Saturday, June 27, 2009

Radio Day

I thought that I would take this week's weekend posting to talk a little bit about my experience yesterday. For those of you who missed it (oh, you fortunate ones) last night I hosted the one hour "Eye On Toledo" radio show on NewsTalk 1370 WSPD. The experience was all that I hoped for. 

For those of you who have never attempted such a thing, let me describe some of the highlights to you: 
  • 45 Minutes Prior: You show up to the studio to prepare for the show, only to realize that you don't know what you're doing, so there's nothing to prepare. You are therefore going to have plenty of time to think about what you are about to do 
  • 15 Minutes Prior: Nervous, but not yet panicked. There is another show going on, and the staff is treating the day like any other. You are the only person assuming that you will fail. 
  •  5 Minutes Prior: Your mouth is so dry that you feel that you must have crossed Sinai with Moses. Certainly someone will come to their senses, realize that you can't do this, and allow you to run screaming from the building before it's too late. 
  • 1 Minute Prior: Too late! They tell you that you are about to go on the air. You look around you but realize that there is no escape for you. Your one hope is that when they will flip the switch enough volts will pass through your body to leave you unconscious. 
  • 5 Minutes In: You realize that you have just used the material that you thought would last you for at least half an hour. Full fledged panic mode has become your reality and you are frantically reaching for more material, knowing that only a miracle can save you. 
  • 16 Minutes In: Thank God for the first break and the Wall Street Journal Report. It is the only thing that prevented you from taking your own life, live and on the air. You are now convinced that you are a babbling idiot and that it was a mistake for you to be born, let alone do a radio show. 
  •  22 Minutes In: The break was long enough for you to come up with a Plan B. But as you were contemplating attempted suicide by paper cut, you realize that someone (a friend in fact) has called in. You grab for that life jacket and begin to interact with the audience, who is attempting to bail you out in what can only be a belated feeling of sympathy. Somehow you realize that you will make it to the bottom of the hour and safety, more commonly known as commercials. 
  • 36 Minutes In: You read the weather and reach again into a stack of stuff, now far too thin to sustain the life of the show. Desperate and aware of your own inadequacies, you grab for anything in the stack to fill the time. You also begin to talk slower than you have ever done in your life. 
  • 47 Minutes In: You pull out a rant that you figured would never need to be used. You begin to read it both slowly and carefully for two reasons:
  1. To stretch it for as long as you can, and 
  2. Because your connection with the English language is becoming tenuous at best Since your brain left the building sometime earlier in the evening, you also hope that you are a better writer than a reader. 
  • 58 Minutes In: The staff at the station begins to look at you in the same way that the guards in a death penalty state must look at prisoners when the reprieve call comes through from the governor. You look at what you are doing and what the clock says, and begin to understand that you may have in fact survived this experience. 
  • 1.5 hours afterward (and after a couple of adult beverages): You realize that in spite of your initial fear at doing this and the terror that you felt while doing it, you actually had some fun. You also realize how good the professionals behind the scenes in radio are, how talented they are in effortlessly choreographing this delicate ballet, and that it is only because of their efforts that you didn't make a complete ass of yourself. You even begin to think that you might like another shot at something like this some day, thinking that you might do better (not like that would be hard)
Folks, it really was an amazing experience! I appreciate the opportunity that Brian Wilson gave me in trusting me with an hour on the radio. I likewise appreciate the support and help of the staff at the Death Star (what they call the studio) in getting through the experience, and especially that of Phil McGeehan the Assistant Program Director. I don't think that I will ever be able to thank all of them enough. Who knows, maybe I didn't screw up too much, and they will let me take a shot at it again. 

Friday, June 26, 2009

TFP Column: Founding Father's Day

Well the weekend is upon us once again, which means it's time for the Toledo Free Press. Likewise it's time for yet another "Just Blowing Smoke" column in this distinguished newspaper. This week's effort, Founding Father's Day, covers two of my pet peeves; Hallmark Holidays and the lack of respect shown the Founding Fathers.

As always, there is much, much more to the TFP than my paltry efforts. Caitland McGlade has a couple of interesting stories this week, one on the Point Place neighborhoods ongoing situation with FEMA, the Corp of Engineers, and the city's lack of maintenance for local levies, and another on the attack on local activist Robert Brundage. 

Christine Senack has a great piece on the ties of the Jamie Farr Golf Classic to local charities. The opinion columns, as usual, also have some interesting information to pass on. 

Dock Treece sees some positive signs to the economy, much to my relief. Publisher 

Tom Pounds talks about the All-American city competition recently completed in Tampa, FL. 

Tom Morrissey does a particularly interesting piece on Jon Stainbrook's unintentional efforts to create a 3rd party locally. 

And of course Editor in Chief Michael once again has an entertaining piece on his first family business to a Chuck E Cheese. (Oh man, do I remember those) With all this available both in print and online, how can you not spend a little time with the Toledo Free Press this weekend.

