Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More Assorted Stuff

The first half of this week is mostly about getting a hundred things done in order to clear the decks for my trip to New York later in the week and over the weekend, for the ASJA conference. So you'll have to pardon me if yesterday, today and tomorrow are light and quick.

Prayer and Healing. This Washington Post piece looks at the possible links between prayer and healing. It caught my eye because (of course) I have an interest in the subject, but also because I recently had the good fortune to meet Dr. Joan Fox, a Cleveland Clinic physician who's studying the same subject. She made local headlines when she was tapped to head the hospital system's alternative medicine efforts, but she no longer has those duties. Now, she investigates medical topics which interest her, including the medical effectiveness of prayer and of reiki therapy. I'm looking forward to staying in touch with her and learning what she finds.

Ira Glass Moves to NY & TV. I suppose I've always been of two minds about Ira Glass and his NPR program This American Life. At its best, it can be marvelously good storytelling. But I think Glass and his colleagues can also be a tad too precious and PC for my tastes. In any event, I did like how he stayed with his base in Chicago, after beginning the program from the local NPR affiliate there, WBEZ. But no longer. New York Magazine says he's moving his show to TV and his staff to New York. I'll be surprised if the show works nearly as well on television, because he's so deeply grounded in sound, and the audience is so used to hearing rather than seeing the program. It'll just be a completely different experience, I suppose, almost like starting anew for him. But I hope to check it out sometime.

And Speaking of Chicago and New York...I recently came across this interesting site, which lists the 15 most impressive urban skylines in the world. I made a mental note to try to see all 15 cities before my time is up, because thus far I've only seen four of 15--NY, Chicago, Seattle and Toronto. I'm not surprised that Pittsburgh made the list as an honorary mention. A couple of weeks ago, Jule and I got in a get-away weekend to the Burgh, which I always find intoxicating. But for the first time, I got up to Mount Washington, the commanding heights across the river, from which the skyline is at its most impressive. It's magical. While Cleveland and Pittsburgh are of similar size--both in population and the scale of their downtowns--the Steel City's natural setting is just so much more impressive. And the biggest difference of all is this: the middle class lives downtown in Pittsburgh. I hope Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson's dream of attracting 25,000 people to the downtown district eventually bears fruit. But we have quite a ways to go before catching up.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Some Things That Caught My Attention

A couple of years ago, Jacob Weisberg and Jack Shafer had a celebrated "bake-off," a trial period in which they competed for the top job at Slate.com, replacing founding editor Mike Kinsley. Weisberg won and became editor, but Shafer stayed on to write his brilliant media criticism, about which I've often enthused here. But Jacob keeps demonstrating that while he now spends most of his time commissioning and editing the work of others, he's still a brilliant writer. This piece wonderfully ties together three seemingly disparate scandals, and forcefully (and tightly) argues how similar they are. And it's even fun to read. Imagine, good writing that doesn't make you feel like it's homework to read

I Hate To Agree With Peggy Noonan, But...This piece she wrote in the Wall Street Journal on the demonstrations by illegal immigrants said it well. Especially this passage: "While the marchers seemed to be good people, and were very likable, the march itself, I think, violated the old immigrant politesse--the general understanding that you're not supposed to get here and immediately start making demands. It would never have occurred to my grandparents to demand respect. They thought they had to earn it. It would never have occurred to them to air mass grievances, assert rights, issue a list of legislative demands. Especially if they were here unlawfully."

Finally, The Economist Says Women are Behind Much of Globe's Growth. This Guide to Womenomics finds that "arguably, women are now the most powerful engine of global growth." In the last decade, the author argues, the increased employment of women in the developed world has contributed more to global growth than all of China has. But then, those who are married to female dynamos, as I am, can't be too surprised by any of this.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Hats Off to Rolling Stone

Hats off to Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone magazine. For years, he's been pummelled in some quarters--deservedly so, I think--for allowing what was once a journalistic icon (at least to some) to descend into a cartoon of itself. For several years, he got lost in trying to stay ahead of the so-called "laddie mag" wave, a dumbing-down of men's mags first popularized by Details Magazine and British-owned Dennis Publishing. It seemed he had given up and thrown in the towel on serious journalism to accompany his music fanzine.

