Friday, November 30, 2007

Sage Words from the Immortal E.B. White

'I arise in the morning, torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.'
The late, great essayist and author E.B. White. To review earlier mentions of E.B.W., go here, here, here, here and here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Most Things Get Better by Themselves

'The great secret of doctors, known only to their wives, but still hidden from the public, is that most things get better by themselves; most things, in fact, are better in the morning.'
--Dr. Lewis Thomas. The physician and biologist, who died in 1993, wrote a classic collection of essays, The Lives of a Cell. My friend and mentor Bill Zinsser has often referred to it as among the greatest-ever examples of clear, lovely writing about technical, scientific matters.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Fresh New Take on an Age-Old Question:
Just Where the Hell is Osama bin Laden?

'Where is Osama bin Laden? I only ask because he's been on the run for years now, and despite the best efforts of the World's Top Power--its heat sensors and attack dogs, its agents and bounty hunters--they seem no nearer to capturing him than five or even 10 years ago. After 9/11 bin Laden footage was a staple for building up our crusading zeal. There he was: the beardie bogeyman, moving with leisurely awkwardness between the rocky defiles of an Afghan moonscape. A stick insect of a man with a Kalashnikov in lieu of a cane, his aquiline--yet bilous--face lean beneath his turban. They seek him here! we cried. They seek him there! They seek him bloody well everywhere! Is he in heaven? Is he in hell? That damned elusive orchestrator of worldwide terror! The consensus among informed commentators is that bin Laden and Al-Qaeda never really functioned in quite the manner that we'd like. Despite his appearance--straight out of central casting--this softly spoken fanatic was and is no Dr. No, his sensitive fingers poised to activate thousands of loyal henchmen, but instead a kind of venture capitalist of terrorism. If you want to spread anthrax on the metro or port an incendiary backpack, you can apply to the bin Laden organization for funding and technical know-how. Befitting his background as a scion of a Saudia Arabian construction dynasty, bin Laden is a money rather than an ideas man.'
--from Psychogeography: Disentangling the Modern Conundrum of Psyche and Place.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Welcome Back, Virginia--
We're Rooting For You

The formidable writer and proto blogger Virginia Postrel--someone with whom we don't generally agree, but who we nevertheless always find interesting--is back at her keyboard after battling breast cancer. She reports she's had three rounds of chemotherapy, with another three to go. Please keep her in your prayers, if you're into that sort of thing, or perhaps just drop her a line to wish her well. Her email address is:

Monday, November 26, 2007

Where Sages & Tradesmen Are One & the Same

'Yiddish offers a refreshingly realistic view of human life and motivation. While it is unfair to say that Yiddish glories in human small-mindedness, Yiddish is certainly not afraid to acknowledge the importance of small-mindedness in human affairs. In the Yiddish world, where sages and tradesmen were often the very same people, happiness, contentment of the most inconsequential sort, is like a wallet-full of cash: great to have, dumb to flash.'
--from the introduction to Just Say Nu--Yiddish for Every Occasion (When English Just Won't Do).

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Using Your Most
Important Sense

'The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.'
–Helen Keller

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Saturday Stuff

Quote of the Week: 'I find it hard to temper those beautiful melodies with my essential Larry Davidness."--singer-songwriter Nellie McKay, responding to
Terry Gross's question on Fresh Air earlier this week about why she resists singing classic songs. I can't say that I'd ever so much as heard of her before that show, but heard enough of her work to have become an instant fan.

Need an early holiday present for a serious reader? You might consider giving them a ticket to
this December 4th event at the Ohio Theatre, a powerhouse pairing of world-class writers.

The New York Times came late to blogging, but it's sure caught up recently. At last count, the paper of record
has no fewer than 45 blogs. While many serious readers have probably already noticed and enjoyed such great blogs as Paper Cuts (on books) or City Room (on New York), I've somehow missed the fact until this week that the immortal talk show host Dick Cavett actually has his own NYT blog, and has for many months. This one is certainly worth checking out sometime.

