Ohio River Life
Saturday, June 30, 2007
My dad has pioneered some rather obscure concepts, such as the round corner, the trash-can-downspout cistern (complete with spigot and garden hose) the barrel-on-a-scaffold shower (cold water only) and other handy do-it-yourself inventions.
His ability to single-handedly accomplish tasks that call for at least two people is legendary in these parts. He could be a hit on the Home & Garden channel now, with his wealth of experience.
Unfortunately, no film footage exists of his most ambitious DIY undertaking. It was one of his earliest home construction ones. Intended to facilitate erecting a house using limited manpower, it could only be described as:
How to almost kill your wife while using her to help you build your house with a leverage invention composed of your Subaru (containing wife), a rope, a rock, a two-by-four and a wall made of two-by-fours that you intend to raise with the contraption.
He subsequently abandoned further research into that method in favor of obtaining additional manpower. Still, his many tested plans have gained him a body of experience from which others who aspire to be handy may draw; if you can even imagine trying it, he probably knows something about will turn out.
While I was visiting home this past spring, Dad showed me how to sharpen my wood carving tools. I watched one of my gouges gain a fine edge on his hand-propelled grinding wheel, which his expert right hand propelled, his relatively inept left hand working to hold the shaft of the gouge steady. As wheel scraped steel, he generously imparted to me the nuances of his personal sharpening experience. So far what I have drawn from his wisdom is this:
First, sharpening a blade of any kind takes a long time, but if you do it right you won't have to do it as often.
Second, learning to sharpen takes even more time, and involves making mistakes. During the learning process you can be led to try any number of wheels, diamonds, stones, water and oil. Toward the end, you come to believe that no matter how you rub, sharpening simply doesn't happen for you.
And then, one day it does, like magic! After that, you never forget, plus you have gained sufficient skill to sharpen a butter knife on a cotton ball.
Finally, you keep the sharpener that worked for you—usually the simplest one—on your work bench and put the other ones in a box, set the box in the garage with the lawnmower until it becomes an antique and maybe you can then sell it for what you paid for it ... or not.Not exactly cutting-edge wisdom, but my dad would approve.
From my perspective, I was reminded of some childhood wisdom that Dad may have long forgotten. Or if he hadn’t, he was perhaps feeling that my attention to his magic was worth my taking advantage of him—that is:
If you stand around and keep asking your dad questions while he shows you how to sharpen your tools, you might walk away from the experience with all of them sharpened.
Friday, June 29, 2007
The Janus head
According to the newspaper, the board on Thursday passed a resolution cutting 12 classified and 21 certified school district positions. In casting the only opposing vote, Bonnell drew plenty of fire from his colleagues, who undoubtedly saw his vote as an irresponsible, purely political move.
As I’ve stated many times before in these pages, Bonnell is the furthest thing from a team player I can imagine; nevertheless, he does his homework better than any school board member I’ve seen, and he’s afraid of no one. If you can separate his abrasive personality from the substance of his message, he is someone whose concerns should be taken seriously.
Bonnell is apparently the only person in the district willing to stand up and fight against cyber charter schools. While everyone else is making nice, rolling over, and calling for peace, Bonnell is out there attempting to collect revenue he believes the district is owed and exposing conflicts of interest with NNDS. No wonder they hate him.
For Larry Walton to say that Bonnell doesn’t have the “intestinal fortitude” to vote for cuts is ludicrous, as is Denise Taylor’s reference to Bonnell as a “hypocrite” who “cares only about money” and not about children. The absurdity here is that staff cuts are always about money, and how supporting a reduction in staff can be interpreted as helping children is anybody’s guess.
I have no inside information regarding the school district, and I make no claim to any special budgetary expertise. All I know is what I read in the papers. I’m perfectly willing to believe that the RIFs may indeed have been inevitable under the circumstances, but that doesn’t mean Gary Bonnell is a crackpot just because he refuses to join the band.
Frankly, I’m glad someone immune to peer pressure is there watching over things. Remember what it was like before he arrived and pushed to hire Ken Halbert as superintendent? Remember Doug Hiscox and his gang of enablers?
There is no question that Bonnell’s “no” vote places responsibility for unpopular staff cuts on the shoulders of the other board members. Because they were forced into it by the state commission, the dirty work gets done and Bonnell comes out clean. So yes, I know exactly what Larry Walton meant with his “intestinal fortitude” comment, but it would hold more water had Bonnell voted against the cuts without a reasonable explanation or a well-established history of fiscal involvement. Until I know otherwise, I’m willing to accept Bonnell’s reservations at face value.
Certainly calls for unity and looking forward are appropriate for a school district as troubled as East Liverpool’s, but let’s not do so at the expense of settling past accounts—at least not if the board expects voters to pass another levy.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
When losing is good business
For much of my life, I was a genuine baseball fanatic; as a child, playing and watching baseball were my only obsessions. I rarely missed so much as an inning of a televised Pirates game, and seeing the likes of Roberto Clemente, Elroy Face, Smokey Burgess, Willie Stargell, and Bill Mazeroski play at Forbes Field was the highlight of my youth. Even today, visiting the remnant of the old ball park’s ivy-covered center-field wall is something of a religious experience for me.
In former times, who owned the team or how much money this or that player made was irrelevant, especially to a kid in search of heroes, but today, the business of professional sport is as much a part of the story as what happens on the field. Nowadays, a kid knows not only the day-to-day stats of his favorite player but also how many years is left in his contract. Perhaps more than in any other sport, winning in Major League Baseball is about payroll. Far from heroes, today’s players are mere mercenaries who perform for the highest bidder.
Pirates fans understand that given the current ownership, their team will remain a perennial loser—a virtual exhibition team. Yet they still flock to the ballpark, hoping that some curious mixture of fan loyalty, the law of averages, and pure luck will bring them not a championship team, but one that might someday win more games than it loses.
