Saturday, October 30, 2010

Stormy Weather

"Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky ... Stormy weather"

Sure, it's the opening line from a 1933 song by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, but it's also a pretty apt description of the furor surrounding a recent column by Toledo Free Press editor-in-chief Michael Miller. It seems that Michael took umbrage with District 9 Republican candidate for the House Rich Iott's wearing of a Waffen SS uniform while participating in his hobby of war re-enactment and how it might impact his ability to serve as a NW Ohio representative in Congress.

I can't and won't say that I agree with all of Michael's reasoning in his offering, and in fact I wrote a piece in the same edition espousing a different point of view (an effort which seemed to go largely unnoticed in the furor to tar and feather both Michael and the TFP).

I am not exposed to the same sources of information that Michael is exposed to both locally or nationally however, nor do I travel in the same circles in NW Ohio that he does; so I recognize that there may be facts in evidence that he may be aware of that I am not. This hasn't changed my opinion of Mr Iott, who I believe would be much better for the future of NW Ohio than incumbent Rep Marcy Kaptur; nor has it changed my opinion of Michael Miller, someone I believe likewise serves the best interests of Toledo and NW Ohio.

There have been many well-documented efforts on the part of Mr Miller and the TFP to support worthy causes, worthy candidates, and worthy values in the area; efforts that have earned both due respect and praise. I would venture to say as well, that while he and the TFP now find themselves under fire from the right, that they found themselves under equal pressure from other directions when supporting the United Way's right to tear down their own building, or when shining a less than flattering light on the 'business as usual' politics in both the mayor's office and city council in Toledo.

According to the response that I read in some of the local blogs, the comments to the column, and the subsequent letters-to-the-editor sent to the Free Press itself, I appear to find myself in the minority (something that I have grown used to over the years). Apparently the TFP was so evil and close-minded that it even allowed follow up pieces by others (people that I also respect) in the following edition. It does seem strange to me however, that so many apparent long-time friends and fans are ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater in the case of Mr Miller and the TFP because he has written something that they disagree with. It also seems strange to me that some are now attempting to define all of Michael's efforts by this one piece, condemning him with faint praise and vowing to end their relationship with him and the paper.

As my own efforts going forward will show (including one this weekend), I have not. And while I understand that strong feelings can often come in the days leading up to an election, the decision of so many to make so abrupt a break with a such positive force in a city that needs all that it can get is something of a disappointment to me. I know that I have any number of friends and family that disagree with my opinions, and some rather strongly. I share many spirited debates with those loved ones and colleagues whose opinions I value and likewise totally disagree with. So I was forced to ask myself:

  • Would these same people sever ties with a family member for expressing a view that they don't agree with?
  • Would these same people abandon a friendship with someone because they voiced an opinion or voted for a candidate that they opposed?
  • Would they judge either friend or family on the basis of 1% of the views that they espouse, when they agree with the other 99%?
If any of this is the case, perhaps the relationship was not all that can or should be expected of what I at least would define as friendship.

Perhaps this outpouring of well-intentioned and strongly-held opinion is exactly what so many are saying is wrong with politics today. Perhaps some are so concerned with winning the game that they will abandon both a friend and the willingness to concede that someone else might have a valid point of view in trying to do so.

Let me say once again and for the record, I will not.

I waited this long to write anything on the subject in the hopes that somehow the apparent frenzy and furor would subside, that the clouds would part and the sun would begin to shine once again on Toledo and The Free Press. We may need to wait to see the results of the election however, before the dust settles on yet another cycle of campaign rhetoric amped up to the volume of 'fighting words' and cooler heads can prevail. Meanwhile, as recent climatic disturbances have shown us, this is indeed the season for both real and political stormy weather.

Friday, October 29, 2010

TFP Column: The Island of Misfit Legislators

Halloween is this weekend, Thanksgiving is less than a month away, and it seems that Christmas is around the corner. On top of all this, the election is next week. So it's of little surprise that my thoughts have managed to connect completely disparate subjects into a commentary on what might happen to incumbent politicians after the results are announced. 

Such was the inspiration for "The Island of Misfit Legislators", a curious connection between an stop-animation classic, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", and next week's electoral results. 

This being the weekend before the election, I'm sure that there is more than enough information for even the most undecided of voters to come to some conclusions before going off to the polls, including a number of voices speaking out on Issue 5 in Toledo. (You are going to the polls aren't you? Come on people! Those intelligent enough to read this blog and the TFP have to be responsible enough to exercise their franchise.) 

