Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Primaries - A Twisted Beauty Pageant?

Well the primaries are in full swing and the comparisons between them and a twisted beauty pageant have begun to occur to me. I'm not sure if this is the twisted nature of the way that my mind works, or simply something that most people simply don't realize. Let me illustrate:

  • We start out with contestants from various states, but no two from any one of them.
  • There is an inordinate amount of smiling and waving as the contestants are introduced to us, and throughout the competition for that matter.
  • In front of the cameras it's all love and kisses (well OK, some of the time), but you know there is all kinds backstabbing and dog eat dog behavior going on behind the scenes.
  • It takes a great deal of sponsorship money to allow contestants to compete.
  • Most of the contestants put on a "song and dance" routine as part of their portion of the Talent Competition.
  • Part of the process is asking the contestants mostly ridiculous questions, and not expecting or getting answers that are anything but unintelligent, self-serving, and inane.
  • After a couple of events, we winnow the field down to a few finalists, who will vie for the title.
  • Everyone always argues over whether the winner actually deserved the title after the contest is over.
See, I told you so! Quite frankly, the only differences that I can find are things for which I am eternally grateful:
  1. There is no swimsuit competition (I have trouble describing what a relief this is to me).
  2. Nobody ever wins Miss Congeniality (and no one ever will).

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Posting #100

I find it hard to believe that this is the 100th posting that I have done since I started the madness of this blog site just last summer. I have to admit that it has actually been a rather enjoyable experience for me, as I hope that it has been for most of you. Quite frankly, this whole thing started out as a way of improving my writing skills and abilities (not that this was in any way a possibility, or would make much difference to the nonsense I normally expound upon). It soon became a way for me to pontificate on any number of subjects that I really don't know much about and share my opinion (whether asked to or not) on a variety issues that strike me as being of interest. And it was this second reason may have become a real boon to my friends and family. No, not because my facts or opinions are in any way important to them, but because sharing them with you on paper has spared them the ordeal of listening to me expounding upon them (some would say endlessly) in their presence. I am reasonbly sure that there are those of you out there hoping that I will run out of steam soon, but in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that I seem to have a never-ending supply of opinions and an equally never-ending need to share them.

Now as to this whole 100 thing ...

Since milestones are normally used to celebrate, I'm sure that most of you think that I should use this momentous occasion to take on some weighty subject or true societal ill. Of course you would then realize who you were talking about and recognize that I would most likely content myself with writing the stuff that I always write, in an inane effort to continue to appeal to the twisted audience that I have thus far gathered. (Man, you are getting good at this.)

Actually, while not being willing to make a big deal out of the occasion, it does make me think of the blog that I write, the blogs that I read, and the nature of the freedom that this forum and this technology affords us. Now I am sure that there is a lot of nonsense and misinformation out there in cyberspace (I should know better than most, since I hand a good bit of it out.). I believe however, that the Internet affords us the opportunity to know more, understand more, and communicate more than any other civilization in history. I believe that even with all of the bogus information, all of the mean-spiritedness, and all of the stupidity being handed out as wisdom today; that the ability to exchange information on the Internet is the greatest opportunity to exercise freedom that this country has had since it was founded. We are no longer limited to a newspaper, (3) network news broadcasts, and a couple of weekly magazines to understand the world around us. We now have an almost limitless access to information not only from sources in the US, but around the world. This plethora of information sources (some from people who completely disagree with the US world view) provide us a perspective and a choice that has never been seen before. This expansion in our ability to choose how and what we learn and know of our world makes us to be less likely to be fooled by those in our the media and in government. The wealth of information out there is beginning to create in us that most dangerous of societies - the informed and educated.

Sure some of the information out there is wrong, some even maliciously so; but nobody promised that learning would be easy. We need to remember that we are in the infancy of this explosion of information. We therefore, are also in the infancy of our ability to sort through it, separate the wheat from the chaff, and use what we learn to our best advantage. Like every new tool or technology created, the Internet is spawning a myriad of uses which it's inventors never anticipated or maybe even intended. We are only beginning to understand what those uses might be. There is little doubt that it will take time for society to adapt to this flood of information and its possibilities, and it is probable that people of my generation will never succeed.It will be left to the generations that grow up taking for granted this new technology and never remembering a time when it wasn't available that will begin to understand the freedom that is now afforded to them.
Much like the invention of movable type by Gutenberg and the subsequent expansion of the printed word had a direct connection to the free distribution of information that made the American Revolution possible, this new Information Age, brought into full bloom, may be the spark of a new American Revolution and a revitalizing of the ideas that our Founding Fathers sought.

