Saturday, November 29, 2003

The In-Laws, and a Fundraiser for Jimmy Jones

Here's a dispatch from somewhere deep within a long, contented weekend of turkey-eating, sports-watching, hanging-with-kids and enjoying the beloved in-laws, Mary and Bill Kerrigan. The latter couple, proprietors of the best bed & breakfast on the American east coast (look them up if ever you find yourself in Southern Maine), never cease to amaze and delight with their gentle good humor and boundless love and interest in their giant brood. For years, Granny & Bubba, as they're known, have made it a point to annually visit each of their nine kids--no mean feat, since they live in nearly every imaginable corner of the globe (Oregon; Silicon Valley; Charleston, S.C.; Boston and even Indonesia). But for four years running, we've been blessed to get them all to ourselves for a special weekend--Thanksgiving. And it makes the holiday even more special than it otherwise would be. Our kids beam in the presence of their grandparents, and we get to soak up some more of their warmth and wisdom. A no-lose proposition all around...

And as if god himself were handling the scheduling, just as Granny & Bubba depart on Sunday (tomorrow), another not-to-be-missed event unfolds, a benefit concert for gentle soul Jimmy Jones, former member of the unique Cleveland-based ensemble band Pere Ubu. I know Jim not so much through his musical incarnation, but through his later photographic career, when he shot some great photos to accompany my print articles. But I came to value him deeply for his photographic memory for old Cleveland, his love of books (he worked in at least two legendary old Cleveland bookstores) and his singular gift of intelligent gab as an occasional drinking pal in Lakewood. In recent years, Jim has had some health setbacks, but more recently, he's rallied in ways that have cheered his friends. And tomorrow offers a chance to show him in a palpable way how we feel about him. The benefit is set to take place at 8 p.m. at the Beachland Ballroom, through which co-founder Cindy Barber, former Free Times editor, has taken a dumpy old Croatian dance hall and helped turn around the fortunes of her Collinwood neighborhood. The show begins at 8, and tickets are $15. Please consider joining us if you can.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

How Reading Can 'Fill Us With Silence'

"Reading ought to be an act of homage to the god of all truth. We open our hearts to words that reflect the reality he has created or the greater reality which he is. It is also an act of humility and reverence towards other men who are the instruments by which god communicated his truth to us. Reading gives god more glory when we get more out of it, when it is a more deeply vital act not only of our intelligence but of our whole personality, absorbed and refreshed in thought, meditation, prayer, or even in the contemplation of god. Books can speak to us like god, like men or like the noise of the city we live in. They speak to us like god when they bring us light and peace and fill us with silence."
--Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

Friday, November 21, 2003

Another Long, Interesting Week

Alas, this was the second consecutive week in which I was far too busy living and doing to be able to step back much to reflect and write about it. But at a certain point of maturity (both in writing and in life--which aren't so very different, really) one begins to accept those natural rhythms. And rather than fight with them, you learn to go with the flow of events and schedules, and catch up and fill in where you can. Most importantly, you learn not to focus too much on what you couldn't or didn't do, but on what went right, on the impossible richness of lessons learned, and conversations sparked. You learn to focus on the glass half full. Or as my esteemed colleague Don Iannone so well put it this week: "Some people may think it's "cool" to criticize. I don't. "Cool" to me is doing something with what you have in life. Use the talents and resources you have to create something new and better. That's what true artists do." For those kinds of pointed reminders, he continues to be an inspiration and a teacher by example to lots of folks. And I needed that lecture as much as most this week--in order not to be self-critical, and use the concepts of appreciative inquiry on myself. And Don, as always, delivers it in timely fashion.

