Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Hunger for a Child

I don't know Jenny Rough. But I've slowly come to know her splendid, heartfelt writing through the odd, but distinctly collegial ethos that comes from long-time blog writing. We have a mutual friend with yet another blog (she's another woman I've never met, but one that I've at least shared several emails with, and since she happens to live in the same city as me, we just might meet eventually). And Jenny, probably following a link from my comment left on Michelle's blog, once left a comment here. So in the spirit of symmetry, I decided to check out her blog and read a little of what she had to say. I gather from her autobio that she's a California native who now lives in the D.C. area, and a former lawyer who left the law behind to write. It's immediately apparent that she's a fine writer. Still, none of that prepared me for this entry about her attempts to get pregnant. The final line left me a little staggered. Good luck, Jenny.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Image
of a Writer
As Knock-
Around Guy

'You know, I grew up in a different generation. I grew up after World War II, and boys did different things in those days. You went camping. You went hunting. You boxed. And the image of a writer to someone starting off in those days was not some schmuck who went to graduate school. It was Jack London, Nelson Algren, Ernest Hemingway. Especially coming from Chicago, a writer was a knock-around guy. Someone who got a job as a reporter or drove a cab. I think the reason there are a lot of novels about How Mean My Mother Was To Me and all that shit is because the writers may have learned something called 'technique' but they've neglected to have a life. What the f__k are they going to write about?'
--Playwrite and screenwriter David Mamet, from a recent profile in GQ Magazine. This brilliant riff immediately reminded me of something the writer Mark Winegardner used to joke about during his stint in Cleveland. He once observed that the reason the only dramatic tension to be found in most debut novels is the tension between college roommates is that that's the only tension most 20-somethings had yet encountered in life. You can review earlier mentions of Mamet here and here.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Search for Truth on Tillman Continues

Four years ago, I wrote this angry dispatch after learning of the death of the heroic Pat Tillman--NFL star turned volunteer American military grunt. I would have been far angrier if I had known at the time that his death had actually been from so-called "friendly fire." In other words, he was killed by his own side. And even worse, that his government would try to cover that up. Much of the world may have gone on to fresher outrages, but I'm glad to see that his family isn't letting it go. His mother has now written a book about the case, which should put it back in the news, where it belongs. She talks about it here with The Nation. It's bitterly ironic that it happens to arrive just as a former Bush White House press secretary pulls the veil back and provides intriguing confirmation of what we already knew: that the White House engaged in the worst form of propaganda in selling the Iraq war. As I said four years ago: "this war has been a disaster unique in American history, for which the architects must pay with their jobs and then their reputations, their names dragged through the mud of history as the bullies and cowards they are." I'm glad to watch that remorseless process continue.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Newsweek: How Dubious Lenders
Created a Blighted Cleveland Slum

'How did it all start? How did distressed properties like these become 'collateral' for loans that were bundled into high-priced securities, then bought by huge banks and pension funds around the world? How did Slavic Village contribute to a global credit crunch?...Slavic Village seemed, at first glance, an unlikely spot for investors in mortgage securities to place their bets. The childhood home of Rep. Dennis Kucinich, it was for decades a chronically depressed steel-mill town noted for its kielbasa shops. But like other rust-belt cities, Cleveland was trying to rehabilitate itself, pouring money into revitalization programs. Yet insidious forces were at work in the neighborhood. After the mortgage-refinancing boom of 2003–04, demand for fresh subprime "product" grew so intense that lending standards nationwide disintegrated. To meet Wall Street's demand for a steady supply, lenders kept reaching lower and lower down the scale of quality in both property and borrowers, until the street hustlers jumped in to offer up their "product." Not surprisingly, the once shunned inner city became a prime lending spot across America. That, in turn, led to the phenomenon of reverse redlining. More than a decade ago, the big story was the redlining of low-income, often African-American, neighborhoods by banks that refused to lend there. Now the opposite happened.'
--From an article in the current issue of Newsweek. Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis (recently mentioned here) chimes in with one of his patented well-crafted sound bites: "More people have left Cuyahoga than any other county in the U.S. with the exception of New Orleans. They had a hurricane; we had lenders."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fox Cartoon Spin-Off
To Be Called 'Cleveland'

