Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hoops Withdrawal

We’ve been a bit antsy lately, waiting for the return of our favorite basketball player. Not Lebron James, the subject of our cover profile earlier this year. As great as he is, the Chosen One ranks only #2 on our list of favorite hoopsters. He comes in well behind my son Michael, a mobile, rangy forward on the St. Ignatius High School varsity hoops team (the photo of #52 is actually from last year's JV season). We were ready and waiting for the season’s opening earlier this month. We had our seats picked out, our throats prepared for some vigorous cheering. And our guy didn’t let us down: in his inaugural game, the season opener, he got in some quality minutes, seemingly ignoring the traditional opening-game jitters by smoothly coming off the bench to pour in five points and a couple of rebounds. And then it happens: with about two minutes to go in that first game, he dove for a ball, got tangled in a knot of players, and tore his MCL ligament (not to be confused with the far-slower-healing ACL). Diagnosis: he’ll be out till mid-January at least. We're left to cool our heels, continue to cheer for the team, and look forward to his return whenever it comes. The time to get injured, if one must, is when you're 17. At least that's the mantra I keep repeating to myself, in hopes it will make the time go more quickly. To view more of Al and Larry's splendid sports photography, you can check their first-class digital gallery. Who says wily old veterans can't keep ahead of the best technology in their field? (Apologies to the pair for this temporary bit of digital piracy. We'll be sure to purchase the photo and replace the image ASAP).

Convergence, w/Growing Pains,
Is Where We're Headed

'On the one hand, there are the bloggerati, who think mainstream media are moribund if not dead already; that bloggers are inherently more authentic and trustworthy than other voices in our culture; and that now everything changes because of blogs. On the other hand, there are the naysayers who think blogs are already overhyped; that most bloggers have nothing to say; and that without traditional editing, rules, filtering, and financial incentives, blogs will soon go the way of CB radios. The future almost certainly lies in the wide swath between those two polar opposite views...Blogs will coexists with other media for a long time to come, and there will be continual interactions and cross-fertilizations. Some of today's top bloggers will become newspaper and magazine columnists and TV news talent; almost all of today's traditional media will develop blogs of one type or another to extend their reach, connect to the younger demographic, be able to expand their coverage and have more advertising product to sell. Many blogs will develop codes of journalistic ethics appropriate to the blogosphere and take other measures to maintain and enhance credibility. These may not be the exact same rules of the road that have guided traditional journalism, but they will be explicit operating precepts just the same. Meanwhile, bloggers will continue to break new ground in covering stories and paying attention to issues the mainstream media tend to ignore, and will continue to gain grudging respect, credibility, and credentials as the creators of one more important type of media.'

--From blog! How the newest media revolution is changing politics, business and culture. I'll bring you additional key excerpts from this thoughtful, well-written book in coming days.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

How Nixon Helps us Imagine the Worst

'Although Nixon's responsibility for Vietnam is large and for Watergate central, he could be forgiven for not entirely understanding the convulsions he had visited upon politics and the presidency. As a result of his actions, presidents not only would be subject to doubt and second guessing, they would be suspected of outright criminality. Nixon's tapes of his office and the telephone conversations left an irrefutable historical record that the president abused government power for political purposes, obstructed justice and ordered his aides to do so as well. Watergate ended with unusual clarity and unusual closure because Nixon resigned. The scandal left a series of obvious questions that would come to plague his successors. Could another president be a criminal? Did presidents talk and plot in private like Nixon? Would another president have to resign?'

--From the introduction to Bob Woodward's Shadow, a book about the toxic legacy Watergate left on each of Nixon's successors.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Hardest Words Of All To Write

The term father-in-law always sounded too clinical, too pat. And if you knew big Bill Kerrigan, a man larger than life, you'd probably agree. He died early this morning, in his own bed, among those who loved him best. He leaves behind a lifetime of good works, and a giant heart which he didn't take with him, but which he instead parcelled out to everyone he ever knew. I'll spend the rest of my life thinking about, and thanking him for, all the things he taught me.

William A. Kerrigan, 81, Former United Way Executive, Father of Nine

William (Bill) A. Kerrigan, a longtime executive of United Way and later the co-proprieter (with his wife Mary) of the Billow House, a popular oceanfront guesthouse in Ocean Park, Maine, died on December 23rd. The cause was complications from cancer. He was 81 at the time of his death.

Mr. Kerrigan was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts. He later graduated from the College of the Holy Cross and earned a master’s degree in social work from Boston College. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was married in 1953 to the former Mary O’Toole, a native of Dorchester, Mass. The couple went on to have nine children and 20 grandchildren.

