Extending the Branch

Girls are swarming into music -- whether the industry wants them or not.

Willoughby Brewing Company 4057 Erie Street, Willoughby 440-975-0202. Kitchen hours, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; noon to 11 p.m. Saturday; 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Music teachers across Greater Cleveland are reporting huge increases in girls signing up for lessons on typically male-dominated instruments, like drums and bass. Sodja Music in Richmond Heights notes a 20 percent increase. Dave McCamey, owner of Berea Music, had two female guitar students two years ago; today he has 35.

Chalk it up to the rising prominence of such young female musicians as Avril Lavigne, the Donnas, Alicia Keys, Michelle Branch, and India.Arie.

"In the '80s, the only time a girl came in was with her boyfriend," McCamey says. "Now they see female vocalists commanding a language that communicates so well. They want to make that message their own."

Dan Vedda, who owns Westlake's Skyline Music, has a different take. "In my opinion, the women simply weren't treated well in a lot of music stores. Now the industry has gotten hyper-competitive. No one can afford to turn away customers anymore."

Well . . . not exactly. The trade publication Music and Sound Retailer sent an undercover female shopper to six Cleveland music stores. She was ignored at three of them.

Lott 'n' load

If John Lott is feeling like the gun nut who's been cast into the intellectual cold, he needn't fret. He'll always get a warm reception in the Ohio Legislature, home of the optional IQ.

Lott, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, is the author of More Guns, Less Crime, a hugely popular book among those who keep a .38 under the pillow. He purports to prove that allowing people to carry concealed firearms reduces crime. Simply brandishing a gun thwarts an attacker a whopping 98 percent of the time, he asserts. Thanks in part to that eye-popping number, the book has become Exhibit A for Ohio legislators backing right-to-carry laws. And Lott, an economist who's held posts at the University of Chicago and Yale, has become a deity among the pro-gun crowd.

There's just one tiny problem: The stat appears to be a mirage.

That's the conclusion of professors at Northwestern and the University of California-Santa Barbara, whose independent reviews of Lott's "evidence" gave them serious pause. When pressed to cough up the survey results that yielded the 98 percent figure, Lott hemmed, hawed, and finally offered the limpest excuse: His computer crashed, eating all his data. The co-author of Lott's original study also admitted in court that it was riddled with flaws.

But fear not, gun lovers: None of this seems to bother Ohio lawmakers. A conceal-carry bill sailed through the House and is expected to continue its smooth journey in the Senate. This has Representative Ed Jerse wondering if he's in the General Assembly or the Confederacy of Dunces. The Euclid Democrat is the lone lawmaker so far to raise doubts about his colleagues putting their trust in Lott's thesis.

"His argument seems so dubious, I'm amazed that more people haven't called him into question until now," Jerse says.

One person who won't be calling him out is Mary Rosh, a former Lott student known for defending his work on various websites. "I have to say he was the best professor I ever had," she wrote, while touting his meticulous research.

Unfortunately, this too proved bogus. The Washington Post reported that Rosh was none other than Lott himself. The egg-faced author 'fessed up to the ruse, but rationalized that "it was a way to get information into the debate."

Whacked in the act

When Cleveland Public Theatre announced an abbreviated 2002-'03 season, it looked like hard times for the West Side playhouse. But as other theaters are now forced to clumsily slash their schedules in midseason, CPT looks like a model of prudence in a toilet-surfing economy.

For those of you scoring at home:

Ensemble Theatre nixed its spring production of Three Tall Women when rent hikes forced the company out of its home in the Civic.

Charenton Theatre's slated production of Come Back, Little Sheba was canned, and the theater's phone has been out of service recently.

Dobama Theatre jettisoned its final three productions.

Every theater in Cleveland is dealing with these problems," says Dobama Artistic Director Joyce Casey. "The only difference is the number of zeroes."

Dobama's woes can be traced to the deficit it carried over from last season -- the first in the theater's 43-year history. "None of our plays come out in the black," admits Casey, who says a midseason loss of anticipated funding forced the theater's hand. She carries guarded optimism for next season, though she admits Dobama is in for drastic staff changes. "The artists need to breathe and get used to this; then we'll discuss our prospects for next year."

In retrospect, Casey admits, an abbreviated season like CPT's could have aided the bottom line. "If you've got the vantage point of now? Sure," she says. "But we're a bunch of artists."

