Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Sense of the Infinite

'There is no such thing as an older woman. Any woman of any age, if she loves, if she is good, gives a man a sense of the infinite.'

--French historian Jules Michelet

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Citizen Journalism At Its Finest

This week, my Free Times
media column is about Jane Wood, a 66-year-old Shaker Heights retiree who, for the last three years, has produced what I'd consider perhaps the leading example of citizen journalism to be found anywhere in Greater Cleveland during that time. The good news is that since she began her weekly email newsletter, This Week in Shaker, she has been joined by such fine, noble efforts as the Lakewood Observer and Meet the Bloggers. The bad news: she is moving back to her native California and her newsletter, even if it survives, will have to do without her. I simply can't conceive of how she could be replaced, even by a half dozen people. But I hope I'm wrong.

I've watched Jane with some fascination, mostly from afar, for nearly 20 years. For most of that time, I knew her only as the editor of a singularly excellent publication, Shaker Magazine, which seemed all the more amazing because it was a house organ of the internationally renowned suburb. And I knew that as a city employee, she was on the hot seat, with mayors and city councilpeople breathing down her neck, trying to dumb down the pub in all the usual dreary ways. And yet, month after month for many years, she somehow ran that gauntlet, protected her independence and produced a well-written, attractive and (this is the really surprising part) fully credible piece of work that didn't sound like your normal, stilted house organ dreck.

Instead, it was smart and inspired. It had a warm (if at times formal, even occasionally starchy), knowing voice that's always lurking just beneath the surface of every good publication. It ended with a witty, literate column, Shaker Man, written by a fine writer, John Brandt. Reading it all made you think Shaker was the best kind of city, a community so confident in its excellence and uniqueness as to publish a real magazine, not the usual high-concept PR garbage with nice photos and no soul. It actually reminded me a bit of how a number of top-flight universities (like
Notre Dame, for example) invest in and support first-rate publications with real intellectual depth and a fair measure of independence. They somehow avoid seeming like the usual shills for the sponsoring institution--generally because of the talent, professionalism and especially the professional confidence of the editors themselves. Done right, it can become the best possible kind of advertising for an institution.

In the meantime, she was an especially admired figure, by all accounts. For years, one of the main things I heard about her from other writers was how encouraging and supportive she was, how much of a fine mentor she had been to successive waves of Sun newspaper reporters on the Shaker beat. They had every reason to be suspicious of if not hostile to a city flak; they came to have every reason to love and admire Jane, who was anything but.

As it turned out, she was only getting started. When she retired from the city three years ago--perhaps in part because of pressure from then-councilwoman, now mayor Judy Rawson's hammering on the line item in the city's budget for the magazine, according to some accounts--they recognized her career by establishing an award in her honor. The Jane Wood Award for Outstanding Journalism annually goes to the Shaker High student who displays talents on the school newspaper. Contributors to the fund, which has grown to at least $5,000, included the likes of former Cleveland mayor Jane Campbell and county commissioner Peter Lawson Jones.

But she saved her best act for last: her fiercely independent email newsletter, begun in April '03, applied what can only be called a proctological form of attention on the city she knows best, and which she continued to care about, now as a citizen rather than merely an employee. She became the fully engaged eyes, ears and even conscience of a suburb steeped in history, charm and the racial and other complications that come with being an inner ring suburb. And she did so with a level of detail, institutional knowledge and insulation from interference that puts even the best newspaper to shame. There's just no easy way to lavish so much serious attention on and space for coverage of a single suburb, at least not as major metro papers are presently constituted.

The larger point, of course, is this. The media organizations that will thrive in the new era will be those that best figure out the business model for how to fill this void and hunger for hard and reliable information on the kind of basic governmental services that Jane Wood so ably provided, but which most papers have increasingly abandoned. Coverage of the myriad government offshoots and all their sometime mind-numbing banality and complexity don't show up well in reader focus groups, and many younger-generation journalists look down on this stuff as blandly incremental "process" stories, in any case. You don't win many awards and you certainly don't rise up journalism's career ladder these days by giving your life over to it, even if our democratic institutions depend on this scrutiny.

While even good newspapers are being forced to continue to soften their coverage with lifestyle features and other frilly fare (the New York Times, unbelievably, recently hired a "fragrance" editor), that doesn't mean citizens have stopped craving the meat and potatoes. The need for an informed citizenry demands that we somehow get to the bottom of this conundrum. And Jane Wood certainly provides a hell of a roadmap worth contemplating.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Washington's Lobbying Culture, Part VI:
USN&WR Continues to Peel the Rancid Onion
On Crooked Congressman Duke Cunningham

Back in July, I mentioned a fine Vanity Fair piece (not online) on the continuing investigation into jail bird and former California Congressman Duke Cunnigham, as well as linked to the Washington Post's superior package on the sprawling probes into all the corruption associated with uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. You can consider that Part 5 of a continuing series on this subject. Parts 1-4 were covered (or linked to) here.

Anyway, last week, #3-but-trying-harder newsweekly U.S. News & World Report ran this pungent enterprise piece, which advances the Cunningham story considerably. Prosecutors are rightly calling this perhaps the most brazen case of Congressional corruption in American history, which would take some doing (the only annoying thing about the piece, in fact, is that the magazine's website forces you to click to each of a dozen pages to read it all rather than giving you a single-page print option. This kind of stuff went out of style several years ago at more enlightened operations).

The piece contains some devastating new detail about the favorite target of Cunningham's largesse, MZM, Inc., a shop short on real capabilities but long on former senior government officials who were hungry to capitalize on their old contacts to enrich themselves in the private sector. That, and its special relationship with Duke Cunningham, were good enough to land $65 million in defense contracts in one year alone. But give jailbird Cunningham his due. At least he wasn't completely greedy. He did offer discounts on his favors: at one point, according to prosecutors, he marked his services all the way down to $25,000 in payoffs for each $1 million in earmarked federal defense contracts he agreed to write into appropriations legislation. Apparently he forgot the ancient wisdom about never selling yourself short.

Monday, September 25, 2006

We Regret To Inform You That We Were Mistaken

Way back in May of 2003, President Bush famously landed a jet on the deck of an aircraft carrier named for our greatest president. While preening like a peacock, he proceeded to brag that "major combat operations in Iraq have ended." Here we are, 28 months later, with no end in sight and a civil war raging in Iraq all around us. We have now been involved in this war for longer than it took to defeat Hitler's armies. I found myself wondering the other day just what exactly Lincoln's successor, who is quickly becoming the consensus choice as perhaps the worst president in American history, said that day on the carrier. So I looked it up, and here it is:

Thank you all very much. Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country. In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty, and for the peace of the world. Our nation and our coalition are proud of this accomplishment -- yet, it is you, the members of the United States military, who achieved it. Your courage, your willingness to face danger for your country and for each other, made this day possible. Because of you, our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free.

