June 29, 2003
At Least It Wasn't 'Holiday'

Vacation, all I ever wanted
Vacation, have to get away
Vacation (unintelligible)

B&W is taking some well-deserved R&R this week. Posting may or may not happen. If it doesn't happen, normal service will resume on July 7.

Posted at 09:30 PM
June 28, 2003
Someone Needs a Vacation

I was working this week on an article about "laptop security." I referred to it to a friend as "Lapland security" and then realized I wasn't even sure if Lapland existed any more, or if it had been renamed, like Istanbul (was Contstantinople). A little research tells me that it does indeed exist and the pictures look beautiful. Makes me want to go, although I don't speak the language.

Can you tell I need a vacation?

Fun fact: Rovaniemi is the administrative center and also apparently "Santa's hometown". Apparently Santa answers his own mail, although like many of us, he usually can't get to it until after the holidays.

Posted at 10:10 AM
June 26, 2003
Three Things I Saw Yesterday

Walking past the Tribune tower I see a guy by the bus stop, looking sort of ragged and disheveled and with long dirty fingernails. He might be a homeless person or your basic urban oddball, it's hard to say. He's working hard, though, even at 8:30 a.m., industriously writing on the low stone wall by the stairs to lower Wacker. As I get closer I see what he's working on: he is doing a crossword from the morning paper.
At lunchtime, a jazz combo is playing in the plaza outside my building, a snappy rendition of George Benson's "Give Me The Night," one of those signature '80s tunes that certain kinds of bands do. They're bopping along and the lead singer is waving his arms with enthusiasm. Before them are three or four rows of chairs, populated with female office workers. Sitting in a quiet, orderly fashion, as if they were waiting for church to start, they listen, looking as if they are exhausted, or have just given up.
After work, in the elevator, a woman gets in on the 19th floor and eyes me intently. "That's a very nice outfit," she says at last. "My teacher always told me, if you have something nice to say to someone, you should say it." I say thank you as we get out of the elevator and head for the door.

"Of course, she later proceeded to have a nervous breakdown," she continues telling me. "I think I might have played a part in that."

"Because you didn't say enough nice things?" I ask.

"No, because she was mean to my sister," she said, and left the building.

Thank you and good night.

Posted at 06:17 PM
June 25, 2003
What's My Line?

I rarely post these kinds of things, but whether you live in Chicago or not, this quiz is well worth doing, because it's funny.

brown line
You are the brown line. Inevitably, you are in a
hurry to get somewhere, because you are so gosh
darn important. Wouldn't want to be late for
Tae Bo, would we? Aw, don't feel insulted. It's
not worth crying over spilt venti mocha latte.

Which Chicago 'El' line are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Posted at 09:32 PM
June 23, 2003
Not Unlike the Mongoose

You just never know who you'll bump into at the zoo.

Fun facts about meerkats and their young here.

Posted at 09:02 PM
June 19, 2003

Speaking of weariness: the blog world makes me weary very often, but fortunately it's also inspiring. A lot of people are doing good work. Here's one: Heath Row.

Just goes to show that if you publish original writing in your blog, do something no one else is doing -- or in a more useful way -- and otherwise not follow pack journalism a la Blogdex, Daypop, and Popdex, people will sit up and take notice. Less quoting and linking, more writing. Original content, not just commentary.

I couldn't agree more. Although there I go, quoting and linking. Hmmm....

Posted at 07:42 PM
This One's for Colin*

In his visualization of "The Next Great American Newspaper," (found via Paid Content) David Gelernter reimagines the newspaper not as a permanent object in time, but as a series of snapshots of moments.

As an object-in-time the web-paper will be king, if we let it be--but what kind of object is that? If a still photo is an object in space, a parade seen from a fixed location is an object in time--its grand marshal two hours in the past, its rear end 20 minutes into the future. And (it just so happens) the news is a parade, it is a March of Time (Time-Life's famous newsreel series), a sequence of events--and thus perfect for a (new style) web newspaper. How can history's parade (or any parade) not be interesting? A proper web-paper will be a parade of reports, each materializing in the present and marching off into the past.
The new style news story is a string of short pieces interspersed with photos, transcripts, statements, and whatnot as they emerge: It is an evolving chain; you can pick it up anywhere and follow it back into the past as far as you like.

It's a thoughtful article in an era of deconstruction of journalism for deconstruction's sake. In the last few weeks--or even months--I've found myself talking about journalism, and often wearily defending it, particularly in the wake of the New York Times scandals. What makes me weary is the excess of posturing and the lack of ideas that have emerged from the whole furor.

The author makes some questionable assertions--he thinks Nietzsche and Wittgenstein are "two of the greatest writers of modern times" for starters--but the idea is interesting. He gives a fair amount of attention to the way people read and the experience of reading the news.

