Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Lighter Side - Update III

This word just in... Wal-Marts in Alabama and Mississippi have completely sold out of Ammunition. Locals have been quoted as saying, "Them Russians may have gotten Georgia, but they ain't gettin' us." Further updates will be made as news becomes available from the scene.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Russians Are Coming

The Russian Are Coming, but not in the way that you think. We need not fear that Alan Arkin will be leaving a submarine that's run aground to try and figure out a way for he and his pals to escape a small coastal village. Neither are we talking about the "evil empire" of the Reagan days which kept us on the brink of nuclear destruction. No, what we have here is much better organized, better funded, and more dangerous.
The threat that I am talking about is from a group that you have probably never heard of before, the Russian Business Network

I know that this group sounds innocuous enough, but in fact the RBN is a multi-faceted cybercrime organization that has generated revenues of up to $150,000,000 in one year through its machinations. Like a modern day cyber-Mafia, they engage in the use of free downloads of bogus anti-spyware or anti-malware programs. These free downloads immediately notify the user of further bogus active threats which can only be corrected by purchasing more extensive versions. (I know, this is a scam and illegal, but hardly justifies my dire warnings, but read on.)

In addition to this fairly straight forward scam, this group is singled out as one of the worst at hosting sites participating in spamming, child pornography, and other cyber crimes. Providing secure web hosting for the sites of many of the worst offenders, they provide an environment where such crimes can thrive. Experts at covering their tracks and at hiding their own financial dealings, this group operates all but anonymously except to those in the cyber world. They also act as a "cyber-murder for hire" organization, targeting businesses and even countries by performing "denial of service attacks"; and to go with it, a protection racket selling protection against their own nefarious operations.

Now I know that we are all concerned with the recent situation in Georgia, and the incursion of the Russian military. Any attack on a country attempting to operate under a democracy (and as one of America's few allies) should be of great concern to us. With access to oil revenues that Russia has these days and a resurgence of many of the old hard-liners in positions of power, I fear that we may see even more of this coming. I fear that this may not be the greatest threat that this country presents however. The Russian government has always had a strong relationship with it's own criminal element. It has used that partnership to generate hard currency, perpetrate the government's agenda, and subvert Russia's enemies. It appears that this is the case with the RBN as well. 

Cyber crime is an attack that crosses no borders, and that no distance or geography can protect us from however. It's perpetrators can sit safely behind their own borders and attack us from a position of complete safety. As a consequence, it may present an even greater threat in the long run as society comes to rely on the Internet for more of its every day operation. We need all be on our guard against such an attack on our freedom if our way of life is to survive.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The "Stuck On Stupid" Toledo Dictionary #7

It has been a while since any words have been added to the "Stuck On Stupid" Dictionary of words and expressions in Toledo, Ohio, but this is merely the fault of your humble writer. There has been plenty going on, and there are in fact a few entries which need to be added. Here they are:  


1. What other city administrators should take when one of the Mayor's schemes blows up in his face.  

Legal Fees:  

1. Something that in the city of Toledo are growing exponentially and which are fast becoming one the largest components of its operating budget.  


1. Someone convicted previously of committing a grave crime and therefore considered to be of undesirable reputation. 
2. Someone considered of suitable reputation to handle major city contracts and run high profile events in city owned properties.  

Convenience Store:

1. A small market that is held to be convenient for everyone but the owner.  
2. A Hotbed of crime in the city of Toledo that must be unconstitutionally regulated into either statute violation or bankruptcy.


Final Weekend Of Tourist Season

Labor Day weekend is the traditional end of Summer Vacation, and as such the last recognized weekend of Tourist Season. For those of you who have not yet bagged your full quota of Tourists during this year's time frame, it is recommended that you make every effort to do so before the end of the day Monday, September 1, 2008.  

Enforcement of these deadlines is expected to be extremely strict this year, and fines are expected to be heavy for those found in violation of the applicable statutes.  

(Those still in need of the required tags will find them still available at the normal retail outlets.)


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Yes Virginia, There Is A Chris Redfern

Going over the Chris Redfern (Chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party) interview with Fred Lefebvre yesterday on Toledo radio station 1370 WSPD; I was amused, shocked, and finally outraged. Then I realized what my problem was ... I was a cynic.  

My epiphany came when I was able to make the connection in my head to the story from the New York Sun in 1897 by Francis P Church titled "Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus". It reminded me once again of a simpler time in my life, when I believed in Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. These were the days when my only responsibility was to get good grades in school and have fun. All of the financial obligations of my life were up to my parents. My father worked hard to make sure that we had a roof over our head, food was on the table, and that our family was properly clothed. My mother worked equally hard to take care of that home, take care of her family, and instill a sense of order and discipline in the hooligans that I and my siblings were. And on Sundays when the family went to church, even we children dropped envelopes in the collection plate to help those less fortunate.  

As I grew older, I came to realize that Santa, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy were in fact, my parents. Not only were they there to instill a sense of responsibility in their children, but also to reinforce the sense of magic and wonder in the world that we had in the process. They did this I am sure, out their own sense of personal responsibility and their love for us. In those days I didn't attend church quite so regularly any more, but I still found ways to help those less fortunate. (After all, we were the Woodstock Generation.)  

These days I am grown up (OK not so much, but go with me on this). In this grown up world, I have gone through the process of filling those same roles and attempting to do the same things for my children that my parents did for me. I even found time to contribute to the spoiling of my grandchildren. I do this out of the sense of responsibility that I was given, and that I like to think that I have passed on to my children. The values of my youth and upbringing stay with me, as does my desire to help those less fortunate. Even when times are tough, I continue to try and give to worthy organizations for the betterment of my fellow man.

