Tuesday, July 31, 2007

No Blogs in Heaven (Or is it Hell)?

'I'm 76 years old, and pretty soon I'm going to a place where there are no blogs.'
--political columnist Bob Novak, speaking at a recent American Spectator breakfast. I recently reviewed his memoir of 50 years of reporting in the capital, and subsequently got a nice note from fellow JCU grad Bob Kovach, an acquaintance during our college days. He was Novak's longtime producer at CNN, and receives raves from Novak in the book for all his help and kindness over the years. Here's a sample of Bob's work on the CNN website.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Demystifying the Myth About Boys

American newspapers, facing severe financial pressures from the steady loss of circulation (at least in print) and classified ads (historically a license to print money, and the real underpinnings of their financial health), have been going on a tear recently, lopping off heads by offering buyouts to editorial staffers. I wrote about the situation at the local Plain Dealer here, but it's been happening everywhere, even at the vaunted Washington Post. One of the dangers of this strategy is that you can often lose not the weaker performers you would hope to take the buyouts, but instead your star reporters, the very people you need to keep on board in order to retain reader loyalty. They can grow discouraged by the loss of their friends from the newsroom, and by the unmistakeable signal that their news organizations are now places of lesser ambition.

That's apparently what happened to the Post's onetime star David Von Drehle, who jumped to Time Magazine not long ago. Because he's produced so much fine stuff over the years--including this stupendously well-reported and well-written piece on a couple of bloggers from opposite sides of the political spectrum--I've been watching for his byline. Sure enough, in what may be his first major piece for the magazine, he turns out this superb exploration on an important subject, at least in my house: the extent to which reports about boys' lagging emotional and academic progress are true. The reporting and thinking that went into it is first rate, as is all his work.

The addition of this guy to its fold almost--almost--makes me forgive Time for three earlier terrible personnel decisions and one catastrophic strategic error: the addition of Anna Marie Cox (the obnoxious, journalism-challenged former voice behind Wonkette.com) as a Washington editor and know-nothing party chair William Kristol as a columnist, and the dismissal of the crack investigations team of Bartlett & Steele (thankfully, the latter were picked up by Vanity Fair). And what was the catastrophic decision, you ask? Time Warner brass' appalling decision to turn over reporter Matt Cooper's notes to the prosecutor in the Valerie Plame investigation. Norman Pearlstein has written a book in the hopes of shouting out the stain on his reputation for that one, but it'll be to no avail. He's now out of journalism, running a private equity firm, where he belongs. Good riddance, I say.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Seen on a Bumper Sticker...

'I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.'

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Cindy Sheehan on the Triumph of the Idiot Culture
At Expense of Concern Over Mounting War Deaths

I've gone back and forth about the subject of Cindy Sheehan for a long time. As a parent, your heart naturally goes out to any other parent who loses a son in war, and doubly so when it's a war waged with criminal negligence for questionable purposes. To her credit, she transformed her grief into something larger. Like many, I was impressed by the way she forcefully took her protest to the source, camping out near President Bush's Texas ranch, and even buying property there when she was challenged by the authorities for staying around without being a resident. A couple of years ago, I went to Washington to join her and thousands of others in a protest march against the war, and sidled up to her to take this photo of her resting her weary head on Jesse Jackson's shoulder, the first image ever to appear on this blog.

But that march seemed to bring together some questionable elements of the extreme left, as I hinted at in that post. The New Republic later documented how extreme the event organizers really were, raising what I thought were legitimate questions about why she would get into bed with people such as these. Later, as she began to publicly meet with South American strongmen, under the age-old belief that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, I started wondering if she had lost her way a little.

Still, when she publicly resigned a couple of months ago from her leadership position in the anti-war movement, she did say something that really struck a chord (I happened to stumbled upon the comment only this morning). "Casey died for a country which cares more about who will be the next American Idol than how many people will be killed in the next few months, while Democrats and Republicans play politics with human lives." A sad thought, indeed. But unfortunately a true one.

Friday, July 27, 2007

It's Never Too Late To Begin Writing Poetry
Or Appear on a Most-Beautiful-People List

This charming little piece in the excellent Poets & Writers magazine recounts the story of a woman who began writing poetry at the age of 60. "I started writing poems without knowing it," she says. "Everybody in my life had died, and I was pretty much dead. I found myself scribbling things, and I looked at them and couldn’t help but notice they looked like poems." Who says "mere" words can't change one's life, or even bring you back from the dead?