The Post-Gazette’s Bob Smizik is one of the few local sportswriters willing to discuss the problem for what it is. He understands—and more importantly isn’t afraid to say it out loud—just how the Nutting family conducts business. As long as the Pirates make money, the quality of the team is meaningless to them. For those of you who don’t know, the Nuttings own controlling interest in the Pirates as well our local newspapers. Is it starting to make sense now?
In today’s column, Smizik laments the fact that broadcasters intend to ignore a planned fan walk-out scheduled for Saturday night’s game with the Washington Nationals. With a “near-capacity crowd of 36,000 expected for the game. ... [The Pirates] have asked their television announcing crew not to discuss the walkout with the media. They have removed all comments about the walkout from their message board at pirates.com. They have the support of their television rights holder, FSN Pittsburgh, which does not plan to show the protest as part of its game coverage.”
This is no surprise, not even to Smizik.
In sharp contrast to the Nuttings, the Rooneys, owners of the Pittsburgh Steelers, are a local family that respects the city and its football fans. This is not to say that the Rooneys are in the business of writing blank checks to players, but there is no doubt that they start every season with a plan to win. As a result, they command one of the most successful franchises in the history of the NFL and professional sport.
ORL commenters constantly remind us that corporations have one binding directive: to make money for stockholders. That this is true doesn’t mean corporations are somehow forbidden to conduct themselves ethically and to treat employees, customers and the general public with respect. It’s hard to get it across to most people, but there really is more to life than money. As well, money can be used for reasons other than making more money. Amoral, self-serving greed is not a requirement.
For example, read this article from the Washington Post about how Google treats its workers. Google management understands that if you provide creative incentives and good wages to capable people, everyone will prosper. Why is this such a bizarre idea to so many in our area? In fact, if things go as normal, someone will leave a comment saying, “Well then, pack your bags and go work for Google,” which, of course, misses the entire point.
Bob Smizik has tried to tell Pirates fans for years that if they want a good baseball team in Pittsburgh, they cannot continue to support a team that’s literally designed to lose. Surely sports fans should recognize the natural cycles of team sports and remain faithful during the lean years, but that assumes ownership is involved in a good-faith effort to field a competitive team. That’s not what’s happening in Pittsburgh, not with the Pirates.
In the end, the formula for success in any field of endeavor is fairly obvious: Study the methods of those who are successful and do what they do. True innovation requires that you take the next step and do it better. While that’s easier said than done, it is astounding how many people work so hard to support a dysfunctional and unsatisfying status quo, even as they are victimized by it.
When losing is good business, something is very wrong.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
The captain's daughter
Adjusting to midnight
We should note Casey Barto’s fine work on the preliminary hearing testimony given Monday in Lisbon regarding Wellsville’s most recent murder. Barto’s story, Son struck father to death with pipe wrench, appeared in both local newspapers Tuesday, following up a previous story on the alleged murder weapon.
Tuesday’s news account of Police Chief Joe Scarabino’s testimony brought to the public eye the disgusting details behind a gruesome manifestation of evil. We learned just how words and drugs can drive a man to beat his own father to death by hitting him in the head with a pipe wrench not once, but ten times. To even imagine what must have been going through the killer’s mind pries a door best left locked.
Even though Barto’s story was virtually dictated to her in the courtroom, her choice of information and balance of paraphrase and direct quotation provide a perfect example of what is called transparent writing, where the writer presents her account so clearly that she seems to disappear. The window is so well polished, we don’t know we’re looking through it. The story thus becomes Chief Scarabino’s, which is exactly what you want. It is “reporting” in the purest sense.
Although I did not know Bill Yost Sr. well, I had met him several times in my dealings with the Wellsville Memorial Council and other civic groups. He seemed to me like a good man, and certainly his passing, especially the manner of his death, is a horrible tragedy that affects our entire area.
Thankfully, the accused did not flee, avoiding what might have become an even worse tragedy. Considering the details, one cannot help but wonder if the son’s decision to turn himself in was born of a sudden flood of remorse or of an epiphany—a stop-frame, crystal clear vision of a completely failed life. Either way, it’s stuff like this that makes people believe in demons. It’s why we lock our doors at night.
In the end, we do not know what to make of such things. That’s why some turn to the great poets when reason abandons them—in this case, Emily Dickinson:
We grow accustomed to the Dark –
When Light is put away –
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye –
A Moment – We uncertain step
For newness of the night –
Then – fit our Vision in the Dark –
And meet the Road – erect –
And so of larger – Darknesses –
Those Evenings of the Brain –
When not a Moon disclose a sign –
Or Star – come out – within –
The Bravest – grope a little –
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead –
But as they learn to see –
Either the Darkness alters –
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight –
And Life steps almost straight.
[NOTE: I promised The Wiz that I'd lighten up a bit, but my subject did not permit it.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Notes from underground
Wal-mart continues on its quest to become “The Beast” of biblical prophesy and swallow up the entire world. In the past 20 years, the retail Leviathan has made the transition from regional discount department store to world power.
There is, however, a resistance. Earlier this year Wal-mart withdrew an application with federal bank regulators to operate a specialty bank in the face of “immense opposition from politicians, consumer groups and community banks” (ABC News), but it has come back with a debit card scheme that allows consumers who otherwise cannot obtain traditional plastic to “load” cards with their payroll checks for a startup fee and monthly maintenance charge. I see this as merely a stage in becoming a bank--delayed gratification, if you will.
There is no question that Wal-mart and other corporate chains are in the process of replacing what we once knew as towns. They have virtually accomplished it here. Without giving it a second thought, we have allowed ourselves to be transformed into an army of selfish “smart shoppers” and “consumers,” giving up any remnant of our former role as communal citizens. Most Americans have become so proud of their global consumerism that they are more than willing to sacrifice the livelihoods of their neighbors to pursue it.
Resistance to The Beast is futile. There is no evidence to suggest that Wal-mart will not eventually achieve its goal of controlling every aspect of our economic lives. Many say Wal-mart’s success is merely the triumph of global capitalism, the natural expression of human greed. I cannot argue with that interpretation.
