Tuesday, January 31, 2006

New Cleveland Mayor Does Well
In First Major Address to Media

In one of his first major public appearances since being sworn in as mayor of Cleveland, Frank Jackson acquitted himself well when he spoke to a packed ballroom at the Myers University Club last week. The venue was a lunch program with the Press Club of Cleveland, and he was well-prepared.

Jackson touched on a handful of themes, but the most persistent was that his would be an administration more focused on dealing with the reality of the city's situation and its challenges than the glossier idealized versions offered by his successors. "We need to talk about the experiences of living here, both the good and the bad. I'm asking you to talk about the city--not marketing or public relations, but the reality."

He said he's been meeting at least weekly with top administrators of the Cleveland schools, trying to offer his input in the criteria they are using to search for a new administrator. "I intend to personally interview all the finalists," he said, while carefully noting that he's leaving most of the process to the educational experts.

When it came to questions about particular issues, he came out against reducing the size of council ("because I believe what I was taught--that the government that is best is the one closest to the people") and against the state repealing residency requirements for city workers ("my problem with this is purely home rule"). He talked at length about his plans for healing the rifts between city residents and police (the subject of his first news conference as mayor). "The police and citizens should not be enemies. The police are public servants, just like I am. We have to instill discipline, accountability and purpose, even as we work on raising (police) morale." The mayor, a Vietnam veteran, exercised some discipline of his own, stopping himself just as he was about to crack a joke in which he seemed about to compare Cleveland police with a military unit.

And while he replaces Jane Campbell in office, it was the specter of her immediate predecessor, Mike White, that seemed to hang over more of what he said. Asked what he expects the media-City Hall relationship to be, he noted that his staff has to deal with lots of formal requests for public information, which includes a significant backlog from his predecessor. "All I want is fairness. All I really want is a balanced approach to me, not based on a past mayor." But he drew plenty of chuckles, too, telling a roomfull of media members that "they're very suspicious people (the media), as you know."

All in all, a good beginning, I'd say.

Monday, January 30, 2006

We Concur With the Chicago Tribune's Warren:
The Atlantic Monthly Is In a League of Its Own

Because the Atlantic Monthly, one of the first major American magazines to intelligently harness the power of the web, put most of its articles behind subscriber-only walls some time ago, we've perhaps been remiss in pointing you to its many excellent offerings in the last couple of years. But the Chicago Tribune's talented Jim Warren, observing the magazine's 150th anniversary,
calls it "superb" and "in a league of its own." We'd enthusiastically agree. Its wealthy owner has invested millions in keeping it brilliant, and even the death of its uniquely gifted editor, Michael Kelly (who died in 2003 while in Iraq covering the war), didn't slow it down. Last year, the magazine published what I consider the best piece of long-form magazine reportage of the year, a September cover story on how Yasir Arafat destroyed Palestine's hopes. Happily, it's online (here). May the Atlantic Monthly's next 150 years be even better.

Beginning Well Matters in Fiction, Too

Last week, we brought you the inaugural installment of our new monthly "best lead" (paragraph). In so doing, by the way, we decided to drop the journalese spelling of the term, which is "lede," which has a leaden sound to our ears. We're not big fans of jargon here, and that includes old-time journo jargon. And while, as we've mentioned before, our reading interests leave us far more interested in nonfiction than fiction, we did find this little tidbit fascinating: American Book Review recently tapped its 100 best first lines from novels. Just for the heck of it, read over it and see how many of those are familiar to you.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Audio from a Presentation on Blogging

At the invitation of Professor Dick Hendrickson, I spoke about blogging to some John Carroll communications and journalism students earlier this week. The talented multimedia campus newshound Mike Quinn was good enough to record it and post the audio to the university's website here. Many thanks to both of them. It was a nice reprise of a similar presentation I made to another class a couple of years ago. You can check out that audio here.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

This Month's Best Lead

'History will record the week that our laissez-faire government fiddled while a major city drowned, the fourth most popular nonfiction book in the land, according to the New York Times, was an itemized account of the ways in which liberals are ruining the country. There is, of course, nothing particularly new about this: baiting liberals is a popular pastime that seems to gain strength whenever catastrophe is afoot--NASDAQ meltdown, 9/11, hurricanes lining up like planes on a carrier deck to attack the Gulf Coast. Besides, assailing liberals is fun, and the genre long ago outgrew the narrow limits of political writing. We hate liberals in the movies and we hate them in academia; we despise them for their twee vegan restaurants and for their infernal artwork and precious sexuality. Before long, no doubt, we will have anti-liberal cookbooks and mutual funds that invest only in companies that piss liberals off.'

