Saturday, July 26, 2014

TFP Column: Rites Of Spring

(Contrary to all logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 04/03/2014.
Despite the dire prognostications of the Pennsylvania rodent population, the contradictory evidence of flowers that seem brave enough to begin poking their way into the sunlight (though forced to do so through the semi-frozen ground of global climate change) and despite the mirage of lingering snow drifts to your lying eyes ... spring is finally here.

Spring means many things to many people. Here in the Midwest, it means planting of crops for farmers (or in some cases, getting the government to pay you not to plant them by placing land in a “soil bank”). It means fertilizing the lawn, then rushing to tune up the lawnmower so we can cut it after stimulating its growth. It’s likely to mean it’s time to repair the car’s suspension from that unfortunate assignation with a pothole the size of that meteor crater in Winslow, Ariz.
 
One of the most important things about spring however is sports. Spring is in fact the convergence of all things sports.  College basketball holds its two different tournaments, the NCAA championship for the “feasible,” the “unlikely,” and the “surprising” and the NIT for those whose yearly efforts haven’t reached the previously mentioned levels, but should be rewarded by face-saving and revenue-generating post-season play. The professional basketball season is also winding to a close, with more teams making its postseason play than missing it, and the usual suspects likely to be there at the end.
 
Hockey follows basketball to a season close in the growing warmth, though it’s outdoor play these days is only for show and therefore not an impediment.  Like its brother basketball, it too has fallen prey to the lure of revenue, and far too many will contest to dethrone the Chicago Blackhawks and lift Lord Stanley’s Cup.
 
Football too has begun, whether you’re talking about the spring practices of the college teams of the U.S. version or the more accurately defined world sporting event that’s only in recent years getting its proper due in this country.
 
The king of sports this time of year, however, is and always will be the national sport, baseball. Oh sure, they messed with Opening Day this year by allowing the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers to play one in Australia, before the traditional opening game in Cincinnati; but games played on the other side of the international dateline can probably be discounted in a 162-game season. 

Regardless of whether snow must be cleared from the fields and long sleeves are the rule rather than the exception on the field, it’s time to “Play Ball!”
 
Across the nation, we abandon balmy living rooms and cheerfully face the often frozen confines of a land where “hope springs eternal.” We encourage our overpriced stars, cheer those we’ve never seen before, but who show early promise and salute those who, perhaps unknown even to themselves, are taking their final lap as men playing a boy’s game.
 
This spring is particularly special for some of us, as it commemorates the 100th anniversary of historic Wrigley Field in Chicago. This celebration is likely to be rather muted however, since the Cubs have failed to win a World Series during the entire century of this ballpark’s existence and the Cubs enter what’s likely to be the 108th year of their rebuilding program.
 
A point that forces one to take note that not all things associated with spring are positive is that politicians are already out on the stump, attending fundraising dinners across the country and forming exploratory groups, while simultaneously denying that such efforts exists. (A curious process since the only thing that such exploration groups seem to discover is a previously unknown groundswell movement for the candidate to run.)  For those seeking further evidence of the dire consequences of the season, it’s also less than two weeks until tax day.
 
Alfred Tennyson told us that “In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Recalling dim memories of having been one during the Dark Ages of history, I believe I can say without fear of challenge that a young man’s fancy seldom strays from such thoughts.  For many this week, however, the glorious contemplation of such emotions and perhaps of the fairer sex in general will be done in the Glass City with a hot dog and an adult beverage at Fifth Third Field. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

TFP Column: Toledo - Real Estate Entrepreneur


(Contrary to all logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 07/21/2014.
When the story broke that the City of Toledo might become its own landlord, I immediately offered my services to Toledo Free Press Editor-in-Chief Michael Miller:

“Permit me the time to carefully gather and analyze the facts and figures involved with this situation and I will deliver to you the finest effort that I’ve ever done for the Toledo Free Press.”

Oh sure, setting the bar this low makes the goal far too easily attainable, but I could not let that deter me.

I spent countless hours over endless columns of figures that made little sense to me and would likely have made the most dedicated IRS auditor catatonic. I tirelessly dedicated myself to interpreting market trends that even Donald Trump would find all but impossible to decipher.