The 21st century is shaping up to be the era when corporations become more powerful than sovereign national states. The Iraq War is a perfect example of a national state seizing a political opportunity to funnel public funds to corporate coffers. Much as Wal-mart mocks the American worker by flying the flag atop each of its locations, the Bush administration insists that our exploits in Iraq are about preserving our most hallowed beliefs, even as it cites the War on Terror as the reason to diminish our freedoms.
There is nothing new about the bandwagon mentality, just as there is nothing new about the risks of identifying with the resistance. For those of us accustomed to living outside the mainstream, it’s not a matter of being a liberal or conservative; it’s about living within a variety of ill-defined subcultures.
Luckily, I have been able to make my living mostly in academia, which is a haven for what most would call “weirdos.” In contemporary American culture, living a life of study and contemplation is automatically considered a form of deviance. Given the values of the dominant culture, it most certainly is.
But even our universities have been forced to make the adjustment to modern consumerism. The competition for students (now referred to as “education consumers”) has led universities to become job training centers. Distinctly old-fashioned professors resist by looking for ways to convince these consumers that knowledge is valuable for its own sake, that the educated person has an opportunity to live a more rewarding life as both a private and public citizen. With few exceptions, such entreaties fall on deaf ears.
The typical education consumer asks but one question: “How can I turn all this bullshit into money?” It is not an unreasonable question, even though it is not one that would have been asked throughout most of human history--at least not directly.
Surely it is futile to resist change. This is the first and last rule of the physical universe. But such resignation does not mean that we are not the authors of our own lives. As long as we do not allow ourselves to suffer the death of a thousand cuts, we can live a meaningful life underground, away from the stampede and outside the realm of popular discourse.
I offer these comments not to recommend a way of living, only to explain my chosen point of reference. As someone who publishes his thoughts routinely, I owe it to my readers to fess up to my deviance and to welcome the thoughts of those who see the world from different angles. In other words, if I cast Wal-mart as the fabled Beast of Revelation, I do not insist that you do.
So let us continue to search for music in this cacophony we call the 21st century. The mere attempt is worth the effort, n'est-ce pas?
Friday, June 22, 2007
Become a river liver
The grand illusion
In case you haven’t heard about this yet, read City law firm's immigration video sparks an Internet firestorm in today’s Post Gazette and watch the accompanying video. What you’ll discover is the truth about how your country ‘tis of thee actually operates.
I suppose it’s no surprise that most attorneys will do anything for money, but for those of you who actually believe that the Bush administration and government officials on either side of the aisle are on your side, live and learn. The immigration issue in the U.S. is a sham from beginning to end. The rich need a constant supply of slave-wage workers to maintain their wealth. That’s why so-called “reform” will never happen. At best, we’ll see the passage of still more laws that will be wholly ignored by the federal government.
This is just another example of how the rich exploit the poor for personal gain. What they want you to do is blame the desperate immigrant, whose only crime is a desire to improve his lot. As long as your ire is focused on the immigrant, you won’t notice the fat cats whose pockets are the real beneficiaries.
This system of exploitation runs so deep that most Americans actually believe that something like the Iraq War is about preserving our freedom, despite obvious evidence that nothing could be further from the truth. The “god and country” conditioning process is so successful that anyone who dares utter the truth is ostracized and shouted down by the masses, whose desperate need to believe in something allows them to believe in anything.
As if we need more examples, look at the way table gaming is being sold to the Hancock County electorate. Thursday’s edition of The Review, a newspaper owned by an ultra-conservative West Virginia corporation, touts that the issue is all about “Jobs, jobs, jobs.”
The article features Ted Arneault, head of Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort, and Hancock County Commissioner Dan Greathouse working together to convince what they assume is a moron electorate to believe that the minimum-wage jobs table gaming will bring to the county is the real issue.
These people care about you. All they want is to make your life easier. They just want to put money in your pocket.
“It is about those jobs,” Greathouse is quoted as saying. “We’re not getting them from Weirton Steel anymore and here in Hancock County, we need those new jobs and need to protect the ones we already have.”
Yes Dan, let’s replace the $25-per-hour industrial jobs with poverty-wage gambling jobs. The citizens of Hancock County are so very glad that you’re watching out for their interests.
At the risk of pointing out the obvious, Ted Arneault and Dan Greathouse must convince the citizens that their agenda and the public's agenda are the same. Were they serious about it, they’d work together to provide high-paying jobs to the citizens of Hancock County. Instead, they do what most employers around here do—exploit the poor and perpetuate the conditions that keep people poor. Why? So the rich can get richer. It really is that simple. It is the way of the world. If you think otherwise, then you don't know much about the world.
A cursory study of history reveals how the masses have been managed by the rich for their own ends since the dawn of civilization. More often than not, religion is the tool used by the ruling class. The idea is relatively simple and effective: Keep the masses diverted and under control by scaring them with a elaborate religions that posit the rich and powerful as agents of the one true god.
Even in modern times, those whose wealth and power depends upon the exploitation of the working classes always maintain a pretense to religion. In the United States, the game requires the assistance not only of the uneducated poor but also that of the prosperous working class, whose support is gained in exchange for the appearance and promise of wealth made possible by easy access to high-interest consumer credit.
These are the people who do most of the gambling. They are the ones who can’t get enough of the mind-numbing get-rich-quick game shows on TV. They are the ones who defend the heinous market practices of Wal-mart, even while they know their jobs are being sold to the lowest bidder to maintain the system. The promise of riches is a powerful motivator.
It is unfortunate, but greed has always been the primary motivator of human beings. What is even more unfortunate is how the ruling class so easily manipulates the public in a democratic society. An educated public should be able to see through the propaganda, but as long the majority remains gullible, the system is safe—even in a democracy.
One might ask why the local newspapers have done absolutely nothing to investigate the environmental consequences of the coal conversion plant proposed for Wellsville. Why have the papers done nothing to expose the true agenda of the Mountaineer resort? Why do so few people ask questions about the political and economic agendas of the West Virginia interests who own our newspapers? Why is the starting wage at those newspapers around $8 per hour for people who have earned college degrees?
