Cleveland Uber Alles

Untimely Dispatches from the Neighborhood of the Unrepresented & Inarticulate; Anecdotes that Pedal and Coast Through the Boot-Print of 20th Century American Urbanism

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Note on the Long Pause If you're one of the few people who regularly check this site for my musings, thanks for looking in enough over the last month to see whether I've created any new content. During the break from writing here (caused by professional commitments, life's urgencies, whatever), I was glad to see that a post from this blog generated an article for a paid Cleveland journalist. I will do more in the coming months to provide our less than inventive writers with fodder, I promise. Seriously, though, thanks to everyone for their continued interest. Up next week (I hope): How our President snubbed our Mayor and how the City Club erected a Potemkin Village. Stay tuned.

The Hipster Beard Meets its Demise, Courtesy of Greorge Clooney, The New York Times Some of us will be buying the new five blade razors. The conventional wisdom of the fashion-forward, idle-thinking, and trend-concerned suggests that once a sartorial or grooming style is noted and analyzed in the New York Times, it’s dead. Thus, should I overcome my aversion to daily shaving and my admiration of John Bonham, I will at last be forced to give up the facial scruff that I’ve hidden behind since the fall of 2001. I simply can’t cotton to the fact that, as the Times reports, the male editorial staff members of Spin (how 1991) and Vice (how 2003) are now “majority beard.” Maybe even my side burns must go—staying ahead of fashion takes radical measures. The Times, of course, is as off in its analysis of the facial hair fad as it was in the call that Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction. First there’s the speculation of fad's relevance to the zeitgeist of 2006 America:

“Whenever a countercultural trend becomes a mainstream one, there is a natural tendency to look for deeper meaning. Do beards that call to mind Charles Manson suggest dissatisfaction with "the system"? Are broody beards, like the dark and somber mood of the fall fashion collections, physical manifestations of a melancholia in the air? Are they a reflection of the stylistic impact on mainstream fashion of the subculture of gay men known as bears, who embrace natural body hair?”
Then there’s the dismissal, which no doubt keeps readers ready buy whatever’s advertised:
"But such theories seem to have less relevance—and beards less shock value — than they once did. "Style has separated itself from viewpoint," said Tim Harrington, the lead singer of the rock band Les Savy Fav, who is known for his full beard and balding head. "This is not like when beards were worn by hippies. Now you pick a style for aesthetic reasons as opposed to a viewpoint. I wonder if beards can have the oomph they once had when it feels like someone will ask you: 'Where did you get that beard? Is that beard from Dolce & Gabbana?' "
So is the bread fad apolitical? Message-Free? Hardly. But it’s not perhaps as countercultural as you might think, either. Anyone who hung out at the bars where the hip kids started sprouting this facial hair back in 2001 and 2002, knows that, in fact, the look is a response to the news media’s constant iconography of Islamic radicalism, with all its lusty fear-mongering. Forget about George Clooney with his Semitic-State-Department-Wonk Beard in Seriana. Think John Walker Lindh. Think the Taliban. And like any “counter-cultural fad” the beard fad does well to serve our corporate masters, who love images of themselves as radicals and extremists, who like to be seen, more and more as law givers, and, well, yes, as Jihadis. So, that kid at the Beachland Ballroom whose wearing his now out of style beard is simply saying this: I’m prepared to fight for the corporate bottom line with the same kind of will that the Mujahedeen bring to repelling the imperialist agressor. His beard, then, is America's declaration (not unlike the President’s) that we are succeeding in the Middle East, that we can coopt its symbols of manhood and claim even these for the careless pimping of pop records and deoderants. Discuss?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

