Thursday, May 31, 2012

TFP Column: I'm Going To Hell For This

They say that you should never speak of politics and religion in public places, but I decided to defy conventional wisdom with this week's effort for the TFP. (And why not, I've defied pretty much everything else.)  "I'm Going To Hell For This" is probably a fairly apt description of the future that lies in store for me after calling out a number of the Catholic prelates who are suing the federal government to prevent at least one part of Obamacare from becoming a burden on businesses owned by the Church.

It's not that I want going concerns owned by the Catholic Church to have to pay for things that violate their doctrines (though quite frankly, their doctrines have no place in creating or enforcing the law), it's that I don't want any of us to have to pay for government dictate that's a violation of the limits placed on it by the Constitution.

But listen, while my doom is undoubtedly written large in the Great Book, there's probably some much more cheerful reading to be had in the mid-week Free Press 'Star' edition.  If that's not enough to brighten your spirits and save you from sharing my eternal damnation, there's only a few days to wait before Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's best weekly newspaper for the last three years, the Toledo Free Press.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Facebook: Caveat Emptor

So you bought Facebook at $38 per share and now you're pissed because, as of the end of trading on Tuesday it was down to $28.84.  So to date you've lost about 24.11% of your original investment (I mean hey, it's not like you lost a quarter of it). And so, to the sounds of tiny violins playing around the world, one cannot help but ask, "So what are you going to do about it, eh?"

Well some of you, apparently all but devoid of any shred of personal responsibility and believing that once again you may have discovered a scapegoat, appear to be mad enough about your losses that you're suing Morgan Stanley (who was the leading underwriter of the IPO).  Listen, I'm not giving Morgan Stanley a pass on this debacle by any stretch of the imagination, but they were only helping to sell this stock for its owners in a free market that would ultimately determine (and is) its real value.

But let's face it, the real reason that your gluteus is less maximus than it was a few days ago is that you not only failed to pay attention to how the dot com bubble expanded and burst some years back, or how the housing bubble burst just a few short years ago, but that you failed to look close enough or to use your own common sense in judging whether Facebook was a profitable company before throwing your hat in the ring.

In spite of all the warning signs that Facebook has never generated a great deal of profit for its original investors (except on paper), that it's increasingly advertiser driven pages were beginning to turn people off and have them looking for the next big thing, and that it's so desperate for new sources of revenue that in some places it's charging people a fee to have their posts seen by everyone; you just couldn't wait to throw your money at those evil stockbrokers in order to get a piece of the action.  The fact that institutional investors, who are after all usually more cautious with their money and pretty savvy at turning a profit, did not leap into the lion's den beside you did not daunt nor discourage you in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  

Facebook after all, is a name as well known as GM ( uh hey, wait a minute ...) that has at its heart a technology as cutting edge as the solar panels manufactured by Solyndra (yeah , no wait, that's not right ...), so it's not like investing would involve real risk (like, oh say, gambling on some ethanol plants) and if things went wrong, well there must have been a global conspiracy.

My guess is that most of you are the same people who refuse to push your tin foil hats far enough out of your eyes to see the admonition in your side view mirrors that, "objects are closer than they appear" before changing lanes, the same ones who fail to read beyond introductory interest rate on the credit card application, and the same ones who don't read the fine print in a car lease about what those extra miles each year are going to cost you.

Wallowing in your underwater mortgages, you're disappointed to discover that like your attempts to win Powerball's giant jackpot, or to win back the money that you lost in lottery tickets with a trip to the nearest one-armed bandit or blackjack table, that you are now decrying your continued failure to understand that concept of gambling involves risk; and more often than not ... loss.

Have no fear however, your exalted federal government, a expert in the creation of victims in this country, is on your side (and grateful that this one wasn't their fault).  Having gained their sympathetic ear, there's little doubt that before it's all over, the House and Senate will each hold hearings on the glitches that occurred on the trading floor both during the IPO and continue on to the present.  When those are over, they'll hold some more about what information Morgan Stanley released, when they released it, and to whom.  And if the legislature cannot find the culprits responsible, no doubt the Justice Department will take up the cause after them (after all, they have a lot of investigators who aren't looking for a bunch of guns that crossed the Mexican border a while back any more).  

And while no one will ultimately be brought to justice (if there actually was any wrong doing going on), we will all be able to take heart, knowing that our government has our best interests as its primary concern.  This being the case, regardless of the lack of conspiracy or evil intent, the two respective houses of the national legislature will be able to write laws that they can tout as protection against any such occurrence happening again.  (Well they will if they can beat the president, who will no doubt be racing them in an attempt to issue an executive order to the same purpose.)   

Re-wrapped in the warm and fuzzy embrace of government regulatory protection, we can ignore the fact that no one was forced to invest in Facebook (unlike the millions that have been forcibly invested on our behalf in GM and Chrysler).  You should therefore also pay no attention to the billions of our money that the federal government continues to invest in green companies and foreign banks with equally unprofitable business plans; usually without our knowledge, and certainly without our informed consent. Take heart instead that the protections created for any future IPO releases will no doubt be so complex and onerous that no one will ever attempt one again.

After all, it's only been the case that for thousands of years (going back to before the glory days of the Roman Empire) that we've heard the Latin warning, "Caveat Emptor" .... "Let the Buyer Beware".

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

Every year I struggle to come up with something fitting to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice on the field of battle that this day honors, and every year I fail miserably.  How can mere words come anywhere close to conveying what we owe to them?  While I often write often write about petty political squabbles and the faux battles fought in the halls of Congress between political parties, this day is instead about those who have faced a real enemy and risked all to defend that which those in political office do little more than demean.

They never asked for the foreign policy ramifications of their assignments, or the orders they were asked to follow; nor did they concern themselves with how their actions would affect the positions of those running in next election.  They fought because they were told to do so.  More importantly, they fought for their brothers and sisters in arms, for their country, and for their sacred honor.  

And sometimes it cost them all that they had. It cost their families as well, leaving far to many fatherless or motherless children behind and far to many grieving spouses in a land that sometimes seems to have far too few good ones to believe that it can afford to lose any.  A folded flag in a glass case may well be a great honor for a person's service, but it doesn't warm the other side of the bed, nor comfort a frightened child against the terrors of the night. 

