Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Residents of Portsmouth may be eating chicken wings, drinking milk shakes, and watching movies on a toxic site without realizing it. Rumors began circulating about seven years ago that the ground under the Route 23 Viaduct site was toxic. Even though Portsmouth Mayor Bauer was among those circulating the rumors of contamination, the Ohio EPA (OEPA) did not test the soil or make any study of the Viaduct site. Portsmouth police chief Charles Horner conducted an investigation of the sale of the Viaduct property. In his report, he wrote, “On June 10, 2004, I contacted Chris Osborne, with the Ohio EPA, and she indicated they have no record of any environmental studies completed on the Chillicothe Street Viaduct property and after checking all available databases, determined they have no record of any mandate EPA Cleanup of the property.”

On January 30, 2008, Ken Dewey, who is the Manager of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Division of Emergency and Remedial Response in the Southeast District Office, confirmed for me that the Ohio EPA had never done an analysis of the soil at what is now called the Route 23 Viaduct area. (It used to be called the Chillicothe St. Viaduct.) What Chris Osborne of the staff of the Southeast District office did do was investigate the rumors that contaminated soil from the Coke Plant had been dumped at the Viaduct. Dewey told me her investigation proved that those rumors of contamination were without foundation.

But Wally Leedom, a Portsmouth resident and an editor of the Shawnee Sentinel, has been saying for years that the Viaduct is possibly toxic because he followed trucks that had been taking soil from the toxic New Boston Coke plant site and dumping it in the Viaduct area. “Can you remember about where the soil was dumped?” I asked him on Jan. 26, 2008. “About where the Dairy Queen and Buffalo Wild Wings are now located,” he told me. I double-checked with him on Jan. 31 about his having seen trucks dumping on the Viaduct site. He repeated what he had told me previously, and added that he thought he knew whose trucks they were. Because he wasn’t positive in identifying the trucks, I won’t mention any names. I asked Chris Osborne on Jan. 31, 2008, if she had ever talked to or heard of someone who claimed to have seen trucks dumping soil from the Coke Plant onto the Viaduct site. I was thinking of Wally Leedom. She said she had not. So her investigation of the rumors, no matter how thorough it might have been, had not included someone who claimed to have witnessed dumping on the Viaduct site.

In view of the controversy over the Viaduct site and the potentially harmful long range consequences of toxic soil on humans, I am surprised that OEPA didn’t do at least a soil analysis of the Viaduct. Before theaters and restaurants were built and before many thousands of customers frequented the Viaduct, hundreds of them employees on a daily basis, OEPA could have put the rumors about contamination to rest by doing a soil analysis.

In my unprofessional opinion, it is not likely the Viaduct is contaminated, but considering the stakes involved, is “not likely” good enough? No one can say positively as of this date that the Viaduct property is not contaminated. Because of the rumors about toxicity that had circulated six or seven years ago and continue to circulate, I have avoided going on the Viaduct property ever since it was developed. I went to the movie theater for the first time last month, but until a soil analysis is done, I will continue to avoid it. Harmful effects of toxic chemicals often take years to reveal themselves in humans. Because of frequent exposure, longtime employees at the Viaduct will, unfortunately, probably be the first to discover if the area is toxic.

I think the Ohio EPA should rethink its previous decision not to test the soil, though now that most of the area is covered with asphalt it will not be easy to get a good sample. On Jan. 31, I emailed a letter to the office of Chris Korleski, the head of the Ohio EPA, requesting the soil at Route 23 Viaduct be tested.

The Portsmouth Daily Times is not doing any investigation of the Viaduct, as far as I know. That could be because Daily Times reporters risk their jobs investigating controversies and scandals that the over-privileged of Portsmouth want suppressed. The two most experienced reporters in Portsmouth, Mike Deaterla and Jeff Barron, were recently fired by the Daily Times. Why? I believe because they know too much. Which leaves it up to part-time bloggers like myself to do the investigating.

