Thursday, July 31, 2003

Watergate: Shakesperean Tragedy as 'Epic Detective Story'

The last few summers, this one included, my wife Jule has laid down the law for our boys: the TV is gone, actually stored down in the basement, cable unplugged, and you guys go find something else to do. Like reading or doing puzzles, or maybe something impossibly old-fashioned like going outside and riding your bike or playing baseball at your buddy's house. Which of course means I too must suffer alongside through late-night cable TV news deprivation, with only the ancient tiny black and white set we bought almost 20 years ago to serve as the occasional receptor for over-the-air broadcast stuff. Which of course means PBS.

And last night, with both our boys--in a fit of good luck--gone for the evening, I was able to sit glued for two hours to drink in a PBS documentary that was, well, magisterial. Watergate Plus 30: Shadow of History, it was called. It was TV at its best, full of amazing anecdotal history, sweeping narrative, great stock footage and just plain wonderful storytelling.

For those of us just old enough to have watched Watergate unfold a little (I was 15 at the time, just beginning to focus on public affairs and read the paper), it was a great refresher. I remember being at least dimly enough aware of the importance of the Watergate hearings to be quick about my paper route and lawn cutting to get in and watch a little. If someone would have told me that almost precisely 10 years later I'd myself be sitting in Congressional hearing rooms, taking notes as a reporter, I'd have called them a liar.

The show last night opened with a great scene-setting, pregnant-with-meaning line by Nixon White House Counsel John Dean, on how the president utterly sets the tone for everything: "When the president has a fire going in the fireplace, everyone has a fire in their fireplace, too." The producers deftly weave stock video footage from the time with audio tapes from Nixon's infamous taping system and of course current recollections with a handful of the principals. Unfortunately, the cowardly among the main players who have survived, people like Henry Kissinger and Nixon tough guy Chuck Colson, reborn after a stint in prison as a fire and brimstone Christian minister, apparently declined to appear. A pity, that. But Kissinger is still nicely depicted on the Oval Office audiotapes in his reptilian, Machiavellian best, obsequiously stroking Nixon's ego and undercutting their enemies.

The two hours was nicely balanced between the colorful and pitiful Nixon rogues and the heroes who courageously stopped them. I saw enough of Senator Sam Ervin blasting away in his righteous indignation to remember why he came across at the time as such a crowd-pleasing, homespun guy, the very embodiment of the Constitution. Watergate prosecutor Sam Dash, too, gets in a few fine riffs. He recalls beginning to weep as John Dean unfolded the true scope of the coverup and Nixons' involvement in it, because he knew he would have to present evidence to the American people that their president was a criminal.

One talking head rightly called it "an epic detective story." And the 30 years later, it's indeed bracing to recall just how varied was the cast and how impossibly weird was the plot and some of the characters. Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, in his signature gravelly Boston-Brahman-meets-tough-Navy-veteran-and-former-street-kid patois, recounts how one of the Watergate plumbers, Howard Hunt, when caught and brought before the judge and asked for whom he works, at first whispered. After several times he was asked to speak up, eventually saying CIA. "And from there, the story blew up." But for sheer, technicolor weirdness, the real off-camera star of the show may have been the murderous plumber Gordon Liddy, who now has a national radio show. Jeb Stuart McGruder recounts how the former FBI man offered to liquidate not only external White House enemies, but White House staffers McGruder and Dean, too. Even better, John Dean recalled Liddy trying to talk Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell into a scheme involving using hookers to entrap certain high-profile enemies. When Mitchell hesitated at the tawdriness of that, Liddy snappily replied: "General, these are the finest women in Baltimore."