So enjoy the cooler weather, curl up with Toledo's largest Sunday circulation newspaper, and find out what's going on while you're waiting for that annoying bunch with their hands out (not those cute little Trick or Treaters, I mean politicians running for office).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Halloween Costumes 2010

Halloween is once more almost upon us, and in the final days leading up to it I have been asked once again (well,kind of asked anyway) to submit my suggestions for timely, effective, and often inexpensive Halloween costumes for this year's celebrations. Like political commercials designed to influence the undecided (and generally annoy the hell out of people), hopefully the ideas here will indeed infuriate, while helping those who remain yet uncommitted to a final disguise decision.
  • (Women) Dress in an orange jumpsuit, get passing out drunk, and tell everyone that you're Lindsay Lohan and have just escaped from rehab again.
  • (Men - not to be left out of the fun) Put on a Scottish kilt, a leather jacket, and an army helmet; get stinking drunk, and tell them that you're Mel Gibson and that they are all assholes.
  • Dress up as President Obama and tell all of the kids Trick or Treating that the lousy candy that they're getting this year is the fault of George Bush and the Republicans.
  • Dress up in a flannel shirt, jeans, and a Canadian Tuque (knit cap). When asked, tell them you are Randy Quaid and that someone's trying to kill you.
  • Knock on every door and insist that every person participate in the Halloween festivities whether they want to or not. When they ask, tell them you are Congress and you just passed a law mandating it.
  • If you are a senior citizen, dress up in a football uniform with a #4 jersey (Packers, Jets, and Vikings uniforms will all do). When anyone asks, tell them you are Brett Favre, cry a little, and say that you are never going to quit Trick or Treating, ever ... then ask to borrow a cell phone.
  • Dress in your Sunday finest and wear the plastic smiling mask from a theater on your face. When asked, tell them you are one of the many Republicans running for office expecting to be swept in on the tidal wave of voter support.
  • Women can use the alternative of also using their Sunday best, but adding the plastic frown face masque from any theater. When asked, tell them that you're current Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and just realized that next year you're going to have to go back to flying coach cross-country to get home.
  • Wear anything that you like, and Trick or Treat houses in the Toledo area; but refuse all offers of candy, asking for cash instead. If asked (and you will be) simply tell them that you are TARTA (the local bus system) or TPS (the local school system), and once again in financial straits.
  • Dress up in an inflatable sumo suit, then cover that with the largest and most hideous suit and tie that you can find (to keep anyone from thinking that you're going as Jabba the Hutt). When anyone asks, you can answer Michael Moore or Dick Morris, depending which side of the political spectrum you find more whorish and detestable. (In Dick's case, perhaps both.)
  • For those of you who plan to stay home to greet your costumed guests, I recommend putting on a suit and tie and after greeting your tiny guests, ask them who they are dressed as. When they try to answer, interrupt them before they can finish. When asked about your own costume, you can pick from Fox News analysts Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity.
  • If you're Congressional candidate in NW Ohio Rich Iott, don't dress up at all. If you've learned anything in recent days, it's that you shouldn't be playing dress up if you want to run for political office.
I know it's been a bad year this year, but you can still do your part to help the dismal retail numbers out there by buying far more candy than you need for the weekend's festivities. Not only will you be helping the economy by your efforts, but few things can make a person feel better about themselves than the endorphins (chemicals your brain produces) released when you're gorging on huge quantities of chocolate. This method of personal satisfaction will also likely keep you from attempting to steal the required mood swing treats from your childrens' bags.

Have a great Halloween!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Where The Money Is

There are a lot of people wondering why so many seek elected office. They wonder about the time, the effort, and the expense that any candidate is willing to incur for the sake of becoming a 'servant of the people'. Why are so many willing to spend millions of their personal fortunes in fact, to get a job that cannot possibly pay back such financial investment? 

Many are similarly asking these days why so many elected officials seem to find themselves involved with scandal at some point during their tenure in office. How could it be that so many who seek public service seem to find themselves with their hands in the public cookie jar or accepting things that they shouldn't?  

While I certainly wouldn't claim to have all of the answers, I cannot help but wonder if the two might be related. It calls to mind in fact, the quote that the famous bank robber of the 1930's gave to reporter Mitch Ohnstad during an interview. When asked why he robbed banks, Sutton is supposed to have said, "because that's where the money is". (This quote is purported to have been erroneously attributed to Sutton, but may fall under the category of: 'If it's not true, it should be'.) 

I'm not making accusations here, but if you were someone who wanted to (as Sutton described) be where the money is, one could certainly do worse than the federal government. In very few other places can one throw around millions of dollars with such apparent casualness. Few places indeed would allow someone to manipulate billions of dollars with a mere vote. Almost nowhere else on the planet can one even discuss the use of trillions of dollars, than when talking about the largess of the federal government. 

In fact, I would venture that in only two other ventures could one manipulate such vast sums of money ... Major Corporations and Wall Street. Now some have been known to throw around accusations that power brokers in such fields have manipulated these immense funds with almost criminal intent, and largely for their own gain. 

Could it be that there is a connection between the supposed nefarious labors with such funds in the private sector, and the efforts of those seeking to do what appears to be much the same in the public sector? Could it be that this is in fact the reason that so many with careers in either effort in the private sector often end up in government service at some point in their careers? (Assuming of course, that they haven't been caught and charged with a crime earlier.) 