More baloney, please

Don't tell George Zeller, a researcher at the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland, that the economy is feeling a mite sluggish. "That's all baloney," Zeller says. "We're in a sharp recession."

According to Zeller, Cuyahoga County lost 55,000 jobs in a two-year span. Local sales-tax collections -- a good indicator of regular folks' earning power -- have been down for 23 months. "The recession is officially worse than the one in the early '90s," he says.

Compounding the problem, the state is enforcing a three-year time limit on welfare benefits. Caseloads are dropping, even as more people are having trouble finding work.

To alleviate the pain, the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies and Policy Matters Ohio have both recommended that the state establish an earned-income tax credit, similar to the one enacted by the feds. Set at 20 percent of the federal amount, it would return an average of $328 to 675,000 families.

"In the end, it will mean a fairer tax system for Ohio," said Amy Hanauer of Policy Matters.

Look for the Republican-controlled legislature to enact it sometime between now and when pterodactyls again roam the skies.

The China Syndrome

While "embedded" has become the latest in trendy phrases for journalism geeks, The Plain Dealer opted not to send a reporter to cover the fighting in Iraq.

"What we wanted to do was to say, 'What will we bring special to this story if we send somebody there?'" says Editor Doug Clifton. "And we concluded, 'Nothing.'"

The Arizona Republic and the Chicago Sun-Times are reportedly the only papers among the top 20 in circulation not to field a war reporter. The PD falls just outside the top 20.

Instead, The PD has relied on The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other news services to bring news from the battlefront. Clifton wanted to avoid the obligation of printing a staff reporter's dispatches, no matter their relevance. He believes newspapers often fall prey to the "China Syndrome." When Clifton worked at the Miami Herald, a reporter was granted a visa to work in Beijing. It proved valuable for a time. "As the years went by, the China story became less front-page news," he says. "But in the Miami Herald, China got covered better than damn near anything, because we had our correspondent there."

As for his minions at 1801 Superior, Clifton doesn't know if they're unhappy they missed their combat closeup. Frankly, he doesn't care. "Covering a war isn't like a recreation or travel assignment."

Hate, it ain't

Scene writer David Martin has been named a winner in the 50th annual Unity Awards in Media, a national competition that recognizes "outstanding coverage of minorities or the disadvantaged." Martin's story "White Power Outage" (March 7, 2002) won for political reporting.

The article challenged the notion that Ohio is a hotbed of hate groups. Though one report said there were 73 white nationalist groups operating in the state, Martin discovered that most have "dissolved, or amount to little more than a guy with a copy of Mein Kampf and a Yahoo! account." Other winners included Time, Newsweek, and The Wall Street Journal.

In other self-congratulatory news, Scene writer Pete Kotz was honored by the National Education Writers Association. His column "Welcome to Cheaptown" (May 9, 2002) received a special citation -- a polite way of saying he finished third -- for opinion writing in the group's annual awards competition. The column excoriated Strongsville for repeatedly voting down school levies -- despite having the fourth-highest household income in the county. The Boston Globe and The New York Times finished first and second, respectively.

The Nordonia mob

A 14-year-old from Nordonia Middle School is alleged to have organized a mob ring with at least a dozen dues-paying members. Their plot: Get rich by hacking into computers, stealing, selling candy, and/or prostituting female classmates. But, as with most Mafia families whose members can't shave, this one didn't last.

Punch actually assisted the Summit County Sheriff's Department by posing as a mobster while wearing a wire. An excerpt from that meeting:

The Don: "Umm . . . dude . . . what are you, like 40?"

Punch: [speaking in cracked voice] "Puberty's a bitch. Fuhgettaboutit!"

Don: "Whatever. You told me over the phone you were 14 and that you'd make us an offer we couldn't refuse."

Punch: "Bada bing! My crew has certain product your organization might be interested in. There are several varieties: Samoas, Thin Mints, Aloha Chips --"

Don: "Wait. You want us to sell Girl Scout cookies? Do they at least have drugs in 'em?"

Punch: "If they did, you think they'd say so on the package? Try eating one. I dare you."

Then we ate cookies and played Grand Theft Auto II. The Don's mom told us we had to be in bed by 10, but we were totally up till 10:30.

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