Friday, October 31, 2008

Wrong On The COSI Bailout?

I seem to have been wrong in my assessment of Issue 37, the levy to reopen COSI, in the column that I wrote for Toledo Free Press three weeks ago; as evidenced by the number of people speaking out in favor of it this week in that same venue. It now appears to be obvious to me that the only thing that was keeping COSI from being a success in Toledo was a lack of sufficient taxpayer funding. After all, we have so many shining examples of success when greater taxpayer support is provided to a previously failing program:

- Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty

- Richard Nixon's War on Drugs

- The Educational System over the last 50 years

- The bailout of the mortgage and banking system

- and here locally, the Erie Street Market

The success of these programs over the years is self-evident ... no wait, actually they weren't (or aren't) entirely successful. OK, but obviously the reason that these endeavors failed in their mission is not that they were failed plans to begin with, wasted the taxpayer money that they were granted, and had no real measure for success other than emotional ones. Neither can their failure be blamed upon the increasing level of funding that they received through the years. No, it must have been a lack of understanding of their mission on the part of the taxpayers. Programs like this cannot be measured on an objective level of success and failure after all, but should instead be judged by high-minded goal that they set or the gratification that we taxpayers feel for the compassion that we show.

So by all means, let's vote for Issue 37 and grant COSI some taxpayer money in the "hope for change" where they are concerned (after all, this is the year for it). If nothing else, we will prove that in 2008 fiscal irresponsibility, poor management, and waste are not negatives; but simply a reason to grant a second chance and a taxpayer funded reward to such projects so that they can go back to business as usual.

(OK, sarcasm off now)

TFP Column: Undecided And Soundbite Free

In a move that might eventually bring down the reign of Editor in Chief Michael Miller, I have been added to the list of regular columnists for the Toledo Free Press. While certainly concerned over impact that such a decision may present over the ultimate fate of someone who is truly a nice guy and an exceptional writer, I am selfish enough to never the less use such an opportunity to expand the audience for my particular brand of nonsense.

My offering for this week's edition has to do with the soundbites that most of us are going to have to use to make important voting decisions next week. I hope that you find it a worthwhile read.

(It would be a serious mistake to limit yourself to my humble offering while on this website by the way, especially if you are interested in what's going on in the election in general and the issues involving Toledo in particular.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Costumes, 2008

I have been asked once again to use my perverse sense of humor on the subject of Halloween costumes. Not being able to resists such requests, I will try to make some last minute suggestions for those of you unable to come up with suitable raiment for your Holiday parties this weekend. 
  • Put on a suit and carry a bucket of fake money, telling people that you are Henry Paulson (Secretary of the Treasury) and giving handouts on the Bailout Plan.
  • Wear anything that you like and tell people that you are Bob Barr, Libertarian candidate for president. Hardly anyone knows what he looks like so you won't have a problem.
  • Go from house to house with a clipboard and tell people that you are from ACORN, and trying to sign them up to vote.
  • Walk the streets, clinging to a toy gun (please make sure that it looks fake) and a Bible and tell them you are from a small town in the Midwest.
  • Also from the Midwest (and a tried and true favorite of mine), is to walk the streets in a Cubs uniform. Sympathy for a team that has now not won a World Series in over 100 years should reap rewards.
  • Walk around in either a Tennessee Titans or Dallas Cowboys jersey and try and pick a fight with someone at each house. When they ask why, tell them you are Pacman Jones.
  • Go from house to house in a Speedo bathing suit, a warm up jacket (especially in my neck of the woods), and a painful expression. When asked, tell them that you are every swimmer who raced against Michael Phelps in the recent Olympics.
Locally In Toledo
  • Put on a suit and a fake halo and tell people that you are Ben Konop (Lucas County Commissioner). Carry a bucket of fake money with you and tell those that ask that the money is for their job training.
  • Walk the streets pulling wagon loaded with a stuffed dog locked in a cage (Note: the wagon must be left out on the sidewalk while you go to the door without it.) and tell them that you are Mayor Finkbeiner. (If you want to add an extra touch of realism to the costume, you can occasionally throw a coffee cup at someone.)
  • Go from house to house the day after Halloween and ask for candy anyway. You can tell them that you are Jon Stainbrook, head of the Lucas County Republican Party, and you have a history of doing things a little late.
  • Go from house to house with bag of worn out, broken junk and tell people that you are COSI.
  • Carry a marionette from house to house, making your puppet dance from time to time, and tell them that you are John Robinson Block, publisher of the Toledo Blade.
  • Get two friends and go from house to house as the "crowd" from an event at the Erie Street Market.
  • Attach some fake flowers to your clothes and go as the Reynolds Road entrance to Southwyk Mall.
  • The simplest of costumes is always the best, and here locally that is simply to hang a piece of plywood in front and behind you, and tell people that you are a downtown building.
OK, go out there and have some fun; but be careful...