You know now that I look at this, I guess that this is a pretty momentous subject after all. Woo Hoo! Happy 100.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

I Have Seen The Signs

Yes Ladies and Gentlemen, I have seen the signs,
but it sometimes appears to me that their meaning is less than clear. I use to believe that I knew what some of them meant, but now refuse to believe that I hold the final opinion on the subject. Besides, I am not sure that everyone agrees with me (not that this has ever kept me from holding an opinion). I have therefore decided to put down here what many people appear to believe that certain road signs mean based on their behavior. My hope is that by doing so, perhaps someone will understand all of this and explain it to me. I also have included a few here that simply either intrigue or amuse me.

You can and should only go one way, in this case we would like you to go in the direction of the arrow; unless of course it's an emergency, or you have been drinking excessively.

Please be careful and look out for me, because I am not paying any particular attention to anything around me and for all that I know I will end up in the lane that you are already in.

This is not really a sign, but is never the less still applicable. It obviously has three different meanings, which I used to think were never explained better than in the movie "Starman":

Green = Go
Yellow = Go really fast
Red = Stop

I have since come to believe that the third definition is no longer applicable. With the new technology that most of our cities are employing, the Red signal should now read:  "Smile, we just took a picture of your license plate."

No matter which way you decide to go, you're screwed. And don't expect me to take the blame for it, you were the idiot who chose this road in the first place. My advice to you is take your best shot pal, you might get lucky...

You and your car do not need to be here under any circumstances, so just leave. Of course, if you choose to disagree, please feel free to stop here and stay a while. There will be no consequences. (Do you think they bought it?)

Please be advised that the people around here are not the only things that experience Road Rage.

Of course these instructions make no sense, but what did you expect? Being confused about it won't do you any good. No matter which way that you decide, we are going to give you a ticket. Pretty funny, huh ?

This may be the only truly honest sign that I discovered. It is clear, to the point, and always correct.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


I have previously posted on the subject of wine, but have to admit that this is not the only adult beverage with which I am familiar. Being no authority on the subject will not prevent me from sharing some of my limited knowledge with you in the hope that you too will broaden your horizons, as I do in my own small way. So saying, let me say up front that:

God invented whiskey to keep the Irish from conquering the world.

(... and so far, it has succeeded in doing so)
Whiskey comes from the term "wisge beatha" which means "water of life". It is spirit distilled from malt and/or grain by soaking it in good water and yeast, and allowing it to open up or ferment. This mixture is then placed in a still to cook, and the distilled vapors are condensed to produce a grain alcohol. This is usually then aged in oak barrels for some period to allow the product to gain complexity from the wood. In some cases it is then "blended" by the producer to gain a desired consistent flavor, or subjected to additional aging and finally released in a "single-barrel" derivative. The complexity of the flavors, again much like wine, has a lot to do with the amount of time that the original components spend in the barrel. In fact many whiskey producers use old wine barrels for this aging process. A surprising fact in this may be that unlike wine, where French oak is preferred, whiskey producers tend to lean toward American oak. This works out just fine for American wine producers, as they cannot reuse the barrels, and the distillers provide a ready market for their used ones.

This process of aging, as the components soak into the wood in the heat and return as the product cools down, provides the much of the color that we see in the finished product. In this process however, some 2% per year is lost through evaporation. This is called the "Angels Share" and is accepted by the distiller (sometimes grudgingly). What it means though, is that the longer the product ages, the more that is lost through evaporation. Hence the price difference between a 10-year old, 12-year old, and 25-year old product. Some rare whiskeys are aged for up to 58 years, and are priced accordingly (Johnnie Walker Blue for example). But enough of the technical details, let's talk a little bit about the whiskeys themselves.

