Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Cover Boy Lebron
Graces Yet Another

'There's more than one way to skin a big cat. 'A lot of people think that killer instinct is taking it to the hoop every time,' Mims says. 'But for Lebron, it's knowing the game inside and out, knowing the perfect time to get the ball to his teammates, always knowing the best option to take.' This is the birth of a new kind of killer, one who doesn't want to embarrass opponents--one who just wants to beat them. Every last one of them.'
--From a cover story in the current ESPN Magazine, written by Chris Broussard, formerly a sportswriter for the New York Times, Plain Dealer and Akron Beacon Journal, as well as a former point guard for Oberlin College.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Writers Driven to Distraction, Part I

For quite some time, I've been amused by the often-irrational defensiveness and downright paranoia that pervades the conversation, at least in some quarters of the writing community, about the subject of blogging. I keep thinking I see a new high water mark with this or that vituperative anti-blogging article, at least until the latest irrational screed is quickly topped by an even more bizarre specimen.

So I figure, what the hell.

Why not start putting them up on the display counter, where we can all see them, read them, and perhaps take turns speculating on their underlying pathology. It might be fun, and who knows, maybe we'll even spark some comments that will help explain the phenomenon. I thought this following piece really took the prize--a screed by a bad novelist whose main claim to fame is having helped develop one of the icons of lowbrow '70s television, Hollywood Squares. I especially enjoyed how this guy speculates over how perhaps his exquisitely bad novels are being discussed by various blogs (not to worry, Les, I can't say I've ever seen a single mention of your work in any online discussion, but then I don't tend to frequent the kind of places where lowbrow-TV-writers-turned-exquisitely-bad-novelists would come up for discussion). Anyway, the piece appeared in Currents, a paper that offers up all the celebrity photos one could ever desire of Chagrin Valley's hunt country set. Since the paper doesn't seem to be online, I thought I'd reprint the piece in its entirety so you can enjoy it in all its delightfully snarling virtuosity. Meanwhile, I'll promise to return to this theme occasionally, bringing you other similarly entertaining rants against blogging.

Daily Blogging Just Can't Be Good for Your Mind

By Les Roberts

Bless me--I have sinned. Well, not really sinned--but I have not always told the complete truth--about several things. Now I'm ready to confess all. Um--almost all.

For instance--in the past quarter century, I've been very vocal advancing my disapproval of illegal drugs, and I'm sticking with that. I never mentioned that 10 times during my early adulthood I did try marijuana, given to me by someone else; I've neer spent a nickel of my own money for it. I believe someone should legalize marijuana for medical purposes, but otherwise I'm against it.

I've often said--for a joke but with a razor's edge of meaning--that the only two things which really taste good are sugar and fat. The line still gets a good laugh, but I don't mean it anymore, since in the last two years I have lost more than 20 percent of my weight and am much happier for it.

Lately I've been witheringly contemptuous of television, with the exception of one or two prime-time programs. Here comes one of my biggest confessions: I faithfully have watched Survivor at least until the new edition came on TV practicing the flaunting segregation of ethnicities and I decided I'd view it no more.

There is something, however, that I have never done--and not much is going to come along to change my mind about it, no matter what. I don't BLOG.

For those of you ummovable Luddites who don't even own a computer, blogging is the simple act of millions of people who get online every day and write whatever they feel like, expressing their feelings, relating the boring minutiae of their days and talk disparagingly about others they might never have met--and they install it on the worldwide Web so that everyone else can read their blogging. Sometimes their online "fans" blog back to them--and entirely different kettle of fish than emailing--and wave their thoughts around in the wind like a pennant for everyone else to see.

For all I know, someone out there is blogging about me, perhaps favorably or unfavorably about my books, my columns or my podcasts in their own private blog. I have no interest in looking around in cyberspace to see whether it's true. I don't care.

I don't get it. Why should I be blogging, and why does anyone else, either? I spend a good eight hours a day at my computer, writing. When my work is published, I hope somebody who has spent a few cents on me will take the time to read it, because that's how I make my living. If I spent an hour or two of my precious time blogging to strangers about whatever pops in my head, it will suck away my time and energy from what I've trained myself to do for the past 40 years. Then I'd have to spend another hour reading the blogs of perfect strangers commenting on my blogs. There are those days when, after giving up half my time blogging, I'll be too tired to write what I get paid for. Then all of a sudden I'm not a writer anymore--I'm a blogger.

