Tuesday, September 30, 2008

What Every Writer Needs:
Some More Time to Think

'Basically, I am hoping for less chaos and more time to think.'
--New Yorker music critic Alex Ross, asked for his
reaction to winning the MacArthur Foundation's "genius grant." We've touched on this all-important subject of thinking time at least twice before. You can learn more about the foundation's uniquely inspiring fellows program here, and sample some of Alex's work at his website.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Following the Money of the Wall Street Debacle

"Follow the money," Deep Throat famously told reporter Bob Woodward from the shadows of a parking garage in the movie version of Watergate. While the phrase was never uttered in the real life equivalent, the resonant phrase nevertheless lives on. The Center for Responsive Politics, a premier watchdog group, watches the money underlying the continuing shakeout on Wall Street. It also notes how both presidential candidates have called on various people at the center of the rescue drama to act as "bundlers," or mega-fundraisers who attract contributions from many others. Finally, CRP notes how charitable bailed-out insurance giant AIG has been to lawmakers over the years, and how 27 of them personally owned stock in AIG. Let us know if you found any of this interesting.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Are You a Writer?

'I could never be a writer. Writing, I believed, was a spectator sport for me. I imagined the process as long, tedious, and certainly not something I was capable of. I pictured the lone man, tugging on his beard and banging on his typewriter; a single swallow left in a tumbler on the table, waiting as reward once the thread of inspiration had been pulled from his mind. That’s not me. I’m not creative. This was the constant whisper of a lifetime. Omnipresent and no more irrefutable than, “I cannot fly.” I wish I knew the moment this changed, but becoming a writer has been less like the bloom of childbirth, than the process of pregnancy. '
--from a recent guest post on the popular and routinely brilliant Copyblogger blog.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Last Chance for Next Weekend's
Writing Retreat at Lakeside B&B

Next weekend is the fall Word Lover's weekend writing retreat I told you about earlier. It'll be held at the charming Idlewyld bed & breakfast in lovely Lakeside, Ohio. There are just a couple of slots still available, so if you're interested, let us know as soon as possible. Claudia and I would love to have you join us for the weekend. If you can't make it for the entire time, we are offering a Saturday-only option. Either way, we hope to see you there.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The International Medical Corps:
Please Consider This Good Cause

In five and a half years, we've never brought you a pitch for support of a nonprofit. Until now, that is. But the International Medical Corps seemed like the right cause to us to break that streak. The focus of their work is so crucial, and their outreach to blogs so savvy, that I couldn't help but agree to do my tiny part to help out. But I only did so after checking them out on the Charity Navigator, the trusted independent watchdog of charities. It gives them their highest possible rating in this report. I suppose I've been awakened to this issue through the work of the Gates Foundation, which has spotlighted how relatively modest investments in public health and wellness in the Third World can make such tremendous differences there (this 2005 story in the New Yorker, for instance, discussed how a few dollars spent on mosquito nets could cut deaths from malaria by up to half). And Doctors Without Borders has also demonstrated in a vital way how targeted medical attention matters. IMC seems cut from the same cloth. The group is now a finalist in an American Express members project, and a click here could help net their cause an additional $1.5 million. Please give some thought to making a few clicks on their behalf, won't you? And while you're at it, perhaps you might take a look at this group too. We now return you to our regular programming.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Three Good Reads

Brian Doyle, a gifted writer I've been following since we were fellow university editors (he remains one), offers this brilliant take in the tony Kenyon Review on that most mordant of all writerly subjects--rejection letters. Meanwhile, in last weekend's New York Times magazine, writer and faculty member David Gessner explores what's lost and gained from writing "in captivity"--as a member of a university faculty. And David Letterman submits to a rare interview, offering Rolling Stone readers a glimpse into the mind of a man who remains an enigma for many, but a pleasing one nonetheless. You can review earlier TGRs here. Wondering how this feature got started? We explained that in the inaugural voyage, here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wednesday Stuff

The Devil & Angel Within Do Battle. A reporter for the celebrated McClatchy Washington bureau (they're the ones who weren't fooled by the Bush Administration's drumbeat for war in Iraq) offers
this great example of the difficult gray areas that typically lay behind most serious reporting. Journalistic ethics is a subject much battled over these days, and it tends to be either reduced to simplistic cartoon versions or reduced to abstraction by theorists. But it's exquisitely difficult calls like this that constitute the real internal battles that play out in newsrooms (and individual journalist's brains) each day.