Half blind from lack of sleep, nerves jumbled from too much time attempting to live on a diet of coffee and Snickers bars, and terrified by the implications of the material that I had thus far digested, the answer struck me in the wee hours of the morning when I least expected it, like the lightning bolt that struck the jackass in “Sergeant York” (which seemed a strangely appropriate metaphor).

Of course the city should not be permitted to become its own real estate agent and purchase One Government Center. The logic was as simple as it was brilliant; the reasoning as inarguable as it was definitive.

Oh, it was not about decades that showed an unblemished record of abject failure in real estate market speculation under every administration in Glass City history. Such a conclusion could be reached almost intuitively, and a more satisfactory form of closure was required. Speaking of history and failure, however, neither was it about the State of Ohio’s documented history of minimal maintenance over the 30-year-plus history of the building that had aged this 22-story structure far beyond its years and likely put it in a state of disrepair capable of creating one of those “catastrophic and unrecoverable spins” a la Tom Cruise “Top Gun.” (Similar personal experience in the case of my own structure had taught me more than a few tragic lessons in this regard.)

It probably should have been, but wasn’t about the volatility of the Downtown Toledo real estate market during an economic recovery that remains shaky, and where the only ones still apparently making any money are the carpenters putting plywood up in the windows. This is is Toledo (“where you will do better”), where even experienced and savvy gamblers like Larry Dillin and the Chinese, playing their cards close to the vest, have feared to go ‘all in’ with what would normally appear to be winning hands in games like Southwyck or the Marina District.

It wasn’t even about the fact that even by using Common Core math principles (where 2 + 2 = 5 for some values of 2), the numbers never seemed to work out. Even if purchasing the property at a cost of $1, by the time the city completed a “property flip” on this facility that meet all of the current building codes and ADA requirements, it would likely exceed the existing current estimate of $7 million. Add in the consequences of Toledo’s liveable wage, the labor overruns that come with any government project and the inevitable yet-to-be-discovered costs that will only come to light when the project is too far along to turn back on, the real costs of Toledo’s “This Old House” fixer-upper may not only exceed the worst nightmare from this PBS show, but in a worst case scenario could conceivably approach the original $61 million construction cost.

But all of this can be set aside as not being the real reason that Toledo should not become a real estate agent and buy this building. That, in fact, was something that I only discovered late into my research.

As many of you know, government overreach is at an all time high in this nation, with bureaucratic encroachment at every level of government occurring against a largely disinterested electorate. Government in this nation is more powerful, more intrusive and more dangerous than it has even been in its history. The real reason, therefore, that the city should not be permitted this move is … the Blazers.

Government simply cannot be allowed to add to their already formidable arsenal of weapons, the power imbued in those hideously colored, horribly tacky real estate blazers. Equipped with these polyester stormtrooper uniforms, what chance has even an aroused citizenry against them?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

TFP Column: Politicians, Blame and Credit

(Contrary to all logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 07/19/2014.
Politicians and political parties in power are usually concerned with taking credit for anything that improves under their watch — even if they have nothing to do with it, or if that improvement amounts to nothing more than a better way to spin the story than has previously existed. Their political enemies, meanwhile, often see it as their mission in life to discover any deterioration in order to raise the specter of fear with regard to such failure, and to assign blame (political and otherwise) for its occurrence.

Blight, however, is not so much a periodic occurrence as it is a constant condition that ebbs and flows with the economic tide. It exists every single day, and on a bipartisan basis. The party in power may carry the responsibility for how much attention it ultimately garners (or doesn’t), but those in the minority bear an comparable responsibility (if not complicity) for attempting to ignore it for as long as they’re able to.

As for the daily newspaper whose recent efforts have brought so much attention to a subject always there, but often obscured, one cannot help but note a few things. First, that while the issue is an enduring one, the inadequacy of prior coverage on this issue is equally long-standing.   Second, that target identification in this case has been followed by little in the way of proposed solutions. Third, and perhaps more telling (if not self-serving), that interest in drawing attention to the city’s lost prestige seemed important only when its own reputation seemed to be going down faster than the Titanic.

It would be easy therefore (and maybe even a little fun) as someone far from the power base wielded by the current administration, to blame Mayor D. Michael Collins and the current City Council for the blight that exists in Toledo. It would, however, be completely wrong to do so. One might find equally misguided amusement in blaming the previous administrations of  Mike Bell, Carty Finkbeiner, Jack Ford and the often lackluster City Councils for a blight issue that’s been around far longer than any of them have served in office.

