Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Wisdom of the Ages

'Never say that marriage has more of joy than pain.'
--Euripides, Greek playright in the fourth century B.C.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Our Favorite Headline & Quote of the Week

Each month we bring you our favorite lead paragraph, in a belief that beginning well is at least half the battle with any piece of writing. But we can't forget other important building blocks of interesting writing: great headlines and vivid quotes. Our favorite headline comes from Inside Higher Education, a lively and well-written online-only competitor to the grandaddy of the niche, the authoritative Chronicle of Higher Education. We noted with interest this headline, "The Pedagogy of Place." Meanwhile, in the Guardian, the founder of the British literary journal Granta and later the New Yorker's fiction editor, Bill Buford, offers up this pithy sentiment: "I'm a person who gets energized by deadlines, even when I'm well past them." I think most people who write can appreciate the blend of humor and truth in that thought.
UPDATE: Special thanks to Inside Higher Ed's editor Doug Lederman (a native of Shaker Heights) for taking note of our busted link today and sending along one that works. Great editors are like world-class chefs. They somehow pay attention to the big picture while also keeping track of microscopic details such as this, a problem link to one of their stories on a blog they've never heard of before. Thanks for dropping us a line, Mr. Lederman. We now like your pub even more than before. I neglected to note previously that we've celebrated this online publication here before.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Author of an Impending Blog Anthology
Considers a Stack of Books About the Medium

My beloved New York Review of Books is one of the more print-centric publications you'll find anywhere. Founded in the early 1960s to fill a void in book chatter during a newspaper strike, it's remained one of the most literate and consistently excellent reads found anywhere. Happily, in recent years it's also put most of its articles online, where an even larger audience can enjoy them. In the current issue, Sarah Boxer, author of an anthology due out this month, Ultimate Blogs: Masterworks from the Wild Web, tries her best to get her arms around a medium that resists generalization. She writes that "bloggers assume that if you're reading them, you're one of their friends, or at least in on the gossip, the joke, or the names they drop. They often begin their posts mid-thought or mid-rant—in medias craze. They don't care if they leave you in the dust. They're not responsible for your education." That does ring true for many blogs, of course, but certainly not for all. I think that passage stuck out for me in part because I've always gone out of my way here not to assume much inside information about anything, but to provide enough context for someone to make sense of things even if they're joining us in progress for the first time.

And then there's that thing about length. I've been called a "narrative blogger," which for some is a nice way of saying I write long, certainly longer than most blogs you'll find. Ms. Boxer zeroes in on that point with the following observation: 'Many bloggers really don't write much at all. They are more like impresarios, curators, or editors, picking and choosing things they find on line, occasionally slapping on a funny headline or adding a snarky (read: snotty and catty) comment. Some days, the only original writing you see on a blog is the equivalent of "Read this.... Take a look.... But, seriously, this is lame.... Can you believe this?' Anyway, I recommend the piece. I think you'll find it interesting.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

'He Goes Where the Stories Take Him'

This week, the sublimely wonderful Guardian newspaper offered up this lovely little gem of a story about the Windy City institution Studs Terkel. At 95, the widower still works on his oral histories and still has his local radio show. Why? We'll let him tell it. "I took a vacation once - it involved a beach - and to tell you the truth, I had no idea what to do with myself. It was torture. Work is life. Without it, there is no life." To review earlier Studs mentions, go here and here.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Our Favorite Bumper Sticker of the Week

'Just what exactly are conservatives conserving?'
--seen on the back of a Honda this morning, driving west along Cleveland's Carnegie Ave. To review earlier favorite bumper stickers, go here.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kukral Flips Out

My friend Jim Kukral begins a semi-daily online show about online marketing and leveraging web video. It's called the Daily Flip, and in his usual over-the-top fashion, he promos it here. Four years ago, I wrote about him extensively here. But I've made at least passing references to him in all these places over the years. Anyway, good luck with the show, Jim. We'll be watching.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I'll Be the Adult Here

