One of the happy consequences of getting away to a remote spot for a long weekend is no newspapers — in my case no newspapers, no television, and not even any radio. No news, in my case, turns out to be neither good news nor bad news but rather old news, gleaned from a random assortment of unread newspapers and magazines picked up off the office furniture and stashed into a bag for some idle reading. Some of it turns out to be insightful in its own way:
Cindy Sheehan’s anti-Iraq protest. We have all heard the story of the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, whose anger in part is directed at the way President Bush had responded to her at a meeting of survivors of Iraqi war dead. Among other indignities, the president kept calling her “mom.”
Then over the media-free long weekend I came across a clipping from a recent but still unread New York Times. Edmund Morris, the Ronald Reagan biographer, acknowledged Sheehan’s “legitimate expression of antiwar sentiment,” but also made a point in Bush’s defense. The grieving mother “cannot expect a commander in chief to emote on demand.” If he did “he’d be sucked dry within a week of taking office.”
With that simmering in my brain, and with no new news to drive it out, I stumbled across a November, 2003, issue of “Free Paper Ink,” a trade publication that had sat unread in my office for nearly two years. A column caught my eye. Brian Gay, executive director of a community newspaper chain, usually writes about ad lineage, sales promotions, and circulation drives. This time he wrote about a newspaper conference in Washington, DC, and a side trip he had taken to the Vietnam Wall. He had served a year in Vietnam 29 years before, but had hardly ever discussed it. At the wall he and his wife met another Vietnam veteran and his wife, who ended their talk with a handshake and a kiss and the statement “welcome home from Vietnam.” Gay wrote: “That couple . . . did more for me in that brief encounter than had happened the previous 29 years.”
The lesson, I figured, is that there is room for improvement in how we treat both the grieving families and the returning veterans.
New Jersey’s transportation challenges. A New Jersey Chamber of Commerce advertising supplement from February of this year found its way into my bag of summer reading. Among its “agenda for New Jersey” was a transportation initiative to rescue the now nearly insolvent Transportation Trust Fund supported by a portion of the state tax on gasoline.
The Chamber noted that a 2003 commission had recommended a 15 cent a gallon tax increase, but the proposal was ignored. In the meantime the tax has been stable since 1988, when Governor Kean managed to get a 2.5 cent per gallon increase, but only after a massive public education campaign. Any tax increase to bolster the infrastructure was a long shot in February. Now, with gas prices at all-time highs, you have to figure it’s a very dead duck.
Hospital performance report cards. I opened up a pristine copy of the January 17, 2005, NJ Biz and came across a report on the 2004 state survey of hospitals and their performance. The magazine noted that the reports are showing deficiencies in treatment, such as not immediately giving heart attack patients aspirin, and motivating some hospitals to adopt “common order sets,” essentially check lists of recommended procedures similar to a pilot’s check list before takeoff.
The results of the report card for 82 hospitals in the state are at www.nj.gov/health/hpr. Fortunately for me no news also meant no Internet. So I just took my daily dose of aspirin (along with Plavix, Zocor, Prevacid, niacin, and folic acid) and hoped that wherever I end up the medical personnel are as careful as the airline pilots at Newark.
Ten new uses for newspapers. A few years ago, tired of the endless jokes about my product being used for bird cage liners and toilet paper, I wrote a column on 10 other uses to which newspapers could be put. My favorites were as an umbrella (and you can dry it out and still read it after you come in from the storm), as a wound covering (pick some sterile pages from the middle of an unread section), and as a defensive weapon (roll it up like a baton and slam it into an assailant’s gut).
Then came the April, 2005, edition of Real Simple magazine, a simply fun creation from Time Inc. Its “101 new uses for everyday things” included these suggestions for newspapers: 1.) deodorize food containers; 2.) ripen tomatoes; 3.) pack delicate items; 4.) wipe away tough streaks; 5.) preserve antique glass; 6.) dry shoes (put crumbled paper in them overnight); 7.) wrap gifts; 8.) create a home for slushy boots; 9.) prepare a garden (use four layers of paper plus four inches of mulch to smother grass roots); and 10.) keep the refrigerator vegetable drawer dry and free of smells.
So I am back from the long weekend now, with a fresh accumulation of unread newspapers, but with plenty of uses to which they can be put.