Bully Boy Tom DeLay, still running one step ahead of the posse, peeked his head back into the news cycle this week. In this interview with the right-wing paper The Examiner, he drops a couple of classic statements. He admits he'd like to "bitch-slap" columnist Paul Krugman, and pretends that the reason he plans no re-entry into politics is because of his age (he's 60). Of course no one that age has ever remained active in politics, and you'll just have to take his word for it that his souring on politics has nothing to do with the fact that he's still under indictment for political corruption. On the day he left office last year, we had this to say about the former pest control professional. Dear "Hammer": We bid you adieu, redux!

Finally, we liked
this piece on the subject of Jazz and the Art of Improvisational Blogging, from the always interesting Copyblogger site. Do check it out when you get a moment.

Friday, November 23, 2007

How You Sleep Is Who You Are

'Being a morning person or a night owl doesn’t just determine when you start or end your workday; your internal clock may help define your psychology as well. A Spanish researcher found that our preference for engaging in activities earlier or later in the day shapes both our perceptions and our interactions. The author gave personality tests to 360 university students, whom he describes as a “proper sample,” noting that the circadian rhythms of students “are not much under the influence of time schedules and social patterns.” (Despite the occasional all-nighter, students presumably can follow their preferred sleep schedules more easily than working adults can.) His results offer new evidence that morning and evening types think differently. Early risers prefer to gather knowledge from concrete information. They reach conclusions through logic and analysis. Night owls are more imaginative and open to unconventional ideas, preferring the unknown and favoring intuitive leaps on their way to reaching conclusions. Social behavior diverges as well: Morning people are more likely to be self-controlled and exhibit “upstanding” conduct; they respect authority, are more formal, and take greater pains to make a good impression. (Earlier research also suggests that they are less likely to hold radical political opinions.) Evening people, by contrast, are “independent” and “nonconforming,” and more reluctant to listen to authority—which suggests that teachers may have several reasons to prefer those students who wake up in time for class.'
—from a study entitled “Morning and Evening Types: Exploring Their Personality Styles,” performed by a Spanish psychologist, and referenced in The Atlantic Monthly.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Have a Blessed Thanksgiving

I hope you all have a warm and wonderful holiday today (or that you had one, as the case may be, since I sincerely hope you have the good sense to be doing something else on Thanksgiving besides checking blogs). I was touched this morning by a lovely Thanksgiving day column by new(ish) Plain Dealer Metro columnist Phil Morris. I've never been much of a fan of his writing for a variety of reasons (and that glowering photo he chooses to use of himself doesn't help), but in today's column about the first Thanksgiving without his mom, he finally shows some heart, and reveals enough about himself and his family dynamics to help me understand and sympathize with the person behind the column. Please give it a look when you can. And have a peaceful and joyous holiday, gentle reader.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A New Akron-Based Literary Journal
Is About to Be Born: Barn Owl Review

Congratulations are in order for the poet Mary Biddinger and her crew of collaborators. Their new literary journal, the Barn Owl Review, is due to debut in January. Mary reports on her blog, The Word Cage, that the BOW--which will be published annually and contain fiction and poetry--is now official, having recently received its articles of incorporation. Mary, by day a professor of English at the University of Akron, has published a number of lovely poems in such prominent outlets as Ploughshares. For what it's worth, my favorite from her oeuvre is this elegiac minimalist masterpiece, The Edge of Town. Given her background, there's real hope that this journal could develop into something of real substance, especially if the U of A supports it, as I hope it will. Bon voyage, Barn Owl

Doonesbury Focuses Savage Wit
On Newspaper People Who Blog
(click on cartoon to read a larger version)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Some Vivid Impressions of China
From My Globe-Trotting Friend Chris

We all have a friend or two through whom we live vicariously. For me, it's my friend Chris, an impossibly talented writer for the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm. He lives in Akron, works about half time out of the Cleveland office (when he's not traveling, as he often is), reports directly to someone in the San Francisco office, and works mostly with executives in the New York and Washington, D.C. offices. Via email, he recently sent me a couple of meaty, interesting reports on his trip to China. I thought them so interesting--easily twice as insightful as anything Tom Friedman ever writes about globalization--that (with his approval) I wanted to share them here.