I have been know to indulge in the occasional glass of scotch (Some would say that I was Irish by birth, and Scotch by ingestion. This is patently untrue, as my mother is a Corey and from fine Scotch-Irish stock.). In the history of whiskey however, I am glad that the Scotch have finally admitted that they learned to make Whisky from Irish monks. (No this is not a misspelling. Whisky from Scotland is the only one that is supposed to use this spelling, though some producers from Canada and Japan have used it as well. All others must use the "ey" form.) This Whisky hails from two main regions: Islay, an island in the west of Scotland; and Speyside, a whiskey producing region in the Northern Highlands. Anyone who has ever sampled MacAllen 25 year-old, Lagavulin, Glenmorangie (I prefer the madeira wood myself), or my personal favorite 12 year old Balvenie Double Wood (6 years in a port wood cask, 6 years in a Madeira wood cask) knows what fine examples of the distillers art that good scotch whiskey can be. While scotch is without a doubt an acquired taste, and getting past the peat flavors can be a daunting task in the beginning, it would be well worth your effort to try.

Bourbon, once defined as American whiskey that was produced in Bourbon County, Kentucky (though there are actually no distilleries there), is more accurately defined as a whiskey that is produced anywhere in US that is produced with a mash (fermented grain base) that is at least 51%, but not more than 81% corn. Sour mash whiskeys also fall within this category with the term coming from the fact that some of the residue from the previous batch is added to the new mixture before distilling. I cannot say that I am a large fan of Bourbons, but I have been exposed to enough of them over the years that I can appreciate the talent that goes into producing them. Maker's Mark, Booker's, Elijah Craig, and Woodford Reserve are all single barrel versions that I have sampled and enjoyed. Marker's Mark holds the additional distinction of lending its flavor to a cigar by having its wrapper soaked in that beverage (and a great compliment to a sample of the beverage of the same name). On Tennessee side of the picture, Jack Daniels remains king, with both the Gentleman Jack and Jack Daniels single-barrel as efforts that should be on anyone's short list. Rye whiskey too falls under this category. While formerly little known in the US it is gaining a greater audience in recent years, and is greatly appreciated north of the border in Canada. I would love to be able to share more with you on this subject; but I seldom venture to "The Great White North" these days, and my knowledge suffers as a consequence.

In the end, I return to my favorite of the distilled beverages known as whiskey. Here I have experienced a great number of the possible choices (most courtesy of a trip to Ireland for a friend's family reunion and my daughter's wedding a few years back). Though there are many brands of Irish whiskey most, if not all of the Irish whiskeys today however, are produced by IDG (Irish Distillers Group). Amazingly enough this Irish national treasure is owned by the French company Pernod Ricard, which purchased IDG for $525,000,000 in the late 1980's (to the undying shame of the Irish).

There are a number of different versions of the standards, Jameson and Bushmills, each having to do with whether they are a blended or single-barrel whiskey, and the amount of time that they are aged in the barrel. There are additionally, a number other varieties that are well worth indulging in: Paddy, Powers, Tullamore Dew, Red Breast, and Michael Collins. Then there is that rarest and most expensive of Irish Whiskey, Middleton's Very Rare (which amazingly enough is a blended whiskey). This "nectar of the gods" is actually dated by the by the year that it is bottled (with the blend being reformulated every year), and is called very rare because of the small quantities in which it is produced. Irish whiskeys tend to be a little "sweeter" or "lighter" than their counterparts, and may be the easiest on the untried palate.

Serving suggestions:Amazingly enough, even the distillers recommend adding a little water to their product. This "splash" of water opens up the flavors of the whiskey and helps to bring out its complexity. For those of us in the US who seem unable to enjoy a cocktail without ice, I recommend placing a couple of ice cubes (not to be mistaken for loading the glass to the rim) to perform the same function. Many purists (myself included) simply ask for a little water on the side, to allow us to decide what is enough.

In the end, like wine, the best whiskeys are the ones you enjoy. Wade in gently and venture into deeper water when you feel you are ready and I think that you will soon find much to earn your interest. Do not be intimidated by the variety and feel free to take on the more expensive ones when you have learned to appreciate their less expensive counterparts.


For those who want to learn more, the best information on the subject of whiskey that I found is a wonderful book on the subject: "Whisk(e)y", by Stefan Gabanyi. It is both a definitive tome and a interesting read.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Politics & The Primaries

