Thursday
Jul242014

Cameron Cottrill strikes again

This is the cover of Weekend in today's Tampa Bay Times. Young Cam does good work.

Wednesday
Jul232014

A paragraph by David Simon

In a piece about the Baltimore Orioles, sort of, in this week's Sports Illustrated (for which there doesn't seem to be an available link):

Well, for one thing, there is no God. There is only science. If there were a God, he would be — as evidenced by all of modern baseball history — a devoted fan of the Yankees. And God, at least the Judeo-Christian version of Him rather than the Aristotelian unmoved mover, is said to be good. Ergo, there is no God.

Tuesday
Jul222014

This summer in magazines

In Outside, The Bighorn Sheep Who Was YouTube Famous:

A sheep was dead.

A bighorn sheep.

Earlier in the day, in Wyoming's Sinks Canyon, the workers at the state park had organized a fun run and bake sale to raise money to stuff and mount the sheep, so he could come home, either in a standing pose or a walking pose, life-size and lifelike, once and for all and forever. At the visitor center, a sign hung from the rail around the deck. BRING BAM BAM BACK! Down in the town of Lander, his disembodied horns and coarse, tanned hide remained ensconced in a taxidermy shop, waiting to be mounted.

Now, in the cooling dusk of a 2013 summer evening, surrounded by the vast, impossible beauty that can start to feel almost commonplace in this part of the country—to the left, the conifer-covered north-facing slope; to the right, wildflowers and clusters of boulders and great granite walls—a couple dozen mourners and spectators sat in small, cheap chairs made of metal. They watched a lengthy slide show set to melancholy music. They looked at a portrait of the sheep, his regal gaze fixed in a frame trimmed with a black canvas shroud. They listened to sheep experts say what they felt needed to be said at such an unusual event, this tutorial meets memorial.

In Our State, Gatsby's Asheville:

Perched in a clearing cut from the woods, toward the top of a slope north of downtown, Asheville's Grove Park Inn is a grand stone jigsaw with a clay-colored roof that looks like a boast. To write about this city in the 1920s, North Carolina's mountain capital in America's enduring era of excess — that was my charge, and so I came here. The Inn was finished in 1913, but it was built for the '20s — erected in just under a year "with an unstinted expenditure of time, labor, material and money," in the words of early promotional gloss, "a hotel unlike any other," with "every convenience and comfort," from pure down pillows to hand-hammered silver to rugs from France, and a spacious lobby called the "Big Room," "one of the most wonderful rooms in the world," the blue vista filling the wide wall of windows like a mural, the yellow light inside from the copper chandeliers reflecting off the ceiling so as to not be too harsh, and the luring, lulling warmth wafting from the two huge hearths. It was a Sunday afternoon. I sat by the fire.

And I people-watched, noting the tight, tan skin of leisure, the men with pressed jeans and North Face vests and sun specs slipped into the V-necks of sweaters, the women with shiny lips and knee-high boots and sharp-spiked heels on slick stone paths. I eavesdropped on patter about the weather and the sounds of service and expectation.

"How's everybody doing over here?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Enjoy."

And I reread The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald — set in '22, published in '25 — the book most associated with the decade, the writer the same. Reading what I was reading, sitting where I was sitting, I underlined in red the words that floated from the page.

In Charlotte, The man who writes obituaries, the people who hire him, and what we learn from our last words:

Mr. Happy had terminal brain cancer.

First it had been in his lungs, but it didn't stay put, and in January of last year, his doctor told him, David Cribbs, Mr. Happy, that the tumors were everywhere. His doctor couldn't say for sure how long he had, maybe only months, maybe only weeks, but he did tell him to do what he needed to do before he died. So Cribbs readied his will. He talked to his minister. He picked the hymns for his service. And he called Ken Garfield.

Garfield, 61, a Jewish man who works at a Christian church, is a former religion editor for The Charlotte Observer. That's where he started writing obituaries. Now he works full time as the communications director at the 5,000-plus-member Myers Park United Methodist on Queens Road, but he still writes obits. People hire him. They hire him to write the words that will run in the back of the local section of the local newspaper. Sometimes he does the reporting immediately after the death, and sometimes he does it before, even well before. Depends on what people want.

For Cribbs, who wanted to be interviewed for his own obit, Garfield wrote about his upbringing in Florida, his marriage to his high school sweetheart, his work in finance, his move to Charlotte, the importance of his faith, the joy he got from his three children, and then their children, too, his morning laps in the pool at the Y, his ever-optimistic disposition for which he earned his nickname.