Mr. Redfern has quite a different view of the world. In his view there is no longer such a thing as personal responsibility (at least none that can be counted on). In his world all responsibilities are and should be placed in the hands of the government. The government is supposed to become all of those things (Santa, Easter Bunny, etc.) to all people because he is concerned that I can no longer be counted on to be responsible. In his world the government will likewise dispense all required charity to those in need.  The only responsibility that I apparently have left (one enforced at the point of a gun), is to continue to work in order to pay the crushing taxes that will be required, out of which all of this largesse will be dispensed by the government. 

I could be wrong (and often am), but I believe that the definition of charity involves the "voluntary" giving of time, material, or money to those less fortunate. But charity and responsibility seem to be lacking in the vocabulary of Mr. Redfern. They have been replaced by government programs, bureaucracy, and paperwork. All of the current charity going on in the world by individuals, churches, and non-profit organizations is apparently meaningless in Mr. Redfern's world, because it is not mandated or dispensed by government. 

There is a word that defines the practices that Mr. Redfern advocates however, and it is socialism. This word, defined as "political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods" pretty accurately pins down the type of charity that Mr. Redfern understands, enthusiastically advocates, and which I should feel good about myself for participating in.

So yes Virginia, there is a Chris Redfern. He is the personification of the modern progressive government version of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and yes even parents and the random Charitable Giver. He is the symbol of the only one those less fortunate should count on. You may sleep safer tonight knowing it (and he) are there.

Oh by the way Chris, you may want to check in with your presidential candidate on some of this when you get a chance. He has been preaching personal responsibility to fathers and families a lot lately.   I'm just sayin' ...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fractured Fairy Tales - The Emperor's New Clothes

Yes boys and girls, it's time once again for another of these unique fables of our times (well, kind of anyway). This tale, like most of the others, should really need no introduction. So let's not waste any time and get right to it ...

Once upon a time, there was a ruler known simply "The Gov". Now The Gov liked to hold a parade that he nicknamed "the election" every couple of years (with bigger parades every 4 years) where he would smile a lot of smiles, shake a lot of hands, and kiss a lot of babies. As part of this bi-annual event, The Gov used to let the people of the kingdom send him the clothes that he would wear while walking the parade route. The people took this form of parade financing very seriously and rather enjoyed participating in so personal a way in the process. Neighborhoods, trade guilds, and even the local businesses would compete with each other by carefully selecting what they were going to send in the hopes of getting some special notice from the Gov.

One day, two tailors by the name of McCain and Feingold came to town. They listened to the story of the semi-annual parade and the clothing competition and were appalled. Such a system had to be rife with graft and chicanery, and as such must be ended immediately. So they went to The Gov to see if they could impose a more fair system of clothing financing (at least in their minds) and set things right. Knowing that changing tradition is often difficult, they realized that they would probably have to approach this change gradually. (Can you say incremental ism?)

"The shirt," they said, "is the most important thing that you wear. As such, it's simply not fair to let the people spend their 'hard' earned money and not achieve the desired access to you. Besides, the businesses can afford more than other people and that gives them an unfair advantage. So what we propose is to limit the amount of money that can be spent and let everyone send us the money. We will make your shirt."

"That seems fair," said the Gov, and that's how he decreed it.
Having gotten this far in their plans, McCain and Feingold soon approached The Gov again.

"The pants, when you think about it," they said "are just as important, and must match the shirt besides. Now a lot of people are trying to get around the shirt rules imposed by contributing to the pants. This is just as unfair, though the approach here is more of a 'soft' one than that used for the shirt. We think that there should be limits on this too in the true spirits of fairness. So we should limit the contributions on the pants and have them send the money in to us. We will make the pants as well."

"When you're right, you're right," The Gov replied. "See that it's done." ... and it was.

Now having all but achieved their goal, the two approached the ruler a final time.

"Gov," they said (they were long since on a first name basis). "No outfit is complete without a proper jacket. And with the fairness imposed by the previous restrictions for the shirt and pants, shouldn't we do something about the last loophole in the system? Shouldn't we do something about how the 'issue' of this jacket money is handled?"

"Goodness," The Gov replied. "How could I have missed this? Of course we will change this 'issue' of money for the jacket and fairness will thereby be assured."

Time passed, the day of the parade finally arrived. The Gov. was dressed by his two "Tailors of Fairness"; and to his amazement, The Gov discovered that all three garments; shirts, pants and jacket were all see-through. Now this seemed a bit strange, so he questioned his tailors about the nature of his attire. How could there be all of these new rules, how could all of this money be coming in, and nothing of substance emerge?

"That's the beauty of the system," they replied. "The Gov should have no secrets. The new fairness that has been brought to the process of clothing selection assures that all parts of The Gov will be visible. This of course, is as it should be. The fact that all of this money is now being regulated and dispensed by us is simply a bureaucratic necessity, and you shouldn't worry your head about it."

Embarrassed over his apparent lack of understanding of so simple a concept, The Gov finished dressing and entered the streets to begin the parade. He soon discovered that he wasn't the only one embarrassed however. You see, The Gov was never very attractive to look at and it was only the participation that the people had in influencing his raiment that made the process (and The Gov's appearance) bearable. It was likewise this freedom of expression in influencing the very nature of The Gov that made the parade worth having. The more The Gov walked on the route, the more the parade became a disaster; with fewer smiles on the faces of the people or The Gov (Would you be smiling if everyone could see through your clothes?), many shunning the offered handshakes, and no self-respecting mother holding her baby forth for kissing by what they could see walking down the street.

Attendance is going down at the parade these days, though the two tailors seem to be happy enough. While the clothing choice method may or may not be more fair than it was, people find that when they aren't going to get to fully participate in the process, why show up for the party at all.


