Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vote of Confidence: Chapter 4

For those of you brave enough to try and follow along with this effort, I can announce the next section of "Vote of Confidence" is now up.  There has again been a gap of more than a week in getting Chapter 4 up, but I am after all at heart, a slacker.  

I call this story, "A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals".  (Though in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that the cruelty part is a bit of a stretch, since no actual animals were in any way harmed physically or psychologically" during the production of the story.)

I would love to tell you a bit about what's gone on in the earlier installments, or give you some idea of what's ahead, but that implies that I remember or know, something that might be considered a bit of a reach.  Besides, that would be giving away the plot, and as I've said before, there's not enough of one to spare. 

I encourage you however (since a writer likes to be read) to waste a few minutes of your life that I promise you that you will never get back to check the out latest addition to this effort, an attempt to serialize a novel on a blog site.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Days of Bread, Circuses, and the Budget Supercommittee

For those of you who didn't pay attention in ancient history class, let me be the first (OK then, the second) to let you know that the Roman Empire was not in fact brought down by the barbarian hordes  (or even the World of Warcraft Horde for that matter).  In fact the Roman Empire had already brought itself down, its moral and intellectual foundation having so crumbled that the first strong wind would bring it down.  It was there waiting for a tipping point, when a group of people who had once been in the service of the Empire, had the vitality and the drive that Romans once had, and were willing to earn what they needed to keep from starving (by fighting if necessary), reached the center of this empire to pick at the remains of the carcass that was once the greatness of Rome.

That greatness began to fade when the politicians (in this case the Emperor and Senate), continued to try to maintain power by giving the citizens what later became known as 'bread & circuses'.  It was Government at that point, that provided food made from the grain confiscated (taxed) from subjugated lands and peoples, and entertainment to keep them distracted from how bad things had actually become and unaware of the storm growing around them. 

Like many throughout history, the Romans soon enough discovered that the strength required to maintain an empire exacted far more than gaining it. They also learned the tragic lesson of empire that eventually the producers begin to resent those living off their labor, a resentment which will sooner or later boil over.  Unfortunately for most empires, by the time they realize these facts, they also realize that once you give citizens something that they have not earned for themselves, it's ever more difficult to withdraw it and stay in power.   Like every government before and since, they failed to learn the lesson of history that 'there's no such thing as a free lunch'; and that eventually all things must be paid for. (Of course this is a much simplified version of ancient history, but one with no factual errors that should stand up to fairly close scrutiny.)

Step forward some 15-18 centuries (depending on where you wish to begin the fall of Rome), and view now the 'empire' of the United States. (Anyone who says it's not an empire is kidding themselves. But look at a map of the location of these united 'States', and the 'territorial possessions' of this country and make your best case.)  We too are seeing our 'bread and circuses' in the form of entitlement programs handed out by a ruling elite to a common man.  (I make no comment here about the desirability of such entitlement programs, but many will be able to draw the comparisons.)

Now we see a nation just passed the $15,000,000,000,000 mark in national debt (and yes, that's 15 trillion and those are 12 zeroes).  The nation is functionally bankrupt, except for its ability to print money and functionally reduce the 'value' of the debt owed.  The upper house of Congress, the Senate, controlled by Democrats since 2007, has failed to pass a budget (good, bad, or indifferent) since April of 2009.  The House of Representatives (or lower house) , controlled by Democrats from 2007-2011 and by Republicans from early 2011 to the present, has recently passed budgets, but ones which they knew would never pass in the Senate.

In the most recent 'kick the can down the road' confrontation, the two parties once again managed to accomplish next to nothing.  No agreement to cut spending (or even significantly reduce the automatic annual increases in spending was achieved). Neither was any realistic look to increasing revenues as an offset made by closing some of the gaping loopholes in the tax code that they themselves had previously created under pressure from lobbyists and well-to-do contributing constituents.  Instead they managed to defer the jobs for which they were hired and sent to Washington for (regardless of party) to a 'Super Committee' which would, because of its smaller numbers, supposedly be able to do the heavy lifting that this larger and politically fractious group of apparent Statesmen could not.  

Not surprisingly, since most of those appointed by both parties were firmly entrenched in the political posturing of their masters, this so-called 'Super Committee also failed in its task; a failure which supposedly will lead to drastic and unsupportable cuts in the government across the board, to the tune of $1.5 trillion over 10 years.  Setting aside the trivial number involved, considering the size of the government budget and that of the debt, we find that most of these cuts are a twisted form of "Wimpy Economics" at best, where cuts are made tomorrow for tax increases imposed today.  Any actual cutting however, is usually pushed out far enough that by the time it's must be done, no one remembers it's there; making it easy for those in power to conveniently forget about it and never make the cuts.

But this is OK, according to those in power, because it allows the politicians to enter the 2012 election year with clean hands and not being directly responsible for either the raising of taxes on those contributing to campaigns (or many of those voting).  Neither are they responsible for any cutting part of the unsustainable entitlement funding that many of those not paying much in the way of taxes (also a significant voting bloc) have come to count on as part of their fair share.

