Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Gas prices and presidential politics

Always sharp-eyed and observant, I try not to let too many things escape my attention.

Especially licence plates and bumper stickers.

I have always been intrigued by so-called "vanity plates" because I have no idea what many of them mean. They must mean something or people wouldn’t pay the extra fee for placing a message on the rear end of a car.

But some of them are really puzzling, because they seem to have meaning only for the owner.

I know the license bureau won’t allow anything dirty on vanity plates, so bad words are strictly forbidden.

I have two vanity plates, and I know exactly what they mean. One says THE NH and the other says LKLND 67.

You can probably figure them out. If you haven’t come up with the answers yet, the first one refers to the newspaper you are now holding in your hands (assuming you are not holding a blog in your hands) and the second is a reference to the year in which Lakeland Community College was chartered.

The lady of the house doesn’t have a vanity plate, but she has a licence that starts out DWB followed by a string of numbers. I told her it stands for "Driving While Blonde." She thinks that is OK.

But I digress.

About bumper stickers. I totally eschew bumper stickers, even in the hottest of political campaigns, although I would consider renting space on my rear bumper for a reasonable compensation.

Other than that, I am not crazy about bumper stickers.

There is one I see quite often in the faculty/staff parking lot at Lakeland that says, "When Bush took office, gas was $1.49 a gallon."

My suspicion is that it is not so much an economic message as it is a political message. The implication is that Bush never did anything right, including getting control over gasoline prices.

Well, my bumper sticker-type response would be, "How do you like gas prices now under Obama?"
The other day gas was $3.89 a gallon — and rising.

That is probably no more Obama’s fault that the previous prices were Bush’s fault.

Asking a president to take full blame for gasoline prices is a bit silly. But if you really want to hold presidents responsible for gas prices, give me good old "Give ‘em Hell Harry" Truman any time.

When I was a senior at Willoughby Union High School, I drove a delivery truck for Snyder Furniture in Downtown Willoughby. Truman was president at the time.

Walter Snyder was a great boss. But he was also careful with money. Which does not speak unkindly of him.

If our presidents were as careful with money as Walter Snyder was, we wouldn’t be arguing about shutting down the government. We would have plenty of money to operate every branch of government with a lot left over for incidentals.

Remember the words of Ronald Reagan: We don’t have an income problem in the government, we have a spending problem. In other words, taxes are already too high. We just spend too much.

Which brings us back to Harry Truman — and Walter Snyder.

Truman, as noted, was president when I drove the furniture delivery truck. Whenever the truck was low on gas, Mr. Snyder would give me a one dollar bill and tell me to go down to the Sohio station on the corner by the high level bridge.

The bridge is no longer called the high level bridge, but that is another story.

"Get five gallons of gas," he would say, "and bring back the dime change."

Yes, when Harry was president, gasoline was 18 cents a gallon. At least, at the Sohio station it was. I presume it was everywhere else, also.

So if we must blame presidents for gasoline prices, let’s forget about that outdated bumper sticker in the college parking lot that advertises what it was selling for when Bush took office.

Maybe it’s time for a new bumper sticker that says, "When Truman was president, gas was 18 cents a gallon."

It’s time for a new attitude as well as a new bumper sticker.

Bush will never be on the ballot again. Give him a break.

But Obama will be on the ballot again. Must we remind voters what gas prices were when he took office?

Of course, that would not be a political message. It would merely be an economic observation.

Better yet, we should have a bumper sticker that lists what we were paying for gas under all of our presidents, not just Bush.

It would be a rather large bumper sticker. It would be more like a billboard,

Anybody want to guess how much gas was under Coolidge?

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Educational institutions as oaks, acorns

There is an apothegm about giant oaks springing up from little acorns.

I’m not quite sure how I’m going to work it in here, but I’m going to try because what I have in mind involves an oak and an acorn.