Our newly arrayed election process is happily parading itself in the streets of the country these days under the McCain-Feingold legislation, and the results are anything but satisfying (0r pretty). These new clothes are anything but fair, and the very politicians who sought their implementation are now seeking new ways around them. The story above hints at the madness of the past and the next round of "fairness" lying ahead, with legislators feeling that only the government can properly dispense the money if elections are to be truly fair.

These new clothes provide less protection and less Freedom of Expression that they were supposed to, and less than is guaranteed us in the Constitution; but we are asked to ignore that in the name of "fairness". And as for the amount of money being spent, it's even greater than it was before these so-called protections were put in place. The ugly truth of the matter (which is fairly easy to see through to) is that this kind of "fairness" is anything but.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

X-Rated Televison

  This is now Day 2 of the Democratic Convention in Denver, and I had a number of calls last night asking if I had watched, or was watching the coverage. 

Conservative friends were convinced that I would have something insulting, derogatory, or simply amusing to say about the nonsense that is typical of political conventions. Liberal friends (yes, I do have some) were looking for me to have seen the light and admit the error of my ways. 

As I so often do with my friends, I disappointed them. You see, I didn't watch any of the 1st night coverage. I don't intend to watch the 2nd night, nor any subsequent nights of the coverage. I further do not intend to watch any of the coverage of the Republican Convention in Minneapolis / St Paul.

Now you would think that I would watch both conventions, using them as a source for the nonsense that I regularly put forward here. While I am sure that they would indeed provide a target rich environment, I do not consider this blog to be a political blog, in spite of the fact that I post on political subjects from time to time. I further consider the modern political convention to be a "made for TV" event (part reality show, part awards show), staged by a political party for the purpose of self-aggrandizement. As such, it could be more clearly defined as a form of political self-stimulation with a goal of political ecstasy as its result. (You know, masturbation. OK, I said it.)  While I have nothing in particular against the concept of such soft-core porn, I like to keep it separated from my politics.

I will therefore not be commenting on the large scale "circle jerks" staged by either party in the coming weeks. If you need me, I will be looking for a good movie to watch in the evening, even if I have to play all of my old DVD's.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Presidential Legacy

We are very near the election of a new president and the end of yet another presidency in the United States. I am sure that thoughts have turned already in the White House to funding for a presidential library, arranging secret service details for the outgoing chief, and of course the presidential retirement. 

Not that George W Bush appears to need the $161,200 that he will receive annually, or the funding that he will receive for an office and staff to assemble his papers and help to document his “presidential legacy”. He was doing fairly well before he took office, as is the rest of his family, and I expect that this retirement funding will not affect his lifestyle. 

Perhaps in spite of this, Mr. Bush will choose the Clinton path, and a future of speaking engagements around the world that earn him millions of dollars; making any retirement fund superfluous. These post-presidential corporate engagements have so placed the Clintons that they need probably never worry about their future income. (Besides, there is always Hilary’s senatorial retirement to factor in.)  

I find this interesting when compared to another former president, who earned $13,507.72 per year upon leaving office, his army pension. When Congress realized that he was writing his own letters, and buying and licking his own stamps, they granted him an allowance for office expenses and a retroactive $25,000 per year pension. This president, when offered positions on corporate boards, spoke plainly and declined saying, “You don’t want me. You want the office of the president, and that doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the American people and it’s not for sale.” 

Later still in his life, when Congress was preparing to award him the Congressional Medal of Honor on his 87th birthday, he refused further honor writing, “I don’t consider that I have done anything which should be the reason for any reward, Congressional or otherwise.” 

We should bless the memory of the man who once said, “My choice early in life was either to be a piano player in a whorehouse or a politician. And to tell the truth, there’s hardly any difference.” We should thank providence that we were lucky enough to be led by a man of keen insight, excellent judgment, and rapier wit; and hope that our current leaders learn something from his example. We should honor the memory of … Harry S Truman.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Curse of Language

With the current loss of good manners in our society, a subject which I've talked about in an earlier post on the end of civilization, one thing that I didn't touch on is one near and dear to my heart ... language. There is little doubt that language has been degraded in a number of ways in recent years. I'm not talking about slang here, which has always been part of the vernacular, and most of which has either fallen away over time as useless or absorbed into general usage. Neither am I talking about street talk, which is a problem of its own and probably better dealt with in a separate posting. No, what I am talking about here is the proliferation swearing that has now become an acceptable form of communication.

Back in the old days, the late George Carlin used to talk about the "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television".
You still can't say those words on Network television, but they have certainly made their way into cable. George himself used them on an HBO special or two over the years. Radio, like broadcast TV, still has the FCC looking over their shoulder and issuing both rulings and fines in a vain attempt to maintain a modicum of decorum, but mostly in vain. Their rules have been modified over the years so many times that what would have drawn that agency's ire only a few years ago are now heard on the air regularly. (Besides, they are a government agency and therefore models of a lack of consistency or common sense.) As for the use of such language on the Internet, you have only the limits of your imagination as to what's OK. Even here in the blogging world the level of swearing is up to the writer / moderator / editor of the blog. They not only control the language used in their own postings, but the level of cursing that will be tolerated in the comments.

Don't get me wrong. I am far from a saint in this regard. I was taught to swear while still in my teens by a boss whose every other word was a more than a little off-color. George was an inspiration in my impressionable youth of creative cursing (and a generally belligerent outlook on life), and in switching gears as I went from what was permissible language at work to what was permissible at home. Heck, cursing was cool, having the combined qualities of being forbidden, dangerous, and obscene (everything a teenage boy could ask for). Even as a young adult, swearing was a significant part of my life. I was working every day with machinery that was attempting to devour me a little bit at a time (it actually got a piece at one point). When not cursing the equipment that was supposed to be providing me with a living for failing to perform to my expectations, I was cursing my fate to any who would listen over the wounds that this equipment inflicted upon me.