One cannot help but speculate on such subjects in the days leading up to another election. Neither can one help but speculate on the almost desperate efforts that incumbent politicians on both sides of the aisle make in order to keep jobs that we are told are difficult and not particularly well paying.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Under Capitolized

I have worked recently with a number of small contractors in the building trades, striving to keep themselves and their employees engaged and productive in spite of the effects of the economy and the onset of winter. They grapple directly and daily with many of the issues of the real estate market, the financial system, and the regulations and restrictions placed upon them by government. They struggle with regulation and bureaucracy that is increasingly more intent on controlling every aspect their industry; insisting that the proper completion of paperwork is equally, if not more important than the results that these professionals achieve for their customers. 

Like many other entrepreneurs in the country it seems these days, they somehow manage to do it, and mostly in an uncomplaining fashion. They are often hampered however, by a shortage of the capital required to grease the moving wheels of even a small business. Even when they know that a potentially golden opportunity has presented itself and that their efforts might be worthy ones, they are often forced to delay gratification of their immediate desires to maintain or expand their businesses (and pay more taxes to the government that often impedes them) because of the lack of this capital funding. 

Though frustrated by such impediments, they exhibit extraordinary patience, using good judgment and sound business management principles while attempting to operate within their limited cash flow. Perhaps government could learn something from these smaller entrepreneurial efforts, putting off their hopes and desires (or at least those of the controlling political party) for greater benefits to provide a better tomorrow, by remembering how important it is to maintain an adequate cash flow to run the state or the country. 

Maybe it's time that someone in government realizes that money and jobs are not generated by the capitol (state or federal), but instead by capital in the hands of these savvy business operators. Of course contractors across the country do not have the same advantages provided to at least the federal government under similar circumstances. They have not reserved the right and ability to print money as they deem necessary, a task these days that means as fast as it can spend it. (OK, not quite that fast.) 

Unlike the government that often makes their life more difficult, they cannot hope against hope that the revenues that they so desperately need and desire will not magically appear without effort; but will have to be earned through hard work and judicious spending. Nor are they in a position to take advantage of the concept that any debt that they incur in the process can be somewhat overcome by the inflation caused by their constantly running printing press. Having watched almost helplessly what must be an entrepreneurial ballet in a minefield, 

I cannot help but think that perhaps what we need in this country today is more responsible small business thinking and less irresponsible big government thinking. Perhaps the guiding principles used by these small time gamblers are far clearer, cleaner, and more worthy than that of the shills who are running the game. Just maybe what the world real needs to put it back on its feet (and put a roof over its head) is less under-capitalization and more "under-capitolization".

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I find it interesting that the concept of punishment has become so fluid in our society today. It certainly appears that the standards that we use to judge what punishment is appropriate in public, in private, and in the judiciary system are both inconsistent and arbitrary.

We decry the lack of discipline in the current generation of children growing up (as each generation before us has), each of us often finding the behavior of some other family's offspring to be rude, noisy, or obnoxious as we are trying to eat a meal or shop in a grocery store. We long for such parents to take control of their progeny and keep such intrusive behavior under control. In spite of this desire not to be disturbed by childish behavior by those young enough to be legitimately guilty of it (though we seem to accept such behavior from adults), we nevertheless closely scrutinize any discipline that such parents meet out for the commission of of offenses.

While certainly no one wants to see a child beaten in public or in private, should a parent correct a wayward offspring with a smack on the butt at the 'Shop Mart', a concerned citizen will contact 911 about child abuse. When the police respond (as indeed they must), the punishment-meriting behavior of the child will be quickly forgotten and the parent will instead quickly find themselves attempting to prove the legitimacy and innocents of their behavior. We wring our hands over the loss of learning caused by the lack of discipline in our classrooms, but tie the hands of teachers and administrators attempting punishment to enforce rules on what can sometimes be an unruly bunch. We likewise seem to believe that handing a Tylenol to a fellow student is as deplorable as handing them a knife (even a butter knife) and deserving of identical punishment. We clearly enunciate a 'zero tolerance policy' for offenses committed by students, but have no punishment at all for committing the offense of running those same youth through the education system without actually educating them.

When it comes to punishment however, no one exceeds the government for inconsistency. Punishment seems to not only be the accepted outcome, but exceptional punishment seems to be the rule where some of its bureaucracies are concerned. Who that has run afoul of the IRS has not discovered that the penalties and interest on delinquent taxes can be far more onerous than the original tax bill itself. Miss a deadline on a piece of paperwork or fail to pay every dollar that the IRS demands, and the taxpayer will quickly find themselves under a mountain of debt and the threat of punishment that make the terms 'loan-sharking' and 'leg-breaking' quickly come to mind. While legal limits have been imposed on the banking system as to the interest and penalties that can be assessed on the consumer, no such protection exists for the same consumer when it comes to their government.

Speaking of government, nowhere is this schizophrenic behavior more evident than in our judicial system. Commit a white collar crime of staggering proportions out of sheer greed and you are likely to serve time in much more congenial surroundings than someone who commits a crime to feed a family. Steal couple of thousand dollars and you will likely receive a far heavier sentence than someone who steals millions. Kill a fellow citizen and you might likely receive a sentence lighter than either. Many drug offenses carry mandatory minimum punishments, but child molestation (certainly a more egregious offense) in most cases does not. 