I wanted to tell you about two events I attended back-to-back the other day, both involving educational institutions, one very large and the other very small, thus, an oak and an acorn, size-wise.

The "oak," if you will, is Lakeland Community College, a behemoth of an educational institution in Kirtland with an enrollment hovering around 10,000.

The "acorn," small but mighty, is a Catholic elementary school on East 260th Street in Euclid, just two blocks west of Lloyd Road in Wickliffe. If its enrollment is in the hundreds, it is barely so.

It used to be St. William. It is now merged with St. Robert, a move made so the latter school could survive. It is now called Sts. Robert & William Catholic School.

For many years, going back to the St. William days, a seventh and eighth grade teacher, Patrice Garukas, who lives in Kirtland, has asked me to serve on a three-judge panel at an annual speech contest sponsored by the Modern Woodmen of America.

Over the years I have sat with a multitude of other judges — some of them well-known, some not — as we listened to a dozen or so speakers address their assigned topics within a framework of five minutes.

It is an assignment I have never declined. It begins at 9 a.m. on the appointed day, and by the time we are finished we have heard some mighty fine orations delivered in the gymnasium by some wonderful young people from the host school as well as from St. Helen, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anselm and Our Lady of the Lake.

This year there were 12 speakers. My fellow judges were Harry Boomer, an anchor and reporter from WOIO TV-19 (his first stint as a judge) and Scott Gongos, director of institutional advancement at St. Peter-Chanel High School in Bedford, an old hand at the judging.

Mrs. Garukas, the mother of two college students (one at St. Bonaventure and one at State University of New York at Oswego), has a way of making her request to be a judge appealing.

"The students are diligently working on their speeches and practicing their delivery styles," she wrote a little over a month ago. "Please come early to have some coffee and donuts."

I did. It was my first doughnut since the last speech contest. I’m doing my best to fight off the empty calories. But I digress.

Every year the kids are given a new topic. Last year I think it was "heroes." This year it was "An American Invention."

And boy, were those kids inventive. There were 12 participants, and were they ever good! As I recall there were 10 girls and two boys. They were all competitive.

The judging is exacting. The point system is precise. There are 40 points for material organization, including theme and subject adherence, structure, content, logic and color; 40 points for delivery and presentation, including voice, pronunciation, enunciation, gestures and poise; and 20 points for overall effectiveness, including impression and effect.

(I awarded all 12 contestants a perfect 20 in the final category.)

After a couple of hours, the three judges had reached a decision, which was announced in front of a packed audience of parents and friends.

The three judges were not far apart in point totals. Although all the speeches were good, four rose to the top. Since they were close, there was a moment or two of haggling and persuading by the judges.

Finally, the results were in.

The winners, in order, were Abby Picciano of Sts. Robert & William, who spoke on American Sign Language; Cole Prots of St. Helen, who spoke on the Jarvis Artificial Heart; and Nicholas Fink of Sts. Robert & William, whose favorite invention was, simply, America.

Nice job, kids — all 12 of you.

The "giant oak" in this analogy, Lakeland Community College, hosts an annual event called the Donor Scholar Breakfast in the cafeteria area known as The Breakers.

This year’s was April 8, the day after the speech contest at Sts. Robert & William. It was the 15th annual such breakfast and the best ever, attended by about 200 people, including scholarship winners, scholarship donors, college trustees, Foundation members and administrators.

First things first: The food is terrific! The college president, Morris Beverage Jr., insists the bacon is the best anywhere. I would agree.

The remarks by representative scholarship winners were touching and heartfelt, as always. Pam Joiner, Dawn Argie and Brooke Coiro all had heartwarming stories to tell about how they have overcome life situations and how they will use their educations at Lakeland to help achieve their goals in life.

The lengthy listing of scholarship donors — both citizens and companies — in the breakfast program is most impressive, as is the listing of recipients.

It is always a joy to listen to the young people explain what Lakeland means in their lives. Their stories get better every year.