'What I was trying to do was represent the adult wing of the Democratic party.'
--John Edwards on the David Letterman show last night, discussing his reaction to the ferocious squabbling that broke out between his rivals Obama and Clinton in Monday's debate in South Carolina. We happen to be Edwards fans around here, in part because we can't stomach the thought of four years of watching either Barack's puppy dog eagerness or the restoration of the grimly opportunistic Clinton machine. We also happen to think he's been by far the best of the Democratic trio when it comes to putting some actual meat on the bones of his ideas for governing. By all means, Obama fans, feel free to continue your swooning over his allegedly inspiring calls for "change." Around here, we're stubbornly old-fashioned enough to want just a bit of detail about what those changes might include. By the way, we got a serious kick out of how Letterman closed the segment by playfully asking the candidate's permission to mess up his perfect hair just a little. The "Breck girl," as some on the right have dubbed him, gladly obliged.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Small Steps Get You
Where You Need to Go

'Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.'
--Vincent van Gogh. To learn more about the artist and to review some of his work, visit this gallery of his life and times.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Don't Be Put Off
By Absurd Ideas

'If at first the idea is not absurd, there is no hope for it.'
--Albert Einstein.
For an earlier mention of the great one, go here. We were taken aback to learn that we had somehow mentioned him only once before, in nearly five years. Talk about a major oversight...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Best Lead of the Month

'It is like the tulip craze, this primary season, except that nobody knows which ones are the tulips. The Clinton panic, his even more than hers, the cracking of their feeling of entitlement to power, is delightful to witness (if she loses the nomination or the election, she will not have lost, she will have been denied); the Obama question--isn't he lovely?--has an increasing number of people wondering whether loveliness, and a loamy reiteration of the enduring American fantasy about the transcendence of politics, is a sufficient qualification to rule. Meanwhile an unprecedented number of Americans are typing and hyping their opinions about the contest: the barricades are down, the punditocracy is dead, and the technology has killed it. The people are their own commentators. So the temptation to add one's own incandescence to the din is easy to resist. Anyway, I have something better--more primary, if you will--to write about. Another wristwatch has been taken from the wrist.'
--from literary editor Leon Wieseltier's Washington Diarist column in the current issue of The New Republic. To review past best leads of the month, go here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Ohio Climbs in National Rankings
Of Best Places for Small Business

Fortune Small Business magazine reports that Ohio is neither among the ten best nor ten worst states in which to operate a small business, at least according to something called the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council. The state did, however, move up considerably, from 38th place last year to the 29th spot, after the legislature passed a bill lowering state taxes. I think the rankings are more than a little suspect, however, because they've historically only used relative tax levels and regulatory burdens as the sole criteria on which to rank states. While only a fool would argue that those issues aren't crucial to anyone operating their own business, I would suggest that only a fool (or a doctrinaire right winger) would argue that other, less tangible factors aren't also important.

To the group's credit, it has just added one other important factor to the mix of criteria it now uses: transportation infrastructure. If they add another half dozen of these kinds of things, the rankings might actually begin to have some real merit (you can get a pretty good fix on the group's politics by noting a couple of links on its homepage: the fact that it trumpets an appearance on the Fox business channel and its participation in the hard-right site Town Hall). Good for FSB to rap the group on the knuckles for not including such criticical elements as educational levels and access to venture capital. I don't understand how anyone could leave off the former. And I'm more than a little biased about the latter (access to venture capital) after having written this report on the state of venture capital in Northeast Ohio earlier last year.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Tipping Our Hat to Great Work

My friend, the wordsmith and writing teacher Maria Shine Stewart, an occasional commenter here, serves up these lovely thoughts on her Word Sanctuary blog. The marvelous quote from Rilke is merely a bonus. Meanwhile Christine Borne, one-time "gen-next librarian" and recently relocated to Cleveland from New York, offers this fine post, one of the best examples of true citizen journalism I've seen in the local blogs in quite some time. Her blog has an equally wonderful and evocative name, Really Bad Cleveland Accent. I highly recommend each of these wonderful blogs and the thoughtful writers behind them.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

How The Office is Like the Oval Office

In his editor's note this month, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter riffs hilariously on the striking similarities between the TV show The Office and the antics of the occupant of the Oval Office.
Question—who has the following characteristics, Bush or Michael Scott: smug, self-centered, and isolated; prone to inappropriate comments and malapropisms; fond of engaging in philosophical discourses that are spectacularly muddleheaded and self-mythologizing? If you answered both, you would be correct. And don’t forget the pathetic attempts at humor. Michael: the day he tried to boost office morale amid rumors of layoffs by giving Meredith (the boozy redhead) a birthday party, and then ruined the moment with a card that read: “Meredith, Let’s hope the only downsizing that happens to you is that someone downsizes your age.” Bush: his ill-conceived attempt to amuse attendees at the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association Dinner the year after the Iraq invasion by conducting a mock search for weapons of mass destruction in the Oval Office. (The month of the president’s poorly reviewed antics, 52 coalition troops died in Iraq.)

