Monday, June 30, 2008

The "Stuck on Stupid" Toledo Dictionary #3

We have another entry in the Stuck on Stupid Dictionary. This one came to us courtesy of a conversation today on the air on WSPD between Brian Wilson and Maggie Thurber. I have taken some editorial license with this conversation, but after all it is my dictionary.


1. Any "facts" brought into evidence which contradict an "opinion" espoused by an elected official or their spokesman.

(Also referred to as half-truths, mistruths, and outright lies.)

Saturday, June 28, 2008

It's Not The Answers, It's The Questions

In its June 28th editorial, Blurt or ploy? The Toledo Blade points out that it was "shameful and disingenuous" for Charlie Black (a McCain adviser) to say that a terrorist attack would be a big advantage to John McCain in the November election. 

I guess that it could be considered shameful, being a fairly honest answer to a reporter's question from a political operative (at least to the Political Operatives Union), but it is awfully similar to an answer that Hilary Clinton gave back in August of 2007 while campaigning for the nomination without being asked. If either of these people were trying to take advantage of a horrible situation for personal gain (or a potential one) that would be deplorable. 

It would not be unusual however, as some politicians have been capitalizing on fear, and destruction for political advantage for as long as there have been politicians. None of this is the point however. This is not even about political ideology or media bias (though maybe it could be). The point in fact in most of these cases are the questions that the media asks, not the answers given. The pure shamelessness of the media when covering any story these days is absolutely mind-boggling. Now I am not a reporter (and have never played one in the movies or on TV), but take a look and see if these questions don't sound vaguely familiar: 

  • How do you feel about the fact that your entire family was killed by a drunk driver?
  • What will you do now that you have lost your house and everything that you own, carried away by the flooding river?
  • What were you thinking about when you saw that tornado coming towards your house?
  • How did you feel when that man pointed a gun at you?

So since asking pointless, rhetorical, and even rude questions seems to be OK, I have some questions for you: 

  • What is wrong with you people?
  • Are you idiots, ghouls, or simply so desensitized to tragedy that you have lost your humanity?
  • Why do you ask rhetorical questions simply to garner a pointless emotional response?

(Let me help you out on this one. People who lose something, their house... their car... their family, are heart-broken and in pain. Leave them alone and let them do their grieving.) 

  • Why do you ask politically charged questions and then become surprised when the answers are equally politically charged?
  • Why do you think that most people treat the media and its minions as bottom feeders?

The only thing (in the Blade's words) "shameful and disingenuous" in all of this is the desire of EVERY form of media these days to use any situation, no matter how tragic, as a rope to pull itself out of the cesspool of irrelevance that they have fallen into. 

Racism & Illegal Immigration

I have come to believe that racism and illegal immigration in this country share a bond, and not the one that most would think. While this is just one man's opinion, it appears to me that the any current meaningful discussion of either race or illegal immigration in this country quickly devolves into one of power and concession. Special interest groups from both causes, mindful of the opportunity to cash in a winning ticket in the entitlement lottery, shout out their claims for special treatment while attempting to further the Balkanization of this country into areas of segregated victimization and prviliege.

Race is, and should remain an important ongoing discussion in this country, but not in its current degraded form. Today as each minority group grows in numbers and opportunities, this discussion has inevitably turned to one of power and entitlement, even over each other. This sad display becomes more tragic to watch, as one realizes that each group is trying to assert a greater degree of victimization in life as a way to get a better seat at the table, instead taking advantage of the many open seats available. Anyone who point out this as false perception are shouted down as traitors to their own kind however, while being denounced in the media as misguided at best, bigoted at worst. In the end, the realization begins to sink home that all each minority group appears to require from us is acquiescence to the demand that as a society, we kowtow to its individual needs and recognize a need to repay them for some past offense or misdeed.

Likewise, the discussion of immigration has become one of obfuscation, separation, and recrimination. First the issue of the legality of entry becomes confused with the race or place of origin of the illegal immigrant. Next, we are assaulted with concepts foreign to our very founding, by being given a choice of either turning this country into a walled enclave or ignoring the law of the land to suit the special needs of a special interest group. Finally the discussion turns to what entitlements that people who are not supposed to be here in the first place deserve in the name of compassion. Attempts to cut through this morass of rhetorical nonsense are often met with claims of bigotry and racism in order to divert attention from the actual problem at hand.

(Ah, the connection now becomes apparent.)