Just as a side note, I am currently working on that book on the care and feeding of peeves. Look for it in bookstores soon.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fairness Doctrine Gone Wild

In a rather twisted use of the Fairness Doctrine, News Talk Radio 1370 WSPD, is choosing to balance the level of intelligence that is normally heard on the "Eye on Toledo" show in the evening by allowing me to guest host the show on Friday, the 26th.

Now those of you who know me know that I have never hosted anything more complicated than a backyard cookout, and that my experience in radio is ... listening to it.  On top of that, I will be subbing for fellow blogger (and good friend) Maggie Thurber, promising comparisons that will not flatter yours truly.

So for those of you who are interested in listening to a train wreck as it happens, for those of you who would like to hear the level to which mass media can sink in Toledo, for those of you interested in watching a person commit social suicide live and on the air; I recommend that you turn your radio on Friday evening to listen (and even participate in the festivities if you choose). Living outside the range of the WSPD transmitter is no excuse either, as you can go to and click on the "Listen Live" button at 6:00 PM Eastern Time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

She's Got A Ticket To Write


Phil McGeehan, the assistant program director at 1370 WSPD, and a damn fine musician, has written a parody tune based on the original effort by the Beatles. We are trying to figure out a way in which to create a link to it and if that happens, I will put up a new posting (or at least an update).      

It is disturbing for me to note this week that political stagecraft, posturing, and sheer gall are not restricted to male politicians in Toledo and Lucas County. For just when I had completed my initial work into a serious academic comparative study of politicians, lunacy, and grandstanding; along comes Sue Frederick to ruin years, OK months, alright days ... OK, a couple of hours of serious scientific research.

Now for those of you who have not heard the story (and there might be a few of you outside of the Toledo / Northwest Ohio area), Sue Frederick is the "Acting" Commissioner of Streets, Bridges and Harbors in Toledo. Without getting too technical on this, the title means that she is responsible for the repair of streets and bridges, leaf collection, and snow removal (The City of Toledo website describing her position says nothing about harbors, in spite of the title and the fact that we have harbors serving the Great Lakes. Go figure.) Sue is the "acting" commissioner because the position requires that one filling it needs to be a certified engineer in the State of Ohio, which Ms Frederick is not.

In addition the responsibilities of her office as "Acting" Commissioner, under the Toledo Municipal code, she also has some special powers and carries a badge. Like the Mayor, members of City Council, and a few other select members of city government, she has been granted "special police powers". These powers meant to be used in emergency situations in order to be of assistance to the police and / or the city. Ms. Frederick however, has evidently decided that what they in fact mean is that "there's a new sheriff in town".

According to information released by the city, upon receiving a complaint of a parking violation, our stalwart commissioner "responded". Of course before she responded to an alleged offense, she found time to create a parking ticket form, in which she cited the wrong section of the Municipal Code and left a number of misspellings to her effort. While responding to the original offense, Ms. Frederick was informed that additional offenders were nearby, and not one to overlook an opportunity, she cited them as well. These parking violations, by the way, were for residents parking on gravel driveways or pads on their own property. 

Of course it should be noted that these parking tickets are not your everyday parking ticket, a charge that can be appealed in municipal court, but a special version which must be adjudicated by a special hearing officer. Unfortunately, no such hearing office exists in Toledo to review these citations (probably making them invalid), but Ms. Frederick has promised continued enforcement none the less, which will leave residents the option to either pay the ticket or have it sent to a collection agency.
So just to recap here:

We have an "Acting" Commissioner who is not qualified to actually hold the position that she does exercising special powers which she may not be qualified to hold as an "Acting" Commissioner. In exercising this power which she may not actually have, she 'created' her own flawed ticket form, then drove out to residences in Toledo to write tickets to people parking on their own property improperly citing the appropriate Municipal code. Add to this that the code, even if properly cited, did not have the required review process or personnel in place, and that the City Law Director has already stated that the tickets are probably unenforceable.

Called before a hearing at City Council on Monday, our intrepid Commissioner was both belligerent and unrepentant, and challenged a member of Council for interfering with her in performance of her self-assigned duties. A further (and later) response from the city stated that the original tickets, carrying a fine of $25, will be replaced with new ones carrying a fine of $75. (This may be a serious attempt by the city to make up it's $12.5 million deficit, in which case they better get writing.) 

Only in Toledo, can such a thing contemplated without the tearing of hair and clothing, and gnashing of teeth. My response instead however, with ADD and warped sense of humor in full bloom, is to recall (and paraphrase) the lyrics from an old Beatles tune: 

"She's gotta ticket to write. She's gotta ticket to write... ite ... ite. She got a ticket to write, and she don't care."

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day 2009

I tried to avoid writing a post on Father's Day (much like last year). While I consider it a "Hallmark Holiday", it is still too sensitive a subject for me to attempt to deal with. 

