Tuesday, January 31, 2012

TFP Column: Red Light Cameras Are All Wet

For years we heard from the city that it installed red light cameras at intersections in Toledo not to make money, but to promote public safety.  While statistics gathered in other cities said otherwise and questions continued to surface about the ‘presumption of guilt' that was used in processing these offenses, the Glass City’s leaders insisted that this was not in fact a “red light scofflaw tax”.
In a stunning reversal the city’s Finance Director, Patrick Mclean this week declared just the opposite, talking about adding to the city’s electronic intersection guardians as a way to supplement funds for youth recreation programs like the city’s pools.  It seemed therefore appropriate that the topic of this week’s effort for the Toledo Free Press would be “Red Light Cameras Are All Wet”.
In it, I give some of the safety statistics now abandoned, as well as the city's ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ concept of financial planning a bit of airing out.  I even manage to do so before City Council takes its vote on it this afternoon.
Being as early in the week as it is, there will be much more going on in the Glass City this week however.  Issues that will best be covered in both the TFP mid-week Star edition, as well as this weekend’s edition of Toledo’s largest Sunday circulation and Ohio’s best weekly newspaper (3 years in a row), the Toledo Free Press.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Vote of Confidence: Chapter 9

Effort made last weekend is paying off this one, as for the first time in a while, I am able to post on this effort in succeeding weeks. Perhaps guilt has finally become a sufficient motivator to force me to diligence in this effort (but I highly doubt it). At any rate, I am happy to say that Chapter 9 of Vote of Confidence is now up.

I have previously described this story as “A twisted tale of Life, Politics, and what some might consider cruelty to animals”. In the spirit of full disclosure however, I have to say that none of these accusations has been proven, and that in as far as I know, no actual animals were in any way harmed (physically or psychologically) during the completion of this story.

I would love to be able to give you some insight into what has gone before or will come after, but that would imply that I know or remember anything about this effort, a rumor which I can neither confirm nor deny. (Besides, not doing so adds a bit of mystery to the whole thing, don't you think?)

Since every writer likes to be read, and since I like to sometimes believe that I'm a writer, I encourage you to take a look at this effort. While I can't promise that you will get any of the time back that you spend in doing so, I can say that you might be a bit surprised.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Respectability Is Overrated

I woke up early this morning (in spite of the fact that it's a Saturday) with the accomplishment of a couple of goals in mind. One of them was to dive right into writing so that I could get a weekend posting up on the blog; which of course proved a dismal failure, since the blank page in front of me didn't appear willing to fill itself with clever literary bits of even more clever thought. This is something that I am often all too familiar with however, being neither as diligent or as talented as some of my fellow bloggers; but I resolved to stick with it.

The second of those goals was to do something about my disreputable appearance. It's all well and good to be a Curmudgeon, but looking like one of the finalists in the 'Aqualung' look-like contest can become rather tedious over time. I had therefore resolved to make my way down to local barbershop early in the day (when few would see me and the work could be done quickly) to have an assessment of the damage done, and what repairs made that could be performed.

Their work complete, I was handed a mirror to see the results of their prodigious efforts. While of course they only had the material at hand to work with, they had managed to produce results; and a certain degree of respectability in appearance had been restored. Being a fixed charge establishment, they were woefully recompensed for their labors, something which I could only attempt to remedy with suitable gratuity.

While such efforts are only 'hair deep' and seldom last, I found that in returning to the accusing blank page that still stared back at me, that I now had something to waste a bit of keyboard effort upon … Respectability.

In this an election year, it certainly seems to be something that many running for office are attempting to exemplify. It's hard enough, I realized, to make a silk purse out of this sow's ear in my own case; without having to overcome a lifetime of public service foibles while trolling the public for votes. Every past error in judgment, every misstatement, and every personal peccadillo will be poked and prodded by the vultures in the media. And if by some chance of fate one should be overlooked (or under-reported) there is little doubt that it will be discovered by the blogosphere and and displayed for all to see anyway.

Who among us is so perfect that we can stand such scrutiny, who of us has not modified our beliefs, our public pronouncements, and our behavior over time. In fact, I would find myself far more suspicious of someone who had not. Someone so rigid, so self-assured, and so righteous seems far more dangerous than one who remains open to learning new facts and new truth, and adjusts their beliefs to compensate for such an education.

As for the appearance or respectability, I have to ask myself if we are seeking true leaders in this country, or merely casting for them. Shall we elect Jimmy Smits, Martin Sheen “The West Wing”, Kevin Kline “Dave”, or Michael Douglas “The American President” simply on their ability to appear presidential? Does a good haircut and a well-cut suit imply the ability to become the leader of the free world? Have we become so shallow that a well-crafted speech, well-performed off of a teleprompter, is to become the measure of choosing a commander-in-chief?

The pictures that I have seen of Washington, Adams (or his son John Quincy Adams), Jefferson, and Madison do not persuade me that they were striking figures of respectability. Tyler and Lincoln's were completely disreputable (if not downright ugly) and they should thank goodness that they ran for office before television. Cleveland and Taft could have stood some time in the gym in order to look more respectable. And as for Ronald Reagan, though I love the man, that haircut of his was absolutely ridiculous. Some may point to Kennedy to make an argument to the contrary, but a serious debate could be mounted on the fact that his respectable appearance was apparently only skin-deep; hiding some correspondingly ugly character traits that it might have been nice to know about. Such thinking recently in fact, might well have seen John Edwards as the resident of the White House instead of the current one, a prospect in light of later revelations that's too horrible to contemplate.

