Friday, August 31, 2012

TFP Column: Sporting Toledo

Many are looking forward with great anticipation to the baseball playoff season (though with the Cubs at 29-1/2 out of their division lead, me ... not so much).  Others look forward to the beginning of college football rivalries, with the season opener for the Fight Irish of Notre Dame occurring in Ireland against Navy.  Others still watch pre-season NFL football, and hold out hope for a better season than last (and that the real refs will get back to work soon).

Many however, anticipate the climax of the Republican convention or the beginning of the Democratic one, when candidates will ramp up the rhetoric to a fever pitch in the hope of their team winning the big one in November.

In Toledo however, sports and politics have combined into an event unique to the Glass City.  While the initial rounds (and maybe the game itself) may be over, it's worth a little time to review some play-by-play (though without the Sportscenter video) as City Councilman Steve Steel participated in a little "Contribution Hold-'em" at One Government Center.  Call it what sport you will (I certainly threw every one I could think of at it), there's no denying that the one-on-one match up outlined in "Sporting Toledo" was a unique one.

What's not unique however, is that you will only find the kind of hard hitting coverage you yearn for in the website of Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's Best Weekly Newspaper (now for the fourth year in a row), the Toledo Free Press.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

I Want To Be A Crony

I'm not normally big on promoting things from other blogs, though I'm always happy enough to cite the reference material I 'borrow' from fellow bloggers.  This is an exception that I'm happy to make for Mark Cunningham however.  It doesn't matter which party you belong to or what to what side of the aisle you lean.  It's both thought provoking and funny (and only a couple of minutes long).

Now while I may refer back to it in future efforts, I wanted to share it with you now without much in the way of embellishment.  So without further eloquence and absolutely no ado at all (sorry, I had a "Knight's Tale moment there), I give you "I Want To Be A Crony".

As for those of you expecting a mid-week rant, my attempt at doing so seemed to turn in to something worth offering to the Toledo Free Press.  If Michael accepts it, I will publish a link as soon as it's available.   Thanks ....  

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

TFP Column: Laboring Under A Misconception

“If you work hard, sooner or later your boss will notice, you’ll do better, and earn more,” is what my father told me as a boy.

At least that was the beginning of my premise for this week's TFP effort, "Laboring Under A Misconception".  These days I wonder however, as I contemplate the re-establishing of a career in the current crazy economy and the insane attempts of the government to try and control it. 

But listen, this is a busy enough week with another hurricane approaching New Orleans and the storm that's expected to be going on in Tampa at the Republican National Convention over the next couple of days.  So I'll just encourage you to read some of the award winning journalism of a paper that just picked up four individual awards from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists (and no, I didn't win one of them, though Michael Miller won two).  If that weren't enough, we're talking about the largest Sunday circulation in Toledo and now the winner of the best weekly newspaper in Ohio for the FOURTH straight year, the Toledo Free Press.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Armageddon List

Don't worry, this isn't my plan to ready myself for survival after the End of Days. Instead it's a reference to a movie of the same title that's seen a lot of air time lately on cable.  That and upcoming political conventions got me thinking about what my list of demands might be as my reward for saving the world.  As is often the case, such thinking inevitably found itself onto the pages of this blog.  After all, what's the point of 'nonsensical musings' if you don't make them public from time to time.  

Have no fear, there will be no requests to bring back 8-track tapes (or cassettes for that matter).  Too many twisted tape, jammed player experiences in my past make that even too nonsensical for me.  Neither do I have anyone that I want to get special consideration for citizenship, or to stay in the Lincoln Bedroom in the White House for six months.  There may be a few musical references before I'm finished however.  In fact, let's start off with a one to get in the spirit things ....

*  It's time for many of these multimillion dollar cry babies in long-touring bands to get over their petty differences and tour with the original members.  Dennis De Young is the lead singer of Styx, Jon Anderson is the lead singer of Yes, and Steve Perry is the lead singer of Journey.  I don't care if the new guy sounds mostly the same, there's just some things that shouldn't be messed with.  And before you ask about Van Halen, I am of the belief that they should tour alternate years, one with David Lee Roth and the other with Sammy Hagar.

*  Every federal agency is to be placed on a 5-year referendum; with both houses of Congress compelled to a straight up or down vote (without dodges or filibusters) on its effectiveness, necessity, and continuation.  