For years the industry has been trying to envision the way the Internet will change publishing, but much of the analysis in the blogosphere has been in terms of technology or external forces. We should change journalism because it's broken, say those who see the fall of the Times as vindication. Or we should change it because we have all these nifty new tools, say the bloggers who want to be journalists. What's refreshing is that the focus of this piece is reader-centric. It considers what we should be doing in terms of how people read. What a concept.

I hadn't heard of the author before, so I did a little digging and noted that he's got a number of political views I don't agree with. (Interesting factoid: He was also wounded by the Unabomber.) The article linked above is not particularly ideological, but ideas don't exist in a vacuum. Gelernter has said that journalists should be MORE judgemental, so in that spirit, I offer this disclaimer: Far be it from me to endorse some of his other views, as when he told the Atlantic that "when the WASP aristocracy ran the country it was in some ways better off." Caveat emptor.

*CF, are you reading this? I know you loved it.

Posted at 07:16 PM
June 18, 2003
Thrilling Tales Reconsidered

Just on the heels of Mike's recent review of McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, I finished the same book and feel compelled to draft a response. I do this with some reservations, as literary criticism was never something I was very good at and in this day and age any random author namesearching himself or herself can easily swoop down and smite you. Nevertheless, tonight this is what passes for adventure in my world, so here goes.

Mike's review gives a nice summary of the main thrust of the anthology ("adventure stories"), which I won't attempt to recap. I'm not a science fiction fan, so I may not be the target audience. But I applaud the return of the plot; if I never have to read one more piece of "kitchen-sink fiction" with an ambiguous ending again, I'll be a happier person.

This is a good start down that road, although interestingly, and perhaps predictably, I liked somewhat different things than our sci-fi lovin' Seattle correspondent. Notable: Nick Hornby's and Kelly Link's stories, as well as (as Mike notes) "Chuck's Bucket" is a pretty neat story, as is the Neil Gaiman story, which was downright creepy. Rick Moody's story alternately freaked me out with apocolyptic visions and bored me with pseudoscience, which is a rare combination.

Less impressive: I couldn't make heads or tails out of whatever dialect Stephen King seemed to be creating. ("The front was festooned with reap-charms in honor of the season; stuffy-guys with huge sharproot heads stood guard." Translator needed on aisle two!) Language use and abuse bothered me elsewhere, too; I thought the Nazi-era detective story by Michael Moorcock was a neat trick, but again I felt distracted by some of the language that fell flat ("The huge silk Nazi 'hooked cross' banners were very striking as they stirred in the faint, westerly breeze.""The car's brilliant headlamps made day of night." Reminds me of the old classroom canard "show me, don't tell me."). I had high hopes for the Sherman Alexie story, but since it seemed to me to be over just as it began, in the end it was pretty much just gross.

I spontaneously described this as "kind of a boy's book" to someone and am not even sure what that means. But I'm not sure it's far from the truth, particularly given its old-skool pulp fiction packaging. By the end of the anthology, I felt the absence of the feminine perspective. The only relief came with the stories by Laurie King and, surprisingly, Dave Eggers, whose story (with a female protagonist) seemed to me to have more empathy for its characters and a certain humane quality that others lacked.

If there hadn't been a McSweeney's, someone would have had to create it. There's more than a grain of truth in Neil Pollack's parodic interview with Hillary on the subject: "I want literature about real things, not some fucking sacrificial hipster rite. Who cares if it's well designed?" (via Mimi Smartipants) Although I've always enjoyed the typographical stunt work, I'd had the feeling in the last few issues that the magazine's editorial focus was getting a bit...diluted. This volume is anything but diluted, which is refreshing. It'll make you the coolest kid in the office lunchroom.

Posted at 08:44 PM
June 14, 2003

If anything, I put a hard-hitting title to bring back the idea that politics are for the good and are important. They have been given a bad name on purpose to put people off, to make them apathetic. But really, politics are meant for people, not just a few guys at the top who get to do whatever the hell thy want without encountering any real opposition from the people.
--Laetitia Sadier, on why her side project Monade's debut is titled "Socialisme Ou Barbarie: The Bedroom," in Venus zine (article not available online; get thee to a newsstand)


Bush plots `juggernaut' campaign in '04 (registration required, alas)

The Bush team appears poised to try a similar tactic in 2004, Zogby said, this time by playing up the memory of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The GOP is starting with an unusually late nominating convention in New York, not far from the World Trade Center site and just days before the third anniversary of the attacks.

Republican strategist Charlie Black, who worked for Bush's father, said the White House never would manipulate memories of Sept. 11 for political purposes. "That's a ridiculous charge," Black said.

Posted at 10:33 AM
June 12, 2003
Two Thumbs Down

Posters for Dumb and Dumbererer, or whatever it's called, met with a chilly reception from New York subway denizens last month.