What Garfield didn't write were the two things he couldn't until he could, the two things he had to leave blank in his initial draft—the date of Mr. Happy's death, and his age. But he finished what he could finish, Garfield did, and he closed the document on his computer, and he waited.

Tuesday
Jul222014

Tom Bissell on William T. Vollmann

For some reason, this is my favorite sentence I've read so far today (in a piece in the new New Republic that doesn't seem to be available yet online): As for being suspected of being the Unabomber, William T. Vollmann was suspected of being the Unabomber.

Thursday
Jul172014

New York mag's Kara Swisher piece

Something I underlined in it:

All journalism about power runs on trade-offs. Don’t use my name, and I’ll tell you what you want to know. Wait to run the story, and I’ll speak only to you. If you’re fair, I’ll keep taking your calls. Silicon Valley is no different from Washington or Hollywood in this regard, but it’s still much more of a clusterfuck: In the land of the 23-year-old multibillionaire, unlike in D.C., some of the most powerful, newsworthy people are peers of the young reporters covering them, and thus more likely to form social relationships; and unlike in Hollywood, journalists aren’t automatically assigned lower social status than their subjects. Here, too, the investors backing tech media are often from the same industry they’re supposed to be covering, a uniquely sunny industry that encourages puffery. Most tech-media outlets, being start-ups themselves, are sympathetic to entrepreneurs, and upstart tech media don’t necessarily have the ethical proscriptions—such as gift policies—that traditional print institutions do.

Sunday
Jul132014

Rebecca Solnit in the new Harper's

The end of "The Octopus and Its Grandchildren" in the August issue:

Technology was supposed to bring us forward — remember Bill Clinton's "bridge to the twenty-first century" slogan and all the heady utopian promises about democracy and egalitarianism and a voice for everyone and economic magic and everything being free as in terms of liberty as well as in price? Fourteen years into that century, it looks a lot like the nineteenth. The economic divide has widened, and the ostentatiousness of the ultra-elite is a sneer at the rising desperation of most of the rest of the human beings on earth. Democracy in the United States has been undermined by corporate power, and that loss is augmented by the loss of privacy inflicted on us by the surveillance state with help from the tech sector. Amazon is intent on bringing the publishing industry to its knees; journalism, the great watchdog of the nineteenth century, has been bled almost to death by the Internet.

But there's one cheerful thing to remember about the old octopuses, the Southern Pacific and Standard Oil. They arose in new resource landscapes, more or less unregulated. They helped create the obscene economic disparity of the age, and they helped stir up the ire of working people. What followed on the Gilded Age was the age of progressivism, the age that broke up the monopolies, regulated industry, and articulated a fierce vision of economic justice and rights for workers. We need to hope that we're coming to that ourselves, or despair that we've become virtual serfs.

Sunday
Jul132014

Good Harper's Index this month

Some of what I underlined in the latest iteration:

Portion of Americans who are currently taking at least one prescription drug: 1/2.

Who are taking five or more: 1/10.

Estimated number of U.S. children aged two or three being prescribed ADHD medication: 14,000.

Factor by which the number of Internet-connected objects in the world is projected to increase in the next seven years: 4.

Estimated portion of sex crimes in U.S. jails and prisons that are committed by correctional officers: 1/2.

Percentage change since 1997 in the number of U.S. businesses with no employees: +47.

Chance that a U.S. woman under age 35 has a tattoo: 1 in 2.

That a U.S. man under 35 does: 1 in 4.

Percentage of professional journalists who were college graduates in 1971: 58.

Who are today: 92.

Number of local-government jobs lost since 2010: 351,000.

Portion of those jobs that were in education: 3/4.

Percentage change since 2002 in the average annual income of a recent college graduate: –8.

In the average debt load from student loans: +70.

Monday
Jul072014

Karen Vyverberg on Slate

Thinking about climate change:

I currently live in Florida, where sea- level rise is a very relevant topic. Our coasts are already seeing the effects in the form of extreme tides and detrimental storm surges. Importantly, Florida itself was completely underwater for almost 100 million years, and it was during that time that the porous, carbonate platform we call home was slowly formed. Florida as a land mass and the ocean critters that live around it, then, would be completely content if it were fully submerged. Only we, the people who have just recently decided to live on its edges, are unhappy with the idea.