Monday, December 31, 2007

The 'Curse of Knowledge' & the Amateur Spirit

It's no mystery to me why this fascinating exploration of the tension between knowledge and expertise on the one hand and the ability to innovate on the other rocketed to the top of the list of most-emailed articles yesterday on the New York Times website. As of mid-day today, it remains in the top spot.

The heart of the piece may be this passage: "This so-called curse of knowledge, a phrase used in a 1989 paper in The Journal of Political Economy, means that once you’ve become an expert in a particular subject, it’s hard to imagine not knowing what you do. Your conversations with others in the field are peppered with catch phrases and jargon that are foreign to the uninitiated. When it’s time to accomplish a task — open a store, build a house, buy new cash registers, sell insurance — those in the know get it done the way it has always been done, stifling innovation as they barrel along the well-worn path."

It's seemingly quite a conundrum. Should those seeking to innovate--which I hope is all of us to one degree or another, in whatever field of endeavor you happen to be in--try to somehow forget everything they know and have learned, often at great sacrifice? Should they ignore their hard-won expertise and try to revert to some form of mental clean slate? I don't know about you, but to me, that seems to be at war with everything I know, feel and think, and even with my involuntary instincts. Thus, it would seem to be a losing proposition to try that path.

But I'm not so sure this is an either-or proposition. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's not. I think life is mostly about finding balance in all things--between work and play, between pure optimism and realism, and between intuition and more linear thinking. And that would include balancing between pure knowledge and experience and what I like to call "the amateur spirit." This is an important concept that I've mentioned here too infrequently (shame on me), though I did recently link to this quote about the subject and I also touched on it a bit here.

Professionalism and a well-refined sense of craft--reinforced by a drive for lifelong learning--are crucial in any calling or line of work. And when these are overlayed with a novice's sense of fresh wonder and possibility, just about anything seems possible. I wish you much luck in the new year, gentle reader, in finding that balance in your life and work.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sunday Stuff

What follows is a roundup of stuff I thought important to notice, but which I don't necessarily have the time to delve into in a larger way just now. But don't be shy, dear reader. If any of these happen to hit your interest button, please do pipe up and comment to get the conversation started.

Why We Love Bookslut, Part 67. How can you resist a blog that's as lively and earnest as the writing in this entry, from Bookslut's 20-something Jessa Crispin, posted on Dec. 18th: "Back when I was 19 and an idiot, I was very swoony for Glenn Gould. Not as swoony as the girl I knew in Canada who went to his grave and wept, saying she had no hope for love because only Glenn Gould would ever really be able to understand her, but still about as swoony as some girls got over Morrissey. (Never understood that one, myself.) And let's not think about the fact that I've switched my dead guy crush from Gould to William James, who was also not in the best of health, but at least he didn't have the weird scarf thing." We've enthused about the Chicago-based literary blog earlier--here, here, here, here and here.

Hollywood Producer Peter Guber on the Importance of Storytelling. Though it's not available online for nonsubscribers (and it's among the priciest pubs on the planet), this piece in the current Harvard Business Review is worth finding at the bookstore or library. Here's how it begins: "The power of storytelling is also central to my work as a business executive and entrepreneur. Over the years, I've learned that the ability to articulate your story or that of your company is crucial in almost every phase of enterprise management. It works all along the business food chain: A great salesperson knows how to tell a story in which the product is the hero. A successful line manager can rally the team to extraordinary efforts through a story that shows how short-term sacrifice leads to long-term success. An effective CEO uses an emotional narrative about the company's mission to attract investors and partners, to set lofty goals, and to inspire employees. "

Speaking of Hollywood...Looking for a fresh take on the writer's strike, which next week will enter its third month? I'd recommend this piece in the lively lefty journal In These Times. I learned some things from this piece that I've seen nowhere else, including the fact that the Writer's Guild used to represent about 95% of those who write for film and TV, but that cable and reality shows have helped whittle that down by about half, to 55%. The author argues that the growing concentration of corporate ownership has allowed these deep-pocketed companies to ride out strikes their predecessors couldn't.