I find these days that the fires of my youth have somewhat cooled and I have little or no use for such language. Good behavior and good manners have disappeared from so many aspects or our lives that I find myself clinging to those few that remain. This doesn't make me better than others, just different (and probably older). Neither does this doesn't mean that the need for demonstrative expression doesn't come to me from time to time, but that I now seek a different outlet. Instead of profanity, I normally attempt to use something more clever to express my thoughts (sometimes failing miserably). Instead of calling someone a "bastard" as an example, I state instead that "their parents were never married". Instead of saying the "shit hit the fan", I say that the "natural fertilizer hit the oscillating rotator". Admittedly it isn't much, but it makes me smile and does help to pass the time.

Perhaps we can all try to be a little more creative in expressing ourselves. Words, do in fact, mean things; and the need to choose them more carefully is something that we all should be concerned with. Language is one of the things that supposedly separates us from the beasts (and can be a lot of fun). We need to revel in that separation and take advantage of it. We need to find ways to express ourselves without losing the constructs of polite society and common decency. We need to abandon the "Curse of Language".

(... and for those of you who disagree with me, up yours) :-)

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Lighter Side - Update II

I was sent this as an email response to the recent postings on the Russian incursion into Georgia. It was such a classic that I had to add it to the discussion.


Things That Make You Go Hmmm #4

It's Friday and for no other reason that I am in a particularly inquisitive mood, it's time once again for things that make you go hmmm. I can't help it that like Johnny 5 of "Short Circuit" fame, I have "questions, queries, posers". So once again I'm going to put some of them out there in the hope of gaining additional insight in my life.
  • Can fat people go skinny dipping?
  • Why do fat chance and slim chance mean the same thing?
  • If Wile E. Coyote had enough money for all of that stuff from Acme, why didn't he just order a take-out meal.
  • If you were in a vehicle going the speed of light, what would happen if you turned on the headlights?
  • If the Universe is everything and the Universe is expanding, what is it expanding into?
  • Do fish get cramps from going into the water less than an hour after eating?
  • Why are there five syllables in monosyllabic?
  • If all of the world's a stage, who is the audience and where are they sitting?
  • Why does a round pizza come in a square box?
  • How do you avoid working the graveyard shift at a cemetery?
  • If firefighters fight fires and crime fighter fight crime, what do freedom fighter fight?
I'll be waiting to hear the answers. I know that "the Truth is out there".

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Biting The Hand That Feeds Me

I have found myself once again, criticizing a part of the newspaper industry for failing in its mission. Since I earn my living by supplying some of the equipment that connects the printing press with the loading dock to these purported purveyors of information, I can't help but wonder if my behavior is somewhat counter-productive. 

In point of fact however, I care a great deal about the industry that I have been a part of now for more than 30 years. Not only do I have an abiding (and purely selfish) desire to see it survive, if not thrive as it has in the past ( for at least another 15-20 years anyway); I have a great deal of respect for many of the people that I have met and worked with over that period. Maybe that's why I find these almost constant examples of abuse of basic journalistic principles so disturbing.
  • News is news, and opinion is opinion; and editors at newspapers are the gatekeepers to insure that it remains that way.
  • Editorial opinion is the right of a newspaper owner and editor, but like all rights, it should be tempered by limits. Loose facts and slanted reporting are well outside of those limits.
  • A newspaper (and its owner) are supposed to serve the community, not the other way around.
  • A newspaper is supposed to be the watchdog of politics, not a player in it nor manipulator of it.
Lest anyone think that I am being in any way courageous or heroic with voicing such comments, let me quickly reassure you that I am anything but. First, the readership of this blog is not so great that I need be concerned about my impact on world events, nor lose a night's sleep over becoming the target of some mad stalker. (In point of fact, I believe that my readers are mostly friends and family, with a few "sympathy" readers who plod through my meanderings in a benighted sense of guilt for some past misdeeds of their own.) The fact that my opinion carries but a tiny fraction of the weight that my shoes do every day therefore reassures me of my safety and provides a sense of well-being.

You might begin to wonder whether my cowardice therefore explains why I am mentioning no specifics in this case that has drawn my current ire. The reasons that I am stating for not doing so are two-fold however:
  1. The problem is symptomatic of the entire industry these days to some extent. Pointing out one more specific example serves no purpose except to bring a cult of personality into the conversation.
  2. I am an abject coward with just barely enough common sense to refuse to insult my customers too much or in particular before I attempt to do further business with them (see, I admitted it).
Besides, those in my local area have been recently inundated with these "facts" and "stories" and know them too well. Those of you who are not will probably be grateful that I will not bore you with the local nonsense, nor dignify these stories by repeating them.

In an industry consumed by self-congratulation and awards handed out by the score within their peer group, perhaps newspapers should think about returning to the aspirations that they seem to hold so dear. Perhaps then, the term "journalistic integrity" would not become a the joke that it seems to be in the present, nor a term capable only of being applied in the historical sense. The truth of the matter is that there aren't many reporters left in the newspaper world (or anywhere else). You would think that those still gainfully employed as such might want to do a better job. You would think that the same could be said of their editors and owners. As for the current local situation in my most recent of hometowns, let me finish by saying this:

"Be careful about throwing stones at other kids when you live in the "Glass City". The damage done can be horrendous, and the breakage may injure more than those you desire."