College Radio Uber Alles: Help WJCU Rid Its Signal of West Side Static At 4AM, in a car, with the city rising or receding in the windshield, whosoever among us has not found, there amid the static of the left of the dial that Paul Westerberg sang about, the slow-witted voice of a 27 year-old grad student and vinyl snob sifting through a record collection, delicately holding each sleeve against the flats of his hands, so that the slight cardboard bend of it achingly sounds in the microphone? And whosoever among us, driving at that empty hour, has not heard, enjoyed, and secretly wished to further the sleep-deprived, faux transgressive babble of those suburban kids who, thanks to tuition dollars and a lure of free records, find themselves sequestered in the studio, working a set of phone lines that register only the calls of cranks and the voices of their friends? And whosoever among us has not listened to a droll in-joke from these kids without getting it, indeed, never getting it, but hoping for some coherence to rise out of their laughter and their sense of themselves as happy, safe in a tower, at, this, the 4AM hour? And whosoever among us has not wished that the grad student would stop studying his Critical Theory essays long enough to come on the air and read us back his playlist, so that that band he just played (was it one, two, four songs ago), you know, the one whose droning wash of sound is both new and old--that band, whoever they are--won’t remain in our memory, a trace out of Derrida or a fragment from A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes? And whosoever among us (with all apologies to the beginning of Rick Moody’s Purple America, from which I’ve borrowed the whosoever conceit), hasn’t felt in hearing these constant pleas of youth—the death metal more death metal each year, the gangster rap more gangster, the indie rock more, well, about your girlfriend and how you love her and remember some peculiar detail from a Podunk childhood, and so on—whosoever hasn’t felt that our Cleveland is somehow a perfect backwoods for the longing of all 19-year-olds, a place with just enough money to put you in a junk car on your way to a job you don’t want, a place perched right at the edge of the territory where the big dreams happen, call it a wilderness dropped, maybe, a forrest of rust dropped beside some metaphoric Bronx Queens Expressway or PCH, just close enough to these arteries as an idea, at least, to translate all that arty otherness we try to make our own in college back into a quiet lonely moment in your car, on your way back to your parents house or your first apartment or somewhere else in the nation of the mundane. In short, whosoever among us, at one time or another, hasn’t loved college radio? For me, college radio is one of the best things about Cleveland. Until you live somewhere else, my fellow Clevelanders, you won’t realize how spoiled you are—to have not one, but three, or possibly four excellent college stations, each of the staffed with a seemingly endlessly renewed cast of volunteers who make each hour probably more idiosyncratic and personal than any other “modern” media experience. Consider: Columbus, home to 55,000+ college students, still lacks a proper college station, as the story of OSU’s internet and campus cable broadcasting station attests. Meanwhile, Chicago, which hosts five major universities, has only little, anemic-signaled WLUC, from Loyola, and this station fades in and out of reception exclusively to apartments and cars on the North Side of town, bouncing uselessly against Lake Michigan. Cleveland, however, has WRUW, WCSB, and WJCU, and, if WJCU’s signal didn’t fade as you went west and Baldwin Wallace’s station had a better signal itself, the city could claim four college stations. Indeed, if during its radio-thon, which takes place all this week, WJCU raises enough money to increase the power of its signal to three times the amount that it puts out now, the city will indeed have four college stations, at least on its West Side, where BW’s station clearly reaches car radios. (Update: as 54Cermak points out in the comments section, Chicago actually has three solid college station. It's a testimony to the short range of their signals, however, that this former Chicagoan never managed to tune them in over four years on the North Side of the city.) Though it makes no money for opining about anything, Cleveland Uber Alles donated to WJCU’s cause during this week’s Radio-thon, singling out for its support Joe Madigan’s smart, fun, peculiarly polished, and often Cleveland-centric Retro Radio show, which airs on Tuesday afternoons. Worth every penny of the money we don’t earn and worth every penny of yours, this show is a true resource for anyone interested in Cleveland rock history at its most arcane, getting beyond, say, knowing who Eric Carmen is or the fact that Alan Freed hosted the first Moondog Coronation Ball. Better yet, Madigan, the show’s host, is obviously well-steeped in the verbal mannerisms and tone that signify “on-air” personality for a time long lost. Best of all, Retro Radio, in all its simulated 60’s AM glory, is probably the least segregated show on college radio. Just this week, during a Cleveland-centered show for the Radio-thon, Madigan played an Ojays single from their little acknowledged Doo-Wop period and the Raspberries' "Tonight" nearly back to back. Much respect, too, to WJCU’s “Shot of RUM,” which airs on Wednesday afternoons. Great shows like this one and Retro Radio deserve the support of the community. Listen to them and give what you can.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

