Monday, June 30, 2008

Obama and McCain Duke it Out in Ohio

The early polls say Obama has a commanding lead over McCain in Ohio, and reports are that the Republican machinery that barely delivered Bush a win in the state last time around isn't yet firing on McCain's behalf. On the other hand, the Washington Post reports on one small Ohio town (Findlay) where the damaging Obama rumors are running rampant, suggesting it's not alone in that department. Perhaps equally ominous for the Obama forces, unions don't seem to be falling behind his candidacy as one might expect them to do for a Democratic candidate. Meanwhile, the Post politics blog made this interesting observation the other day: "Obama's chance to lock down Ohio went by the boards when Gov. Ted Strickland oddly removed himself from the veepstakes...With Strickland out of the running, it's clear that Obama will have to put in the time to convince Ohio voters -- particularly the working class voters who supported Clinton in the state's primary --that he shares their values and concerns. Still, Republicans hit something close to rock-bottom in 2006 and it's not clear whether the party can recover in time for this November. National Republican strategists are not optimistic." The bottom line, we think: while Ohio may well not be the battleground state this time, it should still be quite a battle here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Here's a Bit of Inspired Packaging
From Two Conde Nast Magazines

Conde Nast, the magazine portion of the Newhouse family media empire (which also owns Cleveland's Plain Dealer) has always been good at keeping its properties editorially fresh and lively. A couple of new examples: Portfolio Magazine is keeping track of rampaging Aussie billionaire Rupert Murdoch with its new "Murdoch on the March" feature (perhaps Murdoch's Wall Street Journal will return the favor and institute an S.I. Newhouse watch). Its sister pub, Vanity Fair, meanwhile, has instituted a running "Hitch Bitch" feature, which takes advantage of all the outrage and drama that controversial columnist Christopher Hitchens tends to stir up.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Three Good Reads

Sports Illustrated digs below the steroid subculture in baseball and looks at the larger sports culture of artificial enhancement. Meanwhile, the New York Times' splendid American Album feature takes an inspired look at a preacher whose ministry is on the open road. Finally, the New Yorker's Peter Boyer serves up another of his classic profiles--this time of cable TV's Keith Olbermann. You can review earlier TGRs here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

NPR's Storycorps, As Always,
Just Full of Surprising Stories

'As a young woman, Betty Jenkins received a gift from her mother that was meant to attract the attention of young men. But as Jenkins, who is now 94, tells her niece, the attention she got wasn't the kind she was expecting. "I was very skinny, and I didn't have any curves. I guess my mother got kind of worried, because she didn't think I had enough boyfriends," Jenkins said. The gift was an inflatable bra that was designed to enhance its wearer's figure. A straw-like tube was used to inflate pads in the cups. "I was real excited, so I blew and blew to about [size] 32," Jenkins said.'
--From a recent installment of public radio's excellent ongoing oral history project.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Columnist's Familiar Waitress Test,
Now Reconsidered for the Campaign

'What does Barack Obama have to say to working-class women? Plenty. But they're used to being talked at, especially by men. The guy who proves he's willing to listen and then offer real-life solutions to their all-too-real problems is the guy who will get their votes. My mother, who was an hourly wage earner until she died, always said to her daughters, "Don't marry him until you see how he treats the waitress." She was talking about picking a husband, but it's a good test for picking a President, too, and one likely to be used this year by working-class women of every age.'
--from an interesting new article in The Nation, by Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz. We rather liked how she artfully used her mom's oft-cited "waitress test" from her blue-collar upbringing in Ashtabula, Ohio, only now applied to the current presidential race. She tells us that the piece came as a result of Nation editor Katrina V. seeing her on the Charlie Rose show last year. You, know, the preening PBS guy who can't shut up long enough to listen to his guests answer his questions. Sure enough, he seems to have done so again. According to the show's website, one viewer of that interview had this reaction: "Have you measured your verbiage vs. Connie Schultz's verbiage on the Aug. 29th show? You interrupted her so many times, and did more of the talking than she did! And you treated her as a buffoon. Why is this? I would have loved to have heard her finish her answers, and hear more of her own ideas, instead of your pre-supposed version of her ideas. If you know so much about these people, then why do you interview them in front of us?"
UPDATE: Connie talks about her mom's legacy in this video.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Wednesday Stuff

They Win the Prize for the Best Blog Name. The L.A. Times dubs its new George W. blog "Countdown to Crawford--The Last Days of the Bush Administration." That's inspired.

