Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Potpourri Wednesday

No, I'm not referring to that obnoxiously scented stuff that young women in the blush of first love tend to leave out in a doomed attempt to stimulate their olfactory-challenged boyfriends. I mean it in the other dictionary sense of the term: a combination of incongruous things. Anyway, here goes. Strap on your seat belt as I race through some quick stuff, whose only unifying string is that it's somehow struck my interest of late.

When Next You Have Time, Wander Through This Outrage. If you ever wonder why civil libertarians as well as average intelligent Americans (like the sainted librarians, whom I'll keep mentioning till the cows come home) are deeply suspicious of John Ashcroft and his invasively un-American Patriot Act, maybe it's because we've been down this road before. And in our recent history, no less. Before Watergate and J. Edgar Hoover's death helped open the ugly can of worms that was Hoover's FBI for half a century, the bureau of course engaged in just about every imaginable variety of inappropriate snooping and garden-variety harrassment of innocents. While much of that is unlikely ever to be revisited due to structural reforms and a more alert media, the Act (passed a month after 9/11) does strike at the core of some of those governmental reforms, at least. In any event, thanks to the cumulative effects of another post-Watergate reform, The Freedom of Information Act, we can now view some of the most outrageous stuff from the comfort of our own Ikea. More of it is landing online every day. For a good central grazing spot, I'd recommend this site. But I caution you: make sure you have some time, a fast connection, and perhaps a mostly empty stomach. Though much of the worst stuff is redacted, there's a reason that the bureau has come to refer to files such as these as "raw intelligence reports." Still, as a civic memory exercise in imagining the government's worst in order to guard against a recurrance, it's hard to beat...

Sorry, Arianna: No Statute of Limitations for Phony Opportunists. But memory is a stubborn thing, of course. I know this because one-time conservative socialite turned California gubernatorial candidate Arriana Huffington complains in her blog that the media just can't stop asking about her unusual political evolution. Seems they keep asking her not about her stand on the environment, but about her wildly inconsistent career, from raw-meat conservative who goaded her ex-hubby into blowing $7 million on a failed bid for office, to now a supposedly crusading anti-SUV populist. I must point out, however, that the Greek Godess is quickly becoming famous among a hardy class of independent contractors, self-employed writers, for an entirely different reason: the whopping $400K-plus deduction it turns out she took last year against her earnings as a columnist and author. Learning of that amount, thousands of us lowly scribes promptly contacted our accountants and ordered that column in our tax returns be revisited with fine tooth comb. My guy reports that thus far, he's found an additional $17.86 I can claim as deduction. So lunch is on me next time...

Kristin Gets Rushed. One conservative who'll never cross over to the progressive side is radio blatherer (and ESPN football color man) Rush Limbaugh. Imagine how first-time Cleveland author Kristin Ohlson felt when a friend called recently to say Rush was talking about her book, and praising it for its crossover Baby Boomer appeal. She told friends and fans in an email earlier today that it was nothing less than a "personal and literary crisis." On the one hand, she (and especially her publisher) loved the publicity bounce from a nationwide mention. On the other, she abhors the source. As she notes in this new peppy piece she penned (notice the clumsy alliteration, a foreshadowing device) for the oddly compelling Killing The Buddha website, which is no longer really a best-kept secret, "Rush and I share exactly one opinion--we both like my book." Meanwhile, she seems thus far to be following the tried-and-true rookie author conceit: allowing as to how it's not her but rather her friends who are constantly checking her latest Amazon ranking or reading the latest review. Only in quietly unassuming Kristin's case, that might actually be truer than not.

Keeping an Open Mind on Iraq Coverage. When silly old Iron Pants Don Rumsfeld lectures the media about its unfair and unbalanced coverage of the continuing war in Iraq, smart people yawn. Ditto anyone else closely related to the White House Smoke N Mirrors Squad. But when a solid, reputable pub like The Hill quotes Democratic congressmen returning from a tour of Iraq to the same effect, it gets one's attention. Or at least it should. The Capitol Hill paper notes in this new piece that a couple of Dems think the U.S. coverage suggesting an emerging Vietnam quagmire are hopelessly overblown. Jim Marshall of Georgia even comes up with an eye-raising stat: "claiming," the paper is careful to word it, that there are now only 27 reporters in Iraq (down from 779 during the war, and those are mostly holed up in hotels). Assuming he didn't just take that chapter and verse from U.S. Administrator Paul Bremer, that's quite an interesting number. In either event, look for the major national media (many of which routinely use The Hill as a farm system, regularly poaching talent) to quickly follow up on this piece. Or not, for obvious reasons. If they don't look for the Pay Pal button to soon appear on Working With Words (the prime web real estate where your eyeballs now reside), to fund the very first of what we expect will be many future community-supported reporting junkets to see for ourself...

Alliteration U., or Tri-V & Tri-P. There are few industries where copy-cattism rages more fiercely than in the hallowed halls of higher ed. Chalk that up either to tight marketing budgets, or perhaps to the legacy of overlapping consultants. But I couldn't help noticing that right here in our backyard, we have a couple of splendid examples of east-west balance. Baldwin-Wallace and Ursuline College apparently each hired the same consultant. You know, the one who mandates that Tag Lines Must Be Three Words, All Beginning With The Same Letter. Thus we have B-W's Practical. Principaled. Powerful. And Ursuline cooly counters with its own alliteration, perhaps a sophisticated play on the black ministry's familiar three-part "call and response" technique: Values. Voice. Vision. Of course those two smaller schools don't have the bucks to really burn on true wastefulness. Our sources tell us that the new prez of the big boy in town, CWRU (sorry, Case, as it's been newly rebranded, if you didn't receive the memo) brought in his favorite agency from Minnesota, which burned through a cool quarter-million dollars recently for rebranding consulting BEFORE THE SCHOOL DECIDED NOT TO USE ANY OF THAT WORK. Asked about that assertion (from a Cleveland-area agency guy whose firm didn't get the work but perhaps should have), a long-time insider at the school raised his bushy eyebrows, cracked a knowing smile, and said, "Oh, more than that..."


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