Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Resolutions - 2011 (Part I)

The end of the year is fast upon us, and for many of us it's once more time to make those time honored 'resolutions' of expectations that we have for ourselves for the coming year.  

I find myself on the eve of the election year of 2012 looking at the process much as I did in 2009 in a New Year's Resolution effort for the Toledo Free Press, and added to here in Just Blowing Smoke. I find that in the intervening years, I have held surprisingly firm to those resolutions; so perhaps it's time now to offer a few more serious ones and let you who have lost far too many hours reading the nonsense of JBS decide whether they have value, and whether I stick to them in the days ahead.

  • I resolve to treat the pronouncements of Republicans and Democrats (and even Libertarians) with equal disdain, knowing such pronouncements can often be little more than the empty noise of political expediency at best and despicable political pandering at worst.
  • I resolve to speak out whenever the opportunity arises against the unjust practice of forcing taxpayers to pay for primary elections in this country. If D's and R's require such ballots to pick candidates, let them pay for the process themselves.  If however, taxpayers are going to be forced to pick up the tab for these increasingly irresponsible organizations, let suffrage be universal and not restricted to club membership.
  • I resolve to ignore most of what the 'pundits' say most of the time.  Most of this group is becoming just as guilty of self-serving bullshit as the politicians that they attempt to mold opinion on as they build them up, take them down, and pronounce them suitable for election (or not).
  • I resolve to similarly ignore the polls, as they have become similarly tainted by their constant repetition and ever-changing results.  Polls may be of some use to candidates in determining their relative position in a given field or the sound bite that will get them the most media attention, but they are no basis for voters to use in choosing a candidate.  In fact, their influence on recent election process has probably done more harm than good  (at least according to my recent polling numbers)
  • I resolve to call out any misuse of the term 'spending cut'.  No longer allowing those in power to call a reduction in the increase in spending a cut. If you're spending more this year than you did last, and if you're planning on spending more next year, you haven't "CUT" anything. 
  • I further resolve to call out any of the accounting trickery used to raise revenues (taxes) now in exchange for spending cuts later for the deceit that they are.  It has long been apparent that in this form of 'Wimpy Economics', taxes do increase, though no spending cuts inevitably occur.  Only changes that take effect immediately on both sides of the equation have equality.
  • I resolve to highlight and attack any increase in the federal bureaucracy in this country.  Not only does it increasingly place the real power of government in the hands of people who are at no time responsible to the electorate, but the increasing restriction of their mandates is currently the greatest threat to freedom in this country.
  • I resolve to continue to highlight the hypocrisy of politicians on both sides of the aisle talk about the reforms required in government union pensions and entitlement programs, while doing absolutely nothing to reduce the costs of their own compensation packages and pension programs.
At the very least, this should keep me busy enough to stay out of trouble in an election year that promises to be a truly 'target rich' environment.

Happy New Year!


    New Year's Resolutions - 2011 (Part II)

    Having attacked the problem of New Year's resolutions from a serious attitude (some would say too serious), I decided that it was also in keeping with the holiday spirit and the nature of "Just Blowing Smoke" to confront the process from a slightly more twisted perspective.  I therefore offer the following New Year's resolutions for your consideration:

    • I should probably resolve to lose a bit of weight this year, as I do every year.  It's a time honored tradition that dates back to when I could still see my feet without bending over, and one not likely to end until they have to force the lid closed on my coffin.
    • In the spirit of my first resolution, I could (and should) then resolve to exercise more. I have a Chuck Norris 'Total Gym' leaning against the wall (where it seems so comfortable), that occasionally calls my name.  Its proximity to the refrigerator is a challenge that I have yet been able to meet effectively.  Walking is my favorite form of exercise, though it's always difficult this time of year, as it's hard to hold the cigars I'm smoking in the gloves that I wear.
    • Which bring us to the fact that I could resolve to quit smoking.  This isn't likely, as it would be a waste of the money previously spent to fill a couple of humidors, something truly shameful in these tough economic times.  Besides, without the cigars to smoke, what reason would I have to do the walking that I've resolved to do as exercise.
    • I thought about resolving to become a more tolerant person, but realized that everyone would be suspicious of such an attempt and worrying about what I was up to.  Since I didn't want to put anyone else to such trouble, I decided to remain the grumpy bastard that I have always been.
    • I could even resolve to become a better person, help feed the world's hungry, save the planet, or work to achieve world peace; but these would imply that I was a finalist in the Miss America Pageant.  Not only would this create a picture of the swimsuit competition that none of us is willing to contemplate; but being a Curmudgeon, these seem rather unlikely goals.
    • I could resolve to spend less time in front of the computer, but feel sure that those who employ me would find such behavior incompatible with my assigned duties.  Oh sure, I could probably sacrifice a bit of keyboard time in the evenings instead, but then how would I know what my Facebook friends are up to, or get any of these posts written. 
    • That being said, I even considered resolving to no longer write posts for "Just Blowing Smoke", but realized that if I stopped annoying the general public with the absurdity, claptrap, drivel, gibberish, inanity, madness, rubbish, and tripe (taken in alphabetical order no less) contained in it, I would be forced to once again burden family and friends with this nonsense (a punishment that they do not deserve for a crime they have not committed). 
    Well that's enough for me.  I will have trouble enough remembering all of these things that I don't want to resolve, let alone following up on them, that I may slip up and do something by accident that I never would have perpetrated on purpose.
    Happy New Year!


    Wednesday, December 28, 2011

    Paid My Dues

    One of the hotbed political issues for Republicans and Conservatives in 2011 (I list these groups separately because all Republicans are not Conservative and many Conservatives are not Republican) is the idea that people shouldn't be forced to join a union in order to participate in certain parts of the economy There is likewise a feeling that even such participation should not force one to pay dues to an organization that they either did not and would not join if they had an actual choice in the matter, and that they feel does not represent them in spite of the money that they are forced to contribute.  I could not agree with these sentiments.

    How is it then that the greatest offenders on a national scale are many of those same politicians?  Oh, don't get me wrong here, I don't believe that there is a 'politicians union' operating in this country, in spite of the fact that they have much of the same negotiating philosophies with their bosses; and seem perfectly willing to let their job provider (us) go down the tubes as long as they are in a position to collect their healthy compensation & pension packages. There are in fact however, two national organizations that seem to follow many of the same practices as those that (at least on the right) they demonize. 