Congress and the Super Committee have once again provided us a valuable lesson in ancient history, and as we see them continue to provide the modern form of 'bread and circuses' we cannot help but wonder if it will turn out better for us than it did for the Romans.  I doubt it ....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

TFP Column: Thanksgiving

In the spirit of the Thanksgiving holiday, I decided to overindulge (something that I normally reserve for the dinner table for this holiday).  In this case however, the overindulgence involved has nothing either to do with eating or drinking.  Instead, I have overindulged in a bit sarcasm and some truly over-the-top nonsense where the Thanksgiving holiday and its history are concerned.

I have to tell you that writing "Thanksgiving Is No Longer Acceptable" was a lot of fun, though I'm sure that someone will misinterpret my intentions, and the sarcasm key on my computer's keyboard will now requires significant repair, if not replacement. 

I hope that you get to take the time to enjoy my attempted slap in the face of political correctness and those who want to demonize every tradition remaining in this country.  I also hope that you get a chance to enjoy time with friends and family over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Most of all, I hope you get a chance to enjoy all of the efforts put forth in Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's Best Weekly newspaper (for three years in a row no less), the Toledo Free Press.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Warning: Thanksgiving Health Alert

The nation once again faces a pandemic of fantastic proportions that has been largely ignored in what can be seen as little more than a national health scandal.  And while many of you have probably experienced one of these outbreaks, which suspiciously occur on the fourth Thursday of November each year, few have the proper medical training to in fact recognize one when it occurs.

Though anecdotal reports of symptomology have surfaced for many years, both the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control have failed to take these annual scourges with the degree of seriousness that they undoubtedly deserve.  For those of you who may not have heard of this dread affliction and are wondering what all the fuss is about, I am of course talking about:

Inability to resist
Gorging on 
Outrageous and
Unbelievable amounts of 

More commonly known as 'PIGOUT'; this disease is characterized by an inability to stop consuming vast quantities of such seasonal dishes as turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, and jellied cranberries.  Even when such consumption reaches herculean proportions, causes incredible discomfort, and forces the loosening of clothing at the waistline; sufferers continue attempts to nibble, often picking at the remains of these Bacchanalian feasts while voicing plaintive cries that, "of course I still have room for a slice of pie".  

Apparently overcome by an overwhelming and uncontrollable urge to stuff their 'pie holes' (appropriately named as the disease runs its course); they are now apparently unable to drag themselves away from the table until the sounds of football games can be heard coming from their television sets.  Stuffed far more than the turkeys that they regretfully (and very carefully) abandon, full on a scale that makes even Mr Creosote  seem anorexic (careful, this link contains questionable and disturbing material), and having seemingly waited all day to watch these sporting events, they now find an irresistible urge to sleep off the effects of their hours long binge; missing these long anticipated games almost entirely. (Apparently, a chemical substance known as Tryptophan is released by the bird in question, which contributes in some unknown fashion to the already egregious symptoms.)  

Gradually waking, and ostensibly having recovered from an eating binge that would put Orson Welles and Michael Moore off their feed for a week; they will sometimes nevertheless relapse into symptoms on a somewhat smaller scale, only to once again slip into somnolence.

There is no need to call 911 or to seek emergency medical treatment for such an outbreak.  Effective treatments for PIGOUT in fact do not exist, and there is nothing to do for those suffering except to provide them time, patience, and plates of snacks to aid in their recovery.  (There have been rumors for years that this lack of effort in seeking a cure is in fact a conspiracy perpetrated on an unsuspecting public by a cartel of fowl corporations, who have long paid off major pharmaceutical companies to withhold release of possible treatments; but evidence has been difficult to gather and whistle blowers have refused to come forward for Congressional hearings long-delayed during abortive budget debates.)  

While modern medicine seems largely unconcerned over the potentially devastating effects of PIGOUT, we here at 'Just Blowing Smoke' feel it our civic duty to sound the alarm on such potential health hazards.  And while a cure for this debilitating disease remains beyond the grasp of modern medicine, drawing attention to its ravages may be of some assistance as a prophylactic measure.  At the very least, being forewarned of a potential outbreak this far in advance may allow you to prepare for it by wearing loose clothing on the day in question, reinforcing the furniture that may come into use, and in the worst case scenario, keeping a number of buckets handy for proper disposal of what will undoubtedly be material considered a bio-hazard.  

Happy Thanksgiving


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

'Unoccupy' Thanksgiving

Tax-paying citizens from New York to Oakland have patted themselves on the back as law enforcement agencies finally moved into parks across the country to at long last oust 'Occupy Wall Street' (OWS) protestors from these downtown venues.  Cries of "About time!" and "Well done!" undoubtedly greet police and politicians alike as city residents take stock of the damage and take the measure of the clean up efforts that will required to put things in order.  Hearty congratulations ring all around as in what curiously seemed an almost organized effort to free downtown venues from the grip of an ill-conceived and unwashed mass of humanity.  (OK, maybe not mass, but more than a gaggle and less than a herd.)

Curiously (or perhaps not so), few wondered at how so many different municipalities, many with divergent political outlooks and party control, managed to have come to the same conclusion all but simultaneously.  Being by nature a cynic and a skeptic however, I was unable to accept this.  I found that I was uncomfortable with and curious about such timing.  Coincidence is a thing of dime detective novels and not the way that cities are run; so there had to be something else.  Then it hit me ... Thanksgiving!