Just as local political leaders are not the cause of blight in a city, seldom are their actions likely to provide its solution. Overreacting to any temporary media attention that such stories garner, their traditional ham-fisted methods of over-funded studies and emergency regulations are far more likely to leave the city dealing with the long-term unintended consequences of their ill-conceived notions. Such efforts are in fact more likely to prove themselves a greater affliction than the blight they propose to resolve.

So it is (as Toledo Free Press Publisher Tom Pounds recently pointed out) up to local residents and businesses that the city must look to if any long term change can be hoped for. His  “My Toledo, Buy Toledo” initiative may seem a simple thing and, as he says, “a small start”, but as the saying goes: “Every oak tree started out as a couple of nuts who decided to stand their ground.”

Mr. Pounds is therefore to be applauded for this effort, not for its grand scope and scale and comprehensive nature, but in fact for being just the opposite. Not only is such a small grassroots effort, without benefit of taxpayer funding, far more likely to succeed, but not having an attention span tied to a news cycle (or an election cycle), it’s far more likely to be sustainable.

This is not to say that elected officials can or should have no part in this effort, and I would certainly hope that all of them will step forward at some point to show their support for what Mr. Pounds has begun. Whether already business leaders in the community or not, there are roles for them to play as simple as that of looking at the City Charter and removing or waiving any regulations that inhibit direct citizen participation in keeping their own neighborhoods up. Really ambitious ones might even show support by participating in such upkeep efforts, especially in their own districts.

Such an effort, even if it initially appears to be largely symbolic in nature, is about to begin in the private sector. Mr. Pounds rightly points out that there is likely “a very long way to go,” even to begin achieving their goals, but as Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Saturday, July 12, 2014

TFP Column: Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics


(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 4/24/2014.
At the end of the initial sign up period for the Affordable Healthcare Act, the Administration announced that the program had signed 7.1 million people up for health insurance (8 million in numbers released subsequently) and took their own “Mission Accomplished” victory lap. After all, 7 million was the number that the Non-partisan Congressional Budget Office predicted would be sold during the initial rollout before even it began, and without discussion as to why, became the benchmark by which both sides measured success.
The right was certainly quick enough to adopt it in the early days, attacking the chances of success after the dismal rollout problems of the web site and the all but epic failure of the federal exchange in the opening months of the sign up period. Subsequent performance, along with the apparent reticence of the government to release numbers on a timely basis, only fueled the confidence of failure in opponents and did little for the morale of supporters.
The left spent just as much time blaming the delays of the initial rollout, if not more, in what some might be considered to be whining attempts to excuse a failure that had yet to occur. Those who continued to assume any air of confidence were made out to be dreamers and losers who refused to face reality.
State Exchanges didn't do all that much to help the situation. While those in New York, Connecticut, Kentucky, Rhode Island, and Washington prospered; websites in Hawaii, Oregon, Maryland, and Vermont fared dismally. The general consensus of those tracking the numbers was that reaching the CBO goal was simply never going to happen.
As the deadline approached, Jay Carney and Kathleen Sebelius put the best face possible on the situation, but prepared us for the worst. The web site was better, traffic was improving, and people were getting insurance, so 'the number' wasn't as important in measuring success of the law.
Once victory had been declared however, the tune changed again. It was all about the number and nothing else. Sure, some still wanted to dispute the accuracy of the numbers released by the Administration, (I know, how could anyone fail to trust numbers released by the federal government?) but they were little more than malcontents.
In spite of the fact that the US Electorate largely has the attention span of a 5 year-old where the details of any story is concerned, these pundits and naysayers still attempt to contest the victory by disputing whether payment has been made (or will continue to be), whether those signing up were those whose insurance was canceled as a result of the law or previously uninsured, or the health and age of those who signed up. Interesting questions perhaps, but only to those tracking statistics in the government fantasy league.
But it was what no one was talking about that was interesting. Benjamin Disraeli is credited with the quote, “There are three types of lies … lies, damn lies, and statistics. Even the most cursory examination of the latter in this case point to a law with numbers that have largely ignored in favor of the 7 million. Speaking of ignored, if 7 million signed up, more than 22 million this year alone ignored the law and failed to sign up. What's more, the same CBO whose numbers awarded the victory to the ACA has now projected numbers going out into the year 2023. They tell us that going out those ten years, there will still be over 31 million people who still won't have health insurance.
If these numbers victory then, perhaps it can only be considered a Pyrrhic one. For those unfamiliar with the term, it comes from Greek King Pyrrhus who in victories over the Romans (280 and 279 BC) suffered such devastating troop losses in his victories that they were little better than defeat.
Then again, perhaps the 'statistics' reported on the ACA and the 'victory' declared by the current Administration require more than simple analysis. Perhaps they require the popular perspective inspired by George Lucas from “Star Wars” (from Episode VI, for the nitpickers); and that the victory declared is true, “... from a certain point of view”.