The "Stuck On Stupid" Toledo Dictionary #11

Yes, it's time for a couple more entries in the "Stuck on Stupid" Dictionary. For those of you only recently come to Just Blowing Smoke, these are words or terms nominally considered part of the English language, but which have special meaning for us here is Toledo, Ohio. 


1. A term used to define the number of people gathered together in the Erie Street Market for one of it's "Events". This number is mostly indeterminate, being more than can be counted on two hands, and less than the number required to turn any kind of a profit for the event. 


1. A term used by businesses to describe the amount of money left over after subtracting the costs of producing goods or services from the revenue generated from selling such goods and services. 
2. A term used by the city of Toledo to describe the amount of money left over after subtracting the costs of producing an event at the Erie Street Market (not counting utility, maintenance, or depreciation of capital improvement costs) from the revenue generated from such an event, and therefore wildly inflated and inaccurate.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Back Door Bus Stop

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) has discovered in recent months that in spite of the increased ridership which skyrocketing gas prices has brought them, that with the corresponding increases in their own fuel prices, the levy passed in 2007 is not allowing them to meet their operating costs effectively. 

As a consequence, they have recently reduced their level of service to certain areas in order to cut those costs. (Funny, I have been having the same problem lately, but without the same option to help resolve my own situation.) In addition, they have commissioned a study (the most recent in a long string of them) and a website survey to help determine what needs to be done in the long term to alleviate the financial woes and poor reputation that seem to be a way life for them.  

TARTA has also had an increasingly problematic relationship with many of the Toledo suburbs that it serves, owing to the high contributions that those cities give and the poor return on investment that many of them feel that they receive in return. State law however, says that once you join TARTA, you can't leave without the unanimous consent of its board. Since just over half of those board members are appointed by the city of Toledo, who needs to insure that no revenue sources for TARTA are reduced or eliminated, don't look for any departures soon. (Does this remind anyone else of an organized crime mentality?) 

Fear not however for the future of TARTA, for it already has a sense of its future and a plan to move forward, secure in the funding required for its continued operation. That plan is to abandon the levy process which it has only narrowly managed to successfully use to insure daily operation, and instead push forward with a county-wide sales tax ear-marked for its use. No more wrangling with pesky voters or proving its usefulness to riders, local governments, and property owners. (After all, population is dwindling and property values are declining.) 

Better instead have the entire county declared a geographic monopoly and expand its revenue base. Better still, to bypass regular levy requests and change its funding method. Far better indeed to quietly bleed the taxpayers with a sales tax than to place its name, reputation, and costs before that same disgruntled populace for a levy to provide the lion's share of its funding (80% of TARTA's budget is funded by taxpayers at the federal, state, and local level at last count).  
No part of this plan is being aired in public yet except as speculation, but support of local politicians is already being lined up for the change. The pro-forma study currently being conducted will no doubt confirm the conclusions drawn by TARTA before it was even begun. 

Congratulations TARTA, you have learned your lessons well. The failures of groups like COSI and local school boards are not lost on your board of directors. You will not suffer the budget tightening and disappointment of those who have failed to evolve their form of larceny in order to keep pace with the economy and growing taxpayer dissatisfaction. 

Your backdoor, backroom maneuverings and political machinations will undoubtedly produce the financial rewards that you desire. I have little doubt that you will secure your funding plans, backed by local politicians who do not want their name attached to the first failed mass transit system in the country, by unions who want to continue to enjoy high wages and job protection in an increasingly dangerous economy, and by a voting public who generally does not seem to understand that taxes are something that come out of their pockets. 

And while you drive increasingly more empty buses, made so by an unfriendly environment in Northwest Ohio that you have contributed to by adding to the crushing local tax burden, you can glide happily on your way. You will have secured your future by contributing significantly to the destruction of our present. 

Saturday, October 25, 2008

TFP Column: The Fairness Doctrine

I have decided not to bore you with my normal weekend rhetoric. My belief is that like me, you are beginning to run out of the duct tape required to keep your head from exploding from the non-stop assault of political commercials, and I saw no reason to contribute to that. (I also understand that there is an acute shortage of duct tape currently and didn't want to add to the problem.)

This is not to say that I will allow you to exit unscathed, as I direct you to the second of my columns on "The Fairness Doctrine" published in the Toledo Free Press this weekend. With luck, it will prove to be both entertaining and enlightening (yeah, right).

Have a great weekend ...