--from the lead paragraph in this month's Harper's Magazine, in a book review of Bernard Goldberg's banal & idiotic 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America, by the author Thomas Frank. We'll try to remember to keep bringing you our monthly favorite (and of course we'll gladly accept your nominations, gentle readers), in the continuing belief that if a piece of writing doesn't begin well, it might just as well not have been written.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Some Thoughts That Seemed Appropriate
On the Debut of Roldo's New Poverty Blog

'If you speak with passion, many of us will listen. We need stories to live, all of us. We live by story. Yours enlarges the circle.'
--Richard Rhodes

'All my writings may be considered tasks imposed from within; their source was a fateful compulsion. What I wrote were things that assailed me from within myself. I permitted the spirit that moved me to speak out.'
--Psychology pioneer C.G. Jung

'So why do I write, torturing myself to put it down? Because in spite of myself, I've learned some things. Without the possibility of action, all knowledge comes to one labeled file and forget, and I can neither file nor forget.'
--Ralph Ellison

'George, you're tearing my jacket!'
--Roldo's immortal comment as he was forcibly ejected from a public meeting by then-City Council President George Forbes.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Whole New Meaning for WWJD?

From the introduction to What Would Jackie Do?--An Inspired Guide to Distinctive Living, a not uninteresting exploration of style, grace and poise for the average person. At least it's more interesting and indicative of the state of the culture than anything that's ever appeared under the Martha Stewart brand:
'What was it about her, dammit? Almost from the moment she made her debutante turn at Hammersmith Farm in 1947, it was obvious that the elegant sylph known simply as Jackie possessed something enviable, intangible. A true American Idol, she represented a standard that many women have tried to copy from her clothes to her gestures. But it was her cloak of unusual dignity that earns her the greatest admiration. You can't help but want to like her. Who can
resist such effortless, multilingual poise? People the world over have long
marveled at how she handled the jagged, painful turns of the Kennedy legacy and the Onassis years. And how, beneath those iconic pillboxes, she never seemed to sweat.'

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Less Coffee, More Writing

'I once heard a college student in Waterville, Maine, ask visiting writer Ron Carlson how one knows if one is really a writer. Ever the showman, Carlson delivered an entertaining riff about the distractions writers put in their own way, all day, all the time: leaving the room to get coffee, check the mail, get coffee, walk the dogs, go to the bathroom, get coffee, look something up, get coffee. Then, dead serious, he summed up the whole enterprise in a line I have never forgotten: the writer is the one who stays in the room.'

--From The Pocket Muse--Ideas and Inspirations for Writing.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Power of Healthy Doubt

'Healthy doubt about the work can get you to look deeply at your writing, to ask questions about it that can lead to new directions that support and enhance it. Evaluating and assessing your work are essential, but you have to be prepared for the information. The trick is to take your doubt in stride and keep it in its place, not to take doubt's piece of the truth for the whole kit and caboodle. To take criticism and listen to the doubt without squelching the innate nature of creativity, which is playful, open, and soulful, can, at times, be a balancing act. Doubt becomes a hindrance when the questioning goes beyond the work itself and becomes an assault on the self. And not only an assault on the self, but on God as well, on the essence of creativity, and on the greater forces that are at play behind our writing. When doubting becomes hurtful to the work, the self, and your faith, it no longer serves you. To doubt your ability or value can temporarily sever the creative, generative force that is yours, where your essential self resides. It cuts off your connection.'