This year, however, the program had a "punch" like never before. Beverage introduced Arlene Holden, widow of the college’s first trustee president, Arthur S. Holden. They announced the naming of the Arlene and Arthur Holden University Center, being constructed across Route 306 from the college. Lakeland graduates will be able to continue their two-year educations at the new center and receive degrees from as many as nine (or more) of Ohio’s finest universities.

Lakeland is now 44 years old. Opening the University Center across the street from its Kirtland campus is a visionary move, one that should bring approval from the residents and taxpayers of Lake County. It is also in direct response to the desires of the citizens who have responded to surveys with directives to (1) hold the line on tuition and (2) place a four-year degree within easy reach of Lakeland grads.

So those are my "giant oaks" and "little acorns" lessons for today. Both have powerful implications for the future.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Native son shares a pen tale with new ‘blogger’

Hey there, all you loyal readers from South of the Border.

Saludos, Amigos!

That’s all the Spanish I know. I learned it watching an old Walt Disney movie when I was in knee pants.

But it’s good to hear from all of you following the recent announcement that this weekly column is available by way of blogging.

It now is, as we speak, a blog site — which I pointed out a few weeks ago, much to the joy of readers South of the Border.

It means they can now read this effort in blog form rather than going through the discomfort of holding a newspaper at arm’s length — or whatever distance you find comfortable.

I think what you do is sign on to a computer, go to and click on the link that is attached to my name and photo.

I have not yet learned how to do that, but I have been assured it is simple.

I also understand that blogging, or blobbing as we called it in the Army, is a two-way street. That means that if you communicate with me, I will communicate with you.

I don’t guarantee that I will ever respond to a blog, however. It seems almost uncivil. But if you send an e-mail, then I will get back to you for sure.

For today’s lesson I have chosen to respond to a letter from South of the Border which arrived as an e-mail. I immediately answered it because I don’t like to keep people waiting when they e-mail me.

As far as responding to blogs is concerned, it is an art form I may never get the hang of.

I selected a letter from South of the Border because it was so concise, so relevant and so direct.

It may, in fact, be the only letter from South of the Border that I will respond to today. The others will have to wait.

The letter began, simply, “Jim:”

It said, in part:

“You can count Ajijic, Jaslisco in Mexico among the places your readers reside.”

It doesn’t matter that I have never heard of Ajijic, Jalisco in Mexico because I am quite sure it is there.

I always felt that local news is the best news to report, because you can always get worldwide news by listening to a short-wave radio, or by smoke signals from the other side of the reservation.

This letter from Mexico definitely had a local flavor, which is what I liked about it.

“I was born in Painesville,” the writer said, “and went to Harvey High School and CWRU.”

That is an abbreviation for Case Western Reserve University.

“A fraternity brother was Mickey Kapostasy (now it’s really getting local) whom you’ve mentioned in your column in the past.

“My in-laws live in Willoughby and Kirtland (how local can you get?) I read the home-delivered print edition of The News-Herald whenever we visit Lake County.”

I am glad to hear that. Since we don’t have home delivery in Ajijic, reading my blog is the next best thing to being here.

I checked with the Circulation Department to find if they are planning to have home delivery in Ajijic anytime soon.

The response was: “Where?”

I found out that if you keep saying Ajijic louder and louder, it doesn’t help much. Talking to people is like talking to dogs: Talking louder doesn’t do any good.

I learned much about Ajijic in that e-mail.

For example, “Ajijic, if you don’t know, is on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico’s largest lake. It is about 35 miles south of Guadalajara.

“We moved here in September after 27 years in Tampa,” the e-mail continued. “We will spend the summer in Willoughby. Judging from what I read online in The News-Herald, it is about as dangerous there as it is here – which is to say, not very – with the use of common sense.”

My correspondent then zoomed in on a subject near to my heart, and one upon which I expounded upon recently.