So I ask you: why do people bother trying to write fiction? Who in hell could ever have invented these characters or this larger story? In the end, the documentary avoids the pat wrap-up, ending on a more serious, thoughtful note. John Dean, while perhaps bragging a bit about his central role, offers the opinion that if he had decided to go along with the coverup rather than refusing to lie, "I have no doubt we would have gotten away with" the coverup. And Richard Reeves, a New York Times reporter at the time and now an author and historian, rightly notes that while we tend to focus on the positives from Watergate, that the press and the other branches of government did their duties in stopping an imperial, criminal presidency, later events at least raise doubts about how profound the reforms have been in its wake. "Have we solved the campaign finance problem? Is the government still spying on Americans? Is the president still refusing to respond to the other branches?"

When Watergate Plus 30 returns to your local PBS station, as it no doubt will, do be sure to catch it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Yes, There's Life After 'Garage Door Baseball' League

If I raise my voice may it only be in praise.
If I clench my fist, may it only be in prayer.
If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.
--Max Lucado, When God Whispers Your Name

We called it, simply, the "Garage Door League."

In the 70s, a handful of adolescent boys from my neighborhood would spend absurd portions of the summers locked in armed combat in my driveway, pitching, hitting and catching a tennis ball. Here's how it worked: the pitcher stands at the foot of the driveway, almost at the curb, and pitches to the batter, who stands in front of the garage door (which nicely serves as the catcher). The outfielder stands on the across-the-street neighbor's grass or their driveway. Hit the house and it's a groundrule double. Over the house is a home run.

As you might imagine, this presented a few challenges. Number one, it helped if my mom wasn't home or in the house, because there would be an incessant banging of ball against garage that few hearing people could long endure. As for the neighbors across the street, well, they had to be included (co-opted, really) in our game, not unlike how one would invite elderly neighbors to a wild party you're having, so as to leave them disinclined from calling the police. That meant we showered attention on young Ayad Rahim, the oldest child of the Iraqi immigrant family that lived across the street. Ayad was a few years younger than the rest of us and not much for playing sports. But he loved to watch, assess and comment on our game. And we gladly obliged: he variously served as the garage door league's statistician, umpire and, for a time, even as the appointed 'commissioner.' I even recall him organizing a year-end awards banquet, complete with speakers and recitation of statistics, which I wish to god we had taped. It would be one of my most prized possessions today.

Anyway, Ayad of course grew up. He attended Harvard, and with his ethnic heritage gravitated to working with issues associated with his native Iraq, which his family left in 1971. In recent years, he has served as a research consultant to the anti-Saddam government in exile, the Iraqi National Congress (which has come in for its share of controversy of late). I've followed his career occasionally on the web. Anyway, on Saturday, the Wall Street Journal's online site, Opinion Journal, carried an interesting piece Ayad wrote celebrating the elimination of Saddam's two brutal sons. I may well write about Ayad (for a larger circulation, non-blog publication) sometime soon. But I also plan to return here soon with a larger, meatier piece, about another garage door league veteran, Tom Filsinger. Tom, a year older than any of us, and easily the most flamboyant and charismatic of the bunch, has been a psychology professor in Jamestown, New York for years. He was also my adopted big brother, first best friend, and first intellectual example and mentor. It was Tom who first opened my eyes to the life of the mind--casually tossing off repeated references to Fritjof Capra's The Tao of Physics, which never much interested me, and Maslow's theories about the self-actualized person, which did. As soon as he got his driver's license, we spent hours together at bookstores (before that was cool--in fact, before Cleveland had any suburban bookstores really worth visiting). And for that, I owe him plenty. Look for a larger homage to Tom here soon. In the meantime, I invite you to amuse yourself by looking around his site for Filsinger Games, an avocation since childhood which he has diligently, amazingly turned into a sustaining business with hundreds, even thousands, of avid fans around the country. Simply an unbelievable story that often leaves me shaking my head in wonder, more about which soon...

