Monday, November 30, 2009

A Note to Eric Fingerhut: This Think Tank
Gives Ohio Mostly C's in School Innovation

The Center for American Progress state-by-state report card
gives Ohio mostly C's in innovation. That can't be good news to Eric Fingerhut, chancellor of the Ohio Board of Regents. On the other hand, perhaps this portfolio won't be his to worry about that much longer. There's growing speculation that the former Congressman might be among those running for Cuyahoga County executive next year, after voters recently approved the county "reform" measure. In any case, you can review an earlier mention of Fingerhut here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Taking Joy in the Merit of Others

'Who is the happiest of men? He who values the merits of others and in their pleasure takes joy, even as though 'twere his own.'
--Goethe. You can review earlier mentions of the German poet and mystic here and here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Unworthy of a Response

'Criticism has its place, of course. And yet, on Palin I've come to favor a different approach—one that refuses to collude with the media-driven farce. To respond to an opponent, even harshly, even rudely, is to accord her a certain respect—to treat her as worthy of a response. But Palin is worthy of no such thing. She stands for nothing beyond her own self-promotion. She craves attention, and negative attention is a form of attention. Even ridicule can be a form of flattery. Better to bow out, to decline the provocation, since responding to her perpetuates and legitimates the illusion that she’s a serious player in our nation’s politics. I, for one, refuse to play that silly little game. And I wish more of her critics felt the same way. Instead of wasting their analytical and polemical talents on the topic, they could work to change the subject to something more substantive and deny Palin what she most greedily craves: the spotlight.'
--Damon Linker, in a recent article in The New Republic. You can review earlier mentions of the hollow Palin phenomenon here. Elsewhere on the lunatic right wing, former Nixon speechwriter Pat Buchanan has officially jumped the shark, arguing--or perhaps I shoud say "arguing"--that by deciding to try a terrorist in court, Obama is betting his presidency. Time for your meds, Pat.

Friday, November 27, 2009

One Man's Take on the Happy Life

'Great effort from great motives is the best definition of a happy life.'
--William Ellery Channing. Don't recognize that name? Neither did we. But no less a figure than Emerson called this 19th-century Unitarian minister from Boston "a kind of public conscience." It doesn't get much better than that, folks.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone

Earth is turning and a massive star burns.
The unfailing harvest from the soil arrives
in its true season and every living day
succumbs to the dark and restive night.

Hearts are beating and lungs expanding,
the brain exerts its power of language and love,
blood strains relentlessly for its destination
as our bodies continue on.

We do nothing in all the days of our lives
to keep these laws in motion
or call them forth to complete their roles.
Nothing we do allows our eyes to open each morning.

And so for all that we cannot do on our own,
for the gift of free will and lives of unending choices,
for this food, and love we learn through time on Earth,
we thank you God for your blessings.
--Diane Vogel Ferri.

As we considered what we might share with you this holiday, we thought back to our earlier messages (from last year, the year before that, and three years ago). This year, nothing touched us quite the same as our friend Diane's tender, moving holiday poem. So thanks to her for sharing it. And while we respect this fellow's opinions about stuffing, we must take strong exception to it. To the contrary, we think this dish is divinely inspired, especially in the hands of our sainted mother-in-law, Mary, whose cooking routinely brings strong men to tears, as it will again in a few hours. Have a blessed day, y'all. We love and cherish you in an extra special way on this holiday, wherever you may be.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Our Favorite Book
Title, Part 20

This time, we liked a couple of titles about equally: Life, Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back and Ignore Everybody--And 39 Other Keys to Creativity. They both do a marvelous job of distilling their subject matter into a few words, and those words happen to be quite memorable--to me, at least. Each would make me stop what I was doing to flip through the book. Runner up? The nod goes to An Irreverant Curiosity--In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic In Italy's Oddest Town. If the book delivers even half of what that alluring title seems to promise, it would be eminently worth reading (you can read an interview with the author here). Perhaps you have some thoughts about these, or may have even read one. If so, we'd love to hear about it, and welcome hearing about other great book titles. Meanwhile, you can review earlier favorite book titles here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Secret Anniversaries
Of the Heart

'The holiest of all holidays are those kept by ourselves in silence and apart, the secret anniversaries of the heart.'
--the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. If you'd care to share anything at all about your secret anniversaries, we'd love to hear about them.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The End of Market Worship--Or
Have We Really Learned Anything?