What would the image of NYC be if the Macy's parade were held with the potential specter of OWS protestors appearing amongst the crowd, or (worse yet) on camera during the broadcast?  How many of the normal crowd of onlookers might be persuaded to pass up a trip to Manhattan to avoid running into some of the more odious (and odorous) of the 99%?  How would the image that Mayor Bloomberg and the city desperately wanted to portray as welcome and safe be affected by crowds of the disaffected attempting to get their message across?  And I'm sure that New York is not the only city to have considered this.

How many other cities around the country are having 'Holiday Parades' that they would prefer not to have hampered by these rag-tag and ill smelling protestors?  How many cities fear the effect on downtown tourism in an already bad economy if it were known that an OWS group were on hand somewhere?  How, for example, would Kansas City's famous turning on of the Plaza lights be impacted by the shadow of disreputable, dirty, and foul-smelling people attempting to take center stage (and that's just the politicians).     

I'm sorry to rain (almost quite literally) on the parade of those whose mostly unwritten and unspoken (except in the privacy of their own homes) demands have been to take back their cities from this movement without apparent cause or purpose; but the horrible truth of it is that the right thing has been done in cities across the country once again for no better reasons than municipal vanity and seasonal greed.  

Not only do these cities not want their worst foot put forward when most on public display, but they certainly don't want a hint of impairment to a season of rampant consumerism in the way of holiday parties at expensive downtown hotel and restaurant venues, and seasonal shopping that accounts for the lion's share of profit for retail outlets in an already down economy.  

Making the move when they did allows cities to clear out and clean up the mess left behind by protestors to whom sanitation was yet another word that their expensive educations had not permitted them to grasp.  Plenty of time was left to hose downs parklands and sidewalks, dispose of the make-shift tents and trash, and process the human debris arrested on misdemeanor charges for refusing to move along.  Thanksgiving crowds will likely even find smiling city workers to greet them on their arrival next week; those workers having already given considerable thanks for recent hefty paychecks (including overtime earned during the clean up) that they have received for their disinfecting efforts. 

Yes, it seems likely that rather than the praise that we would like to heap on our local government, we may be forced to settle for measured disdain.  Altruism probably had little or nothing to do with the ultimate decision have those of OWS move along.  Instead it was invariably political expediency, vanity, and greed that motivated those ostensibly in charge to do what we all knew must be done some time ago.  We may nevertheless take some consolation, as we occupy prime seats for these holiday celebrations, that the unwashed part of the 99% has 'Unoccupied' Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Vote of Confidence: Chapter 3

For those of you brave enough to try and follow along with this effort, I can announce the next section of "Vote of Confidence" is now up.  There has been a slightly greater gap in getting Chapter 3 up, but that's just too bad.  It's not like anyone's hanging on the edge of their seat waiting for each installment.  Besides, putting it up on November 15th also allows me to send the proper greetings to my mother, whose birthday this is today.

(Happy Birthday Mom!)

I call this story, "A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals".  (Though in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that the cruelty part is a bit of a stretch, since no actual animals were in any way harmed physically or psychologically" during the production of the story.)

I would love to tell you a bit about what's gone on in the earlier installments, or give you some idea of what's ahead, but that implies that I remember or know, something that might be considered a bit of a reach.  Besides, that would be giving away the plot, and as I've said before, there's not enough of one to spare. 

I encourage you however (since a writer likes to be read) to waste a few minutes of your life that I promise you that you will never get back to check the out latest addition to this effort, an attempt to serialize a novel on a blog site.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Getting Too Much Facetime

I got on Facebook again this morning, something that I seem to do almost every morning, often for reasons that I don't entirely understand.  I was able to get a much needed update on some friends and family that don't see nearly often enough or haven't seen in a while (which is why I signed up for Facebook in the first place).  In some cases, I was also able to see into some parts of their lives far deeper than anyone should get to or have to, but those are choices that each of us have to make in the use of social networking.  There were even, as there always are, some bits of wisdom and clever witticisms to be gleaned from the literary efforts placed in the status of many of those on my friends list; something that being a scribbler, I always appreciate and enjoy.

There were also the usual (inevitable) requests to repost something as my status in order to prove I was a true friend or to show the world that I cared.  (Just to be clear, in most cases I do care, but usually not that much.)  Unfortunately, I have placed reposting requests in the same pile as the emails that I'm supposed to forward to 5, 10, or 21 different friends in order to have my wish granted or good luck come my way.  (Of course, the fact that I have such a pile may in some way explain why none of my wishes have been granted and why good luck has not come my way; but I am content with my choices.)   

Listen, putting up a link to a news story (especially on something not widely known and from a credible source) and you're providing a service to your friends.  Put up a couple of links together on interesting tidbits, and you maintain your status (pun intended) of still mildly interesting and informative.  Put up three, regardless of content in the same hour, and you're starting to push my 'annoying' button.  Put up more than four in that same hour and I will probably push the 'ignore' button and stop really noticing what you've put up.  

As for those of you on my friends list who puts up half of the video music library that you've just discovered in the hopes that I will enjoy an evening of listening to obscure artists, musicians who've been dead for 20 years, or genres of music only popular in places I've never been to; let me tell you that I subscribe to Pandora in order to listen to what I want to and that the non-stop links have caused me to stop caring whether you've put anything up or not.

