The election’s done, but I’m still puzzling over the Enquirer endorsement of the parks levy.
Did the editorial board ignore reporter Carrie Blackmore Smith’s well-researched, well-told and damning stories?From what the two endorsement editorials said about the park board, its president Otto Budig and Mayor John Cranley, I expected Enquirer opposition to the levy.Even if the Enquirer really trusted Budig to acquire some knowledge and humility and the mayor to keep his word, the next mayor and park board president might also be contemptuous of public oversight.Enquirer editorials recalled President Reagan’s wise admonition, “trust but verify.”Issue 22 was designed to deny Cincinnatians meaningful and timely ways to verify whether the park board and the mayor were keeping pledges that no law requires them to redeem. Even a Harvard lawyer knows that promises don’t count today unless you have them on paper and signed. That’s why we have contracts. I voted against Issue 22. So did most people who voted on that charter amendment. Unlike the Enquirer editorial board, I don’t trust any unelected park board or imperious mayor without timely ways to affect what is being done with my property tax dollars in perpetuity. I would have written this earlier, but the editorial endorsement and election fell between CityBeat deadlines.But back to the Enquirer. Read the editorials’ disturbing details of park board arrogance, reminders of unreliable mayoral promises and exclusion of public participation in decisions. You’d think the Enquirer opposed the Budig/Cranley axis and their Issue 22 levy from these quotes from the initial endorsement: • “We are troubled about recent Enquirer stories spotlighting how the five-member Park Board has handled some decisions, information and money.”• “We also want to ensure that council members and the public have ample opportunity to help decide how new levy dollars are spent.”• “The Enquirer’s endorsement is based on assurances from Mayor John Cranley — Issue 22’s architect and public face — and parks leaders that two specific concerns will be addressed.” First, “the Park Board fails to consistently operate in a transparent manner. The board’s decision to take $200,000 from an endowment fund for use in the levy campaign — as reported by The Enquirer last week — was a bad one. Even Cranley has acknowledged mistakes were made there.”“Our reporters initially had difficulty getting Park Board documents as basic and clearly public as its budget. That is not acceptable.” • Second, “the entire park department — board and staff — needs training in Ohio’s open meetings and open records laws. … Park Board President Otto Budig told the editorial board Wednesday he would be ‘very happy’ to learn more on these subjects. We look forward to his leadership in educating not only himself but other board members and parks employees.”“The board also should add a high-level official — an ombudsman of sorts — who is tasked with creating a culture of transparency and accountability throughout the organization. That individual must thoroughly know the applicable laws and ensure they are understood and followed by all park employees and board members.”• “Cranley said he has asked for an audit that he expects to explore the procedures for how the Park Board handles endowment dollars. We look forward to a conversation about the proper and improper uses of money that individuals have left to the city parks.”• “The levy was introduced without a citywide conversation about which park projects should be prioritized and what they should look like. … There must be a process that encourages and incorporates taxpayers’ ideas and preferences. Voters, residents, business leaders — all deserve to have their voice heard on park priorities.” • “Cranley told the editorial board … that ‘of course’ he would support a council measure to lay out a process for citizen input. We will hold him to that and trust that the process will also include more council input than an up-or-down vote on bonds. Council members are citizens’ elected representatives, and the mayor should work with them.”• Dismissing critics, the endorsement said, “Some say hundreds of parkland trees will be removed to build restaurants, even though the levy includes no such specific plans.”• “The opposition makes fun of Cranley for calling Burnet Woods ‘creepy.’ But some Clifton-area residents have complained it is not inviting or as user-friendly as it should be. Concerns over the park’s creepiness does not mean there will be a full-scale removal of trees.”In its second endorsement editorial, the Enquirer grumbled:• Vice Mayor David Mann initiated a motion “that will give his Neighborhoods Committee responsibility for ensuring public feedback on each proposed park project” but “the motion doesn’t have the weight of law — think of it more like a recommendation. However, we trust that The Enquirer, neighborhoods and parks lovers will keep an eagle eye on the process.”