Then again, maybe it's not so funny after all. Here's an earlier item about Graydon Carter.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Happiness, Part II

One of the most enjoyable parts of maintaining a blog is watching the incredible conversations that sometimes sprout in the comments section. Most bloggers learn over time that it's a losing proposition to try to guess what subject might spark the most input from others. Sometimes you'll write something that you're so passionate about, and which you thus assume others will respond to in spades, and it will go uncommented upon. Other times you'll toss in a quote you come across that grabs you or quickly link to an offbeat article of interest, and then the floodgates open modestly, and readers pour through with their comments. Here's an example: not long ago, I posted a glancing item on science fiction, a quote consisting of a single sentence. It resulted in the longest comment thread ever on this blog, and one from which I learned a lot through the thoughtful, extended back and forth by two wonderful readers who know a lot about sci-fi.

Anyway, this recent Washington Post piece on the subject of happiness reminded me of one of my favorite comment threads ever, when readers actually helped me better define what I thought about the very essence of the word happiness. I couldn't believe it was now a full year ago, because the online conversation at the time was so fascinating that it seemed to have happened only the other day. Anyway, it all reminds me of how thankful I am for such smart, wonderful and discerning readers. Sometimes they even help me better discern my own mind.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Okay, Readers: Can You Top This?

Yesterday I came across a website that is so wonderfully designed, so stunning in its understated, elegant use of technology, language and visual elements that I instantly thought: that's got to be the best website of any entity in the Cleveland area. It was produced by an outfit called GoMedia, which I have reason to believe is comprised of graduates of the Cleveland Institute of Art (but I'll try to confirm that). I was also struck by their unusual tagline: "rebuild the esthetic," which certainly stands out (at least to me) amid a sea of ho-hum corporately crafted phrases. Anyway, I'd welcome your thoughts. And I'd love nothing more than to get a hundred other nominations for the top honors. And not to leave out readers from beyond the region, you're of course free to nominate any site that really strikes your fancy.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Two Things That Struck Us Today

Well, there were a lot more than just two, and it's only mid-day. But these two seemed especially worth mentioning. Al Gore, the man who should be president, continues to haunt the fevered imaginations of the right wing so much that the National Review devotes an entire blog to him. They call it Planet Gore. Meanwhile, the Rupert Murdoch-owned Times of London asks the burning question: How Italian is your man?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Every Long-Suffering Wife's Secret Dream:
Flushing No-Good Husband Down the Toilet

Only this German woman appears to have literally done just that. We have just two words of reaction: good Lord.

Okay, on to some cheerier news. Glad to see our friend Suzanne D's Mac's Backs bookstore get some national publicity with a mention in this New York Times holiday roundup about how local stores support local authors. In this and a thousand other ways, Suzanne has been the backbone of the local writing community for as long as I can remember. In early December, she presided over a celebration marking the opening of the new downtown loft offices of the former Poets and Writers League of Greater Cleveland, which has just been renamed The Lit (a name change that the organization's own website is yet to reflect, but you know how that goes). Naturally, Suzanne was board chairman and guiding light on that, as well. For earlier mentions of Suzanne and her shop go here. For past items on the PWLGC go here.

Brain Tune-Up. Are you like me, in that you're sometimes haunted, other times challenged, by statistics about how little of our brain capacity most humans actually use? Reports tend to vary from 5% on up, but whatever the correct number might be, I'm forever thinking about how to do more with whatever gray matter I've been given. And if you're hitting the middle years (or older), you may also be thinking about just keeping what you've got as sharp as it's been. Anyway, wherever you're at on that continuum, you may find some food for thought on this interesting site. I found lots of gems buried here, and I hope you will too.

