Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Cost of Education

I have recently been looking at the education system in America, and the picture is not a pretty one. I don't want to seem particularly negative here, but this is where I see the education system of the US today:
  • Government regulations at the state and federal level stifle discipline, creativity, competition, and prevent any real effort at improvement.
  • Taxation that creates funding levels that should provide plenty of financial support (my local school district in Toledo spends over $10,000.00 per pupil, per year); but never seem to provide enough (even with supplemental income provided through the state-organized gambling more commonly known as The Lottery).
  • Local governments that seem to be in bed with the Teacher's union. With the two of them feeding off of each other in a rather disgusting bit of symbiosis, resisting any change in the failed status quo of education.
  • Teacher's unions doing what unions do best, getting a better deal for their members, even if it at the expense of "the children".
  • Teachers' contracts with more twists and turns than the Monaco race track and rivaling the tax code for sheer bulk and complexity.
  • School boards that are handcuffed by the federal regulations on one side and the contracts that they have signed in the past on the other; who have become at best apathetic, and at worst corrupt.
  • Parents who won't or can't take enough time to find out what's actually happening in the schools that there children attend, but complain about their children's education and what they have to pay for it.
  • Kids who can't excel in the current system, either because we don't measure success or are unwilling to accept the achievement of the few as being unfair to the rest.
  • Kids who fail in the system and are knowingly passed along anyway as a self-esteem issue, allowing a small failure to snowball into a lifetime of ignorance and illiteracy.
  • The small part of the system that is working (privately funded education, either through religious based schools, home schooling, or charter schools) being written off or demonized in spite of their successes.
The sheer momentum that has been allowed to build up over the years is like a super tanker with a crazy, drunken captain (can we all say Exxon Valdez?). It can't slow down, stop, or even change direction without a huge amount of effort; and that effort will never be made because the one at the controls has lost his mind and is out of control himself.

Now I grew up in the dark ages, when all children were forced to walk to school in the snow year round, up hill, both ways. Actually I am a product of a mostly Catholic education. Eight years of Catholic grade school, three years of Catholic High School, and year of Catholic College (DePaul, for those interested). The interesting part of this personal process is that I spent my freshman year (9th grade) in a public high school. The lack of discipline, disinterest of the teachers, 'dumbing' down of the curriculum, and time wasted following federal mandates almost ended my ability to be educated right there and then. It took me three years of fairly intense effort, while being challenged at an unprecedented level, to bring my GPA back up to a respectable level. Even then, the damage done caused me to place 17th in my graduating class. (Of course this is when we competed for such things instead of simply patting every student on the fanny.)

It was only in the disciplined and rigorous environment of parochial schools that I found the framework necessary to excel at learning. It was only in an environment that separated students by their ability to learn that I was able to be exposed to a curriculum not designed for the lowest common denominator. It was only when I was able to be challenged by knowledge outside of the basics and allowed to stretch myself to the limits of my abilities that I was able to discover what they were and how much fun learning could be. Now my experience may not be typical, but I suspect that it could be. Likewise, I don't have all of the answers for the ills of the public education system; but it is obvious that as analogies go, this patient is hanging on by life support. Only drastic change will hold any hope of bringing it back from the deaths-edge coma that it is in.
So here are my solutions:
  • Abolish the NEA and every other federal bureaucracy that has to do with education. This is far too important to allow the government to experiment in more failed social dynamics. The only way to understand and serve the needs of a community is to put the process back in the hands of the community that the process serves.
  • We need to get the government bureaucracy, the constant regulation, and union restrictions out of education entirely. Too much of the money that could be spent on education is spent on administration instead. Eliminate the paperwork that shows compliance with government rules and regulations and the people required to fill it out and put the money spent back into true education, and you cannot help but make the process more efficient.
  • Take taxation of of school funding. It is unfair and tantamount to theft to charge people for services that they do not need or receive, even in the common good.
  • Give people back this tax money and let them purchase the education for their children that they want. Let public and private education compete on a level playing field and "the children" cannot help but be the winner.
  • We need to put parental choice back into the education process, choosing the amount and the type schools that they want for their children. Who knows better than they what the talents and abilities of those children are, and by what right do we choose to usurp it.
  • We need to bring back classroom discipline and competition. No one can learn to succeed without facing and overcoming challenges. They provide true self-esteem and life lessons that will serve them well in their future.
  • We need to separate children in school based on their ability to learn. As painful as it might be to their egos, we cannot hold all students back in the name of equality and fairness. Those who can learn more should be given the opportunity to do so. Such an opportunity is their right in a free society and that society will benefit from it.
  • We need to build schools to be run like businesses, which in fact they are. They are businesses that provide a valuable service, but need to be held accountable for the service that they provide like any other.
  • We need to hire and pay teachers well, but like the employees of any other business, hold them accountable for the job they do. Pay scales should be based on ability and performance, not the number of their degrees or their tenure in service. Let teachers compete for better pay like the rest of the world and they and their students will benefit.
The true cost of education is not that of the value of the money we spend on it, but the futures that we jeopardize by doing it improperly. We need to step up and take control of the ship before it's too late. In case you hadn't noticed, there are icebergs ahead.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Smoking Protection