Whether or not the Viaduct is toxic chemically, and I repeat that I think it probably is not, it certainly is politically and financially toxic. Chief Horner concluded in his report, which is available on Teresa Mollette’s invaluable website (under "Investigations") the sale of the Viaduct property by the city to the developer Elmer Mullins was fraudulent. Horner thought there was probable cause that Mayor Bauer and Mullins had spread the toxicity rumor to discourage other bidders, making it possible for Mullins to obtain the property dirt cheap, at the minimum mandated price of $60,000. Very little has been done or written about the Viaduct Scam, which got lost in the shadow of the Marting Scam, but I will have more to say in blogs to follow.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Slashings & Rip-Offs

After managing to avoid them all my life, I recently saw my first slasher movie. Like Pinocchio to the circus, I was lured to the Portsmouth Cinema, for the first time, by the critical praise heaped on the Hollywood musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Roger Ebert gave it four stars and the New York Times, not given to stars, judged it a masterpiece. It turns out Sweeney Todd is a bubble blood bath of a movie, a slasher of a movie that arrived just in neck of Oscar time. With all those magnificently filmed slit throats, how can it not get an Academy Award? There is a masterpiece lurking somewhere in the bloody mess that is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The trouble is the potential masterpiece was left on the cutting room floor.

Sweeney Todd himself is a Dickensian hero with a psychotic twist. He is a bloodthirsty Oliver Twitch. “Please, sir, may I have more blood?” With a glint in his eye, Sweeney Todd dispatches dozens and dozens and presumably hundreds and hundreds of victims with a flick of his wrist, and they are promptly turned into meat pies by Mrs. Lovett, who serves them fresh, a rare treat, in her eatery.

What the Dickens!

I had not seen such an over-the-top Dickensian characters since I had been to the Portsmouth City Council meeting the previous Monday evening. Where outside of Oliver Twist will we find a gallery of more unforgettable characters than at the City Council meetings. There is lapdog Mayor Jim Kalb; smarmy council president Howard Baughman; “I Get No Respect” Vice President of Council, Rev. David Malone (to give our adulterous Second Ward Councilman his full and proper title); Police Chief (domestic terrorist expert extraordinaire and City Council bouncer) Chuck Horner; and, most notoriously and salaciously First Ward councilman Mike Mearan, who was appointed to City Council and then appointed Building Committee chair presumably because of his extensive knowledge of the sewers of Portsmouth.

Give credit where credit is due: Mearan is always willing to help out damsels in distress, such as Heather Hren, the drug-addicted, purse-snatching twenty-something blond he ensconced in a public-housing-project love nest and then selected as his left-handed stenographer for the Building Committee. If chairs had knees, Hren might have been dictated to indefinitely if she hadn’t been pulled over by the police and arrested for transporting Oxycontin from Columbus to Portsmouth in a sub-sub-compact that Mearan, (playing Bill Sikes, if not Fagin, to Hren’s Nancy) had rented for her.

Done in like Midred Dunnock

Johnny Depp who plays the barbarous Sweeney Todd, combines the sexual ambiguity of Montgomery Clift with the psychotic intensity of Richard Widmark, who made a name for himself in Kiss of Death (1947) when he killed an old woman in a wheelchair (played by Mildred Dunnock, shown here) by gleefully pushing her down a flight of stairs. How insensitive we Americans are when it comes to violence and how oh-so-sensitive we are, especially the evangelicals among us, on the evils of sexuality. I was struck by this parental advisory for Sweeney Todd that appeared on the Internet Movie Data Base: “The throat slittings are occasionally disturbing.” Throat slittings, mind you, are not always, not usually, but only occasionally disturbing. Could any parental advisory better express the lethal hypocrisy of American culture? “The throat slittings are occasionally disturbing.” These self-appointed guardians of morality have a keener nose for sexual transgressions than a specially trained German shepherd does for explosives. We’ll convert the Third World to “democracy” and consumerism even if we have to carpet-bomb the bastards to do it. If Widmark had done nothing more than given Mildred Dunnock a feel in Kiss of Death, the film would have been banned in all forty-eight states. And if it had been an old guy that he had given a feel, the evangelical Taliban from Idaho, Sen. Larry Craig’s home state, and members of the Catholic Decency League, might have put Widmark in its cross-hairs. Widmark was actually a good student, president of his senior class in high school, and planning to become a lawyer, but then he discovered a more lucrative career: playing a psychotic. When you come down to it, we are all Mildred Dunnocks, since our Dickensian crooks control local government, the police department, the Chamber of Commerce, the Southern Ohio Growth Partnership, and the local newspapers and radio stations.

