Friday, June 11, 2004

Catch Up Day

Today, and in coming days, I'll dash quickly through a host of things, in a vain attempt to catch up with a thousand observations while also being buried in work projects. In other words, it's time now to come up for air.

The 'Knowing Machine.' Neil Gabler, an astute social observer who has written a number of interesting books, outdid even himself with a bit of counterintuitive writing a week ago in "If Marshall McLuhan was wrong, as I believe he was, and technology does not determine culture so much as culture determines technology, then the Internet might be regarded as a knowing machine designed expressly to satisfy the ever-growing community of individuals who need to know in order to empower themselves." Amen to that. Of course, Google is increasingly coming to be the central nervous system of that knowing machine. Which leads to sentiments such as those encapsulated in this site. It reminded me of something my boy Patrick once said in frustration after I had apparently suggested one time too many that he check Google to find the answer to some question or another: "Dad, you're obsessed with Google."

Seminal Lewis-Pogue Rift Goes National. A couple of years ago, in a long and eye-opening piece on the front page of the Sunday Plain Dealer, one of the paper's few real sources of brilliance, Steve Litt, wrote perhaps the most illuminating piece ever about Peter B. Lewis and the real sources of his anger about Cleveland. In that piece, for the first time, we learned that one of the keys to his anger, almost his Rosebud if you will, stemmed from once being arrogantly dismissed by the icily uber-arrogant Dick Pogue. The story got tongues wagging. This month, that story got retold in the national press, in this smart piece on billionaires and how they're remaking U.S. cities. Governing Magazine is widely read in government and policy wonk circles. The June issue of the magazine also has an interesting column (not online, it's pg. 20 if you want to find it at the library) on the backlash over Richard Florida's simplistic ideas about building municipal economic development through catering to the latte crowd. Says columnist Alan Greenblatt: "Florida now gets mocked and trivialized for promoting bike paths, gays and rock bands as economic development tools. 'Everyone thinks they can build a handful of cappucino places and life will be grand,'" says the mayor of Madison, Wisconsin. Interesting enough, that is a truly cool city, in large part because of rich intellectual traditions flowing from the University of Wisconsin. Anyway, I recommend it all.

Neocons Headed for the Ash Heap of History? The Atlantic Monthly's Jack Beatty, for years a consistent beacon of common sense and solid writing through all the magazine's changes, sensibly begins a recent column by taking Iraq war architect Paul Wolfowitz to task for being off by 30% in the estimate he gave Congress of the number of American's killed in the war. And then he goes on to make an even more interesting assertion: "After Iraq, 'neo-conservative' may achieve the resonance of 'isolationist' after World War II--a term of opprobrium for a discredited approach to foreign policy, shorthand for dangerous innocence about world realities." We can only hope so, Jack. But then the spineless media is often easily cowed.

And Finally, we bid the late, great Ray Charles his much-deserved rest. The man was so sweet, his music so singularly moving as to constitute its maker a true American original. And yet like every original, like every high achiever, he had to overcome seemingly impossible odds. My friends are only too aware these days of my growing impatience for whining and complaining of all stripes. And Ray Charles is a perfect reminder of why: he merely had to overcome bone-crushing poverty, a heroine addiction and blindness at an early age. So what the hell kinds of valid excuses do most of us have not to achieve? In an old interview with Tavis Smiley (replayed today on NPR), he reminds us of the love and humility from which his greatness sprang. He talked about being awed at his age that 25,000 people would still show up to hear him in concert. "I love my fans because they love me." And in the end, sweet Ray, love is what's it's all about, isn't it? We surely love you.


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