Sunday, August 30, 2009

Paw City Trail

What is the image above? I asked about a dozen people this question and here are some of their answers: A jack-o-lantern; a map of Portsmouth; birds on a wire; a buffalo with a devil’s tail, a prawn on steroids. About half said they could see absolutely nothing.

The image was made from a stencil and can be found on sidewalks in downtown Portsmouth. But what is it an image of? I tried to figure that out for a couple of weeks as I took my daily constitutional down 2nd Street. The more I looked down at the image, from various angles, the more it looked, as some have told me since, like nothing in particular. Instead of representing something, it looked like an abstract image, maybe of a modern painting that had hung on the wall of the Phantom Art Gallery, on 2nd Street. I wondered whether it was a symbol of some group or secret organization. I even wondered whether it was an occult sign put there by those locals who are into mind work and psychic readings. I wondered whether it might be a Shawnee cave drawing depicting a bison with the tail of a beaver. Or was it just some creature that was all gaping maw and no body?

I finally went into one of the antique shops on 2nd St. and asked the proprietor if he knew what the blue image on the sidewalk in front of the entrance of his shop was. He seemed embarrassed and a bit apologetic when he answered.

“It’s a bear’s paw,” he said.

“A what?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Shawnee State put it there.”

“With your permission?”

“Yes,” he said, blushing slightly.

Then it dawned on me. This was probably part of the Shawnee rebranding program, which I had written about in River Vices. Under the open records law, I had requested the figures of how much the university had spent so far on the rebranding. The figure I was given was just over $250,000. By the time the university had complied with my request, I had already posted on July 6, “Rebranding Shawnee State U.,” without the $250,000 figure. I did not think I would be writing about the rebranding again, at least not anytime soon, but that’s the point of advertising: they hound you and you can’t ignore the product they're advertising, especially when it is down on the sidewalk staring up at you like a . . . Well, like a cootie under a microscope.

It occurred to me as I’m sure it has to some people at SSU that the bear isn’t the product. Shawnee State is not in the business of marketing bears; it is in the business of educating students. Then how can SSU justify spending, so far, $250,670 on this rebranding, which apparently includes this Shawnee bear paw that nobody sees as a bear paw?

The contract that SSU has with the marketing firm Stamats was signed by President Rita Rice Morris and Vice President for Finance Elinda C. Boyles on October 23, 2008. President Morris’s salary is $191,758 and V.P. Boyle’s is $114, 656, which combined is $306,414. I know from my years at SSU that both Morris and Boyles are very capable administrators, with many responsibilities, but there are only 24 hours in a day and only so much they can do in a day, so any time, however brief, they put into this rebranding project takes away time that they could be spending on something else, like helping improve the product SSU is offering, which is higher education, not bears. In addition to the $250,670, it’s costing the taxpayers to have these two top administrators, not to mention the faculty, involved in the rebranding, adding to the hidden costs. And if SSU is going to spend a quarter of a million dollars on rebranding, shouldn’t the paw look at least enough like a paw that maybe one of ten people who happened to look down at the sidewalk would recognize it as a paw, and that one out of a hundred might associate the paw with Shawnee State, and not with buffalo, birds, a map, or a prawn, and whatever else this Rorschach-like image might suggest to people?

If SSU wants to leave its paw mark on the Portsmouth area, I suggest it do it by encouraging its employees and particularly its faculty to become more involved politically instead of leaving it to the lowlifes who all too often end up in public office in Portsmouth’s city government. The way these lowlifes get into office initially is too often by being appointed rather than elected to city council. They are appointed by other council members who themselves too often got their start by being appointed to office by city council. Council members do not always finish their four-year terms because they are recalled by angry voters or they resign before they can be recalled, as the president of city council Howard Baughman did recently. He resigned because he knew that otherwise he would be recalled, giving voters a chance to vote for his successor, but because he resigned the crooked city council would choose his successor. It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be stopped, but it won’t be until there is more new blood in Portsmouth politics. Shawnee State employs people who live in Portsmouth. As educated, ethical professionals, they have an obligation to be involved politically in the community they live in, and not just by voting, which is not to suggest that voting isn't a very important act.

Strickland Center for Municipal Studies

I have another suggestion. The university could establish a Municipal Studies Program, perhaps named in honor of Governor Ted Strickland, a former adjunct professor at SSU. The emphasis on such a program could be on the municipality of Portsmouth itself, on its economic, social and political problems in particular, and how those problems might be alleviated. (Reducing council terms to two years would be a start.) Too many American universities are isolated from the communities they are located in. At some universities some faculty have a professional interest in places far away and long ago, but almost no interest in the community they live or are at least are employed in, here and now. I was so involved in university politics, not out of desire but out of necessity, that I didn’t know a cob from a Kalb or a Greg from an Eddie Bauer. At worst, faculties in some public universities adopt an ivory tower attitude, with a disdain for everything local, especially local government.