I was reading an editorial in the December 20th Toledo Blade about the debate for anti-smoking legislation under consideration in Michigan a couple of things struck me about the arguments presented in the piece. Now my opinions on smoking bans are well know from previous postings. and I won't bother to repeat information that I have already shared (though I will encourage you to go back through the archives of this blog to take a look at them). And I have to say that I am not particularly worried about the public reaction to my nasty habit. I tend to enjoy my version of this behavior like anything which society is attempting to make us feel guilty, aloone (no comments about what other nasty little habits that I might be doing alone, please). No, I have new angle on this discussion, as it pertains to this specific editorial, and it takes the form of two questions:
  1. If the smoking bans are the good thing that this editorial describes, and "patrons are relieved to visit local businesses without being forced to inhale a choking haze", why is the Restaurant and Bar Association fighting it so hard? I don't own a business, nor do I belong in any meaningful way to a business organization; but it strikes me that such organizations would not work against the best interests of their members. In this particular case, according to the editorial "lobbyists from the Michigan Restaurant Association and Michigan Licensed Beverage Association vowed to intensify their efforts against the ban in the Senate and win". Such incongruous behavior in a professional business organization simply makes no sense to me if the ban is good for these businesses. In fact, I would expect that what the anti-smoking crowd has told is true, that the flood of cutomers into bars and restaurants since the ban would tell such association to stand firm in getting such bans passed nationwide. So I am forced to believe that The Blade may not have all of their facts straight regarding the benefit to business that this ban presents and the position that this lobbying group holds.
  2. This editorial also talks about the fact that "separate smoking sections and ventilation systems simply do not fully protect nonsmokers", and that the law is necessary then in order to offer this protection to non-smokers. My question here is, is such protection actually required, and is the government obligated to provide it? Well I believe that the government is required under the Constitution to protect its citizens from physical harm, but I am not sure that second hand smoke from smoking falls under this category. If it does, that the government is required to protect us from city bus exhausts, burning leaves, fireplaces, and power plants; all of which produce smoke as well. And if smoking is the danger that is being portrayed in the study sited in the editorial, why is it legal to do so in the first place? No, the type of protection that we are talking about here is more akin to a "protection racket", something our government is becoming far too familiar with these days. This type of protection involves forced (substitute strong-armed) behavior modification, and usually extortion (in the form of taxes and egregious legislation), in order to achieve a desired goal for a vocal minority.
So my conclusions, based on the questions that I have put forward, is that:
  • The Blade must in fact be wrong on this particular issue as it relates t the interests of both the owners of bars and restaurants, and their patrons. If they are not, the these owners would have been forced into banning smoking long ago, or the states (like Ohio) that had smoking bans would be seeing an unparallelled increase in business since the ban in this state passed instead of the decrease in such business and the closing of some businesses. The Blade presents no argument to this effect, so it must no be the case.
  • Government protection against smoke of any kind is not guaranteed in the Constitution, and therefore does not exist. Government does not have the right, and should not intrude in the operation of businesses that allow behaviors like drinking and smoking that are perfectly legal. If they do, they exceed their authority and violate the very principles which created them.
  • Debates on any subject must be based on logic and facts in order to be of value in the greater scheme of things. The Blade seems to have neither on this side in this particular case and seeks to present arguments based on a unsupportable emotional position. We think that smoking is bad for you and so we want it stopped. Now I concede that this was an Editorial and not a news story, but even opinion must be based on more than feelings if we are to take it seriously. I also find it fascinating that a business that is protected by the Bill of Rights in the Constitution should choose to support government denying rights to citizens in another area. Should they not be concerned that if these rights do not exists for business owners of bars and restaurants, that newspapers might be next on the list for encroachment.
    Thanks for the attempt to sway my opinion by appealing to my compassion for my fellow man, but in this case you have failed. Perhaps you will think it is because I am a smoker myself, and therefore unwilling to accept the argument presented; but that again would simply be your opinion.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Checking My Baggage

I am traveling for the Holidays this year, though not by airplane. I find these days that almost no matter how long the drive, I prefer the mindless tedium of of being behind the wheel to placing my life and my schedule into the hands of the airline industry, probably because my experiences which have never been entirely satisfying. (The fact that I allow myself the guilty pleasure of smoking cigars as I drive alone on the highway has nothing to do with anything except as an illustration my own self-indulgence and selfishness.) 

I will be checking my baggage before leaving home however, in spite of my method of transportation. I am not talking about my luggage, which will be attaining the temperature of a fine glass of whiskey over ice, while secured in the trunk of my car; but of the emotional baggage, of which I seem to be carrying around far too much of far too often these days. 2007 has been a rather challenging year both personally and professionally for your humble writer, as I am sure that it has been for many of you. These challenges may have been something that I have accepted either grudgingly, gratefully, or not at all; but no choice makes them any easier to deal with. Some of these challenges have left me with what I would choose to call "a bit of negative afterglow", but that's just life. 

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not really complaining about the situation. They say that only those able to deal with such challenges are presented with them. If that's the case however, then someone has greatly overestimated opinion of my abilities. Like most of us however, I was never asked if these situations were something that I was OK with. I was merely presented with these packages and left to deal with them as best I could.

And then there is the timing of some of these little blessings, and I don't mean of the good kind. We are never presented with these "opportunities" when we are ready, and often find ourselves in the middle of them when we are least prepared. Likewise, the quantity sometimes seems a bit more than most of us would seek for ourselves. A part of Murphy's Law seems to come into play providing us with overwhelming opportunity to deal with stuff that no one should have to deal with, and to do it immediately. 

At times like these, it often seems that in our headlong pursuit to deal with the issues of life as best we can and move on in a timely fashion, we sometimes leave a little something behind that we were simply not prepared to deal with at the time. Operating with such a philosophy serves us well enough in the moment; but one day as we look around us, we discover a few things lying around in the those dirty little corners of the attics or our mind that we can't keep from tripping over. Anger, resentment, bitterness, and sorrow are suddenly discovered amongst our treasured memories, where nothing was previously suspected. 

