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Stories To Tell

The letter to the editor in the newspaper, Walter Benjamin writes, convinced everyone he was a writer. Today with our advanced technology not only is everyone convinced he has something to say he says it. People e-mail every day. Cell phones are always in use. One has to blog and tweet whatever the subject.

Is this any more than the guy at the bar who says you don't know what happened to me today? Or the woman who says you won't believe what she did? They have a right to tell their stories. We have the right to listen or not. Those who tell their stories, however, do so with the belief that their stories should be heard.

For years stories at bars were not news. News was made by government officials, business leaders, leading scientists, writers of one stripe or another, musicians, filmmakers, artists. We may have views of government, experience in the workplace, cultural preference, but none of this is likely to be heard by the news industry or, if it were, was ignored, dismissed.

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Volume 6, Issue 19, Posted 8:25 AM, 09.22.2010

That Which Is Permitted To Be Said - That Which Is Not

Who speaks and what is said? We learn early. Grade school classes are noisier than college classes because students learn that obedience is rewarded; that if you speak only when you're supposed to speak, say only what you are expected to say, remain silent when you need to be silenced, you move ahead in school. Don't call attention to yourself, my father always said. Bad things happen if you do.

We check ourselves. Say to family, friends, lovers, bosses, officials of one kind or another what they want to hear until those moments we can no longer check ourselves. Go fuck yourself Vice-President Cheney tells Senator Leahy and afterwards says, it felt good, so good. But most of us are not Vice-Presidents and pay a price, sometimes heavy, for not checking ourselves.

Governments check themselves. There are things the people should know and things they should not. They speak of transparency, but there is transparency and transparency. Until those shocks of discovery -- the work of a reporter, a personal experience -- makes it impossible for governments to check themselves, although the fall-out may be just another way of their checking themselves. There are times everyone knows what cannot be said and it can no longer be denied.  Communism fell in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, and it fell, in part, because all of a sudden the lie it was could no longer be silenced.


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Volume 6, Issue 15, Posted 8:42 AM, 07.27.2010

The Buck Stops Here: Karmic Traces

J. Edgar Hoover, Mao Tse-tsung, Casanova, Pope Pius and Golda Meir worked in libraries.

At one time, the strongest man in the world, a Belgian, was a librarian.

Machiavelli would take off his dirty underwear before he read classical texts.

Herman Melville begins Moby Dick with extracts and quotes about whales that he titles, “Supplied by a Sub Sub Librarian...”

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Volume 4, Issue 13, Posted 12:02 PM, 05.29.2008

1968 Is Now Forty Years Gone

1968. For many an old story. For others, a story they don’t want to hear. Assassinations and turmoil. Kennedy, King. Revolutionary fervor. Protest against the Vietnam War, racial, gender and class inequality. Rioting in the cities and on campuses, in Chicago at the Democratic Convention. “Something is happening,” Dylan sang, “and you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?” Things could not go on as they had before. “The entire world was on the verge of radical transformation,” Eliot Weinberger writes, “from the structure of society and state to the details of body ornament.”..
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Volume 4, Issue 11, Posted 9:25 PM, 05.13.2008

Vertical Invaders

The conservative philosopher Ortega y Gasset wrote of those who had stepped onto the stage of history and did not belong there. Vertical invaders he called them. Those who had come up from below...
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Volume 4, Issue 10, Posted 12:45 PM, 05.03.2008

Our City Is Always Gone

“My City Was Gone” is Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders’s elegy for Akron, the city of her youth. “There was no train station,” Hynde laments. “There was no downtown....My city had been pulled down/Reduced to parking spaces....The farms of Ohio/Had been replaced by shopping malls/And muzak filled the air/From Seneca to Cuyahoga falls.”..
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Volume 4, Issue 8, Posted 11:47 AM, 04.06.2008

Click click click

At an oral graduation exam at Harvard during the nineteenth century, the legendary American scientist, Louis Agassiz (Henry David Thoreau provided him with turtles for laboratory dissection), gave frogs to three seniors. Tell me about the frog, he said. The students were offended. They had studied at Harvard for four years. They knew what a frog was. What was this?
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Volume 3, Issue 21, Posted 7:53 PM, 10.01.2007

Out of the Garage

The Mekons began as a garage band, as all bands, of necessity, begin, but in thirty years they have not crossed over, and have remained a garage band, fundamentally anti-commercial in a commercial market, what Dave Thomas ofPere Ubu calls avant-garage.
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Volume 3, Issue 20, Posted 12:44 PM, 09.20.2007

