Sunday, February 27, 2011

TFP Column: Political Prestidigitation

It hardly seems like a week since my last effort for the Toledo Free Press. Of course that may be because it actually hasn't. I can only assume that editor-in-chief Michael Miller is working even harder than usual, since he got this effort up only hours after I sent it to him on a Saturday.

The effort, "Political Prestidigitation" (and yes I had to check the spelling), came from realizing that the shows going on in Madison, in Columbus, and elsewhere across the country might not be the point of the story. I also realized that the casting of the roles for heroes and villains for this entertainment might have some flaws in it.

In fact, the more I got to thinking about it, the more the whole thing began to look like a rather shabby magic trick; and the secret to understanding it might be penetrating the misdirection being performed by many of the players on stage. I hope you find my own verbal sleight-of-hand equally intriguing.

The effort this week is truly going up rather early in the process, so there's no telling what compelling stories might yet develop through the week ahead. If you want to know what's going on in Toledo and NW Ohio however, you going to want to do so through the Toledo Free Press Star edition mid-week; and Toledo's largest Sunday circulation newspaper, the Toledo Free Press.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Laying It On A Little Thick

As part of some job training that I received last week, some very smart people showed me how to apply a number of different types of coatings to metal (paint, for those not part of this world). Like many training experiences, this one included some competition amongst those of us being trained to see whether there was any native talent present in our group, or if limited coaching could bring out unrealized skills in this area in any of us. 

Now such efforts (for those of you who have never attempted painting with professional spray gear) require keen attention, a sharp eye, and a steady hand. Not surprisingly (especially to me), none of these qualities were present in me, and my efforts achieved no special notice. Equally unsurprising was that I was capable of applying a thicker film to the surface than was required for proper application. There is another expression often used in common parlance to describe such an ability, it's called: "laying it a little thick". Anyone who has known me for any length of time is probably chuckling under their breath right now (if not laughing out loud), for there little doubt that this is a talent that I seem to have been born with. 

Amazingly enough, I was rather shy as a child; skinny, often awkward, and prone to long bouts of silence. I was far more content with my nose pressed in a book or my face pressed against a television screen than I was with social interaction of my peers. And while I'm sure that this reticence may have appeared from time to time to be arrogance, it was in fact just the opposite. Somewhere in the maturing process that I went through (a process that many including myself would concede has not progressed all that far), my genetic Irish, Scotch-Irish, and Scottish heritages asserted themselves. Somewhere in my teens and almost without noticing I began to come out of my shell, attempt to occasionally lead in activities (even when asked not to), and show unnerving signs of having the Irish trait more commonly known as, "the gift of the gab". 

Entering a career in sales in my early twenties seemed only natural, and accentuated what appeared to be a genetic predisposition. This choice seemed to 'fertilize' this growing talent (as only natural fertilizer can do). Before anyone knew what was happening, the perfect storm of genetics, career selection, and chemical exposure (a top dressing consisting of my own BS mixed with liberal doses of scotch whiskey) had occurred, producing a 'Frankenstein' monster. What was once a shy, bookish, and reserved follower had become a noisy, boisterous, and often stubborn and domineering personality. 

This is not to say that the result has not proved to be of personal benefit from time to time, but it has also been often proved to be a curse, rife with frustration and a bit of self-disgust over the lack of self-control. I would be remiss in not admitting that the resulting combination is often annoying even to me. As for Friends and Family, one can only feel pity for their exposure to a speeding freight train of a non-stop verbiage when in close proximity. 

In point of fact however, I'm not entirely convinced that the face that I show the world isn't merely a persona that I don as a protective armor for what is an all too fragile ego. Like an ability to sleep on airplanes that has long served as an effective defense mechanism against a fear of heights that I have suffered from since childhood, the stubbornness and often non-stop torrent that pours from my pie hole may simply be protection from a social interaction that often terrifies me. 

Having once again and in yet another way provided far more information than anyone could reasonably be seeking in an unnecessary and probably insufficient effort to buffer myself from the world around me, you can perhaps see the heart of the problem. Instead of this verbal torrent providing the protection that I seek, I have probably instead opened myself to further attack. Oh well, there's nothing for it. No matter how I try to control it, the mindless beast within seems always to have its way. Regardless of the feeble attempts that I make to restrain and constrain the dysfunctional behavior I exhibit, I ultimately appear to be either unwilling or unable to prevent myself from laying it on a little thick.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Foreign Policy Dysfunction

With the dust beginning to settle in Egypt, our attention is drawn to demonstrations elsewhere in that part of the world. In Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Libya, Senegal, and Yemen (in alphabetic order, no less) similar protests are occurring; calling for significant change in their governments. One can only hope that such public exhibitions will lead to greater freedoms and liberties in those countries rather greater oppressions, but the region is not known for democratic reform. One can also hope that they are prepared to live with the greater responsibilities that such freedoms require, but without a history of this, their chances are less than 50 / 50 at best. 

