINK/ARCHIVE
The Trib's Tempo has a piece this morning on the lingering loose ends from the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. We know Al Capone was behind it, but that's about it. Time to update my related page at my Chicago album.
The slogan emblazeoned on the CTA's new Chicago Card Plus and in-car advertisements is rather presumptuous: "On-Time. Clean. Safe. Friendly." The CTA is exactly none of those things. (Well, it's usually safe during daylight.) Why overextend? Why not just say: "Gets you where you need to go" and leave it at that?
Etymology Today from M-W: palindrome \PAL-un-drohm\
: a word, verse, or sentence (as "Able was I ere I saw Elba"), or a number (as 1881) that reads the same backward or forward

Palindromic wordplay is nothing new. Palindromes have been around since at least the days of ancient Greece, and our name for them comes from two Greek words, "palin," meaning "back" or "again," and "dramein," meaning "to run." Nowadays, we can all appreciate a clever palindrome (such as "Drab as a fool, aloof as a bard" or "A man, a plan, a canal: Panama"), or even a simple one like "race car," but in the past palindromes were more than just smart wordplay. Until well into the 19th century some folks thought palindromes were actually magical, and they carved them on walls or amulets to protect people or property from harm.

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Thursday, February 05, 2004

Latest B&C Corner:
My report from the Calvin Worship Symposium in Grand Rapids, where worship has come a long way from the liturgical stoicism of my Dutch immigrant ancestors.

Here's the report from my editor, John Wilson, on the 2000 Symposium.

And speaking of my stern ancestors, here's Merriam-Webster on "Dutch" as in "Dutch treat":

During the 17th century, the British and the Dutch became bitter rivals in international commerce. As the competition heated up, so did the invectives. One of the earliest verbal abuses directed at the Dutch was the term "Dutch bargain," penned in 1654 to describe a bargain made and sealed as if while drinking. "Dutch courage" (courage artificially stimulated especially by drink), "Dutch uncle" (one who admonishes sternly and bluntly), and "in Dutch" (in disfavor or trouble) are some more examples. The Dutch were also vilified as greedy. Hence, when you're invited to a dutch treat, you're expected to pay your own way. By the 20th century, "dutch" and "dutch treat" were being used as adverbs meaning "with each person paying his or her own way."
This week in my B&C blog: January news and book review roundup. LINK/ARCHIVE

Trimmed from the news roundup: John Kerry, Pete Rose, Joan Kroc,
Mad Cow, Legalizing immigrants, Barbie in a blender, 'Amish in the City', and an Israeli rabbi's programmed prayer for porn surfers.
Latest Tribune piece:
Q&A in the Sunday Magazine with Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz, owners of a new Lincoln Park restaurant that has a designated cell-phone booth in the front lobby.,1,4863381.story
Etymology Today from M-W: bosky \BAHSS-kee\

1 : having abundant trees or shrubs
2 : of or relating to a woods

"Bosk," "busk," "bush" - in Middle English these were all variant spellings of a word meaning "shrub." "Bush" is still familiar to the modern ear, and "busk" can still be heard in a few places in the dialects of northern Britain. "Bosk" too survived in English dialects, although it disappeared from the written language, and in the 16th century it provided the root for the woodsy adjective "bosky." Since its formation, "bosky" has been firmly rooted in our language, and its widespread popularity seems to have resurrected its parental form. By 1814 "bosk" (also spelled "bosque") had reappeared in writing, but this time with the meaning "a small wooded area."

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