Stop the Presses: Rich Districts Produce Good Schools. Solon and Chagrin Falls high schools are ranked #s 126 & 127 in Newsweek's new listing of the top 1,300 public high schools in the U.S. They had the top slots for this region (a couple of Cincinnati-area schools were in the top 100). Then again, I have about as much faith in these kinds of lists as I do in energy healing and Cleveland magazine's annual "rating the suburbs" feature. In other words, not much. (So why even mention it, you ask? Because we believe in the bedrock principle of we report, you decide!)

CIO Magazine on how Wal-Mart Lost its Technology Edge. CIO, owned by the same company that publishes Britain's stately and authoritative Economist, is a great and often-overlooked pub, the kind that often serves as both a feeder system and crib notes for larger, more prominent news organizations. Anyway, since technology has always been the crucial factor in this omnivorous company's rise, I found this piece about Wal-Mart's waning tech edge to be of special interest, and you might too. Here's a prediction: you'll soon see this same theme cropping up all over the rest of the media, in many cases mostly just repackaging of this piece, with perhaps a little different slant and a sprinking of additional reporting. In fact, we just may consider awarding a prize to the first reader who can provide such a link. By the way, for non-techie readers, CIO stands for chief information officer.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

More Dispatches from the Idiot Culture

'One of my greatest passions is making deals. I love to make the big score and the big deal. I love to crush the other side and take the benefits. Why? Because there is nothing greater. For me, it is even better than sex, and I love sex. But when you hit, when the deals are going your way, it is the greatest feeling! You hear lots of people say that a great deal is when both sides win. That is a bunch of crap. In a great deal, you win--not the other side. You crush the opponent and come away with something better for yourself. In negotiations, I love to go for the complete win. That is why I have made so many good deals.'
--Donald Trump (well, actually his ghostwriter), in his latest cretinous, sub-literate musings captured between hard covers, charmingly titled Think Big and Kick Ass. To review earlier takes on both Trump and the Idiot Culture (subjects joined at the hip), go here, here, here, here, here and here.

Friday, December 28, 2007

R.I.P., Benazir Bhutto

'Remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible but, in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always.'
--Mahatma Gandhi. Earlier this year, we brought you this quote from Ms. Bhutto, about the human need to venture into danger. A chillingly prophetic sentiment, given her murder yesterday. Washington Post columnist David Ignatius offers up this vivid remembrance of her. Meanwhile, The Economist does its usual job of smartly analyzing things, while the former South Asian bureau chief for the New York Times declares in this piece in The Nation that "an age of hope is over." Time was the first major outlet (at least the first I noticed) to explore the important issue of who's behind her murder. Finally, the king of Akron's blogging community, the formidable Scott Piepho (a.k.a. Pho), did a nice roundup yesterday.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

This Requires No Comment From Us

'The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies. '
--from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Swedish Holiday Greetings to You All

'Fear less, hope more; eat less, chew more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more. Love more, and all good things will be yours.'
--Swedish proverb. A very merry Christmas, happy holidays and a happy new year to you all.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Saturday Stuff

Strap on your helmets, folks. Away we go.

Good Advice. I've never heard of this writer, but I nevertheless think she provides pretty good advice to new writers in this interview with The Guardian newspaper. Here's the key portion:

What advice would you give to new writers?
Get a job. I don't mean that in the sense of "give up writing," more that it's dangerous for a writer to cut themselves off from the world. You have to be out experiencing things, meeting people and living life, and not locked away in your garret staring at the wall. So, find a job that allows you a certain amount of time, and headspace, to write.

Craigslist Sends Cease & Desist to Weasley "Scraper." This piece in the January issue of Wired magazine is an interesting exploration of a problem that will increasingly crop up in the Web 2.0 world: what to do when your organization, as a primary provider of news and/or some other valuable web content, gets its content "scraped" by some outfit interested only in web traffic and the ad dollars that accompany it? I say good for Craigslist for going after the thief.

Good for you, Boston Globe. Here's a page that every serious newspaper should have as a citizens' guide to government documents and other information. Few, however do. This page isn't bad, either.

The Most Trusted Name in News? That's the running tagline (minus the question mark) that CNN has been using for some time, smartly changing the subject from idiot culture mainstay Fox News's higher ratings. So why does CNN's website bother with such ridiculous ephemera as this silly thing, presidential pong? Can anyone please explain that to me?