New Round of Hall of Fame Inductees. No, I'm not talking about Gary Carter and Eddie Murray, recent baseball inductees into Cooperstown. I'm talking about the newest class of inductees into the Cleveland Press Club Hall of Fame. Since 1981, the Club has annually honored perhaps 3-5 outstanding journalists for their lifetime of accomplishment. And I hear that the newest as-yet-unannounced class, to be honored at a dinner in October, is one of the strongest ever. Public radio man Leonard Will and longtime Ch. 8 GM Virgil Dominic lead the list, which also includes JCU alum and PD Washington bureau fixture Tom Brazaitis (suffering from cancer), Old Man River and Cavs voice Joe Tait, and the late Janet McCue, fashion editor of the PD. Most important of all, I'm told that our man Roldo Bartimole, for whom I've campaigned for years on the theory that a Cleveland Press Club Hall of Fame without him doesn't deserve the name, is a "guaranteed" lock for next year's class. We certainly hope so. The Society of Professional Journalists, always a little more focused on the basics and less impressed by popularity, already so honored Roldo last year. Anyway, plan on a major party in his honor about 15 months from now. Perhaps we'll charter a few buses and pack them with Roldo fans to storm the dinner and hoist a glass in his honor.

Lelyveld's Last Day. With all of the hubbub over the New York Times' selection several weeks ago of Bill Keller as new editor, you could be forgiven for not knowing that his first official day in the job was actually today. Which makes yesterday's paper the last one overseen by Joe Lelyveld, in his second tour of duty. I, for one, was amused by certain things in yesterday's paper. While the Times for decades was (for good reason) known as the Gray Lady, and Lelyveld has always had a reputation for a kind of steady adult judgment, I found a couple of photos in yesterday's paper jarring, to say the least. On the front page, below the fold, was a story about the latest shock-TV crap shows, adorned with a photo of two young men kissing at a restaurant table. And on the front of the section B Arts section is what might well be the most titillating semi-nude photo ever to appear in the Times (of an attractive topless female porn star, no less, with arms strategically folded a bit low so as to reveal a bountiful decollatage, as the bodice-rippers might put it. It immediately reminded me of an infamous edict to the staff from USA Today founding bad boy/rogue Al Neuharth: "when you run a picture of a nice, clean-cut All-American girl like this," he charmingly ordered, "get her tits above the fold." (The Times, alas, put them below the fold). Only even the cro-magnon Neuharth had in mind clothed women, and I don't think he ever envisioned porn stars. Anyway, the whole thing came off seeming as if it was a sly but profound insider nod to publisher "Pinch" Sulzberger's mania for speaking to younger, hipper (raunchier) audiences. If so, the civil war at the paper will continue between the serious and the not-so-serious. If I sound like a younger version of the PD's resident crank, Dick Feagler (who turned 65 yesterday), well, I say tough beans. The country's leading paper and agenda-setter, which doesn't countenance even mild swearing in direct quotes, can do just fine without stories about porn stars (or "sex workers," if you're PC-inclined), much less photos of them...

A Round of Beers for Salon's Eric Boehlert. And finally, I must tip my hat to online journal and its writer Eric Boehlert for their central role in laying the groundwork that helped an historic citizen groundswell block the FCC's larcenous attempt at rewriting the laws governing further media consolidation. Beginning way back in March 2001, Eric wrote a series (archived here) of stories describing how the deregulatory 1996 Telecommunications Act led the way to the death of local radio under the arrogant Clear Channel chain. In a piece headlined "Radio's Big Bully" in April of that year, he pithily captured what the series was about: "In the late 1990s, while no one was looking, a corporate behemoth became the largest owner and biggest force in America's most venerable mass medium: commercial radio." I watched in admiration over how those deeply reported, calmly written stories first seeped into other media, Congressional debate and then the larger American political conversation. But that wasn't enough, since the series only focused on commercial radio, an increasingly peripheral medium (after all, for smart people, radio simply means NPR, and that's enjoying a golden era). So the second round of punches was key: in a similar series this year about larger media concentration, most written by Boehlert, Salon returned to the theme. Only this time painting a larger picture about the entire media landscape and how democracy is threatened by fewer ownership voices, something the average citizen can intuitively grasp as he or she becomes increasingly aware of realities like these. The result: last week, shortly after the historic Congressional opposition to the FCC's rulemaking, the Justice Department quietly piled on, with a terse announcement that it was initiating not one but two antitrust investigations of Clear Channel. You may have missed it, because it's oddly been buried in the back pages almost everywhere, and I can find the announcement nowhere on the DOJ site, which is otherwise packed and quite up-to-date. Still, the important point is this: like they say, even the Supreme Court (and nutcake right-wingers like Attorney General John Ashcroft) follow the election returns and political winds. The FCC counterattack has predictably begun, with now-disgraced chairman Michael Powell apparently returning from vacation to sound off this week in the Times op-ed page and two "experts" from the noxious Cato Institute blathering in yesterday's Wall Street Journal. But the battle is over. Put this one--a huge, history-changing political victory for American citizens--in the victory column for online journalism. Who says Salon's $80-million-plus in accumulated deficits have gone to waste?