While these efforts unfold, State Department officials, academic and government foreign policy experts, and media pundits are all desperately scrambling to keep up with them (and failing equally desperately); offering their discerning views in droning tones on what is being done in these places (and what should be). Being part of none of the groups previously listed (and being eternally grateful for such good fortune), their efforts appear little better than those which could be performed by The Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges; and with far less humor.  

I often find it difficult in fact to figure out which is worse, our National Foreign Policy around the world or, the ways in which we attempt to define it. Based on its actions over the last few decades however, it appears (at least to me) to be characterized by something combining a Bad Neighbor Policy with a form of dysfunctional child-rearing. 

In our Bad Neighbor Policy efforts, we appear to be complaining about the loud music and crazy parties going on somewhere down the block, while ignoring the junk cars cluttering our own property. We seem so intent on complaining about the neighbor's crabgrass that we fail to notice that we haven't mowed our own yard in weeks. And while we have a great many opinions about the terrible colors that those up and down the street have painted their homes recently, we fail to notice that the veneer of our own residence has been peeling for some time and is looking rather shabby these days. 

In oafish snobbery, we appear quite willing to scorn a neighbor on their recent economic predicament and their acceptance of welfare and food stamps; while seemingly unaware that we have run all of our credit cards near their limits and without change in our own profligate spending habits are likely to face foreclosure soon. I know, a pretty cheering picture of the way we deal with the rest of the world. But wait, there's more ... 

Looking at our Dysfunctional parenting efforts, it's also hard to decide which is more unsettling; that we appear to revel in an arrogance that allows us to treat the other nations of the world as children, or that we choose to follow a form of nurturing behaviors based on a philosophy that would be found morally bankrupt (and probably child abuse) if performed on the youth of this nation. 

We hand money out in foreign aid instead of showing such nations how to take advantage of their own assets. 
- Give a kid enough quarters to play video games and you won't have to worry about what he's doing for a while. 
We treasure and encourage our friends in a regions around the world, especially in places where many are not. 
- Actually, we seem to mostly find new ways to treat our true friends like crap in order to get the bad kids to like us. The truth of course is that the bad kids will never like us, and the only way we can get them even appear to is to pay them. Meanwhile anyone with any real affection for us is on the verge of giving up, having been dissed so often and for so long. 
We encourage stable governments in area where instability reigns. 
- Actually, we are guilty of either choosing or supporting a string of dictators that were simply the "lesser of two evils" in many of these regions, encouraging them to make trouble amongst their neighbors in places we didn't think it would look good for us to do so. We have paid dearly in blood and treasure for those poor choices. 
We show the world what the principles of free speech can do to make a nation strong. 
- Secretary of State Clinton is currently promising a US policy of support for dissidents trying to get the truth out over the Internet, when not actively supporting the arrest and trial of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for similar activities that proved embarrsassing to the US. 
We stand as an example of freedom, liberty, and democracy for the world to gaze upon in wonder. 
- OK, we all know by now that we are not a democracy, but a representative republic right? But beyond that, we are also a federation of States that have allowed the agreeing 50 parties to be subverted by an increasingly coercive central government in violation of the very compact that they originally agreed to. We may be better than a lot of the petty dictatorships around the world, but we are hardly anything to wonder over (unless its to wonder how long before we implode). 

One cannot help but wonder where such arrogance, hubris, and ignorance can come from. An honest assessment of our foreign policy over the last 90 some years is that it borders on an organized criminal activity. By the standards that we judge such actions, we operate little better than a crime family working a combination of protection rackets and loan sharking activities. It doesn't take putting a tin-foil hat on to see that perhaps since late 1823 when the 'Monroe Doctrine' was introduced and we began to think that we should be the arbiter of lands outside our borders, that we have often been little more than a rich bully in dealing with other nations. 

When Columbia refused to allow Teddy Roosevelt to build the Panama Canal, his foreign policy created Panama. Years later when we needed a strong leader there, we supported Manuel Noriega. (Later of course, he lost standing as our BFF and we had him arrested.) We propped up the Shah of Iran until he was chased from his country by his own people, then propped up Saddam Hussein across the border in Iraq to provide some regional stability and defend us against his replacements (and you saw how well that's worked out since)

It's far past time that we realized that the enemy of our enemy is not necessarily our friend. Our continued lack of skill in determining such relationships hampers our relations with the rest of the world. Training and equipping petty despots, fringe groups, and marginal governments is often not in the long-term best interests of the United States; and legitimately could be considered sponsoring terrorism by our neighbors. (Does anyone remember how much equipment was sent to Mao in China during WWII?) 