During his career, Mr. Kerrigan steadily climbed the United Way management ladder, working in Boston; Ashtabula, Ohio; Albany; and Westchester County, New York, among other stops. He ended his career as the top executive of the United Way of Greater Cleveland. At a 1987 party in Cleveland, held to mark his retirement from the United Way after 42 years, it was calculated that $618 million had been raised under his leadership in various postings over the years. Two of his children, his son Chris and daughter Bernadette, now work for United Way.

He is survived by his wife Mary, of Ocean Park, Maine; his brother Joseph of Nashua, New Hampshire; and his nine children--Maureen Wearn, of Portland, Oregon; Bill Kerrigan, Jr., of Wellesley, Mass.; Monica Kerrigan, currently on assignment in Indonesia; James Kerrigan of Mountain View, Calif.; Julie Kerrigan Ettorre of Cleveland, Ohio; Chris of Charleston, S.C.; Bernadette, of Cleveland; and Seanna, of Portland, Oregon. Funeral services will be held on December 27th at Most Holy Trinity Church in Saco, Maine. Visitors will be received at Cole Funeral Home, 87 James Street, Saco, Maine, on December 26, from 5-7 p.m.. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, contributions be sent in his name to the Hospice of Southern Maine.

See the death notice and visit the guest book here.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Battle to Build a Subway
In Cleveland 85 Years Ago

‘The efforts to build a subway in Cleveland got under way in 1917, a little over a decade after a chamber of commerce committee had reported that it was ‘only a question of time when a complete system of subways will be required in Cleveland.’ Cleveland was then the nation’s fifth largest city, a rapidly growing metropolis of about 800,000 people, many of whom were dissatisfied with the surface transit system, owned and operated by the Cleveland Railway Company. Although there was widespread sentiment that the city sorely needed a rapid transit system, there was no consensus about what kind to build or how much to spend. With the mayor, city council, and Cleveland Plan Commission unable to reach agreement, the city in 1918 retained Barclay Parsons & Klapp, a prominent transit engineering firm, to look into the issue. BP&K reported that Cleveland’s huge population and high riding habit made rapid transit imperative and recommended that it be built in two stages. The first stage called for a downtown subway consisting of short loops, a terminal, and feeder lines, all radiating from Public Square. Estimated to cost about $15 million, the subway, which would be leased to the Cleveland Railway Company, was designed to relieve traffic congestion downtown by removing the streetcars from the streets…The City Council voted in early 1920 to put a $15 million bond issue for a downtown subway on the April ballot. The bond issue provoked a fierce struggle, which in some ways resembled the battle in Pittsburgh a year earlier. Supporters, among them the chamber of commerce, the builder’s exchange, and the federation of labor, made the same claims that the subway would relieve traffic congestion downtown and could later become the nucleus of a rapid transit system…Opponents, among them the Civic League, the real estate board, and the Press and the Plain Dealer, countered that the subway would not provide Cleveland with rapid transit and that traffic congestion downtown could be relieved by tightening traffic regulations, rerouting streetcar lines, and adopting other less expensive measures…The Civic League was particularly incensed that the suburbs, by far the fastest growing part of metropolitan Cleveland, were not required to pay a fair share of the subway’s costs…By a more than 2 to 1 majority, the voters turned down the bond issue…The subway was dead. Although a few private companies made efforts to obtain a franchise to build a subway in the late 1920s, nothing came of them…The city would try again in the 1930s and 1940s, but it would never come as close to building a subway as it did in 1920.’

--From Downtown—Its Rise and Fall, 1880-1950, by Robert Fogelson, a professor of history and urban studies at MIT.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Stop the Presses!

Christopher Hitchens finally finds something to
criticize about the Bush Administration's prosecution of the Iraq war: the planting of propaganda stories in the Iraqi press. It may seem like a misdemeanor compared to this gang's serial felonies, but at least it's something. It would seem that even Hitch pays attention to opinion polls.

Then Again, On Second Thought...all that propaganda planting the Bushies have been doing, along with their even more systematic attempts to choke off legitimate information gathering and independent reporting are probably among their most important crimes. As The Nation's Katrina Vanden Heuvel noted recently, information is the oxygen of democracy, and "this administration is trying to cut off the supply." Lately, that hasn't been working too well. And with their credibility at an all-time low, look for the media feeding frenzy to continue.