Thursday, July 10, 2014

TFP Column: My Guilty Past


(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 5/05/2014.
I've been thinking about the recent resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich and what it means; not only as a user of this particular search engine, but as someone paying attention to the direction in which the political winds blow. Now for those who somehow missed the story, let's go over the highlights of the story.
Six years ago Mr. Eich, who co-founded Mozilla back in 1998, made a $1000 contribution in support of Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot initiative that opposed the legalization of gay marriage in California. Prop. 8 passed by a 52% to 48% margin, but was later overturned in the court system. Since those rulings, gay marriage has resumed in California.
After many years with the company, Mr. Eich was recently named to the position of Chief Executive Office, a position which had been open for over a year. While news of his contribution made the news years ago, the story resurfaced after the promotion was announced, and a firestorm of controversy ensued on social media and within the tech community.
Some initially merely called for Eich's resignation, but soon others went further and called for a boycott of Mozilla. Mr. Eich issued a statement re-affirming his commitment to inclusiveness at the company. The Chair of the Mozilla Foundation, Mitchell Baker, later also issued a statement about the company's continuing commitment to inclusiveness and its support for marriage equality. The damage appeared to have been done however, and Eich resigned his position and left Mozilla on April 3rd of this year; ten days after becoming CEO.
The Free Speech issue of course, is at the heart of this controversy, and it's one that can be appreciated from both sides. Mr. Eich is certainly free to exercise his speech rights in making political contributions. Customers considering use of Mozilla (which is provided free by the way, except for voluntary contributions) are likewise free to use or discard any product from any company for whatever reason they choose.
I can sympathize with Mr. Eich however, who while he apparently had a rather closed definition of what constitutes a marriage in 2008 (the same one the President had at the time), showed no other signs of discriminatory practices against LGBT employees in the workplace. I can likewise sympathize with anyone (in the LGBT community or otherwise), who finds Mr. Eich's opinions on marriage offensive and responds. I do get concerned however, when a single action, years in our past, can have such far-reaching impact on our present and future.
Now, as a Libertarian, I take a somewhat different view on the entire subject of marriage. My concern is not about the respective sexes of those being joined (or the number for that matter), but what business the government has in the process. The fact that one must obtain a license to marry from that government (and pay them for the privilege) is not only offensive, but seems ludicrous in this day and age. It's not as if government stands in as a feudal Lord whose permission must be sought before joining; nor is it a state affair in which inheritance of lands and title may be at stake.
Considering that for those of non-noble lineage, this ceremony was little more than a gathering during which the happy couple jumped over a broomstick together, today's rules and regulations seem almost grotesque. That the rite supposedly being protected from desecration can now not only be legally officiated at by a priest, minister, magistrate, or justice of the peace; but by any mayor, ship's captain or Elvis impersonator with a drive thru lane makes the demand for government certification seem farcical.
I bring all of this up of course, because of my own trepidation over exposure. No, I haven’t been asked to step into a position of greater authority recently, nor do I expect to be at any time soon. Nevertheless, I fear that some crack TFP investigative reporter might choose to 'out' the guilty secret from my own dark past.
No, it's not some contribution to a ballot initiative that would portray me as a homophobe, a racist, or a religious bigot in the last six years that I fear. Growing up in the rarefied political environs of Chicago however and influenced by a Catholic education under the tutelage of a rather dissident clergy during the sixties and early seventies; I'm ashamed to confess that when I was finally able to legally cast my ballot for the first time, I voted Democrat two elections in a row.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

TFP Column: Canceled Commencement

 
(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 5/25/2014. 
In response to a lunchtime protest by the janitor and groundskeeper at Whatsamatta University, I have canceled my commencement appearance at this extinguished center of higher yearning.