Don't get me wrong here, not all of our efforts have been in vain. We did after all defend Western Europe and Asia from the mass murder of 12,000,000 by Nazi leader Adolf Hitler; but we also pointedly ignored or simply stood aside while similar mass murderers like the aforementioned Mao Ze-Dong (49-78,000.000), Stalin (23,000,000), Pol Pot (1,700,000), and Kim Il Sung (1,500,000) committed their atrocities in similar situations. defines policy as: "action or procedure conforming to or considered with reference to prudence or expediency"I doubt that I would find little argument that a good deal of expedience has been used in crafting US foreign policy over the years. 

Much of the prudence of such policy however, can only be considered however by further using the definition of dysfunction: "any malfunctioning part or element".

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

TFP Column: What's A Fair Price For Safety

The ideas for columns often come to me at strange times and from unusual places. The thought behind this week's effort for the Toledo Free Press, "What's A Fair Price For Safety" came from a comparison made in casually in conversation. This casual thought found expression in as a comment to a post on the reasons behind the union-led demonstrations in Madison, Wisconsin over a proposed change in state law in well-respected blogger and occasional radio talk show host Maggie Thurber's blog Thurber's Thoughts.

With a reply by her to that comment, Maggie in turn set my mind to the task of expanding that thought into a cohesive piece of writing (or at least as cohesive a piece as I am capable of). Once again, editor-in-chief Michael Miller was gracious enough to place "What's A Fair Price For Safety" online at the TFP website early this week. This means that you will have the rest of the week to spend going over not only the mid-week Star edition, but the flagship edition at the end of the week.

I'm sure that by the time the weekend arrives, that there will be many exciting stories to follow in Toledo largest Sunday circulation newspaper, The Toledo Free Press.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Facebook Acquaintances

"Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence; true friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks and adversity before it is entitled to the appellation." 
- George Washington 

Though not the social person that perhaps I should be, I do spend time on Facebook occasionally. It's not that by contributing to this social networking site in such a limited fashion, I am in any way attempting to be snotty. It's just that carrying the burden of being a Curmudgeon (a burden much easier to bear quite frankly, than the excess pounds that I force my feet to carry) means that a certain level of cantankerousness is a required part of the job description. 

Of course like many before me, I quickly succumbed to the seductive pleasure involved with adding Friends to build up my list. Attempting to boost my ego by a vain effort at building up the numbers of those on my Friends list however, caused a moral dilemma between my ego's desire to feed itself from the numbers game and the rather strict concepts of friendship that I have always had. 

In the spirit of full disclosure and with a fair amount of mortification, I will admit to you the unfortunate fact that my principles lost the early battle. I found myself adding family, friends, friends of family, friends of friends, and complete strangers in the self-deceiving belief that I could build up my weak self-esteem by growing these numbers. (I know, the weak self-esteem thing is rather difficult to believe about me, but is true nonetheless.) 

The strange thing is that in spite of these almost Herculean efforts, I never even managed to cross the 200 threshold of Facebook Friends. The guilt of even this however, soon began to take its toll; and I found myself however feebly, fighting back. Almost without conscious effort, I soon found myself wining the war by eliminating people from that list; those that I had never met, would never meet, and whose lack of personal introduction I was indifferent to. I have some pretty definite principles where friendship is concerned, and ultimately they won out over my unprincipled weakness. 

That is not to say that I don't already have a fair number of people that I consider to be acquaintances. They are those that I have met on one occasion or another, that I have perhaps shared a brief encounter, conversation, or cocktail with; or that I have possibly enjoyed a casual working relationship with over the years. Friends however are something entirely different. A Friend is a person that you know a good deal about. They are someone that you have spent time with, shared ideas, history, and above all trust with. They know your family and you know theirs. They are people that you would lend money to without hesitation and though with a bit more anxiety, likely borrow money from. They are people you have invited to your home and whose home you have visited. They are people who are often more likely to know what you will say and how you react to a given situation long before even you do. Most importantly, they are people that you not only care about; but care deeply for.  They are not however, people with whom your only connection is Facebook. 

Don't get me wrong. This is not to disparage the concept of Facebook itself, as I find it a fascinating bit of technology. It allows me to keep up with the goings on of an extended Family that I see far too seldom, but whose health, welfare, and happiness are nevertheless very important to me. It also allows me to keep up on the goings on of many Acquaintances who I see even less often, and who (as I said) I do care about. With Facebook, I enjoy seeing the triumphs and tribulations that they go through, the achievements that they celebrate, and even share sympathy with the losses that they mourn. In the process doing so, I am occasionally even able to offer a pithy comment or two regarding such circumstances (where appropriate, of course), something which can be gratifying both as a person and as one who aspires to be a writer. 