Operation Iraqi Freedom was carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect, and the world had not seen before. From distant bases or ships at sea, we sent planes and missiles that could destroy an enemy division, or strike a single bunker. Marines and soldiers charged to Baghdad across 350 miles of hostile ground, in one of the swiftest advances of heavy arms in history. You have shown the world the skill and the might of the American Armed Forces.

This nation thanks all the members of our coalition who joined in a noble cause. We thank the Armed Forces of the United Kingdom, Australia, and Poland, who shared in the hardships of war. We thank all the citizens of Iraq who welcomed our troops and joined in the liberation of their own country. And tonight, I have a special word for Secretary Rumsfeld, for General Franks, and for all the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States: America is grateful for a job well done. The character of our military through history -- the daring of Normandy, the fierce courage of Iwo Jima, the decency and idealism that turned enemies into allies -- is fully present in this generation. When Iraqi civilians looked into the faces of our servicemen and women, they saw strength and kindness and goodwill. When I look at the members of the United States military, I see the best of our country, and I'm honored to be your Commander-in-Chief.

In the images of falling statues, we have witnessed the arrival of a new era. For a hundred of years of war, culminating in the nuclear age, military technology was designed and deployed to inflict casualties on an ever-growing scale. In defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Allied forces destroyed entire cities, while enemy leaders who started the conflict were safe until the final days. Military power was used to end a regime by breaking a nation.
Today, we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime. With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians. No device of man can remove the tragedy from war; yet it is a great moral advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent.

In the images of celebrating Iraqis, we have also seen the ageless appeal of human freedom. Decades of lies and intimidation could not make the Iraqi people love their oppressors or desire their own enslavement. Men and women in every culture need liberty like they need food and water and air. Everywhere that freedom arrives, humanity rejoices; and everywhere that freedom stirs, let tyrants fear. We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous. We're pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime, who will be held to account for their crimes. We've begun the search for hidden chemical and biological weapons and already know of hundreds of sites that will be investigated. We're helping to rebuild Iraq, where the dictator built palaces for himself, instead of hospitals and schools. And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by, and for the Iraqi people.

The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. Then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq. The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11, 2001 -- and still goes on. That terrible morning, 19 evil men -- the shock troops of a hateful ideology -- gave America and the civilized world a glimpse of their ambitions. They imagined, in the words of one terrorist, that September the 11th would be the "beginning of the end of America." By seeking to turn our cities into killing fields, terrorists and their allies believed that they could destroy this nation's resolve, and force our retreat from the world. They have failed.

In the battle of Afghanistan, we destroyed the Taliban, many terrorists, and the camps where they trained. We continue to help the Afghan people lay roads, restore hospitals, and educate all of their children. Yet we also have dangerous work to complete. As I speak, a Special Operations task force, led by the 82nd Airborne, is on the trail of the terrorists and those who seek to undermine the free government of Afghanistan. America and our coalition will finish what we have begun. From Pakistan to the Philippines to the Horn of Africa, we are hunting down al Qaeda killers. Nineteen months ago, I pledged that the terrorists would not escape the patient justice of the United States. And as of tonight, nearly one-half of al Qaeda's senior operatives have been captured or killed.

The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror. We've removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding. And this much is certain: No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime, because the regime is no more. In these 19 months that changed the world, our actions have been focused and deliberate and proportionate to the offense. We have not forgotten the victims of September the 11th -- the last phone calls, the cold murder of children, the searches in the rubble. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States. And war is what they got.

Our war against terror is proceeding according to principles that I have made clear to all: Any person involved in committing or planning terrorist attacks against the American people becomes an enemy of this country, and a target of American justice. Any person, organization, or government that supports, protects, or harbors terrorists is complicit in the murder of the innocent, and equally guilty of terrorist crimes.

Any outlaw regime that has ties to terrorist groups and seeks or possesses weapons of mass destruction is a grave danger to the civilized world -- and will be confronted. (Applause.)
And anyone in the world, including the Arab world, who works and sacrifices for freedom has a loyal friend in the United States of America. Our commitment to liberty is America's tradition -- declared at our founding; affirmed in Franklin Roosevelt's Four Freedoms; asserted in the Truman Doctrine and in Ronald Reagan's challenge to an evil empire. We are committed to freedom in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in a peaceful Palestine. The advance of freedom is the surest strategy to undermine the appeal of terror in the world. Where freedom takes hold, hatred gives way to hope. When freedom takes hold, men and women turn to the peaceful pursuit of a better life. American values and American interests lead in the same direction: We stand for human liberty.

The United States upholds these principles of security and freedom in many ways -- with all the tools of diplomacy, law enforcement, intelligence, and finance. We're working with a broad coalition of nations that understand the threat and our shared responsibility to meet it. The use of force has been -- and remains -- our last resort. Yet all can know, friend and foe alike, that our nation has a mission: We will answer threats to our security, and we will defend the peace.

Our mission continues. Al Qaeda is wounded, not destroyed. The scattered cells of the terrorist network still operate in many nations, and we know from daily intelligence that they continue to plot against free people. The proliferation of deadly weapons remains a serious danger. The enemies of freedom are not idle, and neither are we. Our government has taken unprecedented measures to defend the homeland. And we will continue to hunt down the enemy before he can strike. The war on terror is not over; yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide. No act of the terrorists will change our purpose, or weaken our resolve, or alter their fate. Their cause is lost. Free nations will press on to victory.

Other nations in history have fought in foreign lands and remained to occupy and exploit. Americans, following a battle, want nothing more than to return home. And that is your direction tonight. After service in the Afghan -- and Iraqi theaters of war -- after 100,000 miles, on the longest carrier deployment in recent history, you are homeward bound. (Applause.) Some of you will see new family members for the first time -- 150 babies were born while their fathers were on the Lincoln. Your families are proud of you, and your nation will welcome you. We are mindful, as well, that some good men and women are not making the journey home. One of those who fell, Corporal Jason Mileo, spoke to his parents five days before his death. Jason's father said, "He called us from the center of Baghdad, not to brag, but to tell us he loved us. Our son was a soldier."

