While war raged in Iraq, a fiercer and far more important battle stormed closer to home: Who would win Scene's March Blandness tournament and be named the worst columnist in Northeast Ohio?
Over the past two weeks, Punch's e-mail has been bloodied by nominations. There was hearty support for The PD's Regina Brett ("nausea-inducing diatribes that vacillate between simplistic and patently absurd"). There was a staunch faction behind the Sun newspapers' Mary Jane Skala ("each article is chock-full of useless whining"). But in the end, no one could stand up to David Giffels, the runaway winner.
For those unfamiliar with the Beacon Journal columnist's work, our readers provide the play-by-play:
"He's more boring than PBS."
"I mean, he writes articles about haiku, for Godsakes!"
But the best critique comes courtesy of Amy Simonovski of Akron: "His articles irritate me because they are unoriginal, unimaginative, and shallow. On occasion, when Giffels does come up with a worthwhile idea, his writing is too bland and mediocre for me to continue reading. It isn't just his simple sentence structures, but also his lifeless approach to every concept. Honestly, I am sickened by Giffels's banal writing and am beginning to wonder how his personal life correlates with his colorless articles."
Ooo, Amy, holster that bad boy.
Finishing second is The PD's Connie Schultz, who one reader described as "worse than all the others put together. What she says is inane. What she proposes to do about it is inane. The whole thing is an exercise in inanity."
Adds Linda Gibson of Rocky River: "She stereotypes the whiny woman . . . she's just a nasty little poodle."
Yet Schultz was caught cheating last Thursday when she urged her readers to stuff the ballot box. She also lost points for cleverly fighting back. The authors of March Blandness, Scene's Tom Francis and Kevin Hoffman, had described her typical column as "I am woman. Hear me bitch."
Responded Schultz: "Well, that'll teach me to have both a uterus and an opinion."
The return fire had Francis and Hoffman cowering beneath their desks, as co-workers taunted them for being out-trash-talked by an uppity feminist.
Though Brett finished a solid third, a slew of candidates jockeyed for the consolation title. Among the contenders:
Roldo Bartimole, City News: "This bleeding heart asswipe has been writing the same column for about 10 years," writes Mario Becerra. "The poor in Cleveland are poor due to A) Dick Jacobs; B) The Plain Dealer; C) Al Lerner; or D) all of the above."
Roger Brown, Plain Dealer: "Here I thought the Arts & Living section was The PD's answer to a cesspool for writers. Oops! I guess I was wrong."
Sam Fulwood III, Plain Dealer: "No matter how riled up or weepy any other writer makes you, no matter how they make you want to send them a nasty or convivial e-mail, with Sam I find that just as I finish his column, I have forgotten whatever the subject of it was," writes Jennifer Tucker. "He's just that substantive."
City News editor Mansfield Frazier also received props: "This racist ex-con points the finger at whitey any chance he gets, yet continually blows smoke up his own ass about his book, which I'm sure he'd sell to whitey with no problem."
But in a cunning counter-attack, Frazier laid waste to you, our wise and insightful judges, in a column last week: "How literarily astute can one expect a readership to be, when it is comprised largely of overaged bass players from failed Lakewood garage bands and their heavily tattooed and tongue-pierced groupies?"
Unfortunately, Scene's own worthless columnist -- who, if there was a just and powerful God, would have won this baby walking away -- managed but one pathetic shot: "I pick Pete Kotz, because the S.O.B. didn't hire me after interviewing me for a job in 1988, and I hold grudges a long damn time," writes Tom Snee.
Fighting the wrong fight
Charter One wasn't the only group annoyed by presidential wannabe Al Sharpton's protest at the bank. So was the bank's former nemesis, the East Side Organizing Project.
ESOP spent months hammering Charter One for its poor record of minority lending ("Jim Crow Sundown," May 23, 2002). The bank eventually caved, agreeing to open another East Side branch and increase loans to poor and minority customers. By the time Rev. Al arrived, ESOP already had a new target: Third Federal. Its lending record may be worse than Charter One's, ESOP leaders say. In 2001, it made 842 loans in Cleveland; just 77 went to blacks.
After talks with Third Federal broke down, ESOP showed up at the bank's Broadway HQ. Members used red crepe paper to "red-line" loan officers -- literally. ("We're really trying to help people in those areas, and all areas," protests Third Federal spokeswoman Monica Martines.)
But where was Al? He'd left town after his brief Charter One appearance the day before. He never even called ESOP to get its take; his protesters were bused in from Detroit. "Mr. Sharpton has no basis to call himself a 'community activist,' at least not a 'Cleveland' community activist," said ESOP President Inez Killingsworth. "We're open to people who want to work together and have the same objectives. If you have your own self-interests, we don't care for that."
Yet Al did achieve his main objective: His Charter One protest got heavy TV coverage. ESOP's did not.
The American Bar Association recently released a report about juvenile justice in Ohio. It says that kids often navigate the system without a lawyer. Many have behavioral or mental problems that are never addressed. And defense attorneys are often inexperienced, ill prepared, or completely overwhelmed.
This you already knew.
Yet the study never touches one of the most pervasive -- and least talked about --problems: How assigned-counsel cases are divvied up. Because judges decide which lawyers get the cases, they often go to attorneys they know. But those attorneys are less likely to gum up the works by mounting a vigorous defense -- which takes time and money, precious commodities in juvenile court. It doesn't help that, in most cases, lawyers are paid $250 max for a juvenile case, win or lose.
"There are a lot of lawyers who don't want to piss off a judge," says one lawyer. "So a kid is stuck with an attorney who is a lot less likely to fight, even if the kid didn't do it."
Don't expect the Bar Association (motto: "Protecting Billable Hours Since 1878") to address this anytime soon.
A meat-free Cleveland
Pamela Anderson is apparently no longer interested in cornering the world's silicon supply. She has set her sights on a task far more noble: getting Clevelanders to quit being fat.
Anderson is the spokesmodel for a new campaign by the vegetarian group PETA. It's sending postcards featuring Anderson to 195 area restaurants, in hopes of getting them to stop serving tasty animal products. Cleveland is being targeted because it was named by Men's Health as one of the fattest cities in America.
Yet it might be a tough sell in a meat-and-potatoes town that's always held a healthy respect for Mother Nature, inventor of that little thing known as the "food chain." At least one restaurant on PETA's list, John Q's Steakhouse on Public Square, probably won't be heeding the call of Pam and the silicon twins. "I wouldn't have any customers left," says owner Rick Cassara.