    How else am I to view Democrats and Republicans?  Both of these national organizations, like Unions, normally require proper affiliation before they offer preferred treatment and seek to help you.  Even when membership requirements have been established, they provide only limited assistance when seeking a job (and less than that for Republicans in Lucas County, Ohio).  Both insist on demonstrations of loyalty before power and responsibility are granted within their ranks.  Both seem perfectly content to sacrifice one of their 'brethren' if such sacrifice in turn protects their own position. Both often cause a great deal of damage in the process of exercising their real or imagined power. Neither appears willing to allow secret ballot when voting; and neither appears to be above twisting the truth or using strong arm tactics to see their ends met.

    There is a difference however.  Unions at least, only charge their members dues, and do not insist on all of us paying for their internal elections.

    How else am I to view the coming 2012 primary season?  While we are told that this is simply the process of picking presidential election contenders, the truth of the matter is that it's no more or less than picking representatives of the two major political parties. As much as members would like us to believe that they are a part of the government, they aren't.  Therefore the picking of their representatives for a political contest is their own responsibility.  Yet over the years, voters in states across the country have become convinced that it is the responsibility of EVERY TAXPAYER to foot the bill for a part of internal party politics.

    Argue if you will that the primary process is necessary, such arguments do not make the process of billing the taxpayer for it any less egregious and unfair.  How can it be unfair you say, when all allowed to vote?  Really?  Try voting in a Republican or Democratic primary in many of these contests if you are a registered Libertarian or Independent.  In spite of the fact that all of us are paying for this process, many of us (in what should be considered an obvious case of voter disenfranchisement) will not be allowed to participate, since we haven't joined one of the two big clubs.

    Of course we are told that if such restrictions aren't imposed, that members of opposing parties will sabotage elections.  I'm sure that those attempting to enforce 'Jim Crow Laws' had similar defenses used in justification for their deplorable behavior in restricting the right of a citizen to vote in the 19th and 20th centuries.  The possibility of misuse of the right to vote however, has never been seen as legal justification to restrict its exercise.  If the concern for abuse is so great, why not let each voter select a representative from each major political party and let such potential damage (and benefit) be shared equally?  This at the very least, might produce candidates that represent the views of the majority of those exercising the right to vote in such events, rather than the majority of those supporting the political party in question.

    Ah, but while such a revision to the process might better serve the people footing the bill, it does not serve the greater goals of the parties themselves.  Apparently Republicans and Democrats do not want the opinions of every citizens (much as they need them in general elections), only those 'loyal to the party'. Well I'm sick of it; and I'm going to keep bringing this up until somebody starts paying some attention to what's going on.  Since it seems that the only way to get attention for an evil in this country (real or perceived) is to complain about it constantly until someone finally does something about it to shut you up, I am going to do so.

    After all, it's not as if I haven't earned the right to do so.  If you counted up all of my taxes wasted in the name of Democratic and Republican primaries, you could certainly say that I've paid my dues ...


    Saturday, December 24, 2011

    Holiday Health Alert

    Christmas is once more upon us and in the spirit of the season’s traditions, Just Blowing Smoke is once more issuing a holiday alert. While many are concerned rampant consumerism that the claim that Christmas has degenerated into, our staff long ago realized that it was rampant consumption that was the greatest threat during the holiday season. While the list below is incomplete, it’s hoped that by its posting, it will aid some in restraint of the dangerous behavior that many are about to participate in. (And as our politicians are oh so fond of saying, if just one life is saved….)

    Egg Nog: Let’s face it folks, considering the cholesterol and calories imbued in this beverage produced especially for the holidays, you might as well slather it on like sunscreen rather than drink it. Not only will you spare yourself endless hours on the treadmill, but I understand that it does wonders for the complexion. While there are tales that the deleterious effects of Nog can be somewhat mitigated by mixing it with alcohol (dark rum is a personal favorite), there is nothing but anecdotal evidence to support such claims. (On the other hand, having partaken of it in this fashion, it's unlikely that calories or any other coherent thought will be of much concern to you.)
    Fruit Cake: In spite of the bad wrap that this treat has received over the years, the truth of the matter is that it poses little health risk to most of the population; and can in fact be used beneficially. No, it’s not the fruit of which it’s comprised or the way in which it's prepared that makes it healthy; but the fact that it’s so awful that it’s usually consumed in very small portions which limit exposure to its toxic effects. Fruitcake carries the additional benefit of having left over sections that can be used as a substitute for a truncheon or throwing weapon to drive guests away from other tastier and potentially more deadly treats at the holiday table. 
    Cookies: These tasty little confections, while around all year in some form, put on their ‘party best’ for the holiday season. Dressed in clever shapes, colored icings, and of course sprinkles and glitter, the confections have been effectively camouflaged in every variety of holiday masquerade.  These deadly little delicacies however will challenge even the most dedicated of diets, and in spite of their danger, do in fact contain most of the major food groups: sugar, chocolate, useless carbs, and unpronounceable chemicals.  (If someone could get red meat or bacon onto them, they'd be perfect.)  They are considered the most accessible of temptations, since they can normally be crammed into one's pie hole all at once; minimizing the risk of discovery and disguising the damage they're doing. (Be careful to make sure that you've brushed the crumbs off though, as they are a dead giveaway.)  Vowing to abstaining from future consumption of them and to exercise the calories gained from cookies are among the top five of resolutions for each New Years.
    Cheese: For some reason, cheese has long found a place at our holiday tables, often in rather bizarre forms. Sure you can go with the snooty specialty and European cheeses if what you’re looking for is something in the way of flavor, but the natural ingredients found in such products can expose the consumer to greater risk. The American tradition is much more likely to be defined by cheese balls, cheese logs, and the ever-popular “Cheese Whiz”. As most of us know, the more processed such cheese is, the better for you it probably is; with the piston cans of “Easy Cheese’ being the most healthy (and containing the least cheese) of all of the products available. There is nothing like emulsifiers or carrageenan to bring real cheese texture to a dish and nothing like citric acid when it comes to real cheese flavor. While we're at it, let’s not forget all of the wonderful processed products that are in most of the crackers we put this on, in an opportunity to add insult to injury (literally).

    Cocktail Weenies:  No one really knows what animals these tasty little treats come from, let alone what parts of those animals might be involved; and quite frankly (pun intended) no one wants to know.  This ostensible meat product however has become a holiday favorite over the years.  This probably has something to do with fact that it can be served in so many ways.  Drowned in equally toxic sauce and cooked so long that the surrounding liquid congeals to the consistency of paste, or wrapped in a variety of equally mysterious (and probably unhealthy) substances, it can be served as a blue collar staple by the scoop or daintily displayed on the finest serving-ware, impaled upon toothpicks with colorful frills at one end.  Do not be distracted by its innocent appearance however (and be careful to use on the untasseled part of the toothpick).  Not only is there little or no actual food value in this diminutive dog, but government funded studies have found it to be extremely habit-forming and a gateway food to Brat and Andouille sausage addiction.