We Began With the Battle of the Sexes, & That's How We'll End. With this interesting Washington Post take on the different gender wiring behind the sexes' very different mental orientation when it comes to directions. A clash as ancient as the scriptures, but one that even Mapquest will never solve.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Our Favorite
Book Title, Part 8

Gotcha Capitalism is not only a memorably catchy title, saying much in but two words, but it also (alas) seems to encompass much of the direction we're headed in these days. It certainly applies to banks and other financial institutions, which are seemingly engaged in an endless cat-and-mouse game with regulators over the fine print in which they can bury the gritty reality of their manifold, partly hidden fees. Anyway, we thought it merited mention today. To review earlier favorite book titles, you can go here.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Journalism Without Journalists: How One
German Publisher Experimented a Little

This fascinating paper by a fellow at Harvard's Shorenstein Center for the Press is worth a close read, followed by some reflection. "One of my motivations in founding Readers Edition came from the realization that most journalists would rather work the whole day summarizing various angles of a story gleaned from different news agencies than follow up on a comment or a tip from a single reader," the author writes. Whether you're a producer or consumer of news (or both), there's plenty of food for thought in this, folks. We're eager to hear your comments.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

New York Times Magazine's Comprehensive Piece
On Concerns Over Electronic Voting Quotes Adele

A little over a year ago, I told you about my friend Adele Eisner, and her tireless efforts as a guardian of our democracy. When I first met her and profiled her, more than 15 years ago in this piece, she was running for council in her little suburb in order to stand up against petty corruption. She eventually won that race, and she was on her way. But her activism has since blossomed to larger issues, and for the last couple of years at least she has been a tireless champion on behalf of voting integrity. You can learn more about that on her blog.

Today, the Times Magazine published a long and illuminating cover story about the concerns with electronic voting, and much of it focused on the epic problems in Cuyahoga County. Sure enough, Adele the Tireless was quoted. The article notes the following:
"The earliest critiques of digital voting booths came from the fringe — disgruntled citizens and scared-senseless computer geeks — but the fears have now risen to the highest levels of government. One by one, states are renouncing the use of touch-screen voting machines. California and Florida decided to get rid of their electronic voting machines last spring, and last month, Colorado decertified about half of its touch-screen devices. Also last month, Jennifer Brunner, the Ohio secretary of state, released a report in the wake of the Cuyahoga crashes arguing that touch-screens “may jeopardize the integrity of the voting process.”

I found that to be interesting phrasing. Careful centrists who count on establishment critiques to deliver all their revealed truths often have a way of calling anyone who refuses to see things their way--people such as Adele, for instance--as among the fringe or outside the mainstream. Adele may indeed once have been on the fringes. But isn't it funny how the rest of the world has finally caught up to her?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Meet the Next "C-Level" Executive,
The Clinic's Chief Experience Officer

A few years ago, it might have been considered business jargon to talk about "C-level" executives, but by now, the term has pretty well filtered down to the masses. It means, basically, anyone with a title that begins with the word "chief," as in Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, etc. So what's the next iteration in corporate C-level execs, you ask? According to this piece in Ad Week, it's none other than the Chief Experience Officer. It focuses on the new CXO of the Cleveland Clinic, Bridget Duffy, who says her goal is to get the increasingly technology-oriented system to act more like a person than a machine. According to the article, based on surveys of patient satisfaction that she and her staff of a half dozen pore over, the Clinic has made such changes as giving free bus passes to patients with transportation problems.

For those so inclined to see it that way (I happen to be among them), this initiative could also be seen as yet another prong in the $4-billion health care system's comprehensive lobbying campaign to demonstrate that it's not a heartless giant but a caring corporate citizen, and thus should continue to remain exempt from taxation, a notion that's been challenged by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley and Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis. The Clinic responds to all this here.

Friday, January 04, 2008

We're Serving Holiday Leftovers

Items Left Over From the Holiday Season. If you're like most people, you tend to be in the giving spirit at year's end. But how about the rest of the year? For Cleveland-area readers, here's a good list of nonprofits and their various needs. While it was published last month, I'm guessing these organizations are just as much in need now as they were during the lead-up to the holiday season. And for those of you hyperorganized enough to begin thinking about next Christmas, if there are indeed any such animals out there, here are a couple of gift guides worth checking out (please note that all I really need for Christmas is this fun little toy to keep me occupied during bouts of writer's block). Finally, this interesting piece explores some of Charles Dickens' holiday stories that have tended to get a little lost in the glare of his enduring monster hit, A Christmas Story.