Paw City Trail

Such a Municipal Studies Program would need to establish independence from the local developers, lawyers, and businessmen who control Portsmouth, as well from members of the SSU board of trustees (sometimes one and the same) who view the university as a generously convenient place to unload distressed residential and commercial property. Maybe there could be a designated walking trail in Portsmouth. Boston has a Freedom Trail, which is marked by a red line that pedestrians can follow with a map in hand. “Let’s see, this is North End, so that must be the steeple of the Old North Church where Paul Revere hung the lanterns.” In Portsmouth we could have a Paw City Trail of SSU presidential houses marked by stenciled bear paws on the sidewalk. Such a trail could begin on the southeast corner of Waller and 3rd Street, where the university was far advanced with plans to build a new president’s house at a cost, as I recall, of about what this rebranding campaign may end up costing SSU before it's through. The architect, Michael Hasara, had submitted a design to the President’s House Committee, on which I was the faculty representative, and everything was set to go when the Chair of the Committee, SSU Trustee George Clayton, pulled the rug out at the last minute, and SSU instead bought at a ridiculously inflated price of $400,000 from a doctor a totally unsuitable house 3.5 miles from campus, about as far from campus as you get and still be in the city, a house that constitutes an architectural scandal in the history of the university. What with renovations and buttressing to keep it from sliding down the hill it's on, that house cost the university far more than $400,000. The bear paw trail from the corner of Waller and 3rd to 3060 Camelot Drive would pass the old Thatcher house at 1828 Franklin Boulevard that SSU bought from a former trustee at an inflated price as a temporary president’s house while the one on the corner of Waller and 3rd was being built, which of course it never was. A Municipal Studies Program might help end such shenanigans by monitoring political and economic developments, and shady deals, more carefully. Where would the money for such a program come from in these tough economic times? If a quarter of a million dollars and counting can be found for rebranding, maybe the money can be found for a new academic program.

Cat’s Paws

A Municipal Studies Program might help put an end not only to the bear paw business, but to the cat paw business as well. In LaFontaine’s fable, a shrewd monkey gets a cat to use his paw to pull chestnuts out of the fire. The monkey gets the chestnuts, the cat gets burned. A cat’s paw is someone, a tool or a dupe, who is used by another person for his own purposes. There are more cat’s paws in Portsmouth than there are prawn in Piketon, and they gravitate to politics like flies to garbage. The monkeys will not keep their cat’s paws to themselves but they must get them placed in or appointed to positions where they can be of most use. Don’t confuse cat’s paws with lap dogs. They have a similar function, but a lap dog is a little smarter and doesn't get its paw burned.

Where Paw City Trail begins.
Corner of 3rd and Waller, site of never-built presidential house,
shown in architect's drawing, above.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Auditor Strums as City Burns

City Auditor Trent Williams’ first love is music, not accounting. He doesn’t have a degree in business or accounting but in Music Education, from Morehead State U. That may be why the city’s finances have grown increasingly chaotic and discordant in the nearly ten years he has been City Auditor. Instead of keeping track of bank notes, his mind has been on musical notes.

Williams’ biography is very musical. He played in the band at East High School and continues to be passionate about marching bands. In the 1980s he was a member of the Crossman Drum and Bugle Corps. He likes to travel to international drum corps competitions. He also performs with the Portsmouth Community Orchestra. “It’s just so much fun to continue something you did every day in high school and college,” he told the Scioto Voice back in 2005, when he made an unsuccessful run for mayor. That Voice story was titled “Williams Budgets Life Along with City.” Music, along with politics and sports, takes up so much of his time, he told the Voice, that he hardly has any left for his family. “They take up a lot of my personal life,” he said, but that was OK with him. But obviously, budgeting his life, like budgeting the city, is a very stressful challenge.

In a campaign debate sponsored by the League of Women Voters back in 2003, Williams said, “I’ve taken a hands-on approach to being auditor,” but what he appears to have had his hands on most as auditor is not the city budget but his guitar. His rival in that 2003 race said the city was facing a $951,328 deficit, which Williams did not deny. When facing a huge deficit, Williams turns into a jittery Johnny Guitar. In January 2008, a nervous Williams said in a council meeting the city faced a possible $1 million dollar deficit, and recently he admitted the city faced a potential $1.1 million dollar deficit. But when pressed about these deficits, the nervous Williams says don’t panic, a way will be found to deal with them. Unfortunately, “creative bookkeeping, involving smoke and mirrors, or pulling fast ones, has been the way he usually deals with them. But 2009 might turn out to be a lights out year when he and the city will have to face the music.