The End of the Line

Last year in Franklin County, Ohio, Timothy Bowers went into a bank and robbed it. The teller gave him four twenty dollar bills in an envelope and hit the alarm. Bowers went over to the security guard and handed him the envelope, saying, “Here, be a hero today.” His plan was to get arrested and be sentenced to prison for three years, or until he was eligible for Social Security.
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Volume 3, Issue 18, Posted 10:07 PM, 08.27.2007

The Buck Stops Here - "Art is Not a Plaything"

The American poet, George Oppen, who lived in Mexico City for ten years apparently never learned a word of Spanish. On a bus one day, he heard the driver say something in English, and blurted out, “The man speaks English.” To hear one’s language is a form of recognition. It places you in a world.
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Volume 3, Issue 13, Posted 6:42 PM, 06.19.2007

Ideas Are Like Checks

Ideas are like checks, the poet Ezra Pound notes. How good they are is dependent on how much you have in your account. We may make deposits in various ways. Experience, first of all. What we experience day after day after day tells us the world, and about ourselves. A particular experience that stays, that does not go away, may tell us more. Loss is a good teacher; love a more subtle one.
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Volume 3, Issue 12, Posted 11:37 PM, 05.14.2007

"Not even my newspaper...is eager to print my reports..."

On October 7, 2006, Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya was murdered in the elevator of her apartment building in Moscow. She was shot four times in the head and the assassin left his gun alongside her body in the elevator – standard practice for Russian hit men. She was 48.
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Volume 3, Issue 11, Posted 10:33 PM, 05.07.2007

What is the price of watching?

Michael Herr was not embedded. In his magnificent account of the Vietnam War, Dispatches, one of the great books of our time, Herr sees himself as one of the grunts. He shares their dangers, fears and daily miseries of an impossible life. They give him their helmets and flak jackets, find him mattresses to sleep on. “You’re all right, man,” they say. “You got balls.”
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Volume 3, Issue 10, Posted 3:39 PM, 04.19.2007

The Buck Stops Here - He Wanted to Escape the Sixties

Gibson, who gave us the term cyberspace (“a consensual hallucination” he calls it), was characterizing William S. Burroughs’s cut-up, collage method in novels like Naked Lunch as an influence on his own fiction, but I would like to suggest that it applies more broadly -- how we become who (what) we are. We can’t push away what bumps up against us. It leans in.
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Volume 3, Issue 9, Posted 12:26 AM, 04.16.2007

"Leisure is a performance"

At one point, I had my car serviced by a mechanic who left the town I lived in to return home and open a garage in his home town. I followed him home, as it were, because he was such a good mechanic. I would arrange my schedule to wait for the car until work was completed, and I had an opportunity to see what his day was like.
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Volume 3, Issue 8, Posted 10:30 PM, 04.09.2007

The Buck Stops Here - We Assuage It

“The American voice can only be heard in the collective stories of those who are for some time, no matter how brief, pushed outside the definition of ‘American’...The American voice is how one responds when silenced because of who he or she is.” -- Tanya Kalivas.
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Volume 3, Issue 7, Posted 6:54 PM, 03.23.2007

The Buck Stops Here - The Flats are no longer the Flats

My brother (who was later to teach math at Lakewood High School) worked at Republic Steel in the Flats. I saw him at work once on the graveyard shift where he cut up ingots as large as boxcars – hickeys they were called – with acetylene torches. Fiery, hellish flames shot into a dark sky. Soot and sweat caked on the faces of workers who moved slowly, deliberately, as if in some kind of trance. Those who had worked for ten years or more, he told me, looked twenty years older than they were.
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Volume 3, Issue 6, Posted 9:31 AM, 03.09.2007

We Can Understand Why

Who have we the right to speak for? Who has the right to speak for us? Who owns our speech? Can I, a white male, say, speak for – speak as – a black, a woman? In 1839 in Paris, a workers’ paper, La Ruche Populaire, permitted only workers to write for it. We understand why, not just because we can’t write of what we are ignorant, but to presume to do so is to speak for someone who should speak for himself.
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Volume 3, Issue 5, Posted

"Do not move, let the wind speak"

It’s not so much that we live speeded-up lives, but that technology has made it impossible for us to live any other way. If the nineteenth century ended when the airplane was invented, the twentieth reached its nadir with the computer. In the War of 1812, the Battle of New Orleans was fought after the war was over because it took more than a week for news of peace to reach the armies. We saw 9/11 on our computers as it happened. Increasingly, the premise of film – thirty frames per second per second – is the story of our lives. Computers give us answers faster than we can come up with them. Cameras preserve memory better than we can. Instant replay permits us to see what our eyes cannot assimilate. Remote controls lower our threshold of boredom, or distraction.
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Volume 3, Issue 4, Posted 2:02 PM, 02.16.07