'A few years ago a friend advised me that if I wanted to know what was going on in the real world, I should read the business pages. Although my lifelong interest has been in the study of religion, I am always willing to expand my horizons; so I took the advice, vaguely fearful that I would have to cope with a new and baffling vocabulary. Instead I was surprised to discover that most of the concepts I ran across were quite familiar. Expecting a terra incognita, I found myself instead in the land of déjà vu. The lexicon of The Wall Street Journal and the business sections of Time and Newsweek turned out to bear a striking resemblance to Genesis, the Epistle to the Romans, and Saint Augustine's City of God. Behind descriptions of market reforms, monetary policy, and the convolutions of the Dow, I gradually made out the pieces of a grand narrative about the inner meaning of human history, why things had gone wrong, and how to put them right. Theologians call these myths of origin, legends of the fall, and doctrines of sin and redemption. But here they were again, and in only thin disguise: chronicles about the creation of wealth, the seductive temptations of statism, captivity to faceless economic cycles, and, ultimately, salvation through the advent of free markets, with a small dose of ascetic belt tightening along the way, especially for the East Asian economies.'
--from Harvard theologian Harvey Cox's 1999 essay in The Atlantic Monthly, "The Market as God." What do you think: has the near-economic meltdown finally put a dent in the peculiarly American notion that markets take precedence over everything, or will we simply return to our old ways before too long?

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Your Inner Rat

'The only qualities essential for real success in journalism are ratlike cunning, a plausible manner and a little literary ability.'
--Harold Evans, quoting a colleague in his new memoir, My Paper Chase. We heartily encourage you to share your own war stories about how you employed ratlike cunning in support of your larger goals, vocational or otherwise.

Friday, November 20, 2009

After All, It Worked
Pretty Well For Him

'Try not to become a man of success but a man of value.'
--Albert Einstein. Like most of what the great one did and said, this seemingly simple maxim contains deeper layers of insight. How are you creating value? While you're thinking about that, you can review earlier mentions of the frizzy haired physicist here. As a Friday bonus, we bring you our favorite cartoon of the week, from the pages of the New Yorker. Have a blessed weekend, everyone.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Act of Writing As an Exercise in Honesty

'Somehow, when we start writing, all the lies we told ourselves, all the deceptions and mistaken beliefs that we held up as a shield, are challenged. We can do it in prose or poetry, in fiction or non-fiction, in a piece meant for public consumption or in a private diary. It doesn’t matter how and where it is presented. What matters is that we approach the act of writing as an exercise in honesty, keeping ourselves open to find the truth.'
--from Nancy Christie's blog, The Writer's Place. You might also want to check out the Youngstown-based writer's website.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Headlines of the Week

The Biology of Joy and Sex Without Nipples--two recent headlines almost guaranteed to attract wandering web surfers to stop and click. Again, we ask the question: do the articles deliver on the headline's promise? As Fox "News" would say, we report; you decide. And speaking of Fox, we loved David Letterman's recent crack about the propaganda outlet: "The Obama Administration has said they don't consider Fox News to be a legitimate news network. They're about eight years behind the rest of us." We also admired how the lefty pub In These Times skillfully used this pleasing pun and how the New York Times managed to grab attention with this headline.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Notes on Building Your Network

Below are a few rough notes from my session on Monday about building your network. A special welcome to first-time visitors whom I met that evening.

Why would anyone want or need to build a network? And I emphasize the verb build, as opposed to the mere activity of networking. It’s not just something you should do when job-hunting—a classic mistake made by many—or important for those in sales & business development, another common misconception.

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” --Jane Howard, British actress & novelist.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend several years of my career in various places where the concept of networks were carried to a high art.

  • Covering Capitol Hill in my 20s.
  • Working later at a university in the Alumni Office, where you learn that friendraising MUST precede fundraising
  • Shared offices for a few years with a search & outplacement firm, where I picked up lots of insight about network-building around the watercooler.
  • General business reporting background.
A good network should provide you many crucial things, among which are listening posts and at least a couple of walking encyclopedias. Who are yours?

So let’s go back to that Jane Howard quote and pay attention to that term “tribes.” You might also know it as “affinity groups.” Building your network should begin there.

Types of Tribes or Affinity Groups

  • Schools you attended, especially college
  • Former employers (IBM and McKinsey alums are famously tight)
  • Places you’re from
  • Industries/sectors you work in or want to work in
  • Ethnic groups

The strongest and largest networks come from combining the power of in-person and online networking. Each alone has its limits. When combined, they reinforce each other. Remember, every interaction you have in person or online represents a chance for you to shine, or not.

You should always be developing superchampions (friends, mentors, former and current clients) who can become your sales force. How do you find/grow them? And remember the power of the second tier of your network, the people who your contacts know. There's often gold to be found there.