I am likewise usually amused when I become privy to some part of the TMI (Too Much Information) that some are wont to share on this site. It's not that the situations themselves are amusing, but it's sometimes gratifying to recognize that I am not the only person on the planet leading a life that's mostly tedious and for the most part boring. I do sometimes wish however, that I could have multiple lists on Facebook. I would like one for Family, another for Friends, a third for Acquaintances, and maybe even a final one for people that I only know through this social networking site. 

Don't misunderstand me, I know that Facebook allows one to put up such relationships (like Family) and keep these lists on their site; but somehow the concept of allowing companies on Internet to know and remember more about me than I am capable of remembering myself seems not only intimidating, but potentially dangerous. 

So when I once again put up the link to this posting on Facebook, you will know that as always, I did so with a bit of trepidation. I hope that my Family and Friends will know and understand that this is just one additional element to a confusing personality that even Sigmund Freud would undoubtedly shake his head and walk away from smiling. 

I hope that my Friends will likewise shake their heads, and be both amused and bemused by what they have either long known (or at least suspected) about my rather quirky nature. As for my Facebook Acquaintances, well you'll just have to make the best of all of this; recognizing that this is simply an example of the kind of crap you should have expected and were going to periodically subject yourself to when you agreed to be my Facebook Friend.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Budget 2011: Reductio Ad Absurdum

It has been interesting to listen to the debate by the pundits over the spending cuts being proposed in the House for the remainder of fiscal 2011. I know that many of those on TV (especially cable news programs) are little more than out-of-work political operatives, desperate for a way to make a few bucks until the 2012 election season begins to wind up; but most of the greenhouse gases being produced in these sessions seemed little more than elaborate discussions of how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. 

But perhaps I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. Let's go back about six months when election season was in full swing and the Republicans were beginning to feel that they might be able to ride the Conservative wave into control of at least one House of Congress. The only thing that they needed to do was to prove to fiscal Conservatives and Tea Party members that they had finally gotten the message on the out-of-control government spending increases going on and promise to do something about it when they got into office. Many of you might remember that in order to show such seriousness, the Republican party ran on a platform promising some $100 billion in cuts to that budget in the first year if elected, in an gesture to right the course of the ship of state. 

Once in office however, leadership in the Republicans party began to once again don their weasel suits. Citing the passage of so much of the current fiscal year (a situation brought on by the fact that a Democratically-controlled Congress failed to even bring the government's budget to a vote), Republicans first offered the sap of some $30 billion in cuts for fiscal 2011. This effort was met with about as much eagerness as the call for a Super Bowl parade in Pittsburgh by some of the faithful, and even less enthusiasm by those who ran with Tea Party support. 

After taking a look at polling numbers and regrouping, these stalwart heroes came back with a revised effort showing a backbone with the stiffness of over-cooked linguine, something long suspected of them. They grudgingly upped the ante (and cuts) to some $60 billion, but did so while mouthing timid remonstrations that such an effort would be vilified as draconian in nature and subject to demonizing efforts by Democrats in the House (in this, they were right).  

Apparently lost in this example of trivial numbers however is the fact that for the current fiscal year, we are some $1.5 trillion dollars in the red. So the debate of cutting that number by 2% to 4% can hardly be considered draconian or extreme ... unless we are able to contemplate the concept of extremely small numbers. (You know, like those used to describe the IQ of the average Congressman.) Not to be outdone in the matter of tossing out insignificant sums, the Administration announced its own proposed cuts in recent days; a plan that they said would reduce the deficit by $1.1 trillion over ten years. While we should certainly applaud the idea of at least using the word 'trillion' in the same sentence as spending cuts, using the all-too-typical economic gymnastics of a ten year projection to reach this goal is about as laudable as cheating spouse who does so only occasionally. 

Certainly, even those of us with a public school education can do the math required to recognize that this actually works out to $110 billion per year, and that this sum is less than 10% of the current deficit. One must recognize as well that the president and his advisers were only able to reach a number for their 'cuts' greater than that proposed by Republicans in Congress by adding new 'revenues' to the equation (you know, taxes). What should also be considered about these DC 'reindeer games' is that proposals that project savings out beyond the current fiscal year make an erroneous assumption that the budget process is not reviewed and voted on each and every year. Any commitment or agreement on spending made by the chief executive and legislators today is binding neither on a Congress or Presidents of the future, nor should it be. 

Almost amusingly, we're told that these are the 'tough choices' that are finally being made. Yeah ... this is like deciding whether to have the extra large slice of cheesecake or the double portion of creme brulee for desert after munching on a 20 oz T-bone steak for dinner. Either choice is easier to digest however, than the hard news that you should be having a small salad and a skinless, boneless chicken breast because you know that you're eating too much and a return to the sanity of a proper diet might be the difference between your continued existence and achieving room temperature; but Congress is famous for hoping that ignoring a problem will make it go away. 