By the way, did you know that duct tape is like The Force, from "Star Wars"? It has a dark side and a light side, and it binds the universe together?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Odds On An Ohio Casino

Once again, the issue of casino gambling is coming up in the state of Ohio as a ballot initiative and because the building of any casino in this state involves changing the state constitution, this will always be the case. Issue 6, or the My Ohio Now Amendment is a proposal for this change to the state constitution in order to build a casino near Wilmington, Ohio (between Columbus and Cincinnati) that could cost up to $600,000,000. This casino will include a hotel, convention facility, and even a golf course on its grounds. Taxes generated by this facility would be paid directly to the counties of the state of Ohio, with the percentage of revenues split according to the relative population of the each respective county. It is estimated by the potential operators of this casino that revenues could be as much as $800 million with $240 million in taxes to be split up. (Of course, these estimates were before the current financial crisis.) The claims for and against are typical. On the negative side
  • Gambling is evil and must be forbidden at all costs!
  • Those addicted to gambling will use money to feed their sick gambling habit instead of their families.
  • The operator is from out of state and local government will have no oversight.
  • Tax revenues distribution will be decided by politicians, bureaucrats, and lobbyists (though someone will have to explain to me when this is not the case).
On the positive side:
  • The building of this casino will bring thousands of temporary construction jobs to Ohio
  • The running of the casino will create many permanent jobs in Ohio.
  • There will be tax revenue produced by the casino that will supplement the budgets of every county in the state (and any tax revenue that they can generate without taking it from me would be welcome indeed).
The most telling issues to me have also been mentioned:
  • The state is already sponsoring gambling through the Lottery, and now the plethora of Keno machines.
  • Those paying for much of the opposition advertising to this amendment are casino operators in Indiana and Michigan whose revenue will be negatively impacted if a casino is built in Ohio.
  • Money is currently leaving the state, as those who wish to gamble take their trade to places where they can.
I am not much of a gambler these days, though I did play a little blackjack in Vegas in years past. Quite frankly I work too hard to earn my money these days to risk it (and I have a really bad poker face). I believe however, that if you want to gamble you will. I likewise believe that if such behavior is going to take place, that the state of Ohio has as much right as any to profit from it. I finally believe that anything that creates jobs, and especially the kind of service jobs that look like they have a possibility of long-term survivability, is definitely a good thing. 

I don't know if Issue 6 is the answer, as it provides for only one casino and one operator in the state. I suspect that it is not a particularly good law. I likewise suspect that Ohio is not ready for more than one casino the first time out of the gate. It may therefore be time that we take a next step into this area, admit that gambling already goes on, and get the state of Ohio into the business of casinos like all of our neighbors. Hey, at least they aren't asking for taxpayer funding to build the damn thing! 

Monday, October 20, 2008

Diplomatic Incident: Update

For those of you up for a good laugh, I submit myself for public humiliation by handing over the link to the interview at El Tiempo (The Times) in Bogota, Columbia. 

Since my Spanish is limited, I have no idea whether the statements that I made were accurately translated. I trust my translator for the week, the gentleman who did the interview Mauricio Romero, to have at least attempted to make me appear less foolish than I felt (and probably sounded).  

(For those of you who note the fine print, you will forgive my friends for noting that Toledo is in Michigan rather than Ohio. Then again historically speaking, it once was, wasn't it?)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Things That Make You Go Hmmm #5

Being that it's Saturday, that I am far away in foreign lands, that I am suffering from oxygen deprivation from seven days at 6600 feet, and that as a consequence I am drawing a complete blank while trying to come up with something really creative, funny, and interesting (for a change); we are once again going to turn to those annoying questions that come up from time to time. I sure as heck don't have any answers for them, but maybe someone out there might.
  • How important does someone have to be before they are assasinated rather than simply murdered?
  • Why do you have to put "your two cents in", but it's only a "penny for your thoughts"?
  • What disease did a cured ham used to have?
  • Why is it that when people sleep well they say they "sleep like babies", when babies wake up every two hours?
  • How is it that we could have figured out how to put a man on the moon before we figured out it was a good idea to put wheels on luggage?
  • If the Professor on Gilligan's Island could make a radio out of a coconut, why couldn't he fix a hole in a boat?
  • Can a hearse with a body in the back drive in the carpool lane?
  • If a deaf person goes to court, is it still a hearing?
  • If the #2 pencil is so popular, why is it still #2?
  • Why does Goofy stand on two feet and Pluto on four, they're both dogs?
I am traveling today, and expect to be home, and back at my normal nonsense next week...

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Warning: Potential Diplomatic Incident

I was interviewed on video this evening by El Tiempo, one of the newspapers in Bogota, Columbia. (That is where I am working this week.) It seems as though my translator is also an editor for the Financial section of the newspaper, and that they thought it might be interesting to have the opinion of an American citizen on the American economy, the Bailout, and the future; since they had one at their disposal.  

I was asked whether I thought that the Bailout was necessary.  
I stated that it appeared that the market had been in need of a correction for some time, and that it appeared to have finally gotten one. Government precipitated this by pressuring the banking industry to loan money to people who couldn't pay it back, and that eventually the banking industry was proved right in their assessment. These loans, passed up the investment food chain by the unscrupulous part of the banking industry eventually caused business failure in many of those organizations. Those failures in turn created a good part of the financial crisis that in turn led to the market crisis. Interference by the government didn't change those facts, but might lengthen the time frame for the resolution of the situation.

I was asked whether the Bailout was successful. 
I stated that the bailout was designed to address the market and credit crisis, but recent market fluctuations have so far proved otherwise.  