These are cold, hard facts that I wish far more of this nation's citizens understood, and far more of its elected officials comprehended before coming up with half-baked plans to save the world (usually from itself), before attempting to resolve conflicts that have been going on almost since the dawn of civilization with little chance of ceasing, and before sending these brave men and women off to yet another political misadventure designed to make the politicians at the time look more like leaders.  Their posturing and misjudgment are far more often becoming a never-ending debacle that those in harm's way may never return from.  Oh hell, enough.

Instead of trying to express what may in fact be inexpressible, I will do what I inevitably do each year at this time and fall back on the monument which most aptly describes what this day is truly all about, and on those who are granted the honor of guarding: 
  The Tomb of the Unknowns
The tomb has at one time contained the unidentified remains of a soldier who served in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Viet Nam, and has been guarded continuously since 1930. (Though a soldier killed in Viet Nam was originally interred here, that body was later removed and identified through DNA testing. It was subsequently decided to leave the Viet Nam crypt empty.)

*  The Guards are members of the 3rd US Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), and wear no rank insignia on their uniforms while on duty so as not to outrank one of those lying in the Tomb.

*  The Guards take 21 steps, in recognition of the 21 gun salute; the highest honor given anyone in the military or any foreign dignitary.  Upon completion of those steps, the guards hesitate 21 seconds in memory of that same honor, turns 90 degrees and hesitates again for 21 seconds, then completes another 90 degree turn and hesitates yet one more time before resuming their march.   

*  The Guards march with moistened gloves to prevent the gun from slipping from their grasp while on duty.

*  Guards are changed every 30 minutes; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.   

*  The guards always carry the rifle on the shoulder furthest from the tomb. This move places the sentinel between the tomb and any threat. 

*  The Guards of the Tomb, an honor currently carried by very few soldiers (there were just over 500 people in 2008), is awarded only after careful examination and is recognized by the award of a wreath pin. They subsequently live under very strict guidelines of personal conduct for the rest of their lives. 

*  For the first six months of this duty, guards spend most of their free time learning of the most notable people buried in Arlington National Cemetary in preparation for their exam. With their rigorous training, hours of marching, and rifle drill, they have little time for anything else. 

*  Each guard spends five hours each day getting his uniforms ready for this duty. 

In 2003, as Hurricane Isabella approached Washington and while Congress took 2 days off in anticipation of the dangers of this storm, these guards stood to their duty. Soaked to the skin, they continued to march their rounds in the pelting rain of a tropical storm. They had been offered the opportunity to suspend this assignment but refused; stating that such duty was not simply an assignment, but was the highest honor afforded to a serving member of the military.  (They repeated this act  of courage in August of 2011 as Hurricane Irene similarly bore down on Washington DC.)

Honor indeed should be given to our troops serving in defense of freedom around the world today, and to those who have done likewise in every conflict where Americans have been called to do so. Greater veneration still is due those who made the ultimate sacrifice for those they served with and for the nation that honors them this day. May this day serve as a reminder to us all that the cost of liberty sometimes carries a very high price indeed; and may we remember to accord those that made it and those who served with them equal esteem on every other day that we live in freedom.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The 'In' Crowd

Those of you who know me and those not new to reading "Just Blowing Smoke" have heard me talk about the fact that for many years, I basically lived out of a suitcase.  This is not because I was homeless (though it sometimes seemed that way), but because my job simply required it of me.  I've traveled to almost all of those in the Continental United States (though somehow my travels fall well short of the 57 States that the President visited during his first campaign).  I have also been to most of the Provinces in Canada (Beauty eh...), Mexico, a couple of interesting spots in South America, a few of the Scandinavian countries, and of course the ancestral home of the Higgins (O'hUig'in) clan in Ireland.

While having been in a number of places over the years however, I've never exactly been in what you would call the 'In Crowd'.  I fear that my own shyness and social awkwardness, coupled with an discomfort with crowds that's been increasing over the years, would appear to leave me little or no opportunity to gain entrance to such a social stratification.  There are other places that I've never been in (and some that I have), that I thought might be worth sharing however. 

I've never been in Cahoots for example. Apparently, it's someplace you can't go alone. You have to be in Cahoots with someone else and traveling companions are in short supply these days.  I've likewise seen in Justice, but can't say that I've actually been there.  From what I'm given to understand, it's everything that it's cracked up to be (unfortunately), which hardly make it worth any effort to get there.

I've also never really been in Cognito, though I've tried often enough. I hear no one recognizes you there, which at times sounds like an immense blessing; though I suppose it could get annoying when none of the bartenders know what to serve you for a refill.   

Early in my life, I was often in Experienced, though after a while its simple charms paled for me. Sometimes now I'm in Effective, and I seem to journey there more often since I changed careers (and have gotten older, of course)I have even been told that I have occasionally managed to be in Ept if not crossing over the border to find myself in Competent; but normally look around and find myself merely in Capable, (though only temporarily) and therefore choose not to believe in crossing borders that I never noticed.  I have even been told a few rare occasions that I was in Valuable; but know this not to be the case, as everyone knows that when you're in Valuable, that you get a job that's personally fulfilling and pays you a lot of money besides. 

I have also been given to understand that I have from time to time been in Sane, something that I find far more easily believable. While never having admitted to it, I can tell you that I know that it doesn't have an airport; and that you have to be driven there. It's easy enough to believe that I've made any number of trips there however, thanks to family, friends, former bosses, and a never-ending stream of politicians who seem to take a particular delight in transporting me and other ordinary people there. 

I have also been in Doubt on a number of occasions. It's a sad place to go and often difficult to leave once you discover you're there, so I try not to visit there any more than I have to.  I'm careful about being sad, having heard that it can leave you In Consolable; a destination that does not appear on my travel agenda, now or in the future.

I grudgingly admit, to having been in Flexible from time to time; but only when it seemed very important to me to stand firmly in place (often for reasons I barely understood)I would like some day to go to Conclusions, and while everyone tells me that it's a pretty easy place to get to (you just jump), my early training in logic and reason seem to keep me from the journey.  Besides, my interest in any form of such strenuous physical activity these days is not what it once was.