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Surfing Security

My eyes were recently opened by an article that my son sent me on the Security of the Internet. Now when Sean sends me this kind of information on the subject of computing, I have to take it seriously. He works as a team leader in support of the server technology for a large banking firm (that I should probably not mention for fear of getting him in trouble)

His knowledge of computers is extensive (he built the one that I am typing this on), his knowledge of the technology of servers and the Internet is extensive, and he works for a financial institution that has him working long hours to help make their sites more secure. (He also plays a mean game of World of Warcraft, and often helps his feeble old man's attempts at such endeavors.)  

It seems that once again, Mankind's reach has exceeded his grasp with respect to the technology that he counts on for his daily existence. Only this time it has to do with the security of the entire Internet that is used for financial transactions of one type or another (Oh yeah, and the fact that they are mostly keeping it a secret). It appears that the Internet was never actually designed to do many of the things that are an everyday part of the lives of us who shop and bank using the World Wide Web (hence the www designation)

The DNS system, invented in 1983, was simply never designed to be secure enough for all of what we are now using it for. I am not talking about the security of the computer that you currently use and attempt to guard through the use of firewalls and virus protection software (though that is still certainly a concern). No, I'm talking about the security of the very web addresses that we send passwords, credit card numbers, and other personal information to on a regular basis. 

In the description of one of the companies making software to fix the problem, we are playing Russian Roulette by putting that information out there. What's more, even the fix that they are currently offering merely takes this to “playing Russian roulette with a gun that has 100 bullet chambers instead of six.” Take heart however. There appears to be a better, and more long term solution is in the works. 

A system known as DNSSEC is not only on the horizon, but has already been adopted by the governments of Sweden and Puerto Rico for their web addresses. It is an encryption based system of site identification that would dramatically improve the confidence that information being sent to a site would go only to that site.  

Meanwhile, there is another version being worked on by a Professor Bernstein at the University of Illinois who claims to have found a system that circumvents the these issues. Neither change however, appears to be imminent. Meanwhile, as in most other things in life "Let the Buyer Beware" (or in this case, the user).  

By the way, though appearances belie it, I am in fact an exiled Liberian prince. If you will only send me $1,000.00 to free capital that is currently tied up in the international banking world, I can promise you a return of 50% interest. If you don't have cash, just send me a credit card and social security number. (Hey, Just Kidding ...)


Friday, August 15, 2008

The Lighter Side - Update

It occurs to me, when thinking about our handling of the Russian "invasion" (I can find no other word for it) to be reminded of the way the Patriots fighting the Revolutionary War must have felt about the French. 

The fact that the French seemed to have brokered the current cease fire brings that home even more. Here they were, fighting for not only their lives; but for the very future of their country, seeking only the freedom to create and maintain a democratically elected government in the face of tyranny. Promises of help had been given and accepted, but most of what had been received was no more than lip service. 

I don't know what the answer is here, as I am not a trained diplomat, but surely there must be something more to be done by the US and the rest of the world. Quite frankly, the way that the United States is treating this freedom loving people in the face of this oppression makes me feel dirty. (Fortunately being American, I maintain the option of taking a bath.)


Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Lighter Side ...

Sometimes, no matter how hard that we try, there are connections that you cannot keep from making in your head. I have had one of those a couple of days ago while multi-tasking in the evening and listening to the news headlines without really paying attention. 

Suddenly I realized that someone had just said that the Russians had invaded Georgia. Now having moved back north from a small town about 60 miles southwest of Atlanta relatively recently, I couldn't help the thought that popped into my head: "Damn, that's a shame. I used to live there!"  

Quickly catching myself and recognizing the implications of what I was hearing and thinking, the next thought never the less naturally followed: "They better watch out, those folks don't much care for Yankees let alone Commies; and a fair number of them have guns and know how to use them." 

(Yeah I know, seriously twisted ...) I should make sure that it is noted for the record that I was treated exceptionally well during my time in Georgia, and find that I often miss it (especially during the winter).

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Value of Democracy

This being an election year, we are confronted once again by candidates for office standing before a microphone and talking about Values; or more specifically, either "Family Values" or "American Values". No one seems to want to define exactly what these values are or why we should want them to have them, but they want to make sure that you understand that they believe in them. 

Now you may think that such discussions and debates have been going on forever in politics, but this is actually a fairly recent development. Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb (yes, that's her real name) tells us that it began in 1983 in England when Margaret Thatcher embraced the accusation that she favored Victorian Values. She of course won that election, and doomed the rest of history through her success. The doom that Prime Minister condemned us to was visited upon us by conceding the use of the word Value in the discussion, when in fact what she favored was Victorian Virtues. Words do mean things after all, and Value does not have the correct meaning in this regard. In fact, the closest that the dictionary comes is: ... something (as a principle or quality) intrinsically valuable or desirable Virtue on the other hand, means something entirely different:

... a commendable quality or trait
... a particular moral excellence  

A Value, while something that may be even considered desirable, is something that has no judgment attached to it for the individual or for society. In fact, anything can be a value regardless of where it fits on the moral compass. For example, Greed, Avarice, and Selfishness can be said to be values, but I think we can agree that none of these traits are something to be aspired to. 

Both Thomas Jefferson and Stalin had a set of values, but I suspect that few would judge the values of these two men to be of equal worth. A Virtue, on the other hand, is something that should be weighed by the judgment of the individual and of society. Traits like Self-sufficiency, Charity, and Self-sacrifice are things that we can all agree are not only values, but worthy aspirations. They are the inspirations upon which the United States was founded, the qualities that we admire greatly in our Founding Fathers, and the traits that we celebrate in great leaders and individuals down through history. 