As far as the ultimate punishment of the death penalty is concerned, we have made the process so convoluted that the offender is equally likely to die of natural causes during the process than from the retribution of society. Even if the offender finally reaches that day of days, the concern then becomes the method of this final judgment. Apparently we are more concerned with the cruel method of killing a killer than with the method that the killer himself used. We even go to the extent of swabbing the arm and sterilizing the needles of a person we are about to execute through lethal injection. (Apparently we are concerned with possible infection of the prisoner in their final moments of life.)

Since we appear to be at heart an irrational society where it comes to the subject of punitive correction, I expect that there is no easy answer to the question at hand. It is sometimes necessary however, to at least shine a light on the impractical and almost lunatic standards that we impose and support when it come to punishment.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Imagine ...

There has been so much anger and furor in these final days of campaigning that I thought that it would be nice to calm down just a bit and take a little break. So I would like to take just a moment to paint a little verbal canvas in your head in the final days leading up to the coming election. Something to help you focus on the prize just ahead. Relax, breathe, close your eyes (No wait, if you do that you can't read this ... OK, leave them open.), and try to see if you can picture this in your mind. 

Imagine a tax and spend president who believes in massive national infrastructure projects, and who believes that making huge investments in things such as railroads and highways is in this country's best interests. Imagine a president who believes strongly in higher tariffs and taxes, and especially the desirability of the federal income tax. Imagine a president who believes that the federal government has a right and obligation to strongly control the banking system in this country. Have you got a picture in your head yet? 

Imagine a president who believes in tax-funded subsidies for favored businesses. Imagine a president who constantly demonizes his enemies and uses every power of the federal government to make their lives difficult at best, miserable and impossible at worst. Imagine a president who seeks to control the press and in fact brings the power of his office to bear on them to see that his message, and only his message, is heard. Can you see his face clearly? 

Imagine a president who believes that he can pick out the parts of the Constitution that he likes and ignore or reinterpret the rest of this document to suit his needs. Imagine a president that pushes laws through a willing Congress to enforce his will and control over the voters of the United States, regardless of whether they believe in his vision or not. Can you see him? How do you feel about this president? What do you think about his leadership skills? What do you imagine his place in history might be? 

Now imagine that he is taking away the right of the states as guaranteed in the Constitution. Imagine that he is using the full force of the federal government (even troops) to bring those states into line with the federal government's dictates and mandates. Can you see him clearly in your mind? Now picture him not as you think you see him, but as he actually is ... Abraham Lincoln. 

The message here is a cautionary one, aimed at a Republican Party who often glowingly refers to itself as "the party of Lincoln". Be careful my friends! Just because it appears that your star is rising once again in the Halls of Congress doesn't mean that you get to write your own rules. Nor does it mean that the voters who raised you up expect you to become part of the same tired process that they rejected when you get there. 

Remember carefully that if in fact you are elected, you are being sent to Washington DC to do the will of the people, not that of your party. Remember the pretty speeches you gave about listening to those people, and about returning to the concept of government envisioned by those who wrote the document that limits the government you are about to become a part of. Remember that in but two years you can be swept from office with the same alacrity that you were swept into it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Celebrate Charitably

A discussion came up recently about celebrations in football. The blown fumble recovery by Ronald Flemons in the Canadian Football League, losing the football in attempting celebration right before he crossed the goal line on September 17th of this year (with no one near him at the time) certainly ranks with the year's best. Certainly the Cowboy's Leon Lett lost fumble against the Buffalo Bills during Super Bowl XXVII in 1993 as he began his celebration early has to rank up there near the top of anyone's list. The most recent however was the another muffed Cowboy celebration by Marc Columbo on a touchdown by Jason Witten on October 10th of this year. 

While the touchdown occurred, Columbo missed Witten in a bump in the ensuing frolic, fell to the ground, and was penalized for excessive celebration. The Tennessee Titans returned the 15 yard kickoff after the penalty 73 yards, and this set up a game winning touchdown. But it's not the penalty that cost their team the game that should upset fans, the fumble that gave away the sure touchdown, nor the league rules against such behavior. 

After all, football players celebrate anything and everything during the game these days. Run back a kickoff, make a sack or a tackle, intercept a pass, or merely be standing in close proximity to the end of a play and you'll find the players celebrating. It doesn't seem to matter if they were a part of the play's success or failure, as long as they can get the cameras to focus on them for their 'look at me performance'. 

I'm reminded of the legendary Green Packer coach Vince Lombardi quote to a running back after an exuberant end zone celebration upon scoring a touchdown: "Next time you make a touchdown, act like you've been there before." The same might be said of any of these athletes, whose expectation of special attention for performing their job is exemplified by such behavior (a job they get paid for rather well, I might add)

Don't get me wrong here, I'm not talking about a spontaneous bit of emotional release. I'm talking about a carefully choreographed move that has been rehearsed to achieve the desired affect. In fact, I would say that any athlete who has thought about or rehearsed what he will do in the case of success has focused too much attention on the celebration and not enough on achieving it and deserves more than the TV time that his performance will undoubtedly merit. 