Cut It Out!

I recently read a complaint in the Boston Globe to the effect that “Tom Brady is a disgrace to all Catholics.” As an ex-Boston Irish Catholic, I have to say that I find Catholics and especially Boston Irish Catholics a disgrace to ex-Catholics, and the Church a refuge for lesbian nuns and pedophile priests. In view of what has happened to the Church in the last twenty-five years, I think Catholics should take a vow of silence for the next thousand years when it comes to the issues of sex and morality. If Brady, the second coming of Christ, in cleats, and a Protestant supermodel become unwed parents, Catholics must not think the worst of him, especially since he is, obviously, still a practicing Catholic. At least he does not practice birth control when he is having sex with Protestant supermodels. As for Brady’s being an unwed father, what would you have him do, you outraged Boston Catholics, marry outside the Faith, begorra? Get over it outraged Boston Catholics and Catholic Legion of Decency. If you will not make a peep about the graphic throat-slashings in Sweeney Todd, not even the occasionally disturbing ones, then stop condemning Scorsese’s Passion of Christ and denigrating Tom Terrific, for Christ’s sake! Brady has had an audience with the Pope. Who have you had an audience with?

Angry Kalb Won't Slash Budget

Mayor Kalb has met with the president of the United States, but he has not yet had an audience with the Pope. The main business of the City Council meeting, on January 14, was the attempt by the City Auditor and others to get Mayor Kalb to cut the budget, however slightly, which he stubbornly refused to do, in spite of an impending recession. He refused to cut the budget by a dime because he has tucked in to it a raise for himself as reward for his incompetence, and he fears that that raise might be the first thing that’s cut. If Kalb will not cut the budget, there is no chance he would agree to slash it, but that may be what he will be forced to do if the looming recession is as bad as economists predict. Kalb did not get the big new SUV he wanted as his mayormobile, but he is determined to get a raise for himself as well as some $10 to $15 million for his new Municipal Building, which may yet turn out to be the 120-year-old Old Maid Marting building. When the current site of the Municipal Building is sold to the mysterious party who has allegedly been waiting for over a decade to get his hands on this “prime piece of property,” to paraphrase Kalb, look for another Marting-like rip-off.

My thesis, which I apologize for taking so long to state, is that the difference between Sweeney Todd’s London and Mayor Kalb’s Portsmouth is that in London the people get slashed and in Portsmouth they get ripped off. The ones who are doing the ripping off in Portsmouth are not a deranged barber and a crooked cook but some developers and lawyers, deranged not by blood but by money. They have managed to bleed the poor Appalachians of Portsmouth of millions and millions because, as Clayton Johnson said at a lunch at Williams Restaurant, according to, they are so ignorant they don’t even know how to set an alarm clock. I have heard of at least two failed Portsmouth eateries blaming their closing on unreliable and dishonest employees, and I was told by the scion of another local business that residents of Portsmouth, as employees, are for the most part, “not worth shit.”

Coming Attraction

In my next blog, I will show how the very ground on which sit the Portsmouth Cinema and other Chillicothe St. viaduct businesses was a rip-off that makes the Marting scam look like a humble meat pie from Mrs. Lovett’s eatery.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Golden Wazoo

On January 8, 2008, Ka-BOOM! announced the winners of the three $25,000 Golden Kazoo and five Silver Kazoo $5,000 grants in the Playful City contest. Portsmouth, one of the contestants, was not one of the winners. If our local news media reported Portsmouth’s failure to win anything in the contest, I missed it. You see, reporting a setback or something that’s wrong with the city, is supposed to be bad for the city. Instead we are told everything is wonderful, things have never been better, it’s progress, progress, progress, all the time. You can read all about it in the special Progress issue that the Portsmouth Daily Times is currently working on. If a reporter strays from that line, the line that everything is wonderful in Portsmouth, if a reporter doesn’t show the crooks who control this town in a favorable light, if a reporter disloyally shows examples of how our river city is not progressing, if a reporter shows how imperfect, how very imperfect Portsmouth is, he won’t be able to work for the Daily Times. He will be fired, like reporter Jeff Barron was. What we get instead from the Daily Times are unctuous editorials from the hypocritical Arthur Kuhn, the latest in a long line of short-lived managing editors. Just what Portsmouth needs, another Kuhn artist.