    Alcohol: The health dangers of exposure of alcohol come in many forms, ranging from what are largely the stealth efforts of rum balls and the aforementioned Egg Nog to the traditional holiday cocktails (like rum punch), and ending with the indulgence in every form fermented and distilled beverages. Let me state for the record that here at JBS, we approve heartily in such indulgences. Not only are recent studies showing the positive health effects of moderate consumption of such beverages, but with the year all but at its end, it’s probably long past time that as survivors, we celebrated its successful conclusion. 

    Overindulgence carries significant long-term health risks however, usually from one’s spouse. The immature, impolite, and down stupid behavior committed while under the influence of ‘that demon rum’ will no more likely be forgiven in the spirit of the holiday than it would otherwise. The damage can be significant and reputation rehabilitation process can be a long and painful one.
    I should also note under this section, that driving while intoxicated can additionally be damaging and expensive. Not only do you risk spending some or all of your holiday in jail and thereby ruining the occasion for the whole family; but the economic and employment repercussions can be devastating for subsequent year’s holiday celebrations. 

    While Santa is the spirit of the holiday season in many households, there's no reason to attempt to equal his girth as well as his good cheer. While the fact that the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world is less than twelve months away, there's no reason to expedite the process on a personal scale by overindulgence at the end of this one. So by all means enjoy your holidays, and by all means enjoy the tasty treats of the season; but if for no other reason than my concern for you, please do so in moderation. (Besides, the use of such intelligent behavior will undoubtedly leave more for me…)

    Vote of Confidence: Chapter 7

    I didn't want to ruin Christmas for anyone, but wanted to get back on schedule for releasing edited chapters of this effort (especially since Christmas tends to be a rather busy holiday for me).  So for those of you still brave enough to try and follow along with this effort, I can announce that Chapter 7 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 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.

    While I don't expect anyone to waste any part of Christmas on this nonsense, it might provide a little amusement after the last bit of egg nog has been consumed (hopefully with a bit of rum), the last play of the last football game of the day has been played out, and family has worn itself out.  I therefore encourage you (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 in order to check the out latest addition to this effort, an attempt to serialize a novel on a blog site.  

    (Who knows, this literary masterpiece may in fact prove to be just the sleep aid required to end the holiday.)

    Friday, December 23, 2011

    Dear Santa 2011

    Santa Claus
    c/o North Pole

    Dear Santa,

    Listen, I know that this is kind of late and that you have a lot of letters to read at this time of year (especially with the problems that the Post Office is having getting stuff delivered), so I'll get right to the point.

    It seems that there are some people out there who could use a few things, and might forget to put them on their lists. So I thought I would try, on their behalf of course, to help them out. Don't get me wrong Santa, they're not children (though it would be difficult to believe this, based on the way they act much of the time) and I'm sure that more than a few of them are on your 'naughty' list rather than your 'nice' one. You may even find them rather hard to sort out, except by the fact that they've been elected to public office.

    Yes that's right Santa, I want you to bring presents to politicians. No don't worry Santa, I haven't gone any crazier than usual. There's just a couple of things that I think you could give politicians right now that might turn out to be gifts for all of us. Yes Santa, I know that we already give politicians too much (when they're not taking more), but these particular selections might be considered vitally important to the national interest (and will probably be as welcome as the rabbit pajamas my grandma gave me when I was seven, and that I still have nightmares about).

    Anyway, here's my list:

    A new Calculator: Maybe you could find a special one with a really big display that shows all the zeros in a trillion dollars (the regular ones don't). I'm not sure that those in Congress actually understand that, or they wouldn't keep throwing that number around like it wasn't as big as it actually is.

    A new Dictionary: Listen Santa, there seems to be some real confusion out there about what constitutes a 'tax', or what the definitions of 'spending cuts','fair share', 'entitlement', and 'rights' are. If you gave them a dictionary, they might look these words up when they get confused before voting on laws (you will note that I didn't say read, as most of the time they appear to vote on them before they read them these days).

    A copy of the National Register: Yes Santa, I know that the book listing all federal regulations has 81,405 pages (and maybe more since I wrote this), and that it will be hard to load them into the sleigh; but then that's the point isn't it. Maybe if you block their view of the tree with this monster, they will get the message that what doesn't appear to them as enough is far too much already. If you really want to get the point across, stack a copy of the tax code (71,684 pages and growing) on top of it.

    A copy of the Constitution: As long as you are adding to their reading lists, I thought that you might add this one. Yes, I know that they keep a copy on display in Washington Santa; but I'm not sure how many have ever bothered to look at it, even while they “solemnly swear (or affirm) that [they] will support and defend it from all enemies, foreign and domestic, that [they] will bear true faith and allegiance to the same”. I know that they've got these really neat little pocket editions (because I have a couple), so I was thinking that maybe you could use them as stocking stuffers.

    I know I haven't asked for anything for myself this year, but I didn't ask for anything last year either, and you still managed to show up with some pretty great stuff … thanks. I'm especially thankful to you by the way, for whatever you give Michael Miller that convinces him to put my writing efforts up in the Toledo Free Press (maybe if you give him a little more, I'll make the print edition more often).

    I know that there are a lot of people out there whose need is far greater than mine, so you would be doing me a big favor to help them out as much as you can instead. (Come to think of it, you might want to get lots of them copies of “Holiday Wishes” through the TFP, which would help twice over.)

    Merry Christmas,


    P.S. If you want to stop by again this year while making your rounds, you are more than welcome; and the cookies and milk will be on me. Besides, we never did finish that discussion on diets that don't work and the proper care of white beards.


    Thursday, December 22, 2011

    TFP Column: Cowboys and Indians

    Another weekend arrives, and this time Christmas is almost upon us. While I thought I would be putting up a link to one effort for the Toledo Free Press, it seems that I will be putting up a link to another instead.  Have no fear however, for the very timely effort that I thought I would be linking to will be found here at Just Blowing Smoke on tomorrow.  (And if you think that you're confused about all of this, you ain't seen nothin'.)

    This week in the Toledo Free Press instead, you will be regaled with stories of political parties and Congress, both of whom this year seem to be vying for the lead role in "How the Grinch Stole Christmas".  The title of this holiday effort however is instead "Cowboys and Indians".

    Now I will be gone for the weekend because of an annual commitment that cannot and must not be set aside.  There will be things previously prepared and delivered throughout the holiday weekend however (hmmmm .....) for you viewing pleasure here at Just Blowing Smoke.