A Must-Watch Video. Finally, the excellent Cyberjournalist site offers up this interesting and informative video about how the New York Times' new company headquarters building has allowed the "paper" to more tightly integrate the print and online newsrooms. This is the future of news, folks, so do please check it out when you get a moment.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Mark Geyman Keeps Chugging Along

I used to think of my friend Mark Geyman and his as a best-kept secret of the region. But as he's continued to refine and expand his unique local-regional-state online search tool long after Google invaded his local turf, he's hardly a secret anymore. This week, Mark relaunched the site, which continues to outdo Google, which is surely saying something. I invite you to tool around on it, as it now offers the following services:

Expanded coverage to over 400,000 Ohio business listings.
Ohio-based/centric business search directory that truly cares about our state/region, not just another national company trying to put on a “local” face, offering more of a personalized approach.
Site Search broken down into 5 Ohio Business Regions (NE, NW, Central, SE, SW).
Businesses can login and manage their own listings.
Tiered levels of membership from FREE, PAY (additional features included, “We Maintain” – OhioBiz will maintain the listing for you).
Included in all levels – Customized business location map, information fields on the business, including short descriptions and full descriptions.
All members will be validated before editing.
Additional paid features include: Deep Links – Additional links to pages within a company’s website (i.e. product landing pages, blog, specials page); Coupon Creation – program automatically builds coupons/special offers which can be easily customized OR member can upload their own coupon; Document Upload – members can upload documents (Word, PDFs, etc.); Products Upload – members can upload photos of products.
More features will be added – job listings, video clips, etc.
Add exposure to your website’s inner pages through the use of the Deep Links feature.
Easy to login and keep your information fresh.
You don’t need to have a website to have a “presence” on OhioBiz.

Here's a brief profile I wrote of Mark, eight years ago this month:

Cybrarian Mark Geyman
Through sheer doggedness, a modest webhound has grown what was once his personal bookmarks into arguably Ohio's leading web directory.

For years, it was something of a best-kept secret among cybersavvy local journalists and salespeople. The former found it a unique tool to browse for story ideas by industry sector and to effortlessly assemble company background information, while the latter employed it as a powerful weapon to narrow their scattershot cold calling from the comfort of their desktops. Simply by browsing through the regional web directory, any user could get a quick overview of the online presence that hundreds and then thousands of businesses and organizations maintained.

And the man behind it all, 42-year-old Mark Geyman, isn't what one might expect. A web-development marketing VP by day, he has little of the brassiness one ordinarily associates with his trade. Instead, his self-effacing modesty calls to mind a career librarian.

Sitesonline traces its roots to 1995, when Geyman--a former executive recruiter and cable-TV marketing and sales guy who began tinkering with 1,200-baud modems and the revolutionary Cleveland Free Net in the late '80s--began piecing together what he then called Geyman's Northern Ohio Website Directory. It was a year after the industry-leading Yahoo had developed its general web directory, but perhaps a full year before the portal site began offering local directories. At its inception, Sitesonline was little more than Geyman's personal bookmarks of local sites.

By '96, the self-taught hacker had changed the name to, and he was spending several hours each week adding to the directory himself as an after-hours diversion. He began focusing on the Cleveland metro area, then the northern one-third of Ohio, and now tracks sites headquartered throughout the entire state of Ohio. The site receives between 8,000-10,000 unique visitors a month, many of which are repeat customers, says Geyman.

His doggedness in building the directory is legendary in certain circles. For years, you could be engaging Geyman in casual conversation while mentioning someone's URL, or web address. He'd immediately stop you, gently back up to your reference, and ask you about the site, making a mental note to later add it to his burgeoning directory. He was similarly obsessive in tracking down the source of unfamiliar e-mail addresses.

Today, his efforts have resulted in a directory that catalogues more than 11,000 sites, which dwarfs any other local or regional web directories. Geyman receives as many as 40-60 e-mails each week informing him of still more sites that would like to be added to the directory, and he religiously maintains the database, thus leaving surprisingly few dead links for a directory of its size. Still, he's not in any position to get cocky about his comprehensiveness, since he estimates the real number of meaningful (no personal sites, generally) Ohio-based sites at perhaps 200,000 to 300,000.