Williams during 2005 unsuccessful campaign for mayor

I heard some years ago that the secretaries keep the Auditor’s Office running, that while they are busy in the outer office, Williams is holed up in his private office, playing his guitar. That rumor was given some credence by the interview with the Scioto Voice back in 2005. The Voice reported, “handling the city’s finances can be daunting and stressful. That is when Williams takes a break with one of his favorite hobbies. In his office rests a guitar in case his workload gets the better of him.” Williams told the Voice, “If I need to pound off some stress, I use the guitar.” Perhaps we should be thankful. Another man under great stress, when his work gets the better of him, might take to drink or drugs. Our city auditor takes to his guitar. As the city’s financial situation has grown increasingly bleaker in the last few years, we can assume he has taken more and more to his guitar. Nero played the harp, not the guitar, but you get the picture. As Portsmouth goes up in flames financially, our stressed-out city auditor strums his guitar.

Stressed-out Auditor in office, without guitar


Friday, August 21, 2009

burned Williams

After sitting in on the hearing at the Common Pleas Court on the morning of December 1, 2011, I reached the following conclusions: 

1. One of the reasons the city is in a fiscal crisis is because historically city officials and the mayor in particular get in bed with municipal employees unions, particularly the police and fire unions.

2. Elected officials do not negotiate with the municipal employee unions, they collude with them because the bottom line for elected officials is getting elected and getting elected or reelected without the support of municipal employees is hard as hell.

3. One of the ways elected officials have paid off municipal employees for their political support is transferring money out of the Capital Improvement account into the General Account.

4. Elected officials are reluctant to spend the Capital Improvement monies on capital improvements—roads, sewers, municipal buildings—because capital improvements do not vote.

5. People vote and municipal employees are people; increasing their wages and benefits makes political sense because they not only vote for the colluding public officials, they campaign for them.

6. The police and fire personnel are very good at campaigning. They do not hesitate to use scare tactics to get voters, especially elderly voters, to vote for measures, such as the increase in the city income tax, that are favorable to police and fire personnel.

7. Now that the city income tax has passed by a narrow margin, police and especially fire personnel are campaigning to get the transfer of unused money in the Capital Improvement account, where it can be used only for capital improvements, into the General Fund, where it can be used to further increase salaries and benefits for police and fire personnel.

8. Municipal unions, and particularly the fire and police unions, give unionism a bad name. Unions that must engage in real negotiations, such as teachers, who are not invited to get into bed with elected officials, are blamed for the higher taxes that result from the increased cost of salaries and benefits of public employees, particularly the police and fire personnel.

9. City solicitor Mike Jones represents the interests not of the taxpayers of Portsmouth but of the municipal unions, particularly the fire department union. 

Fiscalholic CitySolicitor Mike Jones, who represents the Police and Fire Unions in city government

10. Both Auditor Williams and Solicitor Jones vowed to Judge Marshall that if he transfers the funds, they will do everything they can to see that the city puts its fiscal house in order. Williams is not an alcoholic but he is a fiscalholic. Some of his answers to questions were so non-responsive and strange as to suggest he is in an extreme stage of fiscalholicsm.

11. If Judge Marshall agrees to the transfer he will be enabling fiscalholics in city government to continue what is by now a long standing practice or robbing the Capital Improvement Fund to pay for salaries and benefits for municipal employees.

12. The Municipal Building is the most glaring example of what happens when Capital Improvement monies are not used for capital improvements. People are very important, including rank and file municipal employees, but so is Portsmouth’s infrastructure, and that is what Capital Improvement monies should be spent on.

Capital Improvement funds have not been properly used to maintain the Municipal Building

The participation of Frank Gerlach and Jane Murray in the hearing, speaking against the transfer,  was outstanding; they are probably the most capable mayors Portsmouth has had in the last half century. We should not give up on Portsmouth when we have people like them speaking up for taxpayers.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Lovins Leaves Little Shop of Horrors