We have likewise taken some of the meaning out of another word that is key in this discussion, Democracy. We have taken any moral or ethical judgment out of this word when using it as an adjective (especially in defining the afore mentioned Values). In our haste to remain what we choose to call democratic in our judgments of Values we have allowed ourselves to establish a moral relativity on the subject, where every Value is equal in the eyes of society. In this egalitarian paradise, we have not only eliminated Evil from our frame of reference; but any notion of Good as well. In an act of almost national cowardice, we have allowed a moral equivalency to prevent us from calling anything Right or Wrong, Good or Bad, Virtuous or Evil. If all Values are viewed as equal in the eyes of this democratic society, then there can in fact be no Good and Evil. 

It's time to re-establish the concept of Virtues vs Values in the political discussion and in America as a whole. It's time that we make some kind of a judgment on the range of values and decide what it is that we believe in, and what inspires us. We also need our candidates to step away from the concept of non-judgmental Values of recent history and tell us what Virtues that they aspire to for themselves, and for the country. 

Now they say that in writing, brevity is a virtue (It is also the sole of wit and the essence of lingerie), so I should probably wind this up. The next time you hear a candidate talk about "Family Values" or "American Values" however, I would challenge you to substitute Virtues in its place. Then listen to the rest of what that candidate says and judge for yourself whether the principles they are talking about are something that the country should aspire to. Ask yourself carefully whether these Values are indeed Virtues. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Quote of the Day

Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged.

– Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Fractured Fairy Tale - The Finkas Touch

Yes boys and girls, once again it's time for Fractured Fairy Tales, and another fable of times and occurrences that may in fact never have happened (and as such carry no legal liability). But let's not keep our story waiting ...

Once upon a time long ago, there was kingdom known as Toodlededoo, which was ruled by a "Man Who Would Be King" by the name of Finkas (no insult intended to the Rudyard Kipling book and certainly not to the Sean Connery / Michael Caine movie which I happen to love). Finkas was not the wisest of leaders, nor was he particularly beneficent in his dealings with his fellow man (or animal for that matter). In fact, Finkas was not a good ruler at all. Unfortunately for the citizens of Toodledeedoo, Finkas was a bit of a tyrant whose only care in the rule of his subjects was ... Finkas.

Now in those days, there were many strange and magical powers wandering the world (no, I don't mean Unions ... and stop trying to change the subject). These powers sought justice for and the general betterment of mankind, and were not without a sense of humor in their attempts to achieve it. They often set forth examples to illustrate what good behavior was or how to exercise the proper use of power. One day, one of them took notice of this petty tyrant in Toodledeedo and decided to grant him a very special power in order to teach him a lesson. It was because of this rather unique gift that Finkas was granted the ability to turn anything that he touched into natural fertilizer
(crap, for those who choose to be obtuse).

From then on no matter what the project was, once Finkas touched it, it turned into an odoriferous mass that no one wanted to be near. From classic old apartment buildings to museums, from public markets to bike paths; nothing was beyond his power to convert into a malodorous mass once he his hands were laid upon it. Even if a project were seemingly perfect for his land, combining housing and shopping, and with the scenic river of Tooledeedoo as a setting, it attained a monstrous stench from his contact and kept the money lenders of the day (often accused of their own foul odor) from looking with favor upon it.

Finkas, completely unaware of this baneful power blundered on, though its effects and his constantly failing efforts were a certainly a vexation to him. Convinced in spite of the results achieved that he was operating for the greater good (his own) he continued to plow forward, becoming more angry and frustrated as each new application of his unrecognized power manifested itself. Loud tirades were often heard from the top of the tower where the self-serving Finkas ruled, and more than one of his minions suffered abuse, or even bruises from the frustrations of this miscreant ruler and the power that he possessed. Soon, even many companions of old began to draw away, fearful that the stench that now pervaded the air around Finkas would likewise become attached to them.

Great fear (and smell) pervaded the land of Toodledeedoo, as the citizens began to realize their fate under Finkas' rule. A blight had settled on the land, and many merchants and craftsmen fled, fearing for both their lives and livelihoods. Opportunities which once constantly presented themselves for the betterment of the local citizenry dwindled, as it became apparent that they were fated only to die and leave the stench of putrefaction behind. All attempts to circumvent the ruler failed, as his presence and power inevitably intruded itself and wreaked its noxious effect. Remaining blind in recognizing himself as the crux of the problem, Finkas only became more compulsive in this interference in the name of assistance (and in the hopes of gaining credit for any success that might be achieved). Of course these additional frenzied efforts could only make things (and the smell) even worse.

In the end, it is thought that all but the cursed ruler himself abandoned the once fair Toodledeedoo leaving it as an empty, rotting shell; with only the smell and the flies to remember it by. Its buildings stood crumbling, like the broken teeth in a fetid mouth. Its streets as empty as the unfulfilled potential that once it held. Does Finkas yet remain there? No one knows, and even now none can bear the smell long enough to discover. But down through the long ages since we remember the tale of this cursed community and its fate. All who do are truly fearful of the effects of "The Finkas Touch".


Of course this isn't really the whole story, or nearly the end of it. The true end of this story has yet to be written. Let us hope that some day we are able to put a happier ending to this tale, and perhaps see such a special place prosper once more.

Friday, August 8, 2008

A Plague On Ohio Business

Be afraid! We may have to raise the plague flag over the State of Ohio. The Ohio Healthy Families Act (better known as the "Sick Days Ohio" Act) has submitted enough signatures to be placed on the November ballot. Be aware, there is nothing healthy about this initiative. 

As outlined in Ballotpedia, these petitions now move on to the Secretary of State for signature certification. If it clears this step, the next move places it on the ballot. If passed, we can expect to see a serious malaise quickly sweeping Ohio businesses.