• “Less encouraging is Park Board President Otto Budig’s assertion in an op-ed that the board is already operating with ‘complete transparency.’ Recent Enquirer stories have detailed troubling lapses in the handling of public information and ethical questions about how park endowments are spent. Budig’s response: ‘As always, we will continue to look at the ways we do business in order to find opportunities for continuous improvement along the way.’ That doesn’t demonstrate understanding of the seriousness of the issues raised.”The Enquirer editorial board’s public breakdown in critical thinking goes deeper than the individuals involved. I don’t think the endorsements were written while the board held its collective nose. No. It’s tradition. When faced with difficult decisions, the Enquirer too often flinches and defers to what its corporate peers desire. Curmudgeon Notes: • The headline was “Sensationalism can be bad for your health.” The online was an image of perfectly done bacon.That’s how the Errors & Omissions feature in independent.co.uk addressed the news media frenzy over a World Health Organization (WHO) report linking processed and red meat to increased risk of bowel cancer. Here’s what Errors & Omissions writer Guy Keleny said:“On Tuesday, the papers were full of the peril of contracting bowel cancer from eating bacon. As usual with such stories, the danger was presented in terms of relative, rather than absolute, risk. Our report said: ‘Just 50g of processed meat a day — less than two slices of bacon — increases the chance of developing bowel cancer by 18 per cent.’ “Yikes! So eating bacon means you have an 18 percent chance of getting bowel cancer?“No, it doesn’t. The piece does not say what your chance (absolute risk) of getting bowel cancer is. It merely says that the chance will be increased by 18 per cent (relative risk) if you eat processed meat. “Now, according to figures on the Cancer Research U.K. website, the lifetime risk of bowel cancer in the U.K. was calculated in 2010 at one in 14 for men and one in 19 for women. Call that one in 16, which is 6.25 per cent. That’s the figure that will be increased by 18 per cent if you eat bacon. And 18 per cent of 6.25 is 1.125. So a lifetime of eating bacon gives you an additional bowel cancer risk of a little over 1 per cent. Not quite so yikes as 18, is it?“If my calculations are … anywhere near right, the universal practice of reporting relative risks and ignoring absolute risks looks to me like sensationalism.”• It’s also worth noting that risks differ from country to country. The lifetime risk of colon cancer in the U.S. is not the same as in the U.K.; similar, but not the same. • WHO says the risk rises with each 50-gram (roughly 2-ounce) portion of processed meat eaten daily. That should be worrisome to folks who eat bacon daily for breakfast or send their kids to school with cold-cut sandwiches. But for those of us who enjoy an occasional BLT or Clubhouse sandwich or salami and eggs, even that increased risk must approach nil. • The New York Times avoids sensationalism, but leaves a reader wondering what the real risk is.“An international panel of experts convened by the World Health Organization concluded Monday that eating processed meat like hot dogs, ham and bacon raises the risk of colon cancer and that consuming other red meats ‘probably’ raises the risk as well. “But the increase in risk is so slight that experts said most people should not be overly worried about it. The panel did not offer specific guidelines on red meat consumption. “But its conclusions add support to recommendations made by other scientific groups like the federal government’s dietary guidelines advisory committee, which has long discouraged the consumption of red and processed meat. … Experts not involved in the report … cautioned that any increased risk of cancer was relatively small.”Then it got into numbers: “Smoking causes a roughly 20-fold increase in a person’s risk of developing lung and other types of cancer. … In comparison, a person’s risk of colorectal cancer rises by a factor of about 1.1 or 1.2 for every serving of processed meat consumed per day.”That really doesn’t help. What is a “factor?” What is my lifetime risk of developing bowel cancer? Without that number, I can’t appreciate the increased risk of 10 percent or 20 percent. To put it another way, 10 or 20 percent of what? • The American Cancer Society says lifetime U.S. risk of developing colon cancer is 4.84 percent or about 1 in 20. If WHO is correct, that could rise to about 6 percent or 1 in 16 with a diet heavy in processed and/or red meat.