Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Here are 100 (Or So) Words You Should Know

The editors of the American Heritage dictionary recently compiled a list of 100 words they think every high school graduate and their parent should know. A senior editor of the dictionary says flatly that "if you are able to use these words correctly, you are likely to have a superior command of the language." I think he's mostly right. But I also think the average educated person can get along just fine without ever using such oddball words as "gamete" and "moiety," for instance. I'm also reminded of how the lovely but obscure sound of the word "jejune" once caused Woody Allen to use it as a comic element in the script for his movie Love and Death, a takeoff on Tolstoy's War and Peace. Woody, playing himself, was accused of being jejune. His response: "You have the temerity to say that I'm blocking you out of jejunosity? I'm one of the most june people in all of the Russias!"

Saturday, June 23, 2007

It's Not
X's & O's

'Coaches who can outline plays on a blackboard are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.'
-- Vince Lombardi

Friday, June 22, 2007

How the Rubber Industry's Agonizing Death
Spiral Tore at the Soul of One Akron Family

From the haunting, poetic memoir Gum-Dipped -- A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town, by Joyce Dyer, director of writing at Hiram college, and mother of Akron Beacon Journal columnist Bob Dyer:

'To me, Harvey Firestone was better than a lion or a soldier or even Lincoln himself. He was a king up there on the top of his hill, in the midst of meadow and forest with birds singing everywhere. It was Harvey who reigned where I was moving, who built our Tudor house, who cut our curved streets and bought fancy little streetlights that glowed into our bedroom windows, who loved my father and therefore must love me. Harvey was mine.'

Years later:

'Tom Coyne [her dad] refused to mention the name of his company for 15 years after the wrecking ball took his building down. We both read the Akron Beacon Journal every day, and knew a little bit about what was going on at Firestone, but we didn't talk about it the way we had before--each blip on the company screen a heartbeat in our own chests. Sometimes I'd see him shaking his head when he'd see a story about yet another Firestone factory being razed in Akron. His white hair would shoot in long strands toward his nose. What had happened to us, and to Xylos, would be repeated many times before the Firestone story was over. Plant 2 closed in 1978. A wrecking crew battled its steel and concrete for two years before the building finally fell, a winter sacrifice. I could tell the news about other closings upset my dad, because the burps started up for a few days each time it happened. He probably was thinking of all the men who would lose their jobs. Of the workers who would fill out unemployment forms, file for divorce, leave town, take out loans to go to barber school. A few really would commit suicide.'

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Forty Years Later...
Three former Israeli paratroopers return to re-enact their famous photo at the Western Wall, taken shortly after Israel's success in the Six Day War. You can learn more about the incident and the resulting iconic photo here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Best Lead of the Month

'Nothing divides the United States from Europe like religion. America has its public piety and its multitude of thriving sects. Europe has its official secularism and its empty, museum-piece churches. Ninety percent of Americans say they believe in God, while only about 60 percent of Britons, French, and Germans say the same. American poltiics is riven by faith-based disputes that barely exist across the Atlantic, while European debates take place under a canopy of unbelief that's unimaginable in the United States, where polls show that a Muslim or a homosexual has a better chance of being elected president than an acknowledged atheist.'
--from Crises of Faith by Ross Douthat in the current issue of The Atlantic. You can review past best leads of the month here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Times Coverage Today Ups the Ante
On Pressure to Save Breuer Building

New York Times Cleveland-area stringer Chris Maag has a great overview in today's Times about the escalating struggle to save the Breuer Building in Cleveland (I mentioned the controversy earlier here & here, and Gloria Ferris has done a brilliant job of bird-dogging the issue in recent weeks. Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones even left a comment on her blog yesterday). Chris sounded quite thoughtful and well-informed when he appeared last week on WCPN's reporter's roundtable. Too bad his previous employer, the lowbrow tabloid Scene, doesn't seem to be able to ever keep its best and brightest. For me, there's one interesting sub-text to this ongoing controversy. Call it the face-off of John Carroll grads. Downtown councilman Joe Cimperman is pushing for destruction of the building, while Cleveland Planning Commission Chair Tony Coyne is resisting (though I suspect he'd just as soon okay it, if it wasn't attracting as much critical attention as it has). The funniest moment thus far: Commissioner Tim Hagan complaining last week in the PD about all the "unelected" busybodies getting their hands into his business. Damn that democracy! Anyway, stay tuned.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Poverty & Urbanism Marching in Lockstep

