Thursday, August 30, 2012

Glory days are for parents, too

I venture to say that the four years we spend in high school are not the most important years we spend on this earth.

Arguably the formative years – the years when your mother is supposed to love and nurture you – are more important. Or maybe the years after high school, when you start giving back to the community, your state and nation by curing cancer or developing new technologies or righting wrongs.

Or paying taxes.

But high school?  What’s so important about high school that we spend the rest of our lives looking back at those four awkward years that are dominated by fads, cliques and bad hairstyles?

Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days,” I think, best sums it up:

“I had a friend, was a big baseball player back in high school

“He could throw that speedball by you

“Make you look like a fool boy

“Saw him the other night at this roadside bar

“I was walking in, he was walking out

“We went back inside sat down had a few drinks but all he kept talking about was

“Glory days, well they’ll pass you by

“Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye”

It’s been nearly 12 years since my son played in a Dover Tornadoes football game, yet it seems like only yesterday when the anticipation of a Friday night was the best darn feeling in the world, when the kid ran onto the field wearing his game face, and when he ran off the field after the end of the game in dirt-stained crimson and white – mostly victorious, sometimes beaten.

Man, I miss those days. Glory days.

So, I understand the feeling, parents, and, ahem, I’ve come up with another list:

–Don’t let anyone tell you that sports (and other extracurricular activities) aren’t important in the development of the individual. Sports teach teamwork, goal-setting and responsibility. My son and his former teammates are for the most part very successful in various careers and don’t seem to be burdened by the “Glory Days” syndrome. They are living in the moment.

–I found out early on that my high school athlete did not want to immediately replay the game with his parents after a win or loss. I think it’s safe to say that your high school athlete will prefer friends over parents in the aftermath. It’s nothing personal, mind you.

–Be wary about questioning the coach on his strategy or suggesting that if he’d play your son/daughter more the team would be more successful. Coaching teenagers is one of the hardest jobs on the planet. If you decide to confront the coach, or call him, you do so at your own peril. And your kid’s.

–Stay away from the practice field.

–Don’t discuss individual statistics with your son/daughter as in, “How many passes did you catch?” or “How many points did you score?” Being members of a team, they are learning humility and teamwork. Do not unintentionally encourage bragging.

–Athletes develop certain quirks as part of their preparation process. Treat that tattered T-shirt that he wears underneath his shoulder pads every day with the respect you’d give his Sunday-best white shirt. (Note to parents of middle school players: It’s up to you, Mom and Dad, to make sure the kid remembers to take his football pants to school on the day of the game. Pantless football players are destined to ride the pine.)

–Your student athlete needs to understand the importance of respect for classmates who have interests in other areas, such as the marching band or chess club. And obviously the respect thing works both ways. Most football players are not “dumb jocks.”

–Parents need to help their student athlete keep things in perspective. Losing a high school football game to the arch-rival is not the end of the world. The sun will come up the next day. I’m guaranteeing that.

–Don’t throw short in the flat. If you don’t understand this advice, you should really bone up on your football. Learn the game. By the way, it’s OK if you tell your son not to throw short in the flat.

Enjoy your glory days, parents. Remember, they are gone in the wink of a young girl’s eye.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

Tap, tap, tap: Schools (finally) entering digital age

News flash – Schools throughout the area spent the summer ramping up their wireless networks in an effort to enhance learning sans traditional textbooks.

Now, if you’re a nostalgic, cranky curmudgeon who gets a kick from those e-mails that test your knowledge of the ’50s, you might think that it’s certainly a sign that times are changing and, at least in your mind, certainly not for the better.

Books? How do you get rid of books?

I think the digital initiatives in our schools are long overdue. As an occasional substitute teacher, there were times when I wanted to show students a particular video, or research an issue – the Facebook initial public stock offering, for example – but was blocked by Internet filters that didn’t understand the educational value of certain search terms.

Yes, spending an hour on Facebook has little intrinsic educational value, but the company’s formation and business strategy offer a multitude of lessons.

It’s true the kids are not reading books. Their world – the real world by most standards today – is a digital one. says it is now selling more electronic books for digital readers than the old-fashioned ink-on-paper-bound-by-two-covers kind.