As you might expect, my thinking on the subject is a little outside the box. I am not therefore in favor of current league rules against celebration, even though I am vehemently against 'rehearsed' celebration. In fact, I would like to see the NFL do away with the excessive celebration penalty completely. Instead, I would like each team to pick out a charitable cause, and fine the players involved in a celebration of any kind on the playing field. Not just the touchdown celebrations, but the sack dances, tackle shimmies, interception fist pumping, and kickoff run back whirligigs. 

Considering the significant amounts of money that these athletes earn, I think a reasonable fine might be about $10,000 per offense. No appeal to the league, the union, or the media for such behavior, just cough up the cash and move on. If what you really want is to make the highlights on ESPN Sportscenter ... go for it! Just remember that you are going to have to pay for the privilege of doing so afterward. And if your friends choose to celebrate with you, they will likewise need to pull out their checkbooks. 

As for the owners, for their lack of control over their employees they can dig into their pockets as well and hand out some matching funds to those expended by their players in the spirit of shared pain and revenue. People currently claim that the lack of celebration has taken something from the game. I propose to bring it back in all its glory. If this is what the public wants, its the obligation of the NFL, the teams, and the owners to provide such entertainment. After all, ticket prices for fans have never been as high as they are today, and they deserve their money's worth. 

Let's try and show a little caring however, and provide something to worthy causes at the same time. If the NFL thinks that a few pink chin straps, shoes, gloves, and towels in the name of breast cancer is a worthy effort; think of the good that they might do for many worthy causes through such a policy. Now I don't expect that anything like this has a snowball's chance in hell of happening, especially in a bargaining year and with owners and players at each others' throats and an impending lockout looming. 

I cannot help but dream however, of a solution that would either encourage maturity and good sportsmanship on the field, or financial progress in charitable work as an exchange for continued juvenile exhibitions. It might not stop the excessive celebration, but it would at least allow the NFL to celebrate charitably.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


It is sometimes interesting to see how a word, or a concept is used in real life. Take for example, the concept of diversity. We hear it preached at us every day. We need to encourage a diversity of races in this country. We need to be compassionate for a diversity of religious beliefs. We need to appreciate a diversity of lifestyles. 

In fact, we seem to encourage every form of diversity except a diversity in the ideas, laws, and regulations we are governed under. Why is this form of diversity somehow objectionable. This was certainly not something that we inherited from the Founding Fathers. 

In fact this country was formed by independent states with diverse assets, needs, and goals; that somehow managed to band together for a common purpose. They understood at the time that such an alliance did not force them to surrender such diversity, but in fact cherish and encourage it. So it is that many state constitutions are different (and yet they seem to govern effectively), that the forms that state legislatures take are likewise manifold, and that state laws are in fact more than diverse, being more of a cornucopia of common sense and nonsense. 

One could almost believe that this hodgepodge of legislative efforts was almost intentional on the part of the Founders, as an additional protection against the encroachment of an inherently flawed (as any endeavors of men are bound to be) central government. 

The Federal government for its part however, stifles the very diversity that it claims to desire. In spite of what I am sure are mostly (OK, sometimes) good intentions, the national government can usually be counted on to get it wrong and to write it in stone as it does so. Instead of carefully cultivating and encouraging the states as petri dishes of legislative and bureaucratic experimentation in the possible to be nurtured and cherished, the Federal government instead attempts to coerce and compel states to follow national dictates to the letter. Woe betide the state government that attempts to create or enforce state law that does not conform and kowtow to the legislative and regulatory commandments of the national level. In fact, the full weight of public opinion, of the media, and of the Justice Department is destined to come crashing down on the state that attempts to diverge from national preeminence. (As Arizona found out to its sorrow.) 

As for their own 'experiments', never was the scientific method given such a short shrift. Such studies are usually begun with a pre-determined final report already in place. Experimentation is in fact limited to how much money might be necessary to give such efforts 'a fair chance'. Once a goal and a budget has been determined, equally foreordained results are sure to follow; as bureaucrats attach themselves to funding like a barnacle to a ship. And like that simpler (and perhaps more intelligent) parasite, they continue to draw sustenance from their position of security while impairing their host in the process. 

I have nothing against the concept of diversity, and in fact find it an often worthy ambition (when it's not used in and of itself as a goal). Strange then that our national government (its champion) stifles such ambition and diversity in its name. Perhaps however, it's simply like the character Inigo Montoyo points out in "The Princess Bride" when speaking about the word 'inconceivable': "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

TFP Column: Out of Uniform

Well NW Ohio has once again taken the national stage, at least for a brief time, with the furor over the uniforms that Republican Congressional candidate wore during military re-enactments. 

Imagine, a politician igniting a controversy for wearing pants! As a consequence, I couldn't resist putting my two cents in on the subject (all I can afford in a down economy) with "Out of Uniform"

I am not the only one to comment on the Iott situation, as editor-in-chief Michael Miller has something to say on the subject as well. With election season right around the corner though, there's an awful lot of information on who's doing what, where they're doing it, and why available in this weekend's Toledo Free Press. 