The solution to both however seems simple in concept to me, if difficult in execution. It is a return to the principles on which this country was founded on and which have inspired so many people to seek residence in this country from foreign lands. These are simply that personal responsibility and respect for the rule of law are paramount in our country. Everyone is welcome to enjoy all of the freedoms that this country has to offer as long as they follow the rules. Take these as givens, and both situations could then be resolved using the following principles:

1. First and foremost, you are not a victim and therefore are not entitled to any kind of special treatment. If you need help, you will get it. If you need a kick in the butt, you will get that too. If you feel that you are entitled to never-ending taxpayer support or legal set aside for some grievance real or imagined, you will be disappointed.

2. If you need an education, get one. That includes not only primary and secondary education, but even college, technical, or language learning where required. (We could probably pay for some part of this with the money not used to build the wall.) Learning is, and always was one of the keys to success in this country and in many cases, it is the standard by which you will be judged. You must however take advantage of this opportunity without demanding special privilege, as you have no more right to learning than anyone else.

3. If you need a job, get one. Now some will say that some jobs don't pay enough, or that there are jobs which Americans simply won't do. I say that Americans do every kind of nasty job on the planet, from hauling trash to cleaning septic tanks. I further say that there is no job that someone won't do for the right amount of money. The wages that illegal immigrants are willing to accept are far less than they should be, but far greater than they can earn in their own countries or they wouldn't be here in the first place. Stop the influx of illegal immigration, punish employers for hiring anyone here illegally at these substandard wages, and employers will be forced to pay more for "those" jobs. Raise the wages paid for these labors and more people will be willing to do them.

4. Do not (repeat), do not build a wall around this country. I do not care to live behind the next "Iron Curtain" if it's all the same to you, and I do not believe that it will make anyone any safer. All it will do is provide another massive opportunity for government waste, graft, and misuse of taxpayer money; and make those who wish to break the law operate more creatively in subverting it. ("Fixed fortifications are monuments to man's stupidity." George S. Patton)

5. If you are in this country illegally, you will be asked to change that status or you will be asked to leave. This is a country where "the rule of law" holds sway. No one is above it, regardless of their personal circumstances. Save us the story of how long you have been here and the sacrifices you made to get here. Just as "ignorance of the law" is not an excuse, neither is a touching story. It might make a good book or movie some day, but has no bearing on your situation.

6. Do not expect future reparations for some past act of history. The evils of the past were not done to you personally and clinging to them will only prevent you from succeeding. I don't care if your land was taken from you or you were taken from your land, you are not a victim of history. You are here now and have the same chance as everyone else (If you choose to take it).

Oh sure, it's a bit more complicated than what I've laid out here, but surprisingly I believe, not much more. Of course the first thing that has to happen is an open discussion of these subjects without either the assumption of guilt by the majority or the assumption of victimization and entitlement by the minorities. Once we have crossed over that mountain, the rest is simply about how to truly level the playing field. Just remember that the United States is a land of opportunity, not a guarantee of success. You will get out of life what you put in it, no more.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The "Stuck on Stupid" Toledo Dictionary #2

Another entry has already presented itself already this morning, and I felt the need to get it up in a timely manner.

Business Friendly:

1. See TARTA
2. Any business other than TARTA
3. Businesses in Toledo which are treated in a "friendly" manner through crushing regulation, exhorbitant fees, and city competition.


1. Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority
2. See Business Friendly
3. A public transportation business run in Lucas County which derives only 20% of its revenue from its customers, the other 80% being derived from taxpayer financing at city, county, state, and federal levels.

The "Stuck on Stupid" Toledo Dictionary #1

In consultation, and with the permission of Maggie Thurber of "Eye On Toledo" and Thurber's Thoughts fame, I am starting another feature in the variety of postings that will be offered here at Just Blowing Smoke. As you might have already gathered, it will be a dictionary of terms that though nominally part of the English language, seem to have an entirely different meaning here in Toledo, Ohio. In homage to Maggie's "Stuck on Stupid" postings and rants on WSPD, that title will be added to that of the Dictionary.

Additions to this dictionary will be added as "SOS Toledoisms" are discovered, and could be published (at least electronically) when enough entries have been added.

1. Anything that needs to be done immediately, since it would be undoubtedly be rejected upon calmer and more careful scrutiny.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Things That Make You Go Hmmm ... #2

Well things have been entirely too serious lately, so I decided to break up the mindless tedium of my everyday existence by throwing out a few questions for your consideration. I certainly don't have an answer for you (or I wouldn't have asked now would I?), but would appreciate any that those of you out there might have.

  • Before they invented the drawing board, what did people go back to?
  • Why do they call it the Department of the Interior when everything they regulate is outside?
  • If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do the rest have to?
  • What would be the ecologically friendly thing to do if you see an endangered animal species eating an endangered plant species?
  • Would helping someone find the self-help section in a bookstore defeat the purpose of having it?
  • If a quitter never wins and a winner never quits, then how can you quit when you’re ahead?
  • How would anyone know if bagpipes are out of tune?
  • If man evolved from apes, why do we still have apes?
  • How did a fool and his money get together in the first place?
  • If you’re not supposed to drink and drive, why do bars have parking lots?
As you ponder these things, please remember that the secret to a happy life is a healthy sense of the ridiculous...