Michelle Marks Her Tenth Anniversary in Style. Michelle O'Neil, a newish Clevelander and a blogger of my recent acquaintance, turns her blog over to her husband for a note about their tenth anniversary, and then touchingly writes about it herself. Congratulations, Michelle and Todd. While you're over at her place, you might as well also check out this nice riff about how the first "chapter book" she ever read as a child turned Michelle on to lifelong reading. Isn't that how it works for most of us? Sometime soon, I'll take her cue, and tell you about the book that did it for me as a kid, back in Depression-era dustbowl Oklahoma (just kidding about time and place). I'll be eager to hear your stories as well. So thanks for the great idea, Michelle.

I'm Glad at Least One Bulldog Reporter Hasn't Forgotten Cheney. Newsweek's Ace Investigator Mike Isikoff, a name you may remember from le affair Lewinsky, keeps digging on the crucial story of how the Veep and his henchmen have systematically subverted the Constitution. Most of the rest of the media has clearly moved on to newer, fresher outrages. But this one is the gift that keeps giving for those with the attention span to keep at it. And Isikoff is as tenacious and untiring as anyone, famously walking away from the Washington Post in a huff when the paper refused to run one of his tougher pieces, and decamping to its sister publication. Take a bow, Mr. I.

It's Nice to Be Noticed. Former Plain Dealer reporter Bill Sloat, who apparently decided to use some of his severance pay from the staff buyout/downsizing to found the blog The Daily Bellwether, gets this nice tip of the hat from popular Slate media columnist Jack Shafer. It's well-deserved recognition. And here's a public thanks to Bill for having recently added this blog to his links.

The Rest of the Story with Leona's Parting Gifts. Not long ago, the media was awash in stories about how the late "Queen of Mean," Leona Helmsley, left a bequest of several million dollars to her pooch. But the always-interesting Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported that her total bequests to charity, about $4 billion, landed her in the top spot of charitable givers this year. That may not be quite as titillating a story as giving your dog a few million bucks, but it would be hard to argue that it's a story not worth adding to the Leona files. But I've yet to see it picked up anywhere else.

NYT Book Blog Calls in Reinforcements. The writer behind the New York Times' popular Paper Cuts blog congratulates himself for his 250th post, and then announces that henceforth he'll be getting some help, as the blog turns into a group effort. He also writes this interesting riff on the mixed blessings of feeding the hungry beast that is any good blog. "Writing Paper Cuts has been, lo this past five or six months, great fun and a great, interesting mental derangement - it’s been a bit like taking in an outsize, very friendly stray dog, one that begs for food two or three times a day, sheds on your furniture, slobbers on your best shoes and dumps on the lawn. All in, fundamentally, a good way." That sounds about right.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Letting Ever More Sunshine In

A few months ago, I told you about this interesting and important initiative designed to foster greater government transparency (scroll down to the last item). I'm glad to see that the founding sponsor of that watchdog project, the wonderfully named Sunlight Foundation, just two years old this month, isn't resting on its laurels. Instead, the foundation recently teamed up with the well-respected nonprofit watchdog group OMB Watch on another innovative tool for watchdog journalism, this online database of federal spending. It was launched more than a year ago, but a recent upgrade made it a far more powerful and flexible tool for journalists. You can expect to see lots of them begin using this tool soon. In fact, Business Week has already capitalized on it to develop this excellent and insightful list of the top ten contractors to the closest thing corporate America has to Santa Claus, the federal Department of Homeland Security. When and if you get the time, I'd recommend that you check out one or all of the three blogs published by OMB Watch, now celebrating its 25th year as an independent bird dog of the federal budget. The Sunlight Foundation blog is here, and a blog for one of its key investigative projects is here.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Transcending Tough Times

'Can anyone remember when the times were not hard and the money not scarce?'
--Ralph Waldo Emerson. To review earlier mentions of the great Transcendentalist poet, go here, here and here. Are you wondering what Transcendentalism is? Don't worry, you're not alone.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Ring Out the False, Ring in the True

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.
Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.
Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.
Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.
Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.
Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the God that is to be.

--Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Happy new year to you all!