Well the primaries are beginning to kick into full swing. Iowa, Montana (?), New Hampshire, and now Michigan are complete; with South Carolina and Super Tuesday right around the corner it seems. I am not ready to make a choice of candidate yet (though your odds are better on the lottery than on betting that I will pick a Democrat), but I am ready to touch briefly on the entire subject of politics. Since politicians seem to revel in long winded pontification however, I thought that for a change, I would keep my own input short and sweet. I therefore present for your edification, some my own well-turned phrases on the subject of politics:
  • Those who can’t do, teach. Those who don’t know usually manage to get tenure. Those who can’t do and don’t know become consultants and politicians.
  • During election years, I often find myself contemplating the advantages of both monarchy and anarchy.
  • Politics mesmerizes me like a venomous snake or spider. The process is fascinating, but you dare not take your eyes off of it nor turn your back on it, for fear of the harm that it will do you.
  • When I listen to politicians telling me how they can make it a better world for everyone on the late night news, I simply pull the blanket up a little more tightly under my chin and say: “Tell me another bed-time story.”
  • I am constantly amazed that liberal politicians think that taking more of my money in taxes will inspire me to work harder.
  • It really is the case that life is mostly a “same shit, different day” situation. The only real difference is that during election years the toilet seems to back up more often.
And just so this posting is not entirely about my wit and wisdom, I present the following educational asides on the two main parties for your education and edification: Andrew Jackson’s opponents called him a “jackass” during his run for the presidency in 1828. He liked the image so much that he made the image of the animal the new symbol of his national party, the Democrats. The symbol of the Republican Party, the elephant, is credited to a cartoon by Thomas Nast in the Harper’s Weekly on November 7, 1874. The elephant in that rendering was depicted demolishing what was claimed to be the flimsy planks of the Democratic platform during that election.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Border Security

Lost among the articles on the fatal small plane crash and the primary elections in The Blade edition of January 13, 2008 was a little article from International Falls, MN. It appears that Canada is turning away some US citizens at its border because of DUI convictions in their past. An individual's past is coming much more under scrutiny in recent years for crossing the border to Canada, and such things as convictions for a DUI, passing bad checks, shoplifting, or smoking pot are considered serious enough to deny you entry. Now Canada is a sovereign country and can deny entry to any person that they deem unacceptable or a danger. It is evident that the crimes (which in most cases would be misdemeanors) listed above carry far greater weight and significance there then they appear to do here, especially when looking for those deemed a threat. It also appears that Canada's zeal to enforce border security for their country will pass under most people's radar screen and allow them to escape the criticism that anyone in the US seems to get for any attempt to enforce our own. Ladies and Gentlemen, I can't decide what of this story offends me more; so I will just list my outrages:
  1. Where is the outrage in this country when US citizens are denied entry to a neighboring county on what are more than likely misdemeanors, many or which are years in the past?
  2. Where are the cries of racism, sexism, or some other "ism" which, though it would have no foundation in fact, would be bandied about as an explanation for such treatment if the US were involved?
  3. Where are the tear-jerking stories of vacations and honeymoons destroyed, the hunting and fishing trips ruined, and the long-term emotional scarring left by the callous treatment of these individuals?
  4. Was Canada without the offenses of drunk driving, shoplifting, pot smoking, or the writing of bad check; except by foreigners?
  5. Have the number of these offenses been reduced or eliminated in Canada by the tougher enforcement of these immigration guidelines?
  6. Canada keeps people from entering their country legally, but the US is allowed to do nothing about illegal entry without outrage from both Mexico and Canada.
  7. Two border security agents are sitting in prison for their part to keep out a known drug runner, but Canada can deny entry to a person who smoked pot 20 years ago.
  8. Three of Canada's major exports are cars, beer, and whiskey; so who is really surprised when they are combined?
Now I have had brushes with some of these offenses in my past, and that may now prevent me from entering Canada in the future (I'm sure that they will recover from the revenue lost in the casinos), but those are not my reason for concern here. These are:
  1. Canada used to gladly except people who were violating the law by evading the draft, and now we have lesser violations as reasons for denial of entry.
  2. If these offenses are enough to keep someone from crossing the border now, what may be added to the list in the future: excessive speeding tickets, parking tickets, jaywalking, or bad credit?
  3. If Canada is allowed to enforce immigration law, why is the US not allowed to?
North America is suppose to be one big, happy family; and the term "Mexamericanada" is often tossed around as a name in our future, as is a currency by the funny little name of the "Amero". (These terms are meant, I suppose, to get us used to a European Union style alliance that may be in our future.) It appears however, that there is a red-haired stepchild in the family, and that this 2nd class family member is the US. We do not seem to have the rights to send our citizens where we will, or to keep out the citizens of other nations without criticism from all sides. Yes, it appears that all nations, like all men, are created equal; but some are more equal than others.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Writing, A Lost Art

"A well-turned phrase usually requires the prodigious use of an eraser."