    If you truly wish for some viewing pleasure however, you will set down the Egg Nog and Christmas cookies, and stop rattling presents long enough to pick up a copy of the this weekend's edition of Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's Best Weekly newspaper, the Toledo Free Press.


    Wednesday, December 21, 2011

    Republicans Aren't Perfect

    Upon reading the title of this piece, there may be some of you out there that are shocked, either by seeing such an admission in Just Blowing Smoke, or that I could even conceive of such a thing, let alone write it.  Others of you who occasionally visit this site (or who have a number of assumptions about it), may only disagree with me in part; believing that they are in fact perfect: perfectly heartless, perfectly soulless, and perhaps even perfectly evil.  Those of you who regularly visit the site however, will have previously noted that I am more than willing to take shots at any political party when the cause and need arise.  Such is in fact the case today.

    In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess that I am not in fact a Republican, but a registered Libertarian.  In my rather long voting history, I can affirm that I started out as a Chicago Democrat (a shameful confession, I admit), and became a Republican for some years before becoming finally and fully enlightened. 

    The situation of which I speak of course, is the current debate over the payroll tax deal.  Oh don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those who's about to go all mushy and talk about the spirit of compromise while beating my breast over John Boehner and House Republican's unwillingness to vote on the Senate proposal.  In fact, just the opposite.  I think it's high time that the House threw the whole thing back in the Senate's face.  

    How did political discussion in this country reach a point where standing on principle makes you intransigent?  When did having principles that you were willing to fight for make you the lunatic fringe (and you Tea Party members, God love you, know who I'm talking about)?  When did compromise mean that Republicans must give way to the desires of Democrats, but Democrats need not give anything to Republicans in return?  Why is the House the will of the people when controlled by Democrats and an obstructionist and unruly mob when controlled by Republicans?

    (As a side note, when did spending 'cuts' become reduction in the increase of such behavior?  When did government begin to accept the concept of 'Wimpy Economics' where tax increases occur immediately, but spending cuts, such as they are, can be deferred to a later date which never actually comes; only to later become forgotten promises by the same politicians who promised fiscal responsibility when looking for votes?) 

    How is it that Republicans (who I admit again, aren't perfect) are held as irresponsible for not voting on the Senate Democratic bill, when those Democrats are not in turn held accountable for not voting on a bill previously passed in the House (whether by Republicans or on a bi-partisan basis)?  Why isn't the 'Democratically controlled' Senate being castigated for taking their vote and then ducking out of town, throwing compromise to the wind in the spirit of 'my way of the highway'?  Why isn't the President and media complaining about the Senate one again ducking their budgetary responsibilities (it has after all been over 900 days since they passed a budget) and attempting to kick the can down the road once more?  When did national tax policy become something that required bi-monthly approval?  What can businesses to do in the way of long-term planning (let alone hiring) when so much uncertainty looms, with 2012 being an election year that promises only more of the same, and with the taxation and spending policies of this government being announced as the chosen battlefield?

    Don't get me wrong.  I know that these are a lot of uncomfortable questions for many these days; but perhaps it's time someone asked them (the media certainly won't).  The nation is tired of seeing economic policy in this country treated like an empty can of beans (which Congress seems all too full of) being used in a child's game.  It's tired of elected officials shirking the responsibilities that they are paid very well for in the pursuit of keeping the job that they apparently seem incapable of performing.  It's tired of politicians and pundits demonizing business leaders who could be creating jobs in this country, if those in elected office could only provide them with some 'Insider Information' (you know, like businesses give members of Congress) so that they could find a way to cash in on the future and get the economy jump-started.

    Wait, I seem to have gotten off track here.  Where was I?  Oh yeah, I started this whole thing by talking about how Republicans aren't perfect ... and they're not.  I have little doubt that under the pressure of the President's bully pulpit and the media's willing cooperation, they will once again cave in on a proposal of their own which did little or nothing, in favor of one proposed by Senate Democrats that does even less.  Displaying the type of fortitude that normally requires a visit to the Invertebrate section of a museum to find, they will fold faster and easier that the paper used for Christmas presents; and the whole pointless disagreement can begin again in time for the next holiday ... Valentine's Day.

    Now I don't expect perfection from Republicans (and I expect even less from Democrats under Harry Reid), but I wish that someday they would at least aspire to be more than they are today.  At some point they must learn not to always be the first one to blink in this game of political chicken.  Yes I know that Republicans aren't perfect, but they would be vastly improved by hiring a half decent media consultant / press secretary, getting a spinal transplant, and agreeing to an injection that would help them grow a pair.


    Saturday, December 17, 2011

    A Falling 'Leaf'

    By now, I'm sure that you've all seen this commercial for the 'all electric' Nissan Leaf (and if you've somehow managed to avoid it or have forgotten that you've seen it, please press 'play' above before continuing).  I have to give credit to the ad agency that came up with the concept, the actors for playing their parts without a snicker, and Nissan for using such a spot to highlight their latest example of "Green Technology"

    Watching it brings back memories of the film style of Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame, especially the animation).  This effort, and the expressions of the actors, is very reminiscent of Gilliam's obscure and perplexing "Brazil", which I think I watched three times before I began to get a hint of understanding how to follow the plot.  Having heaped praise and a bit of confusion onto Nissan's sixty-one second cinematic effort, I am forced to ask however:

    What do they think we are, morons?

    It's bad when an automobile manufacturer attempts to heap scorn on the modern technology that has contributed to the very development of the product that they are trying to sell us.  It's worse when Nissan calmly suggests that  everyone jump in on their 1st Generation technology, one that's likely to prove either faulty or obsolete, long before the natural lifetime of this vehicle expires.  It's worse still for them to 'guilt' us into buying a vehicle whose batteries probably contain more in the way of long-term environmental hazards than their gas burning counterparts.  It's downright aggravating to be scolded by a company that has made all of its money selling vehicles that burn fossil fuels about the evils of doing so.

    Perhaps worst of all for me is watching the end of the commercial when they oh so smugly ask, "What if everything ran on gas?  Then again, what if everything didn't?" while showing us the clean and efficient sidewalk charging station. 

    Well Nissan, I have a couple questions in return, "Where do you think the electricity for that charging station comes from?  Could it fall from the trees that the charging station is in line with?  No, then perhaps it magically comes out of the ground beneath the charging station?  No again, then maybe the power for Nissan Leafs comes from 'Magic Electricity Fairies' who have an endless supply for those lucky enough to own such an Earth-friendly vehicle?"

    In point of fact in this country, the odds are that any electricity the charging station uses comes from a power plant that burns fossil fuels (you know, like coal, oil, and gas).  After all, renewable energy in this country (including wind, hydro, solar, and geothermal) accounts for just over 14.3 % of all of the power generated.  That means that there's better than a 1 in 6 chance that the power going to that charging station comes from the very technology being demonized in the ad.