This unexpected clutter, must unfortunately now be dealt with, and while we weren't paying attention, it has managed to become a good deal more unmanageable through the passage of time. I don't know about you, but brushing off the dust and taking a hard look at these things may be the most difficult thing that I have to confront in life. Dealing with emotions (especially strong ones) has never been my strong suit, and usually if I have chosen to ignore something, there was a damned good reason for doing so. The fear and trepidation that I feel as I cast my glance at this unwanted clutter makes me hesitate, even as I move ruthlessly and relentlessly forward to do what can be done. The necessity of dealing with this may now be readily apparent, but I have never let necessity get in the way of procrastination when I can get away with it. With the end of the year fast approaching, I feel that my unwillingness to leave things undone or half done will overcome my desire to let sleeping dogs lie. This upcoming holiday travel simply provides me with the final excuse that I need to tackle the project.

So I am sorting through the mess that I have left myself and am throwing away as much of the intellectual and emotional clutter as I can manage. Looking at a good part of it, I realize that most of it was nothing but intellectual laziness and "emotion of the moment", carelessly set aside and rather easily discarded. There are one or two items that may take just a bit more time, and I recognize that I am not quite ready or able to make the effort required to put them in their proper perspective. But time and help heal even the deepest of wounds, and their time will come.

By the time that I leave, I will have packed away as much of the nonsense of my life as is humanly possible. All of this, carefully packed in bags and boxes, I expect to check at the door before I depart on my journey west. It is certainly baggage that I no longer need to carry with me everyday and my hope is that the burden that I have placed on myself (and no doubt on others because of it), will be much lighter as a consequence. If there is any way that you can do the same, I certainly recommend the process to you. The time that we will spend with family and friends at this time of year begs us to make the effort, for their sake as well as our own. So leave whatever baggage behind that you can, and have a safe and Happy Holiday! 

Thursday, December 20, 2007

EPA Ruling - Unconstitutional

I was flipping through the news this morning when I spotted this article in the New York Times (something that you normally wouldn't get me to read on a bet) .  What struck me about the article was that an agency, not even a branch of the Federal government, has ruled on the rights of California and 16 other states to decide on the emission levels of automobiles. 

Now I'm not sure that I agree with the levels that all of these states are trying to force on the automobile industry, but that's not the point here. The point (having recently been schooled on the Constitution by a radio station program director who will remain unnamed) is that this decision of the EPA is Unconstitutional. Quoting the Tenth Amendment: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."  

Call me crazy, but unless I missed a section or amendment, I don't recall air quality standards or emission levels being specifically mentioned in the Constitution, nor do I recall any section or Amendment giving the EPA the power to rule on the Constitution, or to modify it at their whim.  

This is one of the biggest problems that we are facing in America these days. We have created a bureaucratic monstrosity in Washington, and this monster answers to no one but itself. It creates rules, interprets them, and acts as judge, jury, and executioner for anyone it considers violators. These bureaucratic fiefdoms are becoming increasingly intrusive and oppressive in the lives of citizens. They seek to insinuate themselves into every aspect of our lives in order to protect us from big business, the world around us, and ourselves. 

What they do not protect us from is the "big government" which has become the most dangerous challenge to personal liberty in this country since the British left. It is time that we woke up and recognized that these monsters, fed and financed by our taxes, have no power to regulate the behavior of states under the Constitution. We may not agree that the decisions that the states may make on their own behalf, but unless specifically prohibited in the Constitution from doing so (which they are not), they have the right to decide these issues for themselves.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

That's Not Right #5 - Dumb Politics Exposed

OK, exposing dumb politics is not really earth shattering, but I have to think that this one may just qualify for the Hall of Fame. 

What am I talking about? Bill Clinton's claim that when his wife is elected president, that the first thing that she will do is send him and Bush 41 on a tour to tell them that "America is open for business" and repair the damage done by his son's administration.

Now I'm not sure why this would be the first thing that a new president would do, that's a topic for another day. The reason that this one makes the "duh" list is this: Why would anyone think that Bush 41 would stand beside the people who pushed him out of office and repudiate the last 8 years of his son's presidency, then go out on a world wide promotional tour for them?  

I mean come on, even if he wasn't a Republican and they weren't Democrats (which he is and they are). Even if he agreed with the policies that they were espousing (which I would seriously doubt that he does). Even if he disliked his son (which I highly doubt is the case). What possess a man who has been a career politician to say on the eave of an national election that the policies that his son has pursued for eight years, and which he probably voiced his opinions on over the years, were wrong.? Why would he repudiate his own family to support his political enemies? Why would a president who was pretty savvy on foreign policy think that such a tour would do any good? 

More importantly, what would possess former president Clinton to think that saying this kind of thing in private, let alone public, would be a good idea. Sorry folks, but this one causes a person to suspend all sense of disbelief. (Hmm, seems I've heard that phrase before. I wonder where.)

Technology Equals Magic

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
- Arthur C. Clarke
I was thinking about this quite recently, and I realized how true it is. What do we really know or understand about the technology that makes our very way of life possible?  

- Your cellphone signal goes out because you are too far away from a cell phone tower. Do you really understand what a cell phone tower does? Do you have any idea how close to a tower that you need to be to have it help you? Do you know which towers are used by your cell phone?  

- The power goes out at your home because the local substation has a problem. Do you know what a substation is and why it should be important to the power in your home? Do you even understand how AC current works and how it gets into your home (other than through wires)

 - Do you really understand anything about the technology involved with a radio, a television, a CD or DVD player, or the computer that you are reading this nonsense on? For myself, I have begun to realize how little I actually do know about most of the technology that makes my life convenient and and probably even possible and how dependent that I am on the people who are the masters of it. For all that I do know about them, these processes might as well be magic, and the people who operate and maintain it might as well be magicians. 