The Fox TV network, among the leading purveyors of America's idiot culture, plans to spin off a new animated series from its raunchy Family Guy show. It will be called Cleveland, named for Cleveland Brown, a neighbor (pictured here) who appears as a character in Family Guy. Those of sufficient age to remember '70s TV might find this at least vaguely reminiscent of how the show The Jeffersons spun-off from the popular series All in the Family back in the day. The Jeffersons also happened to be the Bunkers' neighbors, before they made the fateful decision about "movin' on up to the east side." If you have the stomach for it, you can review earlier items on the idiot culture here.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Now a Word from the Chair
Of the McCain 2008 Campaign

'I've developed a total loathing for McCain, conceited little asshole. And he thinks he's wonderful. I mean, you can just tell, this little simper of self-love that he does all the time. You just want to kick him.'
--Author and professional provocateur Gore Vidal, quoted in the current issue of Esquire Magazine. We're just kidding about him being chairman of the campaign, naturally. To review earlier mentions of Vidal, go here, here and here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Brooklyn Bridge

'O, harp and altar of the fury fused
How can mere toiling align thy strings?'
--Poet Hart Crane, writing about the Brooklyn Bridge, which turned 125 yesterday. To learn more about the bridge, which urban critic Lewis Mumford once called "the most completely satisfying structure of any kind," go here. But to really experience it, I would heartily suggest that you go there, and see it for yourself.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Stuff

Another Book Blog to Consider. The New Yorker magazine starts a book blog. In the past, I've pointed you to book blogs maintained by the NYTimes and Washington Post. But you can never have enough good ones. What do you think of the new entrant, Darby?

The Yuck Factor. Slate asks the burning question you've all no doubt been wondering about: should you drink your own urine if pressed by extreme thirst?

Tired of Reading or Thinking About Baby Boomers? I'm not, since I'm among them. So I did check out this list of supposed myths about boomers. Nothing too earth-shaking in there.

Godin on Nonprofit Marketing. My favorite marketing guru, Seth Godin (whose fresh, literate insights I've often pointed you to in the past) recently fielded questions on marketing nonprofit causes in an online discussion with the excellent Chronicle of Philanthropy.

McCain Tops List of Senators Missing Votes. I'm a little surprised we haven't heard more about this from the Obama campaign. But give them time. Until recently, all the opposition research has been targetted at Hillary. It's now turned to McCain. So expect to hear about this soon, unless the Obama folks figure that their guy coming in at #3 on that same list would render this a little less useful.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Leonard's First Rule of Writing

'My most important rule is one that sums up the ten (rules): if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.'
--from master crime novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard's exercise in minimalism, Ten Rules of Writing. Please note that he uses the word "sounds" rather than "looks." You can check out his books here and his official website here. did a nice profile of him nearly a decade ago in its splendid Brilliant Careers series, and he was the focus of the New York Times' similarly interesting Writers on Writing series here. Alas, both series are no more.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Making the Most
Of Your Regrets

'Make the most of your regrets. To regret deeply is to live afresh.'
--Henry David Thoreau. For earlier mentions of that scruffy-faced 19th-century transcendentalist poet with a hankering for secluded ponds, go here, here, here and here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Race, Bigotry and the Voting Booth

The Chicago Tribune discovers that--stop the presses!--race still matters to some white voters. Anyone who lives in this country and occasionally keeps their eyes open might have already figured that out. Psychologists, meanwhile, explore the effects of the subtle bigot in our brains. One eye-opener from this excellent (latter) article: "Using a variety of sophisticated methods, psychologists have established that people unwittingly hold an astounding assortment of stereotypical beliefs and attitudes about social groups: black and white, female and male, elderly and young, gay and straight, fat and thin. Although these implicit biases inhabit us all, we vary in the particulars, depending on our own group membership, our conscious desire to avoid bias and the contours of our everyday environments. For instance, about two thirds of whites have an implicit preference for whites over blacks, whereas blacks show no average preference for one race over the other."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Here's Latest Twist on
Absentee Landlordism