My efforts in this damned near succeeded. Instead of actually writing anything new this weekend however, I am going to refer you to the Father's Day posting that I grudgingly did last year. As I went back over it this year, I discovered that I really had nothing further to say on the subject.

I will actually be spending a good part of the weekend with my son Sean in Columbus, where we will undoubtedly participate in our own unique version of the father / son experience, something that I always look forward to.

I should also note (just for the giggles) that Father's Day will be competing in downtown Columbus with Gay Pride Weekend, so it promises to be an interesting (and diverse) visit. 
Happy Father's Day

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pop Go The Weasels

Having changed forever the way that we look at capitalism, our government is ready to move on to its next "crisis". This is a crisis that must be dealt with NOW, or the very life and health of the American people is at stake. Of course this problem is what to do about health care. 

Now like me, many of you out there may have a failing memory. You may therefore not remember that we had this same crisis with us (and many of the same answers proposed) the last time that we had a Democratic president. It was back in 1993, and First Lady Hillary Clinton chaired the task force on health care reform. 

The conclusions reached 16 years ago, strangely enough, was that even then we were all doomed unless the government stepped in and began to take control over a major portion of America's health care. Congress however, did not seem nearly as anxious to meddle in this rather significant part of the GDP as the President and First Lady however, and in spite of the Chicken Little predictions of the world's ending, they failed to pass any new health care legislation. 

Amazingly enough, somehow we survived. The Obama Administration however, seems to be on a roll these days. No one seems to know how to say "no" to this man on any amount of money, any level of bureaucratic increase, or any level of control or interference that he sees fit to make in the private sector. In fact the government seems to have shifted the argument on health care to how much of an additional role the federal government will have and how much control it will have in deciding treatment rather than whether such a role for the government is necessary in the first place. 

The dirty little secret that few like to talk about in these days of multi-trillion dollar debt however is how much it will cost and who will pay for it. According to a June 16th Wall Street Journal article by Greg Hitt and Laura Meckler, the first 9 years of this plan are expected to cost at least 1 trillion dollars (a number that used to mean something until a couple of months ago). Government speak tells us that if this is the estimate now, the reality will in fact be far more, how much more nobody really knows. 

This is a lot of money to raise for the Fed's coffers now that tobacco has been taxed to the point that any further raises in the rate might kill the golden goose. Enter soda pop... It seems that some in government think it a good idea to pay the bill for government health care expansion by taxing soda pop with sugar in it. After all, such liquids have been linked to both obesity and to diabetes in the past. Since these diseases will likely add to the overall cost of a person's health care, such taxation seems only logical.  

So goes the slippery slope of a tax and spend, progressive, statist point of view. First it was tobacco and now it's soda pop (I guess memories of Prohibition are scaring them away from alcohol for now). When they find out there's not enough money to be had in soda taxes, you won't have to wait long for the french fry tax, the cheeseburger tax, the cheesecake tax, and maybe even a doughnut tax. It will all be argued as a logical necessity to our health and well being, but is truly nothing more than government behavior modification through taxation. 

We will allow the government to take just a bit of our freedom in the name of our health, in effect punishing us for making choices that they do not approve of. And as these rodent bureaucrats scurry around Washington, gnash their teeth, and salivate over their petty victory over us, as they gloat while counting our money in their wasteful pockets, as they do truly chase "us" around the mulberry bush (instead of as the lyrics of the nursery rhyme go); it will be "Pop!" goes the weasels.

Friday, June 19, 2009

TFP Column: Creating A Police State

Yes it's Friday once again, and that means yet another effort penned for the Toledo Free Press. This week's column, "Creating a police state", deals with our city's most recent brush with national celebrity by the issuing of parking tickets by a person without a badge. I think that it might be a take on this that has not yet been put forward.

As usual, my small effort is one of many things that you are going to want to read this week. Michael Miller's piece on our 70 year-old Mayor attempting to break up a fight with more than two dozen young people involved is a tour de force effort. Tom Pounds effort on the recently resigned head of city council Mark Sobczak provides some needed perspective on the man and the job. Heather Miller presents a cautionary piece on the exposure that the Internet can provide (good and bad).

There is plenty to catch up on in the local Toledo scene this weekend as well, from the teen running for Toledo Mayor to the Father's Day events that will be going on this weekend. Saturday looks like a rainy one, a perfect opportunity to relax, catch up with everything going on in Toledo, and maybe even give Dad an extra hug (I am sure he will appreciate it).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fractured Fairy Tales - Little Ben Riding Hood

I know that's it has been far too long since I shared one of my "Fractured Fairy Tales" with you, and I apologize for that lapse. Quite frankly I had lost track of this dusty tome amidst the piles of books that these days seem to have all but pushed me out of my humble hermit's cave. I promise that I will not let such a shirking of responsibility occur again.