*  I want Will Farrell, Adam Sandler, and Rob Schneider to stop making movies.  They play pretty much the same parts from one to the other anyway, so it's not like they would actually be giving up much in the way of an acting career; but if their absence could save even one life (let alone the intellects of movie-goers around the world) it would be worth it.  Since every actor likes to recognized by their peers before their career is over (and believe me, for these three it is) I would even be willing to start a petition drive to have the Academy of Motion Pictures to award them a special "Lack of Lifetime Achievement" Oscar.

*  Make some of the Networks out there change their names or their programming choices.  If you're the "History Channel", you're about history.  If network name is "Arts and Entertainment", then be about that.  If you want to air trashy reality shows about horribly dysfunctional people, pawn shop thieves, and exterminators; your network name should be NBC (Nothing But Crap).  Oh wait, that's already taken ...  
(Oh yeah, and MTV and VH1 both have to back to playing music videos ...)

*  All laws passed by Congress to likewise immediately become applicable to its members.  Such laws to become retroactive with respect to retirement plans and healthcare; but only long enough to place current and future members onto the Social Security rolls.  I would further like a law added in which the pay of  members of Congress is a daily fee, only for the days during which Congress is in session, and taxed at the highest individual rate allowed regardless of the amount of income earned.

While we're at it, can we get a lot less of Donald Trump.  It's bad enough that we have to deal with the over-the-top narcissism of naming everything he owns after himself and put up with combination of egotism and bad entertainment of his faux reality show, without listening to his tin-foil hat opinions on national politics.  Maybe he could use the time he would gain in saving us from his opinions on a new television effort; one where he searches around the world for someone to give him a decent haircut.

*  I want party primary elections to be paid for by the parties picking candidates.  General elections are a civic responsibility (even though most people don't choose to exercise their obligation where they're involved), so I don't mind paying for them.  I'm sick to death however of paying for the two biggest political teams billing me for letting them make their 'fantasy football' choices when others like the Green Party, the Constitution Party, or Libertarians have to foot their own bill. 

*  There is one however, that I will cheerfully steal from the movie:  "Yeah one more thing, um... none of them wanna pay taxes again.  Ever."

I may add to this list in the coming days as more ideas (or suggestions) come to me; so don't be surprised to see this get longer over the weekend.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Sailor's Life For Me 2012

Seeing some of the great pictures that Maggie Thurber posted in her blog "Thurber's Thoughts" on the Glass City's Navy Week took me back some five years ago on one of the last occasions that the Niagra visited Toledo.  I decided to drag out that old post and clean up some of the typos and grammatical errors in order to share it with some of you who may not have been reading "Just Blowing Smoke" back in those days (unlike today, when most of you are not reading "Just Blowing Smoke").  I hope that it, like Maggie's pictures, intrigues you enough to want to see and learn more.

I was in downtown Toledo in July of 2007 while the Niagara happened to be paying the city a visit. The Niagara is a replica of a Great Lakes brig built around the time of the War of 1812 (with a few timbers of the original actually used).  Fortunately for me, the group that had brought the ship to Toledo was also providing guided tours of the ship.  Being surrounded by the reality of this ship took me back to many of the seafaring novels that I had read years before by Alexander Kent and Patrick O'Brien, and of the purported romance of those gallant days of high adventure.  Being able to see their reality was also a brutal reminder of the conditions that sailors dealt with during this period in history. Banging my head a number of times as I walked below decks persuaded me that sharing some part of their pain with you might be of some value. So here in brief, is my take on the life a sailor in the British Navy (and many others) during the "Golden Age of Sail".

 *  Most of the common sailors were either debtors, criminals, or "impressed". This final term usually meant that they had been kidnapped by "press gangs" who either got them drunk or simply bashed them on the head before taking them to their ship, or were captured when a British ship defeated theirs in battle; regardless of whether it was a combatant or non-combatant in Britain's war with France at the time, and whether it was a military or merchant vessel. (The British practice of doing this to American ships was one of the reasons over which the War of 1812 was fought.)   

 *  Terms of service were undefined, but normally lasted for years, or until hostilities ended (whichever came last).

 *  Leave was non-existent or at the very least restricted, as these mostly kidnapped sailors would desert if given half a chance.

 *  Storage of provisions was as good as it could be at the time, but that was mostly horrible. Most of those at sea were often very shortly on rations that consisted of poorly salted meats, bread that contained maggots, and water that had gone rancid in the barrels.  (Remember that rations were issue to ships by 'shiny pants' government bureaucrats who in spite of their responsibilities, granted proper supplies only when bribed, usually by the ship's captain.  The graft and outright thievery of these government officials was as appalling then as it can be now.)