Another Compelling Example of Journalistic Transparency. Wired magazine offers this inside glimpse of the laborious process that goes into preparing an upcoming feature for the magazine. It's a valuable (and perhaps unprecedented) glimpse inside the process. I'm glad they shared it with civilians.

Glutton for Punishment. Most of us have more than enough on our hands with one wife. But 86?

A History To Be Proud Of. Oberlin College, not far down the road from us, is celebrating its 175th year. It's a source of real excellence for the region, and has been for the better part of two centuries. Among its many claims to fame, it was a center of abolitionist activity before the Civil War as well as a pioneer in co-education. In any case, this timeline gives you a detailed look at the illustrious history.

Speaking of Timelines...This timeline from PBS's brilliant Frontline program traces the demise of a key bit of Depression-era regulation that kept Wall Street's greed at least in counter-balance. When it was dumped during the final days of the Clinton Administration, the clock began ticking on the current mess. You can expect Frontline to do its usual brilliant job of probing the deeper story behind the headlines when it airs The Choice, a look at this historic presidential election. It will air October 14th.

Black Anger Over Obama's Progress. This article in the Wall Street Journal a couple weeks ago subsequently prompted dozens of similar stories that indirectly posed a question that's been simmering under the surface for awhile. While the WSJ piece carefully skirted the most explosive issue--could an Obama loss lead to rioting and/or other kinds of violence?--that's clearly the question it was raising. On the other hand, it also points out that black nervousness over the newly ignited Republican base could well push black turnout to record levels. We'll soon see.

Finally, We liked
this post about the argument culture from Art Durkee, a regular commenter here and a self-described nomadic wanderer. While you're at his blog, you might also check out his literate musings after a recent trip out west.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Our Favorite Quote of the Week

'Nothing is so strong as gentleness; nothing is so gentle as real strength.'
--Francis DeSales. Many thanks to a friend for spotting this and sending it along. You can learn more about the Catholic saint here. To review earlier FQOTWs, go here.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Letters to a Young Journalist/Novelist

My friend TJ Sullivan, half journalist and half novelist, has just posted some wonderful insights for young writers who are trying to pursue both kinds of writing. Who better than the L.A.-based veteran writer to provide advice on that subject? TJ just finished work on his latest novel. He charmed me the other day by telling me about his ritual upon completing each book. He reads aloud one chapter each night to his wife. Congratulations, T.J. I'm looking forward to seeing that novel on my local bookstore shelf soon.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Nominate Your
Favorite Librarian

We're not afraid to admit it. We love librarians around here. We love them in all shapes and sizes, whether they're stationed at the neighborhood public library, or in a school. Whether they preside over a special collection at a leading medical institution or at a world-renowned museum. You can have your starlets, actresses and supermodels. But we prefer to fantasize about those wondrous creatures and most dedicated of public servants who have lovingly fed our hungry minds and stoked our imaginations. They're sometimes caricatured in our shamelessly anti-intellectual culture as nervous nellies or worse, and many people probably lazily imagine that with the Internet, their jobs will slowly melt away (hardly). Instead, their role is changing but remains no less crucial. For me, they remain uniquely qualifed (along with the winnowing cohort of those who own, manage and work in independent bookstores) to lead people to a lifetime of intellectual growth. And my friend Christine, a former librarian, has often gently reminded me of their special role in doing so for young adults.