The weekend in NW Ohio promises to be gorgeous; so go out, sit under some brightly covered leaves, and get your self covered in fall colors and current events with the largest circulation Sunday newspaper in Toledo, the TFP.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Assumption of Power

In the final days leading up to the November election, there appears to be a lot of assuming going on. The Republican Party is assuming that they will take over the majority in one, if not both Houses of Congress, the Democratic Party assumes that in spite of the low opinion that voters appear to have of the way they have been running things (especially in the last two years when they had the majority in both Houses of Congress and the resident in the White House) that they will retain that majority, and every political pundit in the US assumes that they know what's going on in the heads of the voters. 

Though we all know the saying about what happens when you assume, this prevents no one from doing so. The most heinous assumptions however, seem to be those made by the candidates themselves. Many running for political office this year assume that they are the best choice because of their paternity. Apparently the assumption here is that there is some genetic component to holding office, and that being born into what must be considered little more than a ruling elite is qualification enough for it. 

One can assume little else from behavior that takes great pains to insure that these names are prominently and conspicuously displayed. Married daughters even often hyphenate their names in order to insure paternal recognition or use 'professional' political names which drop that of their spouse entirely. Curiously, the reverse is equally true, and some seem to ignore their own paternity to claim that of their male spouse, apparently believing that political acumen is something that can be passed on during prolonged conjugal exposure. 

I will not give credence to such assumptive efforts by listing names that we are all too familiar to those in NW Ohio, Missouri, and Kansas. I will point out however that my own family in fact holds a distant relationship to the Adams family (John and John Quincy, not the rather creepy family made famous in the television show); but though one was a Founding Father and both were former presidents, I can certainly make no claim to political primogeniture as a consequence of this remote relationship. 

Incumbents are another of these assumptive class of politicians. In this case, it appears that possession may indeed be nine-tenths of the law, and that there is an unwritten right of assumption stating that holding an elective office constitutes the only necessary qualification for retaining it. This may be understandable in light of the confusion these days over what constitutes 'rights' in this country; especially the assumption that rights have to do with outcomes rather than opportunities. 

It is curious however, that while such experience appears to often be the exclusive claim to titular possession, any questioning of what has been done for (or to) constituents during this ownership is assumed to be off limits or in poor taste. It often seem in fact, as though there is an assumption that holding political office is much like a skilled trade. One need only serve the appropriate apprenticeship period and qualify for journeyman status. What follows is an assumption that this person will then hold office until a retirement at a time and age of their choosing. 

For myself, I am amazed and amused by such a concept and cannot help but wonder how many of these journeymen would fare if there were an 'Angie's List' compiled on public servants. This is not to say that accidents of birth or marriage should preclude one from seeking and holding public office, only to say that these circumstances do not in and of themselves constitute qualification. 

Neither is holding an elective office long enough to achieve tenure as a professor in most universities justification for the assumption of such tenure in elected office. In fact, those who designed the system of government we live under believed just the opposite; and felt that political office was a public trust that must be earned from the voters each time that an election is held. 

And so therefore in little more than three weeks, the final judgment on all such assumptions will take place at the ballot box. No doubt far too few of us will once again exercise their franchise and their responsibility to vote, but those chosen will still assume the power of their respective elected office nonetheless. Let us hope that they show wisdom, good sense, and respect for this responsibility; and do not make the assumption that selection means that they know what's best for us.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Driven To Distraction

I was up fairly early this morning, and completely at a loss for a worthy topic for use as a weekend rant (not that worth has been a particular consideration a great deal of time when I get in front of a keyboard). In keeping with the theme of this blog however, I decided to take a break from my labors by taking a walk in the beautiful fall weather and clear my head by 'blowing a little smoke". The feeling was that perhaps through the enjoyment of some of the simple pleasures in life I might become inspired to some lofty subject or great piece of writing. 

As this unfortunate result might indicate, it did neither. It did however distract me from the pursuit of such a lofty goal long enough to foster the very idea that you see before you. I find this to be often the case, and carry a pad of paper with me, lest I forget one of these occasionally interesting notions. 

Perhaps it's a mild form of ADD that exhibits itself as an inability to focus attention on a subject for any great length time. Perhaps it's just an increasing form of male immaturity that manifests itself as the attention span of a two year-old (no offense to two year-olds intended). Perhaps it's simply the need that we all have from time to time to be carried away from our cares and concerns of the moment by some random thought. 

It occurs to me in fact that perhaps many of us achieve our best thinking when distracted from the circumstances of our lives and find ourselves and side-tracked by something else entirely. It likewise causes me to wonder how many of the world's great discoveries were made by those who were similarly looking for one thing and through some random distraction of thought discover something else that proved to be potentially world-changing. 

Sure Edison was looking for the secret of light bulb, but how many other things did he invent (or allegedly steal from other inventors) while searching for it? Galileo was attempting to make some of the greatest scientific discoveries of his time and to pursue his true passion for sculpture when he was distracted from such pursuits by requests for paintings. Columbus (whose holiday is Monday) was looking for a route to the East Indies when he was distracted by a little thing that later came to be known as the 'New World'. 