While neither surprised nor disappointed to discover that my opinions are objectionable to some at Whatsamatta U (in fact, I take a certain warped pride that they are), I ultimately decided that such events should be about those graduating (both of them) and not about me.

In spite of the public dissent,  some have told me it’s important I speak, accept the honorary degree that’s been offered, begin to call myself “doctor” publicly and insist that others do so as well, and eventually try to parlay this into a career as a radio or TV talks show host.  I say, however, that an honorary degree is little more than a fancy piece of paper rewarding me for work that I’ve never done and I already get a pay stub for much the same thing every couple of weeks.

Others say that I should damn the naysayers and accept the opportunity to fly halfway across the country (difficult when you live in the middle) in order to say things to an audience smaller than (and soon to be even more impoverished than the titled characters) for “Two Broke Girls.” I say, however, that I have already put in my time in riding these “Greyhounds of the skies” and let me tell you, it’s no longer what it once was. Besides, if I wanted to work for peanuts, I could continue to write freelance columns for the rest of my life.

It appears, however, that I have inadvertently managed to become a member of an ever-growing (and far more credentialed list) of conservatives that have accepted an invitation to speak at a university event somewhere around the nation, only to later cancel said appearance in response to the pathetic whining of a vocal minority protesting the decision to invite them in the first place.

We are told this is a First Amendment issue, which only proves that we appear to be living in an age where the writings of the Founders have been vastly misconstrued by a number of the citizens who live under its freedom. While it’s true that the Constitution guarantees us the right to speak freely, it does so only within certain legal limits. Those limits do not include a protection against there being consequences against anything other than arrest.

Sadly however, it appears that any expression of politically incorrect speech (especially at institutions that in theory exist for the free exchange of ideas) is now likely to cost you everything but your freedom. No longer content with being the PC police, today’s latest group of zealots has a adopted a pose more consistent with that of the Spanish Inquisition (which nobody expected).

This is not to say that anyone must like what’s said by someone exercising those First Amendment rights.  It certainly doesn’t mean that you must agree with what they’re saying. It does perhaps mean, however, that a person in this country should be able to be heard out politely without fear of interruption or reprisal.  I remember the Michael Douglas line from the movie “The American President”:

“You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”

Now, however, it seems as though every casual remark, every failed joke and certainly every tweet gone wrong are subject to endless scrutiny by a group of sanctimonious hypocrites who celebrate their own free speech by castigating others behind anonymous screen names.  Conservatives face the additional damning change of well … being conservative, and these social media bigots are are more than willing denounce and censure on the basis of that charge alone.

As for my own situation, regardless of my decision not to appear this year at Whatsamatta U, I am resolved to keep the down payment made on the speaker’s fee. Though cancellation means I am no longer be required to deliver my remarks (a boon for which many would gladly pay me), recompense is nonetheless deserved for completing the difficult task of preparing them in the first place (which you can’t prove I didn’t).  Besides, retention of this honorarium should be just enough to “Super Size” my dinner tonight. 


Saturday, June 28, 2014

TFP Column: "The Crazy Ones" Dropped



(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 5/26/2014. 
Entertainment, such as it is, invariably comes and goes over time. So it was with little more than a weary sigh that I first saw this headline, one I’d been expecting for some time now. Imagine my surprise however, when I realized it was little more than announcement that the CBS show starring Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar about an ad agency was not going to be renewed for next season. (As if a show starring Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Mork without Mindy wasn’t doomed to fail from the start.) 

Strangely, it was not until days later that another similar headline led to the discovery that the real “Crazy Ones” was likewise seeing the end of its days. I’m talking, of course, about the Lucas County Board of Elections (BOE), whose irresponsible irrationality and long unpopularity has at long last gathered the critical attention of those in charge.

The Lucas County BOE has, after all, been little more than a rather tedious and shallow reality show, with a poorly hidden (and even more poorly written) script of farcical nonsense — one with far less entertainment value than its coastal rich chick and wrestling counterparts.