Four years ago, in writing about the badly mis-named Patriot Act, we noted librarians' heroic resistance to this most anti-democratic of statutes. "The Congress got stampeded into very nearly repealing the Bill of Rights with near-unanimity. Much of, indeed most of, the media went along at first. All of this went contrary to everything we thought we knew about American democracy and its uniquely inspired series of checks and balances. But someone always seems to step up in this democracy which is now nearing one-quarter of a millenium. In the end, it was liberty-loving groups such as librarians--those often-lampooned ladies who shoosh you for talking too loudly--who had the brass balls that others lacked to resist the Patriot Act. Contrary to their caricature, they emboldened us all to speak up on behalf of protecting our rights."

For all these reasons and more, please consider taking a moment to recognize your favorite librarian for this award. You'll have done your part to celebrate a priceless national resource.
UPDATE: And let us not forget the library itself. This piece--In Praise of the Town Library--nicely says it all.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Happiness, Part V

'There ought to be behind the door of every happy, contented man some one standing with a hammer continually reminding him with a tap that there are unhappy people; that however happy he may be, life will show him her laws sooner or later, trouble will come for him—disease, poverty, losses, and no one will see or hear, just as now he neither sees nor hears others.'
--Anton Chekhov. You can review earlier ruminations on this topic here. And just for the sheer bloody hell of it, check out The Happiness Project's 8 tips for making yourself happier in the next hour. Special thanks to my omniverous pal Jeff Hess for pointing me toward that interesting tidbit. You can check out earlier mentions of JH here. But do also check out his blog as well. As for the immortal Chekhov--who has been dead for 104 years, but whose reputation rightly looms larger each year--you can learn anything you'd care to know about him at Paul Jones' Ibiblio here, and sample from a vast array of his translated work here. He famously observed that "if there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last," which has come to be seen as a pithy bromide about removing all extraneous details from a piece of writing. But I've always thought this lesser-known observation was perhaps his most memorable: "A writer is not a confectioner, a cosmetic dealer, or an entertainer. He is a man who has signed a contract with his conscience and his sense of duty."

Want to Understand What's Really Happening
To the Economy? This Fellow Explains it Well

'What we are witnessing may be the greatest destruction of financial wealth that the world has ever seen -- paper losses measured in the trillions of dollars. Corporate wealth. Oil wealth. Real estate wealth. Bank wealth. Private-equity wealth. Hedge fund wealth. Pension wealth. It's a painful reminder that, when you strip away all the complexity and trappings from the magnificent new global infrastructure, finance is still a confidence game -- and once the confidence goes, there's no telling when the selling will stop. But more than psychology is involved here. What is really going on, at the most fundamental level, is that the United States is in the process of being forced by its foreign creditors to begin living within its means.'
--From an article today on the scramble to clean up the Category 4 financial storm, by the Washington Post's uniquely brilliant columnist Steven Pearlstein, who is following and explaining the unfolding crisis better than anyone I've seen anywhere. He's a pro at cutting through the macroeconomic complexity to describe what's really happening and why. In this online chat earlier in the week, he also delivered a moral rebuke to Wall Street (we think it carries considerably more moral authority than similar rebukes delivered by presidential candidates who've taken millions of dollars from their handy new targets of abuse): "Wall Street doesn't care a fig about Main Street or the economy -- it really doesn't. And it doesn't really expect the rest of us to help them because it is so arrogant it never contemplates the fact that we might need to. Wall Streeters live in a self-contained bubble, and they see any government involvement simply in terms of market dynamics, not in terms of the impact on real people or the real economy." He'll be online again today fielding questions at 11 a.m. eastern time. You might consider sending a question his way.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Foreshadowing of Things To Come

This week, the writing world mourns the loss of a unique voice, novelist David Foster Wallace, who took his own life. His tender writing and experimental flair for language made him famous, but those who knew him and worked with him were often heard in recent days to remark on what a lovely person lay beneath his hardened exterior. I don't doubt that one bit. His only appearance in these pages in five and a half years was this commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College, which I reprinted in full, just in case the link would later be broken and we couldn't go back and read his words. What I found as I reread that address this week was both reassuring and startling. The tender, lovely way he connected with the audience half his age, inviting them to think more deeply about the moral imperatives of life, reminded me of why I had originally been moved to share it.

But I was also startled to learn that he had talked about suicide in that speech, and not in a metaphorical way, but in a way that now gives me shivers.
It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger.And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Okay, Fess Up...