Every name, every life is a loss to our military, to our nation, and to the loved ones who grieve. There's no homecoming for these families. Yet we pray, in God's time, their reunion will come.
Those we lost were last seen on duty. Their final act on this Earth was to fight a great evil and bring liberty to others. All of you -- all in this generation of our military -- have taken up the highest calling of history. You're defending your country, and protecting the innocent from harm. And wherever you go, you carry a message of hope -- a message that is ancient and ever new. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, "To the captives, 'come out,' -- and to those in darkness, 'be free.'" Thank you for serving our country and our cause. May God bless you all, and may God continue to bless America.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

'I Have Always Trusted This Voice':
On Reading & Writing as a Listener

'Ever since I was first read to, then started reading to myself, there has never been a line read that I didn’t hear. As my eyes followed the sentence, a voice was saying it silently to me. It isn’t my mother’s voice, or the voice of any person I can identify, certainly not my own. It is human, but inward, and it is inwardly that I listen to it. It is to me the voice of the story or the poem itself. The cadence, whatever it is that asks you to believe, the feeling that resides in the printed word, reaches me through the reader-voice. I have supposed, but never found out, that this is the case with all readers—to read as listeners—and with all writers, to write as listeners. It may be part of the desire to write. The sound of what falls on the page begins the process of testing it for truth, for me. Whether I am right to trust so far I don’t know. By now I don’t now whether I could do either one, reading or writing, without the other. My own words, when I am at work on a story, I hear too as they go, in the same voice that I hear when I read in books. When I write and the sound of it comes back to my ears, then I act to make my changes. I have always trusted this voice.'

--Eudora Welty, from her Harvard lecture series, later captured in the book One Writer's Beginnings. You can read more about the formidable Ms. Welty here.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Timing Never Ideal to Pursue One's Calling,
But This Veteran Writer is Still Glad He Did

'When I began my journalism career as a daily newpaper reporter during 1969, I knew that newspapering would serve as a training ground, not a life sentence. I wanted to write in-depth features on serious topics for magazines, because I knew that word limits of newspapers would never allow me to say all I wanted to say. Then, after achieving my goal of writing lead features for magazines, I knew I would enter the word of books. I knew that word limits of magazines would never allow me to say allI wanted to say. In 1978, I gave up salaried reporting/writing jobs for good, and moved into the world of full-time freelancing. The timing stunk, but, then again, the timing usually does. The first baby was about to be conceived, nobody else in the family earned significant money, we were getting by without an automobile. I swore that if I failed to earn a comfortable living as a freelance investigative journalist, I would return to a salaried journalism position. I would not do corporate or assocation or public relations work as a freelancer. For those who want to make that part of the mix, fine. But I wanted then, and want now, to earn money only by reporting and writing what I'm passionate about. I could never find passion in corporate or association or public relations work. I am pleased to say that 26 years later, I have never compromised--except to teach part-time off and on at the University of Missouri Journalism School. Unless you count the occasional book advance--money that comes and goes quickly--I have never earned a six-figure income. But I do live comfortably while reporting and writing my passions--exposing flaws in the criminal justice system, in corporate America, in bastions of education, in journalism itself.'

--From The Passionate Freelancer, a column by 58-year-old Steve Weinberg, published in the October issue of the American Society of Journalists and Authors' monthly magazine. To learn more about Steve, who gave perhaps the best presentation of any I attended at this year's ASJA conference, click
here. To check out his books, click here, here and here. You can sample his magazine and newspaper writing here, here and here.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Writing's Long Tail, Part 2

I mentioned yesterday that I would republish an article from my personal archives that touched on the life of Masumi Hayashi, an artist and Cleveland State professor who was tragically murdered last month. You can view an online museum of her work
here. The piece below was originally published in Northern Ohio Live in 1993. It included a photo of her, as well as of the photographic mural (not the one above) she produced for the newly restored condominium building she was moving into.

Preservation Hall

Once gutted by fire and mired in bankruptcy, a dull little building on Cleveland’s near West Side is reborn as condominiums—but more important, it calls attention to the rejuvenation of the Detroit-Shoreway area and the methods of neighborhood resuscitation.

By John Ettorre

By six o’clock, the line for food was 25 people deep and inching forward almost imperceptibly. With no mixed drinks in sight, the stuff-your-face crowd had shifted its attention to delectables such as calamari which were silently seducing them from the serving table. Outside on West 75th, a saxophone player wailed; inside, most of the major players of the neighborhood movement in Cleveland mingled about, toasting the latest emblem of urban in-migration.

And the nonprofit Detroit-Shoreway Community Development Organization which helped make it happen was capitalizing on the event to market the neighborhood.

“This is neighborhood development that isn’t like urban renewal,” Cleveland’s Community Development Director Chris Warren, himself a veteran of the neighborhood movement, was saying. “It isn’t like the time in our history when neighborhood development meant come in and take old buildings that are maybe not in particularly good shape or in good use or abandoned, and level them and build anew. No, this wasn’t like that. This is a project that starts with community ownership, saying it’s an important building, an important site, and it’s worth something to save the building.”

But beyond the ballyhoo and the canapés, the fact remains: After five years of struggle to shield it from the wrecking ball, the 71-year-old City Savings & Loan building at the convergence of West 75th, Detroit and Lake is about to find new life as condominium dwellings with a couple of storefront commercial units. Moreover, the building does exemplify the important process of maintaining—as opposed to recreating—a neighborhood, even as it stands as a linchpin of sorts in an area of Cleveland’s near West Side that has for years been on the brink of irreparable deterioration.

One irony, however, was inescapable. Mayor Mike White was supposed to be the keynote speaker that night, using the platform to signal the city’s determination to pour its development energies into not just the downtown skyline but on neighborhood housing. Instead, the mayor begged off at the last moment to go to Florida for a pseudo-event: the official designation of Cleveland as an All-American City.

No matter how partial you are to old buildings, it would be a stretch to classify the City Savings building as architecturally significant in and of itself. Since 1922, the neoclassical brick building has stood watch at this corner with the kind of dully solid architectural presence that savings institutions have always favored to imply security. Over the years, it has also housed a library, pharmacy and technical school.

Unlike some of its neighbors, City Savings isn’t steeped in history, at least not the kind you read in textbooks The old Watterson-Lake Elementary school next door, built in 1906, and the recently refurbished Gordon Square Arcade a few blocks east on Detroit, for instance, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Nor has City Savings straw-colored rough brick exterior aged gracefully.

But remarkable is in the eye of the beholder. Surely it must be worth something to sit for several generations blending peacefully into this neighborhood west of Ohio City and a few dozen blocks east of the West 117th area, where Cleveland gently segues into Lakewood.

The intersection of Detroit and Lake was once the end of a streetcar line, the early 20th century equivalent of sitting squarely at the edge of a highway interchange. That’s why commercial development here was so bountiful and why the housing patterns in the surrounding neighborhood are so dense. In the bustling, optimistic pre-Depression era when Cleveland was the nation’s sixth-largest city, neighborhood residents could walk to the streetcar and catch a quick rid downtown. Lake Erie, in all its recreational splendor, was less than a mile north.

Though the streetcars have long since disappeared, the lake hasn’t gone anywhere. And beginning this summer, six new residents and the occupants of two commercial storefronts will begin blending into the neighborhood.

From the third-floor roof and solarium of the renovated structure, you can drink in a view of Cleveland’s skyline and at least a sliver of Lake Erie. Below, the residential units, which were still being readied in June, are spacious and bathed in light from the plentiful windows.