I have the good fortune to belong to a small group of seasoned Cleveland writers who occasionally gather for lunch at irregular intervals. Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis, everyone's favorite earnest local pol, happened to join us for our last session. As I was sipping my soup, he startled us (or maybe just me) a bit with this surprising tidbit, an outcome of both the online auction revolution and Cleveland's home foreclosure crisis. "I get emails all the time: 'I just bought my house on Ebay. Can you tell me what my taxes will be?'" Last year, I noted this op-ed on the region's foreclosure crisis that Jim wrote for the Washington Post. He's also been active on the issue of trying to force wealthy nonprofits to ante up their fair share of the tax burden, as I noted here. Next week, Jim will be addressing the foreclosure crisis at the City Club. I expect to be there, and hope to see a few of you as well.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Happy Birthday, Studs

Chicago's reigning bard of the working class turned 96 today. We celebrate his longevity, as well as his stubborn lack of modernity. After all, he's an unreconstructed New Dealer in the age of...well, whatever this political age might be called, it surely doesn't have much to do anymore with FDR's radically egalatarian vision. To review earlier mentions of Stud, go here, here and here.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thursday Stuff

Best Headline and Subhead of the Week...goes to the Weekly Standard, for this little gem of wiseassery (my coinage) at the expense of the magazine's favorite targets, the Clintons. If you don't immediately get the joke, just give it a moment and think about it. Hint: it harkens back to the Lewinsky scandal.

Read It and Weep. Ohio Attorney General Mark Dann, once positioned to be the second coming of the crusading AG in the likeness of Eliot Spitzer, has followed him into disgrace by resigning yesterday. If you're a glutton for punishment, here's the investigative report that prompted the whole thing, although it's been criticized by some as being a partial whitewash. But you decide.

Moore's At It Again. The Iraq war is increasingly slipping out of the news pages and the larger cultural conversation. But director Michael Moore isn't letting up on it. The New York Observer reports (well, it really just reprints a press release about it) that the rotund lefty auteur is now working on a followup to his devastating anti-Iraq war flick Fahrenheit 9/11. Like many, I found the latter film to be a little too emotionally manipulative to be completely effective, or as effective as it might have been (and there was considerable speculation -- which I think was warranted-- that it boomeranged and left some voters sympathetic to Bush, thus helping him squeek into a second term). But it was nevertheless quite interesting, and an important contribution to the debate. I would expect this next one will be as well.

Finally, We Bring You what I would consider to be perhaps the best blog autobio ever written, in this case by a veteran Chicago sportswriter whom I first came across only yesterday. "They tell me I have to write this bio thing to go along with my blog. Not sure you care, but the bosses apparently do, so here you go: I've covered sports for more than 30 years in print, on radio and now in cyberspace. In that time, I've smoked cigars with Michael Jordan, Mike Ditka and Red Auerbach, I've been thrown on a table by NHL all-time bad boy Dave "Tiger'' Williams, I've covered the Super Bowl, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals, I've had former Bears lineman Stan Thomas act like he was going to squeeze my head like a zit, I've interviewed Roger Clemens, Hank Aaron and Donald Trump, I've been cursed at by Mike Keenan, I've watched Denis Savard go into the Hockey Hall of Fame, I've been yelled at by Bill Wirtz, I talked sports with Ben Affleck at the World Series of Poker, and I cry almost every time I see Jim Craig skate up the ice looking for his dad in the stands as the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team wrote the greatest sports story ever. Ever. I have a diva going to fashion school in Los Angeles and a power-hitting DH who's a junior in high school. Got enough on me? Good. Now read the other stuff." After that wild & wonderful riff, who could resist reading more? If you've seen anything that can compete with that, dear reader, by all means do let us know.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Stamps & Taxes

In the "New Rule" segment of his show recently, comedian Bill Maher suggested the country needed to institute this new rule: "You don't need to use stamps to mail in your taxes. They're going to the same people who sold you the stamp! It's like a collection agency calling you collect." You can review previous mentions of Maher here, here, here, here and here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