The Washington Post book blog, Short Stack, has a nice recurring feature in which it picks five favorite books around a particular theme. This week, it's five books that a staff member is embarrassed to admit they've never read. I'll share my list if you'll share yours. But first, I'll have to figure out what books it should include from the hundreds of classics I've yet to read. You can review an earlier mention of the Short Stack blog here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Monday Stuff

Greider the Great. Veteran journalist Bill Greider may have discontinued his blog since I last enthused about him five years ago, but he's still telling it like it is. Are you listening, America?

Wickedly Funny & Wickedly True. Check out these brilliant animated editorial cartoons from Ann Telnaes. Despite having earned a Pulitzer some years ago, she's not terribly well-known. But judging by this brilliant stuff (I especially loved the Sarah Palin wind-up doll and the Dick Cheney cartoons) she should be.

Science Fans, Take Note: Wired Magazine announces its top ten amazing physics videos. Pay attention, you arts & sciences and humanities majors. Though you apparently sometimes seem to think it's fashionable to look down your noses at science and technology "nerds," a truly enlightened and educated person should be able to appreciate great science like they appreciate great art, since achieving greatness in either realm requires roughly equal amounts of genius, insight, perspiration and inspiration. We may not think we know (or can ever know) much about physics, but let's at least try, shall we?

A Culture of Life, With a Few Qualifications. We loved the Sarah Palin interview the other night with Charlie Gibson. But there was one moment that was particularly revealing, and too little commented upon, we thought. Seconds after she answered a question about abortion, and responded by saying she's just flatly and across the board in favor of "a culture of life," Gibson asked about guns. A nice juxtaposition, we thought. Was she against a ban on assault rifles? he asked. The answer of course was no. Now, I ask you: how can you be for a culture of life when it comes to abortion but not when it comes to heinous street crimes? Do these people ever experience even a little cognitive dissonance in pushing such absurdly self-defeating, inconsistent arguments? Apparently not.

Oh, Great. Cheer up, short folks. While your lack of stature may make it all but impossible for you to become, say, the president of the United States, it also makes you a less likely candidate for prostrate cancer, according to new research. Here's hoping my 6'-2" frame will shrink some in coming years.

Finally, to the Baltimore Sun TV columnist who recently denounced the sainted Bill Moyers as "a political ideologue and a propagandist" rather than a journalist, even likening him to Fox's resident demagogue Bill O'Reilly, I suggest the poor fellow either get a clue or expand his understanding of what constitutes journalism. It means gathering facts and trying to understand the world, and then sharing it with an audience--that's all. Which Moyers does better than all but a handful of people now working in the field. If you don't like his conclusions, tough. But he's 100 times the journalist you'll ever be, Mr. Zurawik. By all means, you continue to take dictation and serve as a careful, politically middle-of-the-road stenographer, if you like. The Moyers of the world will keep probing much deeper and more fearlessly present what they find to be true, no matter whom it might piss off. Hats off to PBS for sticking to its guns on this issue and riding through the tremendous roar of outrage from the right. Nothing less than the soul of American public broadcasting is at stake here.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Feeling a Little Less Helpless
Against the Political Machine

'I spend a great deal of time walking during which I listen to a great deal of political discussion. I try to select programs that balance the red and the blue. There is much disagreement between those two primary colors, but there is also one point of agreement: Ohio is a key state in the upcoming election. Some pollsters and pundits believe Ohio voters will determine who our next president will be. "It will come down to Ohio," they say. I am not a big or important person. I often feel helpless against the political machine. But I am in Ohio and I can write. I am using this humble skill in order to promote my political inclinations and I urge you to do the same. Whether you ride the donkey or the elephant, or whether you would prefer to remain neutral and simply promote voter registration, write about it. Use whatever means you have: blogs, comments, letters, publications. This is one power we possess. If there was ever a moment in history when it could make a difference, it's right now.'
--from a note my friend Erin O'Brien recently sent to a flock of fellow writers.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