One of the exciting places that I usually find myself is in Suspense! It really gets the adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart! At my age I need all the stimuli I can get, as coffee simply isn't getting the job done any more.  Fortunately for me, the same bosses, jobs, and politicians seem to have no trouble getting me there as often as I would like. (OK, more than I really care for.) 

I have been told that as I continue to age, it's likely that I will someday be in Continent.  I've been unable to find it on a map, and can only assume that it's someplace like Florida that involves blue hair, white shoes, and retirement. While I understand that it's just an age thing, if it's OK with everyone, I will hold off (pun intended) on this journey for as long as I can.

In spite of all the places that I've been however, I still find myself feeling like I'm in Complete (perhaps much like this list); though I suppose that this only proves that with life, it's the journey and not the destination that counts. I often wonder with all the places I've been and all I still want to get to, if I shouldn't be renewing my Passport to have enough room for all the border-crossing stamps.  It wouldn't do to run out of spaces or let the damn thing unknowingly expire, which would leave me in Eligible instead of where I'm trying to get to.

It's been a while since I really traveled, and perhaps a little time on the road would broaden my horizons and help me to feel that I'm not spending far too these days on the border of in Adequate.  On the other hand, there's little doubt that no matter where I journey to or eventually find myself, it won't really matter.  Try as I might, I fear I will in the end remain outside of the 'In' Crowd .

In the spirit of full disclosure (or blame), I must give full credit for the subject of this post to an email sent to me by my sister, Kathy Richardson.  While I did not plagiarize it directly, I did manage to creatively pilfer a couple of the terms, as well as the general concept.   Quite frankly, the material so struck me that I couldn't help but use it as the basis for expansion and further twisting.  

Besides, my Irish Twin is about to experience that dreaded time of the year more commonly known as a Birthday, which will place her for a month and a half at the same level of decrepitude as this humble scribbler.  Oh sure, getting the Senior discount at the local grocery store takes away some part of the sting, but after calling me 'old' for the last 10-1/2 months, she now finds herself stuck with the very number she so insulted me with.  Perhaps pointing this out to the few twisted souls who read this efforts will in some way recompense her for the abuse I have suffered, and for bringing this material to me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Evolution of the Flip Flop

I am reliably told that there are a lot of people out there who don't believe in Evolution, which is perfectly fine by me.  Evolution is a scientific theory and though there's a fair bit or corroborating data to back it up, there are also some terribly important gaps and questions that need to be adequately answered before it moves from the concept of a theory to established scientific fact.  What's more, since this is a scientific theory and not an article faith (regardless of what some on both sides of the argument would like to tell you), the concept of belief has nothing to do with its validity one way or the other.  The theory will be either proven, modified over time to fit the facts as we currently understand them, or disproven and discarded as no longer of any scientific use.

While theories regarding the 'Origin of the Species' may remain in doubt however, there is none whatsoever regarding whether the flip-flop exists in politics, and that it has evolved in this country throughout its history.  One could even go so far as to say that it has been doing so since before there even was a country.  

Was Benedict Arnold not the ultimate flip-flopper of his time; first as the hero of the capture of Fort Ticonderoga, the Battle of Ridgefield, and the Battle of Saratoga, (where leg injuries cost him time on the battlefield and damned near his life).  Did he not then, for no better reason than retribution for personal insult, lack of promotion, and money betray the very ideals he earlier fought for and switch sides in the argument; eventually receiving a commission as a brigadier general in the British Army and leading attacks against former allies and compatriots in Virginia.

Didn't Teddy Roosevelt change his mind about running for President after serving two terms in office (one after stepping up following the McKinley assassination, and one of his own), promoting William Howard Taft as the next Republican nominee (and eventually President).  Didn't he then flip-flop, change his mind about about seeking yet another term, and go so far as to enter the election as a 3rd party candidate after losing his party's nomination in his attempt to unseat his former protege.   

But it's in the election of 2012 that we seem to have seen the flip-flop reach its highest evolutionary form to date.

It started of course, as Republican candidate (and now all but nominee) Mitt Romney fought to keep himself from being 'tarred and feathered' by fellow Republicans over whether he stood with his potential Democratic opponent as a supporter of what has become commonly known as Obamacare.  Having signed a law in Massachusetts as governor which called for an individual mandate for health insurance, he found himself flipping first one way, then flopping to another in order to distance himself from an unpopular position in the primaries, without repudiating his former stance on the issue.  Caught in an unsustainable and vacillating argument (seemingly with himself), he seemed finally to emerge with a self-satisfied position of being for what he was before, and not for what the current White House occupant is; in spite of the fact that the differences are all but indiscernible, except as to the number of people who must follow the mandate.

It is however, the incumbent Democratic President who has elevated the flip-flop to almost an art form, perhaps afraid he would fall short in demonstrating his ability to remain as verbally and intellectually flexible as his opponent where his core beliefs were concerned.  Where same-sex unions were concerned, it was the President himself that in fact called his stand "an evolution on the issue."  As detailed in a Miami Herald piece (which I am quoting extensively from), in 1996 when running for the Illinois Senate, he said "I favor legalizing same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages."  In a questionnaire just two years later his answer was instead 'Undecided' on legalizing same sex unions.  When running for the US Senate in 2004, he stated "I am a fierce supporter of domestic partnership and civil union laws.  I am not a supporter of same sex marriage as it has been thrown about ..." 

FLIP,FLOP, and done ... right?  But wait, we're not even close to the end.

In his book 'Audacity of Hope', he defined marriage as between a man and a woman.  In a 2007 debate he supported civil unions with "all the benefits that are available for a legally sanctioned marriage", but not legal recognition of same-sex marriage.  In 2008 he said "I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman.  I am not in favor of gay marriage." And this year on ABC's 'Good Morning America'  he said, " is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married."

Don't get me wrong here.  I've spoken about my own theories of the place of government when it comes to the subject of marriage (none), so I am casting no stones at the position(s) that the President has taken over a period of SIX YEARS on the subject.  It might even be said that I am voicing a twisted form of admiration for the flexibility that Barack Obama is able to maintain in the face of changing public opinion, polling data, and same-sex marriage legislation at the State level (though I freely admit that my admiration may contain more than a little sarcasm and even a touch of irony).