Please don't get this wrong or get offended by my comments. (No, that's wrong.  Go ahead and get offended if you want to, that's your Facebook right. But while you're feeling a little put out, put up a little less.)  It's not that I don't like you or some of the stuff that you put up, but everything has limits.  (Well, everything except the collective stupidity and aggressive ignorance of the American electorate; but that's an entirely different subject.)  While I'm willing to take a drink from a hose, especially when thirsty, I'm not even vaguely interested in attempting to do so from a fire hose.

Learn to pace yourself and your postings and you will not only maintain a receptive audience, but probably one that looks forward to your next effort.  Learn to keep your audience begging for more and they will appreciate you more.  Learn not to tell us everything you know at once, and we will be astounded by the depth of you knowledge.  Learn to limit your efforts, and you won't have cranky old bastards like me complaining about it in public.

OK, that's enough ranting this morning.  If you will excuse me, I would like to get back on Facebook to post a link to this effort (ironic, isn't it), and for what I'm really interested in ... cute little pictures of cats (which, since I"m allergic to them is the only way they remain cute) and grown men crying over the performance of their favorite college or professional football team.  

(If this posting causes you to 'unfriend' me, let me say before you get back to Facebook to do so that it was nice knowing you.)


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Unhappy Valley

It's Saturday, and for the first time in 46 years, Joe Paterno will not be on the sidelines at Penn State.  Last week "Joe Pa" was fired, not for his performance on the field for the 'Nittany Lions' where he has 409 victories (vs 136 losses), but for a defeat that he suffered off of the field.  That mistake was one of judgment with regard to one of his assistant coaches Jerry Sandusky.

Mr Sandusky worked with Coach Paterno for some 20 years as a defensive coordinator, and seemed at one time to be the heir apparent to the throne in Happy Valley (a rather dubious honor, since Joe at 84, showed little interest in retiring until this week).  Mr Sandusky lost his status in1999 however, abruptly retiring after an incident reported by the mother of an 11 year-old in which he was giving the child a bear hug in the shower.  The University police investigated this occurrence, but no charges were filed, nor apparently was the information turned over to local authorities outside of the university.

Three years later, as it emerges in a recently released Grand Jury report, Sandusky was apparently caught in the showers at a campus locker room with a boy who appeared to be around 10 years-old by now linebacker coach Mike McQueary, who was a graduate assistant at the time.  Though there was some delay involved, McQueary eventually reported the incident and this report reached Coach Paterno, who in turn reported it to the Athletic Director.  That Grand Jury report in fact points to eight potential victims of Mr Sandusky, and is often the case when such charges are publicized, more may yet surface.

OK, these are the alleged facts as we know them now, but how then do we question what went on and judge those involved, if such judgment is permitted?

Why weren't the accusations in 1999 reported to local authorities?  When did it become the province of University Police to determine such things?  If Jerry Sandusky retired in 1999, what was he doing on campus, using school facilities, three years later?  Who permitted this and gave him access or keys?  Why, if he was granted access at all, wasn't he under closer scrutiny, based on previous accusation?  One must certainly call into question the judgment of the University in general and the Athletic Department in particular for allowing an alleged sexual predator access to the scene of many of his alleged past crimes.

Forget the delay in 'reporting' on Mike McQueary's part, why didn't he move immediately to protect the child in question?  It's reported that McQueary called his father for advice, so the question extends to asking why his father didn't tell him to go back and protect the child? These events show a serious lapse in judgment on McQueary's part, if not one of courage.  There is guilt by commission and guilt by omission, and if the story told by McQueary in this case is true, he is certainly guilty of the latter in the form of a cowardice that would be hard to defend.

(On a side note, let me say that a reaction of 'kicking the crap out of Sandusky seems the rather logical and immediate, if a bit Neanderthal solution.  If this didn't occur to McQueary Jr, it should have certainly occurred to McQueary Sr.  I understand that Michael McQueary is currently under suspension.  Perhaps he should be permitted to keep his job if he allows the father of the abused child to kick the crap out of him as he should have done to Sandusky when witnessing this event.)

How could no one else have noticed what was going on?  Campus life is largely provincial, and everyone knows everyone else's business.  It seems to defy credibility that this could have been going on for an extended period of time (which it apparently was) without others knowing.  If in fact others did know, then they too must share some complicity in this heinous behavior.

While I don't normally comment on sports, this story transcends athletics, and should act as an indictment of Penn State University itself.  This is not an NCAA rules violation on recruiting, undercover payments to players by slimy Alumni, or players attempting to cash in early on a fame that may be all too fleeting.  This is an institutional and systematic choice to turn a blind eye to child abuse going on by a current or former employee on your property.  It's also an apparent willingness to sweep such immoral and illegal behavior under the rug to keep the money associated with college sports spilling into Penn State's coffers.

If the NCAA is to continue to hold any moral dominion with regard to its mandated mission, there can be only one answer to these charges, if they are in any part proven to be true:  "The Death Penalty".  I leave it to this organization of dubious moral character whose inability to police its members is well known, the period which Penn State should do without their football program; but considering the length of time that this appears to have been going on, certainly such punishment should be greater than any of the one or two year sentences previously handed out by this bastion of all that's fair in college sports (sorry, that's alleged bastion).