29.7 Miles to the Heartland Clevelanders who wonder what goes on "in the the Heartland" or "on Main St. USA" need only to put the city's three toothed skyline and its idle smokestacks in their rearview mirrors and head east on Route 2 for 38 minutes, until they reach Painesville. There, as they eye one of those typical small town Ohio street-scapes that says that life is all about waiting for the big occasions (the photography studio, the bridal shop, the Attorneys-at-Law, the mortician, and the LPAs), they can get a sense of Nation's "true point of view"--not, of course, the messy P.O.V. of the American hoi polloi, with its multi-lingualism and its under-paid aches, but the good, basically-white blandness of those who wear the company polo shirts, gas up their trucks, and keep America rolling. Or so runs the logic of the Baltimore Sun's White House Correspondent Julie Hirschfeld Davis, who checked in on our "True Umerikan" neighbors in Painesville to find out what normal Americans think about the President's decision to eavesdrop on their fellow citizens without a warrant. Davis, who perhaps bought the lie of Ohio' s license plates, chooses a 34-year-old insurance agent from Painesville named Edith Rodriguez, among other locals, to act as the American Vox Populi. As you might expect, our civil liberties are in poor hands:

"If that's going to help them not let 9/11 repeat itself, then I say, 100 percent, go for it, because that was awful," said Rodriguez.
"I look beyond whether it's right or wrong," said the 34-year-old insurance agent. "If it's going to catch some terrorist, then, hey - go ahead."
Nevermind the nightmare of Rodiguez's own, Bush-like fractured grammar and the Groundhog Day the movie image it calls up of "9/11 repeat[ing] itself." Nevermind, too, for now, that she and virtually all of the people whom Hirschfeld Davis interviewed, expressed neither knowledge of, nor patience for, a discussion of ideas like "just probable cause." The real trouble is in the very narrative that this article constructs, which tells us: 1) that the legality of the NSA surveillance program is question only for experts, and the "real" question is whether or not Americans are safe from the terrorists; 2) that "real Americans" and the "real truth" about America lies in "swing states," like our Ohio, and swing counties, like Lake County, where a 51-49 split in the 2004 election is supposed to make it a perfect mirror for "A Nation Divided," when in fact, this division is more an illusion of the electoral map than of the number of voters who actually take the blue and red positions. The legality of NSA spying without a warrant is not, of course, a question only for experts, since, of course, what's at stake here, really, is the question of whether or not the president is obligated to obey the law as written and is therefore accountable to Congress, the Courts, and, of course, the American people. What's more, no matter what an insurance agent from Painesville will say, the security and the effectiveness of U.S. intelligence efforts to track Al Queda is not the issue in this case either, since the FISA courts allow for government agencies like the NSA to go ahead and eavesdrop, if necessary, and to seek a warrant for it retroactively. For more on all of this, and some evidence as to the potential for blogging to give us ringside seats in government, see Glenn Greenwald's excellent posts on this matter, including his live blogging from the hearings on the NSA scandal , which features this observation:
"Of course Gonzales begins his Opening Statement by quoting Osama bin Laden and Zawahri. We used to quote Madison, Jefferson and Lincoln to decide what the principles of our Government are going to be. Now we quote Al Qaeda. The Administration wants Al Qaeda and its speeches to dictate the type of Government we have. It is the centerpiece of everything they do and say."
And, of course, the 51-49 America that the Baltimore Sun's article portrays in Cleveland's backyard is a fiction, especially when the president's approval ratings are stuck around 40%. However, to get an idea of just how necessary this fiction must be to Beltway scribes like Hirschfeld Davis and the rest of the national press, one needs look no further than the election results in Baltimore Country, Maryland, where the Sun is headquarted. There, Kerry defeated Bush by a mere 52% to 47%. The numbers might not be tidy enough for the produce the kind of "real Umerikan" impression that the Sun's article tries to produce, but they certainly suggest that the paper didn't need to travel very far to get a "range of honest opinions" about whether or not its OK for the Chief Executive to claim the expansive powers that George W. Bush has claimed for himself by ignoring the FISA law's requirements. The effect of awful coverage of the issue like this is already beginning to rear its head, with none other than our own Senator Mike DeWine leading the charge to have Congress abdicate its responsibility to exercise oversight over the Executive Branch. As This WaPo article notes, DeWine is leading the effort to draft a law to make the President's wiretapping policy legal:
"Senate intelligence committee member Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) said in an interview that he supports the NSA program and would oppose a congressional investigation. He said he is drafting legislation that would "specifically authorize this program" by excluding it from the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which established a secret court to consider government requests for wiretap warrants in anti-terrorist investigations. "The administration would be required to brief regularly a small, bipartisan panel drawn from the House and Senate intelligence committees, DeWine said, and the surveillance program would require congressional reauthorization after five years to remain in place."
Sherrod Brown, DeWine's opponent, seems to be as little help as the other Democrats in Congress. In the Hirschfeld Davis article in the Baltimore Sun, he dismisses the NSA's wiretapping as unimportant to his likely constituents:
"People have quit listening to the president's scare tactics," Brown said as he mingled. "People don't come up to me and say, 'What about this spy thing?' They come up to me and say, 'How come the drug industry has so much influence in Washington? How come they're doing nothing about heating prices?' "
Let Brown know that he needs to do more to speak out for our civil liberties.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