Greetings from China, where I've spent a day in Beijing overcoming jet-lag after a 14-hour direct flight from New York which went [get this] over the North Pole and Siberia to go via the shortest route, with the fuel-efficient 777 making the trip nonstop. Here for about two weeks for a McKinsey conference in Beijing, and then for some research-and-writing chores in our Shanghai office. Then arriving back in the States about midnight, right before Thanksgiving Day. Funny thing: In the big Wangfujing Street shopping area, right near Tiananmen Square, who is depicted on a big heroic portrait? LeBron James, wearing his Cleveland Cavaliers uniform, on a mammoth billboard for Nike. And we thought Chairman Mao might be the one and only portrait at the center of China. Much has changed since my previous trip here in 1996: As widely reported, the city is becoming super-intensely built-up. Skyscrapers are under construction left and right.

Some first impressions: Fewer bicycles and many more cars than a decade ago. Western business logos are plastered everywhere: McDonalds and Coca-Cola are ubiquitous, plus Visa and MasterCard, Hitachi and Sony, MetLife and Citibank, Starbucks and Pizza Hut. And everyplace, Kentucky Fried Chicken. Funny thing, spotted amid the ancient religious sites of Ritan ("Temple of the Sun") Park yesterday afternoon: A mother was reading a storybook to her child, dramatically telling a tale in Chinese, but glancing over and seeing the cover of the book, it said, in English, "Stories of Hans Christian Andersen" (who was, if I recall correctly, Danish). There's globalization for you.

I went to the end-of-the-day ceremony at Tiananmen Square, at sundown, where a military detachment lowers the flag in a ceremony watched by thousands and thousands. The Army -- not the local police -- seemed to be everywhere, as if to suggest to one and all (as if they didn't know already) precisely who runs the show around here. As one of a relatively small number of Western-looking people at the ceremony, several sets of Chinese people -- in groups of twos and threes --sought me out to have conversations afterwards. Some surprising insights from the Chinese folks (e.g., spontaneous and out-of-nowhere remarks about politics, on topics that I might have thought too sensitive to discuss.) Interesting times!

Here's an update, after a week here: The most vivid impresson of Beijing, so far: Depending on the weather and wind, the air pollution here can be absolutely awful --the result, apparently, of auto exhaust from traffic jams, emissions from factories, and (sometimes) fine-grained sand blowing in from the Gobi Desert, not too far to the west. On weekdays -- when businesses are open, factories are humming and everyone is commuting -- people literally choke and cough all day long to expel the smog, and they flood themselves with bottled water to clear their throats. (Our office here has boxes of kleenex everywhere -- and closets-full of extra kleenex boxes, in reserve -- as people are constantly coughing-and-hacking and blasting-out their nostrils). On weekends -- when the factories are closed and there's no rush-hour traffic -- the air is much more bearable. (No wonder, for next summer's Olympics, that they're thinking of ordering a driving ban or a driving reduction [like an every-other-day, odd-or-even-license-plate restriction], to try to keep the air cleaner for the athletes.) It's one thing to read about China's pollution-level in the papers, but it's quite another thing to experience it with your own two eyes (or, in this case, your own two lungs). And if it's this bad in the capital -- with its economy based on a mixture of industrial, service-industry, commercial-financial and government -- imagine how choking it must be in the industrial cities.