The Little Shop of Horrors

Public relations is the world’s second oldest profession, and it came into existence to serve the first. The public doesn’t know it, but public relations has been around for thousands of years. The reason the public doesn’t know that public relations has been around a long time is that the name has changed. It used to be called lying, but they made a profession out of it and called it public relations. Presumably, it’s possible to succeed at public relations and not be dishonest, unethical and unscrupulous, and to be a complete liar, cheat and a scoundrel, but it is probably much harder. The same may be said for being a reporter or managing editor for the Portsmouth Daily Times, where reporters and editors are really poorly paid PR people whose job is protect and polish the image of the rich white trash who control the city. Maybe some ex-reporter or managing editor will write a memoir someday, of the hell it was to work for the PDT, for practically nothing, all the while being held in contempt by those who refused to buy the newspaper.
The hardest thing is to change something bad for the better. Changing the name of something bad is the favorite trick of public relations. When something gets a reputation that is so bad that it is not worth defending, public relations doesn’t try to change it, it just renames it. It is much easier to change a product’s, or a service’s, or a person’s name or title than it is to change the product, the service, or the person. It’s much easier to change the way a thing appears than to change what it is. The easiest way to change perceptions is through deceptions. If an institution had to choose between flush toilets and public relations, they would choose public relations because shit may happen but that’s what you have a public relations department for—to turn shit into gold. These days, instead of changing names, public relations specialists are into changing brands; rather than renaming, they are into “rebranding.”
Any produce manager can tell you that what sells fruit is not the way fruit tastes after you buy it but the way it looks before you buy it. If you have the best tasting fruit in the world, it will not sell if it looks bad. The whole fruit business seems geared to growing better looking, not better tasting, fruit. Taking a lesson learned from Hollywood PR, breeding for appearance rather than taste has produced the most voluptuous looking and lousiest tasting hothouse tomatoes under the sunlamp. If the claims sound and the tomatoes look too good to be true, they probably are. That’s because that’s the rule with almost everything, not just fruit. It’s true with teeth whiteners and automobiles. The Volvo station wagon may have been one of the most reliable indestructible clunkers in the world, but nobody wanted to be seen driving one, except maybe Lurch, the butler in the Adams family.
Eventually, the reputation of public relations itself got so bad that it had to change its name. It has come up with a number of euphemisms for itself, usually with the words “communications” and “marketing” somewhere in the new name. Public relations is so pervasive that most organizations are much more devoted to image control than quality control, and because of public relations’ chameleon ability to change not only its name but also its own image, many employees in an organization are not aware that what their job basically amounts to is public relations. Anyone na├»ve enough to believe that what he or she is suppose to do is make changes for the better constitutes a menace to an organization. Saying the right thing, not doing the right thing, looking the part, not playing the part, is the first commandment in the religion of making it in America, and nobody follows that commandment more faithfully than your public relations specialist. Because of its incestuous culture of dependency and its toleration of incompetence, Portsmouth is particularly in need of and susceptible to public relations.
Lovins' Farewell Address
This peroration on Public Relations was prompted by the recent Farewell Address of the Managing Editor of the Portsmouth Daily Times, the former “Marketing Communication Specialist,” at Southern Ohio Medical Center. Why Jason Lovins left SOMC in the first place is hard to explain, because billboards and ads on radio and TV hail the local hospital as one of best employers in Ohio to work for, as based on a survey of those very same employees. Or is that just more PR malarkey? Why Lovins would voluntarily leave one of the most popular places in Ohio to work to become the low-paid managing editor on the sinking Portsmouth Daily Times is not easy to understand. Did his leaving SOMC have anything to do with that business over the resignation of the Friends of SOMC? That was a public relations mess, which he as SOMC’s Marketeing Communication Specialist must have had some responsibility for.
Anyway, it appears Lovins the PR specialist has either lost or been fired from another PR job. It was Frank Lewis, reporting on the messy resignation of the board of directors of Friends of the SOMC, in 2006, who identified Lovins as the “Marketing Communication Specialist” at SOMC, which may or may not have been his official title. Lewis is not necessarily any more of a fact checker at getting people’s titles straight than he is on quotations by Abraham Lincoln. In his short nine months as Managing Editor of the PDT, Lovins has shamelessly repeated the Chamber of Commerce-SOGP PR line that Portsmouth is a great city and getting better all the time, with a lot of incredibly giving and wonderfully caring people, except for that malicious vocal minority that is always trying to tear the city down. Recently the Times ran a story about a man I don't know but mistakenly used the photo of a gentleman I do know. Of course that is nothing compared to what happens to a patient who goes into a hospital for an appendectomy and comes out of the operating room with the appendix but without a leg. That kind of thing takes a whole lot of public relationing to make up for.
The title of Lovins’ swan song in the PDT is “It Really Has Been a Short Nine Months,” in which he was speaking only for himself of course. It was a very long nine months for some of us. On the basis of the puffery of himself and the Times reporters in which he indulges in his Farewell Address, maybe he should have called it “A Labor of Lovins.” No wonder he was such an unqualified success, since every reporter he worked with at the PDT was so “remarkably talented, hard-working,” etc., and were “experienced journalists providing quality every day.” Well, maybe not every day, because Lovins fails to point out that during his short nine months the incredibly shrinking PDT shrank further, not in size but in frequency, from a seven-day to a six-day-a-week newspaper. Why were those Times reporters so good, according to Lovins? “Largely because they either grew up or have lived a long time here and feel their roots dive very deep into our soil as well as our souls.” This is the kind of PR crap you get from a PR person who is trying his best to put a PR spin on what to outside observers looks like his losing his job. Lovins’ Farewell Address is his PR effort to turn his personal shit into gold. Never mind his reporters digging into our soil and souls. How about their digging into a story? In the story Frank Lewis wrote in July 13, 2006, about the resignation of the Friends of the SOMC, he typically gagged rather than dug. Hardly anybody to this day knows what the hell that was all about. When a major advertiser like the SOMC and bigwigs like Robert Dever are involved, a PDT reporter doesn’t do any digging and finding out things he would not be able to print anyway.
The Miracle Worker
Lovins claims in nine short months to have transformed the PDT, or at least the front page. He was severely limited by what he could print about Portsmouth on the front page because he had to follow the long established PDT policy that if the news wasn’t positive, it wasn’t fit to print. So the front page of the Times became during his short nine months a repository of human interest stories, as if we didn’t get enough human interest stories from Wayne Allen on the front page of the PDT’s sister Community Common. Hold the presses! “Portsmouth woman got her picture taken with Oprah Winfrey!” Rather than “diving very deep into our souls,” why didn’t PDT reporters in the last nine months dive very deep into the corruption, crime, drugs, and prostitution that plagues Portsmouth? Because if they did they would be out of a job pronto. All Jeff Barron had to do was mention that somebody who was arrested for drugs was an employee at Glockner’s and he was history.
Let’s try to find something positive in all this. Maybe there has been some improvement at the PDT. At least Lovins at the end of his short nine months did not suddenly disappear, without a word, becoming a non-person like the previous managing editor. Art Kuhn had done all he could to follow the PDT PR line, and look what it got him. And let’s keep in mind, also, that the Times reporters, in the process of digging into our souls, have not sold theirs forever but are only renting them temporarily, for subsistence wages. They will possibly have an opportunity, when they too are finally fired or the paper shrinks to nothing, to move on to some situation where they might regain their integrity and good name. And it is even possible that the “further education” Lovins cites as one of his reasons for leaving will be in some field other than public relations and that he will find some other way to make a living than lying for others.
In his initial introductory infamous editorial, “Election a Sign of Things to Come,” back on February 5, 2009, Lovins started out, in a disarming PR way, praising democracy but he closed by suggesting there may be too much of it in Portsmouth. “There comes a time,” he closed that editorial, “when the philosophy of Democracy has to give way to the pragmatic reality of fiscal management. This just may be that time.” To speak of ‘the reality of fiscal management’ in a city where Jim Kalb is mayor and Trent Williams auditor, and where current budget projections are for a $1.1 million deficit! What it’s time for is not for democracy to take a back seat to the budget but for Lovins, nine short months later, to leave the Little Shop of Horrors.