Now for those of you only recently come to the party here at Just Blowing Smoke, these slightly twisted (OK, more than slightly twisted) fables are stories of a far-away magical land known as Toodledeedoo (pronounced Tuudle dee duu), where unusual things have been known to happen from time to time. But hey kids speaking of time (and unusual things), let's not waste any more of it letting me attempt to describe the almost indescribable. Let's get right to our story.

Little Ben Riding Hood was wandering through the woods one day, looking for any money left lying about that he could use to pay for college educations for complete strangers (something he often did when not trying to lend people money to buy artwork or making a big deal out of poets), when he spied a young taxpayer making her way down the same path just a bit ahead of him. Curious as to why anyone would want to copy his journey and hoping that she might be someone that he could get a few bucks for his project from, he called out to her.

"Where are you off to little girl, and why are you following me?" he asked.
"I am off to my granny's house for a visit," she replied turning back to look at him, "and how can I be following you when I'm ahead of you."

"Never mind that nonsense," he said. "People are always trying to copy me. It's the sincerest form of flattery you know. Now be off with you, don't try to steal my best ideas."

The young taxpayer, shaking her head in confusion, resumed her journey; but didn't realize that it would no longer be the same one that she started. For your see, Ben Riding Hood knew of the granny that she was talking about and that there were often lovely tidbits there to be had there for the taking. So he conceived of yet another in a long string of 'bold, fresh ideas' (many of which, strangely enough, seemed to have originally come from ideas previously put forward by someone else, but I digress), and he decided to get to the granny's house before the girl did. When he did, our young taxpayer would be in for quite a surprise.

So off he ran to granny's cottage just as fast as he could, arriving well ahead of the young girl, and knocked on the door. When granny answered, he quickly bound and gagged her and locked her in her own closet. Then, donning one of the granny's wigs and flannel nightgowns (hey, no comments here please, it is after all a "bold" idea), he climbed into her bed and waited.

It wasn't much later when the next knock on the door came and without waiting for a response from within, the young girl came in. Not seeing her granny at first, she entered the cottage, looked into the bedroom, and discovered the disguised Ben Riding Hood, lying in granny's bed now and with the covers pulled up over his chin.

"Granny, is everything all right?" she asked, sensing something strange in granny still being in bed this late in the day. The concern was obvious in her voice.

"Why sure it is," Ben Riding Hood replied, nervously pulling the covers a bit higher.

"I was just worried that maybe those 'good old boys' had been back again to torment you like they always do," she responded.

Ben Riding Hood merely shook his head, but was now looking around the room as if fearing that they would appear at any moment.

"OK," the little girl replied dubiously. "Well listen Granny, I brought those checks that you asked me to. You know, the ones for the windows for your cottage and the ambulance service. What do you want me to do with them?"

"That's lovely dear," Ben Riding Hood replied, visions of those long awaited scholarships now dancing in his head, "just set them on the dresser there next to you and leave."

"Well maybe I shouldn't just leave them, with you in bed and all. There's a lot of money here. Beside, I came to visit and I just got here, and well ... OK," she replied disappointed. "Listen though Granny, you really don't look so good. Is there something wrong with your eyes?"

"No, no, nothing wrong here," Ben Riding Hood replied with an anxious quiver in his voice and another darting glance around the room as he tried to hide them. "I'm just happy to see you stop by."

"OK Granny, if you say so; but I have to tell you, you kind of sound funny too."
"Yes," he croaked, the anticipation of that money all but taking his voice away. "Yes, you're right. I must have some kind of frog in my throat. I'm sure it will be fine though. You should just go ahead and leave the money and go."

But the girl had become suspicious now and said, "Granny, I really think that there's something wrong. You seem awful jumpy and now your hands are shaking really bad. Maybe I ought to get someone to have a look at you."

And she was right. Ben Riding Hood was now trembling almost uncontrollably, thinking of what he could do with that kind of money with nobody able to tell him he couldn't. Worried that the jig was up, and simply unable to resist the urge any longer, he leaped from the bed and dashed to the dresser, grabbing for the checks as he did
"Say," the little girl said, "You're not my Granny at all."

"Maybe not," he replied, "but I'm going to use this money help people whether they want it or not. I going use it to do the right thing the way that I see it, and there's nobody to tell me that I can't."

"Help!" the girl cried upon hearing this ridiculous statement. "Save me from this madman trying to steal my Granny's money!"

Now it just so happened that a group of people were passing close by the cottage at the time, heard the girl's call, and rushed to the rescue (I think they call them voters). Sizing up the situation quickly, they grabbed the checks from Ben Riding Hood, grabbed him by the seat of his short pants, and threw him out the front door into the street. Quickly freeing Granny and safely reuniting her with the girl, they then turned and chased Ben Riding Hood down the road and all the way out of Toodledeedoo, never to be heard from again (or at least we hope not).