New Baby Makes Four

Congratulations to my friend Lou Tisler, on the birth of his second child, Addison Marie, who's already been nicknamed Addie. He and Jackie are no doubt bursting with pride. Two years ago, we brought you word of the couple's inital foray into parenthood. As you can see, their oldest, Alexis, has blossomed into a beautiful two-year-old. In those two years, Lou has also done some blossoming of his own. Along with Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis (whom we've mentioned here and here), Lou has become one of the two or three most prominent advocates in this region on the explosive issue of house foreclosures. As executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland, he's been providing testimony to Congress and quotable insights to the national media at a furious pace. His heroic contributions, in other words, haven't been confined solely to his family life. Keep up the good work in both realms, Sweet Lou.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Vicarious Travel Journal, Part Two:
Impressions of Italy From My Pal Kelly

Last fall, we brought you some impressions of China, told through the eyes of my friend Chris, a writer/editor for the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. As the fall season kicks off once more, my friend Kelly sent this wonderful account of her trip to Italy, while she's still there. With her permission, I'm sharing it here (I took the liberty of adding a couple of explanatory links). Should she be so inclined to share a wrap-up account at the end of her trip, we'll publish that as well.

Buongiorno! After several plane delays, and a myriad of comical events, we finally arrived in Pisa nearly a week ago, and it still feels as though I've lost a day somewhere. From Pisa, Susan and I traveled south by train to the Cinque Terre for a bite of lunch, a view of the beautiful Italians (both men and women) and a little sunbathing along Italy's Riviera.

The color of the Mediterranean sea is deep, deep blue, like Sapphire Blue (sorry, I know that sounds cheesy, but it's the best way to describe the gorgeous, rich, color). To give you an idea of geography, the Cinque Terre is located south of the French Riviera. From Pisa, we drove to our Tuscan villa. The villa is a stone, 500 year-old, recently updated, tiled roof, estate; surrounded with grapes and olive trees. The villa is located in a rural area between Florence and Rome, or more specifically San Donato / Castellini Chianti / Podere Erica.

The villa is enclosed with a very high electronic gate because of the wild boar that live in the area and have been known to eat the estate red grapes (bordeaux). No grapes = no vino = no boars allowed at Podere Erica. We each have an electric opener (like a garage opener) when we leave and return from the villa. Wine making is a very serious business here. ;-) Each morning before I set off for yet another Italian adventure, I sit on the veranda drinking my coffee and take in the panoramic view of the rolling Tuscan hillside south/west of the villa. It doesn't seem real to me, when compared to my concrete jungle back home. To me it looks more like a painting done in colors of greens and browns with a spattering of terra cotta. It's as if someone took all the colors out of the Crayola Crayon box and used only olive, kelly, asparagus, forest, fern, brown and rust.

Suffice to say, I find it difficult to describe to you the beauty of this countryside without sounding a bit cheesy (formaggio). When we return from a long day of sight seeing and driving along the winding Italian roads (this could be an entire chapter in of itself) I find myself looking up into the sky in search of the constellations. You can actually see the stars and some of the planets from here, because there is little to no light pollution. The moon seems so close, that you could pluck it from the sky and bite into it like a piece of fruit.

Again, I'm sorry for the flowery verse here, but it's truly spectacular. I've already written a small novella here to you, so I'm signing off - another adventure is calling my name today - I'm writing lots of great thoughts in my travel journal and taking in everything. I hope all is well with you at home.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

We Dreamed of Jeannie,
They Dream About Pols

In the Sixties, we had the riveting cheesecake TV show I Dream of Jeannie, which taught us adolescent boys a thing or two about the exotic allure of the bare female mid-section. Now, we have websites that gather actual dreams about political candidates running for president. If you've ever had a dream about Barack, you can get it posted here. And if you've instead dreamed about flyboy Johnny McCain (god help you if you did), send it here. Either way, we wish you sweet dreams, gentle reader.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More Than One Way to
Have Some Company

'We read to know we are not alone.'
--C.S. Lewis. You can review an earlier quote by the estimable author here. You can learn more about Clive Staples Lewis here, or visit an institute bearing his name here. Everyone, it seems, wants to lay claim to his name and legacy. There's even a C.S. Lewis Society of California. One strange fact we never knew until today: he died on the very same day that JFK was killed in Dallas.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Tuesday Stuff

Peace Festival. Did you know that activists have staged a peace festival in Cleveland the last few years, as a counter-demonstration to what they consider a militaristic Cleveland Air Show? Until recently, I didn't. Here's one leftie's
account of this year's proceedings.