Sunday, August 09, 2009

Great Emancipator or Wingnut?

After reading Frank Lewis’s recent column “Tax Payer Revolt on the Horizon” on the Portsmouth Daily Times website, I thought I was back in 1989 when I arrived in Portsmouth and first read the Daily Times, which editorially was so far right back then that I wondered how many of its readers might belong to the KKK or the John Birch Society. When I later heard that the husband of a long-time city official had been a member of and an organizer for the KKK, I figured that was the kind of people who subscribed to the PDT, which I never have. I read Lewis's column online because I believe paying 50 cents for a copy of the PDT is contributing to the further moral and economic decline of Portsmouth. Now we have Lewis, twenty years later, as if it is 1989, as if nothing has changed. But something has changed. The world has changed tremendously, and so has the United States, and those who cannot deal with change have grown even more desperate than they were twenty years ago. Unable to deal with the fact that we have an African-American president, they are growing increasingly paranoid about the “govinment” and the “revenooers”; they have morphed into wingnuts. What’s a wingnut? The Urban Dictionary defines a wingnut as, “An outspoken, irrational person with deeply-held, nominally conservative, political views; a person who chooses on principle to be flagrantly ignorant; a ‘right-wing nut’.” Wingnuts now constitute the base, in more than one sense, of the "Party of No!" Where are the rational, sober conservatives, which the country needs now more than ever?

In my most recent River Vices posting, “Rebranding Shawnee State U.,” I had the displeasure of analyzing an embarrassing writing performance by Wayne Allen in the Community Common, and here, several days later, on a Saturday night, when I could be watching Law and Order, I’m reading Frank Lewis’s “Tax Payer Revolt on the Horizon” on the PDT website, listening to the roar of the jalopies at the Portsmouth Raceway, wondering which of the two, the drivers at the Raceway or the reporters at the PDT, are the biggest polluters—the drivers of the atmosphere and the reporters of the English language.