What we are apparently seeing here is that having been inspired (outed) by the 'foot in pie hole' verbal discipline of his running mate, the Commander-in-Chief is turning the simple political flip-flop into into a gymnastics run involving at least five flip flops, with perhaps two and a half twists on the dismount (difficult 3.4, at least according the judges that I spoke to).

You know this is an Olympic as well as an election year, and I can't help feeling that we're somehow missing the boat by not having the political flip-flop as an event in the games (even if it's only as a demonstration sport).  It's obvious that we are blessed with at least two who are not only ready and able to compete at the international level, but whose skills might well guarantee bringing home both the gold and silver medals.  I am in fact lost in admiration as I watch these truly mesmerizing performances by what will apparently be the two major competitors for the highest office in the land, their efforts achieving what can be considered nothing less that the highest current evolutionary stage of what was once the simple political flip-flop.

Please note that the picture inserted above is not a composite, time-lapse one of my life.  The hair color is completely wrong ...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The "Stuck on Stupid" Dictionary #33

Apparently the staff disciplinarian here at Just Blowing Smoke has achieved a modicum of success through the occasional beating of the lazy lexicographers working on the "Stuck on Stupid" dictionary.  And though it would be difficult to say that morale has improved, these 'enthusiasm enhancing episodes' appear to do have had at least some impact on the quantity, if not the quality of their efforts.  (Personally, I just think they're jealous of the Cheetos that we supply to the DJBSS in their attic Command Center.)  Senior staff will continue to search for new ways to 'inspire' greater output.

Now for those of you who have somehow managed to miss previous postings in this area (shame on you, now go back and read all of the postings under the label of dictionary), the SOS dictionary is a reference guide to terms which nominally mean something to the rest of the English speaking world, but appear to mean something entirely different when looked at in a political context, especially to those us who have come to understand the often peculiar vernacular of politics in Toledo, Northwest Ohio ... and sometimes even the nation as a whole.


1. A sum of money imposed for the purposes of defraying the costs associated with an education annually on a per student basis.

2. A sum of money which is usually considered too low for the purposes of defraying the costs of a K-12 education annually on a per student basis; possibly because the charges carry a 'veil of invisibility' from being spread over property tax payers whether they have children in school or not.  (This is not to be confused with the sum paid for the same K-12 education at private schools, which is usually less, and paid directly to those schools by the parents who use it in addition to the taxes which they otherwise pay.)

3. A sum of money which is usually considered too high when paid to an institution of higher learning for a college education annually on a per student basis; in spite of the fact that it's nearly identical to the sum paid for the K-12 education.  (The difference in how this number is perceived may be due to the fact that it has lost its 'veil of invisibility', is not spread over property tax payers whether they have children in school or not, and must therefore be paid for either by the parents or the students themselves  ... even if they have to borrow the money to do so.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

What's in a Marriage?

There seems to be a great deal of debate going on lately about not only what constitutes a marriage, but who has the right to one.  As someone who has been married twice, there are some who believe that I should be able to speak on this right of joining with a certain degree of expertise.  As someone who has likewise been divorced twice, there are an equal or greater number who believe that, having twice failed to keep one together, I have absolutely no right to voice an opinion.

That's the thing about "Just Blowing Smoke" however.  Since this is in fact my world and you're just living in it, I not only don't have to check with the readers of this site (both of them) for permission; I don't normally even seek the judgment of the DJBSS or even the SOS lexicographers before speaking out on a subject (and usually can't sober them up enough to do so even on the rare occasions when I want to).  

Speaking about belief in general, if not my suitability to speak about the subject in particular.  One of the chief arguments about this ceremonial joining is that the Christian religious belief determines that this should be the relationship between one man and one woman.  That may in fact be the case in the New Testament, but there's a different story being told in the Old Testament.  Abraham had more than one wife, at least according to Genesis 16:1 and 25:1, Ahab is asked to give his "best wives and children" up to an enemy in The First Book of Kings 20:1, David appears to have been married to Michal (Book of Samuel 18:27), Abigail (The First Book of Samuel 25:43) and Eglah (The Second Book of Samuel 3:5).  All of this of course, discounts the concubines and slaves that appear to being sharing the beds, if not marital status with major Biblical figures (except in Abraham's case, where Hagar was apparently both depending on when you look).  

But religious groups can choose what kind and whose marriages that want to sanction and whose they don't; as I discovered during my first attempt at the practice when the Catholic Church refused me for in turn refusing to take and pass their class before going forward (though looking back at my record, one cannot help but wonder whether I might have learned something useful from the education process).  One cannot also help but wonder however, which religion we should use to judge by.  Many of them after all have permitted polygamy of one form or another, and most have tacitly sanctioned the reproductive practices purportedly restricted to marriage, at least to those sitting on the throne.  One might go even further and ask why, at a time when so many in this country (including myself) are seeking to keep Sharia law from being used in any way to judge or condone behavior, why laws of Christian tradition or the Jewish law that precedes it should be a standard from which we judge.  (Oh I know the arguments that this is a 'Christian Nation', but disregard their logical absurdity since I normally hear them from the same people decrying Sharia Law practiced by nations in the Middle East.)

And as we thereby seek to prevent religion beliefs (which are often contradictory and rife with seemingly irreconcilable differences) from being the standard for marriage, we might also ask ourselves by what right the State thinks it has authority to decide such an issue.  A "Marriage License" issued by the government is of course required in order to any union to be considered legal.  Where in the Constitution (federal or state) should we look to find that particular empowerment?  In point of fact there is none.  Marriage ceremonies were for most of history, simple ceremonies conducted locally to acknowledge a romantic bond publicly; and could be as simple as the couple jumping over a broom.  Of course things got more complicated as noble families bound themselves to each other and joined lands through treaties of marriage.  Likewise having some form of documentation of the bond came in handy when divvying up the spoils of inheritance in a grand estate after such mergers.  In none of this however (with the exception of some of the nobles getting hitched) was it required to obtain the 'permission' of the state.  So the question remains, by what right or documented ceding of power does any level of government get to issue a license for marriage, as if you were registering the ownership of a business or a dog (questions which have likewise yet to be answered)


