Monday
Sep012014

Five stories from this summer

1. The Charlie Crist profile:

Charlie Crist stood on one side of the pool, and almost all of the rest of the people stood on the other, the glittery Florida portrait between them. The former governor who wants to be governor again had spent the past hour or so at this house of a lawyer on a golf course in Bradenton. He gaped at family vacation photos on the walls, telling the host and his wife, "Show me all your pictures, please." He walked outside to the yard to toss a football with their 11-year-old son, taking off his jacket and handing it to an aide, loosening his pink tie but only slightly, lobbing reliable spirals in the early evening heat, showing no sign of sweat, his pressed blue shirt staying impeccably tucked into the slender waist of his charcoal slacks. One of the guests asked, "Governor, do you ever have bad days?" And he answered, "It hardly ever happens! How can you have bad days? We live in Florida!" He made his way back inside, gliding past an aquarium filled with pretty, flitting fish, past the bar stocked with Crown Royal and Michelob Ultra, past the trays of shrimp and cheese, popping into his mouth a niblet of tuna on a tiny piece of toast. He floated through the crowd, asking for their names, asking about their jobs, thanking them for coming in his pleasing, polished patter, but never lingering for long, before ending up on his side of the pool and calling this state "the prettiest place on the planet." The people had paid up to $500 a head to attend. Now Crist asked them for more.

2. Bam Bam for Outside:

A sheep was dead.

A bighorn sheep.

3. Asheville in the '20s for Our State:

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.

4. Period for Charlotte:

Mr. Happy had terminal brain cancer.

5. The death of Devaughn Darling for SB Nation Longform:

The Tallahassee medical examiner unzipped the body bag. Here was an 18-year-old, muscular, black male. Here was an 18-year-old, muscular, black male with white sneakers and gray boxers and gold Florida State shorts. Here was an 18-year-old, muscular, black male with white sneakers and gray boxers and gold Florida State shorts and a tube up his nose and a tube down his throat and IV needles in his arm and his neck and automated external defibrillator pads still stuck to his chest. Here, cinched to his left wrist, was an emergency room bracelet. Here, on his left upper arm, was his only tattoo, a cross and three words: THE BLESSED ONE.

Here was Devaughn Darling.

He died after a winter offseason workout in a hot second-floor gym on the Florida State campus. The school said it didn't do anything wrong. The family said the school didn't do everything right. They settled before a trial for a payout of $2 million. The school paid the family $200,000. Florida law said the remaining $1.8 million would have to come straight from the state. The family is still waiting.

Devaughn Darling died more than 13 years ago.

Next: Other than Times stuff, of course, I'm working on something for the Davidson Journal and I'm working on something for Grantland.

Saturday
Aug302014

Do libraries need books?

1. Me on my Times blog: Florida's newest institution of higher education has a library with no books.

2. Ben on Twitter: A library without books is not a library. It's a room, or a space, but it's not a library.

3. Clive Thompson in the new Wired: ... what about books? Public Library Association research shows that people have checked out slightly fewer materials in recent years. And Pew found that about a third of patrons are opposed to makerspaces if they displace books. But while I'm just as sentimental about the primacy of hard copy, the librarians aren't. As they all tell me, their job is helping with access to knowledge — not all of which comes in codex form and much of which is deeply social. Libraries aren't just warehouses for documents; they're places to exchange information.

Saturday
Aug302014

Ode to college towns

Something I wrote for the September Our State:

Davidson was a college before it was a town.

I didn't know that at first — in the heavy heat of late August 1995, when I arrived as a freshman, a 17-year-old kid from New England who wanted to see something new, to get an education in the South — but it makes sense, looking back.