But a funny thing happened on the way down the drain. A couple years ago, about the time he got caught up in headlines over his complicated personal life, Wenner seems to have gotten a second wind. I wrote about it a little a couple of years ago, in a piece in Northern Ohio Live (no longer online) about author and Cleveland native Evan Wright. Wright's Iraq war reporting for Rolling Stone won a National Magazine award in 2004, and was later turned into a fine book entitled Generation Kill. I think that honor played at least a small role in helping Wenner get back to his roots. The L.A.-based Wright moved on from the magazine (I hear he's hard at work on another book, more about which later), but Rolling Stone did well again in this year's National Magazine Awards.

But this astoundingly well-done cover piece in the current issue, written by Princeton historian Sean Willentz (whose work has graced The New Republic for many years), may be the new high water mark. Just make some time this weekend to read this piece. I promise it'll be well worth your while.

Some Parenting/Family Columns. After receiving a nice comment the other day on an earlier post from a reader who found this site after having read one of my columns in Cleveland Family mag, it dawned on me that I haven't linked to any of those columns in quite some time. I suppose I got out of the habit because a). I stopped doing them monthly about a year and a half ago (I'm now in a comfortable every-other-month rotation, with my friend Jill Zimon sounding off on the mom's perspective in the other months), and also because the publication's website is so butt-ugly, and I kept assuming they'd eventually dress it up a bit so as to show off the writing a bit better (the print design is actually pretty nice, so I should really just link to the PDF versions). But in the end, the obvious conclusion was this: who the hell really cares? So here they are: click here for the current column, here for February's, here for last November's, and here for the September column. I also ruminated on Madonna's zero-TV policy here last summer. And while you're at it, why not check out some of Jill's columns (here, here, here and here), as well as her lively blog and her personal site. Now, after having reviewed all that material, reading it word for word, how are your eyes feeling? Need a little Visine?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Another Stirring Poem from Don Iannone

When we were young
we walked ordinary country roads
in search of hopes and dreams.
The road itself didn't matter, really.
Back then
the road didn't even need color,
for we were rainbows ourselves,
following something larger,
something more significant,
than the country roads we walked.

We tolerated the boney dust,
stirred by a lone 57 Ford pickup truck.
Even the hot noonday sun
beating down on our heads
didn't take our minds away
from the river of dreams
that swept us inside,
and away from the world,
where boys walked country roads,
leading nowhere, and yet anywhere
their dreams could take them.

We would do it over again,
that is walk dusty country roads,
if we could be young again,
and if we could be desparately possessed
by dreams that stirred our souls,
and made us feel alive.
After all
what else is there?

Last year, I wrote this column about Don and his poetry-writing. For more of his wondrous words, please visit Conscious Living.

Just As the Burning River Infamy Slows,
Ten-Cent Beer Night Makes a Comeback

Some time ago, I wrote about how the whole issue of monitoring kids' online presence can be troubling to parents. I'd recommend to anyone interested in this topic, especially those dealing with it as parents, this article. An LA Times staff writer goes on an interesting voyage of discovery with her daughter and MySpace, trying to find the right balance between empowering and protecting her. I feel the mom's pain, and I suspect others will too. Anyway, there's much food for thought here. But these complicated scenarios are only going to proliferate in coming years, as we increasingly webify our lives. And it will make life difficult not just for kids below the age of majority. This article in the John Carroll student newspaper caught my eye: a 21-year-old resident assistant was fired for posting photos of drinking with underage students in the popular Facebook site. She's currently appealing, so we'll be sure to stay with this case and find out how it's eventually resolved.

Some Infamous Cleveland Calamities Never Die; They Just Grow More Legendary. In the new book, oops—20 Life Lessons from the Fiascoes that Shaped America, an entire chapter is devoted to the infamous 10-Cent Beer Riot at Cleveland Stadium in 1974. The authors, both with ties to LA Weekly, call it “the most ill-conceived sports promotion in American history—and a pivot point in the new temperance movement.” They go on to say: “Make no mistake: from the very start, this was an absolute Hindenburg of an idea—grandiose, ill-conceived, and with a potential for explosion that should have been obvious.”