“Jobs, jobs, jobs,” the paper says.
Jobs my ass.
To help us stay focused on the important issues of our time, today’s Morning Journal online edition asks the question: “Should Rosie O’Donnell be the new host of the Price is Right?”
At this writing, 92.9 percent say “NO.”
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Shining up Crestview (Part 2)
While Hines was newly installed in his position, Mayor Watt asked him to attend a “Keep America Beautiful” training event in Charleston. KAB was the original inspiration for Governor Barron’s park plan. Its mission, “to form community partnerships dedicated to engaging individuals to take greater responsibility for improving their community environments,” was right down Hines’ alley. Through his ministry, the city of New Cumberland has steadily become a positive example of the KAB initiative.
As we gazed at the volunteers cutting trees and piling brush, Hines explained how every year residents get together on a single project for “West Virginia: Make it Shine” day—an official state-level spring cleanup day promoted in partnership with KAB. I also discovered later that Crestview was originally conceived in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of KAB, making a fitting apologue of that day’s restorative efforts.
Hancock County Commissioner Dan Greathouse and Hines have been lifelong friends. They grew up together and share fond memories of the little park. It was only natural that Crestview would surface from time to time in their discussions of “Make it Shine” cleanup activities. This year is Crestview’s lucky year. I was witnessing the product of Hines’ affection for a time when people worked and played together inside of the factories and outside in their neighborhoods and parks.
The people cutting and moving brush and weeds were all volunteers who remembered Crestview as an important part of the landscape of their youth. “Most of the people you see cleaning up have memories of wonderful times here,” George pointed out. “The youngest volunteer is 10 years old. Everyone else is probably over fifty.” While it was wonderful to see some civic pride in action, sadly, people don’t have the same use for the park that they did 30 or 50 years ago.
Lifestyles have changed along with the fortunes of many little river towns. The times when large groups of kids tromped on nature trails, played baseball, kick-the-can or hide-and-seek or are over. “It’s hard to tell if this effort will amount to anything,” he said, “because even I don’t feel like volunteering for much by the end of a day.”
And what about recreation? Will people want to come here when they can sit on a couch and watch television all evening? Are we more tired than we were 50 years ago, or do we just feel so estranged from our neighbors that public meeting places are more stressful than our living rooms?
The old saying, “people who work together play together,” is only so obvious today. Adults in cities like New Cumberland no longer work in the same mines, mills or factories. Chances are good that anyone who doesn’t commute probably isn’t even working—not exactly inspiring them to show up in public places to “relax.” Half the young people who would have been outdoors now play on their computers; the only forest trails they navigate are the ones in their Playstation.
So who will visit the park, and who will care for it?
The location is good; the vocational center and police barracks are directly across Route 2, so it is a safe place. It is a worthwhile tourist stop. Families on their way to or from the Mountaineer resort could enjoy the quiet and the view. But as far as funding, there is none so far. “Not a cent,” said Hines.
New Cumberland has no money for the project; the county has no money for the project; the only industries with a combination of wealth and pride are Homer Laughlin and Mountaineer Park, and they already donate half the money for just about every local project as it is. Because Crestview offers recreation that supports physical fitness and health, George has applied for a grant through West Virginia Health Services.
So for now it’s all about people donating time and equipment. Nick Maurca, who seems to share his commitment to restoring the park, has spent extra hours clearing and tidying the areas closest to the entrances and exposing slabs of concrete where structures originally stood. The outline of what was once a favorite stop for the residents is clearly visible now. Still, even if Crestview wins in the short run, there is no institution to guarantee its permanent existence, unless local priorities for recreation return to those of 60 years ago.
Hines asked me what I thought of the table games issue. We agreed that either of us could live without the resort, but the county needs the jobs. Plus, the better Mountaineer does, the more it can donate back to our infrastructure—if not with labor, at least with dollars. It is the closest thing we have to the beneficence of the old factories.
As we paused again over the activity before us, I envisioned the park as it could be: a place for visitors to picnic and school kids to have nature activities, Cub Scout and Girl Scout meetings; a thirty-foot platform extending over the edge of mountain once again; even a large stationary binocular for viewing activities way up and down the river.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Leadership needed in Wellsville
Allegedly. . . in the wee hours of the morning, a man who has just beaten his father to death with a pipe wrench walks around the corner to the fire station and reports his crime. In any normal environment, police take the suspect into custody, call an ambulance, and report to the crime scene where they follow well-established procedures.
Not in Wellsville.
With the horror of gruesome patricide shaking the community, the chief of police responds on the day of the murder by suspending his lieutenant indefinitely (by registered letter) for “failure to help another officer during an investigation.”
If this is anything like other WPD actions, the details do not bear scrutiny. If you’re a newspaper reporter who aspires to journalism, you’re in Hog Heaven—or at least should be. It doesn’t get better than Wellsville.
In most communities, officials tend to mask their personal agendas with some measure of plausible deniability. In other words, no matter how obvious the motive, the cover story clouds the truth enough to keep some people guessing. In Wellsville you do whatever you want, no matter how bad it looks. Truth is for troublemakers; justice is a joke.
Let me speak plainly: Wellsville is in dire need of leadership. Mayor Joe Surace needs to step forward immediately and put a stop to all this nonsense. If he does not, his candidacy for a second term cannot be taken seriously.
Everyone is watching.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Shining up Crestview (Part 1)
Crestview Park cleanup crew. Click to enlarge. (Fats Norton)
by Liz Lundberg
Between Newell and New Cumberland a section of state Route 2 rims the mountainside above the Ohio River. Too steep for New Cumberland Lock & Dam to place its lock on the West Virginia side, the drop looks to be almost straight down to the water.