It seems in fact that many of the things that have become pivotal to the world in one way or the other were in fact mere distractions to those involved. The famous science fiction author Robert Heinlein once said, "Progress isn't made by early risers. It's made by lazy men trying to find easier ways to do something."

And while I couldn't agree more, I would venture to add that it's also often found by people driven to distraction in the pursuit of that easier way; and finding something entirely different and equally valuable instead.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Oh Say Can You See ...

... what you're doing to the national anthem! With football season in full swing, the baseball playoffs about to begin, and basketball and hockey season just around the corner, we are being treated to an annoying and almost constant barrage of personalized renditions of "The Star Spangled Banner". 

Good, bad, or indifferent; the resulting cacophony of noise from this indiscriminate assault on the national anthem is beginning to drive me out of my skull (a short trip I will grant you, allowing excellent gas mileage since it's all down hill).  

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I am a particular fan of this nation's theme song. Its lyrics were written by amateur poet Francis Scott Key while sitting out a battle on a British prison ship (the "Defense of Fort Henry"), hardly a recommendation. Its melody is not only droning, but was in fact stolen from an English drinking song ("The Anacreontic Song", for those of you who care about such things)

On the whole I find that as songs go, it probably could. Quite frankly, it's entirely too difficult to sing for those of us not given to epic performances of Karaoke. What these vocal stylists seem to be doing to it lately however, seems like more like a violation of the Geneva Convention against torture, and often becomes little more than a national embarrassment. 

I blame my own generation for beginning this musical degradation. It was we 'old schoolers' who cheered back in the 60's when Jimi Hendrix created a virtuoso left-hand electric guitar solo of this patriotic hymn, exciting every emotion in the youth and popular culture of the day but the one that was intended by the author of the lyrics. Once this journey to the dark side (sorry Yoda) had begun, the rest was perhaps inevitable. 

It was not however until January of 1991, when Whitney Houston put her own unique stamp on this song at Super Bowl XXV that the concept of making this country's anthem "your own" became the signature goal for every troubadour in popular music. And even though I thoroughly enjoyed and admired her performance of the day, I began to feel a vague sinking feeling for the long term fate of this far from catchy tune. In the ensuing years, those worst fears have been realized. 

A seemingly endless number of performers with various skills have done an equally endless number of tedious and sometimes painful renditions of a song that doesn't lend itself to much individual interpretation. While I may applaud some of the vocal performances as examples of the artistic use of the voice as an instrument, my fundamental concern over such expression remains. As does my fundamental question:

"Why can't someone sing the damn song that way that it was written?"

This is not some Top 40 hit that needs revisiting to revitalize and define it. This is not part of a national 'greatest hits' album that everyone gets to take their best shot at the reinterpretation of. I would venture to say that it's not even at the same level as conventional classical music or opera, and subject therefore to the artistic tastes of individual conductors. 

Imagine if you will the reaction in the stands if the organ player at a baseball game ran off with a jazz riff of the song before the first pitch was thrown. I expect there would be some bemused expressions on the faces of those with their hats in their hands (assuming that they recognized the song and remembered to take them off during the performance). Imagine the consternation in the stands if the keyboard player at a basketball game ripped off a swing version before the opening tip off. Imagine the shock at a football game or soccer match (both technically football) if they began with a hip-hop version of this somber remembrance before the first foot was applied. 

Listen, if you don't like the song, fine ... let's go ahead and change it. After all, people have been clamoring for "God Bless America" as a replacement for years; citing that not only is it a more beautiful song, but one much that is much easier for your average tin-eared citizen to sing. 

I suspect however, that it's day has passed, and that it's now an unlikely substitute. The ACLU would no doubt find the mention of a Supreme Being in the nation's theme song a pesky little Constitutional issue of the 'separation of church and state" (which it isn't, by the way). If you've got different one in mind though, bring it on and let's vote on it! I'm willing to hear argument. The current one was only made preeminent by an act of Congress after all, and its use as a national anthem has only been going on since 1931. Such use is not one designated by the Founding Fathers and is not mandated by Constitutional decree. 

I ask you however, if you can can imagine hearing such liberties taken (pun intended) with our northern neighbors anthem "Oh Canada" being livened up at the beginning of many hockey games? Imagine the resultant furor in Parliament if equal license were taken with that of our brothers across the pond, and someone were doing their own personal riff on "God Save the Queen" at a public event (especially if the Queen were in attendance)

If you want to show us how great a singer you are during your performance at the opening of a major sporting event, impress us by singing the song note for note without embellishment. If you want to really impress us, try putting some genuine feeling into it instead of using the nation's anthem as an attempt to demonstrate your vocal range. 

Please remember that just because you're performing in public doesn't mean that you have to turn what is supposed to be a patriotic experience into your audition for American Idol. The flag may indeed be waving over "the land of the free and the home of the brave" as the song says, but there is little doubt that we are about to be treated to a great deal of discordant noise being generated in consecration of that symbol. 