Good for Congress. This would be a fitting tribute to the ignorant frat boy from Crawford, a parting statement from the other branch of government that he was wrong about everything, but that in time, we'll get over the damage he and his gang of tough guys has done. That includes the environment.

Speaking of the Environment...Did we really need the gratuitous political slap at Al Gore at the end of the movie review, Clint? By all accounts the PD's Clint O'Connor is a good guy. A former radio DJ, he spent a stint many years ago editing the now-defunct Sunday PD Magazine, and doing a good job of it. So why, we ask, does he have to end a mini-review of a forgettable movie with this kind of childish, peevish slap at Gore? Go figure. We'd love to hear your side, Clint, either publicly or privately...

Blogger Mix Tracks Overall Population. One used to hear quite a bit of hand-wringing in some quarters about the fact--or at least the assertion--that blogging was a shamefully lilly-white pursuit. It always struck me as absurd in the extreme. If black folks or anyone else wanted to blog, then they'd begin doing so. If not, not. No one is stopping anyone from doing it. Anyway, this new study says the racial and ethnic composition of the population of adult bloggers in the U.S. pretty closely tracks the population as a whole. So that debate is put to rest. Well, maybe. Perhaps we'll now witness pitched arguments about the racial composition of those bloggers aged 16-18. Here's hoping not.

Go See Budin's Band This Weekend. He's the hipster in the nice purple shirt with the guitar, second from the right. They'll be playing twice on Sunday at Cain Park. He's equal parts a good guy, good musician and good writer. The former editor of both Cleveland Mag and Northern Ohio Live, he's now reverted to the itinerant life he first led as a young guy, proudly moving to a new place in Cleveland Heights approximately annually (he'll tell you all about it if you ask him). But as I try to remind him every chance I get, his real lasting fame has nothing to do with any of this. Rather, it lies in the fact that he has a sandwich named after him at the immortal Tommy's restaurant in Coventry. We think that's an almost theological level of immortality.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Buckminster Fuller,
Architect Of the
Oddly Compelling
Geodesic Dome

Many Northeastern Ohioans probably know that we have a certified Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece in our midst: the Penfield House in Lake County. My wife and I were lucky enough to stay there overnight a couple of years ago, the result of a lovely gift from a couple of good friends who met at our wedding and subsequently married. But I think it's fair to say that far fewer know about an almost equally compelling structure to the east of Cleveland, Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome in Geauga County (pictured here), which houses the headquarters of a professional group, the Materials Information Society. The late futurist and maverick inventor gets a retrospective in the current Newsweek. The piece nicely describes how he became an inspiration to the counterculture during the 1960s, as well as a passionate environmentalist before that became popular. Today, we could use several hundred more like him working in and around the region. As always with genius, the trick is to identify them in real time, before it's too late.
UPDATE: I should have also linked to this recent New Yorker piece on Fuller.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

On the Deeper Meanings of Fred Astaire,
Who Always Let His Feet do the Seduction

'One of the first rules of American movies, as any crass Hollywood producer will be pleased to inform you, is that in them there must be someone for whom the audience can root. One roots for Fred Astaire in his movies in good part because he isn’t all that sexy. Unlike Clark Gable, he can’t ever say that frankly he doesn’t give a damn, pick the girl up in his arms, and head off up the impressive staircase to get on with the business of delayed rape (Gone with the Wind). Unlike Gary Cooper, he can’t win the girl through his manly reticence and unflinching courage in the face of danger (High Noon). Unlike Cary Grant, he can’t bring off the dazzling talk and brute handsomeness that wins through over steady affection (His Girl Friday).Fred Astaire had none of these things going for him. He was this little guy, skinny, with big ears, a long chin, and too wide a forehead, whose only chance is to get the girl onto the dance floor, where he will let his feet do his seduction for him.'
--An excerpt from a book in progress by the always stylish Joseph Epstein, one of our favorite writers. You can review earlier mentions of him here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Just as the Plain Dealer is About To Undergo
Yet Another Round of Cutbacks in Coverage,
Alternative Weekly Landscape in Cleveland
Gets a Serious Overhaul, With Purchase and
Merger of Two Ailing Alternative Weeklies