As with magic, most of us will never know the secrets behind how these tricks of technology are done, and will never be able to perform them for ourselves. This is a magic that we have become addicted to however. Society as we know it will not function without the use of the magic or our technology, as anyone frustrated by a "no signal" display on a cell phone or trapped at home during a power outage will attest to. There are no two sticks to rub together to produce a signal for your cable TV box. You can't stick you finger into the air to determine where the nearest cell phone tower is? There are no non-technical solutions for the potential problems of the magic of our all too technical world.  

Should we panic then over what might happen if all of the magicians went away? That's certainly one answer, but I suspect that any such likelihood is rather remote. Should we exalt the keepers of technology and raise them to high station in our society? Such things have been done in the past with the shaman and the priest, but I suspect that doing so today would be as fraught with danger as it has been in those earlier times. History seems to indicate that giving power and control to the few over the many has never seemed to work out all that well for the many. 

Should we abandon the technology that we have and go back to a "simpler time"? Again no, I don't know about you, but I will take every convenience in my life that technology is capable of providing me. I am fond of indoor plumbing, electricity, paved streets, and the Internet; and if it means that there are things that I will never understand as a consequence, I'm OK with that. (Hell, a lack of understanding has never prevented me from doing anything in the past, why should it do so now.)

No I suspect that this is simply a part of our increasingly complex society that we are simply going to have to live with. We don't even get to choose whether we like it or not, we only get to deal with it as part of the wild and wonderful world in which we live. I think that I like the idea that we at least recognize the direction in which the world is going is a good thing. Such conscious awareness of our surroundings keeps us on our toes and jars us out of the complacency which is far too easy to fall into in life. And as for the magic and magicians, I suspect that we should follow the advice of the seasoned citizen responding to the young man asking how the exotic dancer performed her act (stripper for those like me who are still politically incorrect). "Don't ask questions son," he said, "just enjoy the show."


Saturday, December 15, 2007

Climate Change & Bali

Well the final word has been spoken on Global Warming at the Climate Change Conference 2007. This has been done because Nobel Laureate, inventor of the Internet, and the self-appointed John the Baptist (feel free to substitute Chicken Little here) of Global Warming has pronounced that, "My own country, the United States, is principally responsible for obstructing progress here.." as quoted in an article in Time,8599,1694259,00.html?imw=Y  

Boy, I hopes he's right. I won't go into the debate on global warming again, I've already voiced my opinion on the subject so I won't try to bore you with repetition (though one should never be afraid of pointing out the facts any time the opportunity presents itself)

Here's the problem that I have today... Why Bali? I know that there are people terribly concerned about global warming. I know that people concerned for worthy causes need to gather, exchange information, and come up with plans to work toward solutions. But don't they think that we would take them more seriously if they weren't basking in clear blue skies, swimming in crystal clear waters, and working on their tans on the island of Bali in the dead of winter? 

Wouldn't their protestations gain more respect and better press if they were, oh hanging around a power plant in China which was spewing dark smoke into the air, coughing up their lungs in the haze of Mexico City, or even choking on the smog in LA? Wouldn't pictures of them standing outside with the very places where the greenhouse gases that they are concerned about are visible in the background send their message more effectively? 

While I'm at it, I might as well ask what the carbon footprint of all of these people flying half way around the world to an island that probably doesn't have much of one is? Or should I ask how many of them flew down on private planes instead of going commercially? I guess that I am just confused as to why government officials, bureaucrats, and celebrity hanger's on feel the need to hold their gatherings at places that none of the rest of us can afford to go to, and probably at someone else's (taxpayers) expense. 

Actually, I know why they do it ... cause it's good to go to a tropical paradise in winter. I just wonder why the rest of us accept that such meeting should be held in exotic and no doubt expensive locations. I get confused with what tropical islands might have to do with global warming anyway. After all, its already warm there, and has been for a long, long, time. Perhaps such things are simply beyond me. After all I am not, have not, nor ever expect to be part of a government delegation to anything (unless I get a spot on the group being sent for the next worldwide Village Idiot's Convention). 

I also read in this same article that Sen. John Kerry, NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and dozens of officials from California were in attendance as well (Arnold wanted to go, but has a pesky little budget problem in California). Since none of these people is part of the official US delegation, one has to ask why it was necessary for any of these to attend. The answer, of course, is as obvious as the picture in the Time article where Mr. Gore is pointing his finger at the audience. (Did anyone else notice that this finger pointing thing seems to be a habit of members of this former administration? Is there a message here, or is this simply the equivalent of Pinocchio's nose?) I guess that these guys know a good vacation spot too. They also know where the press is going to be and where to be seen and photographed as "people who care". 

As always, it is more important to be someone who cares than someone who accomplishes something. And while the mayor of NY is basking on a tropical island, who is running his city or trying to reduce the pollution that the buses, cars, and cabs in NY are putting out? While John Kerry is seeing and being seen, who is casting his vote on important legislation in the Senate?  

OK, OK. I know that this is probably nothing more than another feel good conference that will accomplish nothing for the goals for which it was intended. After vasts amounts of money and time were spent, the Kyoto Accords were produced, but most of the countries who signed them did not meet the very goals that they agreed to. That's because governments don't accomplish things, people do. 