The small liberal arts school in northern Mecklenburg County had earned national renown. The town wasn't much. I walked to the post office across from campus, like every student at the time, and I used the ATM at the BB&T. But Main Street seemed like stagecraft. The landmark Soda Shop produced the sense of stasis more than the comfort of nostalgia, and other stores hawked knickknacks and gnomes. We drove down to Cornelius for Harris Teeter groceries, me and my friends from my hall in my dorm, and we drove up to Mooresville for wee-hours Waffle House fried eggs and hash browns. It took no more than two turns to encounter cattle milling in meadows. The map said Charlotte wasn't far. That's not the way it felt. The buzzy serenade of cicadas was the soundtrack of slow Saturday mornings.

Now it's different. Davidson is a small town, still, although it's gotten bigger, and fancier and pricier, too, but it's also become a college town.

College towns are important.

Keep reading.

Wednesday
Aug272014

The death of Devaughn Darling

Up now at SB Nation Longform:

The Tallahassee medical examiner unzipped the body bag. Here was an 18-year-old, muscular, black male. Here was an 18-year-old, muscular, black male with white sneakers and gray boxers and gold Florida State shorts. Here was an 18-year-old, muscular, black male with white sneakers and gray boxers and gold Florida State shorts and a tube up his nose and a tube down his throat and IV needles in his arm and his neck and automated external defibrillator pads still stuck to his chest. Here, cinched to his left wrist, was an emergency room bracelet. Here, on his left upper arm, was his only tattoo, a cross and three words: THE BLESSED ONE.

Here was Devaughn Darling.

He died after a winter offseason workout in a hot second-floor gym on the Florida State campus. The school said it didn't do anything wrong. The family said the school didn't do everything right. They settled before a trial for a payout of $2 million. The school paid the family $200,000. Florida law said the remaining $1.8 million would have to come straight from the state. The family is still waiting.

Devaughn Darling died more than 13 years ago.

Keep reading.

Monday
Aug252014

James Cameron in Fast Company

In the September issue:

It comes from not being one thing as an individual. Being an artist and a kind of would-be scientist, or science groupie, I had that decision to make in college. I was studying physics and astronomy and then I switched to become an English major. As a scientist, you have to specialize — you have to go very narrow and very deep to make any difference. My broad curiosity about the world — about space, the oceans, neuroscience — would not be satisfied. As a writer and a filmmaker, I can satisfy those curiosities better.

Saturday
Aug232014

Ryan D'Agostino in his editor's note

In the new Popular Mechanics: Part of what's changing in the world is that the United States is once again becoming known as a place where people make great things. The kind of stuff that hasn't been made here since my father was a kid.

Monday
Aug182014

It's football season again

The life expectancy of an NFL player is fifty-five years, Christine Smallwood writes in the September Harper's. Those who play professional football are nineteen times as likely to suffer from brain trauma–related illnesses as those who don't. Repeated concussions — in seven years a pro will sustain, on average, 130,000 full-speed hits — cause dementia, clinical depression, memory loss, and suicidal ideation.

Yes, but he'll still watch this season, Tom Junod writes in the September Esquire.

And I won't be the only one. Football, as we all know, is under siege. It's under siege from former Pro Bowlers who want the NFL to account for their morbidities and their mortalities. It's under siege from college players who want to get paid. It's under siege from mothers who don't want their boys to be offered up as ritual sacrifices. But mostly it's under siege from the American conscience, which has finally started to ask questions about the human cost of our autumnal weekend entertainment.

But not enough to stop watching. ...

... because it's in the same untenable position as America itself, too big to fail and yet failing, and I own it even as it owns me.

Monday
Aug182014

The new Harper's Index

Items I underlined in the September issue:

Chance that a U.S. public school had at least one security camera in 1999: 1 in 5.

Chances today: 2 in 3.

Amount a couple in Sarasota, Florida, earning $62,040 will receive in federal health care subsidies under the ACA: $8,736.

Amount a couple earning $62,041 will receive: $0.

Gigatons of cement used in the United States in the twentieth century: 4.4.

Gigatons used in China in the past three years: 6.1.

Percentage of liberal Americans who would prefer a large house to a "walkable" community: 32.

Of conservative Americans: 69.

Amount of the fine a recently passed New York State law would impose for taking selfies with tigers: $500.