Meanwhile, this fascinating narrative list of the 50 most beautiful people on Capitol Hill contains a few surprises. While there's the usual assortment of glam 20-something male and female Hill staffers, new Ohio Senator and Pulitzer spouse Sherrod Brown also makes the list. "Ohio’s Democratic senator may not be as sharply dressed as his home-state colleague, House GOP leader John Boehner, or as smoothly polished as another Midwestern freshman, Barack Obama of Illinois. But Sherrod Brown’s combination of rumpled cool and passionate progressivism makes him the unsung beauty of the upper chamber," writes The Hill. And 67-year-old grandma Nancy Pelosi is listed at #4, apparently proving once more, as Henry Kissinger famously observed, that power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Theresa Cranks Out Gold

Close readers of newspapers (and of writers' bylines) will notice a raft of unfamiliar names popping up in the paper each summer. Odds are good that these names below the headline belong to summer interns, who are generally college students. One of the better ones anywhere happens to be my young friend Theresa Edwards, a Kent State University journalism student who's now interning at the Columbus Dispatch.

Theresa, whom I met and subsequently befriended through the Society of Professional Journalists (she was president of the KSU student chapter as a freshman), has so much enthusiasm for the craft that she sometimes takes my breath away. It doesn't hurt that she also has the people skills of someone 10 years older, and that she just keeps showing up wherever journalists gather (there she is in the nearby photo, the girl in the front row to the right. She was part of the National Association of Black Journalists as they toured the Plain Dealer). You shouldn't be surprised to see her mixing easily among delegates of Hispanic, foreign, male, senior citizen or any other kind of journalists, because she'd just as easily transcend those boundaries too. She's just into journalism like no one I've ever met.

Anyway, every time I read another of the endless stream of stories about the impending death of journalism, I immediately think of a handful of hyperenthusiastic, extremely talented young journalists I've met who give the lie to that silly argument. But always, I think of Theresa first. I hope you'll get to meet her some day and hear from her directly. In the meantime, you can do the next best thing, by sampling some of her great work here, here, here, here, here and here. And I was especially pleased to see her take up the issue of cliches here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Hungarian Goulash Wednesday

Home Sweet Home. Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter and willing tool of neocon thugs in the Bush administration, has apparently found a home more to her ideological liking--the Wall Street Journal editorial page. She'll fit in wonderfully there, amid all the true believers and scoffers of the reality-based community.

Nice Use of the Web. The new owner of the Akron Beacon Journal may be in the process of cutting its staff so deeply as to render it a glorified suburban shopper, but that doesn't mean it doesn't still sometimes produce worthwhile material. The paper's website (it's very name, Ohio.com, now serves as a sad reminder of the paper's onetime outsized ambition and penchant for overachievement) has a great package about Akron-area residents who have died in Iraq. How about doing something similar, Cleveland.com? While you're at it, you might also take a look at a similarly well-executed package the Buffalo News has just published on its website about one-time area graduates who have both left and remained in the region. I happened to read it because one of its featured targets is my friend Vince O'Keefe, a fine writer, college professor and now a stay-at-home dad in Avon, who got a little thrill out of having his face appear on the front page of his hometown paper. Vince's story is told here and here. Last year, I told some of Vince's story in this column.

How the Bush Gang is Like the Mob. Our idiot Attorney General was back before Congress yesterday, trying his best to explain the unexplainable, and proving once again that not everyone who assembles an otherwise uplifting life story of rising from relative poverty to a Harvard degree is necessarily a smart or honest person. But it reminded me that a friend sent along this interesting little video clip from You Tube some time ago, which makes light of the chiling similarties between Bush henchmen (including Gonzalez) visiting the hospital bed of then-AG John Ashcroft and the famous scene from The Godfather in which Michael Corleone is forced to act quickly to protect his hospitalized father from being murdered. Bush even helps cement the comparison by reportedly using the nickname "Fredo" for Gonzalez.