You know, this probably hasn't been as clever and amusing as some of my more recent weekend efforts (which in turn are probably not as clever and amusing as I would have like to have made them).  But it is in fact the discussion itself that provides the normally required humor.  The truth of the matter is that the discussion of the subject by the President (especially in an election year), the Vice President (for whom the concept of speaking on any subject without putting his foot in his mouth up to the knee is usually his greatest concern), or the opposition party candidate running for the office (whose religion does in fact permit polygamy) is all but ludicrous.  At a period in this country's history when the national debt is on the verge of of destroying it, at a time when half the people in this country are complaining that they're not getting enough from a government being paid for by the half being demonized for making enough money to do so, at a time when the economy continues to swirl the bowl with a fairly distinctive flushing sound; the last thing we need to be talking about is who gets to get married

What's more, at a time when out-of-wedlock childbirth is unacceptably high and when "baby daddy" and 'baby momma" have become all but acceptable descriptions of former partners that were never married; this discussion is becoming largely irrelevant.  After all, the "Leave it to Beaver", "Father Knows Best", and even "I Love Lucy" marriages from our parents day are mostly gone (and more's the pity).  For those trying to save what was once defined as a 'Traditional Marriage', sorry but it's largely gone.  Like it or not, we live in an extended society today where children understand the concept of step parents, step grand parents, and people related to them who aren't actually related to the kids at all.  We speak calmly of ludicrous concepts like my 'nephew' or 'sister-in-law' by my first marriage as if they had any meaning.  Hell, according to our current Secretary of State at the time when she was formerly the First Lady, but not yet a former Senator (How's that for complicated?); "It Takes a Village" to raise a kid anyway. 

As for my own feelings on who should be allowed to get married, I'm afraid that regardless of my past experience on the subject, I will not say.  Since I've already expressed the opinion that both the Church and the State have no standing in the argument, how can I then claim to have one.  As for my own potential marriage plans, while some say that 'the third time's the charm', others argue that 'three strikes and you're out'; I find that I am wary, but at least occasionally curious on the subject.  Having lost half of my stuff in the first of those marital partings, and half of what's left in the second, I appear to be having difficulty in finding someone who's interested in at least half of what's left ... let alone living and putting up with a stogie-smoking Curmudgeon.  If I ever find someone however (and I do continue the search), I believe that we will have to have a serious discussion about 'what's in a marriage' before I'm convinced to once more take the plunge.

It was only this evening while indulging in the guilty pleasure of reading other blogs that I discovered a posting on this subject by mi Amigo, Roland Hansen.  We don't always agree politically, but it's an interesting take on the politicizing that this subject has recently gotten in the news. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

TFP Column: If It Saves Just One Freedom

What can the closing of Pubs in rural Ireland have to do with saving freedom in this country?  

It's a grand question to ask, and sure I could tell you, but that would keep you from getting off of your duff and reading my latest effort for the TFP, "If It Saves Just One Freedom" (a phrase that I freely admit to stealing and lampooning).  While it's true that there's a bit of 'Six Degrees of Separation' to the piece, it's easy enough to connect the dots without putting on a tin foil hat that would undoubtedly cause harmful effects in the heat and make you very uncomfortable.

Speaking of uncomfortable, I suspect that this is the feeling you will be experiencing in your own social circles if you don't manage to keep up with everything that's going on in Toledo and Northwest Ohio by reading its largest Sunday circulation and the state's best weekly newspaper for the third year in a row, the Toledo Free Press.

(You know, one of these days I'm going to have to sit down and ask editor-in-chief Michael Miller how the TFP can be a weekly paper when its printed twice a week ... but not this day.) 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tax, Regulate, and Subsidize

"The government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases:  If it moves, tax it.  If it keeps moving, regulate it.  And if it stops moving, subsidize it."
- Ronald Reagan

It certainly seems that this former President was at the top of his game in saying this, and that what was true over thirty years ago remains equally true today.

What brought these comparisons about was the recent revelation by JP Morgan Chase, that poor monitoring of a worse strategy of investment cost the bank some $2 billion of its own money in the last six weeks.  Now there was a day when $2 billion was real money, but those days are almost as far behind us as the Presidency of Ronald Reagan.  After all, JP Morgan Chase is a bank worth almost $2.3 trillion; which is a bit more formidable sum to consider, unless of course, you're a national government.

There are those now calling for the bank's CEO Jamie Dimion to resign from the Federal Reserve Board (if not from the bank), including a former Obama adviser and now Senatorial candidate in Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren.  Of course you all remember Ms. Warren's latest claim to fame, that of being 1/32 Cherokee Indian.  Now that claim has come into serious question, if not disrepute (in a distraction that radio personality Mark Steyn cleverly calls Fauxcahontas).  My math skills may be a little rusty, but Warren's potential error on her pedigree seems to be something on the order of 3% and JP Morgan's on the order of .01%.  But let's set that, along with her campaign pontifications aside.

We could take up instead those made by White House press secretary Jay Carney, using his pressroom podium as a bully pulpit to speak on why this situation is justification for the 'Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act', and to make the case that its perhaps additional federal regulations of the banking industry should be taken up at the federal level.  Of course Mr Carney fails to point out that the type of trading being done by the bank was not covered under Dodd-Frank and that it was the bank and not federal regulators that caught the problem, but it's seldom that the a political candidate's spokesperson will let the facts get in the way of a bit of campaign rhetoric. So maybe we should set aside the statements of Mr Carney as well in the spirit of fairness (to what I don't know).

Since some are setting the federal government up as a fiscal watchdog, let's look instead at the numbers of a couple instances of recent money loss under federal oversight.  In it's most recent quarter of operation (admittedly 12 weeks and not 6), the US Post Office lost $3.2 billion.  What's more, it lost $3.3 billion in the fourth quarter of 2011, and $3.1 billion in the third quarter last year.  In fact, according to Business Insider, it has lost some $20 billion since 2007. Billions of dollars lost through the execution of a lousy strategy and poor monitoring that sound vaguely familiar, if considerably more egregious; and all of this oversight was performed by Congress.