From the highway, only a ragged overgrowth of scrub and saplings can be seen, topped by the stacks of the Sammis power plant across the river, but just beyond the guardrail where those trees stand is a fifty-yard wide strip of level land that rolls for a quarter of a mile. Sitting directly opposite the police Barracks and the Rockefeller Vocational Center, this forest of primary succession was recently a beautiful and well-used park.
West Virginia Governor William Wallace Barron dedicated “Crestview” in October 1963, the year in which he declared that one hundred “parklets” should be created in towns and cities all over the state. New Cumberland became the lucky recipient of Crestview, built on land donated by Crescent Brick.
During the 19th and 20th centuries, wealthy local industries proudly donated their resources to help maintain the landscapes of cities and towns. Homer Laughlin, Weirton Steel, and others spent money and provided manpower for projects that helped beautify cities and towns throughout the Ohio Valley.
Crestview Park had two picnic shelters, a restroom, a water well served by a hand pump, and a 30-foot platform, providing a spectacular view of the river. With regular pruning of the surrounding trees, visitors could see all the way down to Toronto and upriver to Mountaineer Park.
People used Crestview every day for twenty years. There were church picnics, wedding receptions, birthday parties and cookouts. Kids trekked on trails along the steep hillside. There were also many late night gatherings of young adults, complete with beer and bonfire.
But the manufacturing base began to erode, as it has all over the country, and local industries fell victim to loss of profits or corporate buyouts. The pride in maintaining Crestview became a liability in time and money that its pleasures could not overcome.
When Crescent Brick folded, the county commission purchased the land. The Department of Highways kept up with some of the major landscaping chores, but by the late 1980s, even the last volunteers, the Newell Lions club, had given up.
Eventually, the picnics and nature walks, the wedding receptions, family outings and illicit, beer-soaked kisses-in-the-back-seat were lost to all but the memories of those who had experienced them. The buildings were moved or fell to ruin; the earth grew over with weeds and forest trees. A latecomer to these parts such as myself would assume that nothing had ever been there but the trees and brush that line the highway.
But this week I drove past the same location and witnessed a flurry of human activity. There were trucks and cars and trailers with landscaping equipment. People bustled all over the several horizontal acres, cutting trees and carrying loads of brush. I turned onto a path in the weeds and got out of the car, interested in finding out who was clearing the land and if it was for sale. My curiosity was rewarded with this story.
A woman my own small size, bent under a load of prickers pointed out a figure she said was “sort of in charge.” I introduced myself to a man of middle age and inquired about the activity. I learned the details of the little park: how it filled the lives of his generation with memories and then began to disappear as the economic landscape and the lifestyles of New Cumberland’s inhabitants changed. His name is George Hines.
“So what’s the deal now?” I asked? “Who are these people? Are they going to restore the park? Who placed George Hines in charge and, of course, who is behind the funding?”
Bottom photo: George Hines/Nick Maurca (by Liz Lundberg)
Sunday, June 17, 2007
Friday, June 15, 2007
Close to the Edge
by M. Stewart
A story in today’s Review, County looks at providing wireless Internet, suggests that our area might be on the verge of joining the 21st-century, and it doesn’t surprise me that county port authority CEO Tracy Drake is leading the charge.
Drake is a progressive thinker and doer, and the county would be crazy to stand in his way. As I recall, Drake began laying the groundwork for digitizing the county at least three years ago. He understood then what he understands now—that progress requires cooperation. Among those supporting the project is another progressive player, Kent State regional campus Dean Jeff Nolte, and if the governor’s office and all the other institutions represented at the information session support the program, this plan might actually come together.
Let’s face it, one of the biggest problems we face in Columbiana County is what is commonly known as provincialism. In short, we typically stand as far from the cutting edge as possible. But according to the newspaper, “... Columbiana County could be the first in the state to provide such broad access. It also would be one of only a few such counties in the country.”
The mere thought of standing this close to the edge is exhilarating!
I haven’t had time to think through the ramifications of a county-wide wireless system, nor did the newspaper report much in the way of specifics. Certainly it could be an enterprise fund for the county and perhaps the municipalities, and as long as the service remains inexpensive and reliable, it may indeed boost interest in the area by outside business investors.
Aside from shafting already existing ISPs, I’m not able to think of any negatives at this point. But why should we be concerned about how existing providers think? They’re in the marketplace like everyone else. Hey, this is America. Let them respond or die.
The Review also reports today that Nick Trombetta will resign as president of the National Network of Digital Schools and superintendent of Midland Borough School District. According to the newspaper, Trombetta wants to “focus his energies on the defense of the PA Cyber School,” which he sees as the target of “vicious assaults from several relentless sources.”
The issue here is allocation of state education dollars, and it isn’t limited to Pennsylvania or even just cyber schools. The fight between public schools and charter schools of all kinds is nearing the boiling point as traditional public schools find their monopoly on public education challenged.
It’s good to see my friend and former colleague Fred Miller running communications for NNDS. Miller is quoted as saying, “The problems they’ve had have been problems of success. ... We’re characterizing this as part of the maturation process of the organizations.”
For the most part, I think Miller’s comment is accurate. If NNDS were not successful, no one would care. Still, the stakes are very high, and Trombetta is taking the matter seriously enough to clear his plate of other duties to command a war that, for him, has two fronts—Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Today’s big stories are related only insofar as they both have to do with Internet technology. We must understand that the Internet has and will continue to change everything we do. The entire world is in the midst of a monumental paradigm shift, and the empowerment of the individual through information technology is affecting every aspect of our private, professional and public lives.
The change is by no means all positive, but in the big picture I would go so far as to say that these new machines are altering our consciousness and forcing us to evolve. More than ever, we are faced with important decisions about how best to manage this evolution into technology-dependent beings. Although change always produces casualties, it is inevitable. Once opened, this box can’t be closed.
_________________________Trivia quiz: The title of today's post, "Close to the Edge," is a borrowed title. Where does it come from?
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Black and gold dust
An ORL reader apprised me of a recent editorial in the Roanoke Times regarding coal-to-liquid fuel conversion technology. Although editorials are by definition opinion pieces, this one might be worth noting given that Roanoke is located near the Southwest Virginia coal fields, an area that should be happy about the prospects of new coal technologies.