And what should I blog about every day? 'This morning we did our laundry. Then we went to Wal-Mart, Giant Eagle and a health food store, picked up our dry cleaning and lastly patronized a filling station to gas up the car. After that, I came home and had a bit (non-fattening and with no sugar, by the way: see above) and finally got down to the business of writing, which I stopped long enough to blog this and titillate and intrigue any of you silly enough to read it.'

Not enought to keep the mind alive, is it? I'd rather write than blog. I'd rather read books or newspapers than read blogs. I'd prefer you reading my writing than my blogs. There are no blogs in my future; I promise you that.

Oh, yeah--one more confession. When I take a mid-day writing break for lunch--I sometimes watch the Jerry Springer Show. Now I've confesssed everything.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Why Pittsburgh Pulled
Ahead of Cleveland

'Pittsburgh was already established as the nation's premier industrial city and Carnegie's name indelibly associated with it. Just as he was not content to be regarded only as a businessperson, so too did he not want his American hometown to be known only for its smokestacks. His goal, as he would write William Frew in 1897, was that 'not only our own country, but the civilized world will take note of the fact that our Dear Old Smoky Pittsburgh, no longer content to be celebrated as one of the chief manufacturing centres, has entered upon the path to higher things, and is before long, as we thoroughly believe, also to be noted for her preeminence in the arts and sciences.' He would continue to contribute his money and his ideas toward this goal for the rest of his life.'
--from Andrew Carnegie, a magisterial new biography by David Nasaw

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A Scholarship for Blogging

What a great idea: someone is generously awarding a $5,000 college scholarship for blogging. Just get your 300-word essay in soon. Perhaps this will start a trend. Lord knows, with the cost of higher education, it's certainly needed.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Cottage Industry
Of Google-Watching

With the growing ubiquity of Google and the centrality of its technology to the web, media, marketing, etc., an entire cottage industry of Google-watchers has grown up to keep an eye on the tech giant. One of these folks got ahold of an internal Google document that talks about some of Google's plans. Two things struck me about it: the way it is always trying to "increase the scale of innovation," as the paper puts it, or not merely driving innovation, but trying to do so in a much larger way. Secondly, the company seems to finally be listening to the chorus of observers who have registered concern that it's trying to do to much, going off in too many directions, and thus losing focus. It's good to learn that it plans on eliminating 20% of its products. Smart move by an ever-smarter company. If you want to keep up on Google's constant innovation, I'd recommend these sites: here, here and especially here. And while you're on the subject, perhaps you'll want to cruise around this new Google search page dedicated to the federal government, one of many specialized niche search products it's been rolling out lately.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

What Happens When Designers are Unleashed

Lee Iacocca dismissed it as the "potato" car, but Americans loved it enough to make the Ford Taurus the second-best-selling car in American history, second only to Henry Ford's immortal Model T. Still, after 21 years, the car has come to the end of its life, and is being discontinued this week. The L.A. Times sees its exit as "a forlorn reminder of things gone wrong with the American auto industry." Why? Because according to a former Ford executive, "the Taurus program was one of the few times Ford has turned its designers loose." The result was a car that saved an entire company and changed the domestic auto industry. It's a timely reminder--for anyone who needs it in the age of Macs, IPods and Aeron chairs--that great design isn't merely about cosmetics and frills, but is instead at the heart of building customer loyalty and excitement. That's why, according to this excellent recent Business Week package, companies are increasingly looking to the top design schools for talent to help them broadly innovate. Naturally, our own Cleveland Institute of Art always manages to come up in those conversations, as I mentioned in July.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Great Web Journalism Breaking Out Everywhere

Even as important parts of the journalism food chain seem to be collapsing all around us, there's much hopeful innovation to celebrate and learn from. If you know where to look for the best stuff, journalism has perhaps never been more vital. That doesn't mean, of course, that there aren't a boatload of nagging issues about how best to sustain its various business models, which are changing and which will change plenty more in coming years. But if you're a journalist these days and don't like change, and resist learning new skills, you'd be better off finding another line of work, sorry to say.

