Monthly Archives: September 2009

Texting: Does Common Sense Apply Here?

Wow. Nothing like a cold drizzle in the early morning to freeze the leg muscles. No hope for a run outside in Northeast Ohio at 5 a.m. today.  A year ago I would have tried it even with the 50 degree temp, rain and wind. No more. So I chased the belt on the treadmill — and watched TV and listened to the talking heads via earphones.

I never listen to music, podcasts and so on while running outside.

First, I enjoy the quiet and alone time. I like thinking about things — and often outlining on my mental computer what I am going to write about later in the day. Second, I recognize how vulnerable I am — out on the road by myself, usually in the dark and with only a few feet of concrete separating me from cars and trucks that generally come out on top in collisions with humans. I would like to believe that all drivers are paying total attention all the time. Nah. A lot of time I can see it in their eyes — that startled look that says “oops, my bad” as they turn quickly out of the way. WTF.

This won’t be a surprise. I’m not a fan of drivers using cell phones — or texting while they should be concentrating on driving. Full disclosure: I’m tethered to my BlackBerry and tempted to look at it every time I hear it buzz. But I won’t do that while driving. A year or so ago I was driving to Kent and tried to reply to a text message. OMG. For a minute or more I wasn’t even looking at the road. Scary? Yeah. And lucky that a car or truck didn’t stop in front of me. Or I didn’t take a detour through a guardrail or retaining wall.

Yet I’m somewhat amused that the federal government via the Department of Transportation is holding a Distracted Drivers Summit today and tomorrow to consider the dangers of texting while driving — and to see how to best proceed in terms of national legislation aimed at banning it.

I don’t believe that people should talk on cell phones or send or receive text messages while driving. It’s dangerous. (See NYT editorial, “Texting to Death.”) People who do it are putting themselves and their families at risk — and also others.

I also recognize that truckers and others (police?) have some legitimate points about retaining the use of computers while driving. Still, public opinion appears to be firmly behind measures that would ban text messaging while driving. And this will happen eventually — some states and local communities have already passed regulations.

Still, do we need a federal government summit on this? Nah. Common sense should prevail. But I guess that is in short supply these days along with plenty of other things. (Wonder if there is a link between lack of civility and lack of common sense? I digress.)

So here come the feds. Here’s from Bob Barr, former congressman and Libertarian Party nominee for president, “Feds hold ‘silly summit’ in Washington“:

The cost of the conference aside, and with all due respect to our Secretary of Transportation, this is absolute nonsense.  “Driving distractions” have nothing — or should have nothing — to do with the federal government; and even if they did, why is it necessary to have a two-day summit to talk about them?

It is, I think, common knowledge that people are distracted by all manner of things while driving.  They apply make-up, they eat, they drink, they talk to passengers, they bounce to music, they talk on the phone, they text, they read newspapers, their eyes wander, they use ”hand-held electronic devices.”  In other words, if something can be done, someone will find a way to do it while driving.  We also know that driving-while-distracted can cause accidents; sometimes deadly ones.  Do we really need a federal “summit” to learn these things; things that every person who has studied for and obtained a driver’s license already knows?

Are the solutions to the problem of driving-while-distracted so mysterious and ill-defined that two full days of time of hundreds of government and government-related officials must be consumed pondering such things?

Oh, Bob. What else could hundreds of government and government-related officials have to do today and tomorrow? Let’s see: two wars, health care reform, Great Recession. Sigh.

Anyway, if anyone reading this is attending the summit, could you text me and let me know how it is going?

I promise I won’t reply if driving.


Obama: Going for the Gold

Wonder if there is an event in the Olympics for injured runners limping along on a treadmill? If so, I’m officially in training. I chased the belt for a solid 50 minutes this morning. Doesn’t get much better than that. Unless of course you’re compiling a list that includes root canal and colonoscopy. Woot.

Anyway, what’s with the controversy over the Prez heading to Copenhagen this week to make a personal pitch for Chicago to host the Olympics in 2016? (See Politico, “Barack Obama risks prestige for Chicago Olympic bid.”)