He Said, She Said Journalism Short Changes the Debate on New Convention Center It's a common enough lament that national reporters who strive to be "fair and balanced" do a disservice to the truth when they serve as stenographers for both sides of an argument, juxtaposing what one side says against the other, without providing any context to either side's remarks. The problem, of course, is that these reporters don't bother to fact-check their sources or to provide their readers with, well, real reporting, which involves asking follow up questions and placing each side's answers into a bigger picture. Instead, the reporters merely provide a forum for both sides and allow misleading assertions to stand uninterrogated, until eventually these assertions, in all their falsehood, gain traction as accepted fact and appear in story after story the the background narrative on the problem being covered. With this kind of reporting, the side that repeats its untruth most often and with the most volume wins, and all of the context that the opposition would attempt to provide to debunk this untruth is merely, well, so much effete hair-splitting. For a primer on the perils of this kind of reporting on a local level, check out this Plain Dealer article on the dearth of bookings at the Cleveland Convention Center. While the article does allude to several reasons against building a new center to make up for this lack of bookings, including an oft cited Brookings Institute study that advises cities against such development, it also repeats without follow up or context some misleading claims from those in favor of the convention center:

"At least a dozen groups considered Cleveland for meetings in 2005-09 but cited the center as their main reason for going elsewhere. The potential business represented nearly 44,000 hotel room nights and an economic impact of $36 million, according to the visitors bureau. "Many more groups never consider Cleveland because they don't like the center, Brewer said." "A PricewaterhouseCoopers report completed last year for the Convention Facilities Authority predicts that the number of conventions and trade shows could decline by 50 percent by 2008 if the city doesn't build a more competitive center."
OK, here are just a few questions that Sarah Hollander, the Plain Dealer reporter, might have asked, but (apparently) didn't: 1) How reliable is the visitors bureau's tracking of "reasons for rejecting the center?" Do they have a formal method of measuring this in place or is their account of the "at least a dozen groups" who opted out of hosting their conventions in Cleveland purely anecdotal? And if these groups cite the condition of the center as their main reason for not choosing Cleveland as their convention site, then what is it about the center that doesn't meet their needs? Is it simply a lack of electrical outlets? a lack of net access? etc.--i.e. are these "defects" ones that must be overcome with a new center or ones that might be dealt with rather cheaply, through renovation? 2) What exactly does the loss of $36 million in convention revenues over four years (2005-09) represent to the local economy? $9 million a year sounds like a reasonably large amount of money in terms of how the article puts it, but when one considers that the city's new red light cameras are bringing in a minimum of $230,000 per month (or at this rate roughly $2.76 million per year) directly into the the city coffers, it doesn't seem to be that much of a revenue loss, and certainly not enough, perhaps, to justify going to the tax payers to provide Forest City with another lucrative Cleveland project. 3) Who commissioned the PriceWaterhouseCoopers report? And how much of the drop off in convention business that it cites is the result of factors that have nothing to do with the quality of Cleveland's facilities, including big gains for other markets like Vegas and Orlando (which are taking away business from the likes of Great Lakes city Chicago) and a decline overall in businesses' desire to participate in such get-togethers? Had the reporter asked these questions (and hopefully she and other reporters will in the future), maybe our decision makers, like Mayor Frank Jackson, who supports a new center, would have the information they need to see that a new convention center will be yet another band-aid applied to the wrong area of our wounded economy.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Oh, Cleveland, My Cleveland From today's headlines, our city in one of several of its nutshells: Top U.S. broadband town: Cleveland Greater Cleveland 5th worst for fine-particle air pollution Which article do you suppose mentions the city's blue-collar "pedigree?" The one about broadband, of course.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