 *  The ships of the time were exceptionally small when considered against those of a modern navy and were often on the verge of being top-heavy from the weight of the cannons they carried. Hulls were often crusted over with barnacles that slowed them down enough to make them easier targets and leaked badly enough to require the constant maintenance of stuffing rags or wedges between their boards so that the bilge pumps could stay ahead of the water leaking in.  These vessels were always on the verge of capsizing at worst, and rolling horrifically at best, as were undoubtedly the stomachs of those on them - especially during storms.

 *  Most of the sailors' duties consisted of working with the sails. This involved climbing into the air a couple of hundred feet into rope rigging that found them swaying 30 feet and more from side to side with the rolling of the ship; while trying to man-handle heavy tackle and canvas in order to properly control the ship. The expression of the time was, "One hand for the ship, and one for yourself".

 *  When your duties didn't involve such indirect attempts being made to kill you above deck in the rigging, you got to spend your days scrubbing those decks with stones in order to maintain them, spending hours on your knees in the blistering sun. 

 *  Discipline was extremely strict (especially by today's standards), and usually involved being put on bread and water (which did wonders for your digestive system) or a having the skin peeled from your back by being beat with a bunch of leather strips with knots at the end that had been soaked in seawater to harden them (a cat o' nine tails).

 *  Sleeping arrangements consisted of a hammock, approximately 18" wide where you ended up sleeping side by side.  You were literally packed shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the crew, who like you, hadn't had a chance to bathe in some time. These hammocks had multiple uses however, as they also served as burial shrouds should you make the ultimate sacrifice for ship and country. (Curiously and by tradition, the last stitch made in your burial shroud was made through your lip or nose to make sure that you were actually dead.)  

 *  When the mind-numbing labor and mindless tedium of the everyday existence sailing was interrupted by battle with another ship or ground fortifications, these same sailors found themselves faced with: grape shot (a cannon used like a giant shotgun), chain or bar shot (two small cannon balls connected by a chain or bar) and used to attempt to bring the masts and rigging down on their heads, or being skewered by the splinters from the impact of solid shot on the wood of the vessels on which they served.

 *  Wounds suffered from these battles were treated by "doctors" who were usually of the worst possible kind, often barely better than butchers. If you didn't die bleeding to death before being finally treated, you normally faced some form of amputation (without anesthetic) to staunch the wound.     

 *  Thereafter, if you didn't die of infection (sterilization was not particularly well known at the time), you faced the rest of the voyage (and no doubt your life) without a limb, and without the wonderful prosthetic devices that are available today. 

 *  When your term of service (usually the war) was finally over, you were cut loose in a heartbeat at whatever port the ship finally ended up in, usually without any kind of pension. 

Now, just so you don't think that there was no bright side to this equation, there were some perks to this rather brutal existence.  For example, each sailor was issued a "Rum Ration" every day which consisted of a mug of liquor purported to be five times more powerful than what we distill today. (in other words, they sailed in a state of almost constant inebriation). Of course they usually mixed their rations with the water (which was the only way to kill the bugs growing in it by then), but hey a drink is a drink. They were also issued clothing (at least at the beginning of the voyage) to wear on ship while serving.  In addition, while in port wives, girlfriends, and professional hostesses (hookers for those of you not politically correct) were often rowed out to the ships to help keep sailors with no liberty happy enough not to attempt desertion. In addition, many sailors were afforded the chance to win "prize money" (booty) for the ships that were captured to help supplement what was really lousy pay.

I don't know about you, but when I think on these days of high a
dventure and potential to travel to exotic lands in the luxury conditions like this, all I can say is that I am in awe of those who managed to survive such an experience.  Let me add as a consequence, that by neither definition of the word should they feel the need to impress me.   

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Silly Bits IV

It's sometimes amazing how you can barely get the thoughts in your head on a page fast enough (especially when it's my head we're talking about), and at other times the well seems to become more parched than it's been in Kansas this summer.  This isn't to say that there's nothing going on, just nothing that seems worthy of working up a good rant over.  Besides, I haven't attempted to do a bit of catching up in a while, and another 'Silly Bits' certainly allows me to.  Of course nothings exemplifies the concept of 'Silly Bits' more in the upcoming election season than one mentioning the hijinks of a couple of the local political candidates.