UPDATE: My friend Valdis Krebs, the guru of gurus on network mapping, recently posted this interesting exploration of how some people use their personal networks in an especially mindful manner. You can review an earlier mention of him here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Love & Miracles

'Where there is great love there are always miracles.'
--Willa Cather. We're bashful to admit that the only prior appearance of the poetess of the plains in these pages was this brief nod to her by our friend Deanna Adams. But hell, that's better than nothing. And she was surely something.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why Americans hate to love government.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Very Different Take On the
Thank God It's Friday Culture

'Work is love made visible.'
--Kahlil Gibran, the sublime Lebanese-American author, whom we've somehow gone nearly seven years without mentioning here, an oversight which we're only too happy to now correct. You can sample from his life and work here. Has anyone read his book of inspirational essays, The Prophet? If so, we'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Interested in Growing Your Human Network?
Join Me for a Presentation Next Monday Eve

In this, the Great Recession, there's never been a greater need to have a strong professional and personal network. People who are in business for themselves take it as a given that they must maintain strong relationships with a wide array of people from all kinds of walks of life, and must constantly nurture and grow that network. But when you're a long-time employee in an organization (and not part of the sales or business-development group), it's easy to forget about why all this matters, at least until your job has been eliminated or you otherwise find yourself in transition, the giant catch-all phrase one hears everywhere these days. When you're looking for your next thing, a strong network suddenly matters, a lot.

Next Monday, November 16th, I'll be talking about that very subject--the building, care and feeding of one's network. As a bonus, you'll get to take a look around an old Cleveland institution that most people have only walked by and admired on their way to an Indians or Cavs game, Gray's Armory. It's a magical old place that instantly summons what late 19th-century Cleveland looked like. When I took a tour a couple weeks ago, I was slightly awed by its musty majesty. Anyway, you can get more information about the event here, but there's no need to RSVP ahead of time. Simply come down and be part of it all. I hope to see some of you there.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Locking Yourself Away to Focus On
Making Money as Quickly as Possible

A trove of F. Scott Fitzgerald's tax returns recently surfaced, and they contained a host of surprises, as this article in The American Scholar notes. The piece is full of delicious details about the ups and downs of his financial life. But veteran writers may especially appreciate this passage about how even such a prominent writer and relative money-making machine as Fitzgerald occasionally had to focus on factory-like productivity of material that, to him at least, was more about commercial than artistic success.
By November, Fitzgerald was out of cash—including Scribner’s $3,939 advance for Gatsby. The wolf was at the door. For the next five weeks he went to a large bare room over the garage and worked 12 hours a day “to rise from abject poverty back into the middle class.” Between November 1923 and April 1924 he produced 11 short stories, earning $17,000. Some of the early stories have lasted—“May Day,” “The Ice Palace,” “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz”—but Fitzgerald viewed them as a waste of the time he wanted to spend on the novels. They were, however, an economic necessity. He wrote to Edmund Wilson, “I really worked hard as hell last winter—but it was all trash and it nearly broke my heart as well as my iron constitution.” He wrote that he was “far from satisfied with the whole affair.” A young man “can work at excessive speed with no ill effect but youth is unfortunately not a permanent condition of life.”

We'd love to hear your reactions about this passage or about the larger point, the eternal tension between making a living and making your art. You can also review earlier mentions of Gatsby's creator here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Market-Tested Ideas

'Anything that won't sell, I don't want to invent. Its sale is proof of utility, and utility is success.'
--Thomas Edison. I don't know whether I agree with this, nor do I have the foggiest notion of what this has to do with writing and storytelling (well, okay, I do have some ideas). Mostly, I just thought it was an interesting observation by an interesting guy (this is his second appearance here, the first being this item from '06). But enough about what I think. Time for you to unload your thoughts about all this, gentle reader. Commence firing...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How the Dreaded Mission Statement
Doesn't Have to be Study in Banality

Fast Company offers a nice disquisition on a topic that occasionally comes up in my web copywriting duties--helping distill an organization's essence into a mission statement. The vast majority of these statements are dreary exercises in banal corporate-speak. But it doesn't have to be that way. As FC puts it: "Mission statements don't have to be dumb. In fact, they can be very valuable, if they articulate real targets. The first thing I'd do is forget the exact words and remember the reason for a statement in the first place. In 2006, Wilson Learning surveyed 25,000 employees from the finance and tech industries. Respondents said they wanted a leader who could 'convey clearly what the work unit is trying to do.' The same applies to mission statements, which set the tone. Employees, vendors, and clients don't get stoked by fuzzy mission statements. They will line up behind concrete goals." Thoughts?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