Friday, July 25, 2003

Change Can Happen From the Ground Up

Last week I had a stimulating breakfast conversation with Ralph Dise, who has a successful outplacement/headhunting practice, Dise & Co., in the splendid Tower East Building in Shaker Heights (sorry, but you never stop being the son of an architect). The proximate cause was a series of employment-related articles I've been doing for the Plain Dealer's Wednesday jobs section (unfortunately not online). I knew him to be an unusually smart and plugged-in guy, and thus sought him out as a source. But as always happens in writing-related endeavors, in the process of chasing down learning, one tends to stumble over something even bigger and more interesting than you initially thought was there.

And on that level, Ralph certainly didn't disappoint. He's come to the field with what I consider special bona fides: he was himself downsized in a particularly cruel way from the troubled LTV some years ago, and thus can identify with job seekers on a visceral level. He's built his practice ever since the old fashioned way: through reputation and referral, one brick at a time.

More recently, he's just completed a year in Leadership Cleveland, gaining admission on his fifth try, he explained. And that seems to have given him some renewed energy and insight into what the region needs to compete and break out of its mental funk. And it only renewed his certainty, his obvious industry bias aside, that the answer comes down to people and the job skills they provide. And as head of a new regional HR organization (which I'll be telling you more about in coming days), composed of senior people at all levels of the industry, he'll be particularly well-placed to make some special things happen. As we talked some more about the state of things in Cleveland, he grew insistent about how the most interesting developments begin from the ground up. "That's how the Flats happened, that's how the Warehouse District happened."

That got me to rifling through my files for a piece from Governing Magazine a few years ago (also happens to be online here). In an otherwise unremarkable piece in August '97 about urban riverfront development, came this small gem, which I learned about for the first time not from a local pub but from a national: "Cleveland's development fo the Flats, along the Cuyahoga River, followed a similar pattern. The infamous fire on the water in 1969, along with pollution in Lake Erie and the city's bankruptcy several years after, made any waterfront reclamation in Cleveland seem unlikely, if not ridiculous. But the Cleveland Women's City Club began developing plans for parks on the east bank of the Cuyahoga, and several prominent developers acquired property there. 'People thought they were nuts,' says Joseph C. Mazzola, former exec. director of the Flats Oxbow Association. By 1986, however, the city planning department had joined in, adopting a long-range development scheme for the area, and contributing $100 million for streets, lighting, landscaping and public transit."

Wow. Our colleague Don Iannone would call that "citizen planning," with the public taking a leadership role at the outset and the political leadership adding its efforts from there. And it's not unlike a bunch of similar movements springing up now in Cleveland. (Ironically, the Women's City Club is perilously close to going out of business). And with the current political leadership vacuum, which Chris Thompson brilliantly describes this week, maybe this is that peculiar moment in history when the stars are in alignment to make some interesting things happen. At least, that's our plan.