Just two years after the Plain Dealer underwent a serious cutback in its editorial staff, which resulted in more than 60 newsroom employees accepting generous buyouts, the paper is again looking at further cuts in editorial space as well as staff. Last week, Roldo Bartimole broke the story of the latest cutbacks, which was picked up nationally via a link from the widely read Romenesko website, but until this morning the paper hasn't acknowledged that such plans were in the works (finally, publisher Terry Egger did so this morning on public radio station WCPN, on a show hosted by PD columnist Regina Brett, though he was tentative and refused to be pinned down about any details).

Against that backdrop, the news came this morning like an earthquake, via a press release, that the city's two ailing alternative weeklies, which have been locked in a grueling war of attrition for years, have been purchased by a once-modest but increasingly prominent newspaper chain (based in Scranton, Pennsylvania, of all places) and will be merged shortly, under the name Scene. While the Scene got the name (and the new paper will be located in the Scene's current space), the more important choice is that the Free Times' publisher will become publisher of the new operation, which suggests that paper will get much the upper hand in the merged entity, presumably including staffing choices.

A consolidation of Cleveland alt-weeklies has been tried before, in 2002, but was blocked by the U.S. Justice Department on antitrust grounds. The Free Times, then owned by the chain which also owned the granddaddy of American alternative weeklies, the venerable Village Voice of New York, colluded with the New Times chain (considered by some as the Evil Empire of the industry) to stop competing in Cleveland and L.A., carving up the markets and awarding one town to each. Even the ethics-challenged Bush Justice Department could tell that didn't pass the smell test, and moved to block it. Tim Rutten, then the media writer for the Los Angeles Times, did a heroic job of covering the story, breaking one development after another (eventually the NYT's David Carr, a veteran of alt-weeklies, caught up), thus adding even more pressure on the government.

The deal was eventually stopped, a consent decree was signed by both parties, and the papers went back to competing in a town, Cleveland, whose economy really can't support two healthy alt-weeklies. The Justice Department has continued to monitor the situation until recently, as former FT editor David Eden noted to the PD several months ago. Presumably, this new deal has at least the tacit blessing of the Justice Department.

Times-Shamrock Communications, which would be the new owner should the deal close, is not exactly a household name. But it does own and operate some familiar names. The Detroit Metro Times and Baltimore City Paper have long, proud traditions in their markets, and by all accounts, Times-Shamrock has been doing a reasonably enlightened job of operating them in an increasingly tough environment (alt weeklies have been hurt badly by the web, just as print dailies have). All that bodes well for how they would run the Cleveland paper.

UPDATE: story is here, Crain's account is here.
UPDATE #2: Thanks to Jim Romenesko for the link to this posting (and welcome to Romenesko readers), which he posted mid-day along with the link to the story. I've earned some Romenesko links in the past for media columns in the Free Times, and of course appreciated them greatly, but never before for anything written on this blog. We're honored.
UPDATE #3: Editor & Publisher magazine posted this article about the growing internal PD turmoil over expected cuts. Ironically, WKYC, which seems so interested in covering the PD's employment cutbacks, doesn't seem to have told its audience about its own recent reduction in personnel. It too has cut some jobs (as many as 10 people, we're told, including reporter Vic Gideon, a popular, longtime fixture in the Cleveland electronic media), no doubt a result of the mounting financial woes of its owner, the Gannett chain. If the station has covered this (please let me know, anyone), I'll be thrilled to apologize and correct the record. But I'd also likely pass out from shock.