Good grief. If the most powerful and influential woman in the world — Oprah — is going, shouldn’t Obama at least tag along?

OK. I understand. We’re dealing with perceptions here. Plenty of big fish in the skillet: health care, Afghanistan, Iran, Great Recession and so on. And a week or so ago the Prez said he wouldn’t attend the International Olympic Committee gabfest. Instead, he figured he would be in D.C. taking a cattle prod to members of Congress, sparking them to action on health care legislation.

And yeah. I guess he’ll be criticized if he comes back with nothing more than Oprah’s autograph to show for the trip. From Politico:

Former Vice President Al Gore staffer Chris Lehane said the expectations will be high for Obama’s trip: “If they don’t come back with the gold, clearly there will be the same questions that American basketball would get if they don’t come back with the gold — they are expected to win.” (Note to Chris Lehane: Move to Cleveland. Then you’ll get a real-world lesson in dashed hopes linked to high expectations involving sports. I digress.)

But then Mrs. Prez O in the same Politico article opines:

“You’re darned if you do, and you’re darned if you don’t,” said first lady Michelle Obama in a briefing with reporters Monday. “I’d rather be on the side of doing it, and I think that’s how the president feels. This is not one of those where you worry about what happens if not.”

As I said, I’m sure I’m missing the bigger picture here. But it seems to me that hosting the Olympics would be good for the United States and for Chicago. And since we are embarked on a jobless recovery (NYT: “U.S. Job Seekers Exceed Openings by Record Ratio“) at what may be finally the end of the Great Recession, any economic growth and stimulus — and new jobs — resulting from this should be positive.

So Mr. and Mrs. Prez, and Oprah and Team U.S.A.:

Go for the Gold!

Bill Safire: Why Words Matter

Bill Safire, Nixon speechwriter, NYT columnist, word maven and more died yesterday. And I first learned about his death via an alert on Twitter — in less than even the permitted 140 characters. Kind of ironic. But I guess a sign of the times. Sigh.

I enjoyed for many years reading Safire’s twice-weekly column. He was the token conservative among the gaggle of liberal writers and other miscreants who occupy prime space adjacent to the NYT editorials. But I absolutely loved his way with words — his ability to be precise yet concise and eloquent yet matter of fact.

An example. He called then-first lady Hillary Clinton a “congenital liar.” Ouch.

Here’s from the obit in the NYT:

Critics initially dismissed him as an apologist for the disgraced Nixon coterie. But he won the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, and for 32 years tenaciously attacked and defended foreign and domestic policies, and the foibles, of seven administrations. Along the way, he incurred enmity and admiration, and made a lot of powerful people squirm.

And more:

There were columns[New York Times Magazine On Language] on blogosphere blargon, tarnation-heck euphemisms, dastardly subjunctives and even Barack and Michelle Obama’s fist bumps. And there were Safire “rules for writers”: Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and avoid mixing metaphors. Proofread carefully to see if you words out. Avoid clichés like the plague. And don’t overuse exclamation marks!!

There are plenty of excellent writers around these days — and that will be true in the future as well. But my sense is that the quality of writing overall is declining — and will continue heading south as we become even more tethered to e-mail, text messaging, Twitter and so on. And that’s particularly true in business, government and education.

Let’s be honest. What’s the quality of writing that you see where you work?

And if you have had the misfortune to sit through a PowerPoint presentation recently, were you pleased with the experience and inspired to do something? Friends, Romans and countrymen — lend me your text-heavy bullet points. I digress.

Folks, writing involves thinking. And it doesn’t take all that much brain power to tap out a text message or Tweet. Just sayin’. And I believe e-mail (and blogging) makes us sloppy — and careless about grammar, punctuation and even accuracy.

That comment, by the way, applies to me as much as anyone. I used to sweat blood crafting dead-wood letters and business reports and so on. Now I dash off an e-mail text, a blog post, a Tweet — and well, hope for the best. Double sigh.

Too bad. I’ll bet Bill Safire never did that.