People created the power generation systems and the internal combustion engine that seem to be at the heart of this problem (real or imagined) and people will come up with any of the solutions to begin to resolve it. Governments are only good for getting in the way of solutions and diverting our attention from the money and the freedom that they are stealing from us. I guess that such feats of legerdemain require an exotic stage for the performance, and in Bali they succeeded.  

Just a side note, but I am still angling for one of the Village Idiot Convention spots. I hear that they are going to someplace warm, Death Valley. 

Friday, December 14, 2007

That's Not Right #4 - Free Government Money

I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes this morning and was getting ready to turn off the TV and turn on the radio. (I tend to leave the TV on through the night in order to light the bedroom so that I don't trip over anything in the dark through the night.) I was brought up short this morning however by a man who appeared to be dressed in a clown suit talking about free government money to be had, and offering to tell people how to get it if they would just send him $19.95. I laughed at the way that he looked, the way that he talked, and the offer that he was making. Then it struck me: THAT'S MY MONEY HE'S TRYING TO GIVE AWAY! Recent self-education has reminded me that the government has no money accept that which they extort from me by force. Therefore, what this guy is trying to give a way is money stolen from me.
  • Could this make him an accessory after the fact to the theft of that money?
  • Could this man be charged with solicitation to obtain stolen property?
Concerned, I went to my computer and Google searched government money and free government money. You would be absolutely amazed to learn how many websites there are out there to help you get money from the government, including more than one from the government itself, like this one: .

It's bad enough that government is stealing my hard earned money for its own nefarious purposes. It's worse that people are stupid enough to believe that this money is "free", when in fact it comes out of their pockets. It's worse still when that the government is so intent on capital redistribution that feels the need to spend more of my tax dollars in the creation of websites to give my money away. It seems positively criminal that someone has decided to make a living by enabling this reprehensible conduct by the government.

I'm sorry, but it's been a bad week and discovering this is only making it worse. I think that I am going to go back to bed and pull the covers up over my head. I won't even turn the TV on, as it's obvious that performing even these simple acts can lead to serious depression.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Special Posting: Happy Birthday Dad

Today would have been my father's 82nd birthday, and I can't think of a more fitting way to celebrate it than to speak a little bit in celebration of his life. Now I'm not sure that doing so would entirely meet with my father's approval, as he was never much of a one to have any fuss made over him and normally dismissed such efforts with a wave and a growl; but I'm going to go ahead and chance it.

The unpretentious and unflappable exterior of George Higgins was something that he wore like a comfortable suit of clothes, but was quite frankly, a facade. His love and affection for his wife of 57 years was readily apparent and was often a source of friendly kidding by family and friends. He and his bride more often called each other by pet names throughout their marriage, and the use of their actual names usually denoted a level of temporary tension in the air. He was also a soft touch for his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Eben the charade of a tough exterior melted away in their presence, especially around the second and third generations; and he would readily accede to their every request.

Perhaps the real key to understanding the man however might be to recognize what a fiercely ethical person he was and that he possessed a moral compass that always pointed true. He always felt that his word was his bond in all things and that any paperwork required to formalize that bond was simply superfluous. He held the rest of the world to that same rigid standard, and had no respect for anyone who felt or acted differently. This quiet sense of honor was the rock on which he was built; and was something that anyone who knew him felt, respected, and often commented on out of his presence. 

He was also fiercely independent, though he would be the first to tell you that he would never had made it without my mother. He had little respect for any authority that attempted to get in the way of that independence, and was infamous for getting into difficulty years ago during a hospital visit for slinging an IV bottle over one arm in order to use the bathroom instead of a bedpan. When confronted with these episodes, he responded with the wave and growl that ended the discussion, and proved at least in his case that it was easier to get forgiveness than permission.

His career and industry was a big part of his life, and an endless source of interest to him, even long after he retired. It was with a great deal of respect and fear that I attempted to follow him in his chosen profession, a task so daunting that even after over 30 years of effort I have barely made a dent in the process. For 28 years, he worked as a saddle-stitch machine operator (machines that put magazines together with staples) and a supervisor, becoming a recognized expert at what was then the largest printing company in the world, R R Donnelley and Sons. 

He was often asked to travel abroad to solve problems that no one else seemed to be able to solve and he never left a job undone. And it was during this period of his life that he began creating technology to improve his chosen industry. Though not an engineer by education or special training, his designs were patented both during that time at Donnelley, and later in his career. 

When Life magazine closed (the first time), he went to work for one of the equipment manufacturers, re-inventing himself as a sales representative. Again his success was incredible, not only in winning sales awards; but also continuing the process of design improvements and industry consultation that were becoming part of his legacy. This success on multiple levels led that organization to promote him to the level of Vice President and allowed him to perform what may have been his most difficult selling opportunity, that of convincing his employer to let his son replace him in his sales territory. No one who has never worked with or for their father can understand the joy and pain of such an experience. 

First in the field of production, and later in sales, no more difficult a taskmaster ever existed; but no better training or inspiration could have been given. As someone who accepted being known as "George's kid" for much of his early career, the mixed blessing of following someone you so admire and who has set the bar so high makes the task so much harder, but the goals so much more desirable. All achievement is measured to an impossible standard, and ultimately no degree of success or industry recognition can equal his approbation. 

But just so you don't think that I am putting the man up for sainthood, he did have his weaknesses. J and B Scotch whiskey was one of them for many years, and the man was well known for being able to put a serious dent in the level of a bottle from time to time. Later in life, he found equal satisfaction in a glass of wine or two, and wasn't particularly interested in its pedigree. Towards the end however, he favored a Bloody Mary (or two), right up until the day the day he left us. The legendary capacity may have diminished over the years, but never his ability to talk the world into allowing him one more adult beverage before the end of the evening. 