These words of wisdom are something that I came up with some time ago while struggling to come up with just the right phrasing for something that I was trying to write. That it took me so long to come up with that phrasing speaks to a level of intelligence that I am often embarrassed by. That I chose to spend such a long time in the attempt speaks to my interest in good writing and my desire to become a better writer. That I sometimes succeed in doing so is a constant source of amazement to me and I fear unfortunately, a sign of my age. The unfortunate fact today is that much like basic math skills began to disappear with the introduction of the calculator, basic writing skills are also fading away. Something that used to be considered part of a well-rounded individual, the use of proper spelling, good grammar, and proper sentence structure are becoming a part of history. A number of years of failing education in this area, the reliance on computers with spell check and grammar check, and the increasing use of abbreviated language in text messaging on cell phones is making the skill and art of true writing a lost one. Amazingly to me, this appears to be of little concern to this generation that has lost these skills, as reading too is losing its attraction for them.

At a time when technology has created the greatest opportunity in the history of language to express ourselves, we bastardize its use in order to communicate. Improper or no capitalization, poor spelling, little or no sentence structure, and horrible punctuation seem to be the rule in spite of all of the ways available to correct it. We get our news in sound bites on TV, our books on CD (when we don't just give up and wait for them to make the movie), and our conversations through mini emails on tiny keyboards on our cell phones. Gone are the shining examples of the written word, faded away like the often lofty ideals that they attempted to portray. Instead we find ourselves with such plums of literary phrasing as:

u r here

txt me

and of course,

Even here in the blogging world there are far too many efforts that border on illiteracy. The focus these days is far too often the quantity of content and the passion of the writer, rather than on the method of expression or the proper use of language. This is not to take away from that content and passion, as it at least shows some interest by these people in the world around them and a desire for something better (even when what they want is wrong or misguided). I long however, for some of the well turned phrases from literary efforts of the past. If the ideas are that important to the writers, you would think that expressing them in even a somewhat coherent manner would be of paramount importance. There are certainly exceptions to this in the blogging world (and I won't embarrass either the failures or successes by mentioning names), but shamefully, the examples that lower the literary bar are far to many to simply discount.
Now don't get me wrong, it's not that I consider my own contributions of prose as something comparable to Jefferson or Shakespeare (unless you are talking about the really hideous TV show from years ago or the fishing reel, and I probably suffer by comparison even then), but I do make an attempt to show some level of technical skill in the art of writing. That's one of the reasons that I have to limit the number of postings that I put up. It's hard work to come up with something interesting, carry that thought through in some rational manner, and attempt to make it both interesting and readable (and occasionally amusing, of course). This process, at least for me, requires considerable effort, time, and editing. First efforts are rarely the best, and even second and third efforts can normally use a bit of tweaking (as I am doing on this posting now, even in the last moments before putting it up). Every posting becomes a difficult birthing process, even by my limited standards for publishing.

Perhaps all of this is just a sign of a change in society really doesn't make a difference, and shouldn't be something that I get all wound up about; but I mourn the loss none the less. I know, I know, that it is a sure sign of age to long for the "Good Old Days" and this is certainly not my goal, as the posting of the same name should easily point out No, what I mourn for is the the potential loss of some truly great idea by someone who is truly gifted, because of being unable to properly communicate it to the rest of us. What great philosophies, stories, and insights may become lost to us, ignored because of the inadequate ability of the technological shorthand that we have made so much a part of our lives.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

That's Not Right #7 - Car Defoggers

I was forced to brave the cold a bit early this morning, since the overnight drop in temperature had managed to ice over the windows of my personal transportation. I duly started the vehicle, turned the heater in the defroster mode, and pushed the button for the rear window defroster, knowing that soon my windows would be clear. The rear window defroster, being of the electric variety, had the window clear of ice and fogging within a minute. The front defroster, running off of my car heater, caught up about 5 minutes later. 

My question here is why can't I have the wires in the windshield? At a time in the automotive industry that gives us electrically heated seats, GPS systems, USB ports to plug my I-pod into, and dual DVD players for the back seats of cars, why can't I have a better system to defrost my windshield? Why some high end vehicles already have electrically heated outside mirrors , in addition to the rear window unit, but no on seems to have come to the conclusion of using this proven technology in a windshield. 