Looking at the current crop of applicants for the highest office in the land therefore, may require voters to look beyond the well-coiffed, well crafted images created by their handlers; or the well written messages of speech writers who probably look like they need to get out in the sun once in a while.  They may actually be forced to look at whether these men have a clear and believable vision to get this country out of the mess that it'sin right now, along with the ability to bring about consensus to follow that vision. 

I am forced to the conclusion that Respectability may in fact be overrated, both in a political candidate … and in myself. While there are other traits that may be sought after and admired, this one may prove mostly vacuous.  When all is said and done, a disreputable appearance may not in fact be an accurate way to judge the character of a man, and may in fact indicate a far greater concern for dealing with reality than creating illusion.

Hey!  This could mean that there's some small hope for me (in life, not office) after all.  Man, I hope those guys at the barbershop can get along without counting on my regular visits for a while ...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sailing Off Course

So as not to let a writing effort go to waste, I thought I would post the column I wrote earlier in the week for the TFP, one that was ultimately supplanted by my State Of The Union piece.  I hope you get a kick out of it ... 

It seems amazing that something so large could be allowed to go so far off course, permitted to sail so close to potential disaster, and with danger largely ignored, fail to prevent it running aground on a known hazard. It's astonishing that the person allegedly in charge should all but abandon the charges in his care in a cowardly attempt to save his own skin. It's astounding that as more information becomes known, this person should now attempt to blame everyone and everything around him but his own failed policies and foresight. And in spite of all the mistakes made, responsibilities abandoned, and in a total failure of leadership, it appears likely that he will ask to be placed in command once more.

Oh sure, you thought I was talking about the recently unsuccessful attempt by the Carnival cruise ship Costa Concordia (with the assistance of the Island of Islo del Giglio) to prove that two objects could in fact occupy the same space at the same time. I was however, talking about another top heavy behemoth that has been off course for some time now. One which seems often to go out of its way to find things to run into … the ship of state.

As for its captain; he appears to have abandoned the concept of working with the rest of the crew to pick a less dangerous course, in favor of taking up the fight to retain his exalted rank and extravagant privilege instead. In traditions more befitting those of captains like the Bounty's Bligh, this one stood cap in hand before us, pleading the case yet again that the cause of all the untoward events of these last three years of voyaging are the fault of the previous captain, members of a sometimes mutinous crew that has refused to follow his wise orders, and passengers who apparently have not paid enough for the voyage. But after lecturing for months that the only way to maintain a properly working ship is for all to work together to keep it on course, he once again seemed unable to heed his own advice, and there is little doubt that we will see a return to a typical election year's acrimonious invective and rancorous rhetoric.

This is not to say that there isn't some cause for the captain's complaint, or that there hasn't been a sizable element opposing both the course being followed and the treatment of crew and passengers alike. Nor is to say that this crew and its ambitions are either altruistic or above reproach, or that they have shown the ability to steer a better course themselves. Such opposition when it deigns to make an appearance is in fact often both inconsistent and disingenuous. Many of the crew seem far more concerned with maintaining or improving their position in the chain of command than improving the lot of the passengers aboard or reaching a more desirable destination. Few have shown the courage of their convictions when faced down by captain, fellow crew, or passengers.

Swaggering around deck and with little clear idea where they would sail if the wheel were placed in their hands, they appear instead content to merely to complain. When put to the question however, their course in fact seems little different from that of their ill-fated captain, with the amount of sail raised amidst the growing storm as their only point of debate. None seems capable of operating a moral compass or charting a clear course away from the dangerous waters that we find ourselves in, nor avoiding the growing maelstrom around us. Any among them that appear of sound judgment or a with grasp of the real dangers at hand are shouted down by captain and crew alike as rabble rousers and trouble makers by a multitude growing in size, ignorance, and inflexibility.

And what do we hear from this blustering and boisterous majority? Is not the captain in charge? Has he not already told us that the ship of state would be in far worse shape had we not sailed the course he has charted? Have we not already given him our every confidence, that we should now question his leadership? Does he not have an able group who still believe in him?

Perhaps then, we are little more than a Ship of Fools; blind to the faults in captain and crew, ignorant of the dangerous waters we sail in, and oblivious to the rising storm around us. Perhaps it's our fate to continue sailing off course until like the ill-fated Costa Concordia, we too capsize, floundering in rising waters far too deep for us to fathom.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I had already written a piece for this week's TFP when I suggested to Editor-in-Chief Michael Miller that I might be able to do a State Of The Union (SOTU) piece given a bit of time.  His suggestion was pretty much to the effect that I would get 24 hours to do so if I wanted to make it timely.  

I was reminded of the famous quote by 'Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' author Douglas Adams, when he said: "I love deadlines.  I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

Ever-willing to take on a challenge however, I sat down and wrote another piece, "SOTU: SSDD".  In listening to both the speech itself and the Republican response, I found myself taken with how much I had heard from preceding residents of the White House, regardless of the political party that they came from, mixed with some new material that struck me as either annoying or amusing.  (I also found myself wishing that I could get back the 90 minutes of my life that I lost to the effort of watching well-rehearsed political rhetoric.)  

