Thursday, June 17, 2004

Desperately Seeking Cooldom

As the Cool Cleveland machine cranks up its latest spasm of self-congratulatory excess, loudly patting itself on the back for actually coming out to an inner-ring burb for the first time ever today, there was a timely warning in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal (available online only for subscribers, but you can find the piece reprinted here) about all that municipal hipster jazz. In a trend piece about the competition among various mid-sized cities to attract high-achieving new and recent college grads, headlined "Lonely Town Seeks Hip Young Professionals," writer Anne Marie Chaker mentions Cleveland's Summer on the Cuyahoga internship program, among others. But the payoff is a terse reminder from the slyly perceptive urban theorist Joel Kotkin: "If you have to have a campaign to prove you're cool, you're not." I'd say Kotkin is increasingly staking out a beachhead as the thinking person's Richard Florida. I'll be sure to debate that over a beer sometime this summer with my friend and blogging colleague Don Iannone, who has long since become easily this region's leading thinker on issues of economic development.

Kid Unfriendly. Okay, we'll get the bad news out of the way with this, the latest in city rankings that puts the Cleveland area in the dumpster. Every two years, an advocacy group called Population Connection ranks U.S. metro areas for their kid-friendliness. The new 2004 report card, just issued, places Cleveland dead last among the top 20 largest metro areas, based on such factors as population density, health, education and community. No major surprises in the top five: Seattle, Boston, San Diego, San Fran and Minneapolis (there's that archrival again, the city we seem to be forever paired with but always lagging well behind). Akron did a bit better, winning a B and a rank of 46th among 80 cities in its class. Anyway, you can read it and weep here.

Tech Swagger is Back. The dean of Silicon Valley's chroniclers, the San Jose Mercury News' Dan Gillmor reports that tech execs are regaining some of their confidence. But it's also chastened by four tough years, and thus many are without their "1990s Master of the Universe routine." This upcoming conference in October seems like the days of yore, with expensive registrations "by invitation only" and the speaker list packed with marquee names. Why all the optimism? Of course, Google's IPO helps, but that's only the tip. As this influential Internet analyst put it recently, the average earnings growth of the Internet sector is 40%, compared with an average of 22% for the retail, media and software sectors. So let the bubble begin (again)...

Hear Him Roar. Essayist and literary provocateur Christopher Hitchens briefly regained his punch recently. The British ex-pat, perhaps the closest thing we've got these days to a contemporary H.L. Mencken, has disappointed many of his fans with his bizarre post-9/11 cheerleading for the worst excesses of the radical Bush crowd, which basically contradicted everything he ever wrote for 25 years before that. But he regained a bit of his old vinegar with this staccato outburst against the Ronald Reagan, in which he recalled once seeing him up close, responding with an icy and telling fury to a media question he didn't like. "The famously genial grin turned into a rictus of senile fury: I was looking at a cruel and stupid lizard." It takes a righteous warrior with a tenacious sense for the truth to write like that about the recently deceased, and it was a welcome note, coming in the middle of the mindless media deification following his death. Unfortunately, it didn't last. This week, Hitch writes in Slate that the blame for the Abu Ghraib torture lies with...all of us. "...we face something like a collective responsibility, if not exactly a collective guilt." How foolish of us average citizens to be clamoring for accountability from the upper reaches of the Pentagon and the White House. It was actually all of us who helped open the flood gates to rogue military intelligence officers and lightly trained military reservists and contract employees turning Iraqi detainees into human party favors. (I just can't yet seem to find that memo I must have written). It would seem that Hitchens sees only the dastardliness of dead Republican presidents, not those still among us. A pity...

Give Poetry a Chance. Anyway, to end on a high note, let me suggest that you add something unusual to your summer beach reading: a volume or two of poetry (I know the aforementioned Don Iannone would approve, since the versatile one is also an accomplished writer of soulful verse). As this piece in the Boston Phoenix nicely points out, the best new (and old) poetry "has all the humor, vibrancy, sexiness, and suspense of a good beach read." So get some poetry in your soul while the sand's between your toes...


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