The plain and simple truth is that these far from satisfactory nibbles at the rampant growth of government spending in this country can only be considered to be legitimate reductions at all by the law of "reductio ad absurdum". For those of you unfamiliar with this type of argument, it's the concept of disproving something by reducing it to an utterly absurd consequence. You see, it's only by considering the absurdity of what both sides think will pass muster for proposed budget trimmings of such ridiculously low percentages, that they can laughingly be called cuts at all.

Monday, February 14, 2011

TFP Column: The Good Samaritan

The concept of 'six degrees of separation' is one that seems to crop up from time to time, allowing us to connect what appear on the surface to be wildly disparate concepts and occurrences. Such was the case for me over the weekend as I tried to put my thoughts together on the recent interest that Chinese investors are showing in Toledo. Let me tell you, it's not easy to draw line from foreign investment in the Glass City to the Bible.

The result of those efforts however "The Good Samaritan", was put up on the Toledo Free Press website today. I hope that it provides a slightly different 'take' on the subject and something worthy of consideration. (Whew! I almost said slant; something that would have undoubtedly been considered a racist remark, and forced me to terminate my position on my own blog.)

With the placement of this piece so early in the week, you have even more reasons to return to the TFP later this week; both for the mid-week "Star" edition and for the original (the largest Sunday circulation newspaper in Toledo).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Teaching An Old Dog

I have always enjoyed the good quotation or catchphrase, especially when I can find a way to relate them to my own rather quixotic existence. This week brought one to mind as I found myself in the midst of an very talented, highly intelligent, and extremely motivated group of individuals to have a bit of sales training administered. 

Now I have been in sales since 1979, have offered a number of product lines, and have been relatively successful in providing customer solutions in forty-seven States, five Canadian provinces, and a number of foreign countries. This wealth of experience however, only managed to underscore the idea that there is always a great deal to learn; and that you can never receive enough training in your chosen profession, no matter how extensive you believe your skill set is. 

The fact that the scope and scale of the information furnished was done with the force of a fire hose did nothing to make it easier to absorb. For someone not recently immersed (literally or figuratively) in such an intensive academic setting, the experience was almost overwhelming. I found myself more than willing to seek the restorative properties of 'checking for cracks in my eyelids' by each days end. The experience also seemed to draw me into a bit of introspection over my own capability to learn new things. The knowledge perhaps that if a slice of me were examined like that of a tree, that counting the rings might prove a time consuming task, that there are perhaps fewer days ahead of me in my career than behind me, and that many of those I shared this experience with were far younger may have contributed to the trepidation I felt. The realization that so many of my companions were at the top of their game might also have had something to do with the lingering uneasiness that I felt. And then there was that old adage clamoring for attention:

"You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

Of course the fact that I can only be considered youthful when counting in reverse dog years might be at the root of such anxiety. Nevertheless, I find that I am far from prepared to be put out to pasture. Indeed, this might be especially difficult for someone like myself, who has far too often measured success as a function of business rather than personal life. I am likewise arrogant enough to believe that I still have something to contribute. 

I am therefore loathe to think that I am capable of letting down those who have placed their trust in me with this new opportunity. I will not embarrass them by offering gratitude for it, nor subject them to humiliation or 'guilt by association' by mentioning them by name here. I would be less than honest however, if I did not admit to a degree of apprehension at potentially failing to learn not only the technical aspects of this new position required, but the different sales responsibilities that this new position entails. 

I am informed that the next session of training, which begins in about ten days, will prove to be a potentially even more detailed and intensive experience. Let us hope for the sake of all involved, that this bit of 'fortune cookie' wisdom therefore proves itself specious; and that I will be neither a disappointment to those counting on me to disprove the accuracy of this proverb or to myself.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

TFP Column: Influence Peddling

It's been a while since I've had an effort in the Toledo Free Press (in fact not at all in 2011). This lack, like that of warmer weather in the Midwest, is about to come to an end however. 

This week sees my return to publication with a column posted on the website, "Influence Peddling". It has to do with my slightly different take on the situation going on in Egypt, and some comparisons to events in this country that I have heard from no other source. 

With this early posting, you have only more to look forward to in this week's edition of the TFP. I cannot help but believe with all of what has been going on with the sale of the Docks and potential sale of the Marina District, there will be plenty of interest to everyone. This is of little surprise however, with Toledo's largest Sunday circulation newspaper, the Toledo Free Press.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Media Intervention

Now that the dust has settled, perhaps we can all look back more objectively at the furor over Brian Wilson's comments on WSPD about education in this country. 