While it's impossible to capture the everything from a speech that lasts over an hour, I think that I hit most of the highlights within the restrictions of an 800 word column.  To capture the true feeling of the event however, one would have to combine the experiences being beaten for an hour with a Nerf bat, having a heart attack, banging your head against the wall (cause it feels good when you stop) and being bitten to death by ducks. 

If however, you would prefer to instead capture some of the feeling of what is happening in Toledo and NW Ohio, you are going to have to read this weekend's addition of Toledo's largest circulation Sunday and best weekly newspaper, the Toledo Free Press.

(I am waiting to hear back from Michael Miller now to see if I will be using the original effort I produced as a replacement for the mid-week blog effort that I failed to.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Vote of Confidence: Chapter 8

Yes I know that I haven't made a significant effort to get a new Chapter up this year, and the guilt I feel is almost overwhelming. It's not so much that it will overcome my normal predilection to be a slacker, but it's possible (though unlikely) that it might put me more in sync for a week or too.  At any rate, Chapter 8 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 give you some insight into what has gone on in earlier installments, or give some idea of what might be ahead; but that implies that I remember or know, an admission that I am entirely unwilling to make.  It would also be giving away the plot in a story that has little to spare.

Since of course any writer likes to be read, I encourage you check it out, knowing that by doing so you will invariably waste some time that I promise you, you will never get back.  You may however, find yourself surprised. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Stabilizing the MCP (Again)

I have spoken before about the Miscellaneous Crap Pile near my desk, comprised of tidbits of information that I found enlightening, interesting, or simply bizarre that I hadn't yet managed to find a use for. The MCP however, is as much mental as physical, requiring periodic review in a mostly useless though never-ending attempt to maintain both stability and storage capacity, both of which appear to be woefully limited around here.  These periodic purges allow me to take on a variety of subjects in a form whose brevity is as welcome by JBS readers as it is unusual for me.  Since the unusual has long been something that we embrace here at JBS, I am therefore happy to oblige.

The French threatened yesterday to pull their forces out of Afghanistan after four of their ranks were killed and fifteen wounded in what has been deemed an attack by a 'rogue Afghan soldier'.  Apparently the fact that the French are out of practice in the act of surrendering, means that in spite of their threat, they're still there today.  Of course France's contribution of 4,000 of the 130,000 NATO forces currently stationed in Afghanistan, troops which were scheduled to leave next year anyway, will probably not end either NATO or US involvement in an area that cries out for a lack of involvement.  Afghan President Karzai (speaking of both 'rogue' and 'lack of involvement') is due in Paris in a week, and has already offered his condolences to the families (and here many of us thought that President Obama was the only world leader to travel around the world apologizing).  Maybe while he's visiting he can also explain how bad guys keep apparently infiltrating the ranks of his army, or how to tell the difference between a rogue soldier and any anyone else in the Afghan army (other than not being ineffectual of course).

For those of you who have somehow missed it, the Costa Concordia is still lying on its side on the coast of Islo del Giglio.  To say that no ship's captain has made more mistakes since 'The Skipper' took some folks out for a purported three hour tour with Gilligan is an understatement.  I don't mean to make light of a situation in which human life was needlessly lost, but one cannot help but see a certain 'gallows humor' in this tragic example of the vaunted technology of Mankind failing on an epic scale.  That one of these floating islands managed to crash into a real one is ironic on a scale seldom seen in fact or fiction.  That the circus currently surrounding the circumstances of this maritime disaster involves a ship that's part of a cruise line named 'Carnival' only adds to the incongruity.  The concept that environmental scientists are as concerned with the food stored in the ship making contact with the local environment as they are that the fuel will speaks volumes about environmental scientists and what we stuff in our pie holes.The pathetic excuses of the ship's captain in shirking his responsibilities and abandoning his charges to their own fate cannot help but make one believe that this miserable example of humanity has a lot of time to look forward to in prison ... or in politics.  In Italy, perhaps both.

Speaking of miserable examples, last week's self-serving announcements by two former Mayors in Toledo about how the current office holder is doing his job is apparently a plot that's thickening.  While these lamentable examples of alleged political leadership only sought to take the stage after a story reported in the Glass City's daily paper, we now see that rather than it being a shining example of that institution's fading star of investigative journalism, the facts of the tale were fed to the Blade based on the investigations of a member of City Council.  Fortunately, the Toledo Free Press is on the case, and there is little doubt that the facts of the case will now come out. 

As for lauding the stalwart former detective / politician / investigative reporter's channeling of Columbo (or was it Woodward and Bernstein), one may want to look a little closer before awarding the laurel wreath.  D Michael's legislative aide is a former well-known Toledo blogger whose talent for sniffing out facts, knowing who to talk to in getting them confirmed, and gathering them into a consistent narrative are far more likely to deserve the actual credit than the Councilman.  Lest one seek to deride the man in question for taking all the credit for the detective work involved, for failing to first approach the Administration with its results of the investigation, or for handing the story over to the daily in the hopes of embarrassing the Administration; one should first listen to his smug attempt to present his case at a City Council meeting a while back.  It seems that his false attempts at humility (he thought he would accused of political grandstanding) and his failures to live up to Peter Falk's portrayal of the intrepid cigar chewing detective are only exceeded by his even greater inability to channel the late Raymond Burr's portrayal of Perry Mason (as well as his failure to distinguish the difference between a hypothetical and rhetorical questions).  

