Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Your Tax Dollars at Work

'I regret that I was never able to convince Congress to fully fund our technological initiatives. I'm embarrassed that on the afternoon and evening of September 11, 2001, FBI agents had to send photos of the suspected terrorists via express mail service because they still lacked the computing power to scan and send the images (electronically).'
--from former FBI director Louis Freeh's autobiography, My FBI. Earlier in the book, he observed that the average 12-year-old American child has more computing power at his fingertips than the average FBI agent. Postscript: This GAO report, in September '04, found that even three years after 9/11, "the FBI does not currently have an integrated plan for modernizing its IT systems."

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Today's Quiz

Quick: What do these three quotes have in common?

'A patriot must always be ready to defend his country from his government.'
--Edward Abbey
'The great majority of mankind is satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities.'
'Don't be humble. You're not that great.'
--Golda Meir

Answer: they all appear at the beginning of various chapters of the fine Karl Rove biography, Bush's Brain.

Sign of the Times: It wasn't too long ago that a job posting such as this would have raised an eyebrow or otherwise caused a stir. Not any longer.

Highly Quotable: Sometimes, you're in the middle of a long, workmanlike interview, when suddenly, from out of the blue, the person will say something so pithy, vivid or otherwise remarkable that you just instantly know it's going to help bring the story alive. New York Times food critic Frank Bruni (the same guy who wrote a thoroughly unremarkable book on George Bush not so long ago) knows what I'm talking about. In a long piece last week on the 20th anniversary of a breakthrough French restaurant in New York, Montrachet, I found this zinger: "We had a $16 prix fixe,' Mr. Nieporent recalled. "It was a sensibility, a mentality: no barriers. The menu wasn't in French. there was no dress code. As long as the feet and the genitals were covered, it was cool." Good thing he didn't get any more specific about the genitals, because the NYT is pretty squeemish about that stuff.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Nazis March in Toledo & Panzica Marches into Minds

For me, Toledo's always been the most plain-vanilla of Ohio's Big Five cities. Famous for nothing, but also infamous for little or nothing. Akron has its rubber legacy and now the tough-talking, would-be Daley mayor, Don P., which makes it not uninteresting. Cincy, the right-wing P&G company town, has its occasional fundamentalist eruptions against modern art and its beautiful city squares and restored Art Deco hotels. Youngstown has its closed steel plants and mob legacy, which provides all the narrative color any town needs. Cleveland--well, where to start? But what does Toledo have to recommend it? Yesterday, I would have said not much--just some scattered glass-making, the memorably named minor league baseball team, the Toledo Mudhens, and a failed, white elephant commercial lakefront project. But that was before I read about the
violent marches by Nazis there. Not sure I would have picked Toledo as the obvious site for violence to break out at a Nazi march, but there you have it.

Panzica Marches into Minds. Meanwhile, I got an eye-opening eyewitness look at the whole Kathy Panzica phenomenon last week. She's the friend of Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell who has suddenly seemingly taken over the whole re-election campaign. Henry Gomez of the PD memorably profiled her and her Red Room Revolution in last week's PD, and the local blogs have been abuzz over her in recent weeks, for good reasons.

Anyway, there we were Tuesday evening at Community of Minds, a wonderful monthly event that has been bringing together the entrepreneurial community for about six years (beginning when we might have called it the new economy community). Before the tech bubble, the co-sponsors--the law firm Thompson Hine, web developer MarchFirst, the software company Oracle and Silicon Valley Bank--poured so much money into it that they underwrote lavish free food an open bar for a couple of hours at a time. As you might guess, it was an impossibly popular event. But since the bubble, all the other players have dropped away except for Thompson Hine, which has stuck with it ever since in scaled-down fashion, winning boatloads of goodwill in the process.

The agenda that night was to hear from the two leading lights of One Cleveland, Scott Rourke and Lev Gonick. Seconds before they were set to begin speaking, Panzica and Campbell marched into the room as if they owned it. Jane was of course just Jane, looking like a slightly baffled housewife with a pained smile painted on. But Kathy P. had this eerie, unblinking quality, surveying the room but not really appearing to see much. But what came next was far eerier. Ignoring the proceedings, she marches up to the front of the room near the podium, and with nearly 100 people looking on, waiting to hear from the One Cleveland pair, she tromps right up and begins hugging everyone in the showiest possible fashion. First a deep body hug for tech czar Mike DeAloia, and then one for Rourke and another for Lev. She may also have hugged her Thompson Hine law colleague Tom Zych, who was serving as emcee. It was as if she owned the damn place.

The whole thing was more than a little creepy.