Read Billion dollar boondoggle for yourself.
With all the excitement surrounding the economic stimulus expected from the proposed coal conversion plant in Wellsville, questions about the environmental impact have not been asked.
Before we get to the highly politicized matter of greenhouse gas emissions, consider that village residents have complained for years about the coal dust associated with the relatively small offloading operation at Wellsville Terminal. We’ll have to assume that the coal dust issue can only get worse once they start offloading and transporting coal through town to feed the conversion plant.
Given that the $8 billion investment in the conversion plant is far more than the entire town of Wellsville is worth, it’s not likely that anyone will care about complaints from residents once the plant is built. So now is the time to ask questions.
At the Clemente Bridge
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Who's on first?
CORRECTION: I learned after posting this article that the MoJo print edition did carry a follow-up to the Independent candidate story. The online edition, which I read, did not post the story.
Still no follow-up on Saturday’s Review article on independent candidates who may have disqualified themselves by voting in the May primary.
Even if it takes the county board of elections two months to locate a piece of paper, reporters can find out whether a candidate voted in the primary by merely calling him or her and asking. Unless something has appeared in the back pages of the print editions, neither local paper has offered any information on the subject.
The lack of a follow-up story could mean that the initial glee over eliminating voter choice has gone sour. Although there is a certain logic to the secretary of state’s ruling on this issue, I still don't like anything that keeps a citizen from mounting a political challenge to the party machine—Democrat or Republican. The way I see it, anytime the needs of a party become more important than the choice of the people, the electoral process has failed.
An article in today’s Post-Gazette about a Web site that allows students to rate landlords is interesting, especially in terms of how the Internet has empowered private citizens to share information.
For the most part, I believe the inherent dangers involved in what we might call the “amateur” exchange of information are outweighed by the benefits. Attempts to discredit this type of exchange continue from those whose agendas are disrupted by it. See, for example, this L.A. Times article on bloggers and book reviews.
In the Information Age, citizens must develop heightened critical reading skills that permit a functional evaluation of sources, but maintaining a healthy skepticism about what we read is nothing new. Anyone who reads a newspaper or watches television should be aware of the political, social and economic forces that drive it. We should be as suspicious of old media as new.
Like it or not, the days are gone when “authorized” communication dominates mass media. Unfortunately, we are approaching the point where people make little distinction between fact and opinion, even as recognizing that distinction becomes more and more important. In short, I think we have to know more than we used to. We have to be smarter than we were. These machines we’re all staring at are not toys.
Finally, my sympathy goes out to Sherrill Jackson, whose son, Gene Lysle, never returned home after attending a concert in Pittsburgh three years ago. I can’t imagine what it must be like living with the combination of hope, despair and helplessness Sherrill must feel every day. All anyone can do is hope for the best.
Monday, June 11, 2007
Lawrence Convention Center
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Point State Park
Saturday, June 09, 2007
How to steal an election
According to a story in today’s Review, Democrats are moving to eliminate independent challengers in East Liverpool, Wellsville, and beyond.
Although the “recent ruling” comes from Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, the whole affair has the stink of Columbiana County Democratic Party politics. I suppose it was only a matter of time until they pulled something like this to eliminate Don Brown and Dave Lloyd from the village mayoral race. They will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo in the village, whose future includes an $8 billion fuel conversion plant. An awful lot of people want access to that money.
If I were the sitting mayor, I’d speak out against such shenanigans and insist on winning the race honestly and upon my own merits. I’d invite any and all challengers to debate the issues in the public square. I'd want to win the mayor’s office, not steal it.
Wellsville politics remains interesting because of its open dishonesty and ruthlessness, but if the Dems are able to pull this off and eliminate the competition, we must conclude that the village mayor’s office is not an elected but an appointed position, and the appointment is made by people outside the village.
Let me put it another way: If I were a resident of Wellsville, I’d be forming a posse to take back my government. I'm not at all happy about the underhanded attempt to eliminate independent competition in my own town either. We should all speak out against this crap and punish those who remain silent at the ballot box. Anytime a political party tries to stack the deck, it's easy to see who the bad guys are.
Is there anyone left in the county Democratic Party who will stand up for what's right? Or is it merely a win-at-any-cost game?
Friday, June 08, 2007
Antwan Harris: take two
The East Liverpool Police Department has issued more details regarding the Tuesday-morning release of Youngstown drug trafficking suspect Antwan Harris. Both The Review and the Morning Journal carry articles today following up on Wednesday’s Review story.
Before I go on, let me say that I believe our police department is a superior group of dedicated people. Given the city’s budgetary challenges, Chief Mike McVay maintains a thoroughly professional police force of which we should be proud.
But regardless of the reasonable response given by police officials in today’s papers, the fact remains that they were forced to release a convicted big-city narcotics dealer allegedly caught in the act of trafficking drugs in our city. So no matter how reasonable the explanation, the result remains unacceptable.
Here’s another thing that’s unacceptable: that it takes the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Identification lab in Boardman a month to determine if illegal drugs are, in fact, illegal drugs. Surely all crime labs are busy, but this bespeaks a level of inefficiency that simply should not be allowed.
The Antwan Harris incident points to a failed system of law enforcement budgeting that stretches from the federal government, through the state capital, to local municipalities. In terms of basic economics, law enforcement is no different than any other business. You get what you pay for.
Apparently we cannot afford to pay for an optimally (or even adequately) manned and outfitted police department, so we must accept these types of legal compromises. It’s the system, and the system is flawed.
That is one school of thought.
Another says that you do whatever it takes to avoid releasing a dangerous felon onto the streets. At the very least, a system should be put in place to avoid this kind of thing happening again. A whole lot of jobs require personnel to be called out unexpectedly for overtime duty, including police departments, and having some redundancy and flexibility in the system is a requirement, not a luxury.