“I fondly remember a dark blue and silver Paper Mate pen that a customer of mine in Akron lifted (er, borrowed) from me. I liked it so much that I went back to her office the next day, but of course, it was not there.

“It was my favorite pen, which has been unsurpassed in the 35 years since. I now use a Cross pen (probably the manufacturer you refer to in gifts from Dr. White and Paul Anka) my wife had engraved for me a long time ago.”

(Good guess. Exactly right!)

“It has great sentimental value but is not better than the old Paper Mate.”

I am delighted that he thought so much of his Paper Mate. As I pointed out before, I am so fond of mine, and I use it so much, that the words “Marous Brothers Construction Co.” have completely worn off the side — which has no impact whatsoever on its performance as a writing instrument.

My correspondent concludes with, “Good luck as a blogger. I will continue to read you even though you think you have slipped on the journalistic/literary scale.”

I don’t think any such thing. I am sorry if I implied any slippage, because I didn’t intend to. But I can see how that conclusion might be drawn, given my disdain for the world of blogging.

But since we don’t home delivery in Ajijic, or even in Guadalajara (that may be coming next) Bob will just have to continue reading me in the only medium in which I am currently available in Mexico – the blog.

Oh, I almost forgot. I didn’t introduce you to Bob.

My correspondent in Ajijic, Painesville native, Harvey High graduate and friend of Mickey Kapostasy (that in itself should be enough of a recommendation in my book) is Bob Smith.

If find it odd that Bob and I have never met.

Perhaps when he is here in Willoughby for the summer, Bob and Mickey and I can get together and compare ball-point pens.

But Mickey should be forewarned — he’d better arm himself with a good, reliable Paper Mate or he will be unable to compete.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Words lose meaning in today’s odd use patterns

What’s the good word?

That’s a greeting I’m sure you have heard four million times. People aren’t really looking for a good word, however. It is merely a lighthearted salutation, such as, “What’s up?” or “What do you know?” Or even, “How are you?”

Your greeter doesn’t really want to know what is up, what you know or even how you are. Those are just conversation starters.

But when the query involves a “good word,”  there are multitudes of them.

Comedian George Carlin says there are 400,000 thousand words in the English language. But he adds, with a warning, there are seven words you can’t say on television.

“They must be really bad words,” he says, adding, “you seven, go over there. You can’t be with the others.”

The seven words you can’t say on TV are pretty bad, and I have heard George’s recording so many times I can recite all of them — which I do not do in polite company.

But on some cable TV shows you can hear all seven of them at one time or another. Not just rat-a-tat one after another in rapid fire, as Carlin says them. But the producers do manage to work them in on a fairly regular basis.

And if you ever listen to comedian Jay Leno late at night, he manages to use some reasonably offensive language from time to time — words that he could easily do without. Frankly, I think he needs some new writers.

But I digress.

New words are constantly coming into the language. The dictionary people research them carefully to decide if they should be included in the latest editions of their volumes. Many of the new words are byproducts of new technology.

Some are coined by faddists. By common usage some are assimilated into the language and thus included in the latest editions of dictionaries. You have to be really hip and up-to-date with your street talk to keep up with the emerging language.

When I started in the news business, to give an example of a word that has emerged over those years, people used to be “arrested” by the police. Now, in many cases, they are “busted.” I never liked that usage, and never used it myself.

No matter how commonplace the usage, to me “busted” was never a proper synonym for “arrested.” But “busted” is not a new, emerging word. It is just a new definition of an old word.

I’ll tell you, there is a lot of that going on — redefining of old words to give them a new or different meanings.

One of the more obvious examples is “gay.” Gay used to mean happy, lighthearted. Not any more.

The word was commonplace in song lyrics. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat “King” Cole used to sing about being gay. I don’t know if it is banned in song lyrics nowadays, but the old songs are still being played on the radio, and it is a bit startling to hear a singer employ the former usage of “gay” in today’s world.