The Republicans had another debate this week (yawn) as a prelude to the South Carolina primary (yawn).  It was somewhat easier to bear, as with the withdrawal of Rick Perry we were down to a number of candidates on stage that didn't require a wide angle lens.  Unchanging however, is the fact that the debate moderators still haven't managed to get most of the contestants of this political version of 'American Idol' to hand out more than political standards and show tune sound bites that the pundits can later congratulate them for.  Along the way however, all seemed to have added a number to their repertoire that includes a healthy dose of ridicule for the media themselves, whose feeding frenzy for irrelevancy is only equaled by the candidates willingness to chum the waters for them, and whose inclusion guarantees them a standing 'O'.  

This however, is apparently a truly sorry bunch of candidates.  Mitt Romney is sorry he made so much money in the private sector (which leaves one questioning why failure should be more laudable in a candidate for this nation's highest office).  Newt Gingrich is sorry that he got married so many times, but happy that he paid a higher tax rate than Romney (which leaves one questioning why paying more taxes is good).  Rick Santorum is sorry that he can't reconcile his supposed Conservative credentials with his Statist pronouncements and voting record (not that we've ever demanded logical consistency of Presidents).  Ron Paul is sorry that no one took him this seriously 20 years ago, that he never learned to speak 'soundbite' well enough to play at this level, and that no matter what he says they're still going to treat him like a crazy relative with turrets syndrome that everyone hopes will leave.  The ponderous political process continues however, with all of faux drama of a poorly written reality show, and all of the excitement of the Tic-Tac-Toe championships.

OK, that's enough natural fertilizer for one sitting (though it is a miscellaneous CRAP pile after all).  I've cleared enough of the pile away to show me the many other useless writing assignments that I need to work on, so I'm going to get to work.

Smoke em if you got em. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Limited Government

Many of us who have spent any amount of time studying the Constitution still maintain that this document under which the second form of the federal government of the United States was created was designed in order to limit the scope of that government.  While there was a consensus that the Articles of Confederation had created a central body too weak to much longer survive, there was still a great deal of concern so soon after the Revolution that one much stronger would prove equally inimical to both the rights of the states and those of citizens.

And so it was that in "The Federalist Papers" James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay sought to allay the fears of the people that this new document did not do just that.  Of course they did so following a very strict interpretation of this document, a point of view no longer widely held by many of those currently in power; but by doing so they managed to get each of the thirteen original States to ratify the document.  Even then, ratification was not assured without an agreement placing some additional protection into the document itself, and the first ten amendments or "Bill of Rights" were born.

Today's far more liberal interpretations of the Constitution, as well as the often voiced concept of a 'living Constitution' are causing some of us to revisit this concept of a 'limited government'.  We are challenged however in that strict interpretation by a two-party ruling elite far more concerned with protecting their own rice bowl than with the rights of the people that they swore to serve when taking their oath of office.  Perhaps therefore, it's time that we took up once again the concept of additional protection from an over-reaching national legislature and bureaucracy.  

I therefore propose that we begin to lobby for an addition to the Republican Party Platform in the months leading up to the convention in Tampa for ... Term Limits.  Don't get me wrong here, I don't propose that we limit the terms in office of legislators, much as I would like to, as there is little chance that we could get those elected to office to lift their heads from the government trough long enough to even consider such blasphemy.  Instead I would like to propose a mandatory limit on the length of time that any new law or regulation can remain in effect without being approved again.  Failing to gain that approval, such a law or regulation in question would be automatically rescinded.  Without seeking demand for a specific timetable, I would off the suggestion of three years for new legislation passed by Congress and one year for new regulations instituted by agencies and bureaucrats without the approval of Congress.

The time periods themselves are less important however than the concept of a forced review.  Suggesting a three year review for legislation should allow for the periodic party swings in the legislature.  If a law has merit, such merit and the law itself should prove easy to defend even amidst the pendulum swings of party public favor and renewal should still be all but assured.  Should such legislation prove over time to have been either inadequate or over-reaching, the three year period should prove sufficient to allow it to lapse with no loss of face to either party or the legislators who originally passed it.

As for regulations, since most do not go through the debate of 'elected officials' in the first place, the review process should come much quicker.  Legislators who have abrogated their Constitutionally mandated responsibility and authority to create law in this country would be forced to take up the issue of accountability that much quicker and at least attempt to do the will of the people; and be themselves judged for doing so.

In addition to addressing new laws, a process which likewise mandates the review of at least 10% of existing legislation should become a part of this obligation.  There are far too many confusing and contradictory laws and regulations on the books to allow for continued addition to their number.  A recognition of this fact and a way to force the a clean up of the issued cannot help but have a positive effect.  A mandatory review would likewise provide the incentive and political cover for elected officials to do so without jeopardizing their political futures.  It would likewise put agencies and bureaucrats on notice that their actions should not be unilaterally attempted without eventual consequences.