I was asked if the Bailout was of concern to me. 
I stated that it very much was. I said that I felt that the entire US economy had been placed in the hands of the Secretary of the Treasury in the rush to a solution. Placing that power and 700 billion dollars in the hands of a bureaucrat who doesn't run for election and will be leaving in a couple of months is scary. Leaving that power behind for whomever may follow is even scarier.  

I was asked if I was doing anything different as a result of the crisis. 
I replied yes, making little or no luxury purchases and paying my debt down as quickly as I can. I also said that I was looking forward to working longer, as I had probably just lost 30% of my retirement money in the market plunge.

I was asked if I had any idea when the crisis would end. 
I replied that a lot of people who were smarter than me about money were asking themselves the same question, and not coming up with an answer; so how could I be expected to. As I was being escorted back to my hotel for the evening, I was informed that this would not be the background material that I had thought, but that instead it would be broadcast on TV and placed on the El Tiempo website (I may provide the link as a laugh for all if and when they send it to me)

As a consequence of the use of this interview however, I now wish to state for the record that I deny any and all responsibility for anything said during it. I have been working long hours, have been oxygen deprived because of the altitude, had a rock in my shoe, the sun was in my eyes, I ran out of gas, I had to visit a sick friend.


These were simple remarks made by an even more simple American citizen and should not be presumed to reflect the policies of the American government or those of anyone with an IQ in double digits (categories that are often mutually exclusive).

Jeez, I hope they let me back in the country ...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Pollitical Plate Tectonics

I am sure that upon seeing this title, those little wrinkles formed in the center of your forehead. It's not your perception that is at issue however, but mine. I was sitting quietly and thinking (ignoring the pain caused by such behavior) about the upcoming political frenzy while watching a program on the History Channel about the evolution of land masses on the planet Earth. As it often does, my mind made a rather unique (OK, substitute your own word here) connection between the two widely disparate subjects. Try and stay with me here... 

Plate Tectonics, for those of you not addicted to books on geology or the History Channel, is the process that describes the large scale motions of the Earth's lithosphere. Too highbrow an explanation for you? OK, this is the process that describes how and why the continental plates move around the planet like the skin of a piece of fruit could move around it if were not attached to the meat of it, except in the case of the earth's skin, it moves around in separate pieces. Part of this process involves these plates moving away from each other, the other involves them moving toward and crashing into each other. It is the latter than struck (no pun intended) a chord with me. 

You see, in this process of collision in the earth's crust, one part is forced up, and new mountain ranges are normally created. As they grow, these new geographic features dominate their surroundings. Over time however, these mountains drift away from the contact point where they were made, are worn down through erosion, and gradually disappear. It suddenly occurred to me that the same thing happens with political parties. The Democratic-Republican Party for example, was created in 1792 by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison among others in response to Alexander Hamilton's Federalist Party. 

This new party was formed in an attempt to return government to strict adherence to the limits imposed on government as outlined in the Constitution and in opposition to the increased strengthening of the Federal government under the Federalist party they had left. The object was to go back to individual freedom and responsibility, return to states rights, and stop the encroachment of Federal governmental intrusion and power. (Are you laughing hysterically yet?)  Even as late as the 1960's, decaying remnants of this philosophy still existed, as newly elected Democratic president John F Kennedy was calling on us to "... ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country"

Today it would have to be considered obvious that the principles on which this political party was founded have all but disappeared, some saying that they are even reaching a point approaching Socialism and as such, a point of true political subsidence

The Republican Party came a bit later in 1854, and came to power with the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860. Also known as the GOP ( or Grand Old Party), they replaced the Whigs as the preeminent competition to the Democrats and over time replaced the Democrats as the personification of the conservative point of view in politics. Once home to both fiscal and regulatory minimalism, they long defended strict adherence to the Constitutional limits on the Federal government and the concept of individual freedom, with personal responsibility. 

While still ostensibly known for this, these conservative principles have mostly long since worn away in the party, with the remnants only appearing from time to time as empty rhetoric these days. Perhaps their final plunge occurring after the 1994 Congressional "Contract with America", the principles of which have gradually been abandoned in the years since. 

Lately coming to prominence, we see the Libertarian Party. Founded in 1971, and today considered a radical conservative fringe group, this party appears to be growing in power in recent years. Espousing individual rights and strict interpretation of the Constitution, this party today seems entirely about limiting the encroachment and power of the Federal government (or any level of government for that matter)

There is little doubt that they would now have to be considered the most conservative of the current political parties and the most strident opposition to encroaching Federal intervention in everyday affairs. While they have had limited success on the local and state level in some areas, they have yet to have any real impact on the national level to date. 

Do you begin to see the parallels? 

The Democratic Party is formed as a conservative group to return government to a strict interpretation of the Constitution and oppose strengthening of the Federal government. Those principles erode over time and 62 years later, here comes the Republican Party to take up the flag of strict interpretation of the Constitution and limited Federal government. As the Republican Party's founding principles erode, following those of the Democratic Party before it, the Libertarian Party appears (though it took almost 117 years to do so). They now appear to have now taken up the flag of conservative principles, espousing a strict interpretation of the Constitution and the strict limitations of Federal governmental power and intrusion.  Only lately appearing on the scene, they also appear to be on the rise, growing in both strength and numbers in recent years. 