I suppose it's possible that there is a safety issue involved here, but if there is one I am unaware of it, and can't imagine what it would be. Call me silly here people, but it strikes me that auto makers place the better system in the rear window to improve visibility than they do in the front, in spite of the fact that one would think that looking out of the front one would seem to be more important.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Proper Dental Care

I was struck this morning by how complicated technology has made our society in recent years, even in the simplest things like dental care. When still but a boy, I was instructed to brush my teeth diligently with an up and down motion (even though my dentist seemed to brush from every direction when I went in for a cleaning), and I did. As I grew older, improvements were made in the toothbrush, and I was handed “special brushes" with different kinds of bristles in order to reach different parts of my teeth and gums. I didn't really understand any of it, but they told me it was better for my teeth (which I had grown rather fond of by that time) and I chose to believe them. Besides, I had been shown the pictures of what happened if you didn't take care of your teeth and realized that I had to seek an alternative. The look was not a good one, and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life hanging around at Merle Haggard concerts.

Technology refused to stand still, and soon I was handed my first powered brush and told that this, much like the one that my dentist used, was the real answer to perfect dental care. (The fact that the bristles rotated, preventing the up and down motion that I was originally trained in, seem not to matter to the manufacturers, the stores selling these devices, or health care professionals who pushed them on me.) What soon followed were a non-stop string of powered units that improved on this perfection, some with other bristles that vibrated back and forth, some with dual rotating heads, some with special sonic wave producing units; and I have to admit that I bought into a good bit of the hype. Now the latest generation in the space race of modern dental technology is out, and I hear that cavities don't have a chance. This unit not only does all of the things we have come to know and love from these motorized marvels, but also has a wireless display to inform us as to whether we are brushing too hard or whether we are brushing our teeth long enough. That's enough for me.

Now I have had teeth for almost my entire life, and in my own amateurish way, have attempted to take proper care of them (usually with little assistance from the latest technology). With the exception of my wisdom teeth, all but one of them is still with me, and that one was misplaced when someone had the notion that it would be a good idea to rearrange my features by breaking a hockey stick across my face. (Yeah I know, this admission explains a lot about my current appearance. I’ve gotten used to it over the years however, so you probably need to as well.) I have to wonder therefore, whether I would be a sucker to purchase one of these new-fangled dental devices. Likewise, I can't help but wonder if I have been duped by all of the claims of all the other manufacturers of such devices in my past. I must further question whether such technology is the answer, or whether it’s only real purpose is to part me from a fair amount of my hard-earned money in a vain attempt to gain a marginal result (or only one for the manufacturer's bottom line). Finally, I have to begin to question the sanity of putting electrical devices in my mouth in the first place.

While I am at it, I would like to question whether I really need to be brushing my teeth with a specific type of toothbrush for a specific period of time (like the two minutes in the new timer) using a fluoridated toothpaste (don't get me started on this subject, whose double-talking BS probably requires a posting of its own). Are a a pre-rinse, and a post rinse really required in the process? Do I really need to floss twice a day (and more it appears, if I choose to eat solid foods)? When did this process become so complicated? Most importantly, when did the time that we are being told to spend in caring for things like our teeth reach a point where they take up all of the time that we have?

Now you can call me a an old fool, or simply a cynic (you certainly wouldn't be the first), but I suspect all of this effort does not have that great an impact on my oral health. I suspect that with any kind of reasonable attention to good dental care, that the condition of our teeth has a great deal more to do with our genetics than the type of toothbrush we use. I suspect that all toothbrushes and all toothpastes are pretty much created equal. I further suspect that the most impressive thing about all of this technology is the advertising campaigns used to attempt to convince us to purchase it in the first place. Don't get me wrong, this is not to dissuade you from buying a light saber in the battle against tooth decay if you think it will do any good, but if your looking for me on the front lines, look again. I will be somewhere in the back, pushing my old tried-and-true manual brush up and down, and smiling with most of my teeth and a good bit more of my money.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Erie St and The Blade

Well here we are folks, two weekend papers, two misguided efforts ... The Sunday Toledo Blade carried the following editorial: 

And rather, it appears, than cogently arguing the logic of keeping the Erie St Market as a city owned property, the Blade chooses to use paper to make this a personal issue for the mayor and to defend his position on the market. Since the Blade seems to be unable to properly define the argument, let me try to. 

Is this issue about the Mayor? - Yes, but only because he has made it so. The Mayor was the biggest supporter of buying the Market, signed the contract with Citifest to run it, and has defended its ability to make a profit relentlessly. It has not however. 