Best Lines I've Heard. With all that in mind, I won't try to do justice today to the handful of wondrous things I learned this week, the events I attended or the new people I met. But I will soon try to paint a picture of a remarkable lunchtime event yesterday at the Cleveland Ritz, the annual meeting of Weatherhead's Center for Regional Economic Issues, where lots of us civic and social entrepreneurs at last got a jolt of hope that our town and region is beginning to get with the program. And I couldn't remotely do justice to an old Cleveland legend named Bill Levy--author of nine books, each better than the other (including a ghostwritten book for the late and infamous Dr. Sam Sheppard)--that I met and mind-melded with today, thanks to our mutual friend Jimmy O'Hare. It was the kind of hour and a half lunch which seemed to fly by in about 90 seconds. And bumping into the sublime Roldo Bartimole at Shaker Square the other night, and seeing him as the beaming grandfather, immediately reminded me of his impossibly soft-hearted reaction to the site of my first son, then a newborn wrapped in a blanket, waiting with all of us for a table in a Lee Road restaurant. The irascible one melted at the site of that new baby (now a 6'-3" Ignatius freshman), which was my first of many later inklings that beneath that Old Testament fire & brimstone exterior lay the tender heart of a social worker, which is what he's really been all these years...

But I will pass along a couple of lines heard in the last week or more which made me stop and laugh near the point of crying. The first is from the energetic Chris King, whose infectious enthusiasm reminds me of a one-person gospel choir, in recounting a tale about going back to school to study art, said she once found herself begging her pottery instructor for more individual attention, telling him: "I'll even fire your kilns for you." (a new pick-up line?). The second: a friend (who must remain nameless), when asked if her marital separation will remain in that state of limbo or move to the end game of divorce, responded brightly that perhaps she should wait until she has someone lined up to whom she could transfer her amorous attention: "maybe I should do a just-in-time divorce." Look for that new trend to be covered soon in a Newsweek cover story...

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Brent Larkin Finally Mellows on Kucinich

Plain Dealer editorial page director Brent Larkin has had something of a part-time job for nearly a year: serving as a source for a blizzard of stories about presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. It's a role for which he's particularly well-suited, having covered Dennis the Menace for his entire political career. For Larkin, that began at the Cleveland Press, where he got a job covering politics on a lark after admittedly barely graduating from Ohio University.

Larkin has been tough, even brutal, on Kucinich for years (often deservingly so). He wrote this devastating piece in Cleveland Magazine while he was still at the Press. And only this May, Larkin pointedly suggested in his PD column that ought to drop his "I-think-I'll-run-for-president-idea," as he put it, citing the dismissive coverage from the Washington Post's David Broder and George Will, among others (and that was before even more devastating brush-offs the pint-sized wonder boy got later in the year from Tim Russert and Chris Matthews).

Last week, Larkin appeared briefly on NPR's afternoon Talk of the Nation program, and suddenly seemed to go all soft and gooey on Dennis. My ears perked up when I heard him observe of the infamous Cleveland Public Power debacle, which led to default: "I've always said he was largely right on the substance, but his style didn't lend itself to" a resolution. Huh? I wasn't aware that Larkin has always, or even ever, said or thought that. I didn't find anything like that opinion expressed in his PD pieces, nor in recent Kucinich profiles in the Des Moines Register or the Chicago Tribune (the latter a particularly good piece of work). Finally, however, I found a piece in February's LA Weekly in which Larkin had this to say of Kucinich: "...the passage of time has shown that Kucinich may have been more right than he was wrong." So I stand corrected...

After Half a Century, Still Flacking for JFK. Even heroes have flaws, and Ben Bradlee's is his old pal John F. Kennedy. On the 40th anniversary of the assassination, the otherwise great one writes this embarrassing drek in the current Newsweek (think of it as the male version of Tina Brown's new Washington Post column). It would be difficult to pick out the worst part, but for my money, it's this passage: "But why do we have to pick JFK apart and say he slept with a gangster's girlfriend? It was awful, yes it was awful, but it doesn't have anything to do with who he truly was." Huh? You want to run that by me again, Ben? On second thought, maybe not. We'll simply chalk it up to his lone historical blind spot, made increasingly worse as he grows more distant from the newsroom and more an animal of historical celebrity. But do read the piece, will you? It may remind you, in all its awkwardness, of the old saying that editors tend to write poorly...