He started as a speechwriter. And I’ve always believed that writing speeches makes you a better writer. It forces you to write clearly — yet recognizing that you have basically only one shot to create understanding with an audience of individual listeners. And you must develop via words long and often complicated arguments.

Here’s Safire’s last NYT essay, “Never Retire.”

And his last “On Language” column. (Hat tip for both from

But here’s the line he wrote for Spiro Agnew to describe the press: “nattering nabobs of negativism.”


Words matter.

Pittsburgh: Welcoming the World

I hit the elliptical trainer hard this morning at 5:30 a.m. Around and around and around. Kind of repetitive, actually. Just like the early morning TV news shows, local and cable networks. Same stories. Just different venues. Wouldn’t it be easier and less stressful on viewers just to consolidate to one channel?

But then I wouldn’t have seen the story over and over again about Pittsburgh and the pro forma protests that accompany the G-20 Summit. And as those who stop by this blog regularly know, Pittsburgh is my hometown.  My parents and brothers and their families still live there, and I still have a strong attachment to the city even though I departed for Northeast Ohio more than 40 years.

DSCN0295So let me try to be helpful. For the anarchists who are in the Steel City today, if you have the time, go to Primanti Bros. for lunch. Order the Pitts-burger Cheese Steak and a couple tall glasses full of Iron City. It will change your view of capitalism. Well, maybe not. But at least I tried.

Here are the points.

I understand why cities want to host these events. They attract international attention and news media coverage. For Pittsburgh that represents a great opportunity to tell its story. And from what I can see, it is a very positive story — one of rebirth and redevelopment following the decades-long decline in manufacturing jobs. Good model here for Cleveland and Detroit and so on.

But with the G-20 Summit comes some risks — and some problems.

First, the news coverage of the protests tends to overshadow both what is happening at the meeting of world leaders as well as the story of Pittsburgh’s second (or is it third?) renaissance.

Second, the city basically shuts down — with stores and businesses closed and so on. I’m sure there is an economic benefit to all this from the standpoint of hotels, restaurants and so on. But I also expect there are some businesses and individuals who take an economic bath by being on the sidelines while others welcome the world.

And then we get to the protests. I’m all for peaceful protest. And I’m still a believer in capitalism and free enterprise — despite the fact that the Captains of Industry and the Wizards of Wall Street have done all they could to destroy capitalism and free enterprise — with some help from government officials on both sides of the aisle. (Gee, if I knew how to operate a video camera I could have helped Michael Moore with Capitalism: A Love Story. ) But the message that the protesters have — legitimate or not — gets lost among the tear gas and the hurling of garbage cans.

Pittsburgh Welcomes the World. Good.

And some in the ‘Burg have clearly benefited. Amazingly enough, the Pittsburgh Pirates attempted to play a home game yesterday afternoon — and with only about 3,000 or so attending, officials closed the upper decks and let everyone move down into the seats normally occupied by the capitalists. (Oh, what’s wrong me with?)

Of course, baseball fans in Pittsburgh are passive. That comes from decades of losing seasons, despair, hopelessness and so on.

Fortunately, as I mentioned when I wrote about the G-20 Summit in this space a month or so ago, the Steelers are playing out of town this weekend.

Otherwise, regardless of what you see on TV today — if the protests disrupted the Steelers game or fans, things would have gotten ugly.

Swine Flu and Pigskin

base_mediaWonder if someone is going to attach a Purell dispenser to the goalposts at Ohio Stadium? Or if a sousaphone player will have to display a Handi Wipe before dotting the “i” in Script Ohio?

I don’t know why I worry about these things. But I do. And here’s what got me started.

Yesterday I had my yearly eye exam. (Yes, I can finally see again after the bout with dilated pupils.) And actually the exam got off to a rocky start. Here’s why.

The doc came in the room and I reached out to shake his hand. Big mistake.

Doc: “Don’t shake hands any more because of swine flu.”

Me: “Well, if you have swine flu, I’ll reschedule.”

Not even a smile or a chuckle. And OK. I admit. Not quite a LOL moment.

But I wonder if this is where we are headed for the next few months (years?). No handshakes, high-fives, pecks on the cheek to strangers at the grocery store and so on? Maybe so.