In addition, the banking industry believes that some 40 percent of its customers will use their smartphones to access their account information by next year. And smartphones, which are actually mini-computers that can make phone calls, are carried now by 40 percent of all cellular customers.

It was announced this week that Apple, maker of the ubiquitous iPhone and iPad among other must-have gadgets, was deemed “the world’s most valuable company, ever,” according to a story in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Apple’s stock was valued at $623 billion, beating the previous record set by Microsoft.

Yes, it’s time the schools acknowledge the 21st century. I welcome the initiatives.

In another week, we’ll have the unofficial end of summer in the form of Labor Day weekend, which marks the unofficial start of the political campaign season.

Do I speak heresy if I claim that this year’s presidential campaign seems fairly tame?

I mean these guys are arguing over tax returns.

You want contentious?

I caught television coverage of the 1972 Democratic political convention while I was working as a hospital orderly on the night shift. I think I was one of the few Americans awake when George McGovern delivered his acceptance speech of the Democratic nomination in the wee hours of the morning. Great strategy there (kidding, of course) and a far cry from the orchestrated speeches delivered now on the convention floor.

After the Democrats battled each other over ideology, McGovern selected Thomas Eagleton as a running mate. Eagleton later withdrew from the race when it was revealed that he suffered from mental illness and had undergone electroshock therapy. Sargent Shriver, a Kennedy brother-in-law, was his replacement.
That didn’t help McGovern, whose credibility had been damaged critically with the Eagleton pick and whose anti-war stance and liberal leanings had split the party faithful.

President Richard Nixon trounced McGovern that November, earning a second term that ended prematurely because of Watergate.

When people talk how mean-spirited the Obama-Romney race has become, perhaps they don’t remember or were alive for the political happenings of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

It was a tough time and split the country along generational lines.

“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over,” President Gerald Ford told the country in 1974.
While the “nightmare” in Ford’s speech was Watergate, I think you could also include three political assassinations and an unwinnable foreign war that claimed the lives of 55,000 Americans.
Throw in race riots, campus unrest and out-of-control inflation for good measure.

Be suspect of those who tell you things have never been worse.

They have.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

Only one explanation for high gasoline prices

I have resisted the temptation to get involved, but after several weeks of tracking prices and listening to complaints, I do declare, well … something’s rotten in Tuscarawas County.

Yep, it’s true that gasoline prices in the Dover-New Philadelphia area, if not in all of Tuscarawas County, are unreasonably high for no apparent reason.

I am not breaking new ground here by declaring that prices are higher in good old T-County. I swear I used to write about the unreasonable gasoline prices in Tuscarawas County back when I controlled a particular editorial page. You know, back in the days before Gas

Gas, if you don’t know, is a website that tracks gasoline prices with the help of those people who are visiting gasoline stations around the country. The prices are updated constantly and the site provides a list of stations offering the cheapest gasoline in town no matter where you are.

Gas Buddy is now a popular iPhone app and one that I rely on quite frequently. I’ve been tracking prices in Dover-New Philadelphia, Canton, Cambridge and South Bend, Ind., as part of my gasoline price “investigation.”

Why South Bend? I don’t know. I usually need gas there when I’m driving to Chicago, so I just thought I’d throw it in. South Bend isn’t cheap either, although I found prices there cheaper than in T-County on more than one occasion and not just at one of those rogue gas stations that have funny names.

Anyway, on Monday, regular gas was priced at $3.90 (I’m rounding to the nearest penny) at the Speedway stations in Dover, while one could find it for $3.65 just about anywhere in Canton. In Cambridge, at the Pilot near I-70, you could buy regular unleaded for $3.60.

Pilot, whose owner just bought the Cleveland Browns, obviously is trying to get in good graces with the local fans, which is OK by me.