His latest plans, though, call for essentially cannibalizing SitesOnline, which he doesn't own outright. Several months ago, he secured the rights to, which the Ohio Department of Development controlled for years, and which thus has an estimated 300 other sites linked to it. He's slowly migrating much of the SitesOnline directory over to his new site-about 6,000 URLs at present--and plans to stop updating SitesOnline. While the former directory was built on a Yahoo-like portal model, his plans now call for OhioBiz to proceed more on's much-admired model of popularity-rated search engines.

With all the large web players buying out their smaller counterparts, he's asked, is he surprised that SitesOnline has never been on the receiving end of a firm buyout offer? "Maybe it hasn't had a high enough profile," he says with his characteristic bashfulness. "It's a good resource, but I haven't advertised it anywhere."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

If Only Mr. Thoreau Would Have Taken
Some Prune Juice With Him to the Pond

'I am inclined to think of late that as much depends on the state of the bowels as of the stars. As are your bowels, so are the stars.'
From Henry David Thoreau's journal, in an entry dated December 12, 1859. You can read more of the great one's journal entries on this blog, appropriately called The Blog of Henry David Thoreau. My thanks to WWW reader (and frequent commenter) Art Durkee for the link. To review earlier Thoreau mentions, go here, here and here.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Which Part of the Word Are You Focused On?

'I've come to believe there are basically two types of newspaper publishers: those who think the most important part of the word newspaper is "news" and those who think the most important part of that word is "paper." If you work for a publisher or a company that thinks "paper" is the most important part of that word, then my suggestion would be to get your resume ready.'
--from an essay by Rob Curley in The Journalist, an annual publication of the Society of Professional Journalists. Young Mr. Curley is a nationally known guru on the subject of how newspapers can better leverage the web. Last year, he visited Kent State University's J-School with his message, and apparently left the faculty feeling a tad insecure (at least judging by this account in a now-dormant faculty blog).
UPDATE: This newish piece by Kent State journalism prof Karl Idsvoog in Harvard's excellent Nieman Reports publication does provide at least a sliver of hope about the Kent Journalism School. Karl emceed a panel discussion about blogging held at the school a couple of years ago, in which I took part. Because he seemed then to be interested mostly in reducing everything to the most simplistic soundbite, he struck me that day as the faculty crank--every faculty has at least one--a refugee from TV "news" whose effect on impressionable young minds caused me to gulp a little at the very thought of it. But perhaps I was wrong. I certainly hope so, and of course it wouldn't be the first time my initial impression of someone was dead wrong, though I also try not to make a habit of it.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Favorite Lead of the Month

'The Lands' End fall catalog is porn for the heartsick man. Who thought sixty pages of stylish-yet-practical clothing would employ models who are disturbing approximations of the lovely thirty-something woman who doesn't want to put up with your shit anymore? But there she is: kicking leaves on a crisp day, sipping coffee in an immaculate breakfast nook, nestling a golden baby and smiling like the most perfect family photo on a young executive's desk. These are images more invasive than any Victoria's Secret spread, because they don't inspire lust. This is a pornography of regret, and the longer you stare, the more seductive it becomes. These sixty pages are a self-pity trap; any sane lonely man would do well to avoid them.'
--From a luminous essay on Purists may note two technical problems with this: I'm actually using as the "lead" paragraph to this essay the first three grafs. Also, this is actually our second favorite lead of this month. But as the disclaimer on Michael Feldman's NPR show puts it, "sticklers for the truth should get their own show."

Monday, December 17, 2007

On Jazz Fans & Security Systems

There's something about middle-aged white guys
who idolize black jazz and blues musicians
that always makes me uncomfortable.

Charlie Parker, they'll say, pouring the wine.
Bird. Mingus. Oh yeah. They get this
dreamy, faraway gaze, they exchange
Signs of the brotherhood.
Coleman. Monk. Brother Miles.

Their wives look away,
wait for the subject to change.

Outside it's getting dark.
The streetlights flicker into life.
We switch on the security systems.

--from The Good Kiss, a collection of George Bilgere's poetry, published by Akron University Press.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Stuff

It's blizzard time in Cleveland, and the Browns just won, so all is good. Here are just a few quick things for your Sunday reading pleasure.