Now many might believe that placing Congress under such an enormous encumbrance would not allow them time to pass 'new' legislation or regulation.  So be it!  If one job was created or saved by virtue of bringing the runaway train of the national legislature under even that much control, it would be worth it.  Perhaps the burden of such a mandatory review would be just the caution that Congress requires before imposing its will in the way of new laws and rules. The national register (the list of federal regulations) is already over 81,000 pages long.  That single fact alone should dictate that it's far past time that something can and must be done to provide new limits.  The tax code is over 71,000 pages, far too complex for anyone to comprehend or be able to comply with.  Forcing Congress to review each law or regulation may be just the impetus that they need to simplify the entire tax code.

At the very least, adoption of such a proposal into the platform of one of the major political parties might scare potential candidates from taking on such a burden, and dissuade today's generation of professional politicians from seeking to return to the job.  Recognizing this as comparable 'Labors and Sisyphus' may allow some new blood to finally seep into the anemic arteries of a largely spineless group of lawmakers; thereby promoting the real hope and change that this country so desperately needs.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fear of Flying

It's only now, having gone through a couple of weeks of intense therapy, that I have recovered sufficiently from the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder of the event to begin talking about my recent travel experience.  Of course, the whole thing was my fault.  It was I who decided to attempt to journey from the land of Oz to the Big Apple, I who decided to attempt to use last significant stockpile of frequent flyer miles that I had to make the journey, and I therefore who found myself standing in an airport on Christmas Eve.

Now lest you fear that these are the ramblings of yet another demented and cranky old bastard (which of course, they are), let me set before you my credentials for service as a Road Warrior.  I began traveling by air as part of my employment back in 1979, and did so on a very regular basis for about 30 years.  During that period, I managed to visit about 46 of the 50 states (oops, I almost said 58 there), all but one province of Canada, and a number of foreign countries in Europe and South America.  There were in fact many years during this period where I flew in excess of 100,000 miles on multiple airlines, achieving a rather exalted level of frequent flyer status.  I have flown in everything from single engine private planes to 747's, and have participated in two emergency landings (one in a 727 when an engine fell off, and another in a Shorts 360 commuter plane when we landed wheels up because the landing gear wouldn't lock).  None of this however, prepared me for the trials and travails of recent travel to visit my daughter's family near NYC.

Of course the ADL (Anti-Destination League) was in full attendance at all of the airports involved. (For further information on this nefarious organization, you can read about them in this previous post.)  Being well-schooled in their tactics however, I was able to strategically position myself in the boarding area and charge forward to the jetway before they were able to properly deploy the boarding gate picket lines.  I was equally successful in evading them in the baggage claim area, as since this was a short trip I had all of my worldly possession tightly grasped in my hands throughout the travel process.  (I was in fact only required to bludgeon three fellow travelers during the entire trip with a backpack which I had lethally prepared for just such a purpose.)   

Regardless of professional preparation however, dealing with fellow travelers whose lack of spacial comprehension convinced them that luggage the size of a sea trunk could be hoisted into the overhead space was a bit off putting. (And BTW, while gate agents are looking at the size of luggage, they might also want to look at the material of construction; and declare that rope handled shopping bags no longer qualify as luggage.)  I was similarly caught off guard by the Christmas cheer of the airline staff, having long ago grown accustomed to the type of surly treatment normally reserved by conductors on Japanese subway cars.  I had somehow likewise forgotten that the seat back that I was attempting to recline on placed this surface well within kicking range of crumb crunchers flying with their progenitors, producing movements far more violent than either of the emergency landings previously mentioned.

Speaking of children, while I have never been a fan of government agencies and their regulations, I would nevertheless encourage OSHA and the EPA to investigate the noise level on today's airlines.  Oh, I'm not talking about that of the engines, which was comforting enough to put me almost immediately asleep, but that of the shrieking children with whom I shared this all too cramped space, and whose hideous screeching soon after takeoff re-awakened me.  I neither remembered nor comprehended that infants and toddlers could produce sounds only slightly below a frequency level that only dogs can hear at a decibel level far beyond that of a newspaper printing press running at 60,000 copies per hour.  It's far past time that flight attendants issued the hearing protection required for such environments. (Which reminds me that I must remember to sue Sony for the failure of their noise cancellation headphones to perform anywhere near what was promised.)    

But of course no tale of the trials of travel would be complete without a description of the performance of those gallant mall cop wanna be's, the agents of the Transportation Security Administration.  What then can we say about the TSA that has not been said before? 

*  That their idea of cost cutting and maintaining work-site cleanliness was to not have me place the shoes that they forced me to take off into their plastic bins, so that they would not have to clean the bins of the dirt that might be on them (Apparently dirt in their X-ray machine was not seen as a concern.) 

*  That their concept of thoroughness was to challenge me when I said that I didn't in fact have a laptop in the backpack that I was carrying (I didn't).

*  That their attention to detail was to berate me for having the 3 oz bottle of shampoo that their rules limited me to in my shaving kit and not in the required zip lock bag (evidently the 3 oz cologne with flammable alcohol in the same shaving kit was of little concern).

*  That with all of their new technology, they are in fact no more efficient than when they had simple metal detectors, let alone X-ray machines; and no more effective than a Big 10 football team in a BCS bowl game.  

Oh it's true that I eventually returned Kansas physically unscathed, as befits its state motto "Ad Astra per Aspera" (to the stars through the rough); but the psychic scars of my recent travel may linger for years to come.  It's strange to comprehend that it's only now after long years of travel and many harrowing experiences that a true fear of flying has begun to grip me.  It's not the technology however that causes my skin to pale and my heart to race as I contemplate future travel in these 'Greyhounds of the air', but the collective insanity of my fellow travelers and the perverse nature and ludicrous methods employed by the government that seeks to 'protect' me while doing so.