But Will It Sell in Beachwood? Kevin Drum at the Washington Monthly links to an article by Garance Franke-Ruta in the American Prospect, which details the recent efforts of a company called Environics to use demographic/consumer research to find a better way to sell progressive politics to America. One important finding of the research that the company conducted in 2005 seems to confirm a lot of the conventional wisdom as to why John Kerry lost the 2004 election: talk about values and "character" connect more with voters than does talk about what Democrats like to call "Kitchen Table Issues." As Franke-Ruta reports:

"The new data have convinced even the most skeptical that an approach that worked in the industrial age is not as suited to the new, globalized information-era economy, where isolated voters look first at character as they assess candidates. Last August, for example, the Democracy Corps political polling firm released a memo that sharply diverged from the firm’s usual reports on such generic Democratic concerns as jobs, prescription drug benefits, and heath insurance. In focus groups held among rural voters in Wisconsin and Arkansas, as well as disaffected Bush voters in Kentucky and Colorado, pollsters Karl Agne and Stanley Greenberg found that concerns about a stagnant economy, job security, health-care costs, and the war in Iraq were consistently trumped by questions of values. "[A]s powerful as the concern over [economic] issues is, the introduction of cultural themes -- specifically gay marriage, abortion, the importance of the traditional family unit, and the role of religion in public life -- quickly renders them almost irrelevant in terms of electoral politics at the national level," Agne and Greenberg wrote. "Particularly among non-college educated voters, cultural issues not only superseded other concerns, they served as a proxy for many voters on those other issues."
Note, of course, that focus here is not on what politicians do, but on what they talk about and how. The lesson here is one on display at shopping malls, and in things like the woeful U.S. personal savings rate, which is currently in negative territory: people don't actually understand economics in terms of dollars and cents, but rather in terms of consuming habits. Or in concrete terms: it's enough to say you own a BMW to convince a typical American you are a successful, and even (gasp) a moral person. The petty (well, not so petty) details of your owning the car (e.g. whether you had to borrow money for it, at what terms, whether the payments affect other quality of life issues for you, such as your ability to save for child's college education, etc.) just doesn't matter and real dollars and cents thinking just doesn't get done (or hardly gets done with any savvy) at the average Americans' kitchen table, and Democrats, who do this kind of thinking and talk about it in their speeches, simply don't connect with their audiences, who prefer talk about economics in clear terms, like BMWs in the driveway. The advice the researchers give is for Dems to stop cedeing the field to Republicans when it comes to talking about "values"--as in, well, Americans may not understand why the repeal of the estate tax causes budgetary troubles and ultimately will cost them in their own pocketbooks, but they will understand "Sid and Steve want a marriage license." While forcing the Demorcrats to "talk values" and cultivate "character" may be winning politics, it does have an awful underbelly: many of us want to vote Democratic precisely because the party is (well, more) grounded in reality, and because of our sense that politicians in the Democratic party don't buy bullshit, like "you are what you buy," or at least put bullshit thinking like this on the backburner, prefering think instead about things like Housing and Urban Development. Moreover, on almost all the "values issues" we are on the opposite side of Johnny of what Jenny and Johny McMansion believe, as sit they in traffic, locked in their SUV (to play up an unfortunate suburban stereotype). My own hope--which is a misbegotten one, given that the suburbs won't stop expanding and wielding greater political influence (as the Greater Cleveland areas history over the last 20 years itself attests)--is that the Democrats would be able to launch a culture war of their own: to get people to reject the me-first, fear-based value system that is becoming more and more prevalent throughout the nation, as this quote (also in the Franke-Ruta article) from Environics founder Michael Adams points out:
"While American politics becomes increasingly committed to a brand of conservatism that favors traditionalism, religiosity, and authority," Adams writes, "the culture at large [is] becoming ever more attached to hedonism, thrill-seeking, and a ruthless, Darwinist understanding of human competition."
I would argue, as Thomas Frank does in The Conquest of Cool and elsewhere, that this is the binge and purge of modern American Capitalism and one side feeds the other: get wild at the strip mall dance club and pray at the mall-like Mega-Church later, I suppose. And it seems to me, too, that there has to be a way to work against this culture, and one that's not so monolithic and intellectually foolish as efforts launched by the likes of Bill Bennet. Meanwhile, let the marketer's direct the Democrats: asking, "But will it sell in Beachwood?" about things like privacy and fairness and beware of the results you get.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