The Van Brothers' Hideaway Up for Grabs. And speaking of history, an impressive slice of Cleveland real estate history will soon be up for grabs, when the fine mid-sized Cleveland law firm Walter & Haverfield moves from the Terminal Tower (sorry, but I refuse to call it Tower City) to the Erieview Tower on December 1st. It's all part of the shuffling of chairs touched off by the recent change in ownership of the Erieview building, formerly owned by Dick Jacobs. As I've noted before, former signature Erieview tenants Dix & Eaton and McKinsey & Co. are moving to the BP Building, and those and other moves have opened space there for new tenants. No word yet on who might be lucky enough to inherit Walter & Haverfield's unique spot in the Tower...

Our Man in Vegas. We told our boy Dan Hanson to send back some juicy tidbits if he gets a moment from Las Vegas, where this week he's attending perhaps his 20'th consecutive Comdex show. No word yet (Dan the Man has been known to be otherwise diverted at these giant geekfest events). But we did note that Microsoft's Bill Gates gave his usual interminable, boring, only scantly illuminating keynote talk. If you have the patience to pore through it, you can read it here. He talks about his pet things: "seamless computing," which is codeword for computer code that Microsoft can use to get into everyone's wallets and try to grab a slice of every transaction in the universe. And of course he talks about security, Microsoft's great Achilles Heel. The most interesting tidbit: improved anti-spam detection software now being built into all MSFT email products. We'll see how that works...

Finally, here's one Seattle custom that we hope never reaches the midwest. Call it the newest form of performance art, or the indoor equivalent of the town's famous outdoor fish market. But please, just don't call it dinner. The mind reels when imagining what California's Groper-in-Chief, Arnold, might make of a place such as this.

Monday, November 17, 2003

How I Hated Missing Them Both

In the last couple of weeks, the midwest played host to a pair of interesting conferences, both of which I tried to break free to attend, but neither of which worked out. A bummer, that. Last weekend was the Online News Association's annual awards conference, in Chicago. ONA is slowly becoming a powerful advocate for all things online, and this year blogging had a featured place, since Andrew Sullivan was the keynote speaker. I couldn't make it, but you can catch up on some of the conversation at the event by checking out the conference blog. And Working With Words will soon have an additional update, after I've talked to my SPJ colleague, JCU prof Dick Hendrickson, who was able to attend. The week before that, progressives who are alarmed about media concentration had a gathering in Madison, Wisconsin, a center for all things progressive. Judging by the keynote talk, by heroic Bill Moyers, it was a thoughtful event. And the tremendous turnout (about 1,700) gives the lie to any suggestion that this is just a narrow issue for the overcaffeinated.

Issue 1 Again. After Issue 1 went down to defeat at the polls, Ohio will go back to the well in thinking about how to again try to raise money for technology development. But this good piece in Tony Perkins's Always On Network rightly notes that such state slush funds to pick technology winners are generally more problematic than they're worth. The most important point: "In the end, it's not the state's role to pick winners and losers through venture investment, it's to provide an infrastructure and environment in which entrepreneurship can flourish." Amen. But venture caps are increasingly taking note of the blogging phenomenon. In part, it's because of the efforts of a few smart & sober pros who have become good spokespersons/poster boys for it, like Nick Denton, profiled in today's NYT. The Brit ex-pat, a one-time reporter for the Financial Times, made several million cashing out just before the crash with his and a couple of other sites, and now he's the money and brains behind This piece suggests that VC's are looking at blogging as the next big thing, and that Technorati could soon receive a venture round.

Tobin Drops Out of Listing. The PD's Mike Tobin, who covers Cleveland City Hall and related beats, enjoys a growing reputation that, in certain cases, even includes some non-locals. In fact, the excellent Civic Strategies newsletter rated Tobin in the top 10 of enlightened urban reporters in an informal late-September ranking. Alas, he's since fallen out of the pack. Go here for the latest rankings.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Here's a Happy (or at Least Effective) Thought To Frame Your Day

"We are built to be effective animals, not happy ones."
--Author and evolutionary psychologist Robert Wright

Friday, November 07, 2003

Breaking What Was Fixed

I stopped down at Weatherhead's Peter B. Lewis building yesterday to stick my head into an Appreciative Inquiry seminar, and while there I grabbed some reading material (including, I confess, a freebie Wall Street Journal, which lay in stacks of dozens every day, all the reason anyone would need to attend Weatherhead, I think). I also grabbed a copy of the latest issue of Case Magazine, a quarterly which has been newly redesigned for its newly rebranded university.