Crystal Bull

Frank Rich of the New York Times wrote a column last week about the kind of wingnut circles which Lewis apparently moves, or at least surfs, in. “Obama’s election, far from alleviating paranoia in the white fringe,” Rich wrote, “has only compounded it.” The “birther” movement, which claims Obama was not born in the U.S. and therefore cannot be president; the so-called Tea Party tax-revolters who accuse Obama of being a closet socialist; the anti-health reform militants, who are being egged on by Rupert Murdoch and Fox News—these are three issues the wingnuts are currently becoming obstreperous about. Looking into his crystal ball, or at his wingnut websites, Lewis writes, “I believe that a taxpayer revolt is coming. I think the recent Tea Parties are nothing compared to what will happen if we continue on the slippery slope of government-run health care, auto industry financial institutions, etc.” That “etc.” is meant to cover everything imaginable, because wingnuts imagine a conspiracy so vast and pervasive there is no way to escape from it.

I disagree with Mr. Lewis. In my opinion, Obama is attempting to save capitalism from itself, the way Franklin D. Roosevelt did in the 1930s. I am old enough to remember Republicans accusing F.D.R. of being a communist or at least a “class traitor” for standing up to the Wall Street crooks in the process of saving capitalism. The fact that it is a black man who is attempting to save capitalism is driving some white people who will never admit they are racists out of their heads. In the eyes of the wingnuts “revenooers” are bad enough, but when the “govinment” is headed by a black socialist “revenooer”, that expands their paranoia exponentially. I am concerned that some disturbed person, feeding on the wingnut hysteria. might try to do to the president what the racist, anti-Semitic madman did to Dr. George Tiller, who was assassinated in a Kansas church.

Great Prevaricator

Which is my segue for the Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, whom Lewis claims to quote in the closing of his ignorant and prejudiced “Tax Payer Revolt on the Horizon.” I was almost certain these “Lincoln Quotes” Lewis provided were false as soon as I read them, and it took me only five seconds on a Google search to find the proof that they are false, five seconds Lewis surely must have had at his disposal to make the same search. In the Google search box I typed in the first “Lincoln” quotation, “You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich,” and within a fraction of a second it came up with the truthorfiction website, which tells us that “These words are often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but according to the book They Never Said it: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, & Misleading Attributions, they are not from Lincoln. The quotes were published in 1942 by William J. H. Boetcker, a Presbyterian minister. He released a pamphlet titled Lincoln On Limitations, which did include a Lincoln quote, but also added 10 statements written by Boetcker himself.

So the quotations Mr. Lewis claims are Lincoln’s are not. These are not the thoughts of Lincoln, and these are not the words of Lincoln; this is not the kind of language Lincoln would have used if they were his thoughts. These are the words of a clerical neo-wingnut, written about 70 years ago, not the words of the president of the United States written about 150 years ago. Anyone with an awareness of American English as it developed in the successive stages of American history should have been suspicious about these quotes and checked them out. Though he does make his living using the English language, Mr. Lewis obviously does not fall into the category of someone who is aware of the development of American English, not if he cannot tell or at least suspect that there is a big difference between the language of a neo-wingnut Presbyterian writing in the middle of the twentieth century from the language of the sixteenth president of the United States writing in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was Rev. Boetcker, not President Lincoln, who was sticking up for the rich. In my opinion, Mr. Lewis, himself an Apostolic minister, I am told, makes his living as a reporter who uses the English language to apologize and cover up for the rich of Portsmouth. It is wingnuts like him and the late Rev. Boetcker, not Lincoln, who are defending the rich. If Mr. Lewis did not apologize and cover up, he would be out of his PDT job fast, like Jeff Barron and Mike Deaterla were. Neither Barron or Deaterla were crusading reporters. They just didn’t cover up and apologize enough.

In its fast-changing cast of employees, the incredibly shrinking PDT is currently advertizing for a sports writer, an advertiser manager (“in a fast-growing company”), and an “experienced editor” (“Come join our growing company in a pleasant community in a beautiful part of the state”). Jason Lovins is still listed as the Managing Editor of the PDT. If he remains at the paper, and is not already gonzo like Arthur Kuhn, Lovins has to bear some responsibility for the ignorance and prejudice Mr. Lewis displayed in “Tax Payer Revolt on the Horizon.” A managing editor is supposed to monitor and edit his reporters. Or did Lovins fall for the Lincoln quotes too? What have several generations of American high school students been taught to memorize the "Gettysburg Address" for if not to appreciate how English can be used succinctly, clearly, yet eloquently.