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Tilting At Windmills

I find recently that I feel as if I am spending my days tilting at windmills. Like the legendary Don Quixote I am growing older, with the faded memories of the glories and the battles of my youth behind me (real or imagined) and the prospect of dementia and senility staring me squre in the face. (Of course, some would say that these too are in my past rather than my future, but that's only those who know me best.)

Like Alonso Quixano (the main character of the story) I am often obsessed with what I see as the end of chivalry in the world. I deplore that Grace and Manners have all but faded from society and willingly accept that my rigid adherence to these outmoded concepts may make me nothing more than a relic of a past age that maybe never was. This quixotic outlook on life, choosing the ideal over the practical may in fact explain a great deal about both me and this blog, and is one that I freely choose.

For from here have I often set out in search of adventure (from the comfort of my desk chair and keyboard, of course), tilting at the windmills of what remains of society and the tainted shadow of what has become politics around me. Unlike the famous story by Miguel de Cervantes however, the giants that I do battle with these days are far too real. Their danger to the world around us is far greater than many comprehend and their necessity to be conquered is likewise more important than my own humble efforts, and far more than most comprehend. At stake are the very freedoms we so often take for granted, conditions that make those outmoded concepts that I hold so dear possible. The battles fought with this elusive and vaporous enemy are often tortuously difficult, always exhausting, and many times seemingly to no effect.

I sometimes fear that try as I might with these efforts here, I may well be trying to hold back the tide. The incremental victories of my foe continue to march forward, swallowing the land that I once trod freely and making even the simplest journey more difficult. The apparent uncaring of most of those around me to this increasing confinement makes the losses even more painful. Stab and swing as I might in the cause of right, I find that my arm at times grows weary, my heart weak, and the inevitable victory of my relentless foe more apparent.

Though I have no Sancho Panza to ride at my side, nor a Dulcinea to hold as a romantic ideal (the comparison had to fall apart somewhere, didn't it?), I continue to fight however. Buoyed by the knowledge of a few good friends out there similarly engaged in this Armageddon-like struggle against these forces of evil, I will continue to strive with my enemy until my strength is gone. My hope is that we will at least end up better off than brave Don Quixote; melancholy, disillusioned, renouncing of chivalry, and oh yeah ... dead.

(There are undoubtedly a number of you who have only barely managed to make it here to the end without visible symptoms of violent illness, Congratulations. It was not originally my intention to make such a lofty attempt. Once I found the picture and did a bit of research on the subject however, the rest could almost be seen as inevitable.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Search For Political Ethics

"Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends..."

Once simply part of an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer song, this now appears to be the theme song for my never-ending quest to find the qualities worth seeking in a political candidate. Quite frankly, Indiana Jones (who also just keeps coming back) has had better luck finding stuff than I have. (Then again, perhaps objects of art and history are less rare than such qualities in political candidates.) Undaunted by this however (OK, maybe a little bit), I am back at this search in the hopes of bringing it to a quick end.

A few weeks back, we looked the concept of sound moral judgment as being a good and necessary quality to seek, and discovered that in fact that what we were looking for was an ethical person rather than a moral one. After waiting to let the dust settle a bit, I decided to take up the subject of the quality of ethical behavior as one that a candidate should have and see if this time we were on the right side of the line between morals and ethics. Continuing this journey with our handy, dandy reference book, the Meriam Webster dictionary, we find the following:

Conforming to accepted standards of conduct - I'm not sure that I like this definition at all. Some pretty stupid, contradictory, and down right evil standards of conduct have been accepted throughout history. As much as I think that there is money to be made in bringing back the Salem witch trials as a "pay per view event", I think I would like something more to use as a goal worth seeking.

Involving or expressing moral approval or disapproval - This definition sounds like judgment by way of the town busybody. I'm afraid that I have to believe that this one falls into the same category as our first definition, and is therefore equally flawed. I hve to believe that we need a consistent, higher standard than anything as changing as moral approval.

A System of moral values: a theory or set of moral principles - This definition strikes a little closer to the mark. Much like the Declaration of Independence did for the Federal Government, a candidate should have a set of principles which guide them and a set of values to fall back on. We still need to be careful of that word moral though, it's a dangerous double-edged sword that often seems to have no master.