I've always had a soft spot for the pub, for a number of reasons. I've written for it in years past, everything from cover stories on family business to a long, complicated piece on genetics, maybe the toughest reporting I've ever done (it involved reading up on the subject for the better part of a week before I ever interviewed the first of several experts in the med school). Beyond that, I got to know and appreciate its former editor Roberta Hubbard, who died not so long ago. She went beyond an editor, and all the way to a writing patron, because of her early and crucial vocal support of my then-new freelancing career. She had been an editor at Northern Ohio Live many years ago, and when CWRU decided to launch a quarterly magazine in 1988, it hired the old Cleveland Magazine veteran Ned Whelan (of Whelan Communications, with offices in the Hanna Building where his old colleagues at the magazine also reside) to help bring it to life. He did a splendid job of birthing it, but soon lost the business to internal resources, headed up by Roberta. Roberta and her team breathed great life into the pub from their dingy offices (at the time) in ancient Yost Hall. She was an editor in the old school mold: she could be both cranky and inspiring at the same time, but always demanding on behalf of her readers, and a great lover of good writing and good publications. She knew how to negotiate the tricky politics of academia, mostly steering clear of anyone and anything that would keep her from putting out the best publication possible. And I never told her how touched I was when she sent a note via a friend that she was closely reading and enjoying some changes I had made to another local university publication, the John Carroll alumni pub. Her decidedly human approach was handed down to her second-in-command, Ken Kesegich, who's still editor today, when the mag has far nicer offices, along with the entire university publications office, in a beautiful old restored century-plus home on Bellflower Road.

Anyway, it's always hard to have one's favorite magazines redesigned. A good rule of thumb is to give it at least a handful of issues to see if you can get used to it. But I'll break my own rule and say that the new Case pub broke something that was fixed. It seems a step backward, the victim of some consultants that don't know magazines as much as fundraising and image enhancement. These days, it's all about branding at universities, and the lone chance of really reaching out and touching an audience in a warm and human voice by reminding them of what they're supporting--the university and its students and alumni--inevitably suffers. A pity...

Thursday, November 06, 2003

"The Jews say that 36 just men keep the world going."
--poet & essayist Andrei Codrescu, earlier this year on NPR

Cleveland's NPR affiliate WCPN uses the slogan "All-Day Brain Food." But who would have thought that the widow of all-day junk food king Ray Krok, founder of McDonald's, would enrich the network with a $200 million gift? It's the best news I've heard in weeks, because NPR is a national treasure, something I'd have trouble living without, and yet it's perhaps easier to take for granted than a favorite paper, book or even website. Coming just a day after Morning Edition's 24th birthday, it's a splendid vote of confidence and morale pick-me-up for an incomparable group of professionals. It speaks volumes from beyond the grave. In any event, I plan to honor Mrs. Krok's memory by stopping in for a few more Big Macs. And Andrei really ought to amend his quote to read 36 just men and one woman...

Issue 1 Down in Flames. There's much angst today among local techies that their cherished state Issue 1 went down in flames at the voting booth this week. But I don't think it's really very complicated. For reasons I can't imagine, the campaign decided to use deeply unpopular Governor Taft as its poster boy, so it made it pretty easy for voters angered over his unavoidable belt-tightening during this recession to strike back. Plus, the average Joe doesn't tend to get all warm and fuzzy over the word technology, something technical folk never seem to understand. Most people, unfortunately, still think of technology as something pretty foreign, not a part of their world. I think a caller to WCPN yesterday morning summed up the feeling of millions of Americans. "I don't know why Taft did it (pushed the issue of selling bonds to support technology investments) because everyone I know who's lost their job was in technology. I don't think it is the future." It doesn't really matter that the future is going to overwhelm this woman even before she realizes it. Just don't ask her to vote for something so foreign.