The living spaces blend exposed brick with perhaps too-generous dry wall to suit the tastes of a purist. Residents have customized much of their interiors, many leaning to blond hardwood floors and sleek, white cabinetry.

Though blighted in spots and in need of general repair, the surrounding neighborhood is not without its attractions, chief among them its proximity to the lake. A short hike down East 76th through a couple of tunnels burroughing under the Conrail tracks and the Shoreway, is Edgewater Park. A few blocks east is Cleveland Public Theatre. The experimental performance venue has spawned such annual events as the Performance Art Festival, Sonic Disturbance and Festival of New Plays. Just beyond that is one of the city’s better ethnic eateries, the Vietnamese restaurant Minh-Anh.

The script of this building’s life might well have unfolded differently. City Savings, like hundreds of old buildings before it, had become a vacant eyesore after a devastating fire in 1986, prompting resident to begin demanding the wrecking ball. Just across Detroit—where a Burger King now sits in cookie-cutter splendor, its suburban-style landscaping clashing with the surroundings—a huge Tudor structure was torn down only in the late seventies.

City Savings was a prime candidate to follow suit. With the building mired in bankruptcy proceedings, title to the property was encumbered by piles of liens, frustrating all efforts by the community to somehow redevelop the building after the fire.

“As bad as the building was, and it was bad,” Ward 17 Councilman Ray Pianka said at opening-night festivities, “it wasn’t as bad as the legal obstacles to gaining control of the site.”

Eventually, after five years of frustrating delays, the building was released from the bankruptcy proceedings, opening the way for Detroit-Shoreway to purchase control. By that time, the interior had been mostly gutted by an intermediate owner.

The Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, begun by Pianka 20 years ago this fall while he was still in law school, is a nonprofit neighborhood group—funded by a variety of foundations and Cleveland’s Economic Development Fund—that works to channel money to residential commercial and industrial development in the Detorit-Shoreway area. It now has eight fulltime employees, a board of 17 and still functions as a grassroots operation by enlisting the help of area residents.

For the City Savings & Loan project, the group bundled grants--$105,000 from the city, $50,000 from the state, a $48,000 pre-development loan from a national foundation called Local Initiatives Support Corporation—and began shopping for lenders to fund the rest of the redevelopment work. National City agreed to loan $350,000 and pump another $100,000 into equity ownership. Then, as architectural plans were being drawn up, the developer called in a broker who knew how to design space to meet the demand of the urban housing market.

“We were seeing a pent-up demand from artists for condos, live-work space,” says Keith Brown of Progressive Urban Real Estate, which served as the sales agent for the units and has been credited with helping turn around the Tremont neighborhood. “(Artists have) been around the community for a long time, and they’re used to getting kicked out of the Warehouse District” by escalating rents, he says. So Brown’s firm maintains waiting lists of as many as 40 people who are looking for just the right urban space. Many are artists.

“It was Keith’s idea to put in the solariums and the roof decks,” says Jeff Ramsay, project manager for Detroit-Shoreway. “People want outdoor space. These things help the units sell. And it was Keith’s vision to leave it with a lot of open spaces that would help gear it toward the artistic community.”

Masumi Hayashi, an art professor at Cleveland State University and an accomplished fine-arts photographer who has won first-place honors at the May Show, was one of those parked on Brown’s waiting list. “I used to live in the Bradley Building downtown until it became gentrified,” she says. Then she rented living and studio space for years in Ohio City. But she was now ready to own some property.

Hayashi soon become one of six new condo owners at City Savings, at prices ranging from $54,000 to $91,000. Even at those prices, the units were snapped up quickly. “We have people who were angry they couldn’t get in,” says Keith Brown.

“I was very surprised at the prices,” says Norm Krumholz, Cleveland’s planning director under mayors Stokes, Perk and Kucinich, who now splits his time between being a professor of urban affairs at Cleveland State and a guru to the neighborhood movement. “I didn’t know that there was a market for units of that type (in the city), no matter how unique,” he adds.

“There’s money to be made in these projects now, which wasn’t true in the past,” says Mark McDermott of Cleveland Housing Network, a nonprofit organization which builds and refurbishes housing for low-income families. “Seven years ago, there wouldn’t have been a market for this (building), and the reason it has changed is the nonprofits have changed the perceptions of the neighborhood.”

And this project did require no less than the intervention of a focused, experienced nonprofit group to pull it all together and help expedite the bureaucratic tangles. (Detroit Shoreway was the first nonprofit Cleveland neighborhood group to win a federal Urban Development Action Grant, or UDAG, for the Garden Square Arcade project, when most UDAGs were going to downtown projects. “A private developer would not have had the patience to work through the details for six units and a couple of storefronts for two to three years to save that building,” says Chris Warren. “The return wouldn’t have been there.”

If there’s considerable hope in some quarters that this condominium project might serve as a pattern for others of its kind, significant questions remain about how many of these deals banks will support. Despite National City’s self-congratulatory boilerplate—its press release trumpets that “this project is an exciting illustration of National City’s commitment to the Detroit-Shoreway community and to the City of Cleveland”—there’s not a lot of evidence that traditional commercial banks are prepared to take more than the occasional plunge into distressed urban neighborhoods once they’ve satisfied their legal requirements under the 1978 federal Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), commonly referred to as anti-redlining legislation.

As Chris Warren says: “If the banks are just doing that, looking for signature projects—one in this neighborhood, one in that neighborhood, another in that neighborhood—then we will have failed. If the banks are looking at this as simply a way to puff up their CRA file, then all of the rhetoric that night of the banks is nonsense.”

Instead, he hopes their reaction will be: “Ah, this worked—let’s do six more.”

It all hinges on the market demand, of course. As Krumholz puts it: “How deep the market is, I don’t know. Artists typically don’t have a lot of money. It could be that there’s a huge wave of people from the inner ‘burbs that are tired of living there and are ready to inundate the city. I’m skeptical of that, but it could happen.”

On a windy, overcast early afternoon in June, as construction crews applied the finishing touches to the structure before the new residents were due to begin moving in and workmen installed glass block in a second-floor doorway, the elementary school next door on West 75th let out. A band of well-integrated kids, perhaps sixth graders, shuffled past the building, yammering and shadow-boxing their way down the sidewalk. “Hey, Antoine,” one kid called out to a buddy, “they fixed that building.”

Closer observers are cautiously optimistic. As Chris Warren was leaving the opening-night reception with a group of friends from the neighborhood, he recalls that their talk was subdued. “The discussion went something like this: ‘It really looks terrific, glad it’s back. Not quite sure what this all means, but it beats the hell out of a vacant, overgrown corner in our neighborhood.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Writing's Long Tail

When you've written for a number of years, you tend to accumulate more than your share of stuff. Naturally, that includes mountains of files, notes, tapes and the other detritus of the reporting journey. If you're smart, you'll somehow save most of it, because there's occasionally reusable material in there--facts, memorable quotes, contacts or whatever. But if you want to stay sane, or remain married, you learn to file it away, safely out of reach, in a format that allows you to quickly put your hands on it when you need to.