The principles of conduct governing an individual or a group - This is ultimately what we want a candidate or a political party to have, assuming of course that we agree with such principles. At least then, we can debate something of substance, something that has some relevance in this process. Whether we want to use The Ten Commandments or The Constitution as the guide, we need to know what it is that an elected official will use when deciding right and wrong.

This whole morals vs ethics thing has come up in recent days on a number of blogs that I read. As a guy who spent a good part of his college days sitting in a mind-numbing array of philosophy courses (and yes, it is part of the reason that I ended up this way), I treat this with a great deal of seriousness. Being moral allowed an Egyptian pharoah to slay first born children, allowed Vikings to toss prisoners into pits of starving wolves for entertainment, allowed Romans to have human beings to fight to the death for entertainment, and allowed people to "own" other people throughout most of history. This moving landscape of ethical relativism has written off a surprising amount of stupdidity and evil in the name of moral behavior and I refuse to accept it.

Ethics on the other hand is an unchanging, but not rigid standard of right and wrong behavior. Such things as lying, cheating, stealing, and imposing our will on our fellow man by use of force are always going to be wrong. There will always be exceptions to such rules, dictated by the often dire needs of the moment; but these should be rare and performed knowing that even such exceptions carry personal consequences for those involved.
Well at the very least, I think that we have finally found something to seek out teeth into. If a candidate has no other qualities, perhaps it is essential that they have this one. But enough of this. When next we take this up (I mean I take it up, I wouldn't want to blame you for any part of this), I will try to sum up some of what has come before and draw some conclusions from our efforts.

Note: Forget the crystal skull, what I would really like Indiana Jones to find is a political candidate with anything "in" his skull, but maybe that's just me...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fractured Fairy Tales - The 3 Little Pigs

Yes boys and girls it's time once again for Fractured Fairy Tales (cue the music). Today we have a very interesting tale about 3 very tenacious little pigs.

So let's begin ...
Once upon a time in the magical land of Toodlededo (pronounced Toodle Dee Du) there lived 3 little pigs: Cosy, Finky, and Blocky. Now these weren't ordinary little pigs. These were 3 very determined little pigs who were used to getting their way.

Well one day, the 3 pigs decided to build a house for Cosy. Well actually, they decided to take a really nice building along the river in downtown Toolededo that was not at all suited to be a house and give it to Cosy to live in. The only problem was that they didn't own the building. The building was owned instead by a big, bad wolf by the name of Votaire (apologies to the philosopher, but it seemed like a funny idea at the time)

Now Votaire wasn't really sure that he wanted Cosy in the building, but Cosy had managed to raise some money to really fix the place up, hire some people, and buy the stuff he wanted to put in it. Then he, Blocky, and Finky told Votaire that if he would just give them the building for Cosy to live in that they would never ask for anything from him ever, ever again. Then Blocky and Finky got all the neighbors worked up about how good a thing it would be to have Cosy living there on the river and how good it would be for Toodlededo in general (besides, nobody was using the building at the time anyway). In the end, they convinced Votaire to let Cosy go ahead and move in.

Well it started out well enough, Cosy brought lots of the bright and shiny stuff to the house, hired some people, and before you know it he had made the place on the river his home. It wasn't long however before things started to go bad; for you see Cosy was a bad tenant. He barely paid the meager rent and he squandered all of the money that he had raised originally to pay for the stuff and people to take care of it (which he never really had much of a plan to do). As time went on, it was discovered that Cosy couldn't do a very good job taking care of this bright and shiny stuff either, nor could he manage to pay the utility bills on his new house. He went to Blocky and Finky, and they in turn told everyone that this wasn't Cosy's fault. Cosy was a good, but terribly misunderstood pig whose house was vital to Toodleededoo, and that he just needed a little more help to make ends meet. So they decided that Votaire should pay for Cosy's utility bills for the good of the neighborhood and told him so. Votaire wasn't very happy about this either, but conceded that maybe they were right and grudgingly agreed.

Things continued along, with conditions in Cosy's house getting worse all the time as it did. The stuff in Cosy's house was no longer bright and shiny any more, the repair of the building was getting worse, and still not enough money was coming in to replace that going out. By then however, Cosy had decided that even though he didn't fit in the house and couldn't pay his bills, he didn't want to leave. He had gotten used to the place that he was in, liked the people working for him, and liked even more the free ride that he had been getting from Votaire. Cosy went to Finky and Blocky once again for help and together they hatched a plan for Votaire to not only continue all of the support that he had been giving Cosy before, but come up with some additional cash to help pay for the bright, shiny things and the people to take care of them. That was the final straw for Votaire, and he huffed, and he puffed, and he blew the plan down.