After All, It's Happening at the National Level. We certainly have increasing evidence that grassroots outrage and impatience over political leadership's timidity is causing the average person to act, making this seem more like a direct democracy than at any time I can recall. Just ask poor California Governor Gray Davis, who seems caught like a deer in the headlights over the notion that citizens are agitating for his ouster, using a 1911 law that's only strengthened by new ways of organizing. George Bush is of course finding this out, as well. Check out this full-page ad that's set to run in this Sunday's New York Times, funded by the populist billionaire George Soros, whose last political jihad was marijuana legalization (in concert with our own Peter Lewis).

Maybe most satisfying of all is the way that average citizen outrage over the media mogul power grab at the FCC may well have stopped that outrage, confounding almost every longtime observor of politics, who saw a pretty simple equation: on one side was a few billionaires and the largest media companies, who greased Congressmen and kept the debate mostly off the airwaves. On the other side were a few million upset people, though with no organization or obvious financial incentive to get involved. Ordinarily a slam dunk.

Web-empowered organizing, whether it's designed to get millions to write their congressmen, thousands to turn out for a rally or march, or dozens to join together in a coffee shop, are beginning to change the reality of power in America in ways that even the most mainstream folk can understand. As Andrew Boyd wonderfully describes in this recent Nation piece, the "organizing power of the net" allows citizens to "do an end run around corporate-controlled media and reach into the politically disaffected American mainstream." And most interestingly of all, it often can do so with no apparent leadership, simply as a result "of an email we trusted."

That, my friends, can change the world.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Sandy's Moment in the Spotlight

The PD's Chris Seper is beginning to hit his stride in covering some emerging local things of interest on the web, which is precisely why we were so eager for him to attend the Blogfest in May, as he did. The latest evidence is his piece on Monday of this week about the potential for blogging to get complicated by employers' sensibilities. I was especially happy that much of the piece centered on one of my favorite bloggers, Weatherhead management prof Sandy Piderit (a nice picture of whom appeared in print but not online), who's now vacationing with the family and rightly taking a breather from blogging. The piece focused on the possible problems she might encounter by linking to a student's bellyaching site, I liked how she used it as a teaching tool, an invitation for dialogue, but Chris raised the possibility that her "employers" might demand that she remove the link. She calmly replied that they might ask, "but I don't think I would."

Unfortunately, Chris didn't make a key distinction, that she blogs on a third-party site. Even more importantly, he fails to mention the crucial point about academic freedom, which would make it hard to impossible for a university to force a prof to do such a thing (even though as a presumably untenured faculty member there might be some subtler pressures on her). Ironically, on the very day on which the piece appeared, Stanford Law professor Larry Lessig noted on his blog that Stanford officials have asked him to move his blog off university servers, presumably in swift reaction to his having asked Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean to serve as a guest fill-in while Lessig was on vacation the week before. But neither Stanford nor any other respectable university would think about trying to control a professor's right to publish as they saw fit. Look for another interesting piece coming soon from Chris, the subject of which I'll keep to myself for now.

Homework for Goldberg. I've got a suggestion for our wifi enthusiast colleague Steve Goldberg: check out this site that supposedly lists all the spots in various geographic locations that have hot spots for free wireless connectivity, and report back on how accurate the database is. Obviously, it doesn't yet include the newest spot, near the Caxton Building, courtesy of Ron Copfer.

Springer Roast. I don't want to waste much time on the ridiculous Senatorial candidacy of Jerry Springer (which is the best evidence yet that Ohio Democrats are completely out of energy and ideas), but I did rather enjoy this nice skewering of the Sin City goofball by Andy Borowitz in a recent New Yorker.

And finally, it was nice for a change to hear on Tuesday's All Things Considered how one of NPR's uppity intellectuals (Melissa Block) treated a Christian with some simple respect. In a brief story noting the recent passing of the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, Dr. Bill Bright, her even-handed tone yielded a wonderful insight on him by a commentator from something called the Evangelical Studies Project in Washington, D.C. In explaining why Bright never became as famous as other Christian leaders who loved to dispense opinions via the media, the expert explained how Dr. Bright insisted that he and his staff stay away from politics and the media. "He wanted to change the world one person at a time." We say double amen to that...