But the larger issue still looms large. I am not among those who imagine that governmental budgeting is a simple process. No matter what size the pie, there are always competing interests, shifting priorities, and ideological power struggles that affect how money is allocated at every level. Nevertheless, in a world filled with violence—both state-sponsored and criminal—we dare not lose sight of basic priorities. Efficient, effective law enforcement should always be on the top of the list.
So yes, police need to find ways to plug the kind of hole Antwan Harris shimmied through Tuesday morning. It is not an unreasonable request from a concerned public. But elected officials (and those they represent) need also to take another look at the list of priorities that does not adequately recognize the essential role of local safety forces.
As well, let me say that I am impressed with the local press coverage of this incident. The Review’s Rebekah Potter did an excellent job breaking and following up the story. She is a talented writer. This is no slight to the Morning Journal’s Jo Ann Bobby Gilbert, whose East Liverpool work always shows the depth and substance only a veteran reporter can give.
Finally, I encourage ORL readers to make Ole Nib's Looking Out My Window a part of their online reading routine. Indeed, Nib has something to say about the Antwan Harris issue. Check it out.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
I’ve read Suspect released due to police shortage in today’s Review several times, but I’m still having trouble getting it. There must be a mistake. Maybe the guys at the station were playing a joke on the new reporter; maybe it’s some kind of political publicity stunt; maybe there was a disruption in Earth’s magnetosphere last night. Up is now down.
Ok, here's what I see. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning in downtown East Liverpool, a man sees a police cruiser and flees. A chase ensues. He is discovered hiding in the weeds near two known drug houses along with “a portable scale and about 80 grams of a substance suspected to be crack cocaine.”
(I’ll go out on a limb here and say the suspect may have been involved in drug activity.)
He is one Antwan L. Harris, 33, of Youngstown, who has prior charges of “murder, felonious assault, burglary and abduction” and convictions for “funding drug trafficking and possession of cocaine.” Antwan is taken to the PD for processing but is “released due to shortage of manpower and the lack of a dispatcher/deputy clerk on duty.”
Read the story yourself and let me know if you’re seeing the same thing I am. Perhaps those little specks in my vitreous humor are worse than I thought. There has to be more here than meets the eye. I’m going to assume we’ll read more in tomorrow’s paper. I'll hold further comment until then.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
East Liverpool Councilman Tom Cunningham’s suggestion to replace razed buildings in town with recreational green spaces is a step in the right direction. (See today’s Review story.)
What I like so much about Cunnigham's idea is that it posits a way to increase the quality of life in our town at very little expense. I’m convinced that with a little imagination, political leadership, and community involvement, East Liverpool could take much more advantage of its unique combination of natural, historical, and urban assets.
First of all, we must get beyond the idea that a functional recreational infrastructure involves expensive development and maintenance of official recreational zones. For example, our city offers some of the best urban walking I’ve ever seen, yet few people take advantage of it because there is no available structure and direction. Most people like to know where they’re going and how to get there. They also like alternatives.
A comprehensive walking guide coupled with some signage and minimal maintenance of walking areas would go a long way toward making our city more hospitable to both residents and visitors.
I realize that merely saying something ought to be done is a far cry from actually doing it, so to get the ball rolling ORL will sponsor the creation of a guide to walking in East Liverpool, complete with maps, descriptions and commentary. Anyone interested in becoming involved in the project should let me know. We’ll worry about publication options once the document is completed.
One of my assumptions is that those who constantly trash East Liverpool tend to base their judgments on very limited knowledge of the city. Another assumption is that to really know a place you have to get out of the car and walk.
Because our region is filled with unhappy, depressed people whose primary goal is to communicate their own negativity and blame others for their problems, we must actively avoid being controlled by their bleak vision. Put simply, those of us who live in and care about our city must stop paying attention to the mentally ill, the lazy and the ignorant.
Monday, June 04, 2007
Sunday, June 03, 2007
By the River
By the river and past the tracks
between the mansions and little shacks
and creeping through the night time cracks
a thousand rambling alley cats.
The moon hangs down like a feather bed
where the street curls up like a mountain of thread
and the hills are a cradle carelessly spread
like dreams forgotten and buried instead
A cool wind blows where the water runs deep,
the trees bend down and the screen doors creak,
trains whistle by gently rocking the street
and the rails drum on never missing a beat
The fog sails by on a soft smokey roll
and the storms blow in always taking their toll.
She sleeps through the night while deep in her soul,
the rain sweeps down like diamonds on coal.
Saturday, June 02, 2007
A non-sexual, spiritual place
I hope you managed to see the article in Friday’s Morning Journal about the year-old “spiritual retreat” outside Lisbon. The newspaper investigated “Valley Retreat” after neighbors complained about too many city folk driving by and causing a ruckus.
Jeff Martin’s masterful piece reveals a setting that combines elements of David Lynch’s Lost Highway, James Dickey's Deliverance, and The Andy Griffith Show.
One resident claims to have seen a “dump truck full of people” and cars with license plates from Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York going to the retreat, and she’s worried that these spiritual seekers will impose their big city ways on the formerly peaceful countryside.
“You’ll find a body down there eventually,” she said. “A lot of these people are coming (from cities), and they’ll bring their guns or something.” Implying that city folk are not the only people who have guns, Debbie’s husband, Jim, said if any of the seekers should make the mistake of stumbling onto his property, he won’t bother calling the police.
Perhaps the best part of the article comes when Martin quotes the co-operator of Valley Retreat—a fellow named Greg Groubert Jr. (Of course, that could be a code name.) “This is a non-sexual place, a spiritual place, somewhere where people can be free and can get some marital help,” he said.