He also smoked like a chimney for most of his life, and was known for many years of his career as "the human nightlight". Those who shared a room with him at business conferences often commented on waking up in the middle of the night, only to find him sitting up in bed smoking a cigarette. It was also jokingly commented that he would never win a company marathon, as the time that he would lose while stopping to light cigarettes would easily cost him the race. 

He was a lovable contradiction of a man, with a sometimes guff exterior balanced by passions for fishing and growing roses. His favorite times as we were growing up were the family fishing trips to Wisconsin and Minnesota. He especially loved being able to be out on a lake with his wife, attempting to bring bass, walleye, northern pike, and crappie to the table from early morning fishing trips; with evenings being taken up with the hunt for bullheads. This should not be considered unusual, as my parents honeymoon was in fact a fishing trip to Superior National Forest. 

As for the roses, these were planted at every house that they ever lived at, though he was especially proud of climbing roses that he had at an earlier home in Kansas City. They were 15 ft high if they were an inch, and trained onto trellises that he specifically built for them. This wall of blooms received special love, care, and attention every weekend; even when he traveled the other 5 days of almost every week. 

A giant of a man in his family eyes, he was far from physically imposing. In fact he was considered undersized when trying to enter the Marine Corp, and had to convince them to even take him. This stature led to the nickname "Shorty" or "Short", which was used only by his family in Iowa, often leading to considerable confusion amongst the rest of us. In fact, when my mother was brought up to meet his family, she was asked if she was with "Shorty"; to which she replied, "No, I'm with George". 

But enough. As I said earlier, my father had no time for anyone making a fuss over him and I respect the man enough to bow to his wishes even now. I will simply add Happy Birthday Dad. We love you and miss you, but will carry you with us as long as we are here. 

For those of you who interested in a bit more insight into an incredible individual, one of my siblings (yes blogging appears to be a family thing) has put together something well worth the effort of reading. Keep the tissues handy though, as it is highly likely that this one will get to you. It does me every time.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I Am Sick of Health Care

Now I have talked about health care before and I have talked about government. I have even talked about government involvement in health care when I talked about how the passage of the SCHIP was going to affect my stogie smoking habit; but evidently I need to be clearer on the subject so that my voice will be heard. So here it is: GOVERNMENT HAS NO BUSINESS IN HEALTH CARE!  

The truth of the matter is that government has no business in any business, but health care is far too important a thing to turn it over to bungling politicians. Let me be very clear right up front that I do not believe in denying health care to children and old people. A Curmudgeon I might be, but as Christmas fast approaches I would like to think I have far more like Santa than Scrooge in my nature. 

And because I am concerned about people, young and old, rich and poor, and even myself for that matter; that I beg you keep government from gaining more control of the health and well-being of its citizens. What will happen to the young, the old, the poor? How will they be able to afford proper health care? My answer is simple, "Who do you think made health care so expensive in the first place? Who forces us to pay for the endless forms, the printing of the rules, regulations, and guidelines? Who demands that we pay for the faceless bureaucrats who created this overly complex and incomprehensible system that medical practitioners have to operate under?" 

Perhaps if we had less government involvement in health care, those very groups that we are most concerned about would have better access to more affordable care than they do today. It is government that regulates everything from the certification of doctors to the process of drug testing. It is government that creates the paperwork that doctors and hospitals have to fill out before and that takes time away from actually treating people. It is government that demands tests that doctors don't want to give to patients who don't want to have them. It is government that mandates what treatments will and will not be used, regardless of their potential benefit. 

Without spending the mind-boggling number of hours that it would take to assemble all of the facts and figures on the costs of all of this(besides someone considerably smarter than me has probably already done so), I feel pretty safe in saying that the Federal health care programs of Medicare and Medicaid probably spend as much money, if not more, on administration and bureaucracy as they spend on the care that is being provided. And like every other failed government program, what we find is that very government excepting itself from participation while asking us to consider more government involvement. 

So what about us? Are we at fault for the state of medicine in this country? The short answer is yes. We all seem to sit here fat, dumb, and happy; looking for our piece of the prize. We have paid health insurance premiums and tax dollars for Federal programs, and we would like to get our money back (and a little more if we can manage it, please). Where do we think the money comes from? The money that funds these programs is our money, and if we weren't paying it out in taxes, we could use it for the very medical care that we seek. That little bit extra is some else's piece, and there can never be enough to give everyone a little bit more (especially when you subtract the graft and inefficiency that our government has become famous for). Fortunately for the government, we all appear to be dumb enough to buy into all of this in the name of "better care". Few of us seem to realize that this can never be a zero-sum situation as long as we leave it in the hands of government. Can we really believe that the politicians and bureaucrats that have bankrupted the Social Security System can and will do any better if we turn over more of our hard-earned money and our freedom of choice in the hope of being protected when we get sick? We would be far better off being protected from these very politicians and bureaucrats who may end up protecting us to death. 

The Declaration of Independence speaks of the unalienable rights of "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness". Those rights are not results, but opportunities for citizens to seek those things for themselves without government interference. The Founding Fathers specifically limited the power and responsibility of government because they understood the danger inherent in not doing so. 

The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution specifically talks about the fact that "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." For those of you who suffered through public education, that means that any powers not given to the government by the Constitution belong to the people, and that the only way that this can change is for us to surrender them. In my parents day there was not only no government support for health care, there was not even health insurance. 