The End

Yes, yet another happy ending to another potentially tragic tale in Toodledeedoo. Perhaps those 'voters' are finally beginning to wise up to some of those smiling faces in this city masquerading as something that they are not. Perhaps they will in fact show up in force to chase both the madmen and miscreants from our fair land. Perhaps at long last, we will see that you truly cannot fool most of the people most of the time (even here in Toledo). 

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Happy 2nd Anniversary

"Today, June 14th, is a day that will live in infamy."  

Sorry to paraphrase a line from the speech the FDR gave when asking for the declaration of war against Japan on December 7, 1941; but I couldn't help myself as I contemplated the fact that this is the 2nd anniversary of the the first post on "Just Blowing Smoke" blog site. 

That so much time has passed seems unbelievable to me. Sometimes it seems as though this only began yesterday, while at others it feels as if I have been doing this forever (though the latter feeling usually only occurs when I find myself once again at a loss for an original idea). With over 380 postings under my belt now and just over 30 columns for the Toledo Free Press besides, it has proved to be far more writing work than I ever would have envisioned. 

The experience has certainly been an interesting one however, as the efforts have provided me with the opportunity for me to share some my own wit (OK, half-wit), wisdom (don't say it), and quirky view of the world with many of you out there. It has also allowed me to meet some wonderful, intelligent, and fascinating people as well; both in person and online (though the 3 Amigos appear to be about to graduate from online to in person)

It has even provided me an opportunity that I never would have hoped for or expected, in introducing me to Michael Miller and Tom Pounds at the Toledo Free Press. The faith that they have place in me has permitted me to expand my audience and challenge myself further as a writer, and I will be eternally grateful for their continued support. 

Mostly however, writing on this blog has simply been a lot of fun, and something which I hope to be doing for many years to come. (For those of you who thought this might be my farewell posting, I can only say sorry.) I would therefore like to thank you to all of you who have shared this rather twisted journey with me. And for the many out there who have not (or at least, have not yet), I can only say ... oh why bother, they won't see this anyway.  

Now that I think about it, you would think that with all smoke that I've blown over the last two years that the view would be all but obscured by now (Hmmm, I wonder what my carbon footprint is?). So let me quit while I'm behind and close with a thought from the posting that I shared on the first anniversary of this blog. It is from one of my favorite writers Robert Heinlein, and still seems strangely appropriate.

 "Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterward." 

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Not My Bag Man

I decided to turn my thoughts this weekend to the containers with which we bring goods home from the store this weekend. There seems to be a growing furor over these containers, and I thought that it might be interesting to take a look back before looking forward.

Growing up as a kid in the far south suburbs of Chicago, we used to get our groceries bagged up in brown paper bags. It was all an interesting ballet performed by professional "baggers", who gracefully and magically always seemed to pick the right item from the belt to fit into this humble shipping container. With the square base of these paper shopping bags, it even often became possible to stack layers of cans or boxes inside them almost to the brim, and if the items were potentially too heavy for the strength of the paper, "double bagging" (nesting one paper bag inside of the other) quickly solved the problem. Once emptied, these containers remained useful as everything from temporary storage containers to tinder for the charcoal grill or fireplace.
The burgeoning environmental movement of the time reared its ugly head however, and insisted that we move away from containers made from paper. Paper after all, was made from trees and it was environmentally unsound for us to cut down trees simply to make paper bags. The fact that trees are both a biodegradable and a renewable resource did not seem to occur to these so-called planetary guardians, but that seemed beside the point. Paper bags must go!

Enter the plastic bag. Made of a recyclable plastic, this new container was to provide the ecologically friendly answer to grocery transport. Of course they didn't hold as much as the old paper standby, had greater weight restrictions, and were nearly impossible to sensibly place items in; but according to the experts they were more environmentally friendly, so we simply adjusted. Those of us with some level of social consciousness even faithfully stored the empty bags and took them back to the grocery store so that they could in fact be recycled. This was easy, since unlike their paper predecessors they were useless beyond their originally intended purpose, so parting with them was not a problem.

Never content with the sacrifice made by their fellow man in service of Mother Nature, the environmental movement reared its ugly head again however. This time they demanded that we do away with the plastic bags. It seems that not every human being was as environmentally conscious as is necessary, and many of the recyclable bags were in fact not being recycled. In addition, plastic bags were made from plastic! Plastic of course is a petroleum product (oil), and everything made of oil is evil in the environmental movement. Plastic bags must go!

The demand then came for us to switch from the free plastic bags that the store provided to cotton, canvas, or hemp bags that we would have to purchase and carry to the store with us when we shopped. We were told that the materials that these new Eco-friendly bags were made were bio-degradable and the bags themselves could be used over and over again, and for multiple purposes (you know, like paper).

News soon reached us however that these bags, though eco-friendly could be a health hazard. Carrying groceries like fresh fruits, vegetables, or even meats whose juices were leaking, would permit these new containers to become contaminated. Once contaminated, they could then transfer unhealthy bacteria either to any new foods placed into them, or directly to people using them through physical contact. Canvas bags must therefore go!