Interesting anecdote: A Frankfurt-based colleague, who often "commutes" to Beijing to consult with clients, says that her plane was prevented from landing here last week -- diverted to another city, because the fog-plus-smog caused visibility to be so bad that they closed the Beijing runways. This week's McKinsey-sponsored conference here -- with maybe 120 or 150 people -- ought to be mighty good, talking about international relations and international business. Energy and environment is the top theme of the McKinsey conference (which we're co-sponsoring with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences). I see in today's news that (as anticipated) the United States and China are ranked as the world's biggest producers of greenhouse-gas emissions. Unless we two biggest polluters find a way to reach some sort of agreement -- of the political "trust but verify" variety, as in "we're going to link arms and jump over this cliff together" mode, to ensure that each side keeps its promises -- then there may be no diplomatic/political way out of the global-warming problem. The biggest of the over-arching topics for discussion: What to do about global warming? One of the figures whom I'm most interested in hearing is Wesley Clark, who will analyze (along with a Chinese general) the military balance and potential strategic flashpoints. Also sessions on trade policy, finance, media and cultural tensions (I wonder if China's restrictions on journalists, the Internet, and freedom of speech will come up?), and other topics of bilateral concern.

All in all, this conference -- envisioned as the first in a series of annual events, with continuing informal discussions in-between conferences -- is a pretty imaginative thing for McKinsey to undertake. Corporate leaders often speak, loftily, of the need for "business statesmanship," but maybe this will turn out to be the real thing. No doubt, next month, there will be only slow-and-grudging progress at the official government-to-government Strategic Economic Dialogue (led by the Treasury Secretary). But who knows: at this mostly-business-to-business discussion, maybe some Chinese electricity-company executive will turn to his American counterpart and say, "Tell me again about those stack-gas scrubbers you guys use. What's the cost-per-ton of emission reductions? And those wind turbines: If they cost you X million, how many megawatts did you say they produce?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Potpourri Monday

Some things we found interesting lately:

Thomas Friedman: "We simply cannot go on being as dumb as we wanna be."

Insurgent presidential candidate Ron Paul, on the fallout from his campaign having raised $4 million online in a single day: "It's kind of sad, but the money is what has given us credibility, not the authenticity of the ideas."

I'm apparently not the only Boomer who fondly recalls the classic TV private-I show Mannix.

From the L.A. Lakers' blog: "Does anyone else harbor the dream of letting Kobe walk and bringing in Lebron?"

Montana-based novelist and essayist supreme Walter Kirn thinks travel writer "Paul Theroux is the thinking man's James Michener."

Here's Harvey Pekar's next book project, an unlikely comic book exploration of the Sixties radical group Students for a Democratic Society. Perhaps he'll finally stop whining about how hard it is to make a living? Don't hold your breath.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Spreading the Word
One Lorain Blog is Inspiring Action

That was the headline on a fine piece in the current issue of West Shore magazine (part of the Great Lakes Publishing empire, which is also responsible for producing Cleveland and Inside Business magazines) about a multiple-author blog called Word of Mouth. Because it's not online, and because we thought the piece was so interesting, we run it verbatim below, with apologies to West Shore.

In an age where blogs are as well read as national newspapers, nearly a dozen local bloggers are using the popularity of the open forum to spark 'Lorainites' into action--albeit triggering a bit of controversy along the way.

When 246 teachers from Lorain City Schools were laid off this past summer, The Word of Mouth blog inspired hundreds to attend a rally organized by bloggers and readers in August and to appear before the Lorain Board of Education to show their suoppoort for the teachers. Since the rally, readership at has exploded.

Shocked by the turnout, creator and longtime Lorain resident Scott Bakalar, 46, says encouraging this type of action is exactly why the blog was crated in September 2005. Well, that and his frustration after his E. 21st St. basement flooded for the third time in 13 months.

"We want to get somebody who's never been to a city council meeting to a city council meeting," he says. "We want to get somebody who's never been to a board of education meeting to a board of education meeting; to volunteer in their community. If the Word of Mouth blog can do that, we'll accomplish more than I ever dreamed possible."

