Sunday, January 31, 2010

We Can't Decide if This is Useful,
So We Ask Y'All to Help Us Decide

'Visuwords uses Princeton University’s WordNet, an opensource database built by University students and language researchers. Combined with a visualization tool and user interface built from a combination of modern web technologies, Visuwords is available as a free resource to all patrons of the web.'
--from the Visuwords website. Thoughts, anyone?

Saturday, January 30, 2010

On the Need to Find a Fresh Way
To Say Something Quite Familiar

'I am able to say that while I am not ruggedly well, I am not ill enough to excite an undertaker.'
--Mark Twain, in a letter to a friend late in life. We were struck by how familiar this underlying thought was, and yet how novel (and of course humorous) was his way of putting it. We welcome your similar examples.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Ridiculous Sign of the Month

'Become an intellectual for under $20.'
--a sign hanging over a table at Joseph Beth Bookstore. The table contained, among other titles, Dan Brown's potboiler Angels & Demons. Beside the fact that such a book hardly belongs in any such discussion, we take issue with the whole idea that reading any book can make someone an intellectual. Processing the world through one's head, our definition of an intellectual (and one that leaves the door just as wide open to truck drivers as college professors) is really an in-born trait, not something you can acquire through any recommended reading list. But enough about what we think. What do you think about what we think?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Emails From Beyond the Grave

Dearly beloved, let me apologize right now for the fact that I won't be posting anything nor responding to your comments or emails after I've passed on to the next life. I don't happen to know when that will be, but whenever it eventually happens (pray that's later rather than sooner), I won't be using services such as this to continue to do virtual business post-expiration. When I've kicked the can, that's it. Finito. Please consider this my advanced apology. On the other hand, should you want to wipe the slate clean of your social media/Web 2.0 profile while you're still among the living, this ought to help you accomplish the task. Now please, go back to whatever you were doing before this interruption.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Advantage of Belief

'Most people do not believe in anything very much, and our greatest poetry is given to us by those who do.'
--Cyril Connolly, the late British literary critic, whose influence is sometimes compared to his American contemporary, Edmund Wilson. Isn't that sentiment true in just about every aspect of life?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Microlending for the Urban Poor

Since the subject of microlending came up recently in one conversation here (in the context of developmental aid to Haiti), I thought I'd direct your attention to this interesting article about how the microlending community is beginning to turn its attention to the U.S., and particularly to harnessing the hustle and energy of inner city entrepreneurs. If you have a further interest in that subject, check out what is perhaps the leading online microlending platform, Kiva. Then, should the spirit move you, please share your thoughts.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Internet's Effect on the Market
For Freelance Writing & Journalism

'What's sailing away, a decade into the 21st century, is the common conception that writing is a profession -- or at least a skilled craft that should come not only with psychic rewards but with something resembling a living wage. Freelance writing fees -- beginning with the Internet but extending to newspapers and magazines -- have been spiraling downward for a couple of years and reached what appears to be bottom in 2009. The trend has gotten scant attention outside the trade. Maybe that's because we live in a culture that holds journalists in low esteem. Or it could be because so much focus has been put on the massive cutbacks in full-time journalism jobs. An estimated 31,000 writers, editors and others have been jettisoned by newspapers in just the last two years.Today's reality is that much of freelancing has become all too free. Seasoned professionals have seen their income drop by 50% or more as publishers fill the Web's seemingly limitless news hole, drawing on the ever-expanding rank of under-employed writers.'
--from a recent article by the L.A. Times' excellent media reporter, James Rainey. We had many reactions to this piece, but figured y'all should have first crack at commenting.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

How to Avoid Gobbledygook Phrases

In our continuing series on small but crucial ways to improve your writing, we've focused on the plague of unneccesary quotation marks and missplaced apostrophes. Today, we turn the spotlight on identifying (and of course then removing) the kinds of gobbledygook phrases that tend to creep into our writing. Thoughts, anyone?

Friday, January 22, 2010

How Kafkaesque...

A woman who recalls knowing Franz Kafka. You can review an earlier mention of the author/mystic and man about town (the town of Prague, that is), who died in 1924, here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Our Favorite Headline of the Week

This surely caught our attention and lured us into reading the story. Would it do the same for you? For its sly irony, this headline deserves at least a nod for runner-up. You can review earlier favorite headlines here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Can You Read Your Way Out of Depression?

This fellow is sure that Saul Bellow's work helped him do just that. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Our Favorite Book Title, Part 22

This month, we're calling it a toss-up. We thought it was a dead heat between two great titles: The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun and Your Butt's in the Wrong Seat: A Manifesto for Public Transportation. The latter is the first-ever e-book we've recognized with this distinction. You can download it for free, as you can all the scores of other books at this remarkable site, which I've only been meaning to recommend for about, oh, two or three years. Anyway, you can review earlier favorite book titles here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Forget Leno & Conan: Just Bring Back Arsenio

We couldn't agree more with what The Root had to say on this topic. At the risk of sounding provincial, it doesn't hurt that Arsenio happens to be a Cleveland native. His iconic moment with Clinton and his sax was merely the most memorable of the show's many high points.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Remembering a Life With the
'Cadence & Fervor of Poetry'