There are, like me, hundreds, maybe thousands of people in Portsmouth who refuse to subscribe to the PDT. It is too much to expect people to pay for a shrinking “six-days-a-week” newspaper whose main reason for existing appears to be to cover up and apologize for the rich lawyers and developers who control Portsmouth. A virtual boycott of the PDT has existed for some time. This virtual boycott and the precarious position of newspapers in our digital world mean that the PDT may not be long for this world. Few will mourn its passing, especially those who admire Abraham Lincoln not for defending scalawags but for, at the cost of his life, helping free the slaves and save the union.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Rebranding Shawnee State U.

A recent announcement by Shawnee State University informs us that “The Office of Communications has been renamed the Office of Marketing and Communications to reflect its broader role in outreach, marketing, and branding.” I wrote a post about an earlier"rebranding" at SSU in July 2006, which I am reposting a slightly edited version of below. I was hard in the post on Wayne Allen who is a gifted writer, but he would have been better if the PDT had had somebody who could proofread.

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Will the cuddly Shawn E. Bear be euthanized?

      SSU’s Director of Communications Elizabeth Blevins was recently interviewed in the Community Common by reporter Wayne Allen on the subject of the “rebranding” of the university. Merriam-Webster defines the noun brand as a well-known and usually highly regarded or marketable name.” So rebranding might mean “changing a brand to make it better known, more highly regarded and marketable.” Last fall, feeling it was time for rebranding, a brand marketing team was assembled from different departments at the university. Wayne Allen, a former SSU student, reported, “It became clear to the team, the university needed a partner to help lead them through the entire branding project.” Incidentally, that comma after team creates a run-on sentence. The sentence would be perfectly correct and clear if Mr. Allen used the relative pronoun “that” instead of the comma. If he wanted to be a little more formal, he could have used a semicolon instead of the comma, something I discouraged students from doing when I taught freshman composition at SSU. Only if they understood the correct usage of commas and periods should they risk fooling around with semicolons. Just as guns should be kept out of the hands of children, semicolons should be kept out of the hands of novice writers.
      Some of my colleagues at the university knowledgeable about composition theory believed that it didn’t help to point out punctuation mistakes to students, because research shows it doesn’t help, and besides there are more important things to teach students about writing than punctuation, a view I agree with. But I circled the punctuation errors anyway, thousands and thousands of them, out of habit I suppose, proving the truth of the saying you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. And if a reporter for the Community Common and the Portsmouth Daily Times, like Allen, who attended SSU, writes run-on sentences, doesn’t it only go to prove my colleagues knew more about composition than I did? Allen proves trying to teach punctuation is a waste of time.
      Anyway, the “ partner” the SSU brand marketing team chose to advise them was Stamats, a marketing firm that specializes in helping institutions of higher education with marketing problems. I had never heard of Stamats before, but I was immediately put off by the name. Isn’t that name a marketing problem? If I were advising Stamats, I would urge them to change their name. I mean what the kind of a name for a business is Statmats anyway? It’s not only meaningless; it sounds stupid and looks ugly. Only when I visited the Stamats website did I learn how Stamats got its name. Stamats is the name of the family that founded the firm back in 1923, and what’s more, their website points out, Stamats is a palindrome, a word that is spelled the same forwards and backwards. Well, will wonders never cease. But it doesn’t stop there. Stamats is a name that keeps on giving, because Stamats is also an anagram, an anagram of Assmat. If Stamats was in the assmat business instead of the business of advising universities about rebranding, the name Stamats would be Ok, the same forward as backward, with an anagram thrown in for good measure, with all kinds of ass-backwards connotations. If I were in the business of rebranding, I would advise Stamats, if it declined to change its name, to at least adapt the slogan of Ohio’s Smucker’s jams: “With an anagram like Assmat, it’s got to be good!”
Better Layed Than Never
       But let’s get back to Allen’s interview with Blevins. “What they did for us is layed the architecture for going through this kind of process,” Allen quotes Ms. Blevins. There is,no such word as “layed.” What Wayne Allen had in mind probably was “laid,” the past of the verb “lay.” I used to advise students to try to avoid the verbs lie and lay, whose various parts are so confusing and difficult to remember that it’s easy to mix them up and embarrass yourself and others.