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Jason Walks the Aisle

Last Saturday I ventured out to Strongsville, making my way past the newer area built up in the last few years around the area's newest mega-mall (which of course looks like every other area around a mega-mall), and ended up at a pleasant little church in the older part of town, where the four-lane road turns into one lane each way. And there I witnessed the marriage of my friend Jason Therrien to his new bride, Holly. The weather was crisply brilliant, with big, fluffy clouds lazily drifting by overhead. Inside the church I saw what just might have been the biggest wedding party I've ever seen. Eight beefy, serious guys with chiseled features stood on one side like a security detachment or an defensive line for a goal line stand, with eight pretty women standing on the other side tending to Holly.

Jason, who co-founded one of the region's leading web development shops, has a way of tending to small but important details, adding an appealing human element where many might just gloss over the chance to make a connection. And his wedding day was no exception. On the back of the obligatory wedding program guides that couples prepare for guests who come for the wedding mass, was a brief but heartfelt write-up on each of the 16 members of the wedding party. In it, Jason touchingly recounted how his brother and best man Adam once waited for the bus and played midnight football together and how he shared chocolate chip pancakes with Lex. He uses words like "comrade" and "steadfast friend" throughout.

In the receiving line afterward, I teased his mom about how he'll be running up his cell bills on the 15-day Hawaiian honeymoon the happy couple is now enjoying. "Oh, he's taking the laptop, too," she responded. "I hope he finds free internet access." Congratulations, Holly and J. May you enjoy many years of happiness together.

Friday, July 18, 2003

"The truth is always revolutionary."
--Antonio Gramsci

Dog Days of Summer

You can always tell that summer is heating up when ludicrous non-stories begin to gain some traction. These silly filler items, padded into full stories, often result from two related things: distracted media people just coming off vacation or about to go, and too many sources who aren't around to answer their phones. Thus you'll get an item like this, describing a supposed movement to convince Tom Brokaw to run for president. Because it happens to be in a publication I ordinarily love, the New York Observer (in hard copy, it's that attractive salmon-colored broadsheet that looks just like the Financial Times), I skimmed it. No surprises at first--Barry Diller and his giant ego are leading the charge to convince Americans that a man who reads other people's scripts before a camera is somehow qualified to be president of the United States (then again, how different would that really be than the situation we have now?). But then one reads on to find that the normally serious writers Nora Ephron and Kurt Andersen are also aboard. Chalk it up to bored insiders chattering around the campfire in the Hamptons. But come on, Nora and especially Kurt (co-founder of that arch-enemy of BS, Spy Magazine) you really oughta know better...

This Lane is Worth Walking. On the other hand, some writers find interesting material to weave into their work in inverse proportion to how close they are to the center of all the hype and silliness. That would include the incomparable New Yorker movie critic Anthony Lane, who finds a way to write interesting pieces even about movies as otherwise meaningless as Terminator 3. Buried in this review, which I only read because his byline almost guarantees a great and stylish read, is this incredible tidbit culled from Esquire: the fact that O.J. Simpson was originally scheduled to play the lead role in the original Terminator 20 years ago, except that the director decided "people wouldn't have believed a nice guy like O.J. playing the part of a ruthless killer." As he explains in this interview, Lane lives in London, and flies into New York about monthly. He doesn't seem to suffer much from missing all the gasbaggery of his peers in the Hamptons.