I pronounce sentence without desiring to see any of the players currently on the Penn State football team punished (though I'm afraid that they will be forever tainted by association).  They should be permitted to transfer without eligibility penalties and allowed to continue their sports futures.  Penn State and its football program must however be punished in the only way that Universities and 'Big Time College Football' programs seem to understand, by hitting them in the revenue stream where it hurts.

Could this hurt other sports programs at the university or the admissions of new students?  I'm sure it could, but it certainly appears that more than the Athletic Department were at least aware of this situation and that the university as a whole is responsible for looking the other way for a considerable period of time.

Let the picture of an empty stadium in what will become 'Unhappy Valley' be shown every week on 'football Saturdays' to serve as a reminder to all those who see themselves as living in the ivory towers of academia and above the more mundane concerns of everyday living that they have a responsibility to the mere mortals who surround them and the communities they live amongst; and most especially to the children who may one day walk their halls.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Happy Veteran's Day 2011

I have used the words of what follows on a couple of  prior occasions, but find them a fitting Veteran's Day tribute (and far better than I anything I am likely to write today). I was exposed to this hallowed symbol of service in 2008 while attending a Marine Corp reunion for my father's unit from World War II being held at the base in Quantico, VA ... Company A of the 10th Amphibian Tractor Battalion. There was something about sharing my introduction to this sacred ground with those veterans and their families that brought even more meaning to the experience. That they went there not only to pay tribute to the commanding officer buried there (Colonel Peck) but to all of their fallen comrades, carries far more meaning than any humble words I write could ever hope to.

Never having had the privilege of serving in this country's Armed Forces, it's difficult for me to express the sentiments that I have when giving this day its due consideration or even whether I'm worthy of doing so. I would therefore instead simply like share with you a bit of information about the symbol of ultimate sacrifice for Veterans in this country.  So instead of boring you with my normal attempts at either significance or relevance, I will once more share with you the simple facts of this National Shrine, dedicated to those veterans who have fallen in battle, the Tomb of the Unknowns.

Tomb of the Unknowns

  1. The tomb contains the unidentified remains of a soldier who served in World War I, World War II, and Korea. (Though a soldier killed in Viet Nam was originally interred here, that body was later removed and identified through DNA testing. It was subsequently decided to leave the Viet Nam crypt empty.)
  2. The Tomb was dedicated in 1932, and has been guarded continuously since 1937.
  3. Those guarding the Tomb are members of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), and those "walking the mat" wear no rank insignia on their uniforms while on duty so as to preclude the possibility that they might outrank one of those lying in the Tomb.
  4. The Guards take 21 steps, in recognition of the 21 gun salute; the highest honor given anyone in the military or any foreign dignitary. Upon completion of those steps, the guards hesitate 21 seconds in memory of that same honor, turns 90 degrees and hesitates again for 21 seconds, then completes another 90 degree turn and hesitates yet one more time before resuming their march.
  5. The Guards march with moistened gloves to prevent the gun from slipping from their grasp while on duty.
  6. Guards are changed every 30 minutes; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. 
  7. Tomb guards normally cut their hair the day before their duty, take five to six hours to prepare their uniform, and shave twice a day while serving their watch.
  8. The guards always carry the rifle on the shoulder furthest from the tomb, shifting it as they reverse the course of their march. This move places the sentinel between the tomb and any threat.
  9. The Guards of the Tomb, an honor currently carried by very few soldiers (there were just over 500 people in 2008), is awarded only after careful examination and is recognized by the award of a wreath pin. They subsequently live under very strict guidelines of personal conduct for the rest of their lives.
  10. In order to achieve this honor, for the first six months of duty, guards spend most of their free time learning of the most notable people buried in Arlington in preparation for their exam. With their rigorous training, hours of marching, and rifle drill, they have little time for anything else.
  11. In 2003 as Hurricane Isabella approached, and again in 2011 as Hurricane Irene struck Washington; while Congress abandoned their post in the city in anticipation of the dangers of these storms, these guards stood their duty. Soaked to the skin, they continued to march their rounds in the pelting rain and in the case of Irene, in winds of 85 miles per hour. They had been offered the opportunity to suspend this assignment in 2003, but refused; stating that such duty was not simply an assignment, but was the highest honor afforded to a serving member of the military.
Honor indeed should be given to our troops serving in defense of freedom around the world today, and to those who have done likewise in every conflict where Americans have been called on to do so during its history. Greater veneration still is due those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for those they served with and for the nation that honors them on this day. May this symbol and this day serve as a reminder to us all that the cost of liberty sometimes carries a very high price indeed; and may we remember to accord them equal esteem on every other day in which we live under the protection of peace and freedom that they provide us.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Happy 236th Birthday Marine Corps

Once again, we pause to celebrate a very happy day indeed, the anniversary of the birth of the United States Marine Corps.  The USMC was originally formed as two battalions of Continental Marines on this date back in 1775 (before there was even a nation to serve).   The Marine Corps has proudly been the "First to Fight"; continuously serving this nation with fidelity, with honor, and with distinction for the 236 years since.