Errors on the Increase at NYT. As you may have read or heard, the New York Times has recently moved to new digs, after a century at its old offices. The new physical location was designed so as to further integrate the web and print operations, the reality being that the paper (like most others) is now largely organized to run as a 24-hour news operation, constantly updating itself via the web. Naturally, there's much debate in journalism circles about what that might mean for the future, but also about what it means for the soul of the operation. One thing it has led to, I would argue, is a noticable uptick in the number of errors I've observed in the print product (not a huge increase, mind you, since it's gone from very few to a few. Writer Virginia Postrel noted this typo in a recent headline. And on today's front page, there's an egregious error in an otherwise ho-hum report about New York Governor Elliot Spitzer's strong-arm tactics (the governor's press person's name is used twice in one sentence). That's something you would rarely if ever see in the past.

And finally, back to Cleveland and our own PD. We all come across articles in the paper that make us scratch our heads. But one article in the Plain Dealer's business section last Friday took the cake. It's a 395-word account of a non-story: the fact that beginning in September, all Macy's stores will require all employees to wear black. Please, someone (preferably from the PD), explain to me why that information warrants an entire feature story, however compact it might have been (it was on the front business page). A two-sentence news blurb for filler, maybe. But a whole story? Come on. In this and other developments at the paper, I feel the distinct chill of a return to pre-Doug Clifton dominance by the business side over the editorial department. But this story was especially craven in that regard.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Post's E.J. Dionne Lauds Ohio Guv
Ted Strickland as 'Mr. Consensus'

The always-acute and eminently sensible Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne today points to Ted Strickland as a model for the Democratic party:
'At a moment of festering polarization in national politics, Strickland is Mr. Consensus. He doesn't hide his progressive views -- he calls himself "pro-choice, pro-labor and pro-universal health care" -- and yet just about everyone thinks of this ordained Methodist minister as a moderate because he spends a lot of time in places where Democrats don't dare venture, offering soothing sentiments you're unlikely to run into on talk radio or the Internet. "If you act with respect toward the people who disagree with you," Strickland said over the telephone when we finally got around to talking, "they'll give you a break and won't cut you off."

In February, I noted and linked to a similarly admiring cover story on Strickland in the American Prospect. It would seem the minister-pol's positive word of mouth in the Beltway is steadily growing.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Why I Love the
Washington Post, Part 67

One of America's two best newspapers may be under assault in all the usual 21st-century ways, and its Lakewood-born editor Len Downie may be sending out memos about the need to shorten articles. Yet, it still somehow continues to serve up great journalism every day. This 6,200-word masterpiece, published last week in the paper's Sunday magazine, tells the story of black journalism pioneer Simeon Booker, of Jet Magazine. It even contains a surprising Cleveland twist (he worked for a few years in the '50s at the Call & Post, and says he briefly considered applying at the Plain Dealer, before realizing they already had their lone black reporter). Just please read it when you get some time. I promise you won't be disappointed. You can read the transcript of an online discussion with the author of the piece, or listen to this NPR interview with author Wil Haygood.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Life is What We Make It

'Life does not happen to us, it happens from us.'
Author Mike Wickett

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Still Delivering Resonant Phrases at 92

'We have to live more simply so that others can simply live.'
--Grace, a self-described 92-year-old "lifelong activist," calling in to the BBC's World Have Your Say program yesterday, nominating the agricultural scientist and Nobel laureate Norman Borlaugh for the title of Greatest Living American. Among those also drawing nominations were Jimmy Carter (who one caller absurdly labeled humble), Ralph Nader and (egad) Arnold Schwarzenegger. Who's my nominee, you ask? I think you couldn't go wrong with Robert Coles. How about yours?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Try Telling That to Justices Thomas & Scalia

'What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.'
--the late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Billy G Turns Sixty
My friend Bill Gunlocke, founder of the erstwhile Cleveland Edition, is a timeless sort of guy. Which is why it seems all the more hard to believe that he's celebrating this latest milepost in his life. To me, he'll always seem fixed at about 43, just like his contemporary Bill Clinton. But then, 60 is the new 50, they tell me.
Bill G. is a little quieter a guy than Bill C. (who celebrated his 60th last fall in his usual loud fashion). He now lives in Manhattan, and recently sent along the photo above, of a night out in a quiet pub in his honor. Those are two of his three daughters above, as well as a son-in-law.
He keeps a young outlook in all the usual ways, and then some. Of course, there's his mountain of good reading. He also edits a fine neighborhood newspaper in New York, where he's again assembled his trademark stable of talented young writers, fresh out of college, whom he prods and challenges for as long as they stay, before he breaks in another crew. And for good measure, he even recently began his own blog, which he uses to post his weekly editorial online. Congratulations on the birthday and the new blog, Bill. May you continue to write and reading (and enjoy living in NY) for many more decades.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

I Must Tell You a Story...