The Akron Beacon Journal reported this morning (via a Columbus Dispatch article by Tom May) that the Ohio State Buckeyes are “giving up shaking hands out of fear of catching flu.”

Oh, mama. Swine flu and pigskin.

This doesn’t appear to be a laughing matter — at least to college administrators, coaches and players.

And some newspapers now are adding to reports of team injuries by providing a “flu update.”

OK. I’m not taking lightly the potential for a major health problem caused by swine flu. (I can’t remember the official name. Is it R2-D2? Sorry.) Many — students and others — have already been sick with flu and some deaths have been reported recently and last spring. Others are at risk. And even with a vaccine available in October, many will face serious flu and need treatment.

And this situation represents a challenge to public health officials and many others, including communicators. How do you encourage a “measured” level of prevention, without scaring people to the point where they are afraid to shake hands in a doctor’s office and where they hug the Purell dispenser like they do a toilet after an all-night kegger?

So in spirit of public service — and in an effort to save football season — here’s advice from Dr. Oz about how to prevent getting the swine flu.

I’m off now to wash my hands.

Michael Moore and Government Motors

Well, this should be interesting. I just came back from an eye exam — and now I can’t see a damn thing. (Dilated pupils, I guess hope.) Anyway, since my editor, administrative assistant and other staff members are all on vacation today, I’ll have to take full responsibility for all errors, typing, factual, logic and so on.

I am in relatively good health. Still, I was thinking while running limping this morning for five miles that it’s true: As you get older your days are basically filled with doctor’s appointments and endless searches for the best place to eat dinner late afternoon and the world’s softest yogurt. (Hat tip to Billy Crystal for the last two points.)

So maybe I should be opining today about Michael Moore’s flick Sicko, where he pointed out the flaws in our health-care system. And that was before the Prez and Congress embraced the issue. Wonder what Moore would have done with the — “You lie” — episode? I digress.

I’ll admit that most of the time I agree with Moore’s point of view on issues. I like the fact that he is willing to jab the big pooh-bahs in government, military, health care, business and so on. He is a celebrity now, with access to the national media. And sure. He promotes himself and his films. Anything wrong with that?

Anyway, his new film — Capitalism: A Love Story — is starting to make its way to a theater near you. And I expect it will be a hoot, as Moore takes the digital pitchfork to the Wizards of Wall Street and others who basically cratered the economy through their own greed and self-absorbed actions.

And whether you agree with him or not, Moore does have a message that accompanies his work. Remember Roger & Me? He did that 20 years ago, as GM was abandoning factories in Flint, Mich., and elsewhere. And as General Motors (oops, Government Motors) really pressed the accelerator and moved full speed ahead to becoming a ward of Ma and Pa Taxpayer. But what I remember most about Roger & Me was the arrogance of former GM CEO Roger Smith and by association the company in general. A word describes it: clueless. He — and they — just didn’t get it.

So now we get to Capitalism: A Love Story. Moore wanted to premier the flick in Detroit (and I take it in some other cities as well) at the GM-owned Renaissance Center and other theaters. Well, let’s take the easy way here and let Rachel Sklar tell the story via Mediaite and her story, “Michael Moore vs. GM. Redux.”

Michael Moore is hard to ignore — he’s been hard to ignore for GM for 20 years, though Lord knows they’ve tried.

But for the first time since Roger & Me, Moore finally set foot on GM property…without being escorted off.

On Sunday night, Moore premiered Capitalism: A Love Story in Detroit, booking four theaters at the GM Renaissance Center. Drama! According to Moore, when GM found out that the booking was for him, they tried to renege on the booking. Compromise: Movie could premiere as planned — sans cameras, and sans Moore.

Moore conducted interviews at a nearby Marriott — but after, he went into the GM Renaissance Center anyway. On Twitter he called it “my first official visit inside General Motors headquarters” — I’m not sure of the geography, if the Renaissance Center is part of the GM HQ, but either way, if there’s a town that could use a renaissance it’s probably Detroit. As Moore pointed out in the movie, even Cleveland makes fun of it.