'This year, for the first time in history, a majority of the world's people will live in cities. Global population growth will continue to concentrate in urban centers of the developing world, which will absorb more than two billion new residents over the next two decades. The pace of urbanization far exceeds the rate at which basic services can be provided, and the consequences for the urban poor have been dire. Global poverty has increasingly become an urban phenomenon.'
--from a cover story in the current issue of the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Whitman Sampler

Literature, a wise man once remarked, is news that stays news. Walt Whitman, perhaps our greatest poet, is still news, speaking across the centuries, seeming never to go out of style. Bill Clinton famously wooed Monica with a gift of Whitman's Leaves of Grass. Now you can sample from the works of the great bard in this online archive of his work, which contains digital images of his original manuscripts. The site recently was on the receiving end of a half-million-dollar grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. That should help keep the timeless poet relevant for at least another century.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Overnight Success,
Years in the Making

'For some reason, reporters often call me an overnight success. But if that's true, it's been a 15-year-long night. My career, like those of most writers, has been one of slow, incremental growth, a mixture of both successes and failures. And here's the thing that's really remarkable: the failures you face as a writer are more important, because they're what make you work harder, do better and build up the rhinoceros-hide-thick skin you need to survive in the publishing world.'
--Novelist Jodi Picoult, sounding off about failure and rejection in the current Writer's Digest

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Have Yourself a National Geographic Summer

I'm looking forward to seeing my pal Anton Zuiker in the next couple of days, as he makes one of his patented whirlwind visits to Cleveland, managing to find quality time with his many friends and at his favorite places. And I recall that he once said his goal in life was to one day edit National Geographic magazine. Life has taken him to other, equally interesting, summits. But thinking about him caused me to visit the magazine's wonderful website, where I found a couple of especially interesting items. Taken together as a guide, they could easily transform your summer.

This package is a wonderful guided tour to the best of America's easily-overlooked wonders, our national park system. You can thank the formidable Teddy Roosevelt for planting that seed, and thousands of others since for watering and maintaining them. I've yet to spend much time at any of them, but I hope to change that before long. And while you're exercising your body (to return to yesterday's theme of mind-body exercise), you can also nourish the mind with this exquisite list of the 100 best adventure books of all time. As it happens, I didn't find one I had read until all the way down to #26, Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff. And you can quibble that Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm (it's #30) doesn't belong on the list at all, given the substantial questions that have been raised about its authenticity (as I wrote about here), but those are mere quibbles. I plan to keep this list around for the next few years, as a reminder about several books worth reading. That is, at least whenever I'm feeling adventurous.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Nourishment for Mind & Body

'Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.'
--Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729)

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Lebron Vs. Kobe: A Study in Contrasts

Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins has a wonderful piece on the differences between Lebron James and the Lakers' Kobe Bryant, arguing that "the ascent of James and the descent of Bryant was a fascinating subtext in the NBA playoffs last week." She writes:
'...it couldn't be more obvious why their careers are going in opposite directions. One guy holds his team together, while the other guy divides his. One guy builds his franchise up. The other guy -- make no mistake about it -- has torn his down...While James was giving more, Bryant was demanding more. More attention, more support, more consideration from Lakers management and, finally, a trade. Bryant's performance during this season, in its own way, was every bit as career defining as James's was on the court.'

After reading this, I'm moved to formally revoke the blanket aspersions I recently (and foolishly) cast on female sportswriters. Though it's interesting that, like the NYT's Selena Roberts, she, too, notes that Lebron is "not the most elegant player who ever lived." But then of course, he's got so much more than mere elegance. Lebron, she says, has "inner grace."