Now you would think that this would persuade the 3 little pigs that their game was up, and that they should fold up their plan and go; but not these 3 little pigs. These little pigs were so determined in fact, that they came up with another plan a few months later (amazingly, it looked exactly like the first one, with Votaire picking up the tab for everything). They said that this was a much better plan, and that Votaire would be really stupid, wrong, and mean if he didn't agree to it. Well Votaire could be pretty determined too, and once again he huffed, and he puffed, and he blew the plan down.

Cosy was despondent, but reconciled. He said that he finally got the message that Votaire didn't want him in the house any more. As much as he hated to do it, he would go ahead close up the house and let all the people who took care of the bright and shiny stuff go. Finky and Blocky were very sad too, and a more than a little mad about it (angry, not crazy ... at least I think that's what it was). They said that it was a damn shame how short-sighted and mean-spirited that Votaire was, and that Toodlededo needed Cosy in that house They further said that Votaire would live to regret it if Cosy left. Votaire was not to be moved by such words however, and soon the house was closed and Cosy was out.

Time passed and things had seemed to settle down, when one day Votaire got a bill for $6,900.00. Perplexed, he called for the pigs.

"What's this bill for?" he asks.

"Why that's for Cosy's house," Finky replies.

"Cosy's house," Votaire says. "We closed that months ago and I had almost forgotten about it. Why in the world does it need $6,900 now?"

"Oh that's for the monthly upkeep on the place," said Finky. "Cosy has been taking care of it as best he could since he left in order to keep all the bright and shiny stuff, but he's finally run out of the last of the money he originally raised and needs this from you so that he can move back in later."

"Move back in later?" said Votaire. "What in the hell are you talking about?"

"Oh, didn't we tell you?" says Cosy, obviously very excited now. "We are going to ask for that money again in a couple of months. We thought that this time you wouldn't be as short-sighted, mean-spirited, and stupid in looking at this situation as you have been in the past. We thought that this time you might see fit to give us what we want; in spite of the fact that we really don't have much of a plan, that the plan we have still really hasn't changed much and has you footing the bill for everything, and that you've already said no to this plan twice before. All of our plans would be in vain however, if we didn't take care of all of the stuff in the meantime, so..."

"Yeah, isn't this a great idea?" chimed in Finky and Blocky together (they seem to do that a lot for some reason). "You could give Cosy all of the money that he wants and he could go back home where we think he belongs. Then we could all live happily ever after."


Well of course, this is not anywhere near the end. In fact, it may be that we will never see the end of this story. After all, these are 3 very determined little pigs.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

I didn't want to do a post on this subject for a variety of reasons, but it seems that everything that I see and everything that I am reading leads me back to the subject. Bowing therefore, to the apparent inevitability and karma of the situation I will touch on the subject of Fathers. This will not be however, one of those sappy, sentimental postings that call for tissues and a Hallmark card. Nor will I be regaling you with tales of my own father and what he meant to me. That particular wound is still healing and I refuse to pick at the scab too often. I will instead drop a little cold, hard truth on you about fathers (or the lack thereof). 
  • 50% of children born to married parents will suffer through their parents’ divorce by age 18.
  • Almost 60% of black children, 32% of Hispanic children and 21% of white children are living in single-parent homes
  • Children who live apart from their fathers will account for 40% of incarcerated adults, 63% of teen suicides, 70% of juveniles in state-operated institutions, 71% of high-school dropouts, 75% of children in chemical-abuse centers, 80% of rapists, 85% of youths in prison, 85% of children who exhibit behavioral disorders, and 90% of homeless and runaway children.
  • About 8% of children in married-couple homes live at or below poverty level, while almost 40% of children in homes without fathers live below poverty level. The latter group risks a much higher incidence of serious child abuse or neglect.
And if that isn't enough to scare the bejeezus out of you, let me tell you that some of my recent reading tells me that it wasn't half as bad as this 10-15 years ago and that the situation seems to be getting worse almost exponentially. This dissolution of the basic family unit appears to be causing problems at every level of society. The education system, welfare system, and even the police departments of the US are being impacted directly by the lack of a father in far too many American families. This is no indictment of single mothers, who often operate in some of the most trying of circumstances; but more of the fathers who fail to care for the offspring that they produce.