Now is as good a time as any to check Valley Retreat’s web site. Assuming you have made the click, I’m sure you are somewhat skeptical of Groubert’s claim that his business is a marriage counseling center. Then again, what is marriage counseling, really? Does it have to be some touchy-feely therapist in an office? Why can’t it be something with a little more range? Here is a list of upcoming therapy sessions taken from the Web site:
Friday, June 1st: Sexy Sluts Sleepover
Saturday, June 2nd: Sexy PJ Party
Friday, June 8th: Naughty Teachers Spank Back
Saturday, June 9th: Naughty School Girls Graduation Party
Friday, June 15th: Event Info Cuming Soon
Jo and I are looking forward to “Naughty Teachers Spank Back” night. I hope some of my old Beaver Local teachers will be there. I need to get beyond some of the trauma they caused me during my developmental years.
In all seriousness, this sort of private club is OK with me, even if Groubert's cover story is an obvious crock of shit. The traffic and noise problems probably need addressed, but otherwise what’s the big deal? Living out sexual fantasies isn’t against the law, even in Columbiana County.
My understanding is that prominent local people seek counseling at Valley Retreat on a regular basis, but is that any of our business? How can it be our business? Has seven years of George Bush convinced us that privacy is unAmerican?
It will be interesting to see if there is any fallout from the MoJo story. Clearly the owners and operators of Valley Retreat do not want such publicity. The mere “outing” of the proprietors could cause them serious social and professional problems.
Perhaps the moral of the story is that we should all try to be just a little quieter. What the neighbors don’t know won’t hurt them.
Friday, June 01, 2007
Fifth & Market
Killing a town for profit
Today’s post started as a response to ORL reader CoffeeCup, who composed a very thought-provoking comment under our recent photo of the J.C. Thompson building. Because my response ended up being quite lengthy, I decided to run it here on the main page. I suggest you read CoffeeCup’s comment before reading this response.
Unlike property owners, many renters do not care about the properties they're "staying" in, and as we all know, East Liverpool is plagued with trashy renters. However, it is the landlord who chooses to rent his/her property to these scumbags in the first place. If landlords were more careful about managing their property—and that starts with making sure you have responsible rental clients—then maybe we wouldn't have such a problem.
To me, part of the definition of a slumlord is someone who knowingly rents property to irresponsible, dirty people. Renters should be screened just like job applicants. A good rule is: Don’t rent to anyone you wouldn't want as a neighbor.
Secondly, many other cities have and enforce stricter housing maintenance codes than we have here. Enforcement is impossible without purposeful, well-crafted legislation designed to effect long-term reform. There is no getting around the fact that all restrictive legislation steps on someone's toes. There are always going to be whiners and complainers, but we must keep in mind that it is exactly these people that we want to get rid of. So let them whine and complain. I don't care if they are well-to-do, influential township realtors. East Liverpool is not their city. Our elected officials represent taxpaying residents, not out-of-town slumlords.
A township realtor/slumlord once said to me with an absolutely straight face: "Poor people need somewhere to live too, and around here, that's East Liverpool. We help poor people by giving them what they need." This person knew I was a resident of the city but still assumed I would accept this phony rationalization. It was at that point I began to notice the extent of the damage that those who profit from poverty have inflicted on East Liverpool.
I noticed too that even discussing the issue out loud was taboo, and it had been so for quite some time. Well-intentioned politicians, merchants, and city residents had been trying to solve East Liverpool’s economic problems without paying attention to the root cause, which is not so much the poor people themselves, but rather an entrenched system designed to exploit poverty for profit.
The system has been in place for so long that few even question it. People who profit from the status quo get angry and defensive when someone so much as mentions the pink elephant in the room. For example, last I heard the East Liverpool Chamber of Commerce elected the director of the Columbiana Metropolitan Housing Authority as its president. There are two possible alternatives: There is an open conspiracy to keep East Liverpool down, or our business community is made up of profoundly ignorant people. Either way, the city loses.
It’s a no-brainer to assume that active and unified government is necessary to change the prevailing model, but as I've argued before, altruistic private investors also must be part of any comprehensive program of social and economic change. One thing I know for sure is that if everyone is afraid, then nothing gets done; the status quo continues, and those who profit from it stay fat and happy.
Journalists have always known that if you want answers, follow the money, but that’s not likely to happen here because the local press is part of the same exploitation system that strives to keep workers’ wages low and corporate profits high. When the press has an interest in maintaining the status quo, reform is extremely difficult because the bad guys can hide so easily, especially when the institution responsible for exposing them provides the cover.
Because of current economic and social conditions, East Liverpool is not the kind of town that can attract investors looking to profit in the traditional way. We all know this. Sadly, the market remains ripe for vultures and carpetbaggers. At the same time and for the same reasons, Liverpool is an ideal town for creative investors interested in preservation and long-term personal rewards. Sure, it costs money, but that’s true anywhere.
So how about a that beautiful old Thompson building? First of all, the building is in pretty good shape compared to what it might be. I suppose a person could spend $40,000 to restore it, but that seems excessive, certainly not as an initial outlay. Restoration is best accomplished over time.
Frankly, I’d be interested in the building myself if we hadn’t just purchased a historic residence downtown that requires restoration. Even so, if the building is still on the market in a year, I may move on it. The Little Building, on the other hand, represents a much larger investment both in initial outlay and restoration. A sensible buyer would want to have a clear plan going in, but, as always, creativity is the key.
Conventional thinkers—those who tread only well-worn paths—are useless here. What’s required are creative people—those who look for opportunities where others do not. Mr. Newbold and yes, even Mr. Trombetta, are creative risk-takers willing to do things in spite of the conventional wisdom. Will they be successful? We’ll see. Those of us who are not wealthy can play our part by using the same creative methods on a smaller scale.
My point has always been that East Liverpool is a small enough town that a relatively small group of creative investors could literally recreate the place. With local government cooperation, the poverty exploitation model that exists today could be slowly pushed out. But these things take cooperation and persistence—qualities that seem uncommon in our area.
CoffeeCup’s warning is something we should all hear and consider. One should never go into business—and owning a commercial property is a business—without considering and preparing for the pitfalls. Still, as long as I’m alive, I won’t give up on my town. I know that major economic and social change can occur only if good people develop and stick with a plan, and the plan involves much more than money.