Were this "Typhoid Mary" of legislation to pass in November, we could expect a painful infection to flourish as it passed through the state. Trapped between the contagious rats of onerous government regulation and the inevitable symptoms engendered by the costs of compliance and the loss of productivity, there would be numerous businesses that simply would not survive. Many currently flourishing companies would suffer and die a lingering, horrible death at the hands of this debilitating disorder, knowing that they had been done in by an infection caused by government imposed paper cuts. 

Some of those who will survive would do so maimed by this malady and as mere crippled shadows of their former selves. Many more would flee Ohio, rather than face the pestilence that waits at their very doorstep. Nor can we expect any business would violate the Quarantine such a law can and would impose, or dare to cross our borders as long as the plague flag continued to fly over our state.

We can yet see this contagion pass us by.  We have only to inoculate ourselves with a vote against this initiative should it reach the ballot. We have only to tell the state that we need no further legislation, regulation, or subjugation to inhibit the entrance or growth of business in Ohio. Failure of this simple preventative measure however, can lead only to the cries of "Bring out your dead" for the future economic growth of the State of Ohio.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Quote of the Day

The Patriot Post sends out interesting words of wisdom from our Founding Fathers in their 'Founders Quote Daily'. None has been more appropriate than today's:  

"We should never despair, our Situation before has been unpromising and has changed for the better, so I trust, it will again. If new difficulties arise, we must only put forth new Exertions and proportion our Efforts to the exigency of the times." 

 - George Washington 


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sustainable Rage

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to remain mad at someone or something for any real length of time?

This is a question that I am beginning to ask myself as the political campaigns wind on in an almost non-stop fashion. I can't remember the last day when I watched TV without seeing a candidate or one of the commentators from a news program trying to have the last word in a political debate. There are likewise times when I believe that this particular campaign has been going on since we were part of the British monarchy and didn't get to choose who ran the country; and that I am caught in a perverse version of the movie "Groundhog Day", where every day is endlessly the same.

The reason that I ask the question however, is this barrage of political badgering has simply worn me out. The handlers, spinners, and talking heads earned their pay and managed to get me whipped up to fight for the things that I believe in (a fact made more difficult because almost none of the candidates for any office agree with me). As a consequence, for some time now I have been screaming at the television, writing my local elected officials, and climbing onto the soapbox of this blog site to make myself be heard. 

The problem now is that the election is still over 3 months away, and I am running out of gas (an expensive commodity to run out of these days). I find that I can no longer sustain the rage either for or against anything that I had when the process first started out.

Now part of this is the candidates fault. I haven't seen two more unexciting candidates from the major parties since ... OK, the last election. McCain and Obama (listed in alphabetic order, not that of preference), have blathered on for so long and changed their stances on the issues so many times that it hardly seems worthwhile to watch any longer. It seems to make more sense to treat this performance like a basketball game or a NASCAR race and see what things look like closer to the end of the contest before getting excited about it. As for the candidate of the Libertarians Bob Barr, he seems to be a normal enough guy; but seems to be operating in a stealth mode that the military has yet to be able to penetrate or imitate. I am therefore likewise worn out by his invisibility and the lack of information on his positions on the issues.

The rest however, cannot be laid at the feet of the individuals seeking office (though I stand by any previous comments on how boring they are). The process is simply too long this time around for us to operate at the fever pitch that the candidates would like us to. Sooner or later, our bodies fail in the production of the required adrenaline and we simply begin to lose the emotional charge. Even without the ADD and ADHD that most of the human race seems to be suffering from these days, I fear that the attention span of the average voter is not much better than that of a 4 year-old; and that this particular election ran its emotional course long ago for us.

Don't get me wrong, I suspect that some out there will get a second wind as the conventions end and the real battle begins. I think that far more however, will simply stare moronically at our televisions, curious but mostly uncaring as the rest of the pageant plays itself out. I wonder, when the runners left the starting gate for the race this time if they understood that the length of the race could potentially leave us behind? Would they have started any later or paced themselves better in the hopes of helping us keep up? Or is it possible that this whole thing could have been the plan all along, and that it was designed to bludgeon us into submission in the hopes that we would lose interest before election day?

Is it possible that they are that smart? (Nah ...)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The "Stuck on Stupid" Toledo Dictionary #6

Here are a couple of new entries for the SOS "Stuck on Stupid" Toledo Dictionary. There are a fair number of new entries and while I am including them today, I must note that they are currently being reviewed by the SOS Dictionary editorial board, and are therefore subject to minor change.

Animal Abuse

1. The behavior of providing a pet to the Mayor of Toledo, Carlton S Finkbeiner.


1. Rules and regulations either included in the City Charter, the Ohio Revised Code, or passed by City Council and signed by the Mayor which apply to the citizens of Toledo, Ohio; but not to the elected officials.

Erie Street Market

(See White Elephant)

1. A Black Hole (stellar gravity well) in downtown Toledo which not only seems to suck taxpayer dollars into its event horizon, but likewise seems to have the ability defy or bend the laws of the City Charter and the Ohio Revised Code around itself.
(contrary to current popular belief, this facility is not the illegitimate child of the Mayor of Toledo, Carlton S. Finkbeiner)

White Elephant

(See Erie Street Market)

1. Something so large that it is impossible to ignore, so useless that no one knows why it's there, and so expensive to keep that it defies logic as to why anyone would want to do so.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Happy Birthday Laura

On this, the first anniversary of my daughter's 29th birthday, I have decided to share with you the toast that I gave at a recent early celebration of that event that was given as a surprise party for her by her husband. While I don't normally use this blog for personal stuff (yeah, like hell), I feel that the opportunity to speak a little bit about the aging process for all of us. Besides the chance to embarrass this young woman in public is simply too good to pass up.