Somehow, during those dark days, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, people were able to afford health care the same way that they afforded homes, food, and cars. Not everybody lived in as nice a home as everyone else, or ate food that was as fancy, drove the same kind of cars, or were treated in private rooms in private hospitals; but they were able to live good, happy, and relatively healthy lives. They did it in the case of health care because they decided what kind of care that they wanted, who they wanted it from, and how much of it they were able to afford. They did it with money that they were free to earn, largely unburdened by taxation and without the interference of the government. Our only hope of survival may be to return to those days. We don't need more government health care, we need none. 

Friday, December 7, 2007

Stop The Wars!

I am going to post a little early this week, as Saturday is another travel day for me, and I don't expect to feel much like writing after what I anticipate will be 17 hours getting home. Hopefully my life will return to its abnormal level by Monday.  

Yes, I want to stop the wars, but probably not the one that you are thinking of. I will deal with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in another time and another place. Likewise, the sentiment that I am espousing here is not a pacifist one, at least not as you probably understand the term. What I am talking about here is that I want to stop both The War on Drugs and The War on Poverty. 

Now I propose to do this in much the way that the current Democratic Congress would like to stop the current wars in the Middle East. I would like to declare defeat, bring the troops home, and stop spending the money. Wait a minute you say, that’s not the way that it works. Why not? After five years of fighting in Iraq without a final victory, we are ready to call it quits and get the hell out. 

Well we’ve been fighting the War on Poverty since the 60’s and the War on Drugs almost as long and not only have we not won either of these wars, we are probably doing worse today in these fights than when we started. Billions of dollars spent, countless lives wasted, thousands of pages of speeches given and laws passed in fighting the good fight, yet the implacable enemies of drugs and poverty plague our nation. 

Well I say let’s end those wars now and declare a moratorium on such pointless wars of compassion for our fellow man. Nothing fails so utterly or completely like the federal government trying to mandate correct behavior or lend a helping hand. The bureaucratic morass created by such interference is only exceeded by the complete and utter failure of the effort. I say that the only way to win these wars is not to fight them! 

If you really want to end poverty, then stop handing out free money and start handing out a double dose of opportunity and responsibility. Take the money that the government taxes us to pay for these failed efforts and give it back to the people who paid it. Let good old capitalism make use of such capital and opportunities will abound for all to increase their standard of living. Get rid of the mind-numbing amount of regulation preventing people from achieving the American dream and they will. The only ones that will be left in need are the ones too used to sucking at the government teat to help themselves. Take government out of the picture and let entrepreneurs create the jobs they always have. Eliminate government bureaucracy and dependency and substitute self reliance. 

If you really want to stop drug abuse, then make these drugs legal and tax the crap out of them. It may not solve the problem, but it would at least show some consistency from the government and it seems to be working for smoking after all. Even if it didn't convince everyone to get off of drugs, it could finance treatment for those too physically or psychologically addicted to mend their ways. And it would do so without asking everyone to pay for the bad habits of a few. 

Now I'm not sure that government is capable of carrying out this simple a program, but it has the merit of never having been tried (and having failed) before. Prohibiting a substance has never eliminated it from the marketplace, only reduced the control over its distribution and created a criminal network to fill the void in supply (see alcohol,Prohibition, and The Mob). 

I don’t want to seem cruel here people, and I don’t really think that I do. The truth of the matter is that I think that I believe in people more than my government does. I believe that there are times when people need a helping hand, but not that they need to be carried like a child. I believe that given choices and opportunities to act responsibly, that people will do so. If they don't or can't, they need to be prepared to pay for the privilege of acting irresponsibly. 

I believe that our government is doing what it can to keep us ignorant and dependent, conditions which make us easier to control. I believe that the nanny state is keeping us from achieving our potential and human beings and Americans. Let me leave you with the words of President Ronald Reagan, " The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help'." 


Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Greetings from Trinidad

Greetings from the fair island of Trinidad and Tobago. I am currently hanging out just outside of the city of Port of Spain (for those of you who like to look at maps). This city is in the northwest part of the island, which seems quite beautiful.

Anyone who has ever been to LA knows exactly what fun rush hour can be and would feel right at home in Port of Spain. The rush hour traffic here, which seems to last most of the day, is a nightmare. We have been fortunate enough (or someone else planned it better than I could have) and are going in the opposite direction as the crowd during the peak traffic. For cars going with the flow, they can expect to seldom get into 2nd gear let alone past it. This is a right-side driver situation, with a bunch of local hand signals that makes it even more confusing to me; but fortunately I do not have to drive.

Since I am not here on vacation, but to perform some useful function (something that I seem to have a great deal of difficulty with); I am working some pretty long hours. As a consequence, I have seen nothing of the country or even the city (except what I can see here from my hotel). The days have been filled with the airport, the hotel, and the newspaper production facility. I am hoping that this will change before I leave on Saturday, but I am not expecting it to.

The city of Port of Spain appears to be bursting at the seams with new construction, and the hotels are booked solid even this close to the holidays. The people are exceptionally friendly and go out of their way to talk to you and tell you about the country. 

Communication is in English, but enough of the island slang leaks in that you are asking people to repeat things quite often to actually understand what they are saying. They also accept US dollars, but give change in the currency of Trinidad (TT dollars), which can range from 6 to 1, to 8 or 9 to 1 depending on who is doing it. I have not been able to sample local cuisine yet either, as most meals are rushed. For those who long for the familiar, there is everything from Ruby Tuesdays, to Fridays, to KFC to keep the taste buds satisfied. I am hoping to yet sample something more exotic, but again only if time permits. 

I have sampled the weather however, and it has been great. Temperatures get up into the 80's during the day, and only fall into the mid-70's at night; which seems a thousand years from the ice storm I left only Sunday. I am trying to savor it, as I know that the cold is only too close.