We all watched Tom Troy and The Blade's painfully obvious efforts to paint the man and the radio station into a corner in order to get either his resignation or firing. We watched as well as the subsequent vindication unfolded based on the work done by the Toledo Free Press to reveal the facts of the case and the failed machinations of the daily paper. We even watched as Mr Troy wrote a response to the TFP coverage, published on January 19th, which did little to vindicate him or settle his part of the controversy.

Now anyone who has listened to Brian Wilson over time or read the Blade know that there is no love lost between the two (nor between Mr Wilson and Mr Troy). As someone who was involved intimately with the daily newspaper business for over thirty years, who is acquainted on a personal level with Brian Wilson and WSPD, and who listened to the entire show in question; I found the entire situation both fascinating and sad.

How could a newspaper that condemned out-of-context soundbites and a rush to judgment in the case of Shirley Sherrod find itself at the heart (if not behind) this case? How much further will management (and ownership) permit the continued blurring of the lines between objective reporting and editorializing? How many more setbacks can daily newspapers in Toledo and elsewhere across the country suffer to their credibility and survive as a reputable source for news?

For there is a relationship between talk radio and newspapers. Personalities like Brian Wilson are dependent to some extent upon daily newspapers for a part of the basic basic research required for them to do their job. Show preparation to fill three hours a day is an arduous task, and commenting on the events of the day usually requires that someone first report on them. Whether the source is a column by a well-known writer, an internet news website link, or something from a newspaper website itself; the ultimate source material for much of the news today remains the research and reporting of daily newspapers.

Now it's obvious to anyone paying even occasional attention to the goings on in the newspaper industry today, that such organizations continue to suffer from declining circulation and revenue, reduced reporting staffs, and desperate and often inconsistent business plans to cope with their current downward business trends. This decline should be no cause for celebration for their detractors however, as a co-dependency between newspapers and other forms of media exist whether they like it or not.

When was the last time that you watched a TV news broadcast that did not reference at least one newspaper story? When was the last time that you listened to a radio show (nationally syndicated or local) that did not do the same? When was the last time that you watched cable news pundits get through an hour without talking about something a newspaper said? Without newspapers as source material, these now more timely an relevant media sources would be hard pressed to fill their programs.

OK, that establishes a dependent relationship, but not co-dependency.

One need only look at the recent elimination and consolidation of newspaper titles and production sites, the switch in some cases to online-only products, and the downsizing of product and reporting staffs at these former print properties to understand that they are facing doom as a means of communicating the news. 

The constant reference by other media forms of material in daily newspapers may be the best advertising that they could receive, and may allow them to retain the relevance in the marketplace of ideas that they still deserve. Without being used and referenced for the source material that they provide however, I fear that their decline would be even more dramatic and precipitous.

Daily newspapers may not like it, but will eventually have to understand that much like the free standing insert advertisements that they once looked down upon, these other media are now an integral part of the effort required to promote their continued existence. Other forms of media like radio and TV likewise need to understand that without the labor on source material done by daily newspapers to repeat and comment on, their jobs would be much more difficult than they already are.

While anything but a believer in the philosophy of "can't we all just get along", I cannot help but think that perhaps some form of Media Intervention is in order to tell both that while they aren't required to like each other (and in fact it's a lot more interesting when they don't), they do in fact have to recognize that they need each other; if for no other reason than to know who to demonize.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

State of the Union - The Writers

Far too many people have already commented on the content and delivery of President Obama's recent State of the Union message, as well as the Republican and Tea Party responses; so I won't bore you with my own blow-by-blow on the subject. Besides, history has continued on its course and the speech has already been supplanted in the news by world events in Egypt and the blizzard recently experienced across much of the Midwest and the East. 

In point of fact, the latest SOTU was pretty a typical and forgettable example of recent ones delivered by presidents of both parties; long on rhetoric and short on details. It may have broken no new policy ground, but neither did it create new controversy. It simply went over much of the same doctrine that has been espoused by President Obama since he began campaigning for office, and was just another in a string of fairly well-written and well-delivered political speeches by a president who does pretty well reading off of a teleprompter. 

In going over my own thoughts on the SOTU however, I found them drifting to "The West Wing", an Aaron Sorkin series that has been off the air for a couple of years now. While Mr Sorkin's political views are for the most part diametrically opposed to my own, his skill (and that of the other series writing contributors) in crafting the show in general, and in particular the political speeches given by President Bartlett (played by Martin Sheen) always captured me. The more I thought about it, the more the words of the latest SOTU faded away, to be replaced by the soaring rhetoric of a fictional president on a canceled TV series.  

I realized that even while we can disagree with the politics of the person speaking, we can nevertheless appreciate a well-written, well-delivered line. While there were a couple of episodes covering the SOTU that I could have used to illustrate my point, I chose another speech instead from the episode entitled "20 Hours In America". It's short enough to make my case and good enough to illustrate the necessity of really good speech writers to craft the soaring rhetoric of political speeches. 