Friday, January 13, 2012

JBS Alert: Starvation Potential or Investment Opportunity

While many of you out there have been idling away your time in fruitless pursuits (no not watch reruns of American Idol or new episodes of Glee, but watching the debates or voting in the Republican primaries) the staff at 'Just Blowing Smoke' have been tirelessly keeping their eyes open for the next potentially world-changing story.  Kept locked in the JBS research center for hours on end on a diet of Cheetos and Mountain Dew, it's probably not surprising that these labors eventually bore a tasty result. 

So for those of you who missed the announcement in the business news earlier this week, I can and should now inform you that on Wednesday Hostess brands filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  The victim of an increasing antagonism to its products, Hostess is but the latest corporation to fall victim to bad press and the nefarious plots of an evil consortium of yogurt and granola producers.  For those who because of recent fever or long-term stupidity still haven't quite understood the implications here, let me say this as plainly as I can.  This means NO MORE TWINKIES!  

Long attacked for unsubstantiated charges of large-scale population poisoning, Hostess was long seen has having evil design bent on shortening human lifespans through the sale and consumption of unhealthy snacks (Frito Lay has faced similar dubious charges over its products).  The truth however, is that the makers of the Twinkie were merely serving the public dietary need for Calcium and Sodium Caseinate, Mono and Diglycerides, Polysorbate 60 and Stearoyl Lactylate (and of course yellow #5 and Red #40 dye)

The implications of the potential demise of this 87-year old, privately-held baked goods organization however, are truly staggering when fully considered. Laugh if you will my friends, but these little sponge cake beauties contain three of the major food groups:  sugar, cake, and chemically produced, non-dairy cream filling.  Dip them in chocolate and wrap them in bacon before deep frying them, and you will have surpassed your daily dietary requirements for all the foods that make life worth living. 

Hostess however, is apparently yet the latest in a series of US corporations about to fall prey to its poorly negotiated union contracts over the years.  Long grown fat and happy (pun intended) as the 'snack bubble' grew, Hostess chose to mostly ignore the warning signs of a trend towards healthier eating habits.  With that bubble now apparently burst and burdened under contracts with the Teamsters that provide lavish health and pension benefits, it's in fact Hostess's health and future that are in jeopardy. 

Little is know of the dim beginnings of the dysfunctional relationship between Hostess and its Unions.  It's rumored however, that some of the names of others of their most famous products came as a result of their negotiations.  'Ding Dongs' is rumored to have come from the name Teamster negotiators used in describing their corporate counterparts for many years.  'Ho Hos' is likewise said to have come from a comment made by one of the Teamsters sitting at the table when asked by a reporter how their negotiations of their most recent contract were going.  (There was a parallel rumor that this term described the way that Union negotiators treated management over the years, but this 'blue version' cannot be corroborated.)  Few are apparently laughing however, when viewing the implications of a temporary, let alone a permanent Hostess shut down.

Of course there are potential immediate health risks involved to the general public, as those suffering from gastronomic addiction attempt to overcome TWS (Twinkie Withdrawal Symptoms).  There is likewise considerable concern that without Twinkies, long seen as a 'gateway snack', users will eventually turn to more debilitating confections like strawberry shortcake, chocolate mousse, or banana pudding; and eventually suffer addiction to those most dangerous of substitutes ... cheesecake, turtle pie, and creme brulee. 

While certainly some of us may survive for a limited period of time if the maker of Ho Hos and Ding Dongs goes belly up (metaphorically speaking of course, as a steady diet of these bad boys permits no other position), the fact we are looking at the demise of the Twinkie (even to those who have stockpiled them) is perhaps yet another sign that Armageddon may in fact be in sight.

I don't know about you my friends, but it's my intention to make stops at all of my regular grocery and snack outlets to obtain as many of these pastry delights as I can lay my hands on this weekend.  I do this not only in a show of solidarity with my Hostess brothers and sisters, but in the hopes of putting as many Twinkies into storage as my one bedroom apartment allows (I'm even considering renting a storage area).
Laugh if you will, but it's my guess that in the years ahead (Twinkies have in fact proved in government funded studies to have a half-life equivalent to that of Uranium-235), that this stockpile may in fact serve me very well indeed as a retirement investment. Real estate prices (as we have recently seen) may rise and fall, currencies may likewise command respect and be heaped with scorn, even the price of gold and silver may rise and fall over time; but the value of the Twinkie when none can be found on the shelves (like the efficacy of the pastry itself) will live forever. The Twinkie standard of exchange may not be one currently accepted on the world markets, but many of you will rue the day that you failed to join me in the purchase of what will become the first truly edible form of exchange.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Will The Real Conservatives Enter And Sign In Please

A little over a year after I was born, a TV show premiered on CBS called "To Tell The Truth". (Yes, they did have TV that far back, though the screen was small, round, and only showed pictures in black and white.)  The premise of the show was simple, three people would claim to be something that only one of them actually was, and the game involved figuring out which of the three was not an impersonator. 

Each of the contestants not telling the truth about who or what they were schooled enough to be able to answer questions about their false claim.  Some pulled it off pretty well and fooled a panel of pundits put in place specifically to see through them.  Others were pretty obvious as lame set-ups and were quickly unmasked.