Oh sure, there’s been nanoseconds of political intrigue, though only widely spaced in a mindless tedium of vitriol.  No one is going to confuse its efforts with “House of Cards,” however, nor any of its cast of characters with the likes of a Kevin Spacey. Drama there was in plenty, but most of it forced, no doubt produced as an unintended result of the overacting and poor performances of its players. As for suspense, none seemed forthcoming until very recently, when it at last appeared possible that one or more of the cast might fail on a epic enough scale to get voted off of this overworked version of “Survivor: The Island of Misfit Toys.”

If there were ever paid writers for this slapstick comedy masquerading as a bored melodrama, they should have long since been fired (and had their laptops confiscated to prevent further transgressions). If there was ever actually a script involved, it seems to have been long since shredded for use to line a hamster cage somewhere.

As for genuine humor, forget it. The occasional ham-fisted attempts at improvisation by the cast showed far more second tier than “Second City.” If this droll satire of an even more droll bureaucratic function found anything resembling amusement to its storyline, it was immediately trampled in the real life “Barney Fife” comedy of errors portrayed in its daily operation. While a trio of the characters in this sham may have provided a bit of comic relief (no doubt inadvertently), the only real relief for the audience will come with the final and permanent departure from the stage of these Three Stooges.

The recent accidental cliffhanger, however, has fast become a classic, one in which the stalwarts of the BOE seemed all but incapable of counting even the piddling few votes cast (less than 10 percent of those eligible to vote) in the recent primary election without making the process look like “Mystery Science Theater 3000 – The Lost Episodes.” The only things more pathetic than the voter turnout during this tired ritual were the poor performances of the cast, the lack of originality in the sob stories used rationalize their inevitable failure and the instantaneous inculpation of co-workers.

Apparently, however, Ohio’s Secretary of State (and ostensibly Director of Programming) Jon Husted finally had enough from Lucas County’s Gang That Couldn’t Count Straight and is set to put an end to its run. I would caution Mr. Husted and his transparency committee, however, against believing that this latest move may finally resolve the problems. The trick with canceling a bad show is not as simple as getting rid of the old one (which may be difficult enough, knowing the litigious proclivities at least one of the soon-to-be former cast members in particular). The real skill will shown be in helping Northwest Ohio replace this last tired effort with a better one.

As for the current version of “The Crazy Ones” in Lucas County, we must now bid them a fond farewell.  To the relief of most, they have indeed been canceled and the cast duly informed in writing that their days in the spotlight are now numbered. Knowing that, however, one can’t help but wonder if any of those packing up their desks is capable of counting them. 



Wednesday, June 25, 2014

TFP Column: The Blade Cuts Both Ways

(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 6/07/2014.  

After years of castigating corporate America for failing to recognize Toledo’s convenient location, to see competitive advantage in its Downtown, or to appreciate its hardworking union workers, it appears that The Blade is about to tuck tail and follow in the footsteps of those they’ve previously chastised. What else can we take from formal notifications to the city and The Blade’s unions that it intends to outsource its production? Such an intention makes it difficult to reconcile the disparity between the claim of being one of the city’s biggest supporters and an apparent unwillingness to invest in its future.
Non-production functions will apparently remain in its Downtown facility, but The Blade appears ready to cease all production at both its Superior Street and Water Street facilities, with more than 130 people losing their jobs. While The Blade has not formally announced where that production will resurface, it’s likely that its plan will require abandoning not only the Glass City but the Buckeye State as well.

In its announcement, The Blade cites the age of the equipment and the challenges of an older building in its decision not to reinvest. Having recently announced that it will finance an almost identical investment for its Pittsburgh newspaper (The Post-Gazette) however, the refusal to bankroll improvement in Toledo might seem almost duplicitous.

From a purely business standpoint this becomes even more curious, considering that The Post-Gazette competes for its market share with another Pittsburgh daily (The Tribune-Review), while no such daily competition exists in Toledo. Does this speak to the market for news in both cities, or simply the red-headed stepchild status of The Blade under the absentee landlord nature of one of its owners?

As “One of America’s Great Newspapers” (self-described), The Blade tells us it lost $8.5 million last year by way of explanation (excuse) for its plan. Some might see this as “how the mighty have fallen,” or perhaps “reaping what you sow”; still others might see it as proof of the adage that “you shouldn’t crap where you eat.” Perhaps however, The Blade simply fell victim to its own stale business plan; like many of its ilk, it could not decide whether it wanted to be an award-winning business that occasionally made a profit or a profitable business that occasionally won an award.