Here's the original press release on the alt-weekly deal:

Times-Shamrock Communications today announced the acquisition of the Cleveland Scene and the Cleveland Free Times, alternative newsweeklies separately owned by Village Voice Media and Times Publishing Co. of Erie, Pa., respectively.Terms of the purchase were not disclosed. The deal is to close on June 25.The two alternative publications will continue to publish separately for their next three issues and then merge into a single newsweekly, the "Scene," on July 23, according to Don Farley, publisher of the Alternative Group for Times-Shamrock Communications.Mr. Farley said that Matt Fabyan, publisher of the Free Times, will be publisher of the combined Scene newsweekly."This is a great addition to our existing group of alternative newsweeklies," Mr. Farley said. "We look forward to serving the greater Cleveland community for many, many years."The Scene and Free Times each has won dozens of awards from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, the Cleveland Press Club and the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. Times Publishing Co. has owned the Free Press since 2003. Village Voice Media, the nation's largest publisher of alternative weeklies, has owned the Scene since 1998.Scene will be Times-Shamrock's fifth alternative newsweekly. Times-Shamrock, which is wholly owned by the Lynett and Haggerty families of Scranton, Pa., also publishes alternative newspapers in Baltimore, Detroit, San Antonio and Orlando.Times-Shamrock also owns eight daily newspapers in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Virginia and St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; community weekly newspapers in Northeastern Pennsylvania and Upstate New York; and radio stations in Scranton, Baltimore, Tulsa, Reno and Milwaukee.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Five Events This Month That You Shouldn't Miss

Two of them, as it happens, take place later today. Our friends Roldo Bartimole and Mansfield Frazier, along with the formidable city planning guru Norm Krumholz, will headline this interesting panel that looks back at the legacy of former Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes, the first black mayor of a major American city. A few hours later, the divine Ms. Shannon Okey , the original Cleveland webgrrl, will make a rare author's appearance at the Parma Heights library, talking about one of her favorite subjects, knitting. Expect a packed room, with fans clawing each other for seats in the front row, so get there early. Next Wednesday evening, Cleveland native Scott Raab, easily among the top half dozen magazine writers in America, makes an appearance at the Joseph Beth bookstore at Legacy Village, to promote his new book, a collection of his best magazine work. A day later, the Cleveland chapter of the American Institute of Architects hosts a gathering of ubanophiles (my coinage, I'm afraid) to inspect a new "walkable" neighborhood development downtown. Finally, a few days after that, just in time for the long holiday weekend, the Cleveland Museum of Art, long closed for construction, reopens its rehabbed original 1916 gallery, which should be a treat. Earlier, I mentioned Raab here, Mansfield here, and Norm here. Roldo is mentioned all over the place. Anyway, these events all get our highest five-star rating. Here's hoping we'll see some of you at one or more of them.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Five Years Old and A Thousand Postings

Okay, it's not precise, because we're always late around here. But in March we hit our fifth birthday (okay, the blog, not its author), and a couple weeks ago we hit another milestone, our 1,000th posting (you happen to be reading #1,032, if you're interested). No, we're not so anal retentive as to have counted them--actually, the software keeps track for us. The number would be far higher if we broke these things up into separate items, which we don't, and if we had stuck to our almost-every-day (including weekends) frequency of the past year or so in the first few years. Anyway, send your anniversary offerings to us in small, unmarked bills. But seriously, we thank you for reading, and especially for joining the conversation by way of comments. We couldn't and wouldn't do it without you. If we get around to it, we may soon tell you about some of our favorite high points in these last five years. Then again, we may just bag it, and wait till the next birthday. Who can tell?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Belated Father's Day Greetings & A Look
At Writers Taking Stock of Their Old Man

If you pursue writing with any level of seriousness, and we hope you do, eventually you'll probably feel the need to take stock of the debt you owe to your dad. That will likely lead to an attempt to find the right words to describe it all and share it in a piece of writing. That's what these eight writers have done in this interesting Father's Day roundup published in Britain's Guardian newspaper. I invite you to poke around and read some of these interesting takes. The writer Will Self admits the inevitable sentiment of all angry young men: "even though I couldn't acknowledge it at the time, I loved my father." Like every angry young man since the dawn of time, I couldn't acknowledge it, either. At least not until I wrote this tribute to my old man a couple of years ago. Like most guys, I'd have trouble saying such things to him, so I took what, for a writer at least, is the easy way out: I wrote them. However you do it, I hope you get around to doing it before it's too late. And happy belated Dad's day to all you fathers, including mine.