Parents of College Kids, Take Heart!
Open source textbooks might one day deliver you from the outrageous prices for college textbooks.

Piercing Media Tropes. You've gotta love how the prolific Michael Lewis returns to his native New Orleans and
vividly describes how different it is from the cartoonishly surface depictions you might have noticed in most media accounts. I especially enjoyed his lampooning of the fake storm reporting overseen by ABC's resident fake reporter, Charlie Gibson. Just the latest reminder of how TV, where it's increasingly only about the ratings, rarely gets even mildly complex stories right.

A New Addition to My Must-Read List. Do you want to know what's really going on with defense and foreign policy issues? Then I suggest you occasionally peruse
Steve Coll's new blog on the New Yorker's website. He's the former managing editor of the Washington Post, author of two important books (which you'll find here and here) about Osama Bin Laden and related subjects, and now a staff writer for the magazine. With Sy Hersh writing far less than he used to, Coll has partially filled that vacuum.

Smarmy Joe. New York magazine nicely deconstructs one of America's smarmiest politicians, the oily and obnoxious Joe Lieberman. The good news is that McCain was talked out of naming him as his running mate at the last minute. That means he gets to return to the Senate, where the fate he's earned for himself awaits him: an outcast in his own party, but a man who can't really be respected by the Republicans either. At least we won't have to keep seeing that oily smile of his so much, as his national profile begins to slowly wane.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Our Favorite Headline of the Week

Okay, so it's from last week. Still, we enjoyed Time's relative cheekiness with this headline about Sarah Palin. It shows that the once oh so serious journal of the American Century has finally learned it's okay to occasionally lighten up a little as well.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

How Right You Are

'If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.'
--Henry Ford

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Here's a Trust You Can Trust

The Trust for Historic Preservation is facing the crisis over home foreclosures head-on. It offers this excellent primer on how communities can manage teardowns while still maintaining their appealing character. "No single tool will solve the problem of teardowns, but rather a combination of strategies works most effectively...A growing number of communities have established 'green' building programs. As such, preservation of historic buildings and conservation of historic neighborhoods are key green building strategies." And while you're on that topic, why not take a read of this article from the Trust's excellent magazine, Preservation, about the rehabilitation of James Madison's home, Montpelier.

Looking for Something to Do Tonight? It's not too late to get tickets for tonight's Writers and Their Friends event, a gala celebration held every two years as a benefit for The Lit, formerly the Poets and Writers League of Greater Cleveland. I teach classes there occasionally, and it's a wonderful cause. Tix for the event, held this time at the Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square, are just $25 a pop, and can be purchased by phone at the numbers you'll find here. They'll hold them for you at the Will Call window. Hope to see some of you there.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Wealthy and Famous,
But Tragedy Touched
Him Just Like Anyone

Adrian Peterson is apparently the next big thing in NFL football. The sculpted Minnesota Vikings running back is considered the prototype of his position--big and tough, but also with explosive speed. Like his counterpart in hoops, Lebron James, the former Oklahoma Sooner also sets himself apart from the crowd with a magnetic personality that belies his tender age (he's 23). Still, none of that caused me to focus on him much, and I hardly knew a thing about the guy until I came upon this profile in the current GQ Magazine. It includes a heart-breaking story about how, as a seven-year-old, he witnessed his beloved older brother being killed by a motorist while riding his bike. As I flip channels on Sundays, I'll be watching for him now, and silently rooting for him as well. So tell us, what stories have touched you recently, and why?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

How Conspiracy Theories Proceed Not From
Evidence, But Rather from a 'System of Belief'