The blog has been a hotbed of discussion about the layoffs and other Lorain-centered topics. Its 11 regular contributors and guest contributors--including public officials--have tackled issues and generated their own ideas for moving Lorain in different directions.

The fact that the blog has become controversial was not expected. It focuses on four main pillars Bakalar says are key to improving life in the city: infrastructure, safety, housing and education. "I tough love Lorain and that is what the blog is--some tough love for the city that we love."

Friday, November 16, 2007

Nearly Forty Years Later,
His Words Still Ring True

The day after Robert F. Kennedy was shot and killed in a Los Angeles hotel in June 1968, his brother's former aide and speechwriter, the distinguished Pulitzer-winning historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., delivered a college commencement speech. When I came upon an outtake of that address the other day, I was startled at how thoroughly contemporary the issues he discussed back then sounded now. He called Americans "the most frightening people on this planet...because the atrocities we commit trouble so little our official self-righteousness, our invincible conviction of our moral infallibility."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Beasts of Burden

'We are built to be effective animals, not happy ones.'
--evolutionary psychologist and author Robert Wright. To review a smattering of his magazine pieces, go here. To check out his books, click here and here. To watch him speaking on a video, go here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Where, Indeed?

'Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?'
--the late poet T.S. Eliot, who died in 1965. To read his classic epic poem The Waste Land, go here. Or to listen to him recite it, go here. To read his acceptance speech upon being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948, click here.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Writing as a Spiritual Discipline

'Is writing more like prayer, or more like life itself, or a little like both? I am not sure. They all seem remarkably akin to me. They all exact something from us, but it is hard--maybe impossible--to know in advance what that something is...writing, prayer, life: they meld and fuse for me, although if I had to choose, I would surely dispense with the writing before the other two. But so far I have not been required to make that choice, so it is hard to think of any one of them without the other two peeping in from the wings. Consequently, I have come to think of writing as a kind of spiritual discipline.'
--From author and Harvard Divinity School theology professor Harvey Cox's introduction to the 2007 edition of The Best American Spiritual Writing.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Enduring
Wisdom of
'Uncle Walter'

'Q: Doctors and lawyers have rather well-defined codes of professional standards, but journalists don't. Do you think they should?
A: I don't really see that they need to be imposed, and I see some dangers in it. Freedom of press and speech seems to imply that anybody can write or speak out, whether he's literate or not. Erecting standards would also suggest that you're going to legislate against the underground press, and I think that would be a mistake. If you're going to accept journalists only if they conform to some establishment norm, you won't have the new blood and free flow of new ideas that are absolutely essential to a vital press. I don't know that Tom Paine could have passed a journalism-review test.'
--from a 1973 Playboy Magazine interview with CBS anchor Walter Cronkite.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The 'Heartbreaking" Kucinich Candidacy

'There is something that is surely heartbreaking about the hand that is regularly dealt to Kucinich and his idealistic second bid for the Presidency. But the Congressman has chosen to play at the table of contemporary American politics, where not only the rules but the very premises of the process are stacked against him. It is not merely the dominance of the monied elites and the party bosses, nor even the emphasis on image and style, that undermines a candidate who is actually referred to by supposedly serious reporters as “too short to be President.” It is the desperation of Democratic voters denied, voters who, after so many stolen elections and failed campaigns, have convinced themselves that the only thing that matters in 2008 is winning—and that the only way to win is by nominating not the candidate who is right on the issues but the candidate who seems, a la John Kerry in 2004, to have the right strategy or at least the right stature. Yet, Kucinich keeps returning to the table and demanding to be part of the game.'
--from a cover story in the current issue of The Progressive. To review earlier Kucinich-related items, you can go here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Cleveland Christian Film Festival Tomorrow

Did you know that Cleveland had a Christian film festival? Neither did I. At least that's how a Cleveland Heights church is billing it, and this is their second annual event (ignore the film festival page on their website, which is about last year's event. I included the link only so that you'd have directions to the venue). Festivities begin tomorrow, Sunday, at 7 p.m., and admission is just $1. The four-minute films must have a theme of "the path less taken." Will I see you there?