But let's face it people even $20 billion is chump change in the great scheme of things (pun intended).  After all, isn't Congress responsible for oversight of the national budget?  Now, of course the Senate hasn't seen fit to exercise its responsibility of passing a budget in over 1100 days (3 years for those of you not using the Mayan calendar).  Even though the Senate has a clear Democratic majority however, I'm sure that the fault must lie with the Republicans. The House, to its credit, has passed a couple of budgets since evil Republicans, with their nefarious ringleader Congressman Paul Ryan, started proposing draconian cuts; but nothing has seemingly come of these efforts as in a spirit of bi-partisan compromise that does little more than allow the madness to continue.

So in the first fiscal quarter of 2012, the national debt has gone up not $2 billion, $3 billion, or even $20 billion; but a staggering $320 billion (at least according to the Congressional Budget Office).  In fact, at the time that this was posted, the National Debt stood in excess of $15.7 trillion dollars.  So let me get this straight.  The government that loses millions in green energy projects, billions each quarter on the Post Office, and hundreds of billions each quarter in the deficit increase of the federal budget would like greater control on how private businesses spend or invest their own money and show no outrage (or interest for that matter) over their own apparent fiscal irresponsibility. 

OK, then.  Well it certainly seems (based on these facts) as though the government has made its case, and earned that right to impose further controls using Sec of State Hilary Clinton's 'suspension of disbelief' view of the world(Sorry, the sarcasm key got stuck and this just typed itself.)

We are after all, certainly taxing the profits made by banks like JP Morgan Chase already, and have increasingly sought to regulate them.  There are those in Congress and the White House who would like even more regulation on 'too big to fail' banks. You know, perhaps with enough government regulation, we might just be able to move beyond stage two of former President Reagan's quote and the bailouts that have already occurred and truly begin to permanently subsidize banks with taxpayer dollars.   


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day 2012

I left the city that my parents lived in back in 1980, and while they seemed rather indecisive as to whether they wanted to reside in Chicago or Kansas City for the next few years, I instead seemed completely incapable of establishing anything like a permanent home for many of the years since.  As a consequence, I did not live in the same city as my mother for over 30 years.  For some strange reason however, for the second year in a row we both find ourselves calling Mission, Kansas home (in fact only blocks apart).  It therefore seems likely that I will be able to see her on that day of days that celebrates female progenitors. 

Now for those of you who unaware of the history of this holiday in the US, it is said to have been the results of three women, Ann Jarvis, her daughter Anna, and Julia Ward Howe. Ann Jarvis apparently began the effort by forming a committee calling for a "Mother's Friendship Day" in 1868, continuing efforts in pacification that included her treating wounded on both sides of the Civil War. Julia Ward Howe (also famous for writing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic") later added the "Mother's Day Proclamation", in reaction to the death and destruction of both the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. 

Ann's daughter Anna took up the cause during her mother's life and continued promoting the concept after her death. It became an official US holiday in 1914, after not only all of the States had declared it so, but Congress passed a law, and President Wilson issue a proclamation. (This might be considered a typical bit of government overkill, but I have it on good information that even politicians have mothers.) 

Mother's Day is therefore designated for what seem to be sometimes ungrateful offspring to for at least one day sing the praises of those whose efforts go far beyond mere words. Even those of us who consider ourselves rather gifted at doing so usually find ourselves failing miserably with those we attempt to use.  Let me however try at least to explain a woman who is at once both patient and strong, loving and giving, a fierce defender and an equally kind critic. She is also our family's living memory, having some vast reserve of ability which allows her to untangle the oft-times complicated relationships of a group of people who long ago lost hope of doing so for themselves.  She needs only to see a face or hear a voice in order to recall a name and establish proper lineage for those involved; all while recalling an amusing anecdote relating to that person or one of their immediate ancestors or offspring.

That her reserves of patience are both endless and overflowing can be illustrated no more clearly than by saying that she has managed to put up with this Curmudgeon for over fifty-five years (something no other woman has yet come close to managing).  This is not to say that she can't be vocally opinionated, but that her only real intolerance appears to be for those not as devoted as she is to her beloved Chicago Cubs (a devotion she more than illustrated on her 80th birthday when she had their emblem tattooed on her shoulder).

To say therefore on this Mother's Day that I deeply love and respect this woman is to damn with faint praise; but in the end, perhaps the best that I can offer and her just due.  May each of you have been so blessed as to have been raised by, or at least known such a woman.  And while you may not have an Internet venue in which to extol her virtues, may you also be able to find the time to tell them how much they've meant to you.

Happy Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

I Love A Parade ... Not

Through a curious but fortunate bit of miscommunication, this effort has likewise found its way onto the web page version of The Toledo Free Press.

This is the weekend of the Mission Family Festival, an extended weekend carnival found here in Kansas that's staged just a block away from the place I call my haven from an increasingly misguided and often rather silly world.  Oh don't get me wrong, there's nothing really wrong with the city deciding to use a few pleasant days in spring to celebrate itself, but it would be nice if they didn't do it in my backyard. 

Of course while this weekend promises warm temperatures, it also carries the potential of rain and thunderstorms on Saturday and rain on Sunday. Some would say that this may dampen the festivities (figuratively and literally).  As far as I'm concerned however, the idea of sitting on metal rides whose framework reaches ever skyward in such conditions only adds to the excitement of the experience and the bargain of a $20 unlimited ride wristband. (It also tends to shorten the lines.)

Who am I therefore, to deny the city its opportunity to have a few harmless carnival rides seemingly right beside the poor refuge of my deck ... until of course they turn the damn things on.  There is nothing after all, that inspires the calm and peace of mind that one seeks after slaving away in the salt mines all week like the rattling of rides that have long since seen their day, and the screaming of young teenagers whose only real fear is that their friends will see their parents frantically waving at them from the crowded parking lot below (when it probably should be over the safety inspections performed by poorly trained state workers).

Lest one accuse me of denying the kiddies of a few hours of harmless entertainment, let me point out for those not already enticed to attend by the titillation of rides long ago rejected by "Worlds of Boredom", there is in addition to them an educational and equally exciting exhibit of special vehicles which features (oh be still my heart):  A John Deere tractor, a DUI trailer (huh?), a D.A.R.E. car, a fire department ladder truck, a Kansas City Power and Light bucket truck, and a battle tank.  (Oh just give me just half an hour in that battle tank and I'll show the kids and parents of Mission some adrenaline-filled hysteria that they'll remember as long as they live.)  Additionally, there will be a few food tents operated by local businesses operated for no other reason than to tempt carnival go-ers into joining the ranks of the morbidly obese, with the largest purveyor of these unhealthy but tasty treats being the local grocery store.