'But in order to make you understand, to give you my life, I must tell you a story.'
--Virginia Woolf. Earlier, I posted this little item about her husband, Leonard.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Best Lead of the Month

'If, under the spell of Moby-Dick, you decided to run away to the modern equivalent of whaling, where would you go? Because petroleum displaced whale oil as a source of light and lubrication more than a century ago, it might seem logical to join workers in Arabian oil fields or on drilling platforms at sea. On the other hand, firemen, like whalers, are united by their care for one another and for the vehicle that bears them, and the fireman’s alacrity with ladders and hoses resembles the whaler’s with masts and ropes. Then, there are the armed forces, which, like a nineteenth-century whaleship, can take you around the world in the company of people from ethnic and social backgrounds unfamiliar to you. All these lines of work are dangerous but indispensable, as whaling once was, but none seem perfectly analogous. Ultimately, there is nothing like rowing a little boat up to a sixty-ton mammal that swims, stabbing it, and hoping that it dies a relatively well-mannered death.'
--from Caleb Crain's New Yorker review of Eric Jay Dolin's Leviathan, an anecdotal history of the American whaling industry. To review past best leads of the month, go here & here.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Easier Said Than
Done, Isn't It?

'You live by shedding.'
--the immortal poet Robert Frost, demonstrating his unique mastery of concise writing, saying so much in so few words. To learn more about Frost, and to read some of his poems, you can go here. To learn about a museum dedicated to his life and work, go here. And here you'll find his most famous, and I think also his most quietly inspiring, poem.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Our Jihad Against Cliches Continues

'Cliches...dampen energy and cause eyes to skitter, and more importantly they offer nothing new -- no 'ah ha!' moment of understanding. They are just old words, used in an old way."
--Curt Hazlett, former managing editor of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram

Thursday, July 12, 2007

How Cliche-Ridden Newspeak
Gave One Writer a Headache

'When I finally slept, I dreamed in headlines and bad newspeak: Predawn fires … shark-infested waters … steamy tropical jungles … the solid South … mean streets and densely wooded areas populated by ever-present lone gunmen, fiery Cuban, deranged Vietnam veteran, Panamanian strongman, fugitive financier, bearded dictator, slain civil rights leader, grieving widow, struggling quarterback, cocaine kingpin, drug lord, troubled youth, embattled mayor, totally destroyed by, Miami-based, bullet-riddled, high-speed chases, uncertain futures, deepening political crises sparked by massive blasts, brutal murders -- badly decomposed -- benign neglect and blunt trauma. I woke up, nursing a dull headache …'
-- Edna Buchanan, legendary police reporter for the Miami Herald, from her mystery novel Miami, It's Murder

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Divine Ms. Barber,
A Women With a Past,
Wins Clev Arts Prize

Sometimes, it's hard even for us hyperarticulate types to really convey how deeply we admire certain folks. I try my best, here and in other venues, to describe why certain of these special people move me so, and why I think they deserve ever-wider recognition than they get. But sometimes the world does catch up to them, as it finally has to Cindy Barber.

Cindy, whom I previously wrote about here, here and here (the latter was actually the second blog entry I wrote, more than four years ago), was honored recently with a Cleveland Arts Prize. While in years past, the prizes have often seemed a little snooty and elitist, I credit the formidable Diana Tittle with systematically democratizing them, by her efforts to widen the nomination process in her years as head of the prize (Judy Mansour, the new executive director of the Poets and Writers League of Greater Cleveland, nicely explained it all in Angle Magazine). The fruits of that work were evident in this year's group of winners, my favorite yet (besides Cindy, longtime city planning icon Norm Krumholz, whom I wrote about here, were among the winners). Anyway, here's a brief piece (alas, not online) I wrote about her in the current issue of Northern Ohio Live. I especially loved the quote about how Cindy has a past in the community.

Few comments by prominent people are more widely (or rightly) ridiculed than the infamous observation by novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald that “there are no second acts in American lives.” Sometimes it seems there are only second, third and fourth acts in American lives. For proof, you need look no further than Cindy Barber.