Back to Bush. But the flip side of that dog days of summer media dynamic isn't being very kind to the Bush White House just now. With little else of substance for the press hounds to focus upon, the media seems to have somehow just learned that Bush and his radical crew are shameless liars! After ignoring the accumulating evidence for three years, the bad economy, a growing deficit and an Iraqi guerilla war are combining to provide an opening for reporters to actually hold the Bushies to their words. And sure enough, just today there's a new poll out that for the first time must give heart to his Democratic challengers. A new Zogby poll shows that Bush's popularity is collapsing, almost back to where it was just before 9/11. That's of course going to remind even those who don't watch politics too closely of Bush I, whose popularity collapsed from a post-Iraq-war high of 90%-plus to losing an election in all of about a year. Need more evidence of BushII's sudden collapse of support? Read this article written this week by the Washington Post's David Broder, the dean of the country's political reporters. Because of his standing among readers and especially among his peers in the business, this column immediately reminded a lot of people, myself included, of Walter Cronkite's coming out against the Vietnam war, of which Lyndon Johnson famously observed, "when we've lost Cronkite, we've lost middle America." One might just say the same of the extremely moderate, cautious Broder, who's ordinarily no bomb thrower. But sometime, even the meek feel impelled to stand up and point out that the king hasn't any clothes...

Thursday, July 17, 2003


I’m with Andrew Sullivan, who complained last week that Blogger’s recent technical problems (since its purchase by and slow integration into Google) are causing him to consider finding another publishing platform. Blogger was having LOTS of problems two and half weeks ago. Rather than simply being frustrated, I took the opportunity to take a summer break away from blogging (though not, I must confess, from email or reading other blogs) and put full attention to paying projects. I always admired how the most web-centric, plugged-in guy I know, Mario Morino, goes entirely offline for all of August, to spend time with his family. And our friend Sandy Piderit is now doing the same. And it’s a good idea, because I now find myself, as the satirical Nixon bumper sticker once put it, “tanned, rested and ready” for a comeback.

THE CITY WIDE WEB: As the blog revolution, which despite all the hipster jive posturing you've heard and read about is really all about (as Blogger's tagline nicely puts it) Push-Button Publishing for the People, takes hold, we're seeing some interesting ideas about taking that connectivity and combining it with community. One was something called a Mob Project, where people with too much time on their hands suddenly show up at a public place and then disperse, which unfortunately reminds me too much of what bored teens with cell phones might do. (of course, if the gathered were put to a good use, it would be different). But an even more interesting idea was floated by a Washington writer on recently: the City Wide Web organized by bloggers around their subway stops. A version of this (we'd have to use the RTA rapid) might be an interesting project for the growing network of NEOhio bloggers.

THE BLOGS THAT ATE CLEVELAND: That was the catchy title of a recent blog entry by Jeff Jarvis. It merely links to a story, actually a pretty interesting one, about how (formerly the Mining Company) is newly using bloggers as its guides, thus further entrenching blogging as the hottest content source on the web. You may remember as the once-highflying site, among the 10 most heavily trafficked for several years, which bragged about having thousands of human guides to the web--The Human Internet, they called it. Former Clevelander Scott Kurnit, a Prodigy alum, was a key player in that site, later sold to the mildly clueless investment fund parading as a media company, Primedia. (interestingly enough, Kurnit, Primedia & Co. are currently defendants in a class action lawsuit by about a hundred former guides, who are charging violations of various fair labor laws, not unlike the suit that part-timers once pressed against Microsoft). But back to Jeff Jarvis for a moment. If you don't know that name, you should. He's the for Advance Publications, the giant company that owns your daily paper, dear Cleveland readers. A veteran of TV Guide, he's now easily one of the 10 or 12 best-read, most influential bloggers in the U.S., and he's much of the reason that the long-stodgy has suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, gotten religion about blogging. And his tenure at Advance is yet another sign that the once-stodgy Newhouse empire is getting a blast of new blood from the Yale-educated Steven Newhouse, son of Donald (the brother who makes money for the company in newspapers while his much more famous bro, S.I. Newhouse, spends it on such magazine baubles as GQ and the New Yorker). Anyway, more about Jarvis and that important story in coming days.