When it comes to finding vitality in this industry, naturally that often means looking on the web, including at some of the best new web-only publications. There are so many promising ones I could mention, and I will try to mention many of them in coming weeks and months. But rather than inundate you today, let me point you to two especially fine examples that I think are among the best and freshest online-only pubs: New West and Inside Higher Education. Each one serves as a brilliant example of how to reconceive journalism.

New West is the brainchild of Jonathan Weber, a former L.A. Times reporter and later the founder of the excellent Industry Standard, the leading newsmagazine of the web, before it crashed and burned in 2001. In 2002, he moved to Missoula, Montana to teach at the University of Montana school of journalism, and began to notice all the interesting changes happening in the American west, none of which he saw reflected in the region's media. So he started his own. Rather than having me describe why I think it's so fresh and interesting, please take a moment and study it for yourself. If you think I'm wrong, by all means let me know via the comments. Next year, the publication plans on launching a print companion, turning the usual progression of publication growth on its head.

Inside Higher Ed, meanwhile, has the unfortunate challenge of taking on the grandaddy of publications covering the college and university industry, the Chronicle of Higher Education, which has owned the beat forever, supported by page after page of advertising from the industry, which seems to use the Chronicle to advertise for every faculty opening in America. Still, despite the thoroughness and general excellence of the big pub, the higher ed industry has always been in need of a scrappy competitive voice, and for a time that role was occupied by the literate Lingua Franca. It too died in 2001, to the dismay of much of the academy. IHE doesn't pretend to cover the industry with the same kind of panache (it's a far more sober read), but it does a superior job at what it tackles. In just its second year of life, it's still a certified novice, likely to improve. It also threatens to slowly bleed it's larger rival's business model, by offering to post university job listings for just $125 a pop. A look at the staff bios shows there are some veterans of the Chronicle of Higher Ed aboard, including one of the founders.

Similarly, traditional print journalism institutions are being reborn in new ways on the web. I've talked about how my beloved Christian Science Monitor, (for which I occasionally review books) has found new life on the web. Now down to a print circulation of just 60,000 copies, a number at which it almost ceases to exist in terms of national influence, the paper, with its century-long reputation for great reporting, especially in international news, has invested heavily in the web. And it has been rewarded with nearly two million enthusiastic readers online. But consider another Boston-based institution with a familiar name, the Boston Globe. A few years ago, it added a splendid section,
Ideas, whose wonderful name suggests an appetite for innovation and experimentation. Recently, the section added a blog, Brainiac, written by a handful of contributors. It too is first-rate. All of these islands of innovation and excellence are examples for others. I hope the timid will learn from them and adapt, rather than wasting time merely worrying about the future.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Kitchen Sink Day

New Ways to Waste Time. The beauty of the Internet is that it's the best tool ever for soaking up one's time. But here's an online innovation that allows you to keep tabs of the latest web bubble in real time. With Yahoo Finance's streaming quotes feature, you can keep one eye on Google's ever-rising stock price (if it's not regularly updating, it's because you've clicked on it when the market's not in session). Every couple seconds it gives you the new price, and you don't even have to keep hitting the refresh button. Who says progress is bad?

If Paula Jones Owned Google. Now there's a fanciful phrase that got my attention. It's buried in an otherwise interesting column written recently by The New Republic's sometimes-officious literary editor, Leon Wieselter. He roasts the Clintons' inflated egos and never-ending search for redemption with this thrilling little riff, which I found myself rather agreeing with: "The Clintons have never recognized any difference between good people and people who help them. Even Rupert Murdoch is now a good man. If Paula Jones owned Google, a Christian reconciliation would long ago have been accomplished."

Blogging Can Get You Expelled. But not just from school.
This United Nations diplomat got expelled from the Sudan for reporting on difficulties the outlaw country is having in Darfur. Good for him, I say. Like the late NYTimes editor Abe Rosenthal (who was ejected from Poland for reporting too much too truthfully, for which he later won a Pulitzer), may he wear it forever as a badge of honor.