See, that’s what I don’t like — the redefining of commonplace words to give them new and different meanings.

People who are fond of these new usages throw words about as if everyone knows what they are talking about. Frankly, I don’t.

And because of that, sometimes I have a hard time following the conversation.

I will give you four examples of words that are tossed around in today’s world of advanced learning. They confuse me every time:

Sustainability — Boy, there’s a good one. I think it has to do with environmentalism. If you build a windmill, you are sustaining something. I don’t know what, but you are considered a good citizen if you sustain something.

I always thought sustain meant to keep up or prolong or go on. I looked it up. I was right.

In court, when judges say, “Motion sustained,” they are upholding the words of one of the lawyers as proper and correct.

They aren’t talking about windmills.

Here’s another old word that totally confuses me in it new usage.

Metrics — For about a year, at board meetings of the Fine Arts Association in Willoughby, everything was metrics this and metrics that.

I never knew what they were talking about.

I know metrics when yards are being converted into meters, or wrenches are used on European cars that don’t fit regular cars.

But they (mostly two ladies) weren’t referring to the metric system of measuring. The were talking about something entirely different, and I never did figure out what it was.

I haven’t heard “metrics” at a board meeting for about a year now, so maybe they have settled all those disputes.
Here’s another new usage of an old word that I think I am beginning to understand. The word is:

Brand — A brand used to be something cowboys put on the side of a cow. That way, if the cow strayed over into another herd, the cowboy could go over and say, “Hey, wait a minute. That’s my cow. Look, that’s my Lazy Z brand.”

Or, in the olden days when people smoked, they would refer to their Old Golds or Lucky Strikes as their “brand.” Pepsodent  and Colgate are brands.

But I think the word now is employed mostly by advertising agencies to describe whatever it is a company calls itself.

For example, if the phone company calls itself AT&T, that is its brand.

But first is has to be approved. This is done by testing.

Ad agencies do their testing by sitting around big desk in the board room at, say, BBDO, and saying, “Let’s run it up the flagpole, boys, and see if anybody salutes.”

If anybody salutes, it becomes the brand.

There is one other old word with a new meaning that makes me crazy. It is:

Footprint — There is an entirely commonplace definition of the word that makes eminent common sense.

If you walk into the house with muddy shoes, you leave footprints on the kitchen floor. Police can trace footprints in the snow to nab burglars.

But not now. A footprint is something else, like Al Gore’s carbon footprint.

I sat next to George Milbourn at a First Health symposium last week.

He is on more boards than I am. He agrees: the newspeak is an abomination.

Getting back to the Fine Arts, the parking lot at the rear is part of its “footprint.” Can anybody explain that to me?

I got an email at the college the other day from Jennifer Smyser that said, “Are the metrics for your sustainability footprint impacting your brand? The people want to know.”

See what I mean about newspeak? It’s ubiquitous.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

We all owe a grand lady our gratitude for her works

Some people — I should say a few people — make such an impression when you first meet them that you are certain they are going to achieve greatness as human beings.

They are part and parcel — the very fabric — of the community in which they live, and which they strive on a daily basis to make a better place for all others to enjoy.

Such a person was Millie Waterman, one of the finest citizens Mentor and Lake County have ever known, and to whom every person in the area owes a debt of gratitude for what she did to make the community not only a better place for its citizens, especially its children, but also a safer place.

The same could be said for her husband, Harry Waterman. He also left an indelible mark on the community for his multitude of good deeds and worthwhile accomplishments.

Both Millie and Harry are gone now, and Lake County is poorer for their absence.

If high school rivalries were permanent in nature, the three of us probably would not have gotten along so well all these years, because we were contemporaries, and there was zero mutual respect between Willoughby Union and Mentor high schools in those days.

Millie and Harry were classmates at Mentor and I was the Willoughby guy, all of us graduating in 1946, and I was forced to remind them on more than one occasion that in our junior year, Willoughby beat Mentor, 44-0, in football.