But perhaps the most interesting thing you accumulate from the work is an ongoing close interest in how all the people and institutions you've written about are doing, even long after you entered (and then sometimes left) their life for the hour, day, week or months it might have taken to get their story. Happily, some of these human subjects become friends or continuing acquaintances. Many seem to be on the fence just a little, not sure how they should feel around someone who's shared their story with an audience and perhaps knows more about their life than they're comfortable with. They might have liked most of the piece, but there's perhaps that one fact, sentence or observation that still causes them to wince even after several years, and makes it hard for them to feel fondly toward its author. There are even a couple of folks, just two that I can think of, who can't look me in the eye to this day, no doubt so uncomfortable about the portrait of themselves that emerged that it still causes them pain. I nevertheless try my best to at least make eye contact and nod when I see them, or even shake their hands if they'll allow it, hoping to send the message that while they may not have liked the portrait of themselves that I produced, I nevertheless stand by it as an honest take, though admittedly my own imperfect, subjective take, however much it might have been supported by research.

Anyway, I watched with special interest a couple weeks ago as Bill Ford, Jr., stepped away from running the company his great-grandfather founded, essentially firing himself as the CEO (though he retained the chairmanship). Two years ago, I spent several weeks profiling Ford and his company, interviewing him by email but talking to many others directly. The
piece, reported in the fall of '04 and written just after the first of the year in '05, wasn't published until April '05, when the magazine in which it appeared debuted in Detroit. The article explored how he inherited the management reins of a dysfunctional company, perhaps a decade before he may have been ready, in hopes he might protect the extended family's fortunes. It also talked about the pressure he felt from Wall Street and the conservative right about his aggressive environmentalism, which he subsequently moderated. I wrote: "As the tight economy forces Ford to cut costs by as much as a half-billion dollars, the CEO hopes innovation, rather than lopping off heads, can do the job." Unfortunately, it turned out that innovation wasn't going to work, at least not fast enough, and so the company is going to lop off thousands of additional heads. It's a stunning tale of how quickly corporate fortunes can turn, especially in the perenially distressed American auto industry, and how severe the challenges of American de-industrialization really are.

Tomorrow I'll post another old article from my files that came jarringly to mind recently, with the death of the internationally renowned artist and CSU professor Masumi Hayashi, whom I met and wrote about a dozen years ago. Chillingly enough, the piece was about the then-newly rehabbed artists' loft condos into which she was moving. It was the very building in which she was murdered.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Gloating Over Books

‘In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the process itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, our mind filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images, incapable of sleep or of continuous thought.’

--Robert Louis Stevenson, in A Gossip on Romance (1882)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sherrod Brown Hits the Cover of The Nation

The current issue of The Nation magazine has an interesting analysis of why Sherrod Brown's race for a Senate seat from Ohio is being watched so closely by Democrats and other progressives around the country. Besides the obvious reason--without his victory they have no chances to recapture the U.S. Senate, which is unlikely in any event--the cover piece argues that he is one of the few Dems who isn't being cowed by Republican attempts to demagogue on national security, and is instead aggressively tying the party's failures in Iraq to their failed domestic policies:
'If Brown, an antiwar economic populist who supports abortion rights and gay rights, can defeat a Republican incumbent with a special-interest-laden bankroll and Karl Rove-inspired attack ads, then the lesson for Democrats is a dramatic one. Instead of pulling punches, they can throw them. 'What Sherrod's doing is what every Democrat should be doing,' says Roger Tauss, legislative director of the Transport Workers Union. 'The Democrats have had trouble figuring out how to talk about economics. They don't know how to reach people who are hurting but still vote Republican. Sherrod refuses to believe those voters can't be won over.'

Brown is described as having "Kennedyesque looks and Clintonesque memory for facts and figures." Not a bad combination in politics, I'd say. If he eventually wins the seat, as it looks likely he will, we'll just have to wait to see if his spouse reminds people more of Jackie or Hillary.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Leveraging the Internet for Your Writing

From my notes for a presentation this afternoon at the Western Reserve Writers Conference at Lakeland Community College:

Every writer, novice to master, should maintain some form of web presence, the more substantial the better. At the very least, that should include a page or two with your credits, background and contact information. It should provide a sense of your style and distinguish you from others who wield a pen or word processor. If it also includes a handful of examples of your best work, published or not, so much the better. I can promise you this: it will make you feel more serious about your own writing aspirations and invite others to do so as well. Through the power of search technologies such as Google and the web’s unique linking structure, you will also substantially increase your likelihood of serendipity. You’ll find that, done right, even a modest web strategy will help writing opportunities find you rather than you always having to search for them. Not a bad idea in any line of work, but especially helpful in writing.


Weblogs, or blogs for short, are an excellent way to establish that web presence. These easily updatable online journals or sites allow anyone to instantly publish to the web, and you needn’t have any particular Internet skills to do so. What do they do? Whatever you want them to do. You can use it as a way to stretch your muscles and try new things. Experiment with new topics, new voices or approaches. If you’re a fiction writer, you can take a stab at nonfiction, or vice versa. If you’re a journalist, you can try some poetry. You can choose to tell people it exists, or wait until you feel ready to unveil it. You can be more ambitious, treating it as your own online publication, written for an audience. Even if you’re an advanced writer with decades of experience, blogs are a way to steadily widen your audience, engage more people (including new editors) and show more of what you can do and have done. You can share links to new articles and other publications, maintain an archive of earlier work, announce and sell your books (or even branded merchandise, if you like) and inform folks about your workshop appearances. In short, it’s a great method for building a community around your work. Unlike a static writers’ website, it screams out for readers to return periodically to your site to read about what’s new.

Other Benefits That Will Surprise You
If you want it to, having a blog will instantly connect you to a dense network of fellow writers, thinkers, readers, doers and seekers. This group of highly engaged people can become a community of practice for you and your writing that will sustain and support you in your efforts. That’s critical for every writer, from the greenest novice to the most experienced master wordsmith, because writing can be, but need not be, the loneliest calling/profession/hobby/pursuit (choose one or more that applies to you). Through blogging, you can, should you so choose, join a large ongoing discussion, or many discussions, that will stimulate your curiosity and imagination, challenge your intellect and ultimately inform and nourish your writing. It will stretch your writing horizons and possibly erase geographic boundaries. It could bring you a few (or perhaps many) international readers, and might just even get you hired for a writing gig simply because someone liked what they read and wanted more.