    By implication therefore, an increase in power generation required to keep a fleet of Nissan Leaf's on the road would require even more fossil fuel to be burned to generate such electricity; which seems counter-intuitive to the concept that these vehicles will reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.  Certainly we can expect no additional help from nuclear power generation, as since the Japan earthquakes, even discussing the implications of increasing nuclear power in this country is anathema.

    As for the evil fossil fuel power generation going on in the US, it's coming under increasing attack from the EPA.  Many current coal burning power plants are scheduled for shut down, as their operators tell us that if not impossible, it's unprofitable to bring them up to the standards required by the government.  With the shutdown of these aging power plants across the country, the US electric grid will come under sizable strain to keep up with existing power usage in this country.  Many are in fact predicting the likelihood of rolling blackouts even without the growth in current usage, an increase that will be impossible to avoid if and when the economy again begins to expand.  Buying electric cars by extension therefore, will only deepen the real possibility of power shortages in this country.

    In yet another classic case of what economist Thomas Sowell calls "Stage One Thinking", we are once again being encouraged to adopt a technology whose implications yield eventual dire consequences.  Forget or ignore the manufacture, placement, and logistics involved with the charging stations.  Forget as well the limited range, the replacement or disposal costs of batteries, or a hundred other things required to support such vehicles on a practical scale.  Forget as well, some of the missteps like the Chevy Volt; which has already proved itself more than capable of catching fire when charging or sitting in a parking spot (let alone what might happen to passengers during a actual car accident).  Let us by all means race blindly ahead in implementation, trusting that such problems will be solved (perhaps by the 'Power Fairies')

    But 'Bravo' to Nissan, who instead sends us a not-so-subtle message by showing us a jogger waving away the fumes of a gas-powered cell phone while using a gas-guzzling Ipod. (In fact, wasn't it strange that every device in the commercial had a visible exhaust?)  Kudos as well for the comparison of the guy filling his car with gas in shirtsleeves, and the guy at the charging station wearing a sport coat.  We all of course missed the implication that by being better dressed, those who use electric vehicles are somehow smarter, better off, or more important than those who continue to rely on energy derived from dead dinosaurs.  

    Some may actually buy into the persuasion of such 60 second cinema.  Of course they're probably the same ones convinced that they will gain respect of their peers by drinking the right light beer or get the girl if they only wear Axe cologne.  As for me, I remember that the problem with a leaf is that while it's attractive enough to look at, it's doomed to fall ... and usually far too soon ...

    Friday, December 16, 2011

    Vote of Confidence: Chapter 6

    For those of you still brave enough to try and follow along with this effort, I can announce that Chapter 6 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 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 actually hope to catch up a bit on the editing process over the holidays, and may be able to put a couple more chapters up in a more timely fashion as a consequence 

    I encourage you (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 in order to check the out latest addition to this effort, an attempt to serialize a novel on a blog site.


    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    The Value of a Contract

    There's something that's fundamentally wrong going on out there these days.  It appears to be having increasing impact on society in general and the United states in particular; and has to do with the the concept of a contract.  

    Now a contract is an agreement between two or more parties to do (or not do) something, usually as part of some kind of exchange.  Because such agreements can have something to do with both goods and services, they also become central to the definition of property; which includes not only the things that a person possesses, but the labor and freedom used to create them.  Because contracts have to do with property, they by extension have a great deal to do with liberty, as one of the central liberties is that which allows us to own or dispose of our goods and labors as we see fit.  A legally binding contract is so foundational that it's one of the few things that's recognized internationally, even in places where basic standards of the rule of law and liberty do not exist.

    Once upon a time in fact, it was held that a person's word was their bond and sufficient pledge to be considered a legal contract.  Well, that used to be that case anyway. This is less the case these days, when contracts are almost always written, and grow ever longer as they simultaneously grow unenforceable.  Let's take a look at the chain of failure in the concept of a contracts in sports:

    Athletes going to college on scholarship enter into an agreement to play a sport at an institution of higher education in exchange for room, board, expenses, and what passes for a college education these days (at least in theory).  Along with this, they are provided with specialized training and the exposure required to move them on into the pro ranks when that agreement is complete. While the agreements are set to last for four years, they are rarely fulfilled; as athletes find that they cannot resist the urge to cash in on the fame and fortune that such training has provided.

    It's hard to blame them however, when the coaches who signed them to these agreements similarly abandon their own written contracts with the university to run a sports program, ditch their current employers, and the walk out on the players who committed to them in order to accept the first better offer that comes along.  In some twisted form of payback perhaps, the coaches often abrogate the agreement with the athletes before they can do it themselves; both sides abandoning their given word in order to bolt for cash.

    The next step in the process allows both versions of oath breakers to truly enter the professional ranks, where this time they sign a truly legally binding agreement to provide a service for a fee.  Signing such legal documents in the presence of agents and lawyers representing both sides however, doesn't end the hypocrisy. Apparently even these contracts are easily set aside by a player having an especially good season or a coach approaching the end of a commitment.  Both now demand to renegotiate such agreements whether they are legally eligible to do so or not; content to violate their oath under threat that their job performance will suffer.

    Government has learned a valuable lesson from this behavior, and while ostensibly being the arbiter of the law where contracts are concerned, it now contributes to the increasingly ineffectual nature of such legally binding agreements.  Seeking to serve those in elective office rather than the rule of law it was instituted to protect, it become increasingly more intrusive where contracts are concerned. 

    And we see government itself (or its agencies) willing to ignore the letter of legal contracts to achieve what it perceives to be a desired end.  It directly or indirectly threatens one party in such an agreement (like Boeing) in favor of another (the Machinist union) in effect dictating where and how such a company will do business.  (The fact that the government is one of the largest customers of Boeing had nothing to do with its surrender, I'm sure.)

    Boeing is not the first place (even recently) where government intrusion has rejected legally binding agreements in favor of 'approved' ones.  During the bankruptcy settlement of GM and Chrysler, bond holders who by definition hold first call on the assets, were passed over in violation of obligation clearly established in bankruptcy law (and tradition) to a group whose claim to recompense was far less.  Once again, a union (the United Auto Workers) was awarded what it was not legally eligible to receive at the discretion of the government which was financing the bail out of the companies involved (a bailout which Congress in fact voted against).    

    Not wanting to limit itself to one segment of the economy in which it can ignore contractual obligation, government has gone on recently to establish that it can step in between an individual who signed a contract to borrow money to buy a home and the company that loaned them that money for this purchase.  The government now apparently believes that it's alright to ignore this legal contract and force financial institutions to renegotiate such agreements because the value of property is now well below the value of the loan.