Somebody at the Daily Times or Community Common or WNXT, should have done a little digging and pointed out that the Ka-BOOM! Playful City contest tends to prove the wisdom of P.T. Barnum’s reminder: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” A city, as well as an individual, you see, can be a sucker. Contestant cities in the Ka-BOOM! contest had to jump through a number of hoops before they could qualify to enter the contest for those Kazoos. One purpose of the qualification trials may be to enable Ka-BOOM! to separate those communities that are likely to be able to follow through on their goals and spend the most money on building play areas for kids. In other words, Ka-BOOM! may be sizing up the potential suckers. The “Playful” grants are seed money, with communities being expected to raise considerably more to complete their play areas. The playground construction companies and building suppliers behind the Ka-BOOM! Playful Cities contest expect winning communities to spend much more than the grants they win, and they not only expect, they require the winners to spend their seed money, in the stores and construction companies behind the contest. Those are the requirements included in the so-called “guidelines” that Ka-BOOM! contestants must agree to. Contestant cities’ building plans must be approved by Ka-BOOM! in order for a city to become a contestant.

No Place like Home Depot

Home Depot contributes $500 to the $5,000 grants, but the $500 is really a gift certificate that must be spent at a Home Depot store. And the other $4500 must be spent at the designated play area construction companies. Home Depot’s $500 and the other $4500 that must be spent in specified construction companies are like “loss leaders” in retail stores. The store advertises an item on which it takes a loss in order to get you into the store where you are expected to buy a lot more other items the store will make a good profit on. If a winner must go to Home Depot to spend the gift certificate, it’s likely the larger amounts the winner will spend on building supplies will be spent at a Home Depot store.

And as an added bonus, Ka-BOOM! ends up not only with the names and email addresses of contest participants, Ka-BOOM! also ends up with the names and email addresses of the many more people who, in an unwise show of civic virtue, supplied their email addresses in voting for their city’s contest video. The fine print says Ka-BOOM! will not sell these names and email addresses to third parties, but it does not say it and the companies connected with the Playful Cities contest cannot use these lists for their own purposes. More spam anybody?

The Ka-BOOM! contest is a marketing scheme posing as philanthropy. Marketing is about making more money by selling more of your product or service. Marketing has been around for a long time and is now part of the curriculum in business schools and colleges. It is like a degree in fleecing. Marketing includes but is not limited to advertising, the purpose of which often is to convince somebody to buy something he or she doesn’t need and can’t afford. Marketing is as pervasive as the oxygen we breathe, so we are hardly aware how much it dominates every facet of life, not just commerce but politics, sports, sex, religion, etc. What are political campaigns but vast marketing exercises? What are candidates promoting if not variations of the two dominant brands, Republican and Democrat? What is religion in America today but a fierce struggle of varieties of the dominant brand, Christianity, for customer loyalty? What are the most successful brands of Christianity? The ones that promise the biggest bang for your buck. Do you remember councilman David Malone’s “Portsmouth: City of Prosperity” campaign, something he borrowed from the Ministry of Truth movement?

Social Marketing

In a new twist, marketing has evolved into something called “social marketing,” which is supposed to employ the methods of marketing but for the sake of the public, not for the sake of profits. Ka-BOOM! is supposed to be engaging in social marketing. A cynic might say – and count me among them – that the line between marketing and social marketing is a narrow one and is easily crossed. Marketing wolves can easily change into social marketing clothing. Count Ka-BOOM! among the wolves offering a bigger bang for your buck. How do you explain that ridiculous name – Ka-BOOM! – if not as a bigger bang for your buck? What an image to use for a kids' campaign, a violent explosion!!!