As it now scales back in use, I’m sure some will see the Superior Street site as one that should be on a federal list of historic buildings. Others might agree to its entry on a list, but suggest instead that entry should be on a list of federal Superfund cleanup sites. One cannot help but wonder at the impact of petroleum-based inks, industrial chemicals and lubricants used over time. One might be even more curious about the disposal of decades of solvent-based cleaners used in their cleanup.

The damage of The Blade’s past political attacks may soon become history, but not so quickly whatever may have leeched into the soil and water supply from a facility only blocks from the Maumee River and a stone’s throw from Lake Erie. The toxic treatment of those held in disfavor over the years by The Blade may someday fade away, but not so easily the residue of chemicals used to produce them. As its production equipment is mothballed or removed for eventual sale, let’s hope The Blade makes more of a commitment to the proper remediation of such materials than they have to their Downtown location itself, and that such residue may not prove to be the only long-term legacy it leaves.

The Blade easily deserves one of the stinging rebukes it has been so fond of handing out throughout the years; and the failure in its announcement to promise anything in the way of change shows that its owners have learned nothing.  Some may say it seems a bit unfair to pile on The Blade, but few would argue that it’s undeserved.

Sorry guys, but it’s your turn to be on the firing line for picking up your chips and leaving the game early. After all, the blade cuts both ways.
 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

TFP Column: The Best Defense


(Contrary to logic and reason, I have decided to put new material up on this blog, but only in the form of the columns that I have done for the Toledo Free Press.  This is done for the benefit of those with time to waste, who likewise do not spend their time reading the website of this award winning weekly newspaper, and I will go back and add efforts that were published earlier this year.)

This particular effort was published on 6/20/2014.  
One cannot help but wonder if the Blade is adopting a new "best defense is a good offense" playbook in its continuing series on the subject of Glass City blight.  Wracked with well-documented revenue losses and stinging from attacks for outsourcing its production, the timely release of a series Toledo eyesore stories might be seen as the perfect (though rather suspicious) way to deflect attention from its own bad press. 
Taking the side of local YouTube videographer EconCat88, rather than that of the Administration (which it did last time) makes the Blade appear to be on the side of the little guy.  Allying with Councilman Jack Ford (vs supposed Independent Mayor D. Michael Collins) keeps them on the good side of the Democrats who've been in power while all of this blight occurred.  As for indicting a mayor that they've long supported as part of this effort; that's likely to cost them nothing. The mayor was sooner or later going to have to throw the Blade under the bus for their abandonment of downtown, if not for the elimination of union jobs, so the current series could be seen as little more than a preemptive strike. 

Of course the best part of the series is the gift likely to keep on giving for some time. The Blade has presented to City Council a subject not even on the radar screen a month earlier.  Distracting from dismal tax revenue, pot hole problems, and without talking about water and sewer line infrastructure issues that have long since faded from public view; this subject provides new opportunities for meaningless rhetoric, useless legislation, and the potential ability to create another taxpayer-funded study or two that must make it feel like Christmas in June for those is office.

Councilman Ford certainly seems to have discovered his new calling in life, attempting to establish his final legacy by creating another useless city bureaucracy in the form of a 'blight authority' to solve a problem that was just as prevalent when both he and his successor Mayor Finkbeiner were in the Mayor's position (before he attempts to move on to Columbus). After all, there's nothing that can resolve a crisis in short order like another government bureaucrat.

The current Mayor instead would like to deflect a problem that he largely inherited from his predecessors, and instead blame the Toledo Municipal Court and Judge Allen McConnell. Judge McConnell, according to the mayor's recent statement, is dealing with over 500 affidavits filed against blighted properties by the city in just the past year. One cannot help but ask, if the impediment is the Court, why there is no discussion of additional funding and staff for what appears to be an overworked judicial system rather than adding a city bureaucracy. Equally unclear is how the Mayor's proposal of a phone app is going to magically clear the existing judicial backlog.

Wait, this is Toledo (where you'll do better)! Remind me again about how long the 'temporary income tax' has been in place as a way to artificially balance the budget. Tell me again how much were borrowing from the Capital Improvement Budget (far better suited to deal with the issue of blight in the city) and how many years we've been borrowing it.