    The fundamental question called into question is whether this is indeed a nation governed by the rule of law as we were taught and as the Founders once believed?  If so, what happens when respect for such laws no longer exists by the very government put in place to protect them?  If such legally binding agreements can be so casually disregarded by the government itself, to whom can citizens turn for redress of ills suffered?  What about the social contract between citizens of the United States and their government defined and limited by the contract known as the Constitution?  If government is allowed to abrogate lesser agreements without apparent challenge, how long will it be before the greater likewise becomes all but meaningless?

    This is far more even, than the so-called 'living Constitution' that we've heard of, that allows government to claim the right to reinterpret this document after viewing it in a modern light, rather than use the Amendment process designed for such situations.  This is the thinking that casually confiscates the fundamental rights of citizens guaranteed in the first ten of those Amendments by passing unconstitutional legislation like 'The Patriot Act'.  This is the thinking that, as we speak, allows Congress to weigh the benefits of being able to use the military within the borders of the United States to arrest and detain US citizens indefinitely without the requirement of ever going before a judge (A bill known as the 'National Defense Authorization Act' which violates both the legal principle of habeus corpus and the Posse Cumitatus Act of 1878).  This is an elemental change in our interpretation of the law of the land in this country is bound to have dire long-term consequences.

    Society may have begun the mischief and misbehavior by allowing the degeneration of the concept of a contracts, and by extension the rule of law that goes with them, treating their oaths (oral and written) as something of little or no value. It's government however that will in the end determine whether this moral lapse will into future misery, if not outright tyranny, for the citizens of this country.

    Saturday, December 10, 2011


    The time of year has once again brought its own set of personal annoyances to be dealt with.  Apparently it's not enough for me to have to deal with the normal perils and pitfalls Christmas shopping in crowded malls and big box stores; fighting the maddening herds of ill-behaved shoppers, dealing with the constant disappointment out-of-stock merchandise, and contemplating the mounting debt caused by my purchases like everyone else.  I am additionally beset with trials and tribulations that I have neither sought, nor encouraged.

    For some strange reason, children that I don't know and have never in my life met seem to believe that they recognize me.  Often racing up to greet me and grabbing me tightly by the leg (making it damned hard to get some of the stains out, I might add), they seem convinced that we have in fact known each other for years and have been communicating on a regular basis.  Try as I might to convince these smiling little faces that I have never before had the pleasure of their acquaintance, they not only refuse to be persuaded and persist in believing that I'm wrong, but seem amused at my repeated contentions of ignorance over recognition of their identity.  Insistent on convincing me of their good behavior and wanting to know if I received their latest personal missive, they refuse to let go in spite of any and all protestations on my part.

    Don't get me wrong, there are children in this world that I'm rather attached to (my offspring); though I suppose that at their respective ages, they are no longer considered children by anyone but their mother and me.  I am also rather taken (and I believe appropriately so) with their offspring, who are in fact still children.  Most of the rest I am able to deal with well enough, so long as they realize that unlike their parents, I am not there for their constant and immediate gratification.  In light of some of the recent accusations, trials, and convictions regarding the clerics of the Catholic Church and some sports coaches around the country however, you might well understand the panic that I feel when confronted by such diminutive displays of affection by strange children in places public or private.  

    Interestingly enough, the parents of these little carpet crawlers (a term that I use with the utmost affection), seem mostly unconcerned by these astonishing displays of attachment to what they must realize is a complete stranger; while likewise appearing to be either unable or unwilling to persuade their offspring of this case of mis-identification.  In fact, they seem patently amused at the spectacle and merely smile at my continued protestations of innocence.

    While age continues to diminish a memory that was never the best to begin with, I continue to believe that I am correct in believing that these are cases of mistaken identity and not the early onset of senility (though there is ample evidence to the contrary).  I have to say however, that these diminutive displays of unwarranted and undeserved devotion continue to be disconcerting to say the least.  Not that I have anything against displays of affection where I'm concerned you understand; but if I'm to suffer such demonstrations of undying devotion from strangers, I would prefer to have some choice in the demographic involved (Victoria's Secret Supermodels comes to mind as an example, and single women within my own age group would likewise be acceptable)

    Fortunately, we are now about half way through the four week period of juvenile madness during which these bizarre occurrences seem to be most prevalent, one that begins in late November and ends late in December.  I grow increasingly anxious for the abatement of whatever conditions seem to cause this temporary madness though, and I long for the day when I will once again be allowed to return to my normal and perhaps preferred state of public anonymity.  Meanwhile like it or not, I get recognized ...

    (A tip of the hat by the way, to this old Stephen Bishop tune from the days of my youth; which helped to put a hook on some random thoughts trying to become a blog post.)

    Friday, December 9, 2011

    Vote of Confidence: Chapter 5

    For those of you still brave enough to try and follow along with this effort, I can announce the next section of "Vote of Confidence" is now up.  It's been only slightly more than a week; but Chapter 5 is hot off the editorial table, only slightly more than a week after its predecessor.

    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.


    Wednesday, December 7, 2011

    December 7th


    (Update: Some hours after this post was put up, the House did in fact pass REINS by a vote of 241-84, with 4 Democrats crossing over and joining the Republicans present for passage.  The White House issued a press release threatening to veto it if the Senate passes the measure.)

    It would be difficult for anyone in this nation not to realize that today is the 70th anniversary of the attack at Pearl Harbor; and many today writing blog posts will touch on the dastardly nature of the attack, the courage that so many exhibited on that awful day, and the terrible sense of purpose that awakened in the American people as it entered the last conflict ever preceded by a Declaration of War by Congress.  While I have written such efforts myself in the past, I found myself focusing on another part of the story instead.

    Many know (or at least should know if they had  paid attention in American History or watched any of the number of films about the attack), the US at the time could decrypt the Japanese diplomatic code, but not the military one; and there were hints and warning in those communications that went largely ignored.  What most forget however, is that not only weren't the operational army and navy commanders at Pearl Harbor (or any of the other major commands around the world) privy to much of the information in these decryptions, but perhaps even President Roosevelt himself was not included on everything that was being translated in those messages.  