South Bend prices were similar to Dover prices, so don’t worry about having to drive there for a deal.
So, I hunted for answers to the question, “Why are gas prices higher in some cities than in others?” and these are the answers I came up with:

--Wiki “Because of the amount of oil available around that area. If it’s, for example, near a huge amount of oil, the price could be cheaper than near areas where there are no oil refineries. It also may depend on the gas station’s view on what they want to price their oil.” (Science Channel):  “In the U.S., some areas are known as gasoline-market islands. These regions include California and the Midwest, and have unique clean-burning requirements for gasoline. Not all refineries can produce these special fuels. The prices rise due to limited supply and high demand, and can spike in the case of an issue at the refinery or a pipeline problem.”

--U.S. Energy Information Administration: “Pump prices are often highest in locations with few gasoline stations. Even stations located close together may have different traffic patterns, rents, and sources of supply that influence their pricing. Drivers face a trade-off between stations with high prices and the inconvenience of driving further to find a station with lower prices.”

And you thought the Internet was a wealth of information.

A long time ago, I asked a friend in the fuel business why the oil companies raised gasoline prices for no apparent reason.

“Because they can,” he said.

That was it. There was nothing else. No elaboration.

“Because they can.”

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

I tend to believe that simple explanation rather than the more complicated ones involving econometrics – defined as the “unification of economics, mathematics, and statistics” – which are used to help price commodities such as fuel and are mined routinely from your use of credit and debit cards. Surprise!

I suppose if all the folks in Dover and New Philadelphia are irked enough they could make phone calls to the attorney general, alleging the oil companies are engaging in price fixing in the area. That might help, although the oil companies, no doubt, will bring out the big guns – the econometrics guys – who will bore the judge/jury to death with a lot of numbers.

Or local motorists could conserve enough fuel to allow them to drive to Canton to fill up at a cheaper rate minus, of course, the cost of the gasoline to get there.

Bottom line? I think you know.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover)

Friday, August 10, 2012

Yes, Dover, you still need a new high school

It appears now that Dover won’t be able to replace its aging high school anytime soon.
In fact, if I’m feeling the community’s pulse correctly, it might be years before voters believe they are economically healthy enough to cast a “yes” vote in favor of even a low-budget renovation as in this lone bullet point:

–Low-budget renovation – Tear down the 1915 portion of the high school. Place modular classrooms on subsequent empty lot.

Don’t laugh. It might come to that.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, the state has spent $10 billion constructing new schools across Ohio and figures it’s only half done. In all cases and based on how poor or wealthy a district is, the state arrives at a grant amount. The catch is that the grant amount is never enough to cover the entire cost, so the local taxpayers have to kick in some more.

Dover was scheduled to receive $9.5 million in state funds to build a new high school. The district planned for a $47 million facility on a new site in the north end of the city and placed a 6.9-mill levy on last November’s ballot to cover the local share.

It was thumped.

Newark City Schools is anticipating the opening this fall of its new $39 million high school, which replaces a series of buildings constructed primarily in the ’60s. If those buildings were deemed outdated, one can only imagine the adjectives that could be used to describe Dover’s 1915 wing.

In the past, I preferred “decrepit,” but there’s a host of other apt words, including “awful,” “pitiful,” “dangerous” and “depressing.”

Anyway, Newark endured a few years of disruptions and modular units as the new school was constructed on the old site. The kids who endured it all won’t get to study in the new building because they’ve graduated, so naturally there was a level of discontent, according to another story in the Dispatch.

Newark’s new high school is part of a $144 million school building/renovation project in the city, which should provide state of the art facilities for each of Newark’s schoolchildren no matter what their age. Newark taxpayers footed 49 percent of the bill.

Likewise, there’s a generation of Dover kids – they’re in grade school and middle school now – which won’t get to study in a new high school because the community has shown little interest in building one. And they are studying in school buildings that were last updated two decades ago.

Dover’s Board of Education now has to turn its attention to getting renewal levies passed – no longer a slam dunk at the ballot box – so that means further attempts to build a new school are on hold.

I have always believed that communities go the way of their schools. If a community has good schools, it will attract people who want to invest in it. The story is told of several executives who were transferred to a Dover manufacturing facility but opted to buy homes in Stark County’s Jackson Township rather than in Dover after looking at Dover’s aging school buildings, particularly the high school.