Now I have to tell you that I don't consider myself to be one of the best male parental units to have hit the planet. Like far too many fathers in society today, I was too wrapped up in the career that I was pursuing to have been there as much as I should have been. Even today, and though I have a very good relationship with my 3 children, I wish that I was able to spend more time with them. Fortunately for me, there were two very good women involved with their lives (their mother, and in case of the children from my first marriage their step-mother), and they were able to take up the slack from my slacking.
Something must have worked however, because I couldn't be happier or more proud about the way that the three of them turned out. On top of what their moms were able to do, maybe I was able to pass on some of what my father taught me:
  • That honesty is the best policy, even if your only reward is that of self-respect.
  • That your word is your bond and everything else is just society's nonsense.
  • That if you work hard it will be rewarded, even if that reward is nothing more that knowing that you did your best.
  • That you will make mistakes in life, but they are rarely permanent and that it's usually easier to fix them than to admit to them.
OK, enough already. I said that this wasn't going to be one of those sappy Hallmark postings and I meant it. Go call your Dad and wish him a Happy Father's Day!
Note: Thanks to the Patriot Post for the startling statistics on this issue.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy Anniversay

I was looking at the calendar and realized that it has been exactly one year since I began committing this rather bizarre form of social suicide by submitting my written examples of random nonsense for your approval (I'll bet it seems like a lot longer to most of you). While I know that most of you continue to read these misguided efforts in a act of misplaced sympathy for this Village Idiot in Training, I appreciate it none the less.

For me, doing a blog has been both a treat and an inexpensive form of therapy. It has provided me with a venue to rattle on intermittably without noticably boring my friends and co-workers. It has provided me with a soapbox on which to stand and rail against the evils of society. It has provided me with a place to sit back and laugh at the human condition in general and myself in particular. It has even provided me with the chance to meet some very bright and intelligent people, both personally and through their comments. (Hell, it even got my picture in the Toledo Free Press.)

All of this has not come without a little fear and trepidation. While there are important issues out there that must be talked about and the blogosphere is a tremendous outlet for discussion and discernment, there are abuses of this medium going on out there. Lies, hate speech, and stupidity on a grand scale are out here as well, and attacks on bloggers in and out of the blogosphere are not unknown. Being a blogger who does not use a pen name could especially open me up to criticism or attack. I have to say that I have been treated universally well however, both by those who agree and disagree with me. Perhaps this is because much like the variety available on cable television, if you don't like what you see, you change the channel. Even when I do hear a dissenting opinion from those with divergent points of view and agendas from time to time, reasoned discussion usually occurs. I would suggest therefore, that most out here make an honest effort to supply useful information or educated and considered opinion. (For those of you now thinking that I fit into neither category, shame on you. While you are probably right, it's not nice to pick on a guy on his anniversary.)

Likewise I am grateful for the constant and regular exercise of my limited writing ability and the challenge to my creativity that this endeavor has pressed upon me. Even I can see some improvement as I look back over the last 52 weeks of effort (not that it would have taken much), and I am hoping that this will pay off as I attempt to work on some of the short story and novel ideas that have been rattling around my hard drive for some time now. They say that a person can never have too many sources of income, and it is my hopes that there are a few sheckles with my name on them out there as a reward for telling a good story. At the very least, such efforts should continue the improvements to the entries I make on this blog site as I go forward.

Now just so you think that I am not trying to make this posting all about me, let me tell you that I'm not the only one celebrating an anniversary of one kind or another this month. June is a big birthday month in the Higgins clan. I have a son who just turned 31 on the 7th, an Irish twin of a sister whose age is now the same as mine for just over a month (having turned so on the 9th), a new great niece that was born on the 10th, a grandson who will reach the ripe old age of 9 in just a couple of days on the 16th, a niece who adds another year while serving her country in the Army on the 19th, and a brother who would have turned 55 on the 30th. 

July and August are also months filled with birthdays and anniversaries involving sons and daughters with special days in both categories. I can only assume that long, cold Midwestern winters had something to do with this over the years, but that's just me. If nothing else however, these events ought to keep Hallmark in business another month or two.

Adding to this, I discovered the fact that there's a far more auspicious anniversary than my paltry 1st out there. Bushmills is celebrating their 400th anniversary, having been officially licensed by the British crown in 1608 by King James I (though it is believed that the English troops of King henry II enjoyed this product some 400 years earlier). Having sampled a more than a few glasses of fine Irish whiskey from these guys over the years, I can assure you that 800 years of practice in the distillers art has not been wasted.

So thanks for sharing the journey with me this last year. And as I take up my trusty keyboard to begin another year, I am reminded of the immortal words of one of my favorite authors, Robert Heinlein:
"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards."

Has anybody out there got some hand sanitizer?


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Put The Rock Down Stupid!

One of the few things in life that constantly surprises and annoys me is my fellow man's capacity for aggressive ignorance and stupidity. This ability (or perhaps more accurately liability) crosses all local, state, and even national borders and can be found in every race, creed, and color on the planet. Likewise, it's influence can be found in almost every phase of everyday life. Science and Religion, Finance and Politics, nothing can seem to escape its all-encompassing grasp.