The beauty of Community of Minds, as its name suggests, is that it has mostly stuck to the subjects that engage progressive types that care about the region and understand some of what it will take to get us out of our funk. It's remained largely free of territoriality and pettiness, of any of the usual rivalries that divide people in business, instead choosing to focus on what brings people together. Until that night, I can't recall a single time (and I've been at most of these for its entire life) where partisan politics intruded in even a substantial way, much less in this crude manner.

Neither Campbell nor her weird new sidekick won any friends that night.

Magnum Reloads. And Speaking of DeAloia and Panzica, check out my boy Dan Hanson's wonderfully relaunched site, which highlights his interviewing skills with various tech luminaries via podcasts. You'll find a great hour-long interview with tech publisher Tim O'Reilly. But even more germane to our earlier subjects, the shorter interview with Cleveland tech czar Mike DeAloia (conducted in August, Dan tells me) includes him talking about Panzica (then named Cathy Horton) as his "right-hand person," even "chief of staff" on tech matters. Dan's been calling himself the Entreprenerd for some time, and it fits. But I prefer this new nickname he's given himself: Great Lakes Geek. Knock yourself out, Dan.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Tomorrow's Program: Media Law and Developing Sources

Tomorrow you'll have a chance to experience another in a series of periodic sessions highlighting the incredible national-class (hell, world-class) writing and reporting talent we have here in the region, along with some key support services that are often invisible to the reader but nevertheless crucial to the end product. At a morning SPJ event at the Middleburg Heights library (directions below), you can hear the keynoter, Case journalism prof Ted Gup, talk about how he develops sources. This is no mean thing: Ted was something of a protege of Bob Woodward's (a tale he once recounted in GQ magazine) during their years together at the Washington Post, and so he'll have some colorful tales to tell about what it was like to be in the vicinity of the keeper of Deep Throat's secrets before that secret ended. And he'll also no doubt have a few choice remarks about the ongoing controversy over the NYT's Judy Miller and her decision to go to jail over the issue of protecting anonymous sources. Ted's writing credits go way beyond just the Post: at Time Mag, he wrote several cover stories and he now sounds off regularly in such venues as (which just got a godawful redesign to mark its 10th birthday). Most of all, Gup spent years reporting and writing a magisterial book-length account of the many CIA agents who died in the line of service, which was quite a trick, since until his book ("The Book of Honor--Covert Lives and Classified Deaths at the CIA"), those names were not available, much less the human stories attached to them. When a nice lady named Shirley Worsmer decided to endow a professorship in journalism at Case a few years ago, a feeding frenzy for the job ensued. Ted, who had once earned a law degree from Case before going on to his life's work, and who has written so widely and so well, emerged victorious. Ever since, it's given some of us hope that Case might actually slowly develop a meaningful journalism program, to supplement the region's only fullblown such thing, way down at Kent State.

Anyway, he'll be joined by the PD's Dave Davis, reputed to be a computer-assisted reporting whiz (we'll soon see). And by two of my favorite Ken's, both attorneys. Ken Zirm of Walter & Haverfield has long been a writer-friendly expert on how to make one's journalism as lawsuit-proof as possible (he once vetted a story of mine that I'll never forget; the magazine had never published anything that needed such attention before, but, happily, agreed to retain Ken). And his friend Ken Myers, a solo practitioner who is quickly developing into the region's leading civil rights advocate on protecting freedom of expression (in one memorable case, he defended a Westlake high school kid over his online criticism of a teacher), has a unique background that helps his understanding: before and during law school at CSU, he spent years as an independent journalist, reporting regularly for local and national pubs (he was founding editor of the Free Times). I became friends with him several years ago after writing a long account of his legal battles with the Cleveland Browns, some members of which harasssed him (by throwing jocks at him in the locker room, among other things) after he wrote some stories in USA Today they didn't like. Ken, who now owns an ice cream store on Coventry in addition to pursuing his law practice, calmly sued, and his winnings were memorably converted into a remodeled kitchen in his house.

If you're free and interested, please join us. Festivities kick off at 9:30 and should wrap up by about noon. The cost is $25, and Working With Words readers can get a $5 discount. RSVP to Tom Moore at or call 440-333-7382. Or just plain show up and settle up at the door. Directions to the library at 15600 E. Bagley Road, Middleburg Heights: Take I-71 to the Bagley Road exit (Exit 235). At end of ramp, turntoward Middleburg Heights (left if southbound, right if northbound).Follow Bagley Road about 1/2 mile. Library is on the left at the cornerof Big Creek Parkway. To enter library, turn left onto Big Creek Parkway(note that the parkway is divided by trees, so stay to the right), and then turn left into the library driveway.