In addition, fewer than a dozen single-family homes worth more than $300,000 have sold in Dover over the past several years, indicating that the community is not attracting residents with higher incomes.

At some point, the community is going to have to invest in the schools’ infrastructure, or live with a general degradation of its surroundings.

Here’s what has to happen soon:

–Young parents need to step up and be heard. They are the stakeholders and their children are the future. We need more young people to get involved on our boards and councils and in service organizations. If young parents are ambivalent about their children’s education, why should anyone else care? Get involved.

–Mayor Richard Homrighausen, City Council members and Dover Board of Education members need to get on the same page. They need a united front. Clearly, City Council’s silence during the campaign last year did not serve the public good.

–Citizens need to get a grip on reality. Dover and New Philadelphia are not mirror images of Camelot. For goodness’ sake, there are many communities that can boast affordable housing, nice parks and are “a great place to raise kids.” (Newark, incidentally, has all that along with new schools).

–Bury the personal vendettas. I hear a lot of “no” voters complain about a school incident involving a son or a daughter that happened decades ago, or that a coach wouldn’t play a well-deserving kid, or that “there are too many administrators” or some other unrelated-to-the-issue issue.

–Accept the fact that you are not an expert. You might think you are, but you’re not. Listen for once. And learn.

OK, I got this off my chest.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

Friday, August 3, 2012

Chick-fil-A dips its wings into culture war

First, I must tell you that I don’t particularly like chicken.

I mean it’s not that I won’t ever eat it, but it seems to be everywhere lately because I believe it doesn’t offend those who’d rather not eat meat but who will tolerate a little chicken now and again because few men at the table are vegetarians and would never willingly accept a meatless meal.

I recently attended a luncheon where chicken swimming in some mayonnaise concoction was served in one of those healthy thin-as-a-pancake wheat bread rollups.

Those are the kind of sandwiches that skinny women like initially but grow increasingly dissatisfied after a few bites and start pulling out the insides with their forks, spewing the ingredients onto their plates. Then they hunt for the tiny pieces of chicken in the mess before finally pushing the plate to the side.

It would have been a better lunch – and probably cheaper -- if the caterer had gone to a Chick-fil-A restaurant and purchased a slew of its famous chicken sandwiches. Apparently the chicken is marinated in pickle juice, which gives it a unique flavor. I’ll bet.

(Full disclosure: I have never had a Chick-fil-A sandwich because I don’t like chicken and have not been forced into stopping at a Chick-fill-A restaurant while on the road. I’d much prefer stopping at a Skyline Chili restaurant but because no one in the family is enamored with that place either, that probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Besides, isn’t McDonald’s America’s restroom stop? Well, isn’t it?)

By now, you’ve probably heard that the CEO of Chick-fil-A – Dan Cathy – recently made some very strong comments in favor of traditional marriage and against gay marriage. The company, which does not open its restaurants on Sundays, has made significant donations to conservative family organizations, which also happen to be organizations that don’t acknowledge gay marriage as an acceptable institution.

Cathy has caused something of a firestorm with his comments even though most people could have figured out his theological and ideological thinking had they actually thought about it.
His restaurants aren’t open on Sundays, remember?

The Onion, the irreverent online anti-news magazine has lampooned the issue, writing in jest that Wendy’s has announced it has disapproved of interracial marriage.

Here’s my prediction: Chick-fil-A will weather the storm. Most Americans don’t give a darn about whether a restaurant owner believes in traditional families or gay marriage as long as the food is good and the place is clean -- especially the restrooms.

Feed the masses chicken smothered in green mayonnaise inside of some thin pancake wheat bread and I’ll show you an upset population.

Let the talking heads on Fox News and MSNBC rant and rave about moral issues. The rest of us can discuss with civility how to solve the real issues facing this country such as health care, unemployment, funding education and, well, you know. Let’s tune out the noise.

How’s that for fair and balanced?

A longtime golf friend of mine, Richard J. “Richie” Berichon, 80, of New Philadelphia died two weeks ago.