Monday, June 16, 2008

West Side Finally In Line to Get
Rough Equivalent of Cedar-Lee,
Movie Palace for Thinking Folks

In the past, I've asked the question, where would we be without the Cedar-Lee?, our beloved east side (of Cleveland) art house movie venue. In an era in which most movies are little more than trinkets of the idiot culture, the Cedar-Lee hosts a continuing stream of the most thoughtful and understated movies being made. Its choices are so good that I never feel the need to scan the movie reviews. If it's booked at the Cedar-Lee, I simply trust that it will be at least pretty good, and I'm rarely disappointed. On occasion, our good fortune gives rise to feelings of guilt: I've felt bad for west siders, who don't have any such quality movie house nearby. But all that is due to change in the spring. The good news is that the rehab of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood will include the new Capitol Theatre, which is expected to show similar highbrow fare. Congratulations, west siders. You're going to love having such a jewel in your midst.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Small But Mighty Gesture:
Biz Week Credits the Source

With the traditional business model for journalism under steady assault, we've been witnessing an ever-growing stream of alternative approaches to gathering and disseminating news. They include everything from pure citizen journalism (for Cleveland-area readers, we have two right here in our midst, one east and one west) to all manner of experiments that would fall under the general heading of a movement that's come to be called news as a conversation (rather than the one-way lecture it's traditionally been). But the other day, I noticed something Business Week did that reminded me of how powerful small gestures toward transparency and audience participation can be. On one level, it might seem so simple that it wouldn't warrant comment. Still, it's such a great idea, but one I really hadn't seen anywhere else until then: the magazine simply credited the source for a good story idea, by name, with a photo. What a wonderful way to actually practice rather than preach about rethinking traditional practices. Among other things, it should serve to stimulate many more story ideas from readers who think it would be cool to also be featured in the magazine. We hope this simple tactic, and a thousand others like it, spreads to other publications.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Okay, Who's Really the Author
Of the Classic Poem Footprints?

'A few years ago Burrell Webb, a retired landscape artist living in Oregon, discovered that a poem he wrote and never copyrighted had become one of the most widely circulated verses in the English language. He says he composed the lines in 1958, after leaving the navy and being dumped by his girlfriend. “I was stressed, distressed, and single,” he says. “When I received those divine words, I broke up the lines and made a kind of poem out of it.” The finished product, which he published anonymously in a local newspaper—he felt it was God’s work, not his—tells the story of a man who has a dream that he and God are walking along the beach. When the man asks why sometimes there is one set of footprints and other times there are two, the Lord says he has been carrying him through his struggles. Forty years later, Webb was alarmed when his son informed him that the poem was on napkins, calendars, posters, gift cards, and teacups. Usually “Footprints” was signed “Author Unknown,” but other times the credit was given to Mary Stevenson, Margaret Fishback Powers, or Carolyn Joyce Carty, who have all registered copyrights for the poem. (Registration does not require proof of originality.) The three versions differ mostly in tense, word order, and line breaks. With no way to prove that the work was actually his, Webb paid $400 to take a polygraph test. Now he routinely sends the results (“No deception indicated”) to those who question his claim.'
--From a fascinating article on the Poetry Foundation's website, about the controversy over who wrote this famous poem.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Wednesday Stuff

The Most Predictable Headline of the Week. From a column about Hillary by the slimeball turncoat political consultant Dick Morris, who once happily indulged Bill's worst instincts. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the slimeball subculture, two former Bill Clinton accusers have teamed up to deliver lurid details of their encounters with Slick Willy. Egad.

The Bush Apostate Matrix. A nice visual depiction of presidential critics and how they rate.

'Gut Reaction Conservative.' Toledo native and right-wing funny man P.J. O'Rourke muses about what he coins GRC.

Edifice Complex. Last week, we brought you news about favorite American architecture. Here's an interesting little feature about how despots around the world are feeding their edifice complex.