    Regulations that had been put in place for the safety of a nation under the threat of impending war by some in unelected positions, in fact did everything but protect us.  Thousands of lives were lost, at least in part, as a consequence of this misjudgment. The men who created these regulations were not evil, but were misguided in thinking that they and they alone knew best what was best for the nation.  These thoughts struck a chord in me as I considered a couple of things that have recently come to my attention.
    A recent piece in the City Journal called "The Regulatory Thicket" by Iain Murray and David Schoenbrod speak directly about regulation, and its astonishing growth in this country.  Of course it would be easy to blame Congress (and mostly accurate)  for creating their share of this ponderous pile of policy; but that would be letting them off the hook for likewise creating the un-elected and out-of-control bureaucratic monster to whom they have relinquished the responsibility for the rest of it.  As Mr Schoenbrod tells us, "The Office of Management and Budget has estimated that since 1980, federal regulators have written more than 130,000 rules, an ever-thickening tangle that Americans and American firms must reckon with."  Mr Murray goes on to cite an annual report compiled by Wayne Crews called "The Ten Thousand Commandments" that shows that the Federal Register (the big book of Federal regulations) has grown since 1996 from 67,000 to 81,405 pages.   

    One cannot help but wonder at what could possibly have possibly been going on in a 15 year period that it required this 18% increase in regulations.  While questioning the cause, one might also wish to consider what impact the regulatory beast has on the economic growth of businesses in this country in the current recession; especially small ones whose small staffs make dealing with compliance even more difficult.  The 'City Journal' piece in fact states:  "The costs of complying with regulations average $10,585 per employee" according to the Small Business Administration (SBA), "enough to throw a small firm of 20 employees with $200,000 in profits into just-breaking-even territory".  Murray reports that the SBA  estimates that, "the regulatory burden on our economy is a staggering $1.75 trillion annually".

    (It should be pointed out that these numbers are before most of the "Affordable Health Care Act" (Obamacare) became law, and before a great number of the regulations required for its full implementation are yet in place.)

    One cannot help but compare such sums to the amounts being tossed around by the Administration, Congress, and Keynesian economists for what they believe is the type of stimulus ideally required to jump start the US economy.  What kind of stimulus might be produced if this regulatory morass were in temporarily reduced; or better still, eliminated?

    Strangely enough, Congress is currently considering HR 10, the "Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2011". The REINS Act (man, they really need better acronyms for these bills) is designed to impede the addition of new rules by dividing regulations in two categories of cost, using $100 million worth of burden as line between "major" and "non-major" ones.  Major ones would require submission to the Congressional committee whose responsibilities the regulation would fall under, and passage by a joint resolution of Congress or by Executive order before going into effect.  Non-major rules would go into effect unless, after similar review by Congressional committee, a joint resolution of Congress is passed or Executive order issued to keep them from doing so.

    Of course, even if REINS manages to get through the House, there isn't a prayer that the Senate will allow it to see the light of day.  Reduction in government regulation is tied to the potential number of unionized government workers required to write and enforce them.  This is turn is tied to the unions those workers belong to, unions who have pledged significant sums to the re-election of the President and other incumbent politicians in Washington this close to an election; which is anything but good politics.

    Such potential roadblocks do not deter Murray and Schoenbrod from taking it even further however. They propose setting up a bipartisan commission to review existing rules and identify those that need repeal.  This group would conduct cost / benefit analysis of such regulations and make recommendations to the House for their continuance or removal.  They further suggest a five year 'sunset provision' on all new regulations, which would make them subject to automatic review before extension.  They even have the temerity to suggest creating 'enterprise zones' where businesses might be free of some of these onerous regulations to be able to establish themselves on a profitable basis at lower costs.

    Of course these are all intelligent (and some would say common sense) ideas, but like many considered in 1941, they seem unlikely to be put in place.  I can't help but think back on this day however, and wonder if whether Admiral Husband E Kimmel would have wished for a few less regulations early in December of 1941.


    Saturday, December 3, 2011

    Is There A Doctor In The House?

    Warning:  If you say "yes" around me, you had better be prepared to produce a stethoscope!

    Don't get me wrong, I've read up on the history of the awarding of academic degrees, and I have nothing but the highest respect for higher education (a term which had multiple meanings for those of us in college in the 70's); but I have just about had it with some of those whose so-called academic credentials make them insist that you call them Doctor these days.  

    I wish that I had managed to stick it out and get a BA or BS (though the latter term is often used in descriptions of me regardless of the level of education that I've attained).  I have even greater respect for those like my daughter Laura Demaria, who managed to follow through and earn a Master's degree in education; and am grateful that she does not insist that family, friends, or students address her as 'Master' (though I'm equally sure that sometimes she would like to).  It's some of those who as Yoda once said "have completed their training", and insist on having this achievement recognized wherever they go that I have a bone to pick with. (Sorry, since we're talking about education, I suppose I should have said "with whom I have a bone to pick.)  

    But let me not be hasty in making such judgment.  Let's instead analyze what it takes to achieve such a learned and lofty status:

    *  Having already dedicated what is probably some 4-6 years to the rigors of academia, you must commit yourself to spending a couple of more at least. (I don't know about you, but most college campuses are far nicer, safer, and more congenial surroundings than your average factory or office floor full of cubicles; and one which I would freely choose instead.  Besides, the scenery is usually better no matter which team you're playing for.)

    *  You have to be willing to slave away for a few years for a number of people for which you have no respect (and if you're lucky, a couple that you all but worship); bending your will to their every need, desire, and whim will become your sole mission in life; regardless of whether such labors are noticed, appreciated, or properly compensated.  (Which pretty much sounds like every apprenticeship program or entry level position that I have ever worked at, or even heard of.) 

    *  You have to spend considerable hours reading.  (While this might sound like hell to some, I'm sure that I could name an equal or greater number that would consider this little short of the promised land.  Put my name on the top of that list.)     

    *  At some point you are going to have to write a report (dissertation) which will be reviewed by this select group of people whose respectability you have previously called into question, knowing that only by their approval will you be allowed to continue down your chosen career path.  You must be prepared to be asked to rewrite sections of this work, no matter how brilliant, accurate, and lyrical that it is; so as to allow this group of mostly hackneyed academics to feel that they have contributed to your abilities in some way.   (As someone who has written a novel, hundreds of newspaper columns, hundreds of blog posts, and some 30 years of sales forecasts, some of which actually had to be done in Microsoft PowerPoint, I can tell you that this isn't as tough as it sounds.  The latter however, will require swallowing your pride, if not your tongue.  You will find it a far easier task if you accept grovelling and scraping, while attempting to cater to every pet theory on your subject held by those on the review board that you can without contradicting yourself too often.  A next to incomprehensible title filled with polysyllabic terms that fills up most of the title page would probably help as well.) 