Friday, November 09, 2007

AT&T Technician is Latest Brave Patriot
To Blow Whistle on Illegal Federal Action

Amid all the reasons one might have these days to feel extremely pessimistic about the country (endless war, skyrocketing gas prices, a leadership vacuum and an ever-worsening economy, to name just a few), I think that a modest, retired technician for AT&T is almost enough to balance things out.

Mark Klein was working at the telecom's San Francisco office when he noticed some odd events unfolding. Workmen seemed to be building a secret room. He stumbled upon some internal documents that helped him piece together what was going on: the National Security Agency was tapping into AT&T's infrastructure in order to scoop up massive amounts of data. The agency, in other words, was illegally spying on Americans. He copied the documents out of a feeling that they might come in handy later. When he heard President Bush say something that seemed at odds with what he had personally observed, he went public.

By doing so, he adds his name to a proud tradition of ordinary Americans who stand up and do the right thing, blowing the whistle on government outrages. To my way of thinking, he becomes the third leg of a trifecta of courageous superpatriots in these Bush years. The first was Joe Darby, the young soldier who blew the whistle on his fellow soldiers' abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib (I wrote about him earlier here). The second was Bunnatine Greenhouse, a high-ranking, no-bullshit civilian employee of the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers, who bravely challenged Halliburton contracts with the U.S. military. Vanity Fair did itself proud by comprehensively telling her story in 2005. Mr. Klein joins a unique list of American heroes who help renew my faith in the enduring strength of what might otherwise seem to be our fragile hold on democracy.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

From Utne Reader's Media Blog, Best Headline Ever

"The Internet is Killing, Saving, Re-Killing and Re-Saving Journalism." It helps that the headline has the ring of truth.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Our Favorite Book Title, Part 6

William F. Buckley, Jr., a crucial figure in the rise of the conservative right, continues to be productive well into his golden years. He's long since turned over the editorship and management of the magazine he founded, National Review, but he continues to write regular columns. Now, he's edited a new book of correspondence he had with readers over the years. We can't say we're big fans of his politics (though we do like his longevity), but we love the title: Cancel Your Own Goddamn Subscription--Notes & Asides from National Review, a reaction to the familiar refrain from readers objecting to something they don't like. For earlier installments of our favorite book title series, go here.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

BBC Report Calls Cleveland
The Subprime Capital of U.S.

About a month ago, I told you about and linked to an essay that Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis--the region's best and most serious politician by far--wrote for the Washington Post on the blossoming subprime housing foreclosure crisis. The BBC took note, and today posted this story covering much of the same ground, in the process calling Cleveland "the sub-prime capital of the United States."

Where Cowards Rule

'Good journalism requires a degree of courage in today’s climate, a quality now in scarce supply in our mass media.'
—Carl Bernstein, writing in 1992 in The New Republic about America's "idiot culture." Unfortunately, the culture has become considerably more idiotic since then, and the mass media considerably more cowardly. To his credit, Bernstein continues to blast the idiot culture every chance he gets. For a look back at my earlier mention of antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan's take on the idiot culture, click here.

Monday, November 05, 2007

On the Facts Behind Fiction

Okay, I have an admission. I've always looked down on most fiction writers, just a little. Why? I think it's best captured in a passage that novelist Jenna Blum wrote in the current Poets and Writers Magazine (alas, not online): "After graduation, I immediately dismissed research as the pursuit of the literal-minded, the drones of the world who rejoiced in the ant-like gathering of facts. I didn't need facts. Whatever I didn't know, I could simply make up." To be fair, the piece goes on to describe how she later came to realize how foolish that attitude really was, and how she eventually embarked upon what she called "extreme research." Others with a less theatrical bent might simply call it standard reporting and research, and too few fiction writers (to my way of thinking) ever manage to get around to it, which has played a role in fiction becoming increasingly marginalized.