Jump to the Present...

The environmental movement is now saying that plastic bag manufacture should be banned because of the contamination of landfills, of life in the wild in general, and of the oceans as well as they break down and are consumed by sea life. So we can't use the plastic Eco-friendly bags, since in spite of their original designation, they are destroying the environment. We likewise can't use the canvas Eco-friendly bags unless we sterilize them like medical instruments or throw them away after every use (rather impractical after spending so much money for them). We further still can't use paper bags as they are the original bad guys in this whole process, with the guilt of millions of dead trees attached to them. Well, I guess we will just have to carry our groceries home by the armload or buy them by the handful.

Au contraire mon ami (that's French). It's time to ignore the eco-friendly, politically correct bullshit and do what we know is right. I don't know about you, but as for me, I'm going back to the paper bags. Not only were they always the best way to carry groceries, but I have a certain secondary use in mind as well. 

I plan to cut a couple of eye holes in one and wear it over my head in embarrassment for believing the eco-crap that the environmental movement has been handing out for all of those years. Never again!

Friday, June 12, 2009

TFP Column: Our Government Hard At Work

We come to yet another weekend, and therefore yet another in a string of seemingly endless efforts on my part for the Toledo Free Press. This week's column, Our Government Hard At Work speaks to the one who seems to be able to find new jobs to do (whether we want them to or not), the Federal Government.

As is usually the case, there is far more of interest than my continued pitiful efforts at creative writing. Michael Miller writes an extremely interesting piece on pop culture, in the form of a DVD on "Cowboy" Jack Clement. (I know, I didn't know who he was either, but I do now and I am impressed.) Publisher Tom Pounds writes about form UT president Dan Johnson, and a new book of his essays. Shannon Szuperski contibutes some insight on parents and teachers that I think is well worth reading. Tom Richards writes a piece that ... well just read it, it needs no further introduction.

There are also a couple of pieces on who's leaving city council and who running that you are going to want to catch up on. (The scorecard on at-large council candidates is threatening to become rather large by the way, and I for one will be very interested to see where that leads.)

I just looked up the weather, and it looks like a comfy chair in the shade, a cold beverage (unless it's Guinness of course) and the TFP for me. Have a great weekend!


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Flying On One Wing

There seems to be a lot of discussion among both Republicans and Democrats lately about how the Republican Party is going to become little more that an afterthought in American politics if they don't reject their Conservative ideology (and / or those who hold it) and become more like moderate Democrats. 

I have to say that I find all of this rather curious. From the Democrats, who seem to normally be rather savvy political strategists, my curiosity is simply that of political competition. "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." said Napoleon Bonaparte, who was not a bad strategist himself. So why are the Democrats trying to interrupt the Republicans from self-destructive behavior. Behavior which, if it should succeed, would leave the Democrats in power indefinitely? Why would you do your political enemies the favor of presenting them with advice to keep them from failing? 

Not being a Republican, I have no stake in whether they pay heed to advice from their political enemies, but I would caution them as Virgil once did, remembering Troy, "I fear Greeks, even when they bring gifts".  

As to the Republicans, rejecting what is supposed to be the core Conservative beliefs of your political party in the name of political victory likewise seems a bit self-destructive. It also seems adopting the beliefs of your sworn political enemies might be more than a little self-defeating. For assuming that you do so, even if should win the electoral battle as a result, you would lose the ideological war in the process. 

This is not to say that I believe that only those who hold a strict Conservative point of view on every subject should be allowed to call themselves Republican. There are many kinds of Conservatives: fiscal and social to name but a few. All of those who call themselves conservative in one area do not necessarily call themselves conservative in all others should not lose the title as a consequence. 

I would likewise say that calling yourself a Republican while rejecting all of the core beliefs of the party does not make you one any more than calling yourself a Catholic while rejecting the leadership of the Pope and the precepts of the Church would make you one. In order to be a member of a given group one must at least give credence to those basic principles. 

So to Democrats who would like to assume a liberal tone and tenor and lean as far to the left as they can, I would applaud your efforts even while disagreeing with you to my very core. It is your right and none may take it from you. For Republicans (and again let me state that I am not one), I would tell them to lean as far to the right as you chose and ignore the naysayers from within your party and without. This too is your right and none has the ability or authority to make it otherwise. Perhaps after all, we need more than a bland center to politics that some seem to believe is the ideal. 

We need both the left and the right to precipitate lively discussion of the issues, to excite the electorate in what can otherwise be a rather tedious process, and to inspire a spirit of competition that brings out the best of both the left and the right. 

Actually, all of this reminds me of the heady, but politically incorrect days of my youth, when drinking to excess was not only considered normal and accepted; but quite frankly was almost expected. In those days, one of the constant crowd challenges was, "Come on kid, have another. You can't fly on one wing." So my advice (for what it's worth) to both the Democrats and Republicans is, forget complaining about all of this right wing / left wing factions of your parties, because after all, you can't fly on one wing.