Just when you thought the infamous burning river was receding from the national consciousness, this bit of Cleveland lore seems headed for its own star turn. That's all to the good, I think. As I've always told folks from elsewhere, my hometown--so rich in internationally resonant infamous moments (the burning river, the losing sports teams, the mayor's hair catching on fire and--my personal favorite--the mayor' s wife turning down a White House invitation to keep her regular bowling night) and shoulda-woulda-couldas (losing Rockefeller and his oil empire and barely missing out to Detroit on becoming the HQ of the auto industry)--is actually a great place from which to write. The material certainly never gets dull. Let's face it, sometimes failures and fiascoes are just more riveting than success.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Favorite Lead of the Month

From the Winter '06 issue of the much-celebrated, too-little-known Oxford American, a lovely, lyrical magazine about the American south. This is the first paragraph of a story by Andrew Hudgins: Unmentionable--the Secret Life of Skimpies, Scanties, Teddies and Panties:

'As a boy, I dreamed about women's underwear, even though I had never seen any. I assumed that once I slid a pair down the length of a girl's legs surely goodness and mercy would follow me and I would dwell in the house of the Lord for, well, at least an afternoon. Hours of almost deranged ingenuity were spent elaborating this fantasy. But nothing in my reveries prepared me for the casual familiarity I now regularly enjoy with women's intimate apparel. Not a single one of my rich and lurid visions prepared me for the sublime reality of--I can hardly believe this--sorting my wife's panties into whites and colors, washing them, drying them, and then folding them into neat triangles, which I then place on her dresser bacause I am still too shy to pursue the final intimacy of opening her underwear drawer and laying them down beside their clean sisters.'

To review earlier Leads of the Month, click here and here. Sorry that we seem to have skipped a month (April). We'll just be sure to make up for it with two or more next time. Lord knows, we regularly come across enough great writing (on the web and off) to be able to do this feature weekly, or perhaps even daily. But we'll just have to wait till the Working With Words intern is aboard before we get that ambitious...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Why the New Yorker
Is As Good As It Gets

The current (April 17th) issue of the New Yorker will probably always be best remembered for "The Iran Plans," Seymour Hersh's latest masterpiece of reporting on the worst national security outrages by the Bush White House. Since its publication, it's made news everywhere, not so much because it broke the story that the adminstration is seriously gearing up for a war with Iran--the piece itself quotes from several earlier reports by such publications as the Washington Post to that effect--but because it brought all of the threads of this story together so forcefully and coherently, and of course also because the uniquely impressive body of Hersh's lifetime work stands behind it. For a comprehensive online archive of the magazine's coverage of the current Iraq conflict, which includes all of Hersh's work on the topic but so much more as well, click here. And you might also be interested in this piece from Foreign Policy magazine, which drew considerable traffic after Hersch mentioned it admiringly.

That article notwithstanding, one mark of the greatness of this magazine--despite my earlier cooing over The Atlantic, I still think the New Yorker remains, hands-down, the best magazine of all--is how it managed to publish in the same issue another equally memorable piece, a luminous profile of the folk singer Pete Seeger. It's written by staff writer Alec Wilkinson, who has a faintly unfamiliar byline, at least compared to many of his better-known colleagues in that murderer's row of a writing staff. But this latest piece is so wonderful, so deeply reported and delicately written, that I'll be sure to read everything I ever see again under that byline.

Since it's not online, and since I wouldn't want to ruin it for you anyway, I just want to give you a flavor of how good it is, in hopes that you'll go and find it somewhere (perhaps even subscribe to the magazine if you don't already). It contains one long and beautifully rendered paragraph that reads like a wonderful short profile within the larger profile. If you read nothing but this paragraph, you would still come away with a pretty good idea of the man.