And Finally...They stopped the presses for a year, but finally got them going again to uncover a crucial additional bit of presidential overstepping of legal boundaries. Hats off to the NYTimes editor and publisher, Bill Keller and Arthur Sulzberger. They've had a hell of a rough year, but redeemed themselves, I think, by ultimately ignoring the Imperial Presidency's requests to bottle up this story for good, for reasons of national security. Good for them. Bush no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt on anything. Liars never do.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Food for Thought on a Wintry Monday

'The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.'
--Thomas Merton (quote courtesy of my friend Lois' fine Heart @ Work blog)

'I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.'
-- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Power of Joyful Leadership

Here's a gem from the latest installment of my friend Don Iannone's Economic Development Futures Journal:

I have been noticing two interesting tendencies in the places where my consulting work takes me. The first is a tendency toward mean-spiritedness and desperation. The second is a tendency toward kindness and sacrifice for others. Of the two, the second is clearly preferred. And yes, both tendencies are found in all communities.Let's look at each.Suffering LeadersLeaders in many communities have allowed themselves to become calloused, jaded, ungrateful, judgmental of others, and overally self-critical. Some seem to excuse this behavior as appropriate and acceptable because "that's what leaders must do to get things done." This behavior exists in growing and declining communities alike.As I explore why these leaders are so unhappy, I discover that many suffer from two related conditions: low self-esteem and extreme egocentrism. Many leaders are unhappy because they can't wave a magic wand over the community and transform it into some "magical economic wonderland." Many suffer because they are obsessed with making businesses happy at the expense of people.I listen to what these leaders have to say when they ask my firm to take a "hard look" at their competitive advantages and what needs to be done to make the place more attractive to businesses. I see the leaders of these communities and states blaming themselves and their citizens for not doing enough for business competitiveness. As I listen to them further, I hear anger and blame, which masks the underlying fear, apprehension, and worry they carry around in their gut. I work at feeling compassion and understanding for these leaders. Joyful Leaders Then, there are leaders in places that demonstrate a sincere concern about people, unprecedented acts of kindness, caring, and generosity. I hear true empathy and compassion, and not blame and ridicule, in these leaders' voices. These places are also concerned about their competitiveness, but they are not willing to throw people aside at the expense of unaffordable incentive packages or other actions that permit businesses to do what they shouldn't do anywhere. I see a courage to care, love, and respect in the faces of these leaders. Joyful leaders are found in both growing and declining places.The second set of voices gives me hope that something we might call "humanistic economic development" is possible in our field in the future.

To read more of his journal, go here. For more about his poetic and contemplative nature, check here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Listening Closely to Your Town,
Or Why Feagler Ain't No Royko

'Dick Feagler is to Cleveland what Jimmy Breslin is to New York and Mike Royko is to Chicago.'
--from a back cover blurb of
Dick Feagler--Is it Just Me?, the most recent book collection of his columns, originally quoting Cleveland Magazine

Some years ago, I became obsessed with the idea of profiling Mike Royko, the reigning voice of the Windy City, Chicago, where I had recently lived for a year.

The guy just flat out fascinated me. The voice was unmistakeable Chicago, all midwestern nasal inflection and Polish-American working class. His columns-with all their hokey devices, like his penchant for quoting his fictional/composite buddy "Slats Grobnik"--hooked me, as they had hooked millions of readers before me. As I began reading more about him, I became even more interested. He'd learned his trade not the way succeeding generations of yuppy reporters had, by going to school to study "journalism," but by staying up all night to read a book about journalism in preparation for an interview the next morning for a position writing for the paper at his Air Force base. After he became a household name, a national voice, the Washington Post tried to lure him there, with no luck. He turned them down flat, telling them that all the material he would ever need was right there in his hometown of Chicago.

But amid all that scattered backround I picked up about the guy, I also noticed that no one had ever seemed to be able to gain enough access for a comprehensive, warts- and-all profile. That's what I hoped to write.

I had been lucky enough, before and since, to get to know and even write about several other veteran writers I lionized. Looking back now, I realize that it was a crucial part of my self-education, of my learning curve as a writer. I wanted to get inside these eminent heads and better understand how they saw the world and how they pursued their craft. I knew I'd emerge with plenty of ideas I could quickly put to use myself.

It worked with everyone but Royko, who remained the elusive quarry, the one who got away. And yet in one brief telephone exchange with him I still learned something crucial that I've never forgotten.

One day, I decided to call him to ask for an interview. I dialed the main number for the Chicago Tribune, asked for his office, and waited to be switched over, expecting an assistant to take the call. Instead, the columnist answered himself, gruffly barking into the line, "Royko here."

I was taken aback at first: after all, I'd learned through some of that background research that he employed two fulltime research assistants. Why didn't they screen his calls for him? Before I got off the phone (after he had politely but firmly declined my request for an interview) I had to ask him about that. To this day, I remember his answer as if he had told me just moments ago. "Because I've never been able to train someone to listen for what I'm listening for."

I've thought of that pithy answer of his many times in the years since, because I think it explains, in the simplest possible way, what separated him from most of his competitors, how he remained fresh and interesting even after decades of doing the same thing. The fact that he was still reporting, still listening after all those decades (and especially to average people, readers who would call to congratulate or excoriate him, or perhaps offer a story tip) kept him fresh. That freshness worked its way into his writing, which in turn had its effect on readers.