Speaking of Rosenthal. This is a bad development: Abe Rosenthal's son, Andrew,
recently being named editor of the Times editorial page. Like his father, he's a conservative, though we can only hope a principled conservative. He was a favorite of bully-boy editor Howell Raines', which speaks volumes. He now joins Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the NYT book review, as the second conservative to head a major piece of the Times. While the staid book review did indeed need a jolt of energy, Tanenhaus has accomplished that by making a series of questionable calls, assigning important books to questionable reviewers, some with ideological axes to grind. His defenders, including some on the left, call him a smart conservative, echoing the kinds of things often said about op-ed columnist David Brooks (about whom it was once said he's the only conservative who fits in well at an Upper West Side Manhattan dinner party). The upshot, however, is that now we'll have to keep watch over the op-ed pages too.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Getting Philosophical
In the Middle Years

'Let's put it this way: we give the first third of our life to youth. We give the second third of our life to ego. And hopefully we give the last third of our life to wisdom, or to God. And that's really where I'm at now...I really have finally learned my lesson about what I like and what I don't like, and what I'm going to have and what I'm not going to have. I mean, you turn a corner one day, and as my dad used to say to me, you see that all of a sudden the ballplayers and all of the cops are younger than you are. And you realize that you're not young anymore. I want to make the most of the time I have left.'

--Forty-eight-year-old actor Alec Baldwin, in the current issue of GQ, in a lovely profile that's a welcome change from their usually vapid stuff.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Bill Clinton: Tougher Than Icebergs

'The President is not the kind to give up a fight. His staffers were known to say, 'If Clinton were the Titanic, the iceberg would sink.'

--President George W. Bush, speaking at a ceremony marking the opening of his predecessor's presidential library, in Little Rock, Arkansas

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

New Book Explores
Watergate Tag Team

Two weeks ago, a couple of mastodons appeared together on CBS's 60 Minutes, doing what they do best.

Mike Wallace was interviewing Bob Woodward, kicking off the usual publicity blitz over the latter's latest book about Beltway intrigue. Only this time, some of the thunder was stolen by the New York Time's front-page, embargo-breaking revelations about the book two days earlier.

Woodward and Wallace are quite a pair. The latter pretends to be a trenchcoated tough guy reporter, when in truth he mostly reads others' scripts and relies on producers, assistants who do the real reporting while he tends to his pancake makeup (Woodward deliciously pulled back the curtain on all this fakery during the interview, by noting that he had earlier played his tapes "for your producers," in other words, for the people who did the real work of preparing for the interview).

As for Woodward--well, at least he had a glorious past. His reputation has lately taken some major hits, and deservedly so, for the way he has credulously come to be a transmission belt for official Washington. After two earlier, largely admiring books about the George W. Bush White House, he has finally figured out the truth in this capper of his George W. trilogy. Stop the presses, he screams: this White House has been putting a pretty face on a war in Iraq that's actually going poorly. He presents this with his signature poker face, apparently unaware that most of the rest of the world figured this out quite some time ago.

Just when you thought you've had enough of Bob Woodward's smarmy insiderism and stenographic "insights" into Washington officialdom, a timely new book comes along to remind you that he wasn't always this gullible. He and sidekick Carl Bernstein first came to prominence decades ago during Watergate for pursuing their subjects in quite the opposite fashion: by ignoring the access game and the seductive lies that powerful people tell, and instead slowly piecing together the real story. But the book, Woodward and Bernstein--Life in the Shadow of Watergate, by journalism professor Alicia Shepard, is ultimately disappointing. That’s in part because so much of this ground has already been plowed--both more deeply and in a far more stylish way--many years ago by David Halberstam, in his magisterial The Powers that Be.

Still, it’s interesting to see how the partnership has played out ever since. The core of the story remains the wonderfully, even comically, mismatched pair of reporters. Bernstein, the product of New York Jewish radicals (whose own bar mitzvah, he would later learn, had been infiltrated by the FBI), a dashing writer with a short attention span and a zest for the A-list New York night life that routinely lands him in the gossip columns (his response over the years has been to give dozens of speeches, at $15K a pop, about how trashy the media has become). And Woodward, the bland Midwestern Naval veteran, a clumsy writer but a reporter of ferocious stamina, whose home office is rightly called "The Factory." As the notes of the director of All the President's Men put it: “Bernstein fit the naughty boy syndrome, and Woodward fit the good boy syndrome—but they needed each other.”