Seeger is 86--he was born in May of 1919. He and his wife, Toshi, who is half Japanese, live in Beacon, New York, about sixty miles north of Manhattan. They have been married for more than 63 years. Their house is remote and surrounded by woods. Seeger chops wood almost every day and complains when he can't. The woods around the house are so clean that it is as if someone had gone through them with a broom. Trying to recall a name or a fact, he sometimes places his hand over his forehead and closes his eyes. When he speaks at any length, he tends to look into the middle distance, as if reading the words there. He has a sharp nose and full, round cheeks. His eyes are blue and heavily lidded and so small that he seems to be regarding a person from some remove. His conversation passes quickly from one subject to another, as if many things were occuring to him at once. He never aspired to a career as a singer, and he dislikes being so well known. Celebrity, he thinks, comes for most people at the expense of others, whose accomplishments are more practical and serious. He and Bruce Springsteen met several years ago, either at a tribute to Woody Guthrie or at the Grammys; Springsteen thinks the former, and Seeger the latter. Seeger is pleased that Springsteen, whom he regards as a friend, has recorded songs from his past--he thinks they're good songs, and he is gratified by the thought that people will hear them--but he is not looking forward to the mail and the attention that will follow. He has work he wants to do. He gets so many letters as it is that he can answer them only with postcards. His nature is almost unflaggingly hopeful, but a line of melancholy runs through it. Once, after a performance in Spain that didn't go well, he worte in a journal, "I seem to stagger about this agonized world as a clown, dressed in unhappiness, hoping to reach the hearts and minds of the young. When newspaper reporters ask me what effect my songs have, I try and make a brave reply, but I am really not so certain."

I love this passage for many reasons, not least among them because it manages to say something new and fresh about an iconic figure who's already been written about many times. But also because the language is stripped down and so clean. Bad and even mediocre writing tends to try to be fancy, while great writing such as this piece manages to evoke mental pictures through great observation and masterly selection of telling details. Pieces such as this work so well because they successfully do perhaps the hardest thing of all in writing--they usher the writer off stage and out of view, so that all of the attention is on the subject. It's a feat far harder to accomplish than it might sound. And Wilkinson carries it off with a light minimalist touch, nicely consistent with its subject, a simple man of quiet power and dignity. The article's ending may leave you in awe (at least it did with me). Just do yourself a favor and read it sometime.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Imagine Our Surprise
When We Discovered
We've Ignored Trump

We were horrified the other day, when coming across a great item on Donald Trump, to realize that in three years, Working With Words has never once mentioned The Donald. We hereby apologize for this terrible oversight. How, you ask, could we have ignored such a seminal figure in American culture? Alas, we have no good excuse. So we thought we'd make up for that lapse today.

The item which brought him to our attention anew was from
Jason Kottke:
"Donald Trump is getting $1.5 million for an hour-long
keynote speech at a Los Angeles real estate expo. Prediction: He will say nothing revelatory or interesting. Another prediction: The type of audience that attends real estate expos that headline Donald Trump won't notice."

No word yet on how Trump's silly $5-billion lawsuit against a myth-piercing book is progressing. But if he were even 10% as smart as he'd have you believe, he might have figured out by now that his suit will only accomplish one thing: bringing even more attention to a book that nicely documents how he's mostly full of hot air, and not even close to a billionaire to boot. You can read the first chapter here.

Monday, April 17, 2006

This Is One Group I'm Really Proud to Join

It's often said of writers that they're not "joiners." Something in their psychic makeup, a stubborn independent streak mostly, prevents many of them from joining groups or associations. And even when they do join together, you should feel sorry for anyone who's trying to lead them anywhere, because it can be like herding cats. This is all true.

But I suppose I've been a bit of an exception on that. While I'm as stubbornly independent as anyone--just ask my wife or kids or best friends, and they'll give you an earful about how it's one of my biggest failings--I've also seen the power of combining with the right carefully chosen people and groups to do what I do better. To share what I know with others and especially to learn what I don't know from them. At their best, these are giant learning networks that encourage one to continue to do more, aim higher, be better.

Thus far, I've been doing that only on a local and regional level (through SPJ and the Poets and Writers League of Greater Cleveland). As my work has grown and my vision has expanded (the web has certainly enlarged it), it was time to move beyond that geography. So I applied for membership to the group I thought might best help me do that.

Last week, I got word that I've been accepted into ASJA, the American Society of Journalists and Authors. It made my week. This is a pretty selective group. According to the membership roster I just reviewed, there are only 16 members in Ohio (I'll be the 17th), and only four others in the Cleveland area. Luckily, three are longtime friends: Mary Mihaly, Susanne Alexander and Kristen Ohlsen. The other has until now just been a familiar byline, Donna Marchetti, who regularly reviews books for the Plain Dealer. I'm looking forward to meeting her sometime soon, after having read her work for years. And I'm REALLY looking forward to attending ASJA's national convention later this month in New York. I'm feeling downright intoxicated by the prospect of all this new learning and connecting. It feels like the natural next step in both expanding and deepening my writing practice.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

We're the Rawest and Crudest of All

'You see, getting down to the bottom of things, this is a pretty raw, crude civilization of ours--pretty wasteful, pretty cruel, which often comes to the same thing, doesn't it? And in a lot of respects we Americans are the rawest and crudest of all. Our production, our factory laws, our charities, our relations between capital and labor, our distribution--all wrong, out of gear. We've stumbled along for awhile, trying to run a new civilization in old ways. But we've got to start to make this world over.'