An engineer, Richie relocated to Tuscarawas County after moving from General Electric’s Euclid plant to Dover. I gave him a pass on his allegiance to the Pittsburgh Steelers because it was based on Browns owner Art Modell’s treatment of coach Paul Brown, who was fired by Modell after he bought the team. My father felt the same way.

Richie fondly called me “Paper Dick” to distinguish me from others with the same first name in our league. I liked that. And he often fired off an email to agree or disagree with something I wrote. I liked that, too.

You might have run into Richie at Zoar Village Golf Course, or the Tuscarawas County Senior Center, or the New Philadelphia Elks Lodge.

As is so often the case today, Richie authored his own obituary and left instructions for loved ones.

Richie noted in the obituary that he “enjoyed playing golf as well as having a beer or three with his many friends.”

What Richie failed to mention in his obituary is that he helped scores of senior citizens every year fill out their federal and state income tax returns.

I’m told he never charged a penny for the work.

Now you know.

Sorry, Richie.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

Bloomberg's right -- enforce what's on the books

This is one of those commentaries that won’t go over well in some of our households.
It’s about guns.

I know how emotional people get when they talk about their rights to own them. And how the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution protects them. I know that some people worry about government unchecked – that the citizenry needs to have a way to fight tyranny should it be thrust upon it without warning.

I know there are many people out there who firmly believe that no amount of gun control will protect us from the nutcases who would massacre innocents.

And maybe they’re right.

But count me on the side of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who believes that it’s overdue time for a national discussion on limiting access to certain firearms by certain individuals. He says we don’t need more laws. We need enforcement of the laws on the books.

And he wants President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to begin the discussion.  I’ll add that I’d like to hear their thoughts on all important issues rather than watching them attack each other in TV commercials. 

Let’s have a discussion that matters and let’s start with guns.

Bloomberg is a longtime advocate of strict gun law enforcement. And he made that point again on last week’s CBS News’ “Face the Nation” in the wake of the Colorado theater shootings.
Host Bob Schieffer wondered whether the strength of the National Rifle Association had silenced the presidential candidates on the issue.

“Well, you know, they have to explain themselves as to why, and I shouldn't be putting words in their mouths,” Bloomberg said.

“I don't know what their motives are. The NRA is an organization that is adamant about no controls on weapons in spite of the fact that we have federal laws that say you cannot sell guns to minors, to people with psychiatric problems, or drug problems or convicted felons. And yet they pressure Congress and the White House -- and they've been doing it for decades -- to not fund enforcement of those laws.

“We don't need more laws. We need a couple of fixes. There's a loophole where you can sell guns without a background check at a gun show – 40 percent of guns are sold that way, same thing on the Internet.

“We need to fix the fact that states are supposed to send records into the central database of who has psychiatric problems and who is convicted because when somebody sells a gun, they've got to check the database, and if there's no data in it, it wouldn't do any good.

“The NRA has opposed anything. And if you do a survey it’s interesting … 80 percent of the NRA members say, for example, that the federal laws on guns should be enforced and that we should stop all this closing our eyes and -- and letting people go and buy guns, you know, there are -- there are guns that are advertised on the Internet -- .50-caliber rifle, and it says, ‘able to bring down a commercial jetliner at a mile and a half’ or ‘armor-piercing bullets.’  Last time I saw a deer wearing a bulletproof vest was a long time ago.”

So, in the matter of a couple of months, a disturbed James Eagan Holmes, 24, was able to amass an arsenal of death without anyone questioning his motives, or alerting law enforcement that perhaps this young man has a problem. The sad fact is there’s probably another James Eagan Holmes in the works who will wreak havoc on other innocents in some other place.
Bloomberg is right. Obama and Romney owe us -- at the very least -- a discussion.

The mother of James Eagan Holmes seemed to know immediately that her son was the perpetrator of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history (based on number of casualties).
“You have the right person,” she said to news media upon learning of the situation. “I need to call the police. I need to fly out to Colorado.”

As of this writing, Holmes’ parents were not talking to police.

If you suspected that your son or daughter or friend or relative was capable of committing a heinous crime based on his or her current behavior, would you inform law enforcement authorities?

Perhaps that’s a discussion that ought to start in our homes.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).