Monday, June 8, 2009

Judge Ye Not Chrysler, Lest GM Also Be Judged

Justice Judith Bader Ginsburg issued a writ today, stalling the sale of major assets by Chrysler to Fiat. This writ was issued based on a case brought before The Court by a group of pension and construction funds in Indiana who stand to lose millions of dollars from lost investment in Chrysler secured bonds (or loans).  
Normally such secured credit holders are the first to be paid off in bankruptcy proceedings, but in the case of Chrysler, these bond holders were in fact placed at the end of the line (or not in the line at all). The interesting part about the action brought on behalf of these pensions funds is the two-prong attack:  

1. Why were normal bankruptcy procedures bypassed in this situation by the lower courts, and was it do due to improper pressure brought to bear by the government?
2. The funds used by the federal government to prop up Chrysler prior to bankruptcy and the reason that the federal government has had so much to say about how reorganization would work were taken from the TARP funds.  

For those of you who can't remember all the way back to the last months of the Bush Administration, TARP funds were originally designed to buy toxic assets from banks (hence the name Toxic Asset Relief Program). While actually never used to buy any toxic assets, the funds were generally understood to be used for the bailout of the banking industry. Congress, recognized that TARP funds might not be able to be used for bailing out automobile makers however when that situation appear imminent, and tried to get a separate bailout package passed for that purpose. They were unsuccessful in doing so. 

Ignoring the legislative defeat however, the Administration at the time simply decided to take the money from TARP anyway. Since the fund had no real Congressional oversight in place, they were able to apply it where and how they saw fit. If the Supreme Court now rules that TARP funds were used improperly for one bailout, then obviously they would have been used improperly for both. 

If this turns out to be the case, how will both companies give back money that has already been spent to a government that doesn't want it? An equally interesting part of this is case is not just what happens to these bond holder pension funds and to Chrysler as a result, but what impact this could have on the bankruptcy re-emergence of General Motors, whose bond holders were likewise given short shift when asset reallocation was performed and approved. Not only could this case re-establish the rule of law where these auto bankruptcies are concerned, it could also prove a serious roadblock to the Obama Administration's continued attempts to take oversight control of operation and reorganization of private sector companies. (Can you say medical insurance?)  

We will all be waiting and watching with great interest ...  


The Court turned down hearing the petition and more's the pity. There seems to be no brakes on this runaway train of government. 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Two Birthdays

Once more I reach the time of year when there are many birthdays to celebrate in the Higgins clan. While there are birthdays aplenty in the earlier part of the year, it is as summer comes into full bloom that my children and siblings find these anniversaries of their birth beginning to occur. (This is something that I can only assume can be accounted for by long cold Midwestern winters, long before global warming reared it ugly head.) 

So June begins this period today with the birth of my oldest Sean Patrick, who gained his name from Sean Connery, an actor that his mother and I were rather fond of at the time (especially when you ignore the Bond movies) and the Patron saint of Ireland. He has fulfilled the promise of this name with a fine career and an admirable life. I will not embarrass him with a list of his accomplishments in the field of computers (which I don't really understand anyway), nor by heaping praise upon him; but I will simply say that no father has ever been more proud of his son, and I am happy to have a venue like this blog to be able to publicly say so. 

But two days hence there is reason to celebrate yet again in the family, as my younger sister Kathy becomes the same age as I am. How can this be you might ask, if she is your younger sister? The fact is that Kathy and I are "Irish Twins", siblings born but 10-1/2 months apart. One can only speculate as to the excitement that our parents felt when this given this announcement by the gynecologist during my mother's postpartum check up. Kathy and I grew up inseparable however, excepting of course when my mother was forced to separate us to at least temporarily prevent one of us from tormenting the other to the point of madness (perhaps that's how I got this way). Now a grandmother herself and visiting her 1st grandchild in Germany as this is posted, we remain very close

So I happily take this time away from the more mundane affairs of world in general and politics in particular to wish both of them a truly Happy Birthday. 

Saturday, June 6, 2009

TV Shows

I have previously admitted to not watching a lot of the television that seemed to have been popular over the last couple of years. Friends, Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond, Grey's Anatomy, Sex and the City, American Idol, every version of the Survivor show, and every one of the Wrestling leagues has been on my "sorry, didn't watch it" list. I have likewise missed all of the "reality shows" from the tattoo artists to the bounty hunter, from the Osborne family to the Kardasian family. (I freely admit that I did watch "Deadliest Catch a couple of times, but only because I am a particular fan of king crab legs and wanted to see what they looked like attached to the animal.) 

This is not to say that I have not been witness to snippets of the nonsense from these shows from time to time, but more to say that embarrassment, disinterest, or simple anger at the sheer ignorance of these shows emerged rather quickly, causing me to change the channel. I guess the problem was that I never understood what it was about these shows that were considered entertainment. It got me thinking about where we seek entertainment, and what this level of entertainment says about us. 