Folks, despite everything that has happened in the past year or so, the Captains of Capitalism and the Wizards of Wall Street still don’t get it. And that involves more than just GM and a movie premiere.

Wonder if they will hand out pitchforks at the showing of Capitalism: A Love Story.

Hope I’ll be able to see again by the time the movie shows up here in Northeast Ohio.

Tehran Bureau and the Future of Journalism

Made it through a five-mile run Sunday morning. Limp. Limp. Limp. But hey. I’m still on my feet and moving forward. And the weather early in the morning was perfect: 50 degrees, clear and not a hint of wind. Doesn’t get much better than that.

This morning I returned to the reality of exercising with an injured leg and foot. I spent 45 minutes on the elliptical trainer — gliding along furiously and keeping my eyes on the TV talking heads. Did Obama really appear on just about every Sunday morning talk show? Apparently so. Yet it doesn’t appear that he broke much new ground newswise (as the TV folk like to say). Too bad Jimmy Carter had to upstage Obama all of last week. I’m sure the current Prez wanted to talk about health care and not Carter’s view of racism in this country. (See WaPo Howard Kurtz, “Obama’s TV Blitz...”)

Anyway, pretty traditional interviews by the network guys and gals. And that got me thinking about one of the presentations at the Poynter/Kent State Media Ethics Workshop I attended last week.

Excellent workshop overall. But I was most intrigued with the discussion involving Kelly Golnoush Niknejad, the founder and editor in chief of the Tehran Bureau. Started originally as a blog in February 2008, Tehran Bureau is described by Wikipedia as “the leading independent online news magazine in English covering politics, foreign affairs, culture and society in Iran and the Iranian Diaspora.”

Niknejad is very much a sole proprietor — assignment editor, editor, publisher and so on. And she doesn’t appear to have much financial support — or resources — if any. Yet what struck me about her was her courage, determination and commitment to her work and to telling the story about what is happening in Iran. She clearly is not standing underneath the corporate umbrella like most working these days with mainstream media.

She is a journalist by training and work history. That gives her credibility with the Poynter folks who are making the distinction  between professional journalists and amateurs and the fourth estate (traditional media) and the fifth estate (online media, blogs and so on). That impresses me, by the way, as a typical think tank exercise in navel-gazing. But no matter.

The Tehran Bureau — and Kelly Golnoush Niknejad — represent both the tradition of American journalism — and quite likely its future.

Here’s from an article she wrote in Foreign Policy, “How to Cover a Paranoid Regime from Your Laptop“:

Our staff of about 20 volunteer reporters and editors, many of whom speak the language or have some familiarity with Iran, are an incredible resource. Speaking Farsi helps expand our ability to gather news, even during an information blackout, because we can tap into a more extensive network and speak with more Iranians, despite not being based in Tehran.

Nothing beats being there. No one disputes that. But the many social networking tools at our disposal help put us in touch with people who are. And because this is our specialization, we have the privilege of working with people and sources we trust.

I wrote my master’s thesis at Kent State about Archibald McGregor, the owner and editor of the Stark County (Ohio) Democrat during the Civil War. Strongly opposed to President Lincoln and the war, McGregor was typical of journalists of that era: independent, committed to a cause and viewpoint, struggling financially and often at risk of mobs destroying the newspaper (yeah, they really had pitchforks in those days) or arrest by government officials.

Does the Tehran Bureau represent the future of journalism? Maybe. Since the models of traditional journalism that we have seen in this country for the past 100 years are crumbling. Is that good for our nation and our democracy? Time will tell. But here we have a content generator that has the ability to tell a story — and reach an audience.

I gained a lot of respect for editors like Archibald McGregor as I was researching his career and journalism during the Civil War in general. They printed their papers — and had no place to hide.

And I’m glad that last week I had the opportunity to learn about Kelly Golnoush Niknejad.

Something tells me that the future of journalism isn’t as bleak as many of the traditional pundits would have us believe these days.

And it will be interesting to watch this week the coverage of Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations.

I’ll be following reports via the Tehran Bureau.