Shepard adds much new material, some of the most interesting of it culled from her patient search of the pair’s massive Watergate files, notes and other material they sold three years ago to the University of Texas library for a cool $5 million. Shepard uses the material to good effect, reproducing generally unanswered mash notes from female fans and telling details of their one-time business arrangements (in 1977, they closed the joint bank account they had used until then for movie and book rights, signaling a long cooling-off period in their friendship). She also adds a fresh look at Woodward, whose "Cheneyesque sense of absolute authority and calm," in the words of his Post colleague Bob Kaiser, has been put in the service of one bestselling book after the other. His curious arrangement with the Post, meanwhile, which lets him mostly keep his bombshells for his books, has earned him the envious newsroom nickname Mr. Carte Blanche.

She quotes David Gergen's take on Woodward: 'There's both a psychological quality and an empathic quality to him,' said David Gergen, who has known Woodward since Watergate and has fallen under his spell while working for the Nixon and Clinton administrations. 'He provides peopole withthe sense of safety, that somehow, if you tell him, it will be reported straight, straighter than anyone else. He is able to bond with people in a way that most journalists can't. There's a pschological bonding tha tgoes on. He's very good at putting himself in the minds or shoes of others. But you've got to know before you sit down with Bob Woodward how far you are willing to go with the information. He's very seductive.'

While the recent unmasking of Deep Throat ends a 33-year-old mystery, Shepard points out its lasting importance for journalism. “Deep Throat was not just a quixotic mystery. His debut in 1974 changed journalism, because he lent credibility to the notion of using anonymous sources. Through their rigorous reporting, which relied so heavily on confidential sources, Woodward and Bernstein succeeded in popularizing the use of anonymous sources.” Of course, that has also occasionally had disastrous results, including for Woodward himself. His goal of succeeding his mentor Ben Bradlee as editor of the Post ended with the Janet Cooke affair, in which the Post had to return a Pulitzer for a fictional story of an eight-year-old heroine addict.

The book nicely documents the slow dance over the movie that sealed the pair's gigantic fame. Woodstein agreed to do it only because they trusted Robert Redford, who at the time was fresh off his movie The Candidate, which took a hard outsider look at the cynical world of electoral politics. At first, he imagined what later came to be All The President’s Men as a no-star, black-and-white documentary on investigative reporting.

"Redford promised to make a serious movie about reporting—not a Hollywood, flashy move about the shifty Watergate figures surrounding Nixon or a screwball comedy about newspapering," Shepard writes. "Woodward and Bernstein wanted a movie that would honesty portray reporters. Redford had no intention of glamorizing either them or investigative reporting. He wanted to educate the public about the rigors of investigative journalism; to show how meticulous reporters need to be, how many dead ends they pursue, and how repetitive, sometimes downright boring, investigative reporting could be. Yet there also needed to be an element of comic byplay."

In the end, of course, the movie did indeed glamorize both the reporting pair and their craft. It touched off an immediate wave of interest in journalism school that in certain ways could be said to continue to this day. But the movie also had an ironic twist for the two men. Shepard writes that after the movie, “the names Woodward and Berstein were famous, but their faces had morphed into those of Redford and Hoffman. In a small way, they had gotten back some of their anonymity.”

Woodward and Bernstein will remain famous names for as long as people recall newspaper journalism and American politics. That's what happens when you help topple an American president near the apex of the American Century.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Our Favorite Lead

'The offices of the National Mirror were situated, in 1965, a few blocks down Fifth Avenue from the Flatiron Building. The Mirror was one of several imitation magazines and newspapers in a chain known as Countrywide Publications. They were imitations in the sense that their names and cover layouts closely resembled those of other, better known and more popular publications. Countrywide's guiding strategy was to try to confuse a distracted and overstimulated public into buying its periodicals by mistatke. The lord of this empire of the ersatz was a man we called Fast Myron. Myron had many such replicant outifts in the Countrywide family, ringer scholock magazines whose names were bogus household words. As an admirer once put it, "If Myron wanted to make a magazine like Harper's, he would call it Shmarper's''

--from a piece in the October 16th New Yorker, by novelist Robert Stone. You can read about earlier favorite leads
here. And you can read an interview with Robert Stone here.