Better still, tell me why the Blade, already suffering from an image problem on a scale that it never knew existed, hasn't proposed a charity event to raise funds in order to deal with the issue of blight instead of merely reporting on it. Tell me why City Council, having only in the last week rediscovered the issue of blight in the city, hasn't put forth the idea of dealing with the issue on a district level and on a volunteer basis. How about one or more of these elected leaders simply revisiting some of their current budget discussions and making a hard choice as to which is more important to their constituents, swimming pools or blight.

While we're at it, perhaps someone in the editorial department at the Blade might want to do a bit more research on the ownership of 'blighted properties' to make sure that some of those on the list aren't properties owned by … the Blade. While certainly not qualified to preach, I seem to recall a Biblical phrase to the effect of, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” (Just for the sake of editorial consistency, of course.)


Monday, December 30, 2013

Goodbye




Saying goodbye is always a difficult thing to do; but it sometimes seems necessary.  And so, after 6-1/2 years, it may be long past time to give up what has become the rather time-consuming obsession of "Just Blowing Smoke".  After all, I would hate to discover later that I had hung on past my prime (not that I think I've actually had one); like so many have done in other fields.   

Politics is largely a vulgar and unchanging spectacle of self-aggrandizement by a self-chosen elite for most and an exercise of self-deception for the rest; with little room for logic or reason to exist in the space between.  Any challenge to whatever the current strictly established dogma is, even by those considered the faithful (and maybe especially by it), risks a condemnation for apostasy.  Attempts (almost by necessity) to cloak these efforts in skepticism risk their eventual transformation into examples of perverse cynicism through constant exposure to this toxic environment.  Attempts at irony or sarcasm as an amusing alternative become little more than a jaded form of gallows humor in the end.  

As for the 'perspiration to gain inspiration' required to break through the walls of a largely rigged game, they're often vilified without analysis either because of a lack of properly tenured credentials or their failure to follow ideological protocol for submission.  The heroic effort of dancing in the minefield of political correctness left to anyone trying to achieve any originality often yields little more than a stench of disillusionment and disappointment that no masking fragrance can ever cover.    

This is not to say that the overall experience of creating "Just Blowing Smoke" has been a bad one.  In fact, to say that I'm immensely grateful for the reception it's received, the size of the audience it's somehow manage to gather, and the geography it's covered is a vast understatement.  It was in June of last year for example while noting the 5th Anniversary of the site that I was celebrating 34,000 total pageviews, and as I now close the door a mere 18 months later, that same number has all but reached 78,000.  Unfortunately however, true success in such efforts is measured with levels of participation that are orders of magnitude higher.  Judged by these standards in fact, my own meager numbers will never even appear as a blip on the radar screen.

And since I'm being brutally honest ...

I should admit as well, that much of this effort began as a method to improve my ability to write.  If any such improvement has been been achieved over the years, it seems all but imperceptible; and despite my exalted aspirations in this regard, the only thing that I'll ever share with the likes of literary legends like George Will or Charles Krauthammer is species and gender (OK, gender ...).  Sparing the public the painful duty of acknowledging that rather sad conclusion on a regular basis could be the most decent thing I can do.    

"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterward." - Robert Heinlein

While this departure does not mean that I'll be entering a monastic retreat (the constant kneeling is too humbling and far too painful for these old bones), I expect to be far less visible online and where my literary efforts are concerned.  I will no doubt attempt the occasional tawdry literary effort and send them off to venues willing to accept such submissions for no better reason than to feed an addiction that I can't completely kick.  The world being as fickle as it is however, I expect little more than to become lost in the next 'squirrel moment' and quickly forgotten.  

At any rate, I hate long goodbyes, and this one's already too long by half.  It's time at long last to bid a tragic farewell to the multiple personality disorder made up of the Department of Just Blowing Smoke Security, the lexicographers of the Stuck On Stupid Dictionary, and the other ne'er do wells that comprise the JBS Senior Staff as they're returned to the dark corner from which they've emerged over the years.  (Which I suppose is far better than turning them loose on an unsuspecting public.)  Thanks again for your support and your company on what has been a rather strange, often twisted, but occasionally interesting ride.  Who knows, perhaps some day we'll meet again ...