--From Writing and the Spiritual Life--Finding Your Voice By Looking Within.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Doing as Jill Has Instructed

Okay, I wouldn't normally do this kind of thing, but out of respect for my friend and fellow blogger Jill Miller Zimon, I'll accept her tag-you're-it just this once. Here were her instructions:
1. go to your blog's archive

2. find the 23rd post
3. find the 5th sentence
4. post the text of the sentence in a blog entry along with these instructions
5. tag 5 other people

And so, in my fifth sentence of my 23rd-ever
post (way back on May 19th, 2003), I had this to say about the grand obfuscator, then-presidential press secretary Ari Fleisher:
"In his more than two years on the job, I can't think of a single thing he said that made any situation clearer or caused one to think that he might be adding some even microscopic insight into the workings of the government." Hell, his successor may not be as skilled in bullshit, but at least he's Ari's equal in his ability to be completely unrevealing.

I hereby tag these five future winners of the Nobel Prize for literature to carry on this tradition, thereby touching off a virus that could well infect the entire Internet:

Anton Zuiker
Steve FitzGerald
Jerry Ritcey
Shannon Okey
Steve Goldberg

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Where to Start is the Problem

'Where to start is the problem, because nothing begins when it begins and nothing's over when it's over, and everything needs a preface: a preface, a postscript, a chart of simultaneous events.'
--from The Robber Bride, by Margaret Atwood

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

It's 'Official': Cafaro To Run for Brown's Seat

Though there's been no formal announcement yet, we hear that Capri Cafaro will definitely enter the race for Ohio's 13th Congressional District, the seat being vacated by Sherrod Brown. In a 2004 race for Congress against incumbent Steve LaTourrette, she performed perhaps better than some might have expected (though she still lost by a wide margin). The influential liberal Dem activist Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who blogs as Daily Kos,
called her "a talented and effective candidate." Closer to home, the Scene's Becky Meiser followed her fellow 20-something around the campaign trail long enough to file this memorable profile. As a then-26-year-old, she would have been the youngest woman ever elected to Congress (under the U.S. Constitution, only those 25 or older may hold that office). Cafaro's most formidable opponent will no doubt be Tom Sawyer, the former mayor of Akron and later a popular six-term Congressman from that area. One important blemish to his record that could come back to haunt him: During the Clinton years, he ran into some serious heat from labor unions for his votes in favor of NAFTA, and there are conflicting reports on whether he's since been forgiven. The competition for the endorsements of various unions should be one of the highlights of this race.

As heiress to a large shopping mall fortune, Cafaro is expected to pump $1 million into her own campaign, or well over half of the total budget for the race. While that's of course a substantial benefit in any race, she also ran into some minor flack for her fundraising during the last race.
And I mean minor: the Federal Elections Commission, a notoriously toothless agency, fined one of her family members $1,000 and ordered campaign figures to attend FEC seminars.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Note to Organizations: Give Truth a Chance

While we might choose to drop the word 'idiots" (we prefer to look at them merely as those as-yet-unconverted to the benefits of clear language), we nevertheless found much food for thought while recently flipping through a book by three veterans of the corporate jargon wars, Why Business People Speak Like Idiots--A Bullfighter's Guide. Here are a couple of especially illuminating outtakes:

'The first deadly sin: it's pride, and jargon is an all too-ready accomplice. Companies, and the idiots who occupy them, just can't seem to let their strengths speak for themselves. So they embellish and contour and augment things until they resemble one of those poor fools who's made one too many trips to the plastic surgeon. We found the following in Accenture's annual report, used to describe how they are 'differentiated in the marketplace':
· We harness deep industry, process and technology expertise and unrivaled large-scale, complex change capabilities.
· We seamlessly integrate consulting and outsourciing capabilities across the full life cycle of business transformation.
· We leverage our proprietary assets and global delivery networks for quality, speed and lower costs.
We're not sure what mirror they're looking in, but do they actually think this makes them look good? Get rid of all cosmetic language and give the truth a chance to come out and be seen.'

Or this:

'Just the facts, ma'am. When it comes to relevance, facts trump generalizations, because somehow these broad assertions have become the sign of your stature. If you know everyting, it's easy to generalize. If you know next to nothing, you can always come up with a sweeping statement about something. Here's a real excerpt from a real Fortune 500 CEO's message to the entire organization:

We continue to be recognized as one of the best places to work in America. Our Human Resources programs are being copied by others for their
innovation and effectiveness.