A BIRTHDAY BLOGATHON: I'm pleased that the world's blogging community has somehow done the homework required to learn my birthday, and thus declare July 27th as Blogathon 2003. Seriously, though, this is yet another interesting idea, a version of which our community might consider: using a weekend day to constantly update one's blog as a way to raise money for the charity of your choice. It kind of reminds me of the 28-hour dance marathons in which I eagerly took part three times during my college years at JCU. And it can now be told: not only was I interested in the novelty of it, and the chance to raise some money, but I was also lured by the prospect of leaning against a pretty girl of my choice for an entire day (Betty from Buffalo, me and my pals dubbed one of those beauties). Anyway, check this out and use it as food for some thought...

PUBLISHERS BIBLE TAKES NOTE: Cleveland developments recently caught the notice of the influential Publishers Weekly not once but twice: for the work of e-book publisher Steve Potash and his Overdrive (a favorite story of Chris Thompson's) and for the unexpectedly fine roundup of Literary Cleveland by freelancer Donna Marchetti (with help from the talented PD book editor Karen Sandstrom, and probably her hubby, old vet Carlo Wolff). That story also caught the attention of our blogger colleague Eric Olsen (with whom Carlo once edited an encyclopedia of music). In a similar vein, while our friend Bill Callahan is too humble to toot his own horn, you should know that he's really a national-class leader on issues of community technology in low-wealth neighborhoods and the digital divide, a term which has lost some of its currency of late. For instance, he was on this panel a few weekends ago in Washington. Here's hoping that he writes about some ideas discussed there, perhaps even giving us some sense of what he talked about. Hell, I'd even love to read his entire prepared remarks, if there was such a thing. But beyond that, here's hoping that this regional blogging network will take up our colleague Sandy Piderit's challenge to do some tangible things for our community. Working with and through Bill and Dan Hanson's Computers Assisting People would be a good place to start.

DARTS & LAURELS (apologies to Columbia Journalism Review): Shame on the PD and editor Doug Clifton, or maybe metro editor Mark ("we stole him back from the Boston Globe) Russell for burying a tiny story a couple of weeks ago that should have been longer and gotten much better play: the account of the supposedly public meeting about the convention center. On page 5 of the metro section, the paper buried a bare-bones account by Mike Tobin (a great reporter and writerduring his freewheeling days with Cleveland Mag and later the Scene, but now without much ability to write anything very meaningful now that he's suited and bespectacled, and buried under squads of grim Superior Ave. editors). It contained little or no mention of the outrageous panel stonewalling that one could read about, say, in Roldo's column or in Tony Bodek's blog. We've come to expect better from Clifton, who's truly cleaned up much of the PD's act in the last couple of years, but still seems to be stuck in the same establishment echo chamber on this convention center non-debate debate. It reminds me of the famous observation by the late independent muckraker I.F. Stone, who observed that he loved reading the NYTimes "because I never know on which page I'll find a front-page story." At the same time, hats off to the brawling, crusading David Eden, editor of the Free Times, who in last week's column poked at the "drumbeat" for the convention center, ending with a wonderful incitement to citizenship: "Tell them what you will--and won't--vote for. You tell them what's important. If there is to be a big vote in November, and part of it includes a convention center, tell Jane Campbell, Frank Jackson, Dennis Eckart, Jimmy Dimora, Peter Lawson Jones, Tim McCormack, et al., what it will take to get your 'yes' vote. Don't let them tell you. After all, it's your money and your town." This was all the more impressive if you know something about Eden: He's personally close to Forest City's Al Ratner (if not Sam Miller), whom he's known at least since dating Ratner's daughter more than 25 years ago. Ratner later cushioned his blow from being forced out of the PD in a late '80s power struggle with his nemesis Alex Machaskee, by giving him a gig writing Forest City press releases and annual reports (at least until Eden stirred up one of his many hornet's nests by inviting a former NYTimes big foot editor to lecture establishment Cleveland on allowing real civic debate, but that's an ancient story for another day). The point for now is this: that was a nice clarion call to Clevelanders not to be railroaded by the usual suspects, but we'll be watching Eden's future takes, because he's no doubt being heavily lobbied by the Forest City folks to soften his stance as we get closer to the vote...