Does This Mean the Clinic Will Soon Have Greeters?? Former duct tape czar and now Cleveland Clinic board member Jack Kahl takes a back seat to no one in his enthusiasm for the steamroller from Bentonville, Arkansas, also known as Wal-Mart. And just like his fellow mogul Peter Lewis (in fact like nearly all moguls), he likes to marry his various enthusiasms, suggesting (insisting?) that the targets of his philanthropy collaborate. In Lewis's case, that's why WCPN and the Weatherhead School have a strategic parternship (which includes those annoying sound bite moments on the radio, Making Change--Reinventing Our Economy). Now, in similar fashion, Kahl has apparently suggested that the Clinic learn from Wal-Mart. He told a group of entrepreneurs last week that Clinic chief Floyd Loop plans to send a group of doctors to the Wal-Mart Leadership Institute, where they can presumably learn how to scour the earth's sweat shops for the cheapest possible heart pumps and other crucial life-saving instruments (okay, that was a cheap shot, I admit). We also hear, much to our amazement, that ultra-PC, ultra-green Oberlin, Ohio may soon be getting a...Wal-Mart! Now, I'd pay to see that. Talk about blending opposite cultures...

Don't Miss This. At least there's some good news on the Making Change front. In a couple of weeks, Weatherhead and REI are hosting a lunch on the topic of driving innovation. It should attract a nice cross-section of the town's best minds. And with a price tag of just $15 for a lunch session at the Ritz, you can bet there's some heavy underwriting of the event by the school, which continues to furiously collaborate with everyone and every institution it can find in order to prove Peter Lewis wrong ("CWRU is a diseased university that is collapsing and sucking Cleveland into a hole with it"). We'll see what old Peter B. has to say tomorrow, when he speaks to the City Club's Young Leaders, which will be packed to the gills.

Lebron Energizes Things. Okay, so the Cavs went down to their fourth defeat out of their first four games in last night's home opener, and Lebron didn't do much in his long-awaited nationally televised match against his pal Carmello Anthony. But who cares, really? I just wanted to witness the spectacle of Cleveland becoming more energized, and wanted to treat my hoops-loving oldest son (mom and the younger son passed it up) to a slice of Cleveland sports history. So I sprung for some high-priced broker tix for last night's game, and we had a good view of the floor from just seven rows away in the corner. My Michael was ecstatic throughout, insisting that we get there more than an hour before game time so that he could drink it all in. And besides the game, which he loved, he got some other assorted goodies he didn't expect. Like taking a photo with the cheerleaders he spotted while we were waiting in line to go into the team shop (a second after I snapped the picture on the disposable cam and he accepted a hug from a babelicious cheerleader, I heard him mutter to himself 'now that's what I'm talkin' 'bout). During timeouts and halftime, his eyes busily scanned the seats next to the court, where of course a procession of Lebron's posse, friends, family and assorted famous folks, gathered. And he leaped out to quickly give a high five to baseball star Ken Griffey, Jr., and the rapper Jay Z. "Dad, I'll never wash this hand again," he said. He even got an autograph from former Ohio State running back (and Lebron inner circle guy) Maurice Clarrett. All in all, a pretty good night for some serious father and son bonding and memory-building...

Monday, November 03, 2003

"Every line we succeed in publishing today — no matter how uncertain the future to which we entrust it — is a victory wrenched from the powers of darkness."
—Walter Benjamin, in a 1940 letter, written shortly before the German Jewish thinker and critic took his own life rather than surrendering to the Nazis

So Much Good Reading

When we get busy, it's so easy to cheat a little and stop doing--if even only for a little while--some of the small but crucial things that made us successful in the first place. Things such as staying in shape, staying in touch (even with those with whom we're not doing business) and staying informed. The last two, of course, are closely related--especially for those who get more news and useful information from their friends, peers and contacts than they do from reading. And as someone who reads perhaps too much for my own good sometime, that's of course the easiest thing to carve out of the schedule. But I'm often reminded that, come hell or high water, I lessen my reading only at my own risk. As both food for an impossibly hungry mind and grist for my work--I am, after all, in the information business--cutting back on reading would only be shooting myself in the foot. And so I find that rather than cutting back on reading, I steal that time from elsewhere--rising an hour earlier or going to bed an hour later, even carving out time for reading breakfasts or lunches. And if I haven't slacked off on one of those other crucial things I just mentioned--staying in shape--I won't need as much sleep anyway, will I?