Eighteen years ago, novelist Tom Wolfe took up this subject in memorable fashion, in an infamous essay in Harper's Magazine--"Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast." At the time, he was still riding the crest of fame from what remains, I think, his singular masterpiece, The Bonfire of the Vanities, the definitive take on the culture of moneyed Manhattan in the '80s. In that essay, he boasted that his ambition was no less than to write the most realistic social novel of New York, faithfully depicting the city in all its sprawling, brawny dynamism, as Dickens had done with London and Zola with Paris. "That task, as I see it, inevitably involves reporting, which I regard as the most valuable and least understood resource available to any writer with exalted ambitions..."

Wolfe, with his conservative politics and his dandified all-white-suit schtick, will no doubt always remain an acquire taste which many readers will gladly decline to acquire. But I think Bonfire guarantees he'll be remembered, and that aforementioned essay will serve as a reminder to anyone who writes about the seminal importance of faithfully gathering the facts, even before sitting down to write fiction.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Best Lead of the Month

'Nothing in the field of international affairs is as scandalous and as perplexing as the fact of American power. From Revolutionary times to the present, virtually all observers foreign and domestic have agreed that Americans don't do foreign policy well. Moralistic, uninformed, unsubtle, alternately isolationist and hyperactive, hamstrung by a clumsy constitutional process and a public that oscillates between fatuous idealism and ignorant bellicosity, U.S. foreign policy has been shocking the world for more than 200 years.'
From a magisterial overview of George Bush's bumbling approach to world affairs, published in The New Republic by historian Walter Russell Mead. It's an extremely thoughtful, beautifully written account, which cleverly uses artwork blending Bush's features into that of Mr. Magoo, the half-blind cartoon character who somehow always seems to narrowly avoid disaster.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

A Highway Named For Carl Stokes?

The PD reports that efforts are afoot to name a highway in honor of the late Cleveland mayor Carl Stokes, the first black mayor of a major American city, elected 40 years ago. Okay, let him have his highway. His kid brother Lou, after all, has his name on half the large buildings in Cleveland, payback for all the hometown pork he shoveled through the Appropriations Committee during his long tenure on Capitol Hill. And as I discovered in a recent trip to Cincinnati, Ohio already has a highway named for Ronald Reagan. But I think the state legislature would be remiss in its duties if it didn't also at least acknowledge that the Carl Stokes legacy was tarnished a good bit by his actions toward the end of his life. So if the highway is to be named after him, how about also placing a Carl Stokes memorial hardware store and pet shop side by side just off one of the exit ramps?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Gonzo's Last Words

'No more games. No more bombs. No more walking. No more fun. No more swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No fun--for anybody. 67. You are getting greedy. Act your old age. Relax--this won't hurt.'
--the note writer Hunter S. Thompson left for his wife before taking his own life in February of 2005

Thursday, November 01, 2007

What Drives Dennis Kucinich

'When the landlord came he said he had only rented to two kids, not four, and we had to move. Dad packed us into the dirty grey 1948 Dodge. It had an ignition that ground like a bad sinus. We drove for hours and hours. It was getting late. Dad drove down 30th Street, looking for rent signs, and then took the car under a railroad bridge, to the end of 30th Street, the edge of the industrial flats. It was just above the steel mill where a fiery fist shot out from the steel sleeve of a long smokestack and opened its flaming fingers 30, 40, 50 feet until the night around it dissolved into its outstretched orange palm. The fingers of fire came together to form a torch. The light played upon the car, our shadows dancing in the interior. When I closed my eyes I could feel the light on my face. It was comforting. Even though I couldn't think of a single friend who moved around as much as we did, and even though I knew for sure most people just didn't live like this, I also knew our family was together, so what did it matter?'
--from Dennis Kucinich's new memoir, The Courage to Survive. He met the book's publisher in the green room of the Bill Maher show.