Last month, we brought you word of yet another book that hopes to finally lay to rest all the swirling conspiracy theories about the JFK assassination. A few days ago, we happened to notice a brilliant articulation of why those theories will continue to rage, and why they resist all evidence to the contrary. In the excellent but too-little-known publication Book Forum, an author named Gus Russo makes the point that facts and the true historical record can't compete with the powerful images from the paranoid Oliver Stone movie about the case. "Indeed, later studies, such as Gerald Posner’s Case Closed (1993), all but demolished any myths of a domestic conspiracy (a foreign version remains the lone lingering possibility). But even then, it was too late: Millions of Americans had seen the sinister Mob- and spook-enabled cabal with their own eyes and heard with their own ears the damning snippets of testimony evincing all manner of grandiose, if absurd, plotting. Posner might have just as effectively published a renunciation of the Virgin Birth; he was bringing a legal case against a system of belief, rather than a set of empirically verifiable suppositions about the nature of a vast political plot to kill a president." Nicely said, we thought. We hope you'll look around Book Forum a little. You can learn more about Gus Russo here.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

How Cool Is This?

I was scouting around yesterday on the excellent Green City Blue Lake regional environmental/sustainability website, as I often do, when I found something especially delightful. GCBL is the most recent addition to David Beach's once-sprawling Eco City Cleveland empire, which last summer merged its operations with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, to form a Center for Regional Sustainability. A few years ago, I wrote about how David has become perhaps the most prominent spokesman in the entire Midwest for smart growth, all from the modest original platform of a great environmental column (called Lake Effects) in the now-defunct Cleveland Edition. The Green City Blue Lake website has become a powerful all-purpose online window into that work, and an increasingly useful one-stop shop for news and information about all things progressive in the region (its events calendar is especially helpful). Its chief webmaster and scribe, the formidable Marc Lefkowitz (whom I wrote about here earlier) keeps it in fine form, with frequent updates, and he also blogs about sustainability.

Anyway, one of the more recent updates to the site is this regional sustainability map, which hopes to map the connections between various institutional players in the region. As I clicked around on it, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this blog gets mentioned under the Arts & Culture section, one of just a couple of blogs in the region to be recognized in that way. I'm forced to admit that after five and a half years of daily work on this labor of love, it kind of made my day. Thanks for the nod, folks. We really appreciate it.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Swing State Analysis,
Courtesy of Karl Rove

To his everlasting credit, the editor of Time Magazine famously rebuffed feelers from former Bush henchman Karl Rove (a.k.a. "Bush's Brain") when he left the White House in disgrace and was looking to begin a new career in "journalism." The sly fox, shown here with his signature sly grin, already had a gig lined up at Fox News, a right-wing propaganda outlet that plays a news organization on TV. And he was set to supply the far-right Wall Street Journal editorial page with periodic analyses. But he apparently wanted a more respectable mainstream credential as well, perhaps to prop up the fees he could command on the lecture circuit.

Not to worry, Time's archrival Newsweek soon took him up on the offer, which has occasionally led to some mighty awkward moments, like when he's opining on the news even as inquiries continue to swirl over his possibly illegal activities while in office. But Newsweek doesn't seem to find it uncomfortable, a sure sign that it continues to sink ever lower on the gravitas scale (hilariously, its editor recently publicly whined about how so many people seem to find it a less-serious magazine these days than The Economist. He seemed to be about the only one surprised by that).

Anyway, this week Rove supplies some of his patented state-by-state analysis of the swing states in the presidential election. Does it qualify as real journalism, or merely a subtle attempt to do what he's always done--help the Republican party win--only from a different venue? We report, you decide. But shame on you, Newsweek, for giving this weasle a platform.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Three Guesses Why McCain's Veep Choice
Made Me Recall This Quote from Ad Legend

'The consumer is not a moron. She is your wife. You insult her intelligence if you assume that a mere slogan and a few rapid adjectives will persuade her to buy anything.'
--The late advertising-industry guru David Oglivy, in his book Confessions of An Advertising Man. He might just as well have been talking about the curious notion of grabbing a woman, any woman, to serve on a national ticket with you.