Don's New Book of Poetry. My friend Mr. Iannone has another collection out, and I'm sure it's as wonderful as his last one. I'm looking forward to reading it soon. Earlier, we've discussed the bard here. Congratulations, Don. A wonderful accomplishment.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Indomitable Helen Thomas Takes Ill

Helen Thomas, a fixture in the White House press pool since JFK, is apparently seriously ill. At 87, her fierce pen may finally be forced to slow down, alas. Three years ago, we saluted her refusal to go along with much of the rest of the media covering the White House and play nice with the White House spinners. Ironically, that post highlighted an aggressive exchange she had with then-presidential press secretary Scott McClennan, the same fellow who of course is now hawking a book about how he became a pawn in the administration's efforts to hoodwink the world about Iraq. If you live long enough, you see just about everything. Anyway, we wish Helen a speedy recovery.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Our Favorite Book Title, Part 12

Buying In--The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are. This is no flashy, high-concept title, just a brief and well-crafted explanation of an interesting idea. Of course, it helps that the author already has a reputation for delivering thoughtful and substantial coverage of emerging ideas in the New York Times Magazine and the online magazine Slate. To review earlier OFBTs, go here.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Three Good Reads

A meditation on the meaning of Cary Grant and his impeccable duds, from the venerable British literary journal Granta. A Fortune Magazine profile of Pepsi's path-breaking CEO, an Indian-born female. A nice overview of Chicago's civic greatness, in Fast Company, by a truly great writer, Alex Kotlowitz. It instantly reminded me why I've never quite recovered from moving away from the Windy City. And, because we're in a generous mood (and because we've come across such an abundance of great reading lately), here's a bonus: this fascinating look at the Colorado River's crisis, from a magazine associated with the Natural Resources Defense Council. To review earlier versions of Three Good Reads, go here.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Therapeutic Qualities of Writing

'Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.'
--From a recent article in Scientific American Magazine.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Vote for Your Favorite American Architecture

The American Institute of Architects is celebrating its 150th anniversary by highlighting some of its best work. Among other initiatives, it's teamed with Google to invite Americans to vote for their favorite buildings. I liked the touch of adding New York's Penn Station, the only structure no longer in existence. In fact, its destruction helped give birth to the modern architectural preservation movement. My vote for the five favorite pieces of American architecture? I chose the Empire State Building, the Flatiron Building, the Lincoln Memorial, New York's Public Library (not for the exterior, but for the exquisite reading room, one of the truly great interiors in America) and Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece, Fallingwater. There were only two Ohio structures on the list, both in Cincinnati (the Bengals' Paul Brown Stadium and the old train station, the Union Terminal). I'm biased, of course, but I don't think AIA did their homework in this state. Leaving out either Cleveland's Terminal Tower (once the second-tallest building in the world) or the Old Arcade (financed by John D. Rockefeller, patterned after an arcade in Milan, and still widely considered a unique architectural gem) would seem like an oversight. Omitting both is, well, absurd.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Waiting For an End to This Occupation
The popular children's book Goodnight Moon has been morphed into a parody of the disastrous Bush regime. Happily, this presidential reign of terror and bumbling will soon be banished into history. Here's hoping it continues to be a source of such wide and deep ridicule in popular culture, so that we never forget its abundant negative lessons.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Piercing Thought on the Possibility
Of Hillary as Obama's Choice for Veep

'Last night, in the concession speech she didn’t make, Clinton said that she wants her supporters to be respected. To which I say: Senator Clinton, I am one of your supporters. My vote has been respected. It was duly recorded in Kings County and helped put you over the top here in New York. But if by “respected” you mean that my vote (and others’) should land you an automatic spot on Obama’s ticket, then that’s not how I want my democratic participation to be respected. That kind of respect feels too much like the code of the street or the Cosa Nostra. That’s about you, not me.'
--New Yorker Magazine staff writer George Packer, writing on his blog. What can we add to this? It's brilliant, and also true.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Ohio Among Nine 'Tossup' States in Race
For Presidency, Says NPR/PBS Newshour

This nifty interactive map tells the story. According to the public broadcasting duo, Ohio, New Mexico, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Hampshire remain up for grabs in the general election. But by that same calculation, McCain now has 232 (compared to Obama's 200) of the 270 electoral votes needed to win. That means, at least under this scenario, that winning just Ohio and Pennsylvania (with 20 and 21 electoral votes, respectively) would put him in the White House. I'll be honest: I don't really see Obama winning either state, based on how poorly he ran against Hillary in the Dem primaries in both places. Of course, lots of other states--like North Carolina, for instance--could turn in the other direction before November. But it's going to be interesting, folks.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008, Rated the 15th Best
Newspaper Website, Gets Only a C-