Perhaps like the movement of the continents, the creation, erosion, and eventual replacement of political parties are a natural occurrence. Perhaps time simply saps the will of a political party over time; causing it's founding precepts to erode, and forcing it's principles to be reborn under a new name and leadership. Perhaps, with this latest tectonic collision, there is hope yet for a return to a government in America defined and limited by the Constitution that created it. Perhaps nature herself has taken a hand, as this process takes its seemingly inevitable next step in an ongoing process. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hola From Bogota

Well today is day two of my trip to Bogota (I don't count the travel day, even though it lasted slightly over 13 hours). I can't tell you that I have seen much of the country or even the city for that matter since I got here, but that is not unusual with the almost all the overseas travel that I do. I can't even describe the airport, as I landed after dark. Since then almost every available minute has been tied up at the newspaper, with the occasional hour thrown in for a meal or sleep. 

My impressions of the place are mostly favorable. The people have been terrific both at the hotel (The Hotel Capital) and the newspaper (El Tiempo). They have been universally helpful, friendly, and accepting of my complete inability to speak Spanish. Some of their staff, being far more capable than I am, are bi-lingual, and have been able to make the process a bit easier. 

As a consequence of the language barrier, they will be supplying me with a translator tomorrow to perform the formal training classes. I have also been asked to speak more slowly, as I have asked them to do, in the hopes of finding a partial linguistic common ground. Traffic in Bogota is an interesting experience, and I am grateful for the cab ride (with a local to watch over me) to and from work. 

While Colombians drive on the same side of the road that we do with the steering wheel on the proper side as well, this is the end of the common automobile experience. The cabs are incredibly small (as are most of the vehicles), and if there is a pattern to the traffic in Bogota (other than if you aren't a local you don't get it) I have yet to discern one. The food is likewise a bit unusual, but I am sure that they would feel the same if presented with many of our menus. 

As for the exchange rate, I was handed $38,000 Columbian pesos for a $20.00 bill. The prices don't seem out of line, but seeing them in a peso rate can be disconcerting at first (unless you are unfazed by seeing a cheeseburger for $22,500)

There are a few things to get used to however, especially the security. There are police and soldiers visible almost everywhere, and there are dogs sniffing luggage even at the hotel. The security at the newspaper is tighter than I have seen since the strike in Detroit a few years ago. 

These are not special circumstances here however, and my passport is collected in order to obtain a security badge to go to work every day. I will not bore you with any of the details of the work that I am performing, as it is far from interesting, even to those in the industry. My intention is to complete it by the end of the week however,and be on my way back to fair Toledo on Saturday. Until then, adios.  

I apologize for the lack of pictures, but the weather has been too crummy to take any. In fact I have been surprisingly cool, with highs in the 60's and lows in the 40's. If it improves, which appears unlikely, I will try to get a few. 

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Quote of the Day


It is almost 40 years to the day since the following words were uttered, a few weeks before an election. In light of what seems to be going on in the current one, I can think of no more important to ones to remember.  

“It’s time we asked ourselves if we still know the freedoms intended for us by the Founding Fathers. James Madison said, ‘We base all our experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.’ This idea that government was beholden to the people, that it had no other source of power, is still the newest, most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man. This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.” - Ronald Reagan

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blogger Of The Year

A person who I am grateful to be able to call a friend, Maggie Thurber, was today awarded the American's For Prosperity (AFP) Blogger of the Year award. 

Maggie's efforts in so many areas are in fact worthy of such praise. She contributes to the Toledo Free Press as a columnist, hosts the "Eye on Toledo" radio show on 1370 WSPD here in Toledo, and writes for her own blog Thurber's Thoughts just to name a few. 

Maggie's work has been inspiration to many of us out here in our own efforts at blogging; and the friendship, help, and advice that she has given to me personally is something for which I will always be appreciative. 

Congratulations Maggie for your efforts, and to the AFP for their discerning judgment in choosing you for this award. You set the bar for many of us out here, and provide inspiration to a higher level of achievement. 