      Ms. Blevins goes on in the interview to say that the SSU brand-marketing team didn’t want to just toss around suggestions for a new logo and choose one haphazardly. “We wanted it (the new logo) to be more meaningful than that.” She said the university wanted a new logo to be based on research.  So the folks at Stamats advised the brand marketing team on the research. “The research consisted of conducting a survey of current students, facility [sic], staff, and alumni.” Although there is a Facility Dept. at SSU, Allen’s "facility" is probably a typo for faculty. I make mistakes like that sometimes in my blog, but I have a friend who proofreads for me. But that’s what managing editors at newspapers are supposed to do for reporters: keep an eye out for typos and the wrong homonym, such as “there” for “their.” Allen quotes Blevins as saying, “They came in [the students and “facility”] and told us what they think of, [sic] when they think of Shawnee State. What they think makes us (SSU) unique in there [sic] eyes.” Allen writes, a sentence later: “They were also asked what keeps them at SSU, among various other questions about there [sic] experiences.” Blevins goes on, as quoted by Allen, “In a time were [sic] resources are limited [sentence fragment]. We do not want to be wasteful, this will be a soft implementation” [run-on sentence]. Isn’t there a managing editor at the Daily Times company, which now owns the Community Common, or is proofreading, like doing away with a Monday issue, one more thing that the Times company has eliminated to cut costs? Without an editor to assist him, Allen, who doesn't have much facility with language, is, grammatically speaking, virtually bare ass, or since we are talking about SSU, I should say bear ass. But that is nothing compared to what PDT reporters sometimes must do if they want to keep their jobs. Times reporters know that reporting some facts can cost them their jobs, as two of the best and most experienced of the PDT reporters, Jeff Barron and Mike Deaterla, discovered. [Barron was fired after reporting in a story in the PDT that someone who had been arrested for dealing drugs worked as a mechanic at Glockner's, a major advertiser in the PDT.]
      To sum up: the rebranding effort at SSU so far appears to consist mainly of slightly changing the curve of the Shawnee “S,” slightly changing the shade of the school’s blue and gray colors, and changing the cuddly looking  Shawnee Bear to a Grizzly.  Does this mean that the previously lovable Shawn E. Bear is going to be euthanized? If Shawnee State is going to continue to claim that its most marketable feature is that it is a student friendly place, shouldn’t the official SSU bear look a little friendlier, a little less lethally clawed, a little less grisly than the bear that SSU has just adopted?
      In one of Allen’s sentences near the end of his article, he makes an inspired error that shows a talent, if not a genius, for malapropism. It replaces my previous favorite Wayne Allen  malapropism, “imminent domain,” which when used in connection with developer Neal Hatcher, might more appropriately have been called “imminent doom.” Allen’s prize-deserving malapropism is, “There will be an official unavailing [sic] of the new look in the fall when all of the students are on campus.” “Unveiling” is the gerund Allen was not quite able to come up with, but  “unavailing” is even better, because it means “futile or useless,” or availing not. Is there a better word than “unavailing” to describe the current public relations effort on the part of SSU and its “partner” Stamats?
Annual Ranklings
      The other day I checked U.S. News’ annual rankings of American colleges and universities, which I know get no respect at SSU. Though SSU is no longer at the virtual bottom of the bottom fourth tier, the worst of the worst as they were ten years ago, they are still mired somewhere in that  fourth tier: SSU in the U.S. News rankings is not second-rate, not third-rate, but fourth-rate. There are a number of fine students and faculty at SSU, and let’s not forget the fine "facilities," but SSU's reputation is still in the toilet. Isn’t that the problem Stamats should be advising on, not the shades of the school colors, not the curve of the Shawnee S, and not the fangs and claws of the official Shawnee Bear. SSU is not likely to get out of that bottom tier anytime soon, not with former SSU students writing as carelessly as Allen does and not when SSU’s Director of Communication, presumably SSU’s resident expert on communication, spouts the public relations jargon the way she does. ("Soft implementation," indeed!) The notion that American business knows what's best for everybody, including those in higher education, carries a lot less weight than it did before the recent incredible display of incompetence and dishonesty by the business and financial class. Being more businesslike is hardly an unqualified virtue given the recent era of Bernard Madoff madness.
       I used to tell Shawnee students that Harvard was once viewed in England as the cow college in the colonies, but U.S. News now rates Harvard as the best university not only in the U.S. but in the world. Take that Oxford and Cambridge! I told students that maybe by the time their grandchildren are of college age SSU will have become a university they will want to attend and will be proud to say their grandparents attended. But on the basis of this current rebranding effort, I would say that day is much farther away than I thought. With rebranding efforts like the current one in which Stamats is involved, it may not be the grandchildren but the great-grandchildren who might one day may be able to take pride in their great-grandparents' degrees from Shawnee State.
      When I taught at SSU and struggled, along with others, to help raise it from a third-rate to a second-rate university, I adopted as my slogan a line by E. E. Cummings: “There is some shit I will not eat.” Before ending my reflections on rebranding, I will suggest a slogan for SSU, at least for English, if not Communications, majors. It is the title of a poem by the English Victorian author Arthur Hugh Clough (pronounced Cluff): “Say Not the Struggle Naught Availeth.” No marketing or communications experts, trained as they are in the art of deception, could possibly come up with a more inspiring use of the English language than Clough whose poem can be read by clicking here

SSU's new official bad-ass bear