Being the son of a Marine it is therefore with humility, but also a great deal of pride that I wish a happy birthday to the Corps that my father loved and served with during WWII.  Rather than bore you with information that I have previously detailed in this blog however, I will refer those wishing to look back at that additional information to some previous postings that I have done on the subject of the Marine Corps.

They include one with a number of photos from the Marine Corp Museum in Quantico, VA that I was able to visit while being privileged to attend a reunion of WWII Marine veterans that my father served with, and which was held at the base in Quantico.

Another stop during that memorable trip was a visit to the original Marine Barracks (first used in 1801, and one of the few structures in Washington not damaged during the British occupation of Washington in the War of 1812). On this occasion, I was doubly lucky, as I was fortunate enough to be there to listen to the President's own Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps.  There I was not only able to watch a truly intelligent, gifted, and talented group of soldier musicians as as they performed. While not surprised that those in the band were all volunteers, I was amazed to discover that almost all of these soldiers have advanced college degrees; and that they compete constantly and fiercely for the honor of serving. 

As if the opportunity of listening to the Drum and Bugle Corp was not enough, I was also privileged to see the Silent Drill Platoon perform the silent cadence of The Evening Parade.  Not surprisingly, many of those that we talked to in the Platoon had recently returned from front line service overseas.  While honored to be back in the States and once more working with the Silent Parade, most were anxiously looking forward to future deployment to where the action was. Without fail however, every one of the Marines we talked to that evening was happy to share the history of the barracks, the ceremony, and the Marine Corps with each and every one of us; and to impart some part of the dedication that they felt to those of us who had never served.  They were likewise especially attentive to those I was traveling with, who had served in WWII, treating them as honored brothers and distinguished guests . And as the bugler played 'Taps' at the end of the performance, anyone not moved by the especially emotional nature of that ceremony in that place by those individuals could have had no heart.

Of course no history of the Corps would be complete in my mind without a recounting of the very special, and to me very personal story of "Lost Battalion", Company A of the 10th Amphibious Tractor Battalion (in which my father served during WWII). The story of their rather remarkable days in the Pacific is well worth remembering as part of the history of service of the Marines.

So to all those jar heads (for the high and tight haircut), devil dogs (for the Marine Corp bulldog mascot) and leathernecks (for the leather collar that was part of their Revolutionary War uniform) out there; let me send out a proper birthday greeting:

Semper Fi Mac!

Monday, November 7, 2011

TFP Column: Issue 2

 So many weighed in last weekend in the Toledo Free Press on Issue 2, the ballot initiative to keep SB5, and limit the bargaining ability of public sector workers; that I told editor-in-chief Michael Miller that I felt a bit left out.  His response was that if I felt moved to speak out, that by all means I should do so.  Never being one to pass up an opportunity to share my views with others (whether they want me to or not), I did as well.

The problem that I face in writing this is that I actually wrote two pieces over the weekend on Issue 2.  Not surprisingly, I both held to the same position on the Issue; that it's far past time that we broke the cycle of dependency by public sector unions and politicians in OhioOne however, after reading some of rather strongly worded rhetoric, takes a little bit lighter tone on the issue.

With elections on Tuesday however, before you step into that ballot booth, you might want to look over all of the efforts to voice an opinion in the Toledo Free Press.


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Vote of Confidence: Chapter 2

For those of you brave enough to try and follow along with the effort, I can announce the second installment of "Vote of Confidence" is now up.  I call this story, "A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals".  (Though in the spirit of full disclosure, I have to admit that the cruelty part is a bit of a stretch, since no actual animals were in any way harmed physically or psychologically" during the production of the story.)

I would love to tell you a bit about what's gone on in the first installment, or even some of what will be happening in this second.  Unfortunately, that would be giving away the plot, and as I've said before, there's not enough of a plot to spare.

I encourage you however (since a writer likes to be read) to waste a few minutes of your life that I promise you that you will never get back to check the out latest addition to this effort, an attempt to serialize a novel on a blog site.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Stabilizing The MCP

For most of my life, I've kept a Miscellaneous Crap Pile on or near my desk.  It was comprised of tidbits of information gathered that I found enlightening, interesting, or simply bizarre that I hadn't yet managed to find a use for. I knew however, that sooner or later, most of the collection could or would contribute to the greater good.  And while not quite so precariously piled as the image depicted, that MCP needed periodic review to increase its stability (something around here certainly needs some increase in stability), to determine what actually still remained in the pile, and whether the aging process had caused items to either pass their expiration date or produce something that could or should now be consumed.

While there is a physical MCP that must be addressed at Just Blowing Smoke, there is a mental one as well.  In it are any number of ideas that I have about subjects that I always think I want to get around to writing about, but never seem to find the time or the right hook required for the piece to actually do so.  Considering its location, the stability of the pile is seldom considered; storage capacity however has increasingly become an issue.  There was little enough to begin with, and my continued predilection to fill it with useless information doesn't help things.  Since spreading useless information (like fertilizer) is what we live for at JBS, perhaps it's time to share some of these tidbits.