One Complimentary Weekend Writers' Retreat

I mentioned not long ago that I'd be presenting a workshop at a weekend writer's retreat my friend Claudia Taller has organized at a marvelous Victorian bed & breakfast along the Lake Erie coast. It's coming up this weekend, and there are just two or three spots left. As a token of my esteem for you all, gentle readers, I want to offer one complimentary registration to the reader who sends the best brief description of why they're the one who deserves it (we pick up the conference registration, by the way, you cover the room). You can do it either publicly through adding a comment to this entry, or privately via email at (though we ask that you let us post your description, even if it's not accompanied by your name). So check your calendars, make sure this weekend works for you, and then send along a brief expression of how you might benefit from such a session. Tell us anything you think is germane to the subject: where you're at in your writing, how you've always thought about attending a writer's conference but somehow never got around to it--whatever it might be. Don't be shy, and please don't think of this as a daunting homework assignment. A short, heartfelt paragraph will do. If we get two great ones (and there are still two slots available), we might just spring for two freebies. After all, who deserves more support and encouragement than readers of this blog (your task, after all, can't be easy)? In last week's edition of Cool Cleveland, Claudia nicely explained some of the sources of her inspiration for putting this together. She's a nut for Julia Cameron's The Artist Way philosophy, just as I'm a hardened disciple of the Bill Zinsser On Writing Well approach to craft, and the combination is powerful, indeed. We're talking about possibly collaborating on something even bigger and better for the fall season.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Best Lead of the Month

'Who is Barbara Walters? She is a journalist who cannot write ("just before the ax fell, lightning struck and my life changed, never to be the same again"). She is the veteran of a major TV network's news division who once wedged a piece on her own apartment into a prime-time broadcast. She is a celebrity who is most famous for her orbital relationship with other celebrities. Immensely rich and familiar to all, she has been around forever without anyone quite knowing why. And now she is a memoirist.'
--from a Wall Street Journal review of Walters' new book. The review was written by New York Post staff writer Kyle Smith. Besides enjoying the appropriately wicked, slashing language he uses to dispatch with Walters' book, we marvel in the rich irony of a writer for the trashy NY Post criticizing someone else for lack of seriousness and faulty ethics. To review past best leads of the month, go here.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Death of the Novel Foretold

Author Tom Wolfe tells an interviewer for National Review TV that "the novel is dying a horrible death--it really is." But it's not preventing him from working on his fourth novel, due out next year. Its subject is immigration. You can watch the video here. To review an earlier item on Wolfe, go here.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Stuff

Deconstructing The Daily Show. A journalism group issues a detailed study on Jon Stewart's Comedy Central show. Does it amount to a bit of humorless overkill? Who can say? We report, you decide. But we found this passage particularly interesting: " times, The Daily Show aims at more than comedy. In its choice of topics, its use of news footage to deconstruct the manipulations by public figures and its tendency toward pointed satire over playing just for laughs, The Daily Show performs a function that is close to journalistic in nature—getting people to think critically about the public square. In that sense, it is a variation of the tradition of Russell Baker, Art Hoppe, Art Buchwald, H.L. Mencken and other satirists who once graced the pages of American newspapers."

The Top 'Ugh' Story of the Week. This needs no comment.

The Editing Wars. A veteran Middle East correspondent takes an interesting look at how the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict has now moved to Wikipedia.

Geeks Stalking Airports. This one was just plain interesting. And it's doubly nice that it's from a source--Popular Mechanics, of all places--that we wouldn't normally read. But we were pleasantly surprised at how good the pub is. A reminder that good work can often be found in the most surprising places. Last year, for instance, we noted some superior writing in the fashion magazine Elle.

ESPN on the Browns' Quarterback Controversy. The sports bible takes a peek at the continuing question of who will emerge from the spirited competition over the starting quarterback's job. This is a nice problem to have.

Finally, I hope you can find some time this weekend to luxuriate in this luminous gem of a story in the wonderful Smithsonian magazine by my friend and fellow John Carroll graduate Mike Thomas, a staff writer for the Chicago Sun-Times. The Bossard family of which he writes will be familiar to most Cleveland sports fans. Reading this remarkable story reminded me of a conversation I had with Mike some years ago. He was not long out of college, stuck in a non-satisfying job at a manufacturing company in Cleveland, and dreaming of making an escape to a writing life. Most people, alas, never seriously follow up on that dream. Mike did, and I shudder to think of what the world might have missed had he not gone for the brass ring. I shudder even more at what it might have meant for Mike. After all, as we noted recently, there's a big price to pay for deferring dreams. May all of yours come true this weekend, gentle readers.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Drawbacks of Being
An Elder Statesman