For years, she was the long-suffering, overworked and underpaid den mother of Cleveland’s progressive journalism scene. She was the force behind everything from a Coventry neighborhood paper to editor of the Cleveland Free Times during a particularly difficult period, when then-Cleveland mayor Mike White was boldly snatching the alt-weekly paper’s distribution boxes off the street. She even put in the requisite multiple stints at this magazine, including several years as production manager and later as editor. Now, in her latest act, she’s part owner of an increasingly legendary nightclub, the Beachland Ballroom in North Collinwood.

Before its attractive neon signage and the plentiful car and foot traffic it attracts began breathing life back into this neighborhood beginning in 2000, the Beachland was a dilapidated former Croatian dance hall/tavern. Cindy took the eyesore personally, because it was in her neighborhood. When she decided to do something about it, some of her friends (including me, I must admit, so consider this a disclaimer), shuddered on her behalf, hoping she wasn’t about to flush her life savings down the toilet.

As is generally the case, she saw something others couldn’t. Along with her partner Mark Leddy, she soon turned it into the leading regional venue for the most eclectic punk, pop or blues acts. Fodor’s Guides notes that “it's not uncommon to hear jazz, Afro-beat, punk and folk all in one weekend.” And yet it’s a place so down to earth (a Cindy Barber hallmark) that it actually has free pinball machines and juke boxes, and serves working-class beers like Pabst Blue Ribbon and Schlitz as well as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Her efforts haven’t gone unrecognized. This year, the Cleveland Arts Prize awarded
her with a special citation. The prize, or shall we say prizes (there are at least a half dozen awardees each year) date to 1960, when they were established by the Women’s City Club. The sponsoring group calls it the oldest arts prize of its type in the country.

But just what exactly was her prize for--her lifetime support of the arts, as both editor and activist, or her more recent efforts with the nightclub? “You know, I have no idea,” says Barber herself. “I just got this phone call that said, you won the Cleveland Arts Prize.” She did learn at a cocktail party subsequently held for the winners that the vote on her behalf was unanimous.

“Here’s my take on it,” says one person who’s close to the prize. “Cindy has had a past in this community, in terms of her support of the arts, for 25 years.” And it’s this larger
contribution that’s being celebrated.

Hardened Cindy Barber fans seem pleased. Says current Arts Prize executive director Marcie Bergman, widow of the late Robert Bergman (for which one of the prizes is named): “I have gotten more comments about Cindy Barber and Brendan Ring (owner of Cleveland Heights jazz spot Nighttown, who was also recognized with a special citation this year) than anyone we gave awards to.”

While that piece isn't online, my friend Miles Budimir's (aka Milenko Budimir) splendid piece on the greening of the North Coast is. Do please read it when you have a moment. You can also read a little more about Cindy's innovation in this interview with a researcher from the CWRU Weatherhead School's Center for Business As An Agent of World Change (more of those innovator profiles here).

Congratulations Cindy, Norm and all the other winners. And a special tip of the hat to the Arts Prize organization, for being increasingly on the ball with their selections.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

My Latest Christian Science Monitor Review:
Bob Novak's Memoir of a Half-Century in D.C.

My latest book review for the Monitor--that beloved, cash-strapped pub that's down to 60,000 copies in print but up to nearly 2 million readers on the web--considers the new memoir by political columnist Bob Novak. For the first time, he comprehensively gives his side of the story about his half-century of Beltway reporting. He doesn't really break much news about his infamous role in the Valerie Plame affair, but he does confess to having once had a $1,000-a-day betting habit, which was an eye-opener, I thought. Anyway, I'll naturally be interested in any reactions to it or to his book, which I found interesting if not terribly well-written. But then, he was trained in the clipped, staccato style of wire services at the AP, a style that's tough to shake.

For links to my three earlier Monitor reviews, all published last year, click here.

Monday, July 09, 2007

My Vacation at an End, My Sentiments Precisely

Less Being More

It started when he was a young man
and went to Italy. He climbed mountains,
wanting to be a poet, but was troubled
by what Dorothy Wordsworth wrote in
her journal about William having worn
himself out searching all day to find
a simile for nightingale. It seemed
a long way from the tug of passion.
He ended up staying in pensioni
where the old women would take up
the children in the middle of the night
to rent the room, carrying them warm
and clinging to the mothers, the babies
making a mewing sound. He began hunting
for the second rate. The insignificant
ruins, the negligible museums, the back-
country villages with only one pizzeria
and two small bars. The unimproved.
--from Refusing Heaven, a collection of poems by Pittsburgh native Jack Gilbert