Anyway, all of this is merely introduction to a new resolve of mine as it relates to Working With Words: I'll be sharing with readers of this site more of the great stuff I've been reading (some of which, of course, isn't online, but at least I can point you to the hard-copy coordinates). And then you can decide for yourself whether some of it might warrant you getting up a few minutes earlier or staying up a tad later. Heck, perhaps we can even agree to meet for an all-reading, silent lunch sometime (with you buying, natch). We could pattern it after the old "Rush Rooms" where, during the heyday of Rush Limbaugh, his fans would meet at various lunch spots that would agree to pipe in his rants to accompany lunch. Only in our case, there'd be no radio. We'd merely nod to each other, sit down to eat and read, and then shake hands afterward and head back to our afternoon schedules...

CAP Is Now Accepting Online Donations. I'm happy to report that my favorite local charity, Computers Assisting People, which recycles used technology for deployment in low-wealth environments, is now ready to accept donations online. Just go to the site, and scroll down just a bit to the Make a Donation button. As a longtime volunteer and friend of the organization and its founder, Dan Hanson, I can attest to the fact that every dollar you give goes so much further here than at just about any other nonprofit organization. That's because the network of volunteers is so large and the reputation of the organization so good (and growing), and its volunteer army has now been supplemented by a handful of generous charitable grants, which underwrite the ever-wider scope of its work. So please consider this cause in your charitable giving. I dropped $25 into the bucket today. Anyone care to join me? If you like, you can send it in your own name, in the name of your organization, or even bundle it along with contributions from other readers of Working With Words. Your call entirely...

Lawyers Scattering to the Wind. Ever wonder what's become of the lawyers who once comprised Cleveland's fifth-largest law firm, Arter & Hadden (which disssolved earlier this year)? Here's a roster of where they've since landed. By far the largest group--by my count, 88 in all--have gone to Tucker Ellis & West. And since the entire firm has fewer than 100 attorneys in its Cleveland, L.A. and San Francisco offices, I'd say that means it pretty well qualifies as son of Arter & Hadden...

What I've Been Reading. Finally, as promised, here's a quick rundown on some things I think might be worth your while to read. This piece in Discover is an interesting take on the web-tracking site Technorati and other tools which allow you to assemble your own online reading menu. This illuminating interview with journalistic/civic hero Bill Moyers reminds me of why he's so crucial to our public dialogue. And he's yet another smart person who sings the opraises of Comedy Central's Jon Stewart, calling him "the most astute political analyst working today." Well, not to quibble, but I'd say he's among them (with Moyers himself ranking a bit ahead). The incomparable New York Review of Books, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary (it was begun during a prolonged newspaper strike in New York), keeps outdoing itself, each week offering up a banquet of some of the greatest writers working in English, who take on the most interesting books and subjects. Here, Paul Krugman writes well about a couple of new and important books by liberals on the topic of George Bush. Elsewhere, much has been written about Barbara Ehrenreich and her book Nickle & Dimed, which charts the difficulties of America's working poor by going undercover to work among them. But this new piece in Columbia Journalism Review is perhaps the best I've read about both the woman and her book. And I was amazed to learn that the book has kept right on selling, with 800,000 copies now in print, an impossibly large number for such a serious and impassioned tome on class politics. And finally, New Yorker media writer Ken Auletta (who just happens to have coined the term "underclass" some years ago) weighs in with his latest meaty exploration of the American media landscape, a great look at the delicate financial balancing act of the family-owned Wall Street Journal. This is truly must-read stuff...