'My dad and I were as different as could be (I made sure of that), but his life had a clarity that I find in poetry. He was a carpenter, and if I close my eyes I can see him, thirtyish, handsome, sawdust in his hair, running a two by four through a circular saw, trimming it, holding it up to the studs, pulling a nail out from between his front teeth, taking the hammer from the loop of his pants where it hung, and pounding in the nail, three whacks, and a tap for good luck. This simple act, repeated a thousand times as he built the house up over our heads, had the cadence and fervor of poetry. He didn't earn his daily bread sitting in a conference room, manipulating people, moving big wads of cash around, spinning a web of hogwash; compared to that, his life was poetry. When he bowed his head and gave thanks before a meal, it was always the same words, the same cadence. When he took a chicken by the legs and laid its neck against the block and lifted the axe and chopped its head, there was a plain cadence to that. I hear that whack in poetry...Poetry is church. What animates poetry is faith, the same faith that moves the builder and the butcher. My dad died in the first-floor bedroom of the house he built and his death had a plain cadence to it. When I brought my three-year-old daughter to see him two weeks before he died, he wriggled his toes under the blanket to make her reach for them and then he withdrew them to make her giggle. He had been making children giggle all his life. His voice and the heat of his life can be found in poetry and nowhere else: poetry is about driving the nail in the pine, killing the chicken, mowing grass, putting luggage into the car, gratitude for food, the laughter of a little girl, about our common life.'
--from Garrison Keillor's introduction to Good Poems for Hard Times. If there has ever been a more eloquent tribute to a parent by a son or daughter, I'm not immediately aware of it. If you know of one, we'd sure like to hear about it, as of course we would also welcome your reactions to this one. And with this post, we're initiating a new policy, which we should have begun long ago: when we link to a book, it will be to the site that helps you find it at an independent bookstore near you, rather than the omnivorous Amazon. As we've said in the past, we all should support the independents!

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Recipe for Staying Fresh

'In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things and happy in small ways.'
--Edith Wharton, the celebrated novelist, whose eventful life stretched from the Civil War to the Great Depression. Her masterpiece (or one of them), The Age of Innocence, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1921. You can review ealier mentions of her
here and here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Picture is Worth A Thousand Words,
Especially When It's a Photo Like This

All the endless coverage of the disaster in Haiti didn't really begin hitting home to us in a real way, at least not until we came across this chilling, unforgettable photo, snapped by Juan Barreto of AFP/Getty Images. It's all the reminder we'll ever need of the power of good photojournalism. Meanwhile, we'd love to see the stories, photos or video that affected you, and hear your reactions to this event.
UPDATE: The New Yorker, befitting its status as one of the world's great (if not the greatest) magazines, offers this roundup of Haiti material, a blend of fresh reporting by its sublime staff and golden oldies from its archives, to add the leavening of historical perspective. Hats off to you, Mr. Remnick.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Sublime Frank Deford
On How NY Covets Lebron

We've long admired veteran sportswriter Frank Deford's graceful essays, which can be heard weekly on NPR. This week, he tackled the subject of New York's hankering to land Lebron James, and did so in his usual way, with piercing insights as well as lilting phrases. He makes the interesting argument that with Tiger Woods now out of the sporting picture, Lebron becomes Nike's #1 man, and thus the pressure to be in a media capital is even greater, though he also notes that these days, the world's media comes to Lebron. And he wonders aloud whether the Akron-born superstar would "abandon the unfashionable land of his nativity" for glitzy Gotham. You can learn more about the old warhorse stylist, who first made his name at Sports Illustrated, here.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A Lovely & Concise Thought for the Day

'Science is the poetry of reality.'
--English biologist Richard Dawkins. You can learn more about him at his website, which bills itself as "a clear-thinking oasis." Judging by this line, we'd be hard-pressed to disagree.

Monday, January 04, 2010

An Experiment in Living Simply--In College

This is one of the more uplifting things I came across over the holiday weekend--students at my alma mater, John Carroll University, living simply, in a community that goes several steps beyond the standard dorm environment. You can click on the video to see the whole story. Here's hoping this experiment catches fire and spreads in the new year.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

How Do You Jiggle Your Synapses?

'Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.'
--from a recent New York Times article on training the aging brain. We liked the reminder about the need to confront thoughts contrary to our own.
UPDATE: With Baby Boomers beginning to hit the retirement age (and with this cohort group being among the most attentive readers) we're beginning to see an avalanche of coverage about how to better maximize our brains. Here are a couple of other recent articles we noticed on this topic (here and here).

Friday, January 01, 2010

A Very Happy New Year To You All

The wife is in India on a long-awaited trip, the OSU Buckeyes just won the Rose Bowl, it's cold and snowy (after rain on Christmas), and I'm home-bound, tending to my son after his recent knee surgery. All in all, a marvelous way to reconnect with the things that really matter, and to silently appreciate all the tremendous blessings that have rained down on me in 2009. But few can really compete with the relationships formed here and the conversations that have taken place. They've somehow touched and informed everything else I do. Here's hoping your holiday weekend is a memorable one. We'd love to hear about your assessment of 2009 and/or your hopes for 2010.
UPDATE: My friend Miles calls holiday-weekend overdosing on TV sports a "sports coma." We couldn't have said it better ourselves.