• The meat report came from WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Here’s some of what WHO said in its announcement:“After thoroughly reviewing the accumulated scientific literature, a Working Group of 22 experts from 10 countries … classified the consumption of red meat as probably carcinogenic to humans (Group 2A), based on limited evidence that the consumption of red meat causes cancer in humans and strong mechanistic evidence supporting a carcinogenic effect. This association was observed mainly for colorectal cancer, but associations were also seen for pancreatic cancer and prostate cancer. “Processed meat was classified as carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), based on sufficient evidence in humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer.”WHO said, “red meat refers to all types of mammalian muscle meat, such as beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse, and goat. “Processed meat refers to meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, or other processes to enhance flavour or improve preservation. Most processed meats contain pork or beef, but processed meats may also contain other red meats, poultry, offal, or meat by-products such as blood. Examples of processed meat include hot dogs (frankfurters), ham, sausages, corned beef, and biltong or beef jerky as well as canned meat and meat-based preparations and sauces.”Biltong is the Southern African equivalent of our beef jerky made from game as well as beef. • Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported that a defendant in leg shackles and a belt chain got away from deputies walking him from an Ontario court to a jail vehicle. A day or so later, CBC reported that the man was re-arrested and in custody. That’s all. CBC had me screaming at the radio in my fishing cabin. How did this guy, about 5-foot-5 and 145 pounds get away from two deputies while he was shackled? Where did they find him? What’s happening to these two doofus lawmen who couldn’t control a small adult man in chains? • On the other hand, when regional CBC does weather, which is a big deal up there, I listen. For days late last month, CBC’s northern Ontario news service warned listeners of a major storm coming north from the remnants of Hurricane Patricia. I could deal with the predicted rain; better than sleet, snow or ice. But winds of 40-70 kph (roughly 25-45 mph)? I packed up and fled. I’m not sure my 16-foot fishing boat could have handled the waves or following sea. Friends who live up there tell me the storm was a doozy. By the time it reached them, I’d driven through it on I-75 in Ohio; heavy rain and wind all the way from Toledo to Cincinnati. • NPR’s “Weekend Edition” linked the rugby world cup final between New Zealand and Australia to a story about rugby in an impoverished Memphis charter school that is becoming a rugby power. It was too poor for football equipment, and rugby requires just a ball and grass. The broadcast was inspired news judgment. Power Center Academy — a charter school — went from nothing to creating national rugby all-stars in a few years. Players are graduating and looking at colleges that offer rugby scholarships.Coincidentally, New Zealand’s All Blacks — named for their uniforms — made history last week: its third world cup and the first team to win two in a row. Go online for images of the All Blacks doing the Maori “haka” war dance challenging the Wallabies before the title game began. • When I wrote about cars and motor racing in Europe in the early 1960s, my road tests dealt primarily with roadholding, acceleration and breaking, and how the machine felt from the driver’s seat. “Infotainment” was the radio plus dashboard gauges that read 12 o’clock when all was well: engine temp, oil pressure, generator, fuel. A glance told me if all was well. This came to mind with the December issue of Consumer Report with its most/least reliable car ratings. The 20 worst seemed to have trouble with their “infotainment” systems. I guess that puts them in the shop more often than those that had no trouble with “infotainment.”• Inspiring headlines come in batches.An Enquirer story described Georgian and Egyptian students spending a year at Winton Woods High School. Both are blind. The headline? “Exchange students view life through American lens.”Or as it might be said in our bumper sticker culture, the only response to that headline is WWTT/TW, as in “what were they thinking/they weren’t.” Others? Read on:The theguardian.com headline — “Kangaroo farts could have implications for farmers in climate change fight” — moved a faithful reader to create this limerick:An Aussie with a herd of big 'roosTook exception to climate-change news.This had implicationsFor tree-hugging nationsThat choked on the 'roos' CO2s.Finally, independent.co.uk teased a story on the home page with this headline: “Man dies after tapeworm gets cancer.”My first reaction was “grief?”
CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]