Besides, I was particularly taken by the comment made by Bruno Gianelli (played by Ron Silver) to Deputy Communications Director Sam Seaborn (played by Rob Lowe), one of the president's principal speech writers. I have always viewed it as the ultimate compliment to a writer and something to aspire to one day about my own humble efforts.

So I would ask those of you who found the speech a particularly effective one (apparently so, since the president got a 90% approval rating for the speech) and even those who didn't; to instead of judging the president on his message, consider instead the people behind the scenes who sweated for weeks over every word and turn of phrase to create it. Remember as well that the best actor in the world can only perform as well as the script he is given.

Friday, February 4, 2011

It Will Be A Cold Day

As Winter continues to maintain its icy grip on the Midwest, it cannot help but bring back thoughts of my youth (you know, the last Ice Age). I remember my parents chiding me over the often capricious requests that I made of Santa Claus each Christmas, and the similarly ridiculous requests that I made at birthdays and on various weekends throughout my adolescence; all of which went equally unfulfilled. "It will be a cold day in Hell when that happens mister," was the reasoned response that I usually received from them to such unreasonable entreaties. Knowing that they had only my best interests at heart, I therefore reasoned that strange and probably unhealthy things would only happen to me when the temperature dropped in the netherworld. 

These thoughts now often come to mind as I consider the frigid temperatures in the early days of 2011 and the nature of the things that have gone on in this country recently, without any request from me. Government spending is out of control; but not to fear, the Republican Party has taken over control of the purse strings. Unfortunately the Republican Party that often claims to be fiscally conservative seems intent on proving it by cutting federal spending by amounts only visible through a microscope. 

Such paltry striving does not prevent Democrats from demonizing them however and obstructing even these insignificant efforts. Political rhetoric has been deemed never so pointless or rancorous as it is today (the latter a premise that I disproved in a previous post). Nevertheless Democrats, having complained about being kept silent during prior Republican majorities, refused to allow Republican voices to be heard when the tables were turned. Not content with being bad winners at the time, they added insult to injury by accusing their gagged opponents of having nothing to say but "no". Now the tables are once again turned (at least in one legislative House), and they now have little to say, except in the Senate where they seem to have nothing to say but "no". Republicans, having so recently suffered in stoic silence; took the reins in the House and proceeded to once more silence Democrats. (Proof that whatever comes around goes around, or that no idea in history is dumb enough that it does not repeat itself.) 

Never fear however, because the United States is the bastion of capitalism and the defender of the rule of law. Then Legislators forced banks to lend money to people who couldn't pay it back and demonized these institutions for getting into financial trouble by doing so. Soon after, the federal government in effect nationalized two major auto manufacturers in this country, ignoring both the Constitutional considerations of doing so and existing case law on bankruptcy for these corporations' debtors; while imposing its arbitrary will on all parties concerned. Having carefully considered its position, government ruled in favor of union pension funds over other legitimate debt holders and became partners with those unions in owning these companies. After saying it had no interest in running them, it then dismissed the president of one (GM) in favor of one more to its liking, decided on advertising policy and the scope of product line, and went on to purchase a number of cars from ... well, itself. 

At least we knew however, that Congress would not violate the sanctity of the founding documents and the principles of private business practices. Then it mandated who private insurance companies would provide health coverage for, what rate increases will be found acceptable for such coverage, and what doctors would be reimbursed by these companies for care. In doing so, they refused to consider whether such steps will allow either the doctors or insurance companies to make a profit or even survive as free market entities under these regulations. Most amazing of all, most stood by in mute ignorance as a government which wouldn't understand even the concept of truth if it bit them in the ass told us that they could insure 30 million more people under a government program without it costing taxpayers more money. 

The Executive branch of the federal government, not to be outdone by these shenanigans, decided that it could ignore the rulings of the Judiciary branch (with which it is supposed to be equal); at least as they pertain to implementing the aforementioned health care legislation or its executive orders and bureaucratic bans on off-shore drilling for petroleum products that this country now desperately needs.

With the ball back in their court and seeking a new level of the ridiculous, Congress passed legislation that allows the government to determine how many fund-raising bake sales can be held at public schools and what fat and sugar content of the items sold at them will be permitted. If all of this serendipity were not enough to signal the coming Apocalypse, the fourth branch of government (Bureaucracy), feeling left out the mix in exercising power that it was never intended to have under the Constitution, issued new dietary guidelines for those of us no longer in school, and made every cow fart and every breath we exhale into a toxic substance contributing to the planet's doom. The fact that such regulations support a theory coming increasingly under question was considered of no consequence in the process. (Though admittedly, expecting facts to be the basis for political decisions is probably a bit crazy anyway.) 