Those at the head of the uprisings cleverly dubbed the "Arab Spring" are now assuming power.  In sharp contrast to the pronouncements about seeking democracy and freedom from despots that the mainstream media attempted to convince us was the goal of these movements, all now seem intent on adopting Sharia Law as their cornerstone of government.  Strangely however, having apparently misjudged, misrepresented, and missed the boat on the goals of these movements; that same media is now curiously silent as what they initially deemed a spring falls back on demonstrably restrictive principles and a kind freedom that the Spanish Inquisition would be proud of.  I wonder in the days ahead if some of them won't look back with fondness on the days living under the tyranny of dictatorship that they have now escaped.

While restrictive practices are returning to the Middle East, their end may be seen in yet another place here in the Midwest; as voters go to the polls in Ohio to vote on Issue 2 which seeks to end the stranglehold that public-sector unions have on government in this state.  Curiously, those against this Issue seem only capable of defending policies which are bankrupting cities, counties, and this state by the use of what is known in NW Ohio as "half-truths, mistruths, and outright lies".  Also curious is that after accusing those in favor of the issue of funneling outside money in to break unions in Ohio, we find that those opposed to Issue 2 are outspending those in favor by almost 4 to 1; most of which has been funneled into their coffers from out-of-state unions.

(I have to note here that I have been getting robocalls from the AFL-CIO for weeks now, urging me to vote no on Issue 2.  What fascinates me is that these calls never come from a number in Ohio, that their efforts are wasted since I now live in Kansas  and cannot vote on it, and that their calls are pre-recorded as opposed to using a live union employee.  Is it a lack of solidarity that causes them not to use a union employee, or can they simply not afford to pay someone scale to make the calls?)

Kansas City parents are facing a curious educational dilemma these days.  The Kansas City school district recently lost its state accreditation, and the support of much of the community; especially those with students in it.  It's unlikely that this situation will be resolved quickly, quietly, or cleanly; as far too much time is currently being spent on accusations and recriminations about who's at fault and faretoo little on how to repair the damage.  Parents cannot hope to find relief from the Parochial school system in KC however, as the increasing uproar over priests and alleged child-abuse continues.  One priest is under indictment, and three others are facing some tough questions.  Even the bishop of the KC diocese has been indicted on a misdemeanor charge for failing to turn information over to authorities in one of the cases.  Talk about being between 'the devil and the deep blue sea'!

And how would such a clean up be complete without talking about the 'Occupy Movement' whose areas of occupation in most parts of the country could do with a bit of cleaning up themselves?  What can we say about these intrepid idealists braving increasingly inclement weather without proper shelter; desperately seeking social justice and egalitarianism (I wonder how many of them know what that word really means), while likewise searching for a WiFi connection and a cup of coffee from Starbucks (one can normally be found at the other BTW)?  Perhaps what we should say is that those who apparently didn't get a marketable education in college are now getting a rather brutal one from 'the school of hard-knocks'.  Theft, assault, and rape occurring in these encampments are not the lessons I would have wished for them however, in spite of the fact that I am a supposedly evil Conservative.  

Idealism and a desire for change are often the last notions that the real world manages to batter out of us on the path to maturity (a path BTW, that I am unwilling or incapable of following).  Age, time, and responsibility will have their way soon enough without giving humanity's worst elements and predators the opportunity to further disillusion if not permanently scar them.  My only advice is for those of you out there (who will probably never see this) is to take a closer look at the world and adjust your target identification systems.

One more bit I should mention is a farewell to fellow Curmudgeon Andy Rooney.  At age 92, Mr Rooney managed to precede me at attaining room temperature by passing away yesterday, hopefully by as many years as he preceded me at attaining the position of 'grumpy bastard'.  It was a role for which he was perfectly suited in both appearance (Who can forget those eyebrows?) and temperament.  He had a wry wit and a great delivery that annoyed while enlightening, which is the highest aspiration of any in our trade.  If there is a heaven, has probably  already secured a great spot inside from which to bitch about things.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Future of Government and Higher Education?

Many in the 'Occupy' movement are complaining about the burden of student loans that they have after leaving an institution of higher learning. Having completed a degree in English Renaissance Literature or Sociology (and not paid attention during those boring economics courses), they are only now discovering that their investment in higher education is not going to pay the dividends that the broker (Admission's Counselor) encouraging them to speculate led them to believe.

Now finding themselves so underwater on college loans that they will never be able to achieve the American Dream of being underwater on a mortgage, they (like many homeowners) look to the government for relief.  Like many in banks, auto manufacturers, and green energy companies, they would like some assistance to help them survive the piling of one bad loan upon another, in their own form of investment 'bundling'.  It is their contention that government's involvement and intervention is not only preferable, but essential.  Some even go so far as to say that government should provide such education as a 'right'.

(Am I the only one who's noticed that the group constantly asserting 'rights' are those on the 'left'?) 

While not normally being one for capitulating to the demands of those with little in the way of logic and reason on their side (evidently these too were courses mostly ignored).  There are times when one must seek a more compassionate perspective; and I am willing to expend the effort required to do so.