Important news for those of you who only read the articles.

Permission marketing guru Seth Godin rightly calls Whole Foods Market "an amusement park for food."

I'm glad someone's still keeping the pressure on Don Rumsfeld, who's arguably a war criminal. Earlier this year, we told you about his possible legal difficulties, and now comes this update. I'm guessing that this fellow is related to the Forest City Ratners, since there's a New York branch of the family. We'll try to find that out.

The Nation offers up an interesting new coinage: permalancers.

And finally, L.A. Times rock critic Ann Powers (who previously served as rock critic for the NYTimes) thinks this year's new Rock Hall inductee class is pretty weak. We wouldn't really know about these things, because we're about as up to date on rock music as we are on sci-fi, but perhaps a few readers might educate us about this. After all, there's been one hell of an interesting conversation going on about science fiction in the comments section, if you skip down just a few entries ago. I've found it quite enlightening.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

In the 'We Couldn't Have Made This Up If We Tried' department, comes this item. A newsreader for the frothy Today Show exhorts a Columbia Journalism School audience: "I'm here to call you to be a warrior for truth." Please, Ms. Curry, spare us the bull. That, too, is an important journalistic principle.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Gee, Now I'm Convinced

According to this ad, Hillary Clinton's mom thinks she's the best candidate. On the other hand, Rudy Guliani couldn't get his kids to say even this. While we're on the subject of presidential candidates, do check out this wonderful feature in the New York Times' ever-more-ambitious digital version: a candidate-by-candidate compilation of articles that allows viewers to drill down for past articles on any one or all of them. Simply marvelous.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

With Oprah Now Campaigning Hard for Obama,
This Brilliant "O" Deconstruction is a Must-Read

Last year, I read and admired this brilliant deconstruction of the tiresome Oprah phenomenon and what her meteoric popularity--which I would argue is more than a little baffling to most men--says about the country, and more specifically about the state of American womanhood. Now that the Daytime Diva is stumping the country on behalf of her fellow O, Obama, it seems like a good time to look back at this piece and study it again. "Winfreyism is the expression of an immensely reassuring and inspiring message that has, without doubt, helped millions of people carry on with their lives. And it is also an empty, cynical, icily selfish outlook on life that undercuts its own positive energy at every turn." That sounds about right to me.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Life, and the Future, Ain't Fair

'The future is already here. It's just not evenly distributed.'
--William Gibson, author of Neuromancer. Okay, we're proud squares: since we don't do sci-fi, we'd never heard of the guy nor of the book, which reputedly launched the cyberpunk generation, whatever that means. But we do like that quote, so we wouldn't be too surprised to learn that there might well be something of interest in his writing, even for non-cyberpunks. Thoughts, anyone?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Some Seriously Inspired Headline-Writing,
And the Subhead is Pretty Damn Good, Too

Lively Ad Age magazine produces the week's best headline, and the subhead (or the "deck," in magazine parlance) is just as good. Together, they do what every good headline is supposed to do: convert you from a scanner into a reader, pulling you into the story. If more magazines and newspapers did this good a job at selling the article with a great headline and subhead, there would probably be more reading and at least a little less scanning. Of course, some publications do too good a job of this, overselling the article with hype, making an implicit promise on which the article itself can't deliver. That's a serious no-no in our book. We'd love to see your nominees for other great headlines, from wherever you find them. We'll use the best of them in subsequent posts.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday Stuff

Okay, not much time today to write (at least in this venue), so instead I'll quickly share some interesting stuff I've been reading and/or stumbling over.

Dear Team NEO: if you're not ever going to put anything on your online events calendar, maybe y'all should think about just getting rid of it?

My pal Jimmy Kukral (the web guru) works in bursts. How about you?

Putting out an APB (that's All Points Bulletin for those who haven't watched enough old cop shows) for Chas Rich, missing in action since August. At least the archives are back online. Even those have been missing for awhile. Anybody see or hear from him?

Do you still doubt the thuggery of the American right wing? If so, just click on the comments for this entry on a right-wing newspaper, in a story about their bete noir, Valerie Plame, and you'll get a pretty good glimpse into the heart of darkness.