It's the Wonderful, Self-Correcting Blogosphere, By George See below for the earlier post which mentioned Democrat Congressman Sherrod Brown's guest-blogging at the TPM Cafe, and perhaps too casually linked to a post and comments at Brewed Fresh Daily . I want to note here that I no way meant to suggest that George from BFD had "defamed" Brown for not appearing at Meet The Bloggers (see George's link to the definition of vilify in this post); rather I was referring to language like this, from the comments section at Brewed Fresh Daily:

"If a candidate [i.e. Brown] can’t handle a few bloggers, hedozen'tn’t deserve to run."

And from George himself:

"In my opinion, Sherrod has a temper. If he were to do MTB, and someone, like Russo, were to push him on his record, he’d lose his temper. His campaign is carefully trying to control that. Sherrod is trying to stand on his voting record and politrhetorictoric, not engaging in Q&A with voters. His campaign is focused on pandering opinion to likely fundraisers around the country, not on answering “base issues” that directly effect residents of Ohio. "So, no. I don’t think he’s got what it takes to spend an hour in the hotseat. And for people like HeightsMom who think this is being blown way out of proportion—I disagree. The way Sherrod is handling situations like this reveal his character. This isn’t about Tim Russo—it’s about how Sherrod Brown handles himself in any situation. He’s doing everything he can to control the outcome thru manipulation. Is that what we want in a Senator?" And: "Feh. I grow tired of people talking about Brown’s legislative accomplishments. He has none. Sure he fought on the side of righteousness - and lost every single battle. He sat out of the 2002 Gov race where he could have taken on Bob Taft, he sat out of the 2004 Senate race where he could have taken on Voinovich. Then he proposed to sit out this one until he saw someone else prepared to take on the mantle. It stinks of careerism and opportunity, and yes, ego. "That doesnt strike me as a guy who will truly lay it on the line for the people he purports to represent. "His campaign from the gitgo has been inept - to the point of firing two senior staff members before it has even started - and the only people who have engaged him are a few bloggers. How on earth is he going to handle himself when the real campaign begins and they spend millions of dollars against him?

I made a mistake to link to the post at BFD without directly referencing these quotes, and I compounded my mistake, I suppose, via my use of the word "vilify" itself. Not to go all "Dictionary on Dictionary" with George, whose site is a valuable "central station" for NEO Bloggers, but definition number 1. for vilify over at Merriam-Webster's online site seems to suit the language I've quoted above. It's worth pointing out that I can't find a single instance of Brown publicly criticizing NEO bloggers, as George's post today seems to contend. On his own blog, Brown even has a friendly post up about Russo, and when Brown's staffer called to cancel his Meet the Bloggers appearance, the staffer was exceedingly polite went out of his way to point out that Brown in fact wanted to meet other bloggers, just not Tim Russo. It seems to me that a lot of the anti-Brown talk is just misplaced loyalty for Russo, who, by all accounts, seems to deserve a good word. But I can't see why Russo's spat with Brown is reason for the rest of NEO's liberals to dismiss Brown as a candidate for Sentate. I'll close, with this point, which is echoed in comments section of the post that George put up in response to mine: Time and energy would be better spent taking on Mike Dewine. Or as Roldo writes at BFD:
Ohio Sen. DeWine must be as happy as can be reading bloggers on the crucial U. S. Senate race. Isn’t it time to check out the real enemy?