' has a very low ratio of online readers to paid subscribers which almost certainly makes it harder for the internet site to contribute a great deal of revenue. The homepage is a bit jumbled, but the navigation is not difficult. The editors put their picks at the top of the page and then each major section is presented in order with headlines and photos. A column called "real time news" runs down the right side of the page and is confusing. The priorities of the editors are unclear as the two columns of news headlines compete with one another. The navigation tabs for each inside section do have a drop-down to show the readers what is in that section before they go there. This is a helpful guide to finding stories without having to wander around the website. is another example of editors taking something that works well, the homepage lay-out and navigation, and abandoning it in the inside section. The local news page begins the confusion and the confusion continues in the entertainment section. does a better job sticking to its easy-to-use pages in sports. But, a reader could go through the major sections of and never know that they came from the same website. Grade: C-'
--from an article published today on 24/7WallStreet, an online news and information outlet about the stock market and investments. I thought it rang true about the PD's companion website, which would have come in considerably lower before a recent redesign. Only one major surprise in this top five (the NYTimes, LATimes, NYDaily News, NYPost and Washington Post, in that order) The WaPo website is easily better than those two non-Times New York papers. Chalk it up to the usual New York parochialism. The LAT has to be happy, since its site was universally panned before a recent overhaul. It's gone from very bad to very good.

Monday, June 02, 2008

From Iron Curtain to Green Belt

The New Scientist magazine's environmental blog posted this fascinated tidbit last week about an initiative to turn the long Cold War frontier between east and west into a nature haven, complete with parks. "The coolest part of this has got to be the fact that tanks and snipers used to patrol this corridor, and now it has become a strip of greenery and wildlife," the writer notes. While the piece says the initiative has been in the works for years, I can't recall ever reading or hearing about it anywhere, ever. It would seem to have the makings of a great feature story, and I hope one or more of the major publications will tell us more about it soon. This effort is highly reminscent of the "rails to trails" movement, which works to convert the right-of-way from thousands of miles of de-commissioned rail lines into nature-friendly trails for hiking and biking.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

'Cleveland's Brash Will To Succeed'

'The stretch of downtown we walked that day - first, along East 9th between Euclid and Superior, and then along Superior towards Public Square - is a canyon of tall, gorgeous buildings, conceived by planners of the great cities of the early twentieth century. The bricks, pillars and cornices of the Huntington Building have always seemed to me to possess a forgotten sense of civic purpose. Across the street lay the Colonial Arcade. There was the glossy windmill of its circular doors, the ornate archway that framed its wide entrance, and, of course, the gleam of brass handrails that you couldn't see from the street. And there was Cleveland Public Library, whose marble steps cascaded downwards, like the gentle slope of a stream over graded shale. Inside, WPA murals hung on walls: portraits of an earlier America, flush with industry and progress, overcoming the hard times of Depression, forging through a new wilderness.Although I didn't know it then, these buildings had an illustrious history. When built, the Huntington Building was the second largest office building in the world. It was erected in 1923-24 for $17 million and designed by a prominent Chicago architectural firm. In the 1920's its tenants included railroads, iron and steel industries, shipping companies, legal firms and insurance and securities businesses - the economic forces that raised the city. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History states that the building contained an L-shaped 3-story banking room, and basilican halls with 38-foot-high Corinthian columns and barrel-vaulted ceilings. It was an artistic expression of Cleveland's brash will to succeed in the 1920's, and a way of establishing the city as a Mid-western metropolis as distinctive as New York or Chicago.'
From Lee Chilcote's Cleveland Story, an excerpt from his essay You Can Take it With You. You can find other interesting bits of writing, poetry and assorted slices Cleveland at The City. You can sample some of Lee's writing for the Free Times here. And I'd highly recommend this splendid piece he wrote on the history of community activism in Cleveland, for the late and lamented online journal Hotel Bruce. Four years ago, I wrote about Hotel Bruce here.