Yeah, right. Now here's the rub--what the executive was saying was true. This company is an HR leader. But how do you think this message was received? It probably wasn't. Instead, he should have demonstrated how this is true. Not through a boring recitation of mind-numbing statistics, but with a couple of stories that make the point. If the company was truly recognized as one of the best places to work, ther have to be some data to prove this. Third parties must have recognized the company. Internal surveys must reinforce it. If other companies are copying us, who are they? How do we know? Somewhere, somehow, the data must exist--otherwise the assertion is bogus. Back up the assertion with something real and tangible, or don't make it.'

Monday, January 09, 2006

Lakes Are Too Important to Leave to Others

'Saving the Great Lakes is not something to be left to others. It is not an overstatement to say that the Great Lakes are too important to be trusted to government. In fact, the Great Lakes are too important to be trusted to environmentalists. The boisterous, messy, entertaining, complicated and hopeful history of the lakes teaches us that individuals have been the source of their cyclical comebacks. And the source, in turn, of their passion to make chance happen has been a personal link to the lakes. To the fish. To the lighthouses. To the passing freighters and sunken shipwrecks. To the dunes. To the rookeries, to startling horizons and the great skies that reflect the water below. To the wonder these things inspire.'

--From On the Brink--The Great Lakes in the 21st Century, a book by Michigan State University Press which argues that even "after two generations of consistent public support for their protection, shame-proof governments captured by exploitive industries often betray the lakes in quiet defiance of the public."

Sunday, January 08, 2006

She Had It All

'A Marjorie Williams profile was conspicuous for its almost frightening psychological acuity, its painstaking accumulation of reportorial detail, and its elegant prose. 'Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost,' Henry James famously advised aspiring writers. Marjorie didn't just try; she embodied the ideal.'

--from Tim Noah's introduction to a posthumous collection of his wife's writing, The Woman at the Washington Zoo.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Is John Carroll in a Freefall?

For a few years now, we’ve been hearing reports that our alma mater, John Carroll University, has been increasingly hobbled by poor management. The problems, alas, seem to be growing ever worse. Some insiders are even wondering if the new president, Jesuit Fr. Bob Niehoff, something of a turnaround specialist with strength in organizational finance, might not have arrived on the scene too late to fix the organization’s multiplying dysfunctions. The school has to quickly cut $2.8 million from its budget by the end of the current school year, and we’re told one of the ways of doing that will be to not fill as many as a dozen tenure-track faculty positions, thus winnowing the teaching staff through attrition.

The roots of these financial problems are complicated. JCU, like many other colleges and universities, got fat and happy for years from generous alumni gifts and abundant federal aid. More recently, the feds have been in a cutting mode--just days before Christmas, the Senate cut nearly $13 billion once earmarked for student aid from the federal budget. But poor management is surely a large part of it. Perhaps the biggest boo boo was building a giant science center, that massive, hulking building (the Dolan Center) on the front lawn.

I'm told that former Development VP Peter Anagnastos (who was later pushed out, and who now works at Hawken School) kept telling anyone who would listen that the school could get the feds to pony up $20 million (or nearly one-third of its ultimate cost) for the building. But that money never came through. Now JCU is saddled with a too-large science building (which has no endowment for maintenance, another no-no, we're told) even as it has recently eliminated the graduate programs in physics and chemistry! Not to worry, the university is said to be adding a master’s program in philanthropy, to compete for the first time with Case’s Mandel Center for Nonprofits.

Meanwhile, the loss of good people who have nervously headed for the exits continues. Last year, the head of Career Services, the talented Dr. Dumont Owen, left for NOCHE, the trade association of regional colleges and universities. And more recently the head of admissions, John Gladstone (formerly a legendary Latin teacher at St. Ignatius High School and part of a large family with roots like Ivy in the Jesuit educational system), left too. Let’s hope the new prez, who has been having a number of well-received “town hall meetings,” can quickly get a handle on things.

His biggest task will be helping the community decide what this university is and should be all about. Not long ago, I ran into an old JCU acquaintance, a veteran member of the humanities faculty, and he put it in startling perspective. He had this to say (I'm paraphrasing): John Carroll used to be known as a good undergraduate liberal arts school, and then it became known as a strong business school (which once cranked out nearly all the accountants the industry needed). And now it wants to be known as a strong school for the hard sciences. In the process, its mission and identity have become impossibly blurred. I think he had it precisely right. And the real job of the new president, might I suggest, is to decide where this ship is headed, and to get it back on course. We wish him much success.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

On Behalf of Great Lakes Geek,
We Demand a Recount, Wired!