A Writerly Question & Answer Session

Not long ago, I met the writer Kristine Meldrum Denholm in virtual fashion, on Linkedin (which I wrote a little about here). She also publishes a blog, and was nice enough to invite me to spend a little time with her readers, via a Q&A session. She posted the resulting interview today here. Thanks again for the invitation, Kristine. And good luck with all your writing.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Illusion of Control

'We are most deeply asleep at the switch when we fancy we control any switches at all.'
--Annie Dillard. She's perhaps most famous for her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which won a Pulitzer Prize more than 30 years ago. But she's written so much more that's eminently worth reading. Do yourself a favor and dip into a bit of it sometime, and then come back and let us know what you thought.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Step Right Up & Place Your Bids

Future Heights, the group that publishes the Heights Observer, holds an online auction each year to raise money to support its operations. I'm doing my small part this year by offering five hours of writing coaching services. The auction runs through November 15th, and we hope you'll look around the auction site and see if there's anything up your alley. Let the bidding begin!

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Some Things We Couldn't Help Notice

The Secret History of Swine Flu...Revealed.

A Dynamic as Inevitable as Rainfall. Spewers of hatred inevitably become targets of violence themselves. For teletyrant Lou Dobbs, a latter-day Father Coughlin in pancake makeup, and his disgusting campaign against immigrants, he's merely reaping what he's sown.

And Speaking of Teletyrants in Pancake Makeup...We got a kick out of learning that John Stossel, the mustachioed right-wing ideologue who has been masquerading for years as a consumer reporter on ABC, has moved his sad little act to Fox News. We think that's right where he belonged the entire time. He'll fit in marvelously.

The Head-Turning Mrs. Kucinich is Back in the News. And even these female columnists can't help referring to her right up at the top of the piece as a "gorgeous redhead." We almost feel sorry for her, given the seeming obsession about her looks (during Kucinich's last presidential campaign, GQ writer and Cleveland native Scott Raab tagged along with the couple and spent much of his memorable article exploring the many sides of his lust for her). We wonder if she ever finds all this attention to her looks a bit off-putting.

Gloria-ous Recovery. Our friend Gloria Ferris has made a remarkable, even miraculous, recovery from a stroke and other complications. Last month, she returned to Cleveland's MetroHealth Hospital to tell her story to a conference of stroke survivors. We're so glad to have you back in fine form, Gloria.

Question of the Day: How much lower can the once-august Time Magazine go in chasing readers downmarket before it becomes US News & World Report, an unread and unreadable mess? Answer: we hope it can't get any worse than this pathetic sop to pet lovers masquerading as a serious magazine piece (but of course it can, and probably will). It made us embarrassed for the entire magazine industry.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Listen to Your Father

'My father always told me you don't get anything for nothing, and although I was always rebelling, I never rebelled against that.'
--actor and director Clint Eastwood, from a new biography on his life. We couldn't help noticing the applause he received some months ago when he appeared on the Letterman show around the time his most recent movie, Gran Torino, debuted. It may have been the longest, loudest, most appreciative celebration for any guest on that show in years. Something about his work strikes an emotional chord in many people, and we happen to be among that cohort.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Election Day

My friend Richard Andrews used to publish his own alternative print newspaper, aptly named The Real Deal. Now he offers an electronic version, and with analysis like this, we hope he sticks at it. He calls this the most consequential election for this area since Cleveland became the first major American city to elect a black mayor, more than 40 years ago. But he's not happy with the job our daily newspaper is doing in covering it all. He likens the Plain Dealer to Fox news. Anyway, we hope you'll read it, and vote.

Monday, November 02, 2009

She Gets Our Endorsement

Our friend Jill Zimon has taken a break from writing for the last couple of months to focus her full attention on running for city council in her suburb of Pepper Pike. Jill still writes a parenting column (which I mentioned a little here), and more recently I mentioned that her fine blog was noted in a new paperback guide to Cleveland. As for Pepper Pike, I got to know this nearby suburb a little better when I wrote the copy for its website not long ago, and I know enough to believe she'd surely shake things up a little, if elected. We're keeping our fingers crossed on her behalf, and we'll be watching those election returns tomorrow with an extra bit of interest. Good luck, Jill.
UPDATE: It's not yet official, but it looks like she's won a seat.
UPDATE #2: The Cleveland Jewish News briefly chronicles her victory.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Gift or Servant?

'The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.'
--Albert Einstein. You can review earlier mentions of the great man here.