--Thomas Edison, 1912

Friday, April 14, 2006

Seinfeld On Love & Brevity

“She’s very succinct. It’s like you’re dating USA Today.”
--Jerry Seinfeld congratulating George on his new girlfriend, who uses conversational ellipses by saying “yadda, yadda, yadda.”

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A New C.S. Monitor Review:
Meacham's 'American Gospel'

My second book review for The Christian Science Monitor is now in print and online (
here). The book is American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation, by Newsweek managing editor Jon Meacham, a name some of you will recognize as an occasional talking head on MSNBC. All in all, it's a pretty good book, I thought, despite the absurd overkill of 130 pages of appendices, source notes and bibliography in the back. That's fine for a dry academic book intended only for an audience of a few hundred fellow specialists, but in this context it comes across a bit like the kid who's trying too hard to impress his teacher that he's done more homework than anyone else. The book itself was convincing enough. I suppose I'd chalk it up to an offshoot of the Newsweek syndrome: he works for a magazine once considered among the front ranks of serious journalism, but which increasingly feels it must dumb itself down just a bit in order to stay relevant (earlier, I wrote a little about that here).

Next up for the Monitor is a book I'm looking forward to reading: Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution, by Cambridge historian Simon Schama. He was a favorite of fellow Brit Tina Brown, who helped him become a celebrity by publishing dozens of his dazzling, learned pieces in the New Yorker during the '90s. Schama has since gone on to write a massive history of Britain, which was adapted for a BBC television series.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dunkin' Donuts Finds Moving Upscale
Is More Complicated Than Expected

The new Wall Street Journal Weekend Edition has been pretty well parsed to death by critics. It's been called everything from a journalistically watered-down sop to luxury-goods advertisers to the paper's last-gasp attempt to please critics of its longtime lagging stock price with a breakthrough innovation. But I think that eventually, the Journal figures out how to turn everything it touches into great, uniquely illuminating journalism. And it certainly helped itself with a fine, well-reported front page piece in last week's weekend edition (April 8-9). The subject, of all things, was how the Dunkin' Donuts chain is trying to move upscale to capture some of the coffeehouse crowd from Starbucks and maybe also steal some of McDonald's business as well.

The first eye-opening fact was that the chain's new owners are a trio of venture capital groups, including Bain Capital Partners and the Carlyle Group! The latter is the shadowy investment group which leverages its lineup of former world leaders (including Britain's former Prime Minister John Major and First Father George H.W. Bush) into breakthrough investments, especially in the defense and aerospace arena. For those of a certain outlook, this group and its unique connections to power and wealth around the world (especially in Saudi Arabia) has become almost what the infamousTrilateral Commission was to an earlier generation: the source of endless feverish speculation about its potential for global manipulation. For more about the Carlyle Group, click here, here and here.

Anyway, the new owners, not known to be shrinking violets when it comes to multiplying the return on their investments, is trying to lure more upscale customers without pissing off the “tribe” of hard-core Dunkin' regulars. It’s proving to be a tricky balancing act. For once, the non-upscale crowd seems to be determined to stay proudly non-upscale, even when pushed to do so by those who are used to having their way. Since it's online only for subscribers, here's part of the story:

“Dunkin’ plans to unveil the first part of the new strategy Monday (two days ago) with an ad campaign aimed at rebranding the chain as a quick but appealing alternative to specialized coffee shops and fast food chains…While execs insist they are not trying to emulate their Seattle rival, Dunkin’ store makeovers include some similarities to Starbucks. A prototype Dunkin’ store in Euclid, Ohio, outside Cleveland, features rounded granite style coffee bars where workers make espresso drinks face-to-face with customers.” DD now has nearly 5,000 shops and plans to triple that in the next 15 years.