The Buck Stops Here - "People don't change"

What doesn’t change is the will to change, the poet Charles Olson notes. We may go to school, leave town, better ourselves. We cite Shakespeare not Jerry Springer. We drink Pilsener Urquell not Genny. The cleaning woman does work we used to do. People don’t change, Olson adds. They only stand more revealed. We may cross town, but we never leave our street. It is, at the last, the one thing if we do not trust marks us, and continues to mark us.
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Volume 3, Issue 3, Posted 12:12 AM, 01.27.07

If Only We Hesitated

It’s not so much that we live speeded-up lives, but that technology has made it impossible for us to live any other way. If the nineteenth century ended when the airplane was invented, the twentieth reached its nadir with the computer. In the War of 1812, the Battle of New Orleans was fought after the war was over because it took more than a week for news of peace to reach the armies. We saw 9/11 on our computers as it happened. Increasingly, the premise of film – thirty frames per second per second – is the story of our lives. Computers give us answers faster than we can come up with them. Cameras preserve memory better than we can. Instant replay permits us to see what our eyes cannot assimilate. Remote controls lower our threshold of boredom, or distraction.
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Volume 3, Issue 2, Posted 1:01 PM, 01.18.07

What Have I Done?

For my upcoming 50th reunion at Lakewood High School, I was asked to summarize my life. What have I done? Who was I? What I would say now would not be what I would have said ten years after graduation. At 28, there were goals, dreams, possibility. At 68, reflection, realization, assessment. Thing done, not done. Happiness, disappointment. What I could not anticipate, what I could. Dreams fulfilled or foreclosed. At 68, goals are necessarily different than they were at 18. We speak of last things, not first ones.
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Volume 3, Issue 1, Posted 11:11 PM, 12.26.06

The Buck Stops Here - The Seen to the Unseen

If we want to see what happens in slaughterhouses, how fast food becomes fast food, Michael Pollan argues in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, we would demand better food for our tables. “If there is any new right we need to establish,” he suggests, “maybe this is the one: the right, I mean, to look.”
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Volume 2, Issue 25, Posted 6:06 PM, 11.29.06

The Buck Stops Here - Breakthrough We Must

After he graduated from Harvard (and before he became a poet), E. E. Cummings applied for a job at Reader's Digest. He was told that any article written for the magazine had to meet three conditions: six to sixty; anyone can do it; it makes you feel good.
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Volume 2, Issue 24, Posted 1:01 PM, 10.31.06

The Buck Stops Here: The Buck Stops in Budapest

"Every time I describe a city, I am saying something about Venice," Marco Polo tells the Great Khan of China in response to the Ruler's question why Polo tells him about every city he has seen except the one he is from.
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Volume 2, Issue 21, Posted 12:12 PM, 10.02.06

"Art in Itself is Political" The Buck Stops Here

I go down the same side of the street Gordon Brumm does, even if I write about culture broadly and Brumm politics. Of course, artists have political views as much as anyone else. Joan Jett campaigned for Howard Dean and was on stage with him when the press captured his scream. "It was a compete fabrication," she says of what the press did. "It was created to knock Dean out." This year she went to Afghanistan to play for our troops. "A lot of times people can't separate that when you play for the troops you're supporting them but not the policy that put them over there," she says.
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Volume 2, Issue 17, Posted 8:08 AM, 08.16.06

The Buck Stops Here - The Road Warrior

"In Khoyniki, there was a 'plaque of achievement' in the center of town. The best people in the region had their names on it. But it was the alcoholic cab driver who went into the radioactive zone to pick up the kids from the kindergarten, not any of the people on the plaque. Everyone became what he really was." --Voices from Chernobyl,
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Volume 2, Issue 16, Posted 1:01 PM, 07.07.06

The Buck Stops Here - Do we walk the line?

The tee-shirt I bought at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame reads, "if it's too loud, you're too old." Rock is, by definition, loud, even if it is a whisper. It is a shout of fire in a theater, the laugh in the back of the room, the voice inside us that does not shut up. It speaks in the language of the street, not that of the courtroom, classroom or home, in the only way it can.
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Volume 2, Issue 12, Posted 1:01 PM, 06.01.06

The Buck Stops Here Who does a newspaper speak for?