Politically Correct

Having described myself in the past as politically incorrect, I realized that such a claim would be unsubstantiated unless I could properly define Political correctness. Fortunately, I recently received some information that can do just that, and I decided to share it with you. Political correctness can be defined as anyone who believes the following:
  • Kentuckians, Tennesseans, and West Virginians will no longer be referred to as Hillbillies, but as "Appalachian-Americans" instead.
  • Bad male dancers will no longer be called so, but will instead be called "Overly Caucasian".
  • Men will no longer be referred to as "Getting Lost while driving", but instead be said to be "exploring alternate destinations".
  • Women will no longer be called "of easy virtue", but will instead be referred to as "Horizontally Accessible".
  • The term "Dumb Blonde" will no longer be acceptable. "Light-haired detour on the information Super Highway" will be used instead.
  • Overweight men will no longer be said to have a "Beer Gut". This condition will instead be referred to as a "Liquid Grain Storage Facility Condition".
  • You can no longer refer to someone as a "Two Bit Hooker", but must instead refer to them as a "Low Cost Service Provider".
  • A man's receding hairline can no longer be referred "Balding", but should instead be referred to as suffering from "Follicle Regression".
  • A person no longer has "Their Head Up Their Ass", but instead is suffering from "Cranial / Rectal Inversion".
Go ahead and admit it, you were laughing, weren't you. Are these tasteless? Probably. Are they ridiculous? Perhaps not as much as you think. Is it sad that this is the world we have created with this nonsense? Definitely.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Tim Higgins, Columnist?

Yes boys and girls it's true!

Michael Miller, Editor In Chief of the Toledo Free Press (and a really nice guy), has accepted written material from your humble servant as a column in this week's edition. Now before you begin to question the sanity of these nice people, recognize that Michael and the Free Press are far too intelligent to actually throw money away by paying me for such labors. They have simply done me the kindness of exposing my particular brand of nonsense to a wider audience.

My thanks to you Michael for printing "COSI - Three Strikes", and my sympathies. I fear that your support to date will probably be repaid by a greater level of annoyance in the future. I can only hope that as time goes by, you will not come to regret the kind opportunity you have provided to me, as I bombard you with material for future use.

Update: I forgot to mention, in my haste to dislocate my arm patting myself on the back, that the column printed was on one of my favorite local targets, the Toledo Center of Science and Industry, coming up once again for a levy in November.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Flowers & Fertilizer

Once again, Toledo has won an award for flowers planted in the city, as pointed out in this Toledo Blade article

America in Bloom, a non-profit organization (much like Toledo these days) has presented the city with a "heritage preservation" award for cities over 100,000 in population. Of course the fact that Toledo was the only city in this category to enter the contest might have something to do with the win. 

At a time when the city looks to be up to 7 million dollars in the red for the current fiscal budget, isn't it nice to know that we have the money to plant flowers, care for them, and of course rip them out when they die in the now cooling temperatures. At a time when jobs and residents are leaving the city at an alarming and almost unprecedented rate, isn't it nice to know that we have the time to focus on finding and entering such pointless contests. 

I would like to call this kind of behavior putting "lipstick on a pig", but that phrase has become more than a little tired these days. I will instead, suggest that the title of Mayor be removed from the office that Carlton S. Finkbeiner now holds in Toledo, and suggest instead that he be called, "Fertilizer Spreader In Chief", in homage to his success in spreading taxpayer dollars and natural fertilizer with equal alacrity in order to make pretty flowers grow. 

Off To Foreign Lands ... Again

As the title implies, I am once again leaving our fair shores on Sunday in the name of business, and as part of what I believe is a secret program to raise the national IQ (at least on a temporary basis). I suspect in fact, that this may some part of a larger international "sweeps week", and that forcing another country to take credit (or blame) for me is part of a program to improve a national reputation that has taken significant hits recently. 

I will once more be journeying south, this time to Bogota, Columbia. As with most of my previous foreign travel, I am completely ignorant of the city and country that I will be journeying to, deriving any information that I have from news reports over the years of the drugs that come from this country and of course the original "Romancing The Stone" movie. I am reasonably certain that I will be quickly disabused of all of my present stereotypes, since neither of these sources can be considered in any way credible (OK, maybe "Romancing The Stone" is)

As I did with my travels to Trinidad (which I only discovered today is north of where I am going this time), I will attempt to post something from this foreign land, with pictures if I manage to take any worth sharing. While not looking forward to long hours in an airplane (a recognized form a torture which has been banned by the Geneva Convention), I will at least be able to escape for a few days the political nonsense that is winding up to a fever pitch in this country. While working long hours at the newspaper, I will at least be able to escape the endless political commercials, nonsensical pundits, and news reports filled with quotes of candidates saying the same things that they have said before when I return to my hotel and turn on the TV (of course I probably won't be able to understand the shows on TV, but that too may be a good thing). Basking in what I hope will be the relative peace and quiet of that setting, I hope to regain some perspective on life before immersing myself once again in the final stampede to election day. 

I have great faith that those remaining behind are more than up to the challenge of containing the madness and maintaining order in my absence. They may in fact be considering this a vacation for themselves. As the saying goes... "Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the more he's absent, the fonder I become of it." 


Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Rites Of Fall

Fall is once again in full bloom. The leaves are turning, temperatures are moderating, and children are once more back in school. The Rites of Fall are likewise in full bloom. 

No, I am not talking about the World Series, the beginning of the football season, or even pre-season hockey. I am talking instead about something with far fewer rules, far more bad behavior, and far more devastating results. In other words boys and girls, election season. 