Here's the money quote: “...Dunkin built itself on serving simple fare to working-class customers. Inching upscale without alienating that base has proven trickly. There will be no couches in the new stores. And Dunkin’ renamed a new hot sandwich a “stuffed melt” after customers complained that calling it a ‘panini’ was too fancy.” One member of the tribe was also quoted as saying if he wanted to sit on a couch, he'd stay home.

All in all, it's something of a case study in how psychographic consumer segmentation--something I wrote about last week in the realm of politics (it drew the most comments ever on this site)--is becoming an all-important lens. But I especially like this story, since it's an example of intense (and I hope ultimately successful) pushback against how much of America is being steamrolled into lockstep fealty to the lifestyle whims of the McMansion crowd, or what David Brooks has called the "bobos," for bourgeoise bohemians. Good luck, Dunkin' Donuts tribe.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Puncturing Cheney Spin With Humor

Last week, in an appearance on the Letterman show, Al Franken did a marvelous job of breaking through the ridiculous White House spin that Cheney’s hunting accident was not as big a deal as the media has made it out to be. In his signature fashion, he did so simply by asking for a show of hands from the audience: “who has ever shot a friend in the face?” No one in the audience raised their hands (though they did laugh), but the moment became even more memorable when the band’s entire horn section raised their hands. Franken, the former longtime writer for Saturday Night Live, has moved back to his native Minnesota, the base from which he now produces his Air America radio show. And he's also seriously considering a run for the U.S. Senate. To some, that might seem an odd fit for the funny man, but we could do a lot worse: like about half of the right-wing Republicans currently in the Senate. With these intellectually challenged Cro-Magnons (to say nothing of their humor deficit), the joke's actually on their constituents, and indeed the entire country.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Signs of the Times

From a recent
wanted ad posted on PaidContent.org:
"New York Times: Search Scientist, NYC: : The New York Times Company is looking for a Search Scientist for its new Research & Development group. The ideal candidate will be highly creative and have the hands-on ability to develop software applications based on existing and emerging search technologies for a variety of consumer devices."

NYT's Mo Dowd on Passing the Crown to Jenna. From her Saturday column: "When other officials leak top-secret stuff--even in cases where the whistleblowers feel they are illuminating unlawful acts--they are portrayed by the White House as traitors who should be investigated and fired. After the Times broke the sotory about the preisdent allowing unauthorized snooping in America, W. was outraged. The FBI and Justice Department was sicced on the leakers. "Revealing classified information," W. huffed, "is illegal, alerts our enemies and endangers our country." Really, W. should fire himself. He swore to look high and low for the scurrilous leaker and, lo and behold, he has himself in custody. Since the Bush Administration is basically a monarchy, he should pass the crown to Jenna. She couldn't do worse than this bunch of airheads and bullies."

UPDATE: WashingtonPost.com's Dan Froomkin delivers this excellent and comprehensive round-up of some of the best coverage of the most recent Bush assault on the Constitution, his express approval of Libby's leaking while threatening to prosecute others for doing so. It's a lot of reading, but I recommend you sample at least some of it. You won't regret it.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

English Majors, Note:
Despair Not; No Matter

What Many Will Argue,
The World Needs You
Now More Than Ever

'Where there are words, there are jobs for the English major. But don't think the only jobs for English majors involve words.

Because the preferred mode of communication nowadays is not semaphore or smoke signals but language, it may be said that where there is lingual communication--speeches, presentations, commercials, advertisements, podcasts and broadcasts--there are jobs for the English major.

Consider that many people, despite being graduates of the finest institutions of learning this country has to offer, cannot always use words to communicate effectively--or even correctly. Sometimes they themselves admit it. They say they don't have a way with words or a command of the English language (as if language were a dog to be brought to hell, to do one's bidding).

When I was a teacher, foreign-born students would come to me at the start of the semester to apologize because, they said, being new to America, they were still struggling with the English language. I always reassured them: Don't worry. You'll fit right in.

Where there are people who need help using words to communicate, there are jobs for the English major. Those jobs may be found in corporate America just as easily as in schools.

But don't think the only jobs for English majors involve communction.

When health care or social agencies need to translate valuable information about policies or procedures for their non-English-speaking audiences, they depend on someone who not only knows Spanish or Chinese, but also knows English. Book publishers translate English-language novels, nonfiction and textbooks into other languages, and this requires a knowledge of English, as does teaching English as a second language.