'I don't like that term elder statesman. A lady came up to me in a restaurant and said, 'if you died your hair black, you'd look like Al Gore.'
--Al Gore, in an interview on Tuesday with Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air program, pooh poohing the notion that he might have to be called upon as a party elder to help break the Obama-Clinton logjam.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Wednesday Stuff

Our Favorite Headline of the Week: '
Welcome to America...You're Under Arrest.' A close runner-up: 'I'm Not Lying, I'm Telling a Future Truth. Really.'

Director Spike Lee says "Obama will change everything." But I'm not sure I want to put too much stock in a guy whose next "film" project involves
piecing together various bits of video taken by cellphones. Sounds more like a marketing stunt to sell phones than a movie to me.

Here's How You Can Play Like Lebron. Just follow
his exercise regimen and you'll be on your way. Looks easy enough, doesn't it?

Former Newspaper Guy Picks Up Blogging In Record Time. This fellow just left a staff job at a newspaper after a career spent at a series of such jobs. Judging by
this sublime description of why people blog, we think he took to the blog format in record time. The bad news: he'll soon find out that some, including this hipster who recently took up shaving, think "blogs seem so yesterday." The big thing now is video, or vlogs (that sound you hear is me snoring). So what's a recycled writer to do? We advise against chasing the latest fad. Just make sure it's good, whatever you do. Everything else has a way of taking care of itself.

If Writing Text is So Yesterday, Reading is Too. Apple CEO Steve Jobs caused a small stir not long ago by
saying no one reads anymore. But his Macs certainly are in no danger of dying out. Due to their rising popularity, a geek digest (E-Week) says company IT departments now must deal with what it calls "Mac creep," the growing demands from internal users to accomodate Macs instead of PCs. Anyway, this piece nicely demolishes the absurd notion that people aren't reading anymore. On the contrary, the web has helped launch an explosion of reading and writing by millions of people. The alarmists attempt a nice parlor trick by simply not counting any of that. How convenient, and how ridiculous.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Now Here's a Book
Worth Checking Out

The title of this book grabbed my interest, as did the cover photo. And this brief Q&A with the author further seduced me. I haven't seen it in bookstores yet, but I'll surely be looking for it next time I'm there. To learn more about the author--who's been described as "the most entertaining tech policy geek in the world. Imagine Dennis Miller with a cyberlaw degree"--you can check out his website.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Just How High Will Gas Prices Have to Go
For Americans to Change Driving Habits?

That's a question that's often been asked in the media over the years, amid all the crush of stories about how cheap our gasoline is compared to much of the rest of the world. But when the number at the pump went over $60 for the first time ever when I recently filled the family van, I know I hit a tipping point. Now, with prices growing ever nearer to $4 a gallon, with no end in sight, I can't decide whether to curtail my driving, or storm the White House and Capitol Hill in protest. Instead, I'm thinking about a few small changes I can make around the edges of my life. Which causes me to read features such as this one in Time. Not exactly breakthrough stuff here, but a couple of the ideas might be worth looking into. Please, dear readers, share your ideas with us also. Links are welcome. And by the way: I really appreciated and enjoyed the interesting conversation that continued here while I was gone over the weekend. Thanks, gentle readers, for adding value to this venue even when I couldn't.

Friday, May 02, 2008

We're On Vacation Today...

...Preparing for what we hope will be the Cavs final series game tonight in Washington. Rather than rehash my thoughts about the Cavs, Lebron and our long-suffering major league sports teams and what they mean to Cleveland, I'll instead link to this disquisition on those subjects that I served up two years ago at NBA playoff time. I'll be traveling this weekend, and will take a rare two consecutive days off of my writing here. But I'll be back in the saddle on Monday. Talk to y'all then, my lovelies.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

He Has Plenty
Of Company
In The Current
Election Season

"Hell, I never vote for anybody. I always vote against."
--the late comedian W.C. Fields.
To learn more about his career in the movies, you can go here. To read one person's take on Fields' "absurdist politics" go here.