My friend and fellow blogger, Sandy Piderit, a professor of management at the Case Western Reserve Weatherhead School of Business, once explained to her students why she recommended they blog. It remains one of the best explanations I’ve seen of why smart people should experiment with the form, and it applies doubly for those who write, or who want to begin:

Reflecting carefully on your own thinking is a very important skill to cultivate. Whether you are planning to enter management or any other professional field, your learning will not end on the day you graduate from college. You will need to engage in lifelong learning, which involves developing a sense of how to sort through different sources of information and distinguish between facts, well-reasoned judgments or conclusions, and poorly supported opinions. To encourage you to develop this skill in reflecting carefully on your own thinking, this course blogging assignment will challenge you to go beyond simply stating your opinion, or quoting a source that you respect and accepting its assertions at face value…Developing your skill in articulating and advocating for your beliefs will help you become a more effective manager or professional.

Just substitute “student” for “writer” or “aspiring writer” in that passage, and you have all the reasons you would ever need to begin a blog. Because, after all, writing is essentially a form of lifelong learning, in which you learn about a subject (through research and reporting) before sharing the fruits of that learning with others, through the vehicle of your writing.

Getting Down to Brass Tacks
Okay: so let’s say for the sake of argument that I’ve convinced you to consider beginning your own blog. How do you do it? There are a number of online publishing platforms through which you can publish your blog. But perhaps the best, easiest one can be found at It’s owned by Google, is simple and generally reliable, and best of all, it’s completely free (though they’ll be happy to sell you upgrades with more bells and whistles). Actually, believe it or not, there’s something even better than the fact that it’s free: you don’t have to know a thing about web technology to set one up yourself and to maintain it. If you can figure out the Microsoft Word program, you can follow Blogger’s highly intuitive prompts and in about 10 minutes set up your own blog. You’ll just have to give yourself a password, decide the look you’d prefer by choosing from among several page templates, decide what to call your blog and if you’ll want to allow visitors to post comments. And bingo--you’ll be in business, ready to become your own publisher. If you need help, just ask. I’ll be happy to walk you through the process.

Examples of Good Writer’s Sites

For writers, a static website and a blog need not be, in fact should not be, thought of as either-or propositions. Ideally, they work together, complementing each other. Consider these examples: (prominent New Yorker writer whose simple but attractive site is often copied) (local writer – note the similarities to Gladwell’s site) (accomplished local writer with an especially attractive site) (local writer with an enthusiastic international following) (writer Virginia Postrel’s site, which nicely highlights her many sides)

* Please note: Malcolm Gladwell and Kristin Ohlson have both recently begun a blog, a link to which you’ll find on their sites. Michael Ruhlman includes a link to a prominent blog on which he has posted as a guest blogger. And Virginia Postrel, who has maintained a blog for years, is one of the better examples of a writer who uses simple but elegant design and site architecture to visually differentiate the many facets of her writing life, while simultaneously emphasizing how they converge.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Poetry, Thy Name
is Alexis Grace

My friend Lou Tisler sent word recently about his initiation into fatherhood. Even better, he sent a photo of himself with his beautiful new daughter, Alexis Grace Tisler, born on August 29th. "Mother and baby are doing well. Her father is somewhat overwhelmed," the dispatch noted. Don't worry, Lou. The feeling of being overwhelmed will steadily diminish, while the wonder and awe you feel will only grow. Congratulations to you both, Lou & Jackie.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

We're All Over the Place Today

A Title Sure to Get Attention. From a recent Publisher’s Lunch, a weekly email newsletter for the book publishing industry, comes word of a project recently contracted for that will bear one of the best book titles ever: Foreskin’s Lament, a memoir by Shalom Auslander of growing up in an orthodox religious Jewish community. It reputedly will deal with the author's life-long struggle with a consistently angry god. From the same source, we learn about the forthcoming Philadelphia Lawyer: A Decade of Cheating, Stealing, & Screwing in the Circus of Modern Law. It’s based on the author's anonymous website,, where he posts brutally honest stories about his life and career that expose the legal profession's "absurd insistence that lawyers are agents of truth." It’ll be published by the infamous Judith Regan’s Regan Books, which recently moved from New York to L.A.

Couldn't Have Said it Better Myself. I've written before about how one the highest forms of writerly craftsmanship is the ability of the author to get out of the way so that the story almost seems to tell itself. The corollary, of course, is that the subject of the writing is the star and the object of attention rather than the writer. British writer
Nick Hornby, who's been called "the European ambassador of goodness," is apparently a devotee of this approach (as, I would argue, are all of the best writers, almost by definition). He had this observation in a piece he wrote recently for the Telegraph (whose website looks an awful lot like the recently revamped NYT online): "I do not wish to produce prose that draws attention to itself, rather than the world it describes, and I certainly don't have the patience to read it." I say a big amen to that.

Feagler Can Still Uncork It. Late last year, I
wrote about what I consider to be the abundant shortcomings of PD columnist Dick Feagler. But never let it be said that the old guy can't still write some wonderful stuff occasionally. His column today includes a marvelous passage that's vintage Feagler, a reminder of how he was for many years, before his tiresome rubber-faced TV schtick began infecting his written work. He writes: "This president seems to think he is a sagebrush messiah, spreading democracy like salsa all over the Middle East. If Yale had taught him his history, he'd know better."

The Routinely Brilliant Jack Shafer. media critic Jack Shafer, one of the most consistently brilliant writers to be found anywhere on his topic, made yet another interesting point the other day. In a column about a press war conducted more than a century ago, he noted that contemporary cable TV keeps the Hearst tradition of yellow journalism alive. "The Hearst tradition of making everything dramatic continues to live large on cable TV. It disgorges oceans of yellow journalism each week in both its news and opinion slots."

Hillary Is Going to be Squeezed From Both Sides. Hillary Clinton easily coasted to a win in her Senate primary yesterday, but she surely won't have such an easy time of it if she does indeed decide to run for the White House in two years. This piece in the left-wing In These Times, written by a New Yorker who's part of an activist group picking at her from the left, is one of the better reminders I've seen lately of how her triangulating about the Iraq war (a strategy borrowed from Bill) may well ultimately come back to haunt her. I think the money passage is this one:
It turns out that Hillary has done a tremendous job—of getting New York Democrats to assume that because right-wing Republicans hate her she must oppose the war. Most New York Democratic voters also don’t realize that she co-sponsored an amendment to ban flag-burning, is against marriage equality for gays and lesbians, supports the death penalty, votes consistently for Star Wars appropriations and has served on the board of Wal-Mart for six years. Yet, she is consistently touted as the 'liberal Democrat from New York.'

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Question for the 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists:
How Could Clumsy Bush Crowd Pull It Off?