Could it be that the popularity of such shows simply points to the level of desperation that people are beginning to feel about the world around them? Is it that looking at the foolishness of sitcom characters living caricature lives makes us feel better about our own situations? Could it be the false reality of reality shows make us less stressed out? Could the freak shows of the families portrayed on TV make us complacent about the mostly minor silliness that we find in our own homes? Could it be that watching people whose lives are worse than our own appeals to an inordinate number of us and that juvenile humor is our only form of escape?

I know one thing for sure, the networks certainly love us for what we are doing. With the exception of the sitcoms, none of these shows requires much in the way of a writing staff, making them much cheaper to produce. Those that do have writers don't appear to have very good ones (perhaps with the exception of some of the wrestling). For many of the rest of them, much of the work involved is simply to film (and perhaps orchestrate) the madness going on around them, then edit it in such a way that it appears to make some kind of sense. Considering the plunging revenues of network television these days however, all of this has to be a rather welcome relief to their respective owners.

On the other hand, maybe the new "hulu" commercials are right. Maybe all of this is simply an alien plot, attempting to turn human brains into a form of goo that can be consumed by them (and heaven knows, there is nothing better than a good meal of brain goo when you're really hungry). 

On that pleasant thought, have a great weekend...

Friday, June 5, 2009

TFP Column: American Monarchs

June is finally upon us, and we can almost put aside the cold of last winter and bask in the warmth of summer. In this week's Toledo Free Press Column however, I show little warmth for the latest of the President's additions to government, the cyber czar. In fact, I have little warmth for the concept of federal government czars at all, as I point out in American Monarchs. You might find it an interesting read. 

As usual, my effort is only a small part of a big world out there that the TFP (the largest circulation paper in Toledo on Sunday) manages to cover so well. Jim Harpen does an interesting piece on the budget of Toledo and where it is and isn't going. Dan Johnson puts forth an interesting perspective on the potential for Toledo to reinvent itself. Michael Miller's effort this week, which is always interesting, is on Pop Culture and a recent road trip.

Of course the big news of the week is that NASCAR is coming into town at the Michigan International Speedway for a big race next weekend. So make sure you pick up a copy of the latest TFP to make sure that you are ready for it.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Gentleman & A Scholar(ship)

One of our current Mayoral candidates, a young gentleman by the name of Ben Konop, has staked out a rather interesting idea as part of his campaign. 

As outlined at least briefly in last week's Toledo Free Press "10 ways Ben Konop can save Toledo if he is elected mayor", he proposes to call for an $80 million scholarship fund for higher education funded on cost savings that would be achieved by the County through cost cutting measures and privatizing the EMS service for the County.  

This is not the first time that this particular mayoral candidate has sought County funding for college tuition, the last time suggesting that such funding could in some part be obtained by refusing to replace windows in a County-owned building that already had an approved capital improvement budget. (This seemed confusing to me at the time, as more energy efficient windows would show our desire to do the right "green" thing by saving energy, and would also save County money through reduced heating and cooling bills. Perhaps I simply don't understand the County Commissioner's priorities however.) However, the concept of where the money comes from deflects our attention from the real questions here: 

- Why would you choose to saddle the county with reduced revenues at a time when you are choosing to remove yourself from responsibility for the county by running for Mayor of Toledo? 

- If you could have saved money for the County by these measures (or any others for that matter), why haven't you already instituted them? - At what point did college tuition become the responsibility of the County (or any level of government for that matter)?

Oregon, OH Mayor Marge Brown and her city council evidently agree with me on this one. Spearheading an effort to shoot this concept down, Oregon just passed a measure opposed to this effort by a vote of 7 to 0 on Monday. As reported in yesterday, Mayor Brown in fact pointed out yet another potential problem in this scholarship effort, that being that since Commissioner Konop is a teacher at the University of Toledo, directing County funding to it may well be a conflict of interest.

I wonder sometimes whether it has occurred to any of our mayoral candidates that we could more easily bear the burden of things like tuition, both for ourselves and for our children, if our government were more efficient and our level of taxation were not so high. I wonder what they are really thinking when they propose pie-in-the-sky things like wind farms on landfills with taxpayer funding that can never be repaid by such a project, at a time when every taxpayer in the area could use more of their money back simply to make ends meet. I seriously wonder at any politician who believes that government does a better job of spending the taxpayer's money than that taxpayer does. 

So while I'm sure that Mr. Konop proposed this plan with only the most altruistic of motives, I for one would like to politely decline his offer. We have seen again recently through the behavior of our current Mayor that we may well need a more of a gentleman in office, but we don't need this or any other county-funded scholar(ship). 

(In the spirit of full faith and disclosure, I must also point out that "Ben 10" has been until recently, one of my favorite cartoons. The article in the TFP however, though cleverly titled and illustrated, may possibly have ruined it for me.)