Speaking of crazy, I wouldn't mind getting a little sanity in the media in the days ahead. Though having some of the pundits and personalities curb their imaginations, reduce their volume, and eliminate their 'fire and brimstone' preaching would make it a less target rich environment; a little less doom and gloom might make some of the other madness more bearable. I also wouldn't mind having government stop trying to help me as much as they seem to want to lately. Quite frankly, I am coming to believe that their motives are suspect, their help is more than I can afford, and their giving it is more likely to do me harm than good. If it's all the same to those in Washington, I would like them to stop before they help me to death. 

In spite of this however, and the dire predictions for December 21, 2012 by the Mayans for the 'End of Days', I still remain unprepared to consider that my place of residence is becoming Hades. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I did once live in an Ohio town only one letter off from one of its other appellations (a little town called Gahanna), but that was long ago

I cannot further help but recognize while there is an amusing irony involved in the contemplation of Global Warming while staring at the low level of mercury in the thermometer, and I chuckle occasionally when thinking of the name of the NHL team currently passing the puck around in New Jersey, I refuse to take such things as a sign. 

Nevertheless, I cannot help but find myself occasionally amused over the long ago remonstrations of my parents and the frozen conditions we are enjoying. And while we have assurances from Puxatony Phil that spring is around the corner, I cannot help but think:

"It will be a cold day indeed ..."

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Leaving Conservatism

While I'm sure that the title of this post might have some of you scratching your heads, you need have no real fears (beyond the usual ones) that I have gone stark, raving mad. (OK I have, but that's ancient history.) I am not, and will not in fact be announcing significant changes any of my core beliefs in this bit of writing, but perhaps that's the problem. 

You see compromise is very popular these days, and abandoning one's principles in the true spirit of bi-partisanship demanded by the shrill voices of the mainstream media and illustrated so wonderfully by the Congressional 'dates' from the recent SOTU is the prevailing spirit of the day. Then again, I've never been very popular. 

In fact, it's this lack of compromising spirit that causes me a certain amount of discomfort. It's not enough that I should be beset by the accusatory tone of the media and the double standard of a political left who suddenly seem to find compromise much more interesting now that they are no longer in clear majorities in both Houses of Congress. I am equally assailed by many calling themselves Conservatives, and who though now in the majority in one house of the national legislature sometimes appear to have backbones of the firmness of licorice sticks. 

The lack of character and principle being demonstrated quite frankly makes me want to leave today's Conservatism further behind than leisure suits and disco balls. Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal is often quoted as saying that: "Republicans never pass up an opportunity to pass up an opportunity". The same may apply to Conservatives. What's more, it seems that many who call themselves one cannot be happy when in power and seem to undergo distinct personality changes when they are. It's only when being demonized and victimized by their opponents, only when they can do little more than shout at the rain, that they can see fit to raise their voices. When finally in a position to do more than stand stoically on principle, they fold like like a pair of deuces in a Texas Holdem game. 

 In fact, once taking the reins of the national agenda, they seem to forget (if they ever really understood) what real Conservatism is. They speak of pursuing a spirit of self-reliance and personal responsibility, but attempt to try and legislate such behaviors in others. Though this might be considered altruistic in some circles, it is actually done in the same misguided belief as the left that someone without the exact same moral code as theirs should somehow be forced into compliance with the force of government behind them. 

They talk about wanting a smaller government, but define the term as either slowing its growth or nibbling at its edges, rather than actually whittling the beast down to size. They cannot seem to propose a vote for the elimination of departments, programs, and subsidies that have proven to be utter failures; let alone those that had no place in government to begin with. Even when they have their noses rubbed in the waste and abuse that has gone on in their watch, they manage to look the other way. When it falls to them to make the tough choices, they have long since run for the cover of political expediency, claiming that the ideological changes that they once spoke of will simply take more time. 

They become more concerned with playing nice or playing fair, and fear being held in a bad light by people and groups who hate everything about them. When finally presented with the opportunity to act on their principles, they seemingly become embarrassed by them. 

And then there are those who call themselves Conservatives, but who are more concerned with the success of the Republican Party than with the ideals that they claim to hold dear. They appear to be too wrapped up in scoring points in a pointless game of politics between D's and R's than actually standing up for the things that they said they believed when running for office. Of course a name is just a name, and Conservatives have gone by others in the past, including liberal; but the Classical Liberalism that inspired many of the Founding Fathers was something far different. And just as this political philosophy has nothing to do with the political left of today, it sometimes seems that to be equally distant from the form of Conservatism being practiced. 

Perhaps the truth of the matter is that I may not in fact be leaving Conservatism so much as it has left me. Unless and until it begins to practice what it used to preach however, I expect to remain outside of it; committed to the ideals that it once stood for.