Here in the US, there seem to be locations where this condition seems to affect larger percentages of the population (hot spots, if you will) to our joint detriment. Cities along the western coast of the United States for example, from Seattle to Los Angeles comprise one of these areas; with the areas surrounding the San Francisco Bay seeming to be a local focus for such behavior. (This can be no real surprise to anyone however, as the desire to live on an active seismic fault line can rarely be considered anything but stupid.) 

The level of stupidity seems to diminish as you move east through the country, with only a few concentrations of it in the mountains and the Midwest. Boulder seems to fit the bill in the high country, and unaccountably Toledo, Ohio seems to act as a magnet in the Midwest. The rest are easily identifiable, and tend to cluster in the vicinity of universities and state capitals. Stupidity again increases as the Atlantic Ocean approaches (Is there a relation between water and stupidity? Perhaps a government study is in order.), but the stupidity in the East is often overwhelmed by an appalling level of anger that seems to pervade this particular coast. (Perhaps the stupid people there are upset that they have no active fault lines, I don't know.)

The absolute Mecca of stupidity however is to be found on the East Coast, in Washington DC. Much like that city revered in the Muslim religion, stupid people who are able, often make a pilgrimage to this fountain of ignorance and stupidity. Many even give up valuable careers in the real world and spend a great deal of their own money in order to obtain positions of employment there, perhaps for no other reason than simply to be near what for them is hallowed ground. And it is in Washington that stupidity raises itself beyond any mere amateur standing and even beyond the professional level. No, it is only the all-stars who can play and survive in this league, and anything less is brutally weeded out every couple of years.

Now I would be loathe to mention any of this and quite frankly wouldn't care about such arcane practices and apparently misguided religious fervor except that the aggressive stupidity of those in Washington has had an increasing impact on my attempts to avoid stupidity in my own life. While I may be as guilty as the next man in my ignorance, I would like to hope that at least some of mine is inadvertent. With a few rare others that I know, I attempt to avoid acts of random stupid behavior that seem to plague society. 

This attempt, which is as difficult as tip-toeing through a mine field, would be a great deal easier if those reaching this "Elysium Field" of blissful ignorance were not randomly throwing rocks into the area around us as we made our weary way through life. The resultant detonations caused by this interference multiply and magnify the missteps that we are oh so carefully trying to avoid, and make choosing a clear path forward just that much more difficult. So hey, if you idiots want to hang together great, but the rest of us would really appreciate it if you could find ways to LEAVE US THE HELL ALONE!

Now as the coming election approaches, many of you are going to take up the challenge of voting and present a stupid person with the opportunity to fulfill their heart's desire. I won't ask you to keep them from going, but I will beg you on behalf of those of us continuing to make our way through life's demilitarized zone to try and maintain or slightly reduce the level of stupidity in DC as you make your choices (you know, kind of like reducing your carbon footprint to save the planet). And for God's sake, do what you can to keep them from picking up rocks as they go.

Stupidity cannot be cured with money, or through education, or by legislation. Stupidity is not a sin, the victim can't help being stupid. But stupidity is the only universal capital crime; the sentence is death, there is no appeal and execution is carried out automatically and without pity. - Robert Heinlein

One of my fellow bloggers has taken a different tack on this question, blaming karma instead of ignorance. I recommend its reading as a slightly different take on what many of us are beginning to recognize as an impending issue of major proportions.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Help, I've Borrowed And I Can't Get Up

I was going to put up a different posting for the weekend until I saw the Toledo Blade Editor of June 6th "Mortgage aid that would help" (unfortunately, I am not able to provide a link, as none was available for this editorial). Reading it set me off, and changed my plans. In it, the Blade makes the case for the bipartisan bill currently running through the Senate to place up to 500,000 additional mortgages back into play. The Blade seems to feel that it is all right that the lenders would take losses on these loans (after all, they are big business), in spite of the still largely unstable position of the financial industry. Instead, they agree that these mortgages should become government sponsored loans through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, who back many of the less speculative homes loans already. This would mean that these mortgages too would now be guaranteed by the American taxpayer.

I mention these less speculative loans because it appears that many of the troubled mortgages were indeed speculation. We need only to look at the case of Rep. Laura Richardson whose three homes and mortgages in California has recently come to light as a shining example of personal fiscal irresponsibility. She ended up defaulting on one of the mortgages, and is still negotiating on the other two properties with the lender, to whom she has not made a payment in some months. 

Set aside her case though, and we can note that some of these houses were purchased by "house flippers", people who purchase houses in marginal condition with the idea of improving the property over a period of mere weeks and selling them at a profit (you may have even seen some of them on TV). Many more of these homes were purchased by people "gambling" on the continuing growth in housing prices and buying much more home than they needed or could afford to purchase. Now with the economy in peril and housing prices down by an average of over 10%, both of these groups find themselves on the wrong side of a market swing and are finding it difficult to make the payments required or sell the properties that they gambled on.