Here's a song that always manages to make me a little misty eyed whenever I hear it. It also reminds me of old flames. When I bump into them occasionally, I always have to stifle the urge to hum a few bars for them.

What a sublimely cute childhood photo of herself my friend Kris Ohlson posted on her wonderful blog back in July. This should be in a coffeetable book somewhere.

The economic development guru Ed Morrison experiments with a pricey premium blog service. Do let us know how that's going, will you, Ed?

Finally, go see the movie Bella, will you? While it's come in for more than its share of bashing from the critics (but also lots of raves from average movie goers, including sophisticated ones, like those who attended the Toronto film fest and voted it the People's Choice). We caught it over the weekend and found it an impossibly sweet story about the power of love and redemption. But you'd better hurry if you're going to see it on the big screen. For Cleveland-area readers, I think it may only still be at the Richmond Mall cinemas. And with the movie theatre search page apparently down, we can't confirm that just now. Anyway, more about this movie soon.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Lives They Lead

'People pay for what they do, and still more, for what they have allowed themselves to become. And they pay for it simply: by the lives they lead.'
--James Baldwin

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Sixtieth Anniversary of Cleveland
Missing an Opportunity for Innovation

This month marks the 60th anniversary of the invention of the transistor, which was cobbled together by some researchers in Bell Laboratories, one of the more fertile engines of innovation of its time. It's often said that the Northeast Ohio region missed the digital era, and all the chances it offered to capitalize on related innovations. But David Morgenthalar, one of the founders of the venture capital industry, goes further. He once observed that Cleveland and the surrounding region actually missed the boat on the transistor era, which of course places our economic dysfunctions at a much earlier starting point. It also explains why Morgenthaler, who did understand the powerful implications of this breakthrough (he earned two mechanical engineering degrees from MIT just a few years before the transistor's invention) and later founded Morgenthaler Ventures, chose to invest in relatively few deals in this area, even though it remains the VC group's nominal headquarters.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Friday Stuff

A few things that got my attention lately:

The Washington Post served up this great interactive package on the struggle to defeat so-called IED's (improvised explosive devices) in Iraq. Don't miss one part of the package, the transcript of this online chat with the author.

The New Statesman, a British paper founded almost a century ago as a socialist organ by George Bernard Shaw and some Fabian compatriots, does a nice job of keeping track of all the journalists who inexplicably continue to die in Vladimir Putin's Russia. Well, perhaps it's not so inexplicable after all. I'm just glad the paper is keeping watch, so that we can too.

Okay, enough about such heavy life and death issues. Now onto the subject of my gluttony. I didn't know until reading this Free Times review last week that one of my favorite restaurants--Lemon Grass, a yummy Thai place on Lee Rd. in Cleveland Heights--is under new ownership. According to the article, they're doing what new owners always tend to do, tinker with some new ideas. But I haven't noticed. I'm just glad they haven't messed with my favorite dishes, the Siam Rolls appetizer and the House Fried Rice entree. Just writing about them makes me hungry.

I rarely find joke websites worthwhile, and ignore most invitations to visit them. But I must admit that this site did make me chuckle a bit. But be warned: it won't pass muster with the PC police, so if you follow the link and find it offensive, don't blame me. Blame your own curiosity.

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham and his book publisher are probably doing cartwheels this morning. His fine book on the Founding Fathers' balance between religious tolerance and faith was mentioned in both today's lead editorial in the Times and on the page next to it, in columnist David Brooks' column (how nice to be able to link to it now that it's no longer stuck behind a paid-only wall). Both were prompted by Mitt Romney's recent speech, in which he attempted to take up the issue of his Mormon faith. Last year, I reviewed the book in question, Meacham's American Gospel, for the Christian Science Monitor.