It's More About the Journey Than the Destination

'The reason I write the book is not because I know what I want to say to the public. I write the book in order to figure out for myself what I think about the subject.'
--Criminologist and author James Q. Wilson, quoted in a recent L.A. Times profile. You can learn more about his classic book, The Moral Sense, here. This article, from 1982, explains why he's considered the father of community policing and developer of the "broken window" theory of civic disorder.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Michael Jordan Assesses Lebron's Progress

Before he was chosen #1 in the 2003 NBA draft, Lebron James had achieved a national repuation for at least two reasons: he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, which dubbed him King James, and more than held his own as a high school kid against hardened NBA vets at NBA legend Michael Jordan's summer camp. So after Lebron helped get his team into the NBA finals it was fitting that old #23 should be asked his thoughts on new #23. Jordan told his hometown Chicago Tribune that 'I think you see some growth. Expectations have been there, the signs have been there. What just transpired was something I felt was needed for the league, was needed for Cleveland, was needed for LeBron. Now the test comes in being consistent and continuing that elevation, and not getting complacent...Making 'The Leap' is where you do it every single night. It's expected of you, and you do it. That, to me, is 'The Leap.' Not one game, not two games. It's consistent. Every defense comes in and they focus on you and you still impact the game. I think he's shown signs of that. I think he's going to continue to grow with that.'

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Character Sketches of McCarthy
Don't Get Any Better Than This

'McCarthy built his image as a farmboy and ex-Marine, a straight-shooter and plain-talker. America's brawler. 'You would,' observed Alice Roosevelt Longworth, 'be glad to have someone like Joe McCarthy on your side if you wee in a big row or a street fight. I think he'd throw paving stones very well-0awful things.' As a political property, McCarthy was self-made--self-invented, really--with somethign of the appeal of the compassionate charlatan, the type who bluffed you out and then let you in on the con. He could be funny--irreverant, iconoclastic--and, when you expected it least, generous and forgiving. In rigidly stratified Washington, he always kept treats in his pockets for the community's mutts--ex-FBI types, newspapermen and aides on the rise. Because he was a fraud and he knew it--relished it, capitalized on it, inflated it until it became his style. Challenged, he counterattacked, bullied drowned every studied refutation in a dense spray of countercharges. As a personal tactic, this worked for awhile, but as a strategy it was imbecilic. It destroyed him early, and undoubtedly he knew it would.'
--from an absorbing new book by journalist and historian Burton Hersh, Bobby and J. Edgar--The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover. Among the book's other virtues, it contains one of the best comprehensive treatments I've ever encountered of how family patriarch Joe Kennedy really accumulated his fortune, as well as a hilarious account of how the uncoordinated, non-swimming McCarthy fared poorly when invited to mingle with the Kennedy's at Hyanisport. According to the author, he briefly dated JFK's sister Eunice, who thought of him as an amusing form of "junk food after the Kennedy's restrictive diet."

Saturday, June 02, 2007

It Could Have Been Jesus

'McCartney had not gone three steps on the sidewalk when a burly young man with a military haircut lunged into his path and thrust something at him: a CD--"The Beatles 1"--along with a black marker. McCartney took them and opened the CD's jewel; case. "Put it to Lloyd," the man said. McCartney signed the CD and handed it back. "There you go, mate," he said. Then, hands in his pockets, he resumed his walk. The speed and violence with which the fan had accosted McCartney were jarring, and I remarked that the man could have been another Mark David Chapman [John Lennon's killer]. "Yeah, or it could have been Jesus, come to give a blessing," McCartney said. He added: "When you number's up, it's up."
--from a profile of former Beatle Paul McCartney, in the current issue of the New Yorker. To this day, the author notes, the surviving half of the 20th century's most successful pop songwriting team can neither read nor write music. The piece isn't online, but you can listen to an interview with the profile's author here.

Friday, June 01, 2007

photo via Cleveland.com
Soaring Over All Obstacles

The Washington Post called it "a masterful, career-defining performance," and it certainly was. The Akron Beacon Journal's Brian Windhorst, writing for ESPN.com, nicely placed Lebron's performance last night into the context of his entire career (he's only 22), going back to schoolyard ball. So this is what it must have been like to watch Jim Brown in his prime, doing things no one else seems able to do on a playing field, elevating the game to a level where it feels more like art than sports. Yes, only five victories now stand between this team and its first NBA championship (which would be the first major sports championship for Cleveland in 43 long years, since Brown willed the Browns to victory). But let's take this one step at a time, shall we? After all, we were up 3-2 against the same team last year, to no avail. But now matter how it ends, it sure is fun to watch your favorite basketball team still playing in June. Last year at this time, as we similarly headed into game six, up 3-2 over the same team (though we're now one series closer to a championship), I wrote and posted this essay on Cleveland's tortured soul as it relates to sports. I think it all applies just as much today, only more.