We found
this story in Wired Magazine interesting. But as we scanned it over, we came away thoroughly disappointed. How could any self-respecting magazine list of the 10 sexiest geeks not include our pal Dan Hanson, easily Cleveland's most eligible geek bachelor (George Nemeth, he of the matinee-idol chiseled features, would give him serious competition, but G seems to be quite happily occupied with a lovely lady friend). Oh, well: there's always next year. Get your comments and votes in for him for '06.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Century Later, It's Truer Still

'There is no good reason why we should fear the future, but there is every reason why we should face it seriously, neither hiding from ourselves the gravity of the problems before us or fearing to approach these problems with the unbending, unflinching purpose to solve them aright.'
--Teddy Roosevelt, from his 1905 Presidential Inaugural Address

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Thoughts on a New Mayor's First Full Day in Office

'A city is not an extended family. That is a tribe or a clan. A city is a collection of disparate families who agree to a fiction: they agree to live as if they were as close in blood or ties of kinship as in fact they are in physical proximity...A city is a place where ties of proximity, activity and self-interest assume the role of family ties.'
--the late A. Bartlett Giammatti, president of Yale University, in 1989.

'When a private citizen becomes prince of his native city, not through wickedness or some other intolerable violence, but by the favor of his fellow citizens, I say that one ascends to that position either through the favor of the people or through the favor of the nobility, because in every city, these two humors are found. And this arises from the fact that the people desire not to be commanded or oppressed by the great, while the great desire to command and oppress the people. And from these two opposed appetites, there arises in cities one of three effects: either princely rule, or liberty or license...He who attains princely rule with the help of the great will maintain his position with greater difficulty than he who becomes prince with the help of the people, because he finds himself to be prince amidst many who think themselves his equals, and for this reason he is unable to command and manage them to his liking. But he who attains princely rule through the favor of the people finds himself later alone, and has no one or very few around him who are not ready to obey him.'
--The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli

The Ceasing of One's Own Brand of Magic

'And another regrettable thing about death is the ceasing of your own brand of magic, which took a whole life to develop and market--the quips, the witticisms, the slant adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest the lip of the stage...'
--From Perfection Wasted, by John Updike

Read the PD's obituary of the late, great Bill Kerrigan

What's Stopping You Now?

'When we were small, we blew out the candles on our birthday cake believing that all of our hopes and dreams would become real, and when Jiminy Cricket urged us to wish upon a star, we all tried it, at least once. So when exactly did you stop wishing? When did you start doing the things you had to do instead of the things you wanted to do? When did your dreams get buried under the responsibilities of adulthood? Now you sense that something needs to change, but you're too busy to stop and think about what it is. You long for those forgotten times when each day's accomplishments filled you with joy and excitement, when you embraced life with energy and enthusiasm. When there were a million special days--the first day of school, the night before your fifth birthday, summer vacation, your first kiss--all of these were momentous achievements that made you feel almost giddy inside. But now you sometimes feel as if you're stuck in a great big rut and, as the years go by, the rut keeps getting deeper and deeper. You sense loss, understanding that you were meant to do more...Remember how scared you were to take the training wheels off your bike? Or how much courage it took for that first kiss? Nothing stopped you then. So what's stopping you now?'

--from the introduction to Live What You Love--Notes From an Unusual Life.

Monday, January 02, 2006

One Man's Take On Why We Really Write

'We write because our children aren't interested in us. We address ourselves to an anonymous world because our wives plug their ears when we speak to them. Graphomania is not a mania to write for oneself or one's close relations, but a mania to have a public of unknown readers. Graphomania inevitably takes on epidemic proportions when a society develops to the point of creating three basic conditions: 1). An elevated level of general well-being, which allows people to devote themselves to useless activities. 2). A high degree of social atomization and, as a consequence, a general isolation of individuals. And 3). The absence of dramatic social changes in the nation's internal life.'
--Author Milan Kundera