We are once again in the midst of what is simultaneously the most interesting, most boring, and most despicable of human behaviors. Trapped in front of our televisions and radios, we are subjected to a non-stop stream of "half-truths, mistruths, and outright lies" (a quote previously misused by a local Toledo politician which I just love).  

Understanding our addiction to these evil technologies, our politicians take advantage of our illness in order to subject us to an endless stream of fertilizer and hatred (most of which is wild mis-characterization) in order to convince us that they are to be trusted enough to lead us. Like hunters who are not content to shoot a prey chained to a stake, they must also spray bullets all around, wounding innocent bystanders in the process.  

This behavior crosses all parties lines, is participated in by liberal and conservative alike, and even crosses lines of gender. Nothing is sacrosanct, nothing is off limits, and nothing is out of bounds. The normal proscriptions against attacking women, children, or beliefs goes out the window in the headlong struggle to achieve a little power and a fat government paycheck (or the equivalent government funding)

All rules are out the window in this ultimate fighting match where winning is the only measure of success. Each contestant slings filth in every direction while simultaneously decrying the practice. No blame is accepted, no guilt is felt, and the only respite taken is one used to beat one's breast while asserting a claim of being the victim of an unfounded character attack. 

 Fortunately for all of us, the regular season is short and the playoffs are well under way. The coaches, fans, and press of this bloodsport, blinded by an almost religious fervor, run helter-skelter down the field, keeping pace with the players themselves. At break neck speed and completely out of control, the process races along to the finish line; crushing contestants and bystanders alike in its furious pace. Our only salvation is that in but another few weeks the winners will be crowned, the losers will be able to seek redress in the courts, and flush with new won power our leaders will all go back to "business as usual". 

This is the world that we have created in our own image, cage matches where two enter and one leaves. This is what we have done with the legacy handed down to us by a group of dedicated revolutionaries 232 years ago who risked their very lives to provide us with a freedom that we have turned into little more than a pay-per-view gladiatorial spectacle. 

And perhaps these competitions, like those in the past, signal the end of an empire. Perhaps we have finally bastardized the process beyond all redemption, and like the Roman Empire, begun our slow decline into oblivion. I still hold out some vague hope that such is not the case, but I will leave those conclusions to the judgment of history. Meanwhile like it or not, these are the true "Rites of Fall".


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Cell Phones: Accessible Annoyance

An interesting posting on Roland's Ramblings caused me to make use of my personal "Wayback Machine" to dredge up a bit of nonsense that I had written before Just Blowing Smoke existed as a blogspot blog. I have updated and edited it as my own small way of paying homage to Mr. Hansen, a constant source of interesting information. 

I don't know about you, but one of the most annoying things in my life today is the cell phone. You can't seem to go to a restaurant, family gathering, or even church (or at least, so I have been told) without one of these marvels of modern technology interrupting the event. Not content with this level of intrusion into our lives however, the manufacturers of these electronic Torquemada torture devices have added the ability to listen to music, text message, and even receive emails 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is now no longer anywhere we can go or any time of the day when our friends, our customers, and our employers can't disturb some part of our lives with something of inestimable importance (at least to them)

Whoever thought that one of the greatest pleasures of the modern age might become the chance of being inaccessible to our fellow human beings for however brief a time? Why is it that the ability to communicate with other people at times and in places where any sane person would once have been ashamed to do so is now not only acceptable, but necessary behavior? When did being at the beck and call of any yahoo with the ability to sign a two year contract and a yen to share information become the goal in and point of our lives? When did we reach a point in civilization when no one is content unless they are constantly communicating useless information with a person that they cannot see every minute of their probably pointless lives? 

And don't even get me started on the subject of personalized ringers (oops, too late). I know that it's supposed to be cute, but so is a baby alligator until it bites you. Is it possible that people might realize that their current favorite song (or that from the night they lost their virginity) might not something that everyone wants to hear every time some idiot wants to extend their electronic social life? Isn't it burden enough that we have to share the musical tastes of every juvenile delinquent with bass enhancement each time they pull up next to us at a stop light without having to suffer it in places where such vehicles are not allowed? No offense to those of you out there sharing these bits of melodic rhapsody with the world (OK, maybe some), but your choices usually leave something to be desired. With all of history's music to pick from, you would think that people could find something that doesn't make the fillings in your teeth work loose, and you would be wrong. (And for those of you who still have "Who let the dogs out" on your phone, for shame.)  

Add in the special ringtones for special callers, alert tones for text messages or emails, and the music the phone plays when turning on or off; and you reach a point of mind-numbing tonal madness that we insist on subjecting our friends and neighbors to on an everyday basis in the name of self-amusement.  

And once the din announcing that someone would like to share some part of their idiotic life with you electronically has finally been silenced, you treat us to conversations that nobody cares about, at a decibel level that is suited only to a rock concert. 

While I am sure that their life is important to them (and it should be), can we agree that it means little or nothing to the rest of the world and that the necessity of subjecting us to it ad nauseum just because we happen to be standing within a block of you is ridiculous? Can we likewise agree that perhaps if these people actually had a life, that they wouldn't feel the need to share it with the rest of us quite so much? I can't take it any more! I hereby reject all of the ignorance, lack of good manners, and sheer stupidity of the behavior constantly committed in the name of non-stop, nonsensical cellular communication!