It sickened me to watch and read some of the inevitable coverage of yesterday's fifth anniversary of 9/11. Our idiot president's televised address to the nation was particularly revolting. It all reminded me of the best bumper sticker I've seen lately--"Is it 2008 yet?"--a minimalist lament on how long we've had to put up with this crowd, and how tiresome it's become for lots of Americans.

At the same time, all the tangled conspiracy theories about how the American government supposedly was behind the attacks are getting pretty silly (heck, if there was some substance to them, don't you think Oliver Stone would have made his 9/11 movie about that, rather than about the heart-tugging rescue of some port authority workers?). No matter: about one-third of Americans, according to polls, believe some version of these absurd scenarios.

The writer Gore Vidal may have said it best, in an interview with Progressive Magazine, published in its August issue. Asked if he believed the administration might have been behind the attacks, he had this to say: "I'm willing to believe practically any mischief on the part of the Bush people. No, I don't think they did it, as some conspiracy people think. Why? Because it was too intelligently done. This is beyond the competence of Bush and Cheney and Rumsfield. They couldn't pull off a caper like 9/11. They are too clumsy."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Meaning is in the Eye of the Beholder

‘The meaning of any beautiful created thing is at least as much in the soul of him who looks at it, as it was in his soul who wrought it. Nay, it is rather the beholder who lends to the beautiful thing its myriad meanings, and makes it marvelous for us, and sets it in some new relation to the age, so that it becomes a vital portion of our lives, and a symbol of what we pray for, or perhaps, of what, having prayed for, we fear that we may receive.’

--Oscar Wilde, Intentions (1891)

Friday, September 08, 2006

The Role of Metaphors in Creativity

‘A theory of creativity is actually just a metaphor, a pool of ideas, a well of memories, a voice. The word ‘inspiration’ is a metaphor for creativity—a nice one, the ingoing of breath and spirit, breath and spirit both being ubiquitous, available with only the most minimal involuntary exertion, as natural as life itself. Some writers wrestle with their muses, wrest stories from them. Others imagine their brains working, hydraulic pumps or clockworks or computers. A metaphor is a way of capturing a feeling in words and creating is a feeling. I have sometimes imagined it literally as a feeling of the brain exerting itself as a muscle does. But all metaphors of creativity are both descriptive and prescriptive. A pool of ideas may run dry, a muse may desert, the mechanical brain may cease to work.’

--From Jane Smiley’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Writer's Block is Just a Con Game

‘Americans do not write for many reasons. One big reason is the writer’s struggle. Too many writers talk and act as if writing were slow torture, a form of procreation without arousal or romance—all dilation and contraction, grunting and pushing. As New York sportswriter Red Smith once observed, ‘Writing is easy. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.’ The agony in Madison Square Garden. If you want to write, here’s a secret: the writer’s struggle is overrated, a con game, a cognitive distortion, a self-fulfilling prophecy, the best excuse for not writing. ‘Why should I get writer’s block?’ asked the mischievous Roger Simon. ‘My father never got truck driver’s block.’

--from the introduction to Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools—50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

More Black Eyes for Cuyahoga County
In National Media Over Voting Troubles

The recent comprehensive report examining the difficulties the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections experienced during this year's primary cycle have prompted a couple of negative pieces in the national media this week.
Yesterday's lead editorial in the New York Times begins with the observation that it's hard to believe that six years after the Florida debacle, "states still haven't mastered the art of voting counts accurately." For those of you who haven't registered for free access to the online version (shame on you), here's what the paper had to say:
It’s hard to believe that nearly six years after the disasters of Florida in 2000, states still haven’t mastered the art of counting votes accurately. Yet there are growing signs that the country is moving into another presidential election cycle in disarray. The most troubling evidence comes from Ohio, a key swing state, whose electoral votes decided the 2004 presidential election. A recent government report details enormous flaws in the election system in Ohio’s biggest county, problems that may not be fixable before the 2008 election. Cuyahoga County, which includes Cleveland, hired a consulting firm to review its election system. The county recently adopted Diebold electronic voting machines that produce a voter-verified paper record of every vote cast. The investigators compared the vote totals recorded on the machines after this year’s primary with the paper records produced by the machines. The numbers should have been the same, but often there were large and unexplained discrepancies. The report also found that nearly 10 percent of the paper records were destroyed, blank, illegible, or otherwise compromised. This is seriously bad news even if, as Diebold insists, the report overstates the problem. Under Ohio law, the voter-verified paper record, not the voting machine total, is the official ballot for purposes of a recount. The error rates the report identified are an invitation to a meltdown in a close election. The report also found an array of other problems. The county does not have a standardized method for conducting a manual recount. That is an invitation, as Florida 2000 showed, to chaos and litigation. And there is a serious need for better training of poll workers, and for more uniform voter ID policies. Disturbingly, the report found that 31 percent of blacks were asked for ID, while just 18 percent of others were. Some of these problems may be explored further in a federal lawsuit challenging Ohio’s administration of its 2004 election. Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who has been criticized for many decisions he made on election matters that year, recently agreed to help preserve the 2004 paper ballots for review in the lawsuit. Ohio is not the only state that may be headed for trouble in 2008. New York’s Legislature was shamefully slow in passing the law needed to start adopting new voting machines statewide. Now localities are just starting to evaluate voting machine companies as they scramble to put machines in place in time for the 2007 election. (Because of a federal lawsuit, New York has to make the switch a year early.) Much can go wrong when new voting machines are used. There has to be extensive testing, and education of poll workers and voters. New York’s timetable needlessly risks an Election Day disaster. Cuyahoga County deserves credit for commissioning an investigation that raised uncomfortable but important questions. Its report should be a wake-up call to states and counties nationwide. Every jurisdiction in the country that runs elections should question itself just as rigorously, and start fixing any problems without delay.
Meanwhile, a major roundup piece in Mother Jones Magazine also lambastes Cuyahoga voting officials. It ranks the county as #4 on a list of the 11 worst places in the country to cast a ballot. Just read it and weep:
Dominated by the city of Cleveland and its Democratic machine, Cuyahoga County has a stunning history of poll-worker incompetence and technology failures, resulting in de facto disenfranchisement on a massive scale. In primary elections this spring, so many poll workers failed to show up for work that numerous polling places opened more than an hour late, some because they didn't have extension cords or three-prong adapters. Once voting began, it was promptly undermined by a shortage of voting machines, confusion over precinct voter lists, and paper jams that poll workers did not know how to fix (some asked random voters to repair the machines). Though only 20 percent of registered voters turned out for the primary, it took more than a week to count their votes. Around the nation, says Brenda Wright, managing attorney at the Boston-based National Voting Rights Institute, election administration is massively underfunded, with poll workers paid mere pittances, trained only marginally, and overseen bystate officials who don't provide "any meaningful check on recurrent problems at the local level."