Friday, October 13, 2006


No, that's not a typo. Instead, it's a new weekly feature we've decided to insitute here at Working With Words. In case you can't solve the acronym puzzle, it stands for Smartest Thing I Heard or Saw on Brewedfreshdaily This Week. We do it in part to honor the central role our friend George Nemeth has played in starting and hosting smart conversations, even when he's not around, which is quite a trick. And of course also because we think there's value in steering you to particularly compelling conversations or points.

This week's STIHOSOBFDTW? We expect some weeks it'll be a tough call, but this initial choice was easy (and by the way, gentle reader, we'll welcome your nominations). It has to be a wonderful, pithy observation made by our friend Ed Morrison, an economic development guru with wonderfully contrarian instincts and Vesuvial intellectual energy (earlier, we wrote about him here), who had this to say in a string about debate over bringing casino gambling to Cleveland: "Here’s a basic law of regional economic development: If you don’t have any innovative ideas, money is always a problem. Conversely, if you have a habit of generating innovative ideas, money is virtually never a problem." Brilliant, Ed.

How General Washington Foresaw a City

'It has always been my opinion that the shortest, easiest and least expensive communication with the invaluable back country would be to let the courses and distances be taken to the mouth of the Muskingum and up that river to the carrying place to the Cuyahoga, down the Cuyahoga to Lake Erie.'
--George Washington

When Fools Rush In

'What looks like the truth is truth enough for fools.'
--Paul Chevalier Gavarni

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Book in Your Head

That's the subject under discussion today at a
panel discussion I'll be taking part in during the lunch hour. The group is the International Association of Business Communicators. I love how IABC has its own blog, which it uses in wonderful ways--for knowledge management, sharing of best practices and question-raising. Someone even posted an invitation to ask panelists some questions in advance of the program. I took the invitation to answer the person, but to also save some of the answer for the program itself. It's just another great example of how this most flexible of communications tools can be used in ever more imaginative ways by individuals and groups.

One of today's special treats will be getting to know fellow panelist
Sarah Willis just a little. I've known her companion Ron, himself an accomplished writer, but have only met and chatted with Sarah once, and briefly. Though I'm not much for fiction (my failing, I know) I've made a point to read some of her work, both because she's local and because I've heard it's sublime (I heard right). She's among a modest group of Cleveland writers whose work has found a national audience, for all the right reasons. But her personal journey (explained in part here) in getting these books written, overcoming some long odds, interests me as much as the books themselves. And like IABC, she too is taking part in innovations in her field. You can go to Amazon to download her short story, Air Conditioners, for just 49 cents. This "micropayment" method may or may not prove to be a wave of the future for authors, but it's certainly worth investigating, at least.

Anyway, perhaps this weekend, I'll be posting some of my own notes from the event , as well as whatever ideas I hear from the other speakers and audience members that strike me as interesting.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Our First Librarian Evidently Overlooked This One
When She Composed Her Husband's Reading List

'Wars begin when you will, but they do not end when you please.'

-Niccolo Machiavelli

Monday, October 09, 2006

Cliff's Online Writing Tutorials

Are you looking to brush up on your journalism skills, but don't have time to pursue traditional writing courses? I'd recommend that you at least consider doing so through my friend Cliff Anthony's online writing tutorials, which he offers through his
Ejournalismschool. Cliff is a great guy and a true professional. He has earned a couple of master's degrees on two continents, has been an award-winning staff writer for newspapers in the U.S., Oman and his native India, and now teaches journalism at Cleveland State University, and part-time at Lakeland Community College. Despite all that immersion, he's still found time to be active in several journalism organizations. I've gotten to know him through SPJ, where we serve together on the board of the Cleveland chapter. If you do invest some time in one of his courses, I hope you'll drop me a line and let me know how it went.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Unwinding From Bush's Mistakes

In the October issue of The Atlantic, Jonathan Rauch explores how long it will take to "unwind" all of the many mistakes, foreign and domestic, that George W. Bush has made in his disastrous presidency. His conclusion:
'...a reasonable guess is that unwinding Bush will take more than a decade but less than two, meaning the job will be harder than unwinding [President] Carter but easier than unwinding Nixon...Bush has two years left to unwind himself; and if he's lucky, he'll have a Democratic House or Senate to help. He has been cursed with a Republican Congress that has indulged his worst tendencies--but that problem, at least, the voters might soon unwind.'

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Heart Knows Wassup

'We know the truth, not only by reason, but also by the heart.'