... and that's just my phone. Don't even get me started on how annoying yours is. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Fractured Fairy Tales - The Boy Who Cried Potential

Yes boys and girls, no matter how much we try to avoid it, it's time once again for another of those wonderful stories that you have all come to know and love. (Hey, no complaints. You just have to read them. I'm the one that has to to write them.) Today's tale is another of those cautionary tales about a magical land that we have come to know and love as "Toodledeedoo". But let's not waste any more time in idle chit-chat and get right to our story. 

Once upon a time their lived a man (well, more of a boy actually), who lived in the magical land of Toodledeedoo. This man/boy was a civil servant, in a position of some authority, and had been given direct responsibility for the economic development of the land. Now this was something that is very important to any community, and unfortunately something that he knew absolutely nothing about. But such was the makeup of this over-age child that this lack of knowledge or skills in no way prevented him from blundering forward at his assigned duties. Time passed, and little of this responsibility was actually accomplished.

Toodledeedo's situation in fact got progressively worse under his stewardship. Soon even blissful ignorance made it impossible for him to ignore the fact that he was failing miserably at this given task, but being the creature he was he decided that if he couldn't fulfill his obligations he would ignore his failures and attempt to draw attention to himself and his supposed efforts anyway. 

So one day, he simply went to one of his failed ventures (in this case the downtown Erie Street Market), and cried, "This building has potential!" Everyone came running to see what all of the fuss was about, but when they came, all that they saw was a sad little man in a sad little place. If once the Erie Street Market had potential, it had long since passed. It was little more these days than an eyesore and a drain on Toodledeedoo's scant resources, and a source of embarrassment to it's citizens. Disgusted at being pulled away from their own lives (and with this tired little performance), they shook their heads and sadly walked away. 

Determined to gain praise when he had failed before, he chose another site. This time standing in front of the closed COSI facility (Center of Science and Industry), and again he shouted, "This building has potential!" Once again everyone came running to see what all the excitement was about. Once again they were disappointed. This time the citizens were being presented with a project whose potential, if it ever had any, had long since passed under intellectual laziness, operational neglect, and poor fiscal management. Once more disgusted with a fuss being made over nothing, they sadly shook their heads and walked away, this time mumbling as they left. Infuriated now over his lack of success in drawing the praise he felt he so richly deserved, and undaunted by his continuing failure to garner the proper attention, our subject tried a third time. 

Standing in front of the United Way building this time, he once again shouted, "This building has potential!" Once more, everyone came running (well actually more like trotting this time, but at least they showed up again). One glance at where he was standing was enough for the crowd this time however. The United Way building had been written off by the very people that it was built for as a white elephant, and merited little more than the demolition the owners already had planned for it. The tired efforts or our sorry little civil servant, having passed mere annoyance by this time, were really beginning to aggravate the populace however. They left again, but not without a few angry shouts about bad judgment, abuse of power, and sheer bull-headed ignorance this time. 

Surprised over his complete failure to garner the praise and attention that he felt he so richly deserved, he finally gave up and began to make his way slowly back to his office. It was while make this somber journey however that it occurred to him that the answer to economic development he was looking for had been right before his eyes all the time. It was something that many had been telling him about for years, but which he pointedly ignored because he hadn't come up with the idea first. Toodledeedoo was on a really big lake (some might even call it great) so it could handle shipping by water, was in the middle of a bunch of great 4-lane roads that could be equally helpful, had an airport that nobody was using for much of anything these days, and was surrounded by rail lines to add to the mix. 

If all of these things could be combined (Can you say intermodal facility?), he could turn Toodledeedoo into a commercial hub for the transportation of goods from one end of the country to the other. This realization struck him so strongly that it was all that he could do to continue walking. Almost in spite of himself, he had finally found the answer he was looking for. (After everyone else of course, but that's beside the point.) "This has potential!" he cried, but this time nobody came. "No, this time I really mean it. This has potential!" he screamed again even more loudly, but again no one came. He screamed and screamed again. He screamed until he finally made himself hoarse, but no one ever came to see what the fuss was about. 

You see, when you abuse the power of your position and falsely claim successes that don't really exist, eventually everyone stops listening. Fed up with the natural fertilizer and noise that you have generated in the past, people eventually wise up, tune you out, and in the end ignore you completely. Even if you come up with a great idea after that, no one will show up to hear you; and it is highly unlikely that any good idea that you come up with will ever be realized as a consequence.


Let us hope that this is a fate that those of us not living in a fairy tale can yet avoid. Real opportunities don't come very around often, and if you continually pass them up, eventually they stop coming at all. Perhaps such cautionary tales will help to curb the noise and nonsense that some of our civic leaders generate in their need for self-aggrandizement, focus our attention on real opportunities, and give good ideas a chance to yet succeed.