Oh I don't believe that these loans should be forgiven.  Personal responsibility is something that society should prize, and not allowing them the opportunity to accept responsibilities for past mistakes and pay back legitimate financial obligations would be doing them a serious disservice.  I am willing to concede (or accede, as the case may be) to their cries for government intervention in higher education if that is the path that they wish to take.  In fact, I believe that some of the proposals that progressives in both education and government have told us for many years have reaped great rewards in society as a whole should be used as a model of such intervention.

I therefore propose:

* Reducing or eliminating much of the funding in pure research at universities that sees no likely immediate return.  Like that done for defense or space exploration, most could be done away with in the name of attempting to maintain the costs of operation within reasonable growth percentile.  There should likewise be a National Research Board to strictly monitor and regulate what research is done and who will do it in the name of fairness. There's no point in having one university duplicate the research of another .... that's simply inefficient.  Ultimately we need to recognize that Professors are after all teachers; and teachers get paid to teach, not financed for working on a patent that could make them rich.  

* A National Board of University Departments would have to take control and come up with rules to cover the regulation of all university departments, their budgets, and even their necessity.  I'm sure that a mostly college-educated bureaucracy could come up with a set of guidelines in enough annoying detail for even the most prestigious of universities to be able to understand and follow.  Just as with research, it would be inefficient to have too many colleges too close to each other, duplicating the departmental offerings of others.  Certainly some form of government regulation could relieve some of this duplication and function in as efficient a manner as say, government regulated railroads.

* A National College Housing Authority will be needed institute rent controls for dormitories across the country.  Student housing is a classic example of people living on minimal (or even borrowed) income that need affordable housing.  It would not be fair to let universities take advantage of this need through market regulated pricing structures when so many are in need.  Additionally, universities should be mandated to provide low-income housing to any and all students that require it as a measure of egalitarian compliance.  Something will likewise have to be done in regards to food for these students, but that can be addressed by further regulation and bureaucracy after the housing issue is addressed. 

* Perhaps a National Tuition Board should be appointed as well.  Colleges like Princeton, Harvard, and Yale simply cannot be allowed to charge whatever extravagant prices for their offerings they choose, regardless of the services they offer or the potential advantages that a diploma issued by them provides.  To do so would hardly be fair to those to whom it's not available.  Of course it's possible that they could allowed to continue to charge what what the market will bear for their product (perish the thought), but only if no federal money in the way of grants, loans, subsidies, or funding in any way, shape, or form is provided to the university.  If even $1 is accepted by any part of the university, they too become subject to the rules of a faceless bureaucracy that probably graduated from far less grand institutions (and in the bottom half of their class)

* Of course, all of this leads to the logical conclusion that in fact a Government Board of Admissions would also be required.  You can't just have people taking government money for education and spending it wherever they chose.  A government regulatory board to apportion admissions to all universities using that money would be required.  Through the use of government efficiencies and 'mandated fairness' to determine the placement of students, a sufficiently egalitarian method of placement could replace the current unfair method of having them simply choosing a school based on its educational expertise, the pleasant nature of the campus, or whether the student feels that an education in such a place would be enjoyable.

You know, if we are going to in effect, nationalize higher education, perhaps professors should be put under government employment standards while we're at it.  Based on teaching ability, education, and testing, they would be granted government occupational pay levels or 'grades' University Administrators would likewise be given government ratings to provide an equitable level of compensation for all of those in salaried positions.  Of course such strict structures as the granting of 'tenure' or allowing paid leaves like 'sabbaticals' would need to be done away with, as they would hardly fall within existing federal employment guidelines and compensation plans.  Professors would however, have a government pension to look forward to; and at least be able to compete on a equal footing for advancement once they reach the 'full-performance level' of their existing position.

I can't help but wonder how many professors would be out in the quad protesting in solidarity with their students if such a double dose of of their demands were granted to them?  I wonder how many of those universities would allow them to do so if they understood that the strong arms of federal bureaucracy were about to tightly embrace them?  I wonder how many of those students would be protesting if they knew that new federal regulation and restriction on their choices was going to be the likely result?  Then again, perhaps among the other things that they have yet to learn is that with government funding comes government control.  But such would inevitably be the case for the future of government and higher education if those in 'Occupy' get their wish.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

TFP Column: Inevitable Criticism

I have been doing a lot of serious reading lately on political philosophy and economics. (I know, am I living the dream or what?)  One of those recent books, and an interview that I managed to capture a part of on PBS recently led me to attempt to connect the dots between politicians changing their positions on issues ... and why.  It was Michael Sandel and his book "Justice - What's the right thing to do?" that inspired this week's TFP effort, "Inevitable Criticism".

While I can't say that I'm a fan many of those running for office these days, I like to think I keep an open and objective mind where the slimy little bastards are concerned.  Seriously though, I usually allow those on both sides of the aisle the benefit of the doubt until they prove themselves to be ethically flawed one way or the other.

It's actually not the apparent flip-flopping that they do on major policy positions that's my problem with them however, but the annoying buzzing sound coming from ... What?  That's them speaking?  Oh man, this may be a bigger problem than I thought.

Anyway, it's early in the week (and next Tuesday's an election day), so if you want to know everything that you're going to need to, you better be keeping up with Toledo and Northwest Ohio in Toledo's largest Sunday circulation  and Ohio's Best Weekly Newspaper (for the third year in a row, no less), the Toledo Free Press.