Consider, too, how bursts of technological innovation have introduced to people of all ages not only new gadgets, new hardware and new software, but also an attendant avalanche of new words, terms and phrases to learn, adopt and use.

When the government publishes an 800-page white paper or a federal court hands down a ruling that is recondite and complex, the media consult with someone who can put into plain language what is anything but plain.

Where there is English, there are jobs for the English major.'
--From the new book, I'm an English Major--Now What: How English Majors Can Find Happiness, Success and a Real Job.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Potpourri Friday

Last year, I wrote about a week that was so full of learning, discovery, fun, excitement and opportunity, a week so pregnant with possibility that I now think, looking back at it, that I didn't even begin to really describe it. I suppose I was just too wrapped up in all the energy to be able to step back and describe it well. Or possibly I'm a poor writer. Or maybe both.

Anyway, I had another one of those weeks this week. And yet, as of this writing, I've barely begun my Friday, and it too will be overflowing, filled with interesting things and great people, not the least of which will involve being on hand to watch and hear two remarkable individuals who are coming to town today, two people who I think are certified American masters, writer Annie Lamott and Congressman Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania.

As some readers may recall, I wrote about Murtha last November, in
this longish bit of musing which I headlined "Maybe All it Takes is One Tough Democrat." He'll be at the City Club for one of their patented luncheon addresses today, and I'm sure the room will be overflowing. A few hours later, I'll be a hundred blocks to the east, on the Case campus, in the Gothic loveliness of Amasa Stone Chapel (a testament to Cleveland's enormous legacy wealth), to hear a lady that I can't believe I've never even mentioned once in this space. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is easily one of the five (or perhaps two or three) most powerful books ever written about the writing impulse, how to harness it, what to do with it, how to understand it. Just please read it, if you haven't already (you can find links to all her books here, but my suggestion is that you order and buy from an independent bookstore, more about which below).

But her later books, especially Traveling Mercies, are equally powerful, though different experiences. She's a poet and a mystic and a prophet and a patriot and the most honest, most moving, most luminous, soul-stirring Christian writing today, perhaps in the entire English language. And all from lefty Marin County, across the bridge from San Fran. And it's all free. Thanks to my favorite indy bookstore proprietor, Mac's Backs Suzanne D. (who doubles as one of Cleveland's chief instigators and supporters of all things having to do with books, writing and the life of the mind), for tipping me off early to this event, via a timely poster beneath the register.

For a preview of what's to come with Lamott, the PD's Evelyn Theiss, a talented reporter and writer, and an old acquaintance from back in the days when she was a dazzling staff writer at Cleveland Magazine (I'll never forget a remarkable piece she did on union corruption, which ended with her quoting a Teamster basically threatening her and her employer), wrote
this piece in yesterday's P.D. It's a lovely Q&A from a phone interview she did with Lamott. She also mentioned Lamott briefly in this book review she wrote back in 2000, when she was still the paper's fashion editor.

Now you please have a lovely day, gentle reader, and an even lovelier weekend. And tomorrow, perhaps, I'll tell you about a Working With Words essay contest, whose winners will lay claim to an Anne Lamott book of their choice.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Stones March to the Beat of Chinese Censors

And you thought only technology companies such as Google and Yahoo were catering to the dictatorial whims of repressive regimes when they see a chance to do business with China? Think again. Here's an eye-opening passage from the Hollywood trade journal Variety. The headline of the piece is appropriately "Showbiz in Shackles": 'On April 8th the Rolling Stones will make their first appearance in mainland China, performing in an 8,000-seat stadium in Shanghai. In order to accomodate the Communist regime's ministry of culture, the group that once was synonymous with 1960s -style liberation has pledged not to play "Brown Sugar" and three other songs deemed too risky by Chinese censors.'

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bringing a Whole New Meaning
to the Term Retail Politics

For a great overview of how Karl Rove (who began his career as a direct-mail maven) and his team teased out a win in the last presidential election, take a moment and read the February cover story of Campaigns & Elections, the bible of the political industry. The article (which unfortunately is online only for subscribers. I suggest you find it at your closest library) "The Political Bull's Eye--Persuading the Right People with Microtargeting," describes the state-of-the-art practice of what's called psychographics, or the study of segmenting people according to their lifestyles, only here as it relates to political campaigns. The article begins this way:

When you talk with the staff of TargetPoint Consulting, you can forget you're discussing politics. There's little discussion of polls, personalities or congressional scandals. The buzzwords here are 'census blocks,' 'data overlays,' 'SPSS software right out of the box.' But this is nuts and bolts politics, and an increasing number of campaigns are hearing these terms as they use something called microtargeting to win elections...Using the same statistical modeling that retail firms use to find likely customers for soda, gum or washing machines, TargetPoint consultants find correlations between voters' political ideology and their lifestyles.'