Because we are now entering the heart of the Republican Party Primary season, you've probably decided that what I'm talking about are Republican presidential candidates ... but you'd be wrong.  In fact with one exception, there is nothing that any of the Republican candidates for President can tell me at this point that will make me believe that they tell the truth when they say that they're Conservatives.  I'm far more concerned with those who entered Congress two years ago, and those that will soon be running this year for office in both the House and the Senate.  Which of those in office has proved to tell the truth with regards to their Conservative credentials and which newcomers to the process can lay claim to such truth?  Tea Party supported or not, far too many seem to have proven to be little more than a 'storm in a teacup', have fallen far below the standards that they espoused when running, and are a far cry indeed below the ideal that one might have assumed based on the rhetoric of the 2010 election.

Each of House of Congress is firmly in the grip of one of the two major political parties, and both seem incapable (or more likely unwilling) of changing the direction in which the nation is going.  Regardless of party affiliation or supposedly declared principles, we continue to see the national legislature function under the concept of 'business as usual', with little or no impact felt by the introduction of these so-called Conservative elements. 

*  So-called spending 'cuts' still have little to do with the reducing even government's natural increase in spending, and nothing at all to do with an actual reduction of the amount this nation spends from one year to the next. 

*  Entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare continue to go bankrupt, and increasingly appear to have the potential of taking the rest of the country with them.  Instead of attempting to address the situation however, the best that those in power can suggest are 'premium' holidays that only speed up the death spiral process.  (Don't even let me get started on where Obamacare fits into this.)  

*  Government Bureaucracy continues to increase at an alarming rate, with the legislators finding it politically expedient to turn over their Constitutionally Mandated Authority to an ever greater number of agencies and ever larger gang of unelected paper pushers.  After promising before each election to eliminate these bloated, ineffective, and wasteful agencies, they instead add to the total number of bureaucratic drones collecting a government paycheck. 

*  Government regulation likewise continues to increase with the National Register (the big book of federal regulations) in fact growing at a record pace.  Few should be surprised at such growth, as much of this new regulation is generated by the out-of-control bureaucracy that seeks to gather more power unto themselves, with their mandates taking effect without the approval or perhaps even the knowledge of legislators whose province such rules once were.

Though much was made of their entry in 2010, after sufficient cajoling and scolding it appears that the professional politicians have once again brought their young and inexperienced members to heel.  Having carefully explained to them about 'the way things are done' and how to gain 'real power for real change' in Congress, these freshmen now seem content to pass meaningless votes that show some level of intestinal fortitude; knowing that even these lackluster efforts will be compromised the first time that their opponents denigrate them for doing so. Actually shaking up the way things are done in Washington with ground-breaking legislation now seems but a dream. 

Basking now in the pay and privilege afforded by their recent elevation to Congress and showing little understanding of the definitions of 'fair share' or 'compromise' (and especially that of 'personal responsibility'), they continue to follow a path of destruction while rolling up the national deficit at a pace never dreamed of in this nation's past. 

Living by their own special set of rules (like those on Insider Trading) and showing no memory or understanding of the burden that they assumed when seeking elected office, they allow themselves to get 'schooled' (or perhaps more accurately 'punked') by their wiser, more experienced, and perhaps more jaded colleagues.

So perhaps while we are still some ten months from the election, it's time to ask those seeking office if they are the real deal where conservative principles of a small government defined and limited by the Constitution are concerned; or are they something that merely masquerades as a Conservative for the benefits of the cameras and the political game.

Many of us out here find that it's a game we've long since grown tired of. We've discovered that we're no longer entertained by claims about whether you're 'red' or 'blue', or affirmations that you represent the party of elephant or the jackass (we're coming to believe that members of both are jackasses).  We don't care any more what party's banner you carry and which you claim to represent, since in practice there's little difference. What we really care about is whether this time is if you're truly going to represent us, rather than betray both us and the principles that you claimed to hold to the agendas of the two major political parties like so many before you.

So before we all but write you, your re-election efforts, and your little clubs off completely, would the real Conservatives enter and sign in please ....

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

TFP Column: Succession in Silence

Monday Toledo's two former strong Mayors decided to hold a press conference to comment on the current officeholder's recent action to fire Department of Neighborhoods Director Kattie Bond and Housing Commissioner Mike Baddick.  Monday night, after listening to the highlights of this shabby event, I decided to sit down at the keyboard and comment on the pathetic actions of the two former Mayors.  Tuesday, Michael Miller, having calculated that I had not contributed to the madness of Toledo politics for a couple of weeks, put my effort up on the website almost as soon as it reached him.  Such is the nature of news in these days of the 24 hour cycle and the electronic newspaper.

So it is that you will find my insight into the behavior of former elected officials in "Grateful For Succession in Silence" before not only the TFP comes out this weekend, but even before the mid-week "Star" edition.

(There is also an ugly, but unconfirmed rumor that it will be reprinted in the print edition this weekend.)