When The News of the World was first shown in French movie theaters in 1940, it was placed between the first and second reels of the feature film. Audiences had not seen it before and assumed it was, merely, another reel of the feature. They would see Japanese soldiers in China, a drought in Africa, and German tanks and see them as part of Inspector Poirot's investigation of a crime - Poirot must have gone to China following a clue.

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Volume 2, Issue 10, Posted 11:11 AM, 05.12.06

"Everything is dosage" - The Buck Stops Here

"Every work of art is an uncommitted crime," Theodore Adorno writes. Rather than murder people, Freud says of Dostoyevsky, he wrote novels of murders. "Any novel, poem, painting, or musical composition that does not destroy itself," Jean Genet writes," that is not constructed as a blood sport with its own head on the chopping block - is a fraud."
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Volume 2, Issue 8, Posted 1:01 PM, 04.10.06

The Narrative of Streets, Buildings and Places

Put a map of Lakewood on the wall. Throw a dart at it. Another. A third. Draw the lines between them to forma triangle. Walk from one point of the triangle to another and follow the hypotenuse home. Take a notebook,camera, recorder. Note what you see,hear, touch. Run-down buildings,new construction. Businesses, houses,people. Litter, garbage, graffiti. Advertisements, posters, signs. Coincidences,the accidental, the unusual. Signs. They're all signs. "Walking makes for content," Robert MacFarlane writes. "Footage for footage."
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Volume 2, Issue 5, Posted 10.55 AM / 08th March 2006.

The Buck Stops Here

"I thought [the Warren Report] far beyond anything I know in literature." - George Oppen.
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Volume 1, Issue 10, Posted 12.20 PM / 15th November 2005.

The Buck Stops Here

On January 8, 1815, Andrew Jackson defended New Orleans from British attack in the last battle of the War of 1812, a battle which took place 15 days after the peace treaty of Ghent had been signed. It took more than that time for news of the treaty to cross the ocean and travel south by stagecoach to New Orleans. Today, we know something almost as soon as it happens. Who can forget the images the day of September 11 transmitted cross country on computers? Or to see what Katrina did to New Orleans as soon as, if not before, the government?
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Volume 1, Issue 9, Posted 03.37 AM / 20th October 2005.

The Buck Stops Here

"The local is not a place but a place in a given man." - Robert Creeley
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Volume 1, Issue 8, Posted 09.33 AM / 16th November 2005.

The Buck Stops Here

"A working class hero is something to be. They hate you if you're clever. They despise you if you're a fool." -- John Lennon
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Volume 1, Issue 8, Posted 10.13 AM / 27th September 2005.

"A Poetry of Essential Service"

Events in New Orleans after Katrina remind us of the truth of John Dos Passos's assertion in his trilogy, U.S.A., that "we are two nations," and have been, perhaps even from the beginning. Those in power do not care about those without power. Writers, musicians, and artists may serve power as much as anyone, but those who have not gone along may galvanize us in ways no one else can. "How much history can be communicated by pressure on a guitar string?" Robert Palmer asks. "More than we will ever know," Greil Marcus answers. The storyteller, singer and artist may become the voice of the people and their response to events is always a needed counterhistory.
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Volume 1, Issue 7, Posted 10.16 AM / 27th September 2005.

To Write the City

Leslie Kaplan, a French poet who at one time worked in a factory, wrote a book-length poem of her experience, L'exces-l'usine, which took her more than ten years to finish. In an interview, she comments that she did not want as much to write about the factory as to actually write the factory. It is not uncommon for writers to write about cities and the lives of people in them. Dickens comes to mind, Joyce, and, close by, Sherwood Anderson's account of people in Clyde in Winesburg, Ohio. But how many writers write the city, as Kaplan does the factory, and not just write about it? How, we might ask, would one write Lakewood?
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Volume 1, Issue 6, Posted 10.15 AM / 27th September 2005.

The Buck Stops Here

There were writers. There were readers. One was distinct from the other. Readers went to writers for an account of the far away and different (hunting whales, Gauguin in Tahiti); to read the news; to learn how to live (Emily Post was first a novelist); to escape. Although writers may have been readers first, for the most part readers did not become writers.
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Volume 1, Issue 4, Posted 10.10 AM / 27th September 2005.

In Celebration of Middlebrow Culture

In David Brooks' June 16th New York Times article, "Joe Strauss to Joe Six-Pack," he laments the loss of middlebrow culture, arguing, "Time spent with consequential art uplifts character and time spent with dross debases it.... an educated person was expected to know something about opera." We have been down this road before. The barbarians are always at the gates.
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Volume 1, Issue 3, Posted 10.08 AM / 27th September 2005.