We friends and family have gathered together here on this solemn occasion to mourn the passing of Laura Demaria's youth. Having now reached her third decade, she must leave behind at last, the final trappings of her childhood.

Watching now as her daughter Maggie grows and blooms into the young woman that we know that she will become; Laura will now have little to look forward to except to suffer the pangs of jealousy for what might have been in her own life. Remembering the days of her own childhood and adolescence, she must now confront the well-deserved guilt of her misspent and wasted youth.

Time will mark her as each year passes, and as she sees the reflection of every gray hair and every wrinkle in her husband Jim's loving eyes. Even his kind attention however, will provide no solace for the failing health and diminished mental capacity which soon will become her constant companion. Plagued by an ever-growing number of aches and pains as she enters this new period of her life, she will have to face life being referred to as "Mrs Demaria" by her students and treated with the respect of a senior citizen, with only her AARP membership to look forward to.

So while she's still able to hear and understand us, we say "Here's to Laura!" as she celebrates the end of an era. Never again will she celebrate the passing of another year. Her lot instead, will be a future filled with anniversaries of a date and of times she will soon only barely remember.

Now I know that publishing this probably means that I won't get invited to the next birthday party, but having a parent who can string a couple or words together coherently is a dangerous thing for a child.

Happy Birthday Kiddo. I couldn't love you more, nor be any more proud of you than I am today.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Erie Street Market & Memories Of My Youth

Now that you've read the title and become completely confused (and especially for those of you reading this and not residing in Toledo), let me attempt to explain. An article in the Toledo Blade on 7/31 points out what many of us have recently suspected, that the improvements of the Erie Street Market have been made in a rather questionable manner. Now I have spoken on the ESM before, but the Mayor appears to want to take the situation to the next level by secretly funneling money into the facility in order to find new uses for it.

I say secretly because these improvements were not included in budget numbers released as recently as a week ago, showing that the ESM has made a profit for the 1st six months of the year. (This subject is probably covered and more fully by Maggie Thurber here.) These improvements were broken into 13 separate contracts of less than $10,000 in order to allow the mayor to proceed without city council notice and approval. Further, these improvements were performed on the ESM in order to allow the city to compete with private businesses as a concert venue, something the building was not designed for and which appears to be contrary to the "business friendly" environment that the city of Toledo advertises.

But what could all of this possibly have with the memories of my youth ...

This is where I finally have to admit that I am recovering from a serious childhood addiction to television. It is not something that I am proud of, but must cop to if you are to understand my thinking (yeah I know this is dangerous, but read on...). This was especially true when it came to cartoons. From "Rocky and Bullwinkle" to "Woody Woodpecker", from "Space Ghost" to "Yogi Bear", it was a constant battle for my parents to drag me away from the idiot box long enough to perform necessary functions like eating, bathing, or occasionally exposing my body to sunlight. (This may account in some part for how thin I was then as opposed to ... oh, never mind.) Two of the cartoons that I watched in those days were "Popeye" and "Spy vs Spy".

Setting aside the title character in this first example, with his mutant forearms and his anorexic girlfriend, one of my favorite characters was Wimpy. Now Wimpy was a mooch and a panhandler whose only seeming line was, "I will gladly pay you Tuesday, for a Hamburger today". This appears to be the philosophy of Mayor Carlton S. Finkbeiner (for those of you non-locals, yes that is his real name). Having worked his way around the charter limitations of $10K for non-reviewed contracts, he justified the use of over $80,000 in city money (during a $2.5 million budget shortfall) by saying that the money would be paid back by concerts yet to be held in the facility. Now businesses often make investments to gain future profits; but if this was the case, why hide it? If this is the key to making the ESM profitable, why not trumpet the investment as a step forward instead of a pattern of skullduggery and secrecy until it was finally exposed in the media too late to stop anyway?

In the second example of "Spy vs. Spy", this simply points to the relationship that the city has with business in Toledo. The only difference is that in this case, the city is the only one with access to explosives. Taxation, regulation, and competition are the weapons of choice in this battle, with a 2.25% total city income tax leading the charge, and a list of levies longer than my arm following closely behind to make this an unfriendly neighborhood for businesses to play in.

As for regulation, one merely needs to see the recent restrictions that the city has placed on locations, numbers, and method of operation of convenience stores and day care centers to begin to comprehend the city's attitude to the business community. It appears that the city only wants certain businesses in certain numbers, and wants to strictly regulate how they do their business. I don't know about you, but my experience with a government control of markets quickly leads to the term "socialism". 

This brings us to the final leg of the tripod, the competition of city owned business. Toledo has recently gotten into the ambulance and towing businesses, and most if not all of the private companies have either laid off staff or closed. Now the city wants to run a music venue, in competition with privately owned, non-taxpayer funded facilities. (Doesn't seem quite fair, does it?) Now governments are not normally known for their business acumen, but with taxpayers undoubtedly on the hook for utilities and security, my suspicion is that this venture can't help but succeed. The questions however, are what the costs are to privately owned, tax paying operations and at what costs to taxpayers? Additionally, we should ask what business would consider coming to Toledo know that this is the environment that they would have to look forward to?

I loved those cartoons in my youth, and with the relationship now established between the the present and the past now, they may well now be ruined for me. While it may help in the continued control of my former addiction, a little part of my treasured childhood has now been destroyed. Say, now that I think about it, the mayor kind of reminds me of the "Fearless Leader" character from "Rocky and Bullwinkle" with the never-ending series of misguided and failed plots against society. Damn, that ruins another one...