Both Millie and Harry were twins. I never met Harry’s twin, but Millie’s twin, Marjorie, also married a renowned citizen, the late Jack Daniels, widely known as Lake County’s official and unofficial historian. He knew more about the county and its significant events and people than anyone who ever lived.
What a family!

Millie was a nurse who fashioned a noteworthy career in the medical field, including five years as head nurse at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cleveland and 20 years with the Mentor Schools system.

Both Millie and Harry were honored as Distinguished Citizens by the Mentor Area Chamber of Commerce and both were inducted into the schools’ Hall of Fame.

From the very beginning, there was never any question where Millie’s heart was. It was with the kids. She and Harry not only did a special job of raising their own two kids, Jeff and Jennifer, but she also spent virtually every waking minute working somehow for the betterment of kids.

Her presidency of the Mentor PTA was only the beginning. She later became president of the Ohio PTA, in 1979, and then was named National PTA Commission on Education chairman and National PTA vice president for legislative activity.

She was the group’s registered lobbyist, often testifying before Congress on education matters ranging from asbestos in schools and tax reform to the labeling of offensive song lyrics on albums.

One of her kindred souls in that endeavor was Tipper Gore, wife of former Vice President Al Gore. Millie often spoke of her admiration for Mrs. Gore because of their joint interest in protecting children, making their lives better and enhancing their opportunities in education.

Harry was a major contributor in one of those efforts. After he retired from Lubrizol, he filled a leadership vacuum by taking control of Mentor Schools’ vast bus transportation system.

And before long he was struck by a troubling statistic — the number of children who were run over by their own buses because their own drivers simply did not see them.

The pair devised a system of mirrors to be installed on buses so that drivers could see the toddlers if they happened to dart in front of buses before they started in motion.

That required more testimony before Congress. With the help of their congressman — my recollection is that it was Dennis Eckart — they got passage of legislation that makes the mirrors mandatory on all buses.

Of course, there is no statistic available on how many young lives have been saved because of the installation of the mirrors, but without question it is a substantial number.

Although she has been widely honored throughout the community, and has served in more positions of responsibility and leadership than most people ever even dream of, there is one job that was denied Millie which she could have handled with ease and skill.

Permit me to give you some background. Harry was a longtime board member of Laketran, the county’s public transit system.

He was one of the best members the board ever knew. The system showed its appreciation by naming its Mentor parking lot for Laketran commuters in his honor.

It would be fair to say that, being the sort of loving and sharing couple they were, Millie knew as much about public transportation as Harry.

They discussed the subject on a daily basis. When Harry went to transit symposiums, Millie accompanied him.

Now, appointments to the Laketran board, you might say, are “political,” because members are named by the county commissioners.

I don’t know if the climate was right or the planets were aligned properly or what when Harry was first appointed, but following that his expertise became so obvious that the commissioners wouldn’t think of failing to reappoint him to a new term.

Harry died in 2005, leaving a vacancy on the board. By any fair reasoning, and with any injection of sanity and common sense, Millie should have been appointed to take his place.

I believe that was mentioned editorially in this newspaper at the time.

It was a move not without precedent.

But politics reared its ugly head. If you get caught with the wrong candidate’s sign in your yard, funny things can happen. Or so I’ve been told. I couldn’t swear to that. All I know is what I hear.

At any rate, Millie didn’t get the appointment. It probably even went to someone who was well-qualified.

But that’s not the point. It should have gone to Millie. But did she pout? Not this fine lady. She continued as one of the best volunteers the “Friends of Laketran” ever had, working tirelessly on events for the agency.

The key word in the above sentence is “volunteer,” meaning Millie didn’t get paid for her vast array of involvements. They were done through love.

And “love” is another key word. She not only loved her family, her schools and everything she did, but that love was returned by everyone who knew her.

She was a beloved lady. She will never be forgotten.