Plain Dealer columnist Dick Feagler has been a household brand in Cleveland almost since 1963, when he began working at the erstwhile Cleveland Press, the working man's afternoon paper. For much of that time, he could write like a dream. He understood the town as few others did, deftly tapping into its soul before spinning prose poems on deadline.

But the years haven't been kind to his work, despite outward appearances. He's ubiquitous--besides the thrice-weekly PD column, he has a weekly show on PBS affiliate WVIZ and regularly makes appearances on NPR affiliate WCPN. Regional book publisher Gray & Co. has helped raise his profile immensely by publishing four book collections of his columns, which allow him to regularly barnstorm the region, doing book signings and other public events, which are only thinly disguised chances to hawk his books.

Perhaps because he's spent so many years playing the rubber-faced common guy columnist on local TV, a medium to which he was first lured during a long newspaper strike, he's come to internalize that cartoon version of himself. I remember once sharing an elevator with him after one of his talks, and he couldn't stop manically yammering to the two other people in the elevator about nothing much. They rolled their eyes at me, as if to ask for help in escaping this crazy person. Royko occasionally went on the tube too: I remember him on the local Chicago news, calmly sitting behind a desk, cracking not the first glimmerings of a smile as he cooly dissected whatever issue he was being asked about. He also wrote books, but rather than warmed-over collections of his columns, he wrote a book-length study of municipal corruption that's still considered a classic today.

And yet, without his even sensing it, perhaps, the torch has passed. Feagler is no longer the pre-eminent voice of his town, and I think it's because he's been too busy talking and playing a part to really listen to the town anymore (for years, a note at the end of his column invited readers to leave voicemail messages for him; at least it was truth in advertising, making it clear there was no chance you might get ahold of him in person) . For national audiences, Harvey Pekar better embodies Cleveland's tortured soul, with Feagler hardly registering beyond the region. Want proof? When Michael Feldman's popular national NPR show Whad'Ya Know? came to town, it tapped not Feagler, but his fellow PD columnist, the Pulitzer-winning daughter of the working-class, Connie Schultz, to stand in as the voice of the town.

Don't get me wrong: Royko was anything but a perfect man. By some accounts he didn't finish life strong. Less than a year before his death, the Wall Street Journal reported on its front page that his drinking problem had lead to much trouble, including ugly arguments with traffic cops who pulled him over on suspicion of DUI, incidents in which he tried to bigfoot them with his celebrity. But I've long since forgiven him his imperfections. He taught me something about journalism and the art of listening that I'll never forget.

How I wish the pretenders to his throne could somehow manage to learn something from his work ethic.

Monday, December 12, 2005

You Never Get Over Being a History Major

'Deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?'
--Thomas Mann, in Joseph and His Brothers

'Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child.'

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Okay, So I'm a Year Behind. It's Still Worth Giving to Your Favorite Reader...

"You cannot taste a work of prose. It has no color and it makes no sound. Its shape is without significance. When people talk about writing, though, they often use adjectives borrowed from activities whose products make a more direct appeal to the senses--painting, sculpture, music, cuisine. People say, 'the writing is colorful' or 'pungent' or 'shapeless' or 'lyrical,' and no one asks them where, exactly, they perceive those qualities. Discussions of tone and texture are carried on in the complete ontological absence of such things...writing is a verbal artifict that, as it is being decoded, stimulates sensations that are unique to writing. But that, for some reason, often have to be described in terms of nonverbal experiences."
--from Louis Menand's introduction to The Best American Essays of 2004

Monday, December 05, 2005

Ron Copfer Adds His Unique Voice Via a Blog

My friend Ron Copfer is unique. A west side boy who once made his living by repairing nuclear power plants, he was among the first in this region to understand the transformative power of interactive communications, even before most people knew about the web. He's told the story about seeing an early version of an interactive CD, for Buick cars, and thinking that advertising would never be the same again. Over a decade ago, he decided to turn his full attention to making a business
of it. In the process, he's become something of a gray eminence among regional technology mavens, while still a pretty young guy. I think his best days--both as businessman and citizen--are ahead of him.

Anyway, he's on my mind today because he has just begun a
blog. Like many who step into this experimental realm of expression, he wonders aloud if he has the right stuff, or as he says, "I don't know if I have the chops, but I'm willing to give it a try." Hell, I think his entire career has been all about giving it a try, and mostly succeeding. Along the way, he's been an inspiration to anyone who ever tried their hand at their own business while stubbornly remaining a fully engaged citizen, unpopular political opinions and all. Who knew you could do both?