But that's not the only bad news for this area in that issue. Alyssa Katz, a New York University journalism professor, also writes a stand-alone piece (not online) about Cleveland's foreclosure boom, which the magazine calls "the dark side of America's real estate boom." The subject was covered in even greater depth some months ago in the Times, but unlike this new piece, Cleveland wasn't the only focus then.

Latest Media Column

Here is the new media column, a collection of impressions from the Society of Professional Journalists' convention I attended in Chicago a couple weeks ago. I'll try to post some additional thoughts soon.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Sign of the Times?

On a recent trip to the Half Price Books store in Mayfield Heights, I couldn't help noticing that the once-abundant media section had seemingly disappeared. So I asked an employee for help. Turns out that due to a remodeling, it's been moved to the Performing Arts section of the store, which has sub-signage for the Film, Music and even Dance sections. But no ceiling signs for journalism and media. It's an inadvertently telling parallel to what's happening in the world beyond the bookstore, where media outlets are increasingly becoming less and less internally influential and independent subsets of large entertainment conglomerates.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Memories of Vanished
Days Spent Reading

'There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we believe we left without having lived them, those we spent with a favorite book. Everything that filled them for others, so it seemed, and that we dismissed as a vulgar obstacle to a divine pleasure; the game for which a friend would come to fetch us at the most interesting passage; the troublesome bee or sun ray that forced us to lift our eyes from the page or to change position; the provisions for the afternoon snack that we had been made to take along and that we left beside us on the bench, without touching while above our head the sun was diminishing in force in the blue sky; the dinner we had to return home for, and during which we thought only of going up immediately afterward to finish the interrupted chapter, all those things which reading should have kept us from feeling anything but annoyance at, it has on the contrary engraved in us so sweet a memory of (so much more precious to our present judgment than what we read then with such love), that if we still happen today to leaf through those books of another time, it is for no other reason than that they are the only calendars we have kept of days that have vanished, and we hope to see reflected on their pages the dwellings and pond which no longer exist.'

--Marcel Proust, On Reading

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Assorted Stuff on the Eve of Labor Day

A couple of weeks ago, we brought you
list news from a couple of business publications, Inc. and Forbes, that didn't bode well for Cleveland. In September's issue of Entrepreneur Mag, we go for the Triple Crown. Its annual list of the best cities for entrepreneurs doesn't list Cleveland among the top dozen such cities. No surprise there, of course. But when the feature package breaks things down by region, looking more closely at the midwest, Columbus and Cincy fare well (coming in at numbers 3 and 4, respectively), but NE Ohio is nowhere to be found. At least we avoided the ignominy of being called the region's "economic black hole." That honor went to Detroit, which of course is reeling from the devastating ripple effects of troubles at Ford and GM.

The Real Race Begins. In an election year, the day after Labor Day traditionally marks the start of the real race, when voters' attention turns from summer diversions to politics. While insiders and political junkies have been debating and obsessing over this stuff for months, most people haven't paid more than scant attention to the races. That slowly begins to turn for millions of people beginning this week (in part because the general media, reacting to the conventional wisdom I just outlined, proceeds to cover election races with greater intensity, thereby helping to make that conventional wisdom true). Anyway,
this Washington Post piece by the B&B twins (Balz and Broder) nicely surveys where things now stand across the country. The picture, naturally, is looking good for Democrats, who seem almost a sure bet to retake the House (though picking up enough seats to win control of the Senate remains a stretch). But with the fifth anniversary of 9/11 falling soon, coupled with the Republican party's shamelessness about continuing to demagogue the issue of national security, all bets are off.

War of the Worlds. The new issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, a once-ponderous but now always-interesting journal, contains an especially insightful piece by the prolific British historian Niall Ferguson. He explores this question: "Will the 21st century be as bloody as the 20th?" His take: "The answer depends partly on whether or not we can understand the causes of the last century's violence. Only if we can will we have a chance of avoiding a repetition of its horrors. If we cannot, there is a real possibility that we will relive the nightmare." Which is a long way of saying what philosopher George Santayana famously said in a more concise fashion: "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it." Anyway, it's worth chasing down a copy at your favorite bookstore or library, since
only a brief preview is available online, unless you're a subscriber (which I'm not). And while we're on the subject of articles one can read in print but not online (at least not yet), the six-foot-tall redhead Texas hellion, Molly Ivins, gets off an amusing George W. observation in the current issue of Progressive Magazine. "I think the problem is the rest of the world doesn't understand Dekes (Delta Kappa Epsilon). We need a Deke short-course in embassies around the globe." Here's one of her earlier columns, and here (if you can stand it) is some more information about the fraternity which helped mold the towering intellect of our current Oval Office occupant. Don't miss this page, which lists other prominent Dekes.

Another Program Worth Checking Out. A week ago, before heading off for a journalism conference in Chicago (which I'll write about soon),
I outlined some of the interesting writing and reading-related programs scheduled to take place around the region this fall. But the truth is, as comprehensive as that list might have seemed, it only began to scratch the surface of all the interesting things I've come across lately. So I'll be sure to soon update that list and publish it here, in hopes that you might consider attending at least a couple of them for some mind-expansion. But one of the more interesting additions I wanted to alert you to now, so that you can save the date, is set for the evening of September 21st at Loganberry Books on Larchmere Boulevard, just north of Shaker Square. I've written before about how Loganberry may just be the coolest interior space devoted to books in the entire region. But that evening, beginning at 7 p.m., it will also be host to an interesting discussion about a crucial topic: the growing legal assault on journalists' ability to protect the confidentiality of their sources. I wrote about that topic in my very first Media Hound column, and on the 21st, my friends/colleagues Ken Zirm, a media lawyer, and Frank Lewis, editor of the Free Times, will take up the issue in a broader way. Don't miss it.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Encountering Writers Block
Even in Classic Old Hollywood Movies

'Doggone it--have you ever had so much to say about something that you couldn't say it?'
--Jimmy Stewart as Senator Smith, thinking aloud to his secretary as he searches his mind for the right words to use in drafting a bill, in the movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Some New Perspective on CWRU Departures

About six weeks ago, I told you to expect the imminent defection of two important leaders from our most important regional university, CWRU's business-school and medical-school deans. Weatherhead School of Business dean Myron Roomkin announced his departure a couple weeks later, and a couple weeks after that came official word that Med School head Ralph Horwitz was departing for Stanford. I've noticed relatively little complaint about Froomkin's departure (that job has been in a constant state of turnover ever since Scott Cowen left years ago) but the concerns registered about Horwitz's leaving have been much more in evidence. But leave it to my friend Sandy Piderit, a management professor at the business school, to put things in perspective. Writing recently in her blog, she argues: "I hope that no one will make the mistake of assuming that the loss of three or four people in visible leadership roles will, by itself, make or break the university. Universities are tremendously resilient; many have survived and thrived after the loss of a few top administrators."