These tactics were used most decisively in Ohio, where Republican campaign operatives targeted their most likely voters in the most likely areas--the newly booming regions (like Portage County) where formerly rural areas are rapidly becoming exurbs. These practices explain why some voters in Portage reported receiving as many as 11 pieces of direct mail from the Bush campaign, as this illuminating New York Times Magazine piece reported shortly after the election, even though the Democrats didn't necessarily perceive a strong opposing campaign. The upshot: in the 21st century, it won't be the old standby tactics, like door-to-door outreaches or even costly TV commercials, that will swing close elections. The winners will be those who better adapt to politics the same strategies P&G has been using to push mouthwash.

A depressing thought, perhaps. But one with which the Democrats had better come to terms quickly. This is just one more problem caused by the Electoral College, which is increasingly pushing presidential campaigns to largely ignore wide swaths of the electorate--including dozens of states solidly in one camp or the other--as they narrow their focus to a few key battleground states, and increasingly smaller portions of those states. This was the one thing the Founding Fathers got wrong.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Sometimes You Need to Just Shut Up & Listen

'When Lee Iacocca worked for Robert McNamara at Ford Motor Co. in the 1950s, he tried imitating his mentor's style of summarizing--numbering his points to make an argument sound more emphatic. According to Iacocca, 'McNamara would say, I'm going to give you five good reasons why you don't know what in the hell you're talking about. then he'd tick them off.' This can backfire. 'When I tried that,' Iacocca recalled, 'I couldn't remember what the hell my fourth point was.' Sometimes the only way to learn from a master, says University of Michigan psychologist Chris Peterson, is to just 'shut up and listen.'
--From an article on how people react to being around brilliant people, from the April issue of Psychology Today

Monday, April 03, 2006

The American Prospect is Growing on Me

For many years after its founding in 1990, the American Prospect magazine--established by a trio of unabashedly liberal academics as a counterbalance to growing influence of right-wing think tanks--was utterly lost on the newstands. It couldn't compete with the name recognition that competitors like the The Nation or Harpers had earned over a century and a half. It didn't have the writing talent to compete with The New Republic, nor the investigative grit of Mother Jones. And in journalism, it had developed a reputation for suffering from rapid turnover, the result of periodic palace intrigues caused by a dysfunctional senior editor.

But in recent years, the craziness seems to have dissipated, and the magazine has been doing an increasingly good job in its niche. Like many, I imagine, I first got in the habit of checking it out through its excellent blog, Tapped. But that led me to the print/web magazine companion. I think the current April issue just might be the best ever. It contains this great cover story on Al Gore, plus this thoughtful, well-reported piece by the LA Weekly's Harold Meyerson, on Detroit's auto-manufacturing woes, which manages to paint a much broader picture about the place of manufacturing in America's future.

Just don't confuse it with the British magazine, Prospect, which is also excellent.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The Zuiker Curriculum

By the sound of it, it could well be the title of a movie thriller. But the Z Curriculum to which I refer today is actually
this nice overview of some talks on blogging my friend Anton Z. (that's the handsome sucker in the accompanying photo) is set to give next week in Arizona at the American Medical Association's annual communications conference. Only wish I could be there to see him in action, but I'll have to settle for his second-hand accounts afterward. It also happens to be Anton's birthday today. Happy birthday, Z.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Reading Because We Have No Choice

'I read because I have no choice. Flaubert once said that reading is like falling into a deep chasm from which you can't ever climb out. That sounds dire, but there's something to it. With the possible exception of girls or women and the partial one of music, art and travel, nothing has ever interested me as much as books. Moreover, I like to know things, I like to learn things, and books are the best way to do this. When you add to this a passion for interesting prose styles, what else can I do but read?'
--Washington Post book critic Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer-winning native of Lorain, from a recent
online chat with readers.