Now just to prove that I am not the heartless and cruel bastard that I appear to be, I will concede that their are people legitimately caught in a situation in which they did no wrong. Loss of a job, an unexpected reduction of income level, or simply personal circumstance has placed the homes of some people in peril. I can only say that while they have my sympathy, they do not however, have a right to my support. (OK, maybe I am a heartless bastard after all.)

My question here is "What's Next"?

Maybe I recently bought a large SUV? The vehicle wasn't cheap to start with and now gas is getting awfully expensive to feed this beast. As a consequence I am now on the edge of financial disaster. Will the government guarantee my car loan or force the lender or dealer to renegotiate?

Maybe I have recently purchased a new big screen TV, a surround sound system, and some comfy chairs to sit in while watching and listening to these two marvels of modern technology. My credit card debt is now becoming quite alarming, I am barely capable of making minimum payments, and with the high interest rates on credit cards, I am sinking deeper in debt every day. Will the government force the banks to give me a lower interest rate or renegotiate the balance on my account?

I know, we are not talking about a TV or a car, we are talking about putting some poor family out on the street. (Well, as the examples listed above have shown, this is what we are doing in at least some cases.) Unfortunately for the the emotional side of this argument, the principle that I have logically established remains the same. What about the people who bought houses and are making their payments, are they deserving of no help because they are meeting their obligations? What about people who haven't bought a house and are living in rental properties, don't they have the right to government help to buy something and join in the game?

If government is obligated to step in for a home loan, then the rest of this is simply quibbling about where we draw the line in the sand. For me, I chose to draw it on the side of no government involvement in the first place. The government that the Founding Fathers designed for us guarantees us an opportunity to succeed, not a guarantee of success. Unless we all draw the line and stop this continuing drive towards government interference and control, there is a great deal more pain and heartache to look forward to.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Things That Make You Go Hmmm ... #1

In the spirit of Monty Python (even the late Graham Chapman), Stephen Wirght, the late Douglas Adams (author of the Hithchiker's Guide to the Galaxy), and all things ridiculous, I am adding another of what I hope will become periodic but regular features to the postings that I use for education and enlightenment on the readers of this blog site. The sole purpose of this bit nonsense is to make you scratch your head (and perhaps chuckle) over the illogical extremes to which the English language can be taken. I hope that you enjoy these as much as I do.
  • If ignorance is bliss, why aren’t more people happy?
  • Why does you nose run and your feet smell?
  • Why do we put suits in a garment bag and garments in a suitcase?
  • Why are goods sent by vehicle called shipments and goods sent by ship called cargo?
  • Why do they call it quicksand when you actually sink into it very slowly?
  • What if there were no such things as hypothetical situations?
  • Would sign makers be scabs if while on strike they wrote something on their picket signs?
  • If absence makes the heart grow fonder, are people who have never met in love?
  • If you’re not supposed to drink and drive, why do they sell beer and wine at gas stations?
  • If you try to fail and succeed, what have you done?

I don't know about you, but I want some answers!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Reasoned Discussion = George Will

Tonight I was lucky enough while channel surfing to catch an interview that Charlie Rose did on Public Television (WGTE) with George Will. All I can say is WOW! Now you should understand up front that I have been a fan of Mr. Will for a number of years, and watch the ABC Sunday show only to hear him match wits with his colleagues and discuss the issues of the day. Having him one-on-one with Charlie Rose however, was a special treat for me.

For those of you looking with some dismay, some confusion, and some trepidation at the world around us; let me tell you that George Will may be one of the clearest thinkers that we have today. Oh there are and have been others, Walter Williams is one, the late William F. Buckley was another. Like these other gentlemen, George Will manages to hit the big three in my book:

1. He is a clear thinker with a rare understanding of the world. He is a man firmly rooted in American principles and with an abiding love and respect for the Constitution.

2. He is an excellent writer in a day when the written word is often taken for granted. His writing challenges his readers to follow his train of thought, and his ability to turn a phrase is second to none.

3. He is a good verbal communicator. Many who have either, or even both of the qualities listed above are not able to communicate them effectively verbally. Mr. Will not only does that, but usually carries the day in debate with those of contrary opinion. He does this not by raised volume or rude interruption, but simply by presenting opinion backed with factual data and historic reference.

He spoke tonight, defining his job as "Reasoned Discussion". It is a job that he does very well. For those of you with limited exposure to his wit and wisdom, there are a number of books that Mr. Will has written. Simpler still is accessing the columns he writes for the Washington Post.

I highly recommend dipping heavily into this deep well of knowledge.