Is the Market currently making a profit? - Well I guess it's how you look at the numbers. The Blade claims that since the Market was taken over by the city on Nov 12th, that it has made $40,000 (the fact that this is the busiest part of the shopping year probably has nothing to do with this); and that the Market "projects" to make a profit of $300,000 by the end of 2008. It then lists separately that the city is paying $300,000 in utility bills each and every year. Now forgive my simple math, but $300k minus $300k equals $0. The last time that I looked, a profit of $0 dollars is not a profit. 

It should also be noted that the opportunity to break even here is only a projection, not a certainty. In addition, these numbers do not take into account the lost tax revenues, as I am sure that the city is not paying itself property taxes on this so-called lucrative downtown property. 

Is City Council stalling on this? - Of course they are! This was the first meeting of the new council, with three new members being sworn in, and the expectation that they would want to take on this political hot potato within the first hours of gathering would be unrealistic. If this was such a pressing issue for the city, why has it taken 7 weeks to bring it up? Why was it not handled by the previous council? Could it be that the Mayor found that bringing up the situation less favorable with the previous council? (I'm just asking) 

Should Council hold a public hearing? - Why not? It's not like the city seems to listen to the voice of the people when they think that they can get away with it (COSI), but listening to the voice of the voters is never a bad thing. With a little luck, the Council can hold the meeting at 4 PM on a weekday to assure proper attendance. 

Does Council need to fund the Market? - It undoubtedly does on a temporary basis. There is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water and close the market rather than fund something to keep it open, but only until it can sell the Market. Council should predicate any funding on a demand that the city put the Market up for sale immediately. (Democrats seem to know how to place "pull out" provisions into funding measures, so this shouldn't be a problem.) This process should then be reviewed on a 90 - 180 day basis to assess the city's efforts to make this sale. 

Does Toledo need to sell the Erie Street Market? - Yes!!!! The proper marketing and operation of such a business requires an entrepreneurial spirit that no government entity can exhibit. The flexibility, creativity, and free thinking that have made such markets successful are anathema to governments, whose bureaucracy thrives on rigid adherence to the status quo. Kudos gentlemen, for at least trying to bring up the issues that matter to the city. (Maybe you read my post yesterday and are trying to change your ways. ... Nah) Shame on you for taking such a misguided and illogical position on the subject.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

The News?

I'm sorry folks... I had another posting that I was working on this week with the intention of putting up today, and while it may not have been the best thing that I have ever written, it wasn't all bad. 

Unfortunately, before I could make that normal weekend effort, I picked up the Saturday Toledo Blade. Now the Blade is one of my customers, and I have even done some work with their sister paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette over the years. I have found the people of both organizations to be of sound mind and good character. I would also say that they are easy to do business with for the most part. I would even say that I have people that I consider friends at both sites. I am therefore concerned about their future, and my own in servicing this industry, when I see what I did in the paper today.  

One quarter of the front page (And this is a pretty highly prized position in a newspaper for those of you who don't know, even below the fold. Just ask any writer at a newspaper.) is taken up with how well OSU Merchandise is selling. Are you kidding me?  

Now don't get me wrong, I don't object to the story itself. I'm sure that there is some local interest in such things. I do object however to it's placement on the front page. This is a time in our city when projects like the Erie Street Market, Southwyck Mall, and the MLK bridge are draining money from city coffers that does not appear to be there ... yet no one at the Blade seems to be looking for where it's coming from and how and why it's going to these projects. 

This is a time when City Council seems to be playing a really petty version of musical chairs with the council presidency in what appears on the surface to be a potential violation of the city charter and maybe even state sunshine laws, and no one is asking why. This is a time in Toledo and NW Ohio when jobs are leaving the area faster than Miami Dolphins fans in the 4th quarter of another losing football effort, and no one is asking our local leaders how they can call themselves "business friendly" while it happens.  

Hell they announced yesterday that Toyota had at least passed Ford in making cars in the US (and it's highly likely that they have passed GM as well), let alone the efforts of Chrysler / Jeep in the local area, and no one is asking them what they are doing to stem the tide. Perhaps this is why newspapers are beginning to become irrelevant in our current society. They were always better than TV or radio in being able to take the time to ask the tough questions and explore the answers in depth, without worrying about commercial breaks every six minutes. 