    Of course many of those out there running around with the designation more commonly held to stand for 'Piled Higher & Deeper' have been asked to complete none of these steps.  They instead are merely famous or rich enough to have been asked to come and speak to the assembled faculty and students, receiving an honorary degree instead of the honorarium that such a performance would normally command.  Having achieved both fame and fortune (something that those who got their degrees by the more conventional and difficult path are likely never to attain) they are invited to share their wit and wisdom with an appreciative audience in exchange for the ability to add an undeserved, unearned, and meaningless title to what is already probably a pointless existence.

    You know ... one of the running gags of the original "Star Trek" series that's remembered even today was Dr. Leonard McCoy (played by Deforest Kelly) admonishing Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner) that he was only a humble medical practitioner, and incapable of performing any number of other impossible tasks handed to him by his intrepid superior.  It was used for example, in "The Devil in the Dark" episode; when 'Bones' (as McCoy was nicknamed) was presented with a alien patient that seemed little more than a living rock (and looked like a steaming cow patty).  In a well tested formula,  McCoy replied "Damn it Jim, I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer".

    Of course he nevertheless managed to patch the creature's wounds with a McGuyver-like concoction of what appeared to be bathtub caulk and concrete; which allowed him to assume a smug and self-satisfied attitude (much like those with PhD's), and produce the happy ending that was required.  These days however, it's not the physician attempting to usurp the domain of the construction worker with which we are confronted.  Instead it's the academic whose knowledge of English Renaissance Literature or The History of Basket Weaving in the Western World that allows them to assume the preeminence of a healer with which we are challenged.

    One of these days I'm afraid I'm liable to give one of these self-important little pip squeaks who insists on being called by his academic achievement a short dissertation of my own.  I suspect that it will be one that calls on the medical skills that the title they insist upon being called by purports to carry ....  


    Friday, December 2, 2011

    TFP Column: Economic Holiday Fat

    Stepping up on the bathroom scale and listening to Toledo's Administration and City Council begin talking about the city's budget are both things which are becoming increasingly difficult to do.  

    As I point out in this week's effort for the TFP, "Economic Holiday Fat", both appear to be subjects filled with temptation, self-delusion as to the facts, and the perpetration unhealthy practices.  While I however, am only playing Russian roulette with my own future health and well-being by recent lack of rectitude, they are gambling with that of a large number of people who have placed them in a position of trust and responsibility.

    It's not bragging to say that I am far more sure of my own ability to get out of control consumption under control than I am of those in charge of the Glass City, based on their prior track record.  

    But there's also good news to be had as this holiday season kicks into full swing, much of which you will never know about unless you read this weekend's edition of Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and for the third year in a row, Best Weekly newspaper, the Toledo Free Press.


    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    Ideology And Vaclav Havel

    "Why bother with a ceaseless and in fact hopeless search for truth when truth can be had readily, all at once, in the form of an ideology or doctrine?  Suddenly it is all so simple.  So many difficult questions are answered in advance!  So many laborious existential tasks from which our minds are freed once and for all!"
    - Vaclav Havel

    Havel is notable for being the last president of Czechoslovakia and the first president of the Czech Republic; and I find this quote from the noted essayist, poet, and politician occasionally poking out its ugly head as I watch both the political left and the right participating in Washington's 'business as usual'.   

    The endless puppet show of the Republican debates goes on, as the mainstream media continues to tell us that Mitt Romney is the presumptive candidate; ignoring anyone else in the field, unless it's to speculate on when that current challenger will implode certainly seems to fit the bill.  Perhaps they feel that by the power of repetitive suggestion that non-Democrats will stop paying attention, accept their shrill and dismissive rhetoric as gospel, and stop questioning those seeking the highest office in the land on the Republican side. 

    Meanwhile, any candidate questioning the pre-existing national party doctrines as defined by political pundits is marginalized to the point of non-existence.  Caught up in what Thomas Sowell would call 'Stage One Thinking', and ignoring the potential risks of sound-bite solutions that candidates are forced to give in the debate format they are handed, they refuse to accept anyone and anything beyond per-established political doctrine.  If this is what party politics and the electoral process has come to, maybe it's time to leave the party.  

    The President continues a speaking tour that's little more than campaign to swing states at taxpayer expense to promote a plan that has already turned into a carcass picked more cleanly than last week's Thanksgiving turkey.  Some less cynical than I, might even find it strange that he feels he can do more good promoting it in stump speeches than working in Washington with legislators already caught up in their own ideologies.  Perhaps this is what leadership has come to mean (though I highly doubt it); though one cannot help but question how the oft heralded spirit of compromise is supposed to work when what we're handed is little more than strictly adhered to ideology from the bully pulpit of the White House.  

    This however, is how the current resident of the White House got to reach that exalted position (as did many of those before him), and it's no doubt the way he intends to maintain 'the last job he will ever have'. This too is a well-known doctrine of politics.

    Meanwhile the 'dance of the dead' (well, brain dead at least) goes on in Washington, where 535 legislators can't agree on the what a budget is or how to pass one, don't seem to know what constitutes a spending cut and can't agree on when such a cut will happen even when they agree that in fact it must, and attempts to operate the nation's economy on a principle of 'Wimpy Economics' that says we can pay for spending cuts tomorrow with tax increases today.

    And while most agree that closing some of the loopholes in the tax code that Congress itself created is a good idea, ideology (and the 2012 elections) prevent them from doing so.  While most likewise agree that we cannot continue to spend and increase our national debt at current rates, ideology again prohibits them from doing anything to address this problem as well.

    They ignore common sense and the basic principles of math including addition, subtraction, and the calculation of percentages; all the while telling us that they do so in the name of an ideology that's either inconsistent, contradictory, or both.  And while both parties attempt to tell us that this debate is all about holding firmly to such ideology, we all know that it's more about political expediency and not throwing away a gig that pays in excess of $165k in tough economic times.  Even those as apparently ignorant as those we hired as 'public servants' know better than to do anything that might lead them to having to look for a new job in this economy.

    Adding insult to injury, we watch in stunned silence as information is released that the Federal Reserve lent over $7 trillion dollars to banks around the world (and plans to lend more).  Of course why we would expect a group of unelected bureaucrats who are nothing more than independent bankers to do otherwise is a mystery to me.  After all, who better than the financial experts who either participated in or blithely sat by and watched as the world's economy went to hell should we trust to act in our best interests rather than their own (or that of their brother bankers)?  

    And while we prop up the world's financial system with electronically printed money that our grandchildren's grandchildren will be paying for, we have the comfort of knowing that those running the banks will continue to receive the exorbitant bonuses promised to them by contract, as those in charge simply play the game by the rules that they created, following the time honored ideology that got us where we are today.

    I wonder if Mr. Havel chuckles or cries as he recognizes the terrible truth he has taught us?