And if all of this were not enough to make you abandon whatever village or glen bereft of such events that you happen to reside in and begin a pilgrimage to my own humble community; perhaps the Saturday night concert featuring a live performance by "Funky Mama" (undoubtedly some exceptionally loud and misguided tribute to Mother's Day) should certainly do the trick. 

But lest you think that these spine tingling efforts constitute the bulk of the festivities for this weekend's gala, let me beg to differ.  As the title of this effort takes great pains to point out (pun intended) there's also a parade.  What kind of merrymaking would there be, especially during an election year, if we didn't allow locally elected officials to sit in the back seats of open convertibles, the beds of even more open pickup trucks (this is Kansas after all), or completely open hay wagons; while practicing their best insincere smiles and hand-waving.  

Of course it won't all be that 'red carpet' glamorous.  Some of those participating in this pompous procession of pageantry for local gentry stretching for some 4-6 blocks will instead merely be local 'movers and shakers' in business, members of area fraternal organizations, and (cringe)  those enlisted in local marching groups. Note here that I said 'groups' and not 'bands'.  After all, even cranky bastards like me enjoy a marching band as much as the next guy.  These however, are instead groups of young people who will be performing what are carefully choreographed routines to pre-recorded noises perceived in some circles to approximate melodic interpretation.  The only thing that can be guaranteed by the accompaniment of these efforts however, is that what they may lack in tonal quality, you can be assured that they will more than make up for in decibel levels.

The kids will be oh so cute marching in their matching outfits, twirling and tossing batons, and occasionally clapping or stamping their feet to provide extra emphasis to their canned cacophony (though it's unlikely such efforts will be heard in the clamor of noise being produced).  The parents will be so proud of little Johnny or Jenny (as they should be), even if the routines don't always come off as planned.  And the children themselves will be a bit tired, though happy and proud as they approach the end of their efforts and pass RIGHT UNDER MY PATIO.  Oh yes, make no mistake on this one my friends.  I will have a front row box seat (in the balcony, no less) to every bit of the parade; since it ends a mere thirty yards from my back door.  

Now they say that spring only comes once a year (if at all) and the Mission Family Festival is only one weekend a year (something for which I must remember to properly thank the Mission City Council in person); so I must take great 'pains' to enjoy it while I can.  While the event may present some petty annoyances that must of needs be dealt with, it should at least provide an easily explainable excuse to self-medicate this weekend with a bit of 12 year-old C2 H6 O.  While this may produce something akin to a bright side to the situation and a generally warm feeling towards my fellow man, I must still in the end come to the conclusion that even with the assistance of ethanol enhanced enthusiasm, that I Love a Parade ... Not

Please note that while this bit of natural fertilizer will in fact constitute my normally nonsensical weekend effort, there will nevertheless be a special weekend effort tomorrow in honor of Mother's Day here in the US.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Value of Higher Education

I started to do some research for an effort about the cost of higher education this week; concerned about the $1 trillion dollars in student loan debt, yet another politically motivated debate on a program that is little more than federally funded 'price fixing' where interest rates on college loans are concerned, and disquiet that the price of a college education might be rising far faster than the national rate of inflation would predict.  College tuition seems to be the issue de jour in politics these days, as the campaigns vie for student votes in an election year; and as a consequence, the obligatory pandering to their suffering is currently going on.

In fact, according to this ABC piece, tuition costs rose in last year at a level of 8.3% (for at least one type of college), while the inflation rate was only 3.6%.  ABC was even kind enough to break the numbers down for all of us, so I highlighted them for you here below:

1.  Published in-state tuition and fees at public four-year institutions average $8,244 in 2011-12, $631 (8.3 percent) higher than in 2010-11.

2.  Published tuition and fees at for-profit institutions average an estimated $14,487 in 2011-12, 3.2 percent higher than in 2010-11.

3.  Published out-of-state tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities average $20,770, $1,122 (5.7 percent) higher than in 2010-11. 

4.  Published tuition and fees at private nonprofit four-year colleges and universities average $28,500 in 2011-12, $1,235 (4.5 percent) higher than in 2010-11.

(These numbers reflect costs per semester, and therefore double as an annual tuition cost.  Note that I did not include costs associated with living on campus that were available in this piece, as they are not 'tuition' costs, and for reasons which will quickly become apparent.) 

When I looked at these numbers, a couple of things struck me however.  First, that the greatest increase in percentage was in in-state tuition a public universities, though the dollar amount itself didn't seem life threatening.  Second, that most of the other increases were pretty much in keeping with the inflation rate, give or take a point or two.  Third, that the 'choice' of a for-profit university can get pricey in a hurry; and that looking at out-of-state tuition or that of a private non-profit school could get downright expensive.

There was something about that first number that kept nagging at me however, and I was forced to continue digging through old notes and efforts until I discovered why this was.  What I discovered not only took me aback, but changed the direction of this piece entirely. 

What I rediscovered was a paper on policy analysis done by Adam B Schaeffer of the CATO Institute entitled, "They Spend WHAT?  The Real Cost of Public Schools" on March 10 of 2010.  This CATO Policy Analysis, #662, remains spot on though now two years old.  I highly recommend that you take the time go over the material contained in this 32 page effort on the state of public education in this country.  

Having grown up and attended schools in both the suburbs and city of Chicago, it was rediscovering the numbers that I had once read about the place of my birth that now began to haunt me.  Rather than bore you with trying to explain them, I have cut and pasted the requisite graph and chart below in order to simplify. 

2010 money spent on K-12 education in three areas of Chicago as provided by the district and as actually spent.

Now for those of you who weren't paying attention in math class, what these numbers appear to indicate are a couple of things that we've long known, that the amount of taxpayer money reportedly spent is not always that actually spent, and that private schools provide an education for less than their public school counterparts (and in some cases, far less).  It also seems to glaringly indicate that two years ago in Chicago at least, taxpayers were paying about the same per student for K-12 education that the average college student pays in 2012 in the way tuition at an in-state institution of higher learning (if we adjust for two years of inflation, that seems almost certain).