Finally, Cleveland native Drew Carey, whom I gather is a political conservative, is starring in a new web-TV series for Reason TV, which is affiliated with Reason magazine, the bible of the Libertarian movement (although it's an independent magazine that's quite separate from the party, and generally quite good). The magazine should improve further under its new editor, Matt Welch. Four years ago, I enthused about Welch's writing, pointing to this great piece in the Columbia Journalism Review about the emergence of new online citizen journalists. Matt will no doubt build on the quality first instilled by former Reason editor Virginia Postrel, whose unfortunate bout with cancer I recently mentioned. She subsequently dropped me a nice email note. Okay, folks, go finish the work week in style--at least those of you who follow traditional work weeks.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Best Lead of the Month

'Facebook's "platform" strategy has sparked much online debate and controversy. No one wants to see a return to the miserable days of walled gardens, when you couldn't send a message to an AOL subscriber unless you, too, were a subscriber, and when the only services that made it were the ones that AOL management approved. Those of us on the "real" Internet regarded AOL with a species of superstitious dread, a hive of clueless noobs waiting to swamp our beloved Usenet with dumb flamewars (we fiercely guarded our erudite flamewars as being of a palpably superior grade), the wellspring of an endless geyser of free floppy disks and CDs, the kind of place where the clueless management were willing and able to -- for example -- alienate every Vietnamese speaker on Earth by banning the use of the word "Phuc" (a Vietnamese name) because naughty people might use it to evade the chatroom censors' blocks on the f-bomb.'
--from an article in Information Week by Cory Doctorow, co-author of the popular Boing Boing blog, which bills itself as "a directory of wonderful things." We think his writing here is pretty wonderful, too. To review past Best Leads of the Month, go here and here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Art, Like Writing, Is All About Revision

'Do something. Do something to that, and then do something to that. Pretty soon you've got something.'
--painter Jasper Johns, whose work appears above.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Our Favorite Book Title, Part 7

The Flawless Skin of Ugly People may sound a tad harsh, but the new novel (or at least new in paperback) did get our attention at a bookstore the other day, beckoning us from a crowded shelf with its unusual title. You know, now that I think about it, people do often tell me I have nice skin. You don't think they're really trying to tell me...oh, never mind. Anyway, for earlier installments of Our Favorite Book Title series, go here.

Monday, December 03, 2007

How Sylvia Plath Wrestled With
The Ghost of Her Unborn Novel

'I am evidently going through a stage in beginning writing similar to my two months of hysteria in beginning teaching last fall. A sickness, frenzy of resentment at everything, but myself at the bottom. I lie wakeful at night, wake exhausted with that sense of razor-shaved nerves. I must be my own doctor. I must cure this very destructive paralysis and ruinous brooding and daydreaming. If I want to write, this is hardly the way to behave--in horror of it, frozen by it. The ghost of the unborn novel is a Medusa-head. Witty or simply observant character notes come to me. But I have no idea how to begin. I shall, perhaps, just begin.'
--from The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, in an entry dated July 7th, 1958. For a brief overview of her life and career, go here. To read her poem Daddy, a heartbreaking evocation to the father who died when she was a small child, click here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Typical Overhyped TV Crime Stories
During the November Sweeps Period

In our continuing effort to chronicle the idiot culture, we bring you "news" from a typically empty local-TV "investigation" of crime at area malls. Served up during the November "sweeps" period, when ratings mania induces these environmental polluters to broadcast even more stupid and overhyped marginalia than usual, this WEWS stunt purports to uncover lots of "crime" at area malls. But when you click over to the actual stats, you find almost no violent crime, just a bunch of cars being stolen and broken into. There were only two rapes and no muggings or other kinds of assaults. That's a hell of a lot of mall visits by several million people over an entire year, and very little crime. Which of course should mean very little "news." But then, these idiots aren't in the news business; they merely pretend to be. So here's a suggestion: the next time you see one of these "news mannequins" (in Mark Naymik's immortal phrase, back when he wrote for the Free Times) rise to give a talk at some community event, feigning all the gravitas they can summon, do your best to ignore them, or perhaps even laugh. Because they deserve that, or worse.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Cleveland's 'Perplexing Economy'

"'Cleveland is a perplexing economy,' according to Dr. Chmura. 'It should be growing faster than it is because the industry mix is more favorable than the state and the region has so many attractive qualities such as the arts, cultural attractions, recreational opportunities, and professional sports teams.' Employment in the Cleveland metropolitan area was virtually unchanged in August 2007; it expanded by only 400 jobs compared with a year earlier."
--from a recent presentation by an economist invited by Colliers Ostendorf-Morris, a commercial real estate firm whose representatives include (according to her profile on LinkedIn) former Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell.