Wednesday, January 31, 2007

An Alternate Way of Expressing Nietzche's Line
'That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stronger'

'Experts are those who pass through the forest of thorns.'
--Zen proverb

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Case Wiki

Wiki (a Hawaiian word meaning "quick") pages are essentially collaborative software tools that allow many users to gather and publish information. By far the best-known use of the software is the
Wikipedia, which now contains 1.6 million entries in English alone (it also has counterparts in nine other languages as well). But its uses are hardly limited to collaboratively written encyclopedias. My friend Anton Zuiker also used the tool brilliantly to efficiently manage an astoundingly ambitious science blogging conference he recently co-organized in North Carolina's Research Triangle (more about which soon).

I also mentioned in my year-round roundup a few weeks ago that Case Western Reserve University would be building one to help the historian editors gather more and better information for the next edition of the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. But the official Case wiki is about so much more. According to this article from Case Magazine, the Case wiki "lowers the barriers to publishing information" and "offers students a new pathway to learning." Says one law professor, who uses wikis in his legal writing class, "given the right authorship group, I think it can produce a terrific product"--in this case, a legal brief. Please note the nice wiki-like touch to the story. According to the author credit line at the end of the piece, no fewer than three writers contributed to the article.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Blogging for Tuition Dollars

Last October, I told you about a scholarship awarded for blogging. This year, the same outfit has upped the ante, doubling the scholarship award to $10,000. They have also added a new twist: a $2,000 scholarship dedicated to political blogging. Here's hoping you qualify.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Tubbs Jones Needs Some
Class, While House Could
Use Another Ethics Chair

Shortly after casting her vote for Nancy Pelosi as the House Speaker, Cleveland-area Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones showed her excitement over her party finally achieving majority status by breaking into a dance. "With the whole House watching, (she) broke out into a hip hop jig known as the 'cabbage patch,' a move that involves clasping one's hands and swinging one's arms as if churning butter," Michael Crowley recounted in a recent issue of the New Republic. She went on to anonymously quote a "dismayed House leadership aide as saying, 'show some class.'"

But it's not really her dancing that should have anyone concerned. Instead, it's the worrisome prospect of her heading a crucial Congressional committee. Last month, she was chosen to chair the House Ethics Committee (at least that's the popular name for what formally goes by the name the
Committee on Standards of Official Conduct). I can't, off the top of my head, think of a poorer choice for the position, at least among the Dems (in the Senate, Republican George Voinovich chaired the Ethics Committee for a time, which was far more outrageous, since he just may be the most personally corrupt member of the entire Senate).

It's not so much that she's ethically challenged herself--though she certainly didn't come off looking good when her name showed up near the top of the most frequent junketeers. It's more germane that she has a distinguished record of inactivity as Cuyahoga County prosecutor, the job she used as a stepping stone to her current position. She was known as the prosecutor who didn't want to prosecute anyone. But then, that's probably why she was chosen for this committee chairmanship. While the Dems won a majority largely because the country had begun to grow weary of the Republicans' ethical challenges, now that they've taken control of the chamber, her party would no doubt like ethics problems to disappear from the headlines. If so, they certainly settled on the right woman for the job.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

U.S. Automakers' Problems
Didn't Begin Just Yesterday

'Nice ride. Nobody buys American anymore, huh?'
--the actor John Cusack, congratulating Minnie Driver on her foreign car in the 1997 movie Grosse Point Blank. The problem? This Wharton Business School management prof thinks the issues are pretty straightforward: Honda and Toyota are learning organizations, while GM and Ford are not.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Pull Yourself Together

'People who want to grow large in spirit have to pull themselves together quickly: mastery shows itself, first, in how you cope with restricted circumstances.'
--the German poet Goethe, from his poem Nature and Art.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

There are None So Blind...

'Dwell on the past and you'll lose an eye. Forget the past and you'll lose both eyes.'
--Old Russian proverb

Saturday, January 20, 2007

It Always Comes
Down to Women

Political humorist (and Toledo native) P.J. O'Rourke has a new book out. In a recent interview with Radar Magazine, he tells the real story of why he became a man of the left in his early days, before heading right in later life:

' being left-wing had more to do with meeting girls. It was my first weekend of college and I was just walking down an alley with bars on either side, and on one side was the bar where all the football players and the frat guys and the cute sorority girls all hung out. And on the other side of the alley was the beatnik bar. And I'm looking at the Tri-Delts and the Kappa Kappa Gammas over there at the clean-cut kid bar, and I'm thinking, You know? I'm not gonna cut it over there. I don't play football. I'm not tall and good-looking. I'm not rich. I'm not legacy at Sigma Chi. And then I looked over at the beatnik bar, and I thought, Man, I'll bet those girls do it. And so I turned left into the beatnik bar and didn't emerge for about a decade. So it was really that. It was no deeper than that.'

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Power of a Graceful Retreat

'The first decision you will face in responding to a career disaster is the question of whether to confront the situation that brought you down--with an exhausting, expensive and perhaps embarrassing battle--or try to put it behind you as quickly as possible, in the hope that no one will notice or remember for long. In some cases, it's best to avoid immediate and direct confrontation. Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, for example, decided to sidestep the quicksand of litigation against Sandy Sigoloff, the conglomerateur who fired Marcus from Handy Dan Home Improvement. Marcus made his battleground the marketplace rather than the courtroom. Thanks to this strategy, he was free to set the historic course for the Home Depot, which now under his successor is approaching $100 billion in sales, with several hundred thousand employees. Other comeback kids also began with a graceful retreat.'

--from an article in the January issue of the Harvard Business Review, "Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters." According to research conducted by the authors, 35% of ousted CEOs return to an active executive role within two years, and about 43% effectively end their careers.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I Wonder If He Had Rumsfeld In Mind...

'If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less.'
--Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinsecki, whose prophetic statement to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee in February 2003, shortly before commencement of the Iraq war--that it would take "hundreds of thousands" of American troops to stabilize post-invasion Iraq--was ridiculed and dismissed by the then Pentagon chief. We wish Rummy well in his coming irrelevant post-retirement.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Slow, Steady Cumulative Influence
Of A Planning Guru Named Krumholz

'Reader, if you seek a monument, look around.'
--an inscription near the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren, the British architect who designed much of classical London.

Lately, there's been much attention paid to a seemingly new concept in urban economic development circles: planning for cities that aren't growing, or those that are actually shrinking. Much of the attention has centered on Youngstown, which lost more than half its population in the generation since the steel plants closed, and which has smartly begun comprehensively adjusting to the reality. But of course Cleveland also tends to come up in this discussion as well. USA Today recently published this much-remarked-upon piece about the trend.

But the intellectual architect of this approach is a legendary planning guru who headed the city planning department under three Cleveland mayors and who now teaches at CSU's College of Urban Affairs. Norm Krumholz's national, even international, influence continues to spread even on this, the eve of his ninth decade, through his writing, teaching and shepherding of his far-flung disciples (who include everyone from former first spouse of Cleveland Hunter Morrison, who now works in Youngstown, to University Circle's Chris Ronayne and the Gund Foundation's Bob Jaquay). The occasional brown bag lunch conversations he convenes are legendary in planning circles, and I hope to be allowed to sit in and listen to one sometime soon to experience it for myself.

But back to that concept of his having been an intellectual architect for the urban right-sizing movement. Don't take my word for it. Instead, you could listen to author Kenneth Fox:
Cleveland City Planning Director Norman Krumholz and his associates dramatized the issues for the planning profession by emphasizing that almost all large central cities were losing population, including many that were aggressively pursuing economic development. No perfectly coordinated industrial, commercial, office, tourism and housing development strategy could magically reverse declines at one stroke. Krumholz and associates employ a sophisticated political pragmatism that quickly became known as the 'no-growth planning.'

You'll find that passage in a semi-obscure book published by the University of Mississippi Press, which I happily came upon some time ago and added to my library. It's entitled Metropolitan America: Urban Life and Urban Policy in the U.S., 1940-1980. And it was published more than 20 years ago, in 1986.

And yet, just months shy of his 80th birthday, he shows little sign of retreating from his life's work. Late last year, Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson appointed Norm to the city planning commission. That means that when his final chapter has been written, he'll likely have made significant contributions to Cleveland's planning vision over parts of six decades. That, my friends, is what you would call leaving one's mark on the world.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

When Method Meets Craft

'Novices sometimes imagine writing as dark magic, something known only to some mystical inner circle. They pick up a professional's finished work, marvel at its seamless perfection, and think, I could never do that. Nonsense. Take if from someone who's been scouting around inside the mystic circle for decades. I work shoulder to shoulder with some of the best writers on the planet, and never once have we danced around a cauldron. Some hocus-pocus might help, but we don't know any. So we just get down to work. Great writing happens not through some dark art, but when method meets craft. The secret--if there is one--is to take one manageable step at a time. Superman may leap tall buildings in a single bound, but the best writers I know sit down at their keyboards and write one line. And then another. And another.'
--from Oregonian writing coach Jack Hart's book, A Writer's Coach--An Editor's Guide to Words That Work.

Monday, January 15, 2007

A Complaint About Feds' Neglect of Cities:
How One OSU Law Prof Skirts the Issues

In the winter issue of the urban journal The Next American City, Ohio State law professor John Powell explores how federal neglect has left some of our cities in almost as bad a shape as New Orleans after Katrina's devastation. The opening spread of the piece, headlined "Gradual Disasters--A Hurricane Devastated New Orleans, Decades of Neglect Have Been Just as Devastating to Cities Like Detroit and Cleveland," contains a stark photo of an abandoned house in inner city Cleveland.

Sorry to say, I found this mostly a predictable rant about Washington's neglect of older core cities, which is now a very old story (it began during the first Reagan administration, a generation ago). Power, who also directs the university's Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, serves up some ho-hum stuff. "While the news media swooped in to ponder how New Orleanians would make a living with thousands of businesses out of commision and no tourism dollars to speak of, not many national newspapers ran stories about a study released earlier this year that found that nearly a third of Cleveland's residents--32%--were living below the poverty line."

He ascribes all this to "spatial racism," a term coined five years ago by Chicago's Catholic cardinal. He writes: "we have used space, land use planning and infrastructure investment to do the work of earlier Jim Crow laws that the country formally repudiated." He concludes by observing that "while some resources have begun to flow into Gulf Coast reconstruction, the federal government is reducing its commitment and funding to other key programs, such as community development grants in struggling cities like Detroit and Cleveland. Reducing support for these programs will further heighten the isolation and vulnerability of our inner city communities of color."

There's only one problem with all of this: it simplistically suggests that if only we would invest more in our cities, they would somehow magically bloom, as if we haven't already tried (and failed at) that approach, since at least LBJ's War on Poverty. More recently (something he doesn't mention) the feds injected not inconsiderable amounts of aid to struggling inner cities through the Empowerment Zone program, pushed through during the Clinton Administration (alas, Cleveland didn't qualify for one, but HUD eventually awarded it a supplemental zone, something of a consolation prize). The good professor should get himself out of his ivory tower and poke around to find out what happened with all that: much of it was wasted by garden-variety political corruption, with
minority elites close to city hall skimming off funds through sham minority contracting rackets.

Interestingly enough, his own industry, the Academic-Poverty-Industrial complex, is not without its own complicity in all this. Our own Cleveland Foundation (which wrote the Empowerment Zone application, grandly imagining they were rethinking how services would be provided to the poor) and Mandel Center for Urban Poverty showered attention, gold-plated studies, endless outreach (as well as numerous press releases) on this, to little lasting avail. Today, these neighborhoods have many of the same problems and underlying pathologies they've always suffered under, and simply injecting more federal support isn't going to change that. So what is the answer? I only wish I knew. But I do know that moaning about lack of federal attention to our inner cities is worse than a waste of time. It's a way to talk around the problem while pretending we're addressing it.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Your Results Will Mirror Your Commitment

'You may be so new to the writing game that you're unsure even what to call yourself. Are you a novice? A beginner? It doesn't matter. You are what you say you are. If you have decided to be a writer, you're a writer, published or not. We all have to start somewhere. Beginners often lament that the door is closed except to the big names. But think about it: who were the big names before they were published? Nobodies. Get serious about your career by declaring yourself a writer. Do it now and don't look back. If doing so makes you waver or doubt yourself, maybe you're not cut out for writing. If you're looking for reasons to quit, there are plenty. If you are determined to write no matter what, you're what the publishing world is looking for. Your results will mirror your commitment. Put in the necessary time and do the rewrites to make your own success inevitable. Make your own breaks. That's what separates hobbyists from real authors. Study, do the research, develop a thick skin, work hard, learn to take editing and learn to edit yourself. Have you arrived yet? Neither have I.'
--from Jerry B. Jenkins' Writing for the Soul--Instruction and Advice from an Extraordinary Writing Life.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Reading Material of Choice
For 'Weird Little Nebishes'

'To open these magazines is to walk into a teenage boy's room: the air scented with dirty socks and the contents of wadded-up Kleenex; the walls decorated with pictures of swimsuit models and he-man athletes and sports cars; the desk barely visible under piles of video-game cartridges, action figures and forgotten junk food; and all of it colored by the boy's glee in knowing it exasperates Mom. In fact, that phantom mom (or equivalent mother figure) is just about the only palpable female presence in these magazines...What sort of man reads FHM? Apparently the sort who fetishizes his own head gear and hasn't charm or confidence enought to negotiate the tricky rituals of breakfast for two; the sort who gets a licentious thrill from not having to ask permission to stare at his TV all weekend. In short, a weird little nebish.'
--from Atlantic Monthly editor Jon Zobenica's piece in the current issue of the magazine, about the post-literate charms of "laddie" mags Maxim, Stuff and FHM.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Two Kinds of Lunatics

'Remember that there are two kinds of lunatics: those who don't know that they must die, and those who have forgotten that they are alive.'
--Patrick Declerk

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Real Difference Between the Sexes

'In men, women have a subject of nearly perpetual interest: the foibles, the tastes, the motives, the moods, the peculiar psychology of men are examined by women at various levels of subtlety and at as much length as leisure allows. Men, when they talk about women, are more limited in their range of interest: they either (1) complain about them or (2) exclaim how they wouldn't at all mind bonking them. Broads. Go figure. Next subject.'
--from master essayist Joseph Epstein's darkly brilliant book-length riff on friendship, Friendship--An Expose. But note the tip-off to his advancing age and proud fuddy-duddyism: do you know anyone who still uses words like "broads" and (far worse) "boinking"? I sure don't. Similarly, my generation of males sure isn't laboring under any illusions that "broads" have little to talk about but us. I've noticed that they seem to have more than enough other topics to occupy their curiosity.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

How Happy Are You?

'People have ready-made answers to everything about themselves; they know their name, their address and their party affiliation. But they do not generally know how happy they are, and they must construct an answer to that question, whenever it is raised.'
--Daniel Kahneman, winner of the 2002 Nobel prize for economics

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Too Many Words

'Axe, cut, compress, condense, decrease, delete, drop, eliminate, eradicate, excise, hone, lop, pare, prune, reduce, remove, revise, rewrite, sharpen, slash, streamline, tighten, trim, whittle. … Two dozen words to remind us that we almost always write too many words.'
-- Theodore A. Rees Cheney, author of Getting the Words Right: How to Revise, Edit, and Rewrite

Monday, January 08, 2007

We Study to Utter Our Painful Secret

'All men live by truth and stand in need of expression. In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games, we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself; the other half is his expression.'
--Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Best Lead of the Month

From James Wolcott's column in the current Vanity Fair, "Why Are British Sex Scandals So Much Better Than Ours?":

'When I read the flirty e-mails and instant messages from Congressman Mark Foley to assorted cuddle buns of the male denomination, I was embarrassed, truly embarrassed--not only for Mr. Foley, but for myself as an American. This is the best we can do, this is what it's come to? It was bad enough when the cheesy details of President Bill Clinton's and Monica Lewinsky's bobble-head ministrations leered from the pages of Ken Starr's report, and we learned that the former intern resuscitated the Commander in Chief up only to the point of release, whereupon he withdrew and furnished himself off in a bathroom sink, like some unhousebroken Martin Amis character. The president of the United States, masturbating into a sink--it doesn't get more plaintive than that. Or so I believed. But the Mark Foley congressional-page scandal took the sexcapades to its ultimate dry point of diminuendo: It was a sex scandal without any actual sex. It unfurled almost entirely in the phantom zone where fantasy and virtual reality overlap. What could be more tacky or poignant than a middle-aged sad sack quizzing a teenage page if he had spanked his Oscar Meyer that weekend--"it must feel great spirting on the towel" (further evidence of how cyberprose degrades spelling ability)--and mooching kisses from another playmate before a vote on a war-appropriations bill? When a grown man traffics in smily-face emoticons, it's time to fold up the cot. From Bill Clinton seeking body warmth in Lewinsky's pillowy embrace to Foley batting his eyelashes online, to poor old jowly chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee Wilbur Mills making a ripe fool of himself with stripper Fanne Fox, "the Argentine Firecracker," the high-profile Washington sex scandal is marked by desperate lunging, not lusty abandon. A hot flash of male menopause, it's more of a cry for help and a prelude to rehab than a yelp of pleasure. Washington should steal a tabloid page from its closest and horniest ally, Great Britain. When it comes to whipping up a sex scandal into a donnybrook, the Brits have us beat--they really know how to make the bedsheets billow. British sex scandals, like ours, are often rooted in a dolor of middle-aged malaise, but they're often animated by spite, spicy details, vanity, revenge, bitter comedy and bawdy excess--the complete Jacobean pantry.'

For a look back at earlier leads of the month, go here.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Seeking Happiness In Vain

'Seeking happiness outside ourselves is like waiting for sunshine in a cave facing north.'
--Tibetan saying

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Rest to Sharks & Gods

From the stunning, lyrical conclusion of David Maraniss's superb new biography of baseball legend Roberto Clemente, who died in a 1972 plane crash, en route to his native Nicaragua, while delivering relief supplies in the wake of an earthquake:

'The seers and psychics were less effective in zeroing in on Roberto Clemente. Rumors and false sightings continued. They were no closer to finding him than was his youngest son, Little Ricky, who picked up the telephone and pretended he was talking to his father. No closer than the mourners who started rowing out from the beach to spread flower petals in the sacred water. Vic Power had been convinced that his friend was alive until he saw a photograph of some more debris collected from the wreckage. There was the briefcase Clemente had bought in Nicaragua during the baseball trip with the little aligator head he thought looked funny and wanted to cut off. Ohhh baby, Power said, he's gone. That was January 6th, Three Kings Day. Later that day, Power joined fellow ballplayers at the annual Puerto Rico Winter League All-Star game at Hiram Bithorn Stadium. The game was conducted in honor of Clemente, the greatest Latino player of them all. The long, bleak week was closing, and at the end, after his people by the thousands lined the Atlantic shore in the expectation that Clemente would walk out of the sea, and thousands more made pilgrimages up the hillside to shuffle past his house like a shrine, and the seers said that he was alive, but dazed, and President Nixon got involved at the White House, and the Pittsburgh comrades arrived in Puerto Rico to show their grief and solidarity, and the U.S. Coast Guard with all its boats and planes and divers and equipment, slowly dragged up the wreckage and debris, searching in a Probability of Detection Area stretching for miles--at the end, finally, on a coral reef a mile east of Punta Maldonado, they found one sock, and Vera knew it was Roberto's. One sock, that's all, the rest to sharks and gods.'

Thursday, January 04, 2007

If Oprah and Martha Stewart
Have Their Own Magazines,
Trump Must Have One Too

The entertainment-TV-industry-masquerading-as-news-media recently was all over its latest idiot culture non-story, the silly Donald Trump announcement that he had graciously decided to forgive a beauty pageant queen for some racy photos. The idiot culture chroniclers like to document his every move, hoping you'll pick up on their exquisite irony, and get the joke (that they're really making fun of him by paying attention at all).

And yet the giant Trump industry and its related wind machine has somehow failed to sufficiently trumpet perhaps the biggest story of all: the fact that there is actually a magazine called Trump. In fact, it's been in existence since 2004. Perhaps you knew that, but I surely didn't. A quick flip through what little of it exists online perhaps shows why it's gotten so little attention: it makes Oprah's O Mag and Martha Stewart Living seem like candidates for the National Magazine Award by comparison.

But then, we must admit that our ignorance of Trump is as deep as it is wide. Last April, we tried to make up for that just a little, by bringing you this little bit of Trump silliness, after someone pointed out that we had shockingly overlooked The Donald as a subject for three whole years. Here's hoping we get another three years of silence on this subject.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

You Have to Reach People
Right Down in Their Souls

'My language was meant to be transparent and clear. If there was a theme, it was always to simplify, simplify, simplify, to make them feel it in their blood, get it into their skin. You have to reach people in their soul so that they internalize your message. Too many messages are just internal gobbledygook.'
--former GE chairman Jack Welch, who no doubt reached more than his share of people deep in their souls, many of them, alas, through the medium of a pink slip during his infamous "Neutron Jack" days.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

In Understanding Lies Forgiveness

'To understand all is to forgive all.'
--A French proverb. And, we think, the leading reason why for most writers, at least, their work becomes less angry, less prosecutorial, and more forgiving of flawed human subjects with each year the writer ages.