America may in fact have talent (to paraphrase another popular culture show that I have never actually watched) but one would hardly be able to guess it by listening to some of those lifting up their voices to celebrate it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Promises & Lies

For as long as I can remember there have been three great promises: - I promise to respect you in the morning. - I promise to love you forever. - I promise you that the check is in the mail. Likewise, there were two great lies: - It's not my fault, someone else must have done it. - I'm from the government and I'm here to help. (taken from a great Ronald Reagan quote) There is rumored to be a third lie currently in committee (sought to balance the great scales of the universe no doubt): "No dear, that outfit doesn't make you look fat." But my understanding is that the committee in charge of such things holds its meetings only infrequently, often does so in secret, and in most cases can come to no meaningful conclusion on their responsibilities (you know, like Congress)

Which leads us to the subject at hand. For those of you who have somehow managed to keep yourself from a newspaper (an ever-increasing number, apparently), the television, or the internet (in which case you wouldn't be reading this) we have entered one of the most offensive seasons of the year. 

No, I'm talking about fall with all of its cool breezes and bright colors. Nor am I speaking of one of the various hunting seasons that many animal rights activists seem to object to (my personal favorite is tourist season, though I have failed to bag one so far this year). I'm talking instead about campaign season. Now many might find this a surprise, since these days I find myself oftentimes writing about politics and political thought (subjects that often seem incompatible). In the spirit of full disclosure in fact, I must admit that such activity does provide a target-rich environment for someone with irony and sarcasm in their toolbox and the ability to string a couple of words together within their grasp. 

The problem however is that during campaign season, the concept of thought of any kind on the part of both the electable and the electorate seems difficult to discover; as are honesty, common sense, and good taste. We not only expect, but seemingly encourage those running for elected office to abandon logic, decorum, and common decency in their single-minded pursuit of public service. We stand by idly while the candidates 'take the gloves off' and manipulate the facts in ways that even a pretzel has never been twisted in their efforts. Even when such pronouncements rise beyond the level of libel, the messages delivered by these 'servants of the people' wanna-be's rarely rises beyond the level of "half-truths, mis-truths, and outright lies". (Quoted from the collected sayings of 'he who must not be named' in Toledo) 

To say that most of what many of those running for office (especially those members of the professional political class) say are deceptions actually does a disservice to the practice of what Mark Twain called telling whoppers. To say that such creative telling of the truth are little more than aspersion, calumny, invention, prevarication, evasion, distortion, subterfuge, slander (though not always in the legal sense), deceit, and backbiting is simply to use fine words (actually damn fine words, if I do say so myself) to describe an abominable and all too common practice in politics that does not deserve such treatment. 

As for promises, seldom if ever was a maiden wooed with such ardor and assurances as candidates give to the electorate during these calculated campaigns (and some would suggest that they do so with the same ultimate goal in mind). The lover might be forgiven their foibles in such amorous pursuits however, for at least in such an undertaking, polling data is not used to outline the most favorable strategy of guarantees to make to the prospective paramour.  

History is filled with the tradition of such vows, and their long use in politics down the ages are scattered lights illuminating a path that is both long and illustrious. Today's efforts often do little more in fact than remind us that human nature has changed little over the centuries, and that the promise of "bread and circuses" for the populace holds as much attraction today as it did during the Roman Empire (though it probably should be pointed out that such promises certainly contributed to this empire's fall)

"Say anything," or so the saying goes. We are promised during these campaigns a cornucopia that includes the free lunch of health care, jobs created by the government (working for the government, apparently), and an economy that will once again become robust; if only we will put John or Jane in office. 

Once there however, far too many will take the Roman example to heart, playing the role of Nero and fiddling while Rome burns; but by then they will be safely ensconced in a well-paying system which provides numerous and generous protections for those already in power. Nor do voters seem affected by previous promises that have been made and broken, the unlikely odds of those currently being voiced being kept, or the unintended consequences probable to everyone if they were in fact to be realized. 

It appears to be sufficient to the day that the candidate 'cares' enough simply to make such promises. It likewise appears that in fact while we used to believe that "all is fair in love and war", we should be prepared in fact to add politics to the categories in which "the ends justify the means". It also seems that for at least another another five weeks, we must put up with an endless barrage of Promises and Lies from many if not most of those seeking to become public servants.

Friday, October 1, 2010

TFP Column: Collateral Damage

Seldom in life does such a ripe target present itself to a columnist as the comments of Chris Redfern, the head of the Ohio Democratic Party, at a recent endorsement gathering of the United Steel Workers. 

Not only were the comments inappropriate to public gathering, but they speak to all that is wrong with party politics these days. Having little self-restraint in such matters, I was therefore compelled to drop a little 'smart bomb' of my own in the pages of the Toledo Free Press this weekend. 

While I feel that my assessment of the situation was correct however, I appear to have been greatly mistaken on my prognostication of collateral damage to Mr Redfern's career thus far (which is why I seldom gamble)

It would not be a gamble however to spend a little bit of what promises to be a rather rainy weekend in Toledo curled up with a copy of the Toledo Free Press electronic edition, where this piece is located. 

As usual, there is far more of interest there, including many other great pieces in the Opinion section. Of course, anyone who wants to know what's going on in Toledo and NW Ohio is sure to spend some time with Toledo's largest Sunday circulation newspaper.