Since it's so early in the week, I have the rare opportunity to recommend both to you.  With the weather turning colder, lighting a fire is probably in order (I understand that the Blade is good as kindling, though perhaps not for much else), and find out what's going on in the Glass City and NW Ohio in Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's best weekly newspaper (3 years in a row, no less), the Toledo Free Press.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

2012 Primaries: Let The Games Begin

The new year has begun and after an endless number of debates, the seemingly endless process of actual voting begins. Iowa got to go first in what they appear to deem a reward for being known for damned near nothing else; except perhaps their ability to produce pork on a scale that only the federal government can compete with.  (In the spirit of full disclosure, I should point out that my father's family came from Iowa, and many of them still reside there.)

Using an arcane caucus process whose rules are so convoluted that no one knows or cares whether they are followed and so ridiculous that even the IRS laughs at them, they managed to produce a virtual tie between the Republican front runner and a guy that a week before was tied for last. Casting aside a 'favorite daughter' in Michele Bachmann that only months before won their straw poll (an equally enigmatic and incomprehensible practice), they gave their blessing (a prediction that has had much the same accuracy as a coin flip) to former Governor Mitt Romney and former Senator Rick Santorum before passing them off to the next stop on the rodeo circuit, New Hampshire.

New Hampshire of course is known for three things: its rebellious "Live Free or Die" state motto, not being Iowa, and getting to vote after them. They were granted this favored #2 spot because they suffer from New England's equivalent of Iowa's dreariness. Unlike their Midwestern counterpart however, they recognized that the odd shape of their state and its pugnacious slogan were enough eccentricity for any one place, and chose instead to use a more normal primary election format to make their own selection. (Pity they didn't show a bit of New England austerity as well, and bill the entire process to the parties involved.) 

As any who follows the primary process knows (very few, except for politicians and political pundits), these selections then move south to South Carolina and Florida before January ends, then scatter like the fall leaves amongst the winter snows in February; with the entire process completed in June.  And in spite of the fact that only one primary has been held, most of those 'in the know' are once again predicting that the entire process will be all but over after just four of the some fifty odd contests (pun intended) are completed. 

I am not counting as part of the fifty, the primaries which are held in Guam, Puerto, or any of the other US possessions, as they are meaningless in terms of sending delegates to the Republican Convention.  Of course the same might be said of the Missouri primary held on February 7th, as delegates to the convention in this state are sent based on a caucus held a month later.  Missourians however, are known to be a stubborn lot, unwilling to surrender their right to choose regardless of how superfluous it proves.  

Primaries in my last three states of residence are strangely enough, grouped together in March; with Georgia on 3/3, Kansas on 3/6, and Ohio on 3/10.  All three share dates with other states across the nation, and curiously two of them share a date with Wyoming (3/6 thru 3/10).  Apparently citizens in Wyoming enjoy the caucus process so much (or things are so boring in Wyoming) that they participate in it for five days, though their ultimate decision gains no more credit than if they had done so in one.  (Maine also has an extended state caucus, one which runs even longer [4/4 thru 4/10], but their eccentricity might easily be explained by similar boredom, and sharing more border with Canada than the rest of the US.)   In perhaps some twisted form of egotism, Utah's primary is the last one held that actually gets to send delegates to the convention.  Though not able to send any great number of delegates, they do have the dubious honor of having their choice be usually and largely irrelevant.

And while the Republican candidate needs the votes of some 1144 of these party representatives, let us not forget that there are 132 'superdelegates' who will also cast votes at the convention.  These delegates are long-time party members in good standing who become a kind of Republican 'Hall of Fame', rewarded with a trip to the Convention held in Tampa, Florida this year in August (not what many would consider much of a reward).  These delegates are not obligated to vote based on the results of the primary held in their state of residence, but can instead simply vote their conscience (assuming after years of party politics, they still have one).  At the very least, they might hope to be courted by a number of candidates and get their names and pictures in the news one last time before sinking back into political irrelevancy and relative obscurity.

According to most of the pundits this whole thing is inconsequential anyway, as Mitt Romney will achieve the nomination because they say he will, because it's his turn after his prior attempt in 2008, or perhaps because he pulled a sword from a stone.  Apparently the only reason that we continue to go through the motions at all is to give the 24-hour news networks something to talk about for the next six months and to provide temporary boons to the economies of each state brought on by campaign events and media buys.  Besides, there is always the off chance that at least one of the candidates (or as in this year, all of them) will say something really stupid at a time when someone is there to record it (which is pretty much guaranteed) and provide sufficient fodder for the media to criticize them now, having previously built up their effort to seek high office.

But what the heck, the media circus involved seems to be providing sufficient distraction for the president to circumvent the spirit and the letter of the Constitution with recess appointments, allows Congress to demonize trading practices as illegal on Wall Street that they legally commit themselves, and have both doing nothing to halt a Federal Reserve increasingly taking control of the economy and a federal bureaucracy intent on expanding its own legislative / regulatory power while the two elected arms of government that are supposed to be in charge seem perfectly willing to cede them such responsibility.

So by all means, let's have more 'bread and circuses' for the masses.  Let these ridiculous, irrelevant, and inappropriately taxpayer funded internal party games begin. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Under the Weather

I have been fighting a bug for going on week now, which is increasingly impacting production on either of the blog sites.  Even when my fevered brain manages to come up with something that at least appears to resemble coherent thought, such fleeting awareness becomes impossible to translate to the computer after dealing with the typos and screen cleaning caused by constant coughing and sneezing.

I continue to experiment with self-medication however, and hope to be back in front of the keyboard soon ...