--Blaise Pascal

Friday, October 06, 2006

Tidbits Day

No Minced Words. The incomparable Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo
gets right to the point: "Let's not mince words: President Bush is a profound threat to the U.S. Constitution. His contempt for the rule of law needs to be ended."

Never Again. Cleveland's "tech czar," my old pal Michael DeAloia, has a
new book of poetry out. Like the guy himself, it's soulful and never boring. But last night, at a tech event (you can download the webcast here) downtown, he turned his attention from verse to economic development. He even committed a bit of news, I thought. Speaking about one of downtown's agonizing near-misses--Peter B. Lewis's booming insurance company very nearly brought all of its giant Cleveland-area work force downtown a few years ago--he said this: "The rallying cry in the city is 'no more Progressives.' They basically built an entire city on the east side." Unfortunately, there aren't as many people to work at attracting business downtown as there once were. He noted that with budgets tight, the city's economic development staff has gone from 21 to 7 in recent years.

New Theory for Falling Newspaper Circulation. You've no doubt heard a hundred or more theories on why newspapers have been suffering steady circulation declines in recent years, from the ink rubbing off on readers' hands to the allure of getting one's news electronically. But Deep Cleveland's Mark Kuhar has his own novel theory on why fewer and fewer people are reading newspapers: because they lack poetry sections. Back in July he wrote: "only poetry can save the world, and these idiots don't even recognize it."

The Eagle Has Landed. We hear that Ken Kesegich, the former editor of the CWRU university magazine and later a speechwriter for then-Case president Ed Hundert, has found a new gig. Caught up in the regrettable university downsizing forced by budget deficits, he recently joined ad and p.r. agency Marcus Thomas as a copywriter. Congratulations, Ken, and a good choice, Marcus Thomas.

The Undiscovered Web. Remember back in the '90s when we were all still giddy over the Internet, discovering digital treasures one site at a time? Remember how seemingly every magazine published "bookmarks," lists of prominent people's favorite sites? We haven't seen much of that lately. But PC Magazine is back in the fray with this not uninteresting list of 99 "undiscovered" sites. I think it's worth at least a quick scan.

Finally, I was bummed to miss seeing the New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert speak this week. She appeared at Oberlin College last Wednesday, as part of its excellent ongoing convocation series. Last month, I missed an even more interesting speaker, the incendiary Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman. Perhaps next month I'll try to catch Andrew Sullivan, if I can stomach the idiocy of a conservative gay man who's shocked--shocked!--to learn that conservative Republicans are meanies when it comes to dealing with homosexual issues.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Our Favorite Book Title, Part II

Last month, we told you about Foreskin's Lament, a book title effective in cutting through the book-publishing clutter and getting our attention, at least momentarily. This month, just to keep the gender balance, our selection is an equally interesting title. Can't vouch for the book, which we haven't so much as flipped through, and possibly never will, but we sure do find that title intriguing. If anyone wants to give it a quick read and let us know if the book lives up to its title, we'll be much obliged.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Doing What We're Programmed to Do

'Dogs sniff each other. Human beings tell stories. This is our native language.'

--Steve Denning, author of The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Great Writing Comes As a Result
Of Great Thinking & Observation

In a review last Friday of a new Kate Winslet movie, Little Children, which opened on the coasts last weekend, New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott showed why great writing has the ability to stop us in our tracks and take notice, even when it occurs in a mere movie review. Well into the piece, after the jump to inside pages (at least for readers of the print edition), he offers this glittering little observation:

Sarah has been to graduate school, and though she never received a doctorate, she did acquire the habit of living within the protective quotation marks that the postmodern academy hands out in addition to (and sometimes in lieu of) substantive knowledge.

That's flat-out gorgeous writing, built on first-rate observation of an otherwise-elusive truth. It seemed all the more impressive later that same day, after I came away from lunch with an aquaintance who's a career academic. His apparent inability to say what he really meant seemed merely annoying, until, driving back after lunch, it suddenly occurred to me that he lives life between those protective quotation marks. Good writing has an ability to do that: to make us see our experience in terms of the words these writers offer up in vivid explanation of that experience. Between the winsome Winslet and this lovely prose, that's a lot of beauty happening in one place.
Anyway, to read some other reviews by Scott, click here.