Newspapers had the staffs and the incentive to hunt out the good stories, the political villains, and the local heroes and bring them to us in as much detail as we cared to read. Now they have sunk to being concerned about why OSU gear isn't selling this year as well as it did last year. (For those of you who are actually interested in this subject, and shame on you, I suspect that it is because people don't have as much disposable income this year as last. I know that I don't.) The reduction in stature would be laughable if it weren't so pitiful. I won't go into the ills of corporate ownership and a generation that doesn't read anything ... been there, done that, threw away the T-shirt. I will merely say that the path being taken here may become a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom.  

Newspapers don't get all of the blame here either. We have become a society more concerned about Brittany Spears kids than she is, more concerned about Lindsay Lohan's and Paris Hilton's drinking than they are, and more concerned about how many houses that Brad Pitt is going to build in New Orleans than why the locals seem unwilling or unable to do so. We have become a "society of celebrity" (and yes, you can quote me on that), where everyone needs increasingly more than their 15 minutes of fame because fame is all we seem to care about. I won't get off task by discussing this particularly nasty aspect of today's society, but I will suggest that we have traditionally expected the newspapers of the world to rise above such nonsense, not pander to it. There is plenty of Tabloid journalism to fill any need that we might have. They don't need your help.

So in the end, my message here is to newspapers in general, and the Block family and Blade in particular is this. We need you out there. You can do things for us that we can't do for ourselves. When you feel the need to write stories as this, do what needs to be done and bury them in subsequent pages or sections where they belong. Give us the "journalism" that is supposed to be your mission on your front pages, and not the "crap of the moment". You can be a force for good in our cities and in our lives. Please don't make yourself as mindless, meaningless, and useless as this story suggests. 
In the spirit of full disclosure (which seems to be so important these days) I must say that any attempt in this posting to save the industry and career of the writer is purely intentional.


Wednesday, January 2, 2008

That's Not Right #6 - The Voting Process

Sorry people, but this one is another of those "Thoughts While Driving" postings that seem to occur to me as I make my way down the highway of life. The fact that it strikes far too close to home should not confuse the reader with the fact that it is just a bit of nonsense. 

Have you ever noticed that we treat the sacred right and privilege to vote in this country a lot like we treat attendance to our bodily functions? Don't believe me? Well take a look at the list below and see if they don't apply to both:
  • People tend to do perform this function only when absolutely necessary and often wait until the last minute before doing so
  • This function is always done in a small enclosed space, whether it is a special room or merely a "stall" used in a public place
  • This function is always done in private, with any observance or assistance treated at best as embarrassing and at worst as offensive
  • Many people seem to make a mess of it, in spite of the number of years that they have been doing it
  • No one seems to be very proud of completing the process with the exception of senior citizens, who seem to treat the exercise of this function as another milestone of continuing existence.
  • The results of exercising this function usually result in something that stinks
Not so incredulous now, are we? Well for those who are still disbelievers, feel free to observe the next time that you are at polling place. For those who live in my current hometown of Toledo, don't bother. With the number of you that appear to show up at the polls in any given election, I will be dead long before you prove or disprove the theory that I have just set forward.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year

Well ladies and gentlemen, today is the first day of the year 2008, and I would like to extend to you my best wishes for that new year. 

 I had thought that such an auspicious occasion merited some form of special posting as a consequence. Then I realized that I was probably not capable of such a posting and that unfortunately you were going to have to settle for what normally passes for wit and wisdom on these pages instead. 

Besides this is not a regular posting day for me and I am far too limited in both talent and ability to squander it, even for good reason. Let me simply use this occasion to share two things with you:  

First, my only New Year's Resolution - to be more consciously aware of the world around me. You see, I think that like most of us, I've spent most of my life living in, but barely aware of most of the things going on around me. There is so much in the way of folly, chicanery, and just plain meanness going on out there that I have let slip under my radar that I am often embarrassed by it. Those out there attempting to do evil to us all count on that inattention and ignorance to perpetrate their plans and schemes upon us. 

My hope is that by making just this small change in focus, that I might help to foil them at some of their ends and affect some positive action in the world around me. Second, my wish for you all - that you be allowed to live in more hope, more prosperity, and more freedom than you did in 2007. You have a right and an expectation to such a life, so long as it is tempered by a respect for the rights of your fellows to do so as well. My hope is that when and if presented with the opportunity, that you show an ability and a strength to choose to do so.