So which is it?  Is $16,000 per year too much to spend on higher education, or is it an amount that needs to be increased in order to properly educate our K-12 children?

It seems apparent that it's in fact not the cost of higher education that's too high, unless those demanding more funding for K-12 education are likewise willing to concede that the mostly failed effort of a government-controlled education system is in fact also too high (something that I would gladly do).  It also seems that such a sum should be more than enough to cover communicating basic learning skills to 5 thru 17 year-olds if it's enough to educate a college student.  One might even go further, and say it's logical to conclude that many more might be able to afford to pay the higher education bill for their children (as they have a K-12 education), if they weren't already paying taxes for someone else's child's education at the same time (you know much as parents whose children attend private schools do for others every day).  

Yet another lesson exists for those who view such numbers as these and still choose expensive for profit universities, out-of-state, or private schools.  The vastly greater funds you will spend on tuition can teach you a different and valuable lesson that most of us learned outside of the classroom and far more cheaply; that while either will get you where you're going, a Cadillac costs more than a Chevy (unless of course, it's a 'Volt').  

As for those whose four year education has earned them little more than a place in the unemployment line, perhaps it was not the cost of their education that was the problem, but the value of what they 'chose' to learn while obtaining it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

TFP Column: Defining Collateral Damage

While listening to stories about the use of armed drones to attack alleged terrorists (thing time in Yemen), I was struck again by how much of war has become a strategy of 'push button' tactics.  In WWII it was people miles in the sky in airplanes doing the pushing, now it people often hundreds or thousands of miles away pushing the buttons on the airplanes.

While all of this button pushing is going on and targets are being taken out, there are regrettably those that are killed with the target simply as collateral damage.  But they're not the only incidnental results of such strategy.

It's this that I attempt to look at in this week's TFP effort "Defining Collateral Damage", which looks not only at what occurs in foreign lands, but that which occurs in this country as the result of such strategies.

While we're at it you might want to make sure to do a little collateral damage yourself by catching up with everything going on in Toledo and NW Ohio (it is Mother's Day weekend, after all) by reading Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's best weekly newspaper for the third year in a row, the Toledo Free Press.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Half or Twice As Much?

While I'm working on something of a more serious nature, I wanted to share a brief thought with you that struck me as I watched the President kick off his official 2012 campaign at the Schottenstein Center on the Ohio State University campus.  Since Columbus, OH is one of my former hometowns (and the one where I lived the longest ... and the most number of times)

There has been a great deal of discussion over the venue of kickoff of the campaign, in spite of the fact that it's only four days ago.  Now politics is as much about perception as it is about reality (and some would say far more), so the picture that many saw of the president speaking before the OSU banner carries a message, both up front and subliminal.  We see smiling faces and people applauding (as such events are want to bring out).     

The banner in the background likewise lends an air of almost endorsement, though I'm sure that somewhere on the last page of a press release in typeface normally reserved for the last 5 seconds of a car commercial, it states that the University is not endorsing, nor can it endorse, the candidacy of any elected official.   

The second picture has been much ballyhooed by those of the Republican persuasion, showing that the packed houses that once likened the President to a Rock Star, have dwindled.  Not only are the upper decks largely empty, but unless the the Secret Service or OSU officials prevented it, the arena floor is likewise mostly empty.  The question Republican pundits posed was that of whether the venue was "half-full or half-empty".   

These pictures reminded me of this clever phrase as well, but with a different interpretation; one explained to me many years ago:

The Optimist looks and says that the glass is half-full.

The Pessimist looks and says that the glass is half-empty.

The Realist looks as says that we have twice as much glass as we need.

So while these pictures remain in the public eye late me state that:

The Cynic looks and says Mr. President, that we're trying to tell you that we have twice as much (and more) government than we need.  Are you getting the message?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The "Stuck on Stupid" Dictionary #32

I know that it has been far too long since proper additions to this reference tome have been made, but it appears that the lexicographers in charge of such work managed to conceal the only complete copy of this work in a misguided attempt to get away with what amounts to little more than a case of criminal laziness. While the staff disciplinarian here at Just Blowing Smoke continues to occasionally beat the wretches until morale improves, these 'enthusiasm enhancing episodes' appear to do have little impact on either the quantity or the quality of their efforts.  (Personally, I just think they're jealous of the Cheetos that we supply to the DJBSS in their attic Command Center.)  Senior staff will continue to search for new ways to 'inspire' greater output.

Now for those of you who have somehow managed to miss previous postings in this area (shame on you, now go back and read all of the postings under the label of dictionary), the SOS dictionary is a reference guide to terms which nominally mean something to the rest of the English speaking world, but appear to mean something entirely different to those us who have come to understand the often peculiar vernacular of politics in Toledo, Northwest Ohio, and sometimes the nation as a whole.

... gate:

1.  A movable barrier, sometimes on hinges, used to provide access to an area protected by a fence or wall.

2.  A combining form which, when attached to the end of another word, depicts a scandal having to do with that original word; normally used by the mainstream media for no better reason than their own laziness and lack of creativity.

(Few if any remember that the original use of such intellectual shortcuts came from the Watergate scandal in 1972, which was not in fact a scandal about 'Water', but was the name of the Washington DC office complex in which a politically motivated break-in was committed by members of the Nixon re-election campaign team at the Democratic National Headquarters.)

... ocracy:

1.  From the Greek 'kratia' - meaning strength or to rule (govern)

2.  A combining form used to designate the group of people given the power to govern.  Examples of such types of rule are:  Aristocracy (an elite group), Meritocracy (a group of those with special or superior ability), Mediocracy (a group with no special ability), Bureaucracy (a group with the ability to find non-elected government jobs - see Mediocracy) Democracy - (a group which has the ability to vote ... in this country, normally a very small group).

3. A sub-category of the combining form where terms are created to be used as an effective insult to define those currently attempting (and usually failing miserably) to govern.  Examples of such types of rule are:  Ineptocracy (a group of people with no special ability except that to fail), Idiocracy (a group of those considered Idiots, but not Village Idiots ), Kakocracy (a group of people considered 'natural fertilizer'), Congress (while not ostensibly ending in 'ocracy', a nevertheless effective comparison when using the standard set out in #3)