The name of the company that provided Ka-BOOM! with the idea for the Playful City contest is Shycast, which should be called Slycast. On its website, Shycast “claims to be a community of people and brands, working together to make great new things happen in the world of social marketing.” Notice, it claims to be “a community,” not a company, and its announced goal is not to make money but “to make great things happen” through social marketing. What “great things” are they talking about? “At Shycast,” they boast, “we see the future: brands opening up to their customers, and people becoming more able, interested in, and open to, a real relationship with their favorite brands.” If there is something missing in your life, it may be you do not have “a real relationship” with your favorite brands. Is Home Depot your favorite “brand,” is Home Depot your favorite building supply store, or are you still in a meaningless relationship with poky old Lowe’s? Win a Silver Kazoo and you might see the light, or at least enter into a real relationship with a building supplier. After God, Country, and kids, what is more sacred to us than “Home,” with all its meaningful associations. Social marketing is prepared to exploit our most sacred feelings for the sake of profits. We haven't just been screwed; we've been "shycasted."

Hot Videos

Shycast is a company that provides other companies with a marketing strategy to make money. One of Shycast’s marketing strategies is conduct contests that include videos as part of the competition. “If you have a hot video contest idea for a brand you love,” Shycast says, “tell us about it. Brands tune in; they can make it real. We'll be working in the background, helping them find you. If your idea gets made, you’ve been shycast, and you’ll be involved.” Most of the contests Shycast helps promote are not even remotely beneficial to society. Shycast does not appear to be involved in the campaigns to eliminate AIDS or other Sexually Transmitted Diseases, or smoking. On behalf of IKEA, an international home product company, Shycast came up with a contest for new ways of making a bed. “We’re looking for bed-making maniacs who aren’t worried about what Mom says,” the come-on for the IKEA bed-making video contest says. “If you mix and match sheets, have a special blankie for the Shih-tzu, or the craziest of quilts this contest is for you.” Or if you have kids who, in addition to being bed-making maniacs, are also overweight couch potatoes, get on the ball and join Ka-BOOMS!’ Playful Cities contest.

Embarrassing Video

The Portsmouth video that was entered in the contests is, like our mayor, who is featured in it, an embarrassment to the city. Hot it is not. Instead of featuring kids, the Portsmouth video features city employees taking time off from their jobs to have fun. Try to imagine how hard it must have been to get them to do that. Try to imagine how hard it must have been to persuade our playful mayor to tool around on his motorcycle as the helmeted mystery star of the video.

If Portsmouth was not awarded a Golden of Silver Kazoo, it was awarded a consolation prize for being the best stunt video. What does that mean? One definition of “stunt” is an “unusual or difficult feat requiring great skill or daring.” Another definition of stunt is something “performed or undertaken chiefly to gain publicity.” I watched the video several times. I saw no feats requiring great skill or daring. I did see something done to gain publicity for city employees and Mayor Kalb. Unfortunately, it is bad publicity. The technical skill and the imagination behind the video is also an embarrassment. Portsmouth has a video specialist who claims to be a professional: the owner of Dawgbert Productions. If this Ka-BOOM! video is the best Dawgbert can do technically, go to Columbus or Huntington to have a video made, because Dawgbert is to videos what Snuffy Smith is to grammar. Dawgbert was the official media consultant for David Kuhn’s recent disastrous re-election campaign for city solicitor. ‘Nuf said? Perhaps Dawgbert can enter a social marketing contest on the evils of marijuana. Perhaps he could make a video called “Potsmouth,” showing the harmful effect heavy marijuana use has on the social development of over-the-hill bikers. Perhaps, he could win an Up-the-Golden-Wazoo Award.

Charity Begins at Home

Rather than helping make profits for Ka-BOOM! and company, Portsmouth could have better used the time and energy expended fruitlessly in the Playful Cities campaign. If more and better playground areas is a high priority for Portsmouth, some public or private agency should have organized a campaign for that purpose and not allowed a marketer to make a sucker of the city. Such playground projects have been undertaken in the past in Portsmouth. But with our current crop of public officials, intelligence and imagination, not to mention honesty and competency, are in short supply. Foolishness on the part of adults should not be mistaken for playfulness, nor a clueless biker for a cool dude. We now have two councilmen who will not be rubber stamps for the over-privileged of Portsmouth, and a city solicitor who has taken down the “Out-to-Lunch” sign. The Municipal Building should not be a playground out of which employees come pouring to have fun but the seat of city government, whose responsibility it is to provide safe places for kids to play in every neighborhood.