Well that's about it for now. Sorry to stick you with a travelogue instead of my usual wit and wisdom, but time and circumstance have not allowed more. Besides, it wasn't really that witty or wise when I was making a real effort at it. Hopefully I will be in better form after I return this weekend and can sit down and spend some time with the writing (but probably not).

Until then, and as Buckaroo Bonzai once said, "no matter where you go ... there you are".

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Special Post: Off To Foreign Lands

Well the time has finally come for me to depart these fair shores ...  

No, I have not been deported (though I would probably not pass the citizenship test) and I am not being deployed (the Armed Forces are far too smart to take me, and the deployment of weapons of mass distraction are a violation of the Geneva Convention). Instead, I am journeying to the far land of Trinidad and Tobago for reasons of business for at least a week. Now the truth be told, I know absolutely nothing about this place except that it is off of the coast of Venezuela, has an Olympic team, and participates in the Miss Universe contest. 

It appears however, that some bit of nonsense stuck in the back of my head is required for a project that my company is working on for "The Guardian" newspaper down there. For those of you worried that they will miss some bit of wisdom or nonsense during my absence, I am grateful for your concern. I will attempt to continue my posting schedule while down there, and will include pictures if I can; but I can make no promises. 

For those of you grateful for the relief that this interval might provide, as Monty Python would say, "I fart in your general direction". I know that you will keep Toledo together in my brief absence, since I wasn't doing much to help anyway. I will be looking in on the goings on up here from this far away place, as I understand that Al Gore recently got the Internet installed in the area. By the way, while there appears to be some rain in my forecast for most of the week, the temperature appears to be varying from a nighttime low of 75, to a daily high of around 85.

Illegal Immigration

I have chosen not to speak out on the subject of Illegal Immigration up until now in this blog for no particular reason that I can think of, but I have strong feelings on the subject. In going back however, I realized that I had spoken out on the subject in the past. Unless you subscribed to a certain national newspaper at the time however, you may not have noticed it. I decided therefore, to share with you a letter that I wrote to USA Today, which was subsequently published back in March of 2007.

February 23, 2007

Dear Editor: I would like to put forth a question concerning the debate over amnesty for illegal aliens. Have I missed something, or are we only discussing this as it relates to Hispanic illegal immigrants from Mexico or Central America? Do immigration laws only apply to non-Hispanic peoples seeking a better life in the US or should we open the floodgates to people in African nations, Eastern Europe, Asian citizens, or areas of the Middle East where political and religious persecution, as well economic depression are facing the local populaces? Are we only to be concerned about our nearest neighbors to the south, or should we also open our borders to Canadian citizens who might wish to join us? First and last, the United States has always been a nation of laws. The underlying principles that established this nation tell us that neither the populace nor the government may choose to ignore any of those laws which they find inconvenient or politically sensitive. If the citizens do not like the current laws, they have the right and the obligation to change them. They do not have the right to flaunt them without consequences. We have chosen in our very founding, to believe that “All Men are created equal” and that “no man is above the law”. If these principles are to mean anything, then consistent interpretations of these principles and laws are essential to keep this a place that people from other countries will want to become a part of.  

It appears however, that laying the case out as clearly as I did was not simple enough for those involved. Instead, they chose to seek a different solution to the problem. That solution was to build a wall to keep the illegal immigrants out (substitute barbarians here if you want to), or in their own country if you prefer. I hate to be the naysayer here, but this philosophy has been tried a couple of times, and it seems to me unsuccessfully. 

China and Berlin strike me as great examples of the idea that if you build the wall; they will find a way over, under, or around it. Let's face it folks, building a wall would be nothing more than another monumental government project showing just how creative that we have become in throwing away tax dollars to symbols instead of solutions. No, the only way to solve this problem is to attack the cause. So let me lay it out for you. If employers were punished severely for hiring illegal aliens, we could begin to actually solve the problem(s).  

What, you say! How would that solve the problems? If there were no jobs for the people coming over, they wouldn't come, and we wouldn't need a wall to keep them from joining us. How about all of those low paying jobs that no one who want to take, what would we do about that? Well my guess is that if no one fills them, they won't stay low paying for long. Get the wages up, and I expect that they would fill fairly quickly. Every other decent paying job seems to.  

Wouldn't that drive costs up for businesses and thereby drive prices up? Probably, but this could be offset by savings achieved in government programs that could be put back into the pockets of the taxpayers funding them. The truth of the matter is that we are already paying these higher prices, but not to the businesses. Instead we pay taxes that go to government support programs to help people not making a livable wage. Take away the pricing artificially supported by low wage labor, and the market would compensate.  

Oh by the way, more people making more money would generate more overall tax revenue as well as more prosperity in this country. The last time that I looked, that was something I thought that we were trying to achieve. It might also give us some relief from a government which is too large by an order of magnitude. At the very least, we could save the millions of dollars that we want to spend to build the wall.  

As for the term "illegal aliens and the discussion as to whether it should be used with regards to these huddled masses, yearning to be free; I remember reading a Letter to the Editor from the Kansas City Star from September 21st, from Gene Wolenski. I have cited this letter previously, but I think that it bears repeating and puts the entire legal discussion in perspective: "I can understand Ascension Hernandez disliking the Minutemen, but let's face it, calling an illegal alien and undocumented immigrant is like calling a drug smuggler an unlicensed pharmacist." 

Let's try to keep in perspective that no matter how compelling the reason or noble the purpose of these people, they crossed the border of the United States without the proper documentation or permission, and that violates the laws of this county. That makes the act that they committed illegal, and makes those committing it criminals.