Posted at 09:05 PM
June 10, 2003

A good roundup lately via Nonprofit Online News:

Hackers and Painters is as useful an article as any I've seen lately:

Part of what software has to do is explain itself. So to write good software you have to understand how little users understand. They're going to walk up to the software with no preparation, and it had better do what they guess it will, because they're not going to read the manual. The best system I've ever seen in this respect was the original Macintosh, in 1985. It did what software almost never does: it just worked.

This article names the 12 most powerful conservative foundations, which fund the think tanks that influence the current administration's foreign and domestic policy. Media mavens may be familiar with the names of the think tanks as their spokespeople are often quoted on a variety of issues. The extent of the organization is a fearsome thing, the author notes:

The philanthropic funding of an ideology--its articulation and dissemination--is rare, perhaps unprecedented in American politics. To have sustained the effort over decades must be unique. It was a brilliant strategy brilliantly executed, but it begs to be counteracted if a decent, civil, compassionate public life is not to become a stunted thing.

Over on the left, E and C and I talked over the weekend about the current Democratic presidential wanna-bes and we couldn't name all of them. (This happened after a guy walked by wearing a Howard Dean shirt, which can get you beat up in some sectors of Indiana.) Here's a tidbit about a candidate we could name: Dennis Kucinich (whom Slate today calls an "angry little socialist elf").

Posted at 08:18 PM
June 09, 2003
O&R, Alas

Just when you thought I couldn't possibly wring out one more vacation post...

In New York, I made my customary trek up Madison Avenue to replace the notebook only to find that my favorite office supply store is no longer there. Ordning&Reda has apparently decided to close its NY stores, alas. Even worse, buying from their existing stores (in Europe) poses a considerable challenge.

I was surprised that O&R abandoned New York. I had envisioned minimalism-loving New Yorkers swarming the place in the search for color-coordinated desk accessories. The Web site is oblique about their location options:

To be located close to our primary target group is imperative and decisive for our success. A high degree of accessibility is an important part of our strategy, which consequently leads us to establish Ordning&Reda stores in trendy hot spot locations. We must be where the shoppers are.

From this we can surmise that trendy hot spots apparently no longer include NY or Paris, where a shop closed last year, the site says. The Parisians probably don't care, but don't tell the New Yorkers, as this could provoke an identity crisis emergency and those people are already plenty stressed out.

Instructions for American customers, in the absence of online shopping, are similarly oblique:

For a larger selection of our products please contact our London store on New Row (United Kingdom) which is able to handle overseas purchasing - they can ship to anywhere in the world.

Guess my color-coordinated desk supplies (matching mouse pad, notepad, scissors, and pens [the only time I've ever managed to color coordinate anything, really]) are going to have to last a while.

Posted at 08:28 PM
June 05, 2003
Here Is Northern Ohio

I went back to Ohio, but my family was gone
I stood on the back porch, there was nobody home

We buried my grandmother in a little town (pop. 300) in northern Ohio, in an old cemetary behind the town's only Catholic church. The night before we spent the evening on the roads, driving from one small town to another.

In between, there were long stretches of silent farmland, with the occasional building. I never saw any people going in or coming out of the houses or working in the yard, although they must have been there.

It was utterly foreign and utterly familiar. Despite cell phones and satellites, it really is an area untouched by time. Driving through at dusk after the rain, it was all too easy to envision my grandparents and their brothers and sisters, driving over these roads and living in these houses, 30 or 60 years ago.

Brian writes about the aesthetics of place. Is there ever going to be a place that will be so evocative of me--or you--in 60 years that to see the place is to remember the people? Or will the coffee shops and cafes that we know be gone, ground under to make room for progress? I suspect I know the answer.

We drove until it got dark and then went back to the hotel. The next day we stood at the grave site in the wet grass and then went back to the city.

Posted at 09:20 PM
June 03, 2003
In Which I Use a Lot of Italics

I'm not usually one to complain about the ways of city folk, but I did think the audience we saw Spellbound with in New York laughed a bit too much in the wrong places. Now, it is a charming film, and I'll laugh at a misspelled sign as much as the next person. But I didn't really think the lovably eccentric families of the Texas and the Midwestern farm kids, for example, were hilarious. I thought they seemed like a lot of people I've met.

As I listened to the woman behind me who was a particularly loud laugher (and talker, but let's not get started on that) the experience reminded me of the way people react to one of those Christopher Guest ensemble films (A Mighty Wind, anyone?) where the characters seem completely unselfconscious about how ridiculous they are.

But those characters are fictional.

I restrained myself from turning around and collaring the woman behind me, asking: You do know these people are real, right?

But I didn't. What would I have done if she would have said Yes and kept laughing anyway?

Posted at 05:28 PM