Todd Akin probably has to top the list, being both by a Republican Senate candidate (from Missouri and not Kansas, thank goodness) and for his recent rape / abortion comments.  Forget whether this narrow-minded cretin can now win an election or not.  This is no longer about the courage of one's convictions as much as it's about someone being too stupid to hold public office (or perhaps even a sharp object)I know that the jackass is the symbol of his opposition's party, but it would be hard to prove it after seeing someone seeking office in the more deliberative branch of the legislature leaping into a minefield of his own creation with his 'legitimate rape' and 'a woman's body shutting down' comments.  Akin no longer appears to have any friends in the Republican Party (or funding from it), and even the 'cross-over' Democratic support he got in the primary seems to have evaporated (Democratic groups even supported him financially). His refusal to withdraw his bid could hand Claire McCaskill her much-in-jeopardy seat back with a pretty bow tied on it, in spite of her own image problems  (Hmmmm ....).  It's too bad Chuck Barris of "Gong Show" fame isn't still around to give this guy the big hook.

On the Kansas side and largely over-shadowed by candidate Akin, we had freshman Congressman Kevin Yoder's apparently alcohol-fueled behavioral lapse coming out in the last week.  It seems that last August after a number of first-time national legislators were over-served in hotel along the Sea of Galilee while on an all expenses paid junket, Rep. Yoder was among seven who decided to take a little late night swim.  While apparently a decent enough swimmer, the lack of swimming apparel was troubling enough to earn the seven a stern lecture from den mothers Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy (the second and third highest ranking Republican members).   

Personally, I'm shocked ... shocked I tell you; to discover that members of our national legislature indulge in intoxicating beverages while on all expenses paid junkets.  I am shocked still more that they would indulge in these unseemly late night freshmen fraternity antics, none of which involved Congressional pages, hookers, or even illegal drugs or gambling.  Most especially, I'm shocked that something that occurred a year ago is only now (less than 80 days before the election) coming to light in the mainstream media.  It seems incredible that a government that can't keep a foreign policy secrets for as long as it takes to cook a Quarter Pounder with cheese can manage to keep the lid on this one until it might have some impact on the election.  I have yet to see any art on the event (evidently no one's cell phones were working), but there's still time before we vote.  If I see anything, I post it for you.  I'm reminded that one of my distant relatives, John Quincy Adams, used to skinny dip in the Potomac while President (scary if you've ever seen a picture of him); something I believe would require a great deal more courage than intelligence these days. 

(This also inevitably reminded me of a great Lyndon B Johnson quote:  "If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read:  President Can't Swim.") 

Of course no discussion of candidate news would be complete without that of Vice Presidents.  It started over Republican Mitt Romney's 'risky' choice of Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his potential VP.  You know, someone's going to have to redefine 'risky' for me.  In an election that the Republicans have been saying for some time is all about the economy and the budget, why would it be a bad idea to pick someone who has been focusing on it since he came to Congress?  You may not like his ideas (and I'm not sure I do), calling them either 'too soft' or 'too draconian', but it's hard to dispute that the man can argue his case with logic, reason, and passion; with the facts to back up his arguments at his fingertips.  The fact that he's a good looking, apparently likeable guy who looks good in slacks and a golf shirt probably doesn't hurt him by comparison either. 

Speaking of comparison, we certainly can't look at VP's without giving a shout out to the Joe Biden gaffe fest.  It's seems amusing to me that in an election when so many are comparing President Obama's first term to that of Jimmy Carter, that more haven't jumped on the Dan Quayle bandwagon where Joe is concerned.  We all know the recent list of faux pas by the current second-in-command, so I won't repeat them; but did you know that things have gotten so bad that the Los Angeles Times recently reported that the White House no longer provides transcripts from 'Jokin' Joe's' events.  If this keeps up, they're going to have to hold a daily press conference to translate what VP Biden was trying to say around the foot perpetually stuck in his pie hole.

So perhaps we can end the silliness today by paraphrasing an ad campaign from 2008's Democratic presidential primary:  

'If the phone rings on 34th Street and Massachusetts Avenue (where the VP lives on the grounds of the United States Naval Observatory) at 3 AM to tell it's occupant that the President of the United States is dead, who would you rather take the call before taking the helm of the nation?'  


Monday, August 20, 2012

The Limits of Charity

Brace yourself, as this may not be about what you think it is.  

For example, it's not about Corporations getting government handouts.  Nor is it about the money that corporations donate to charitable organizations either in attempts to make themselves appear less greedy or because they genuinely believe in certain causes (and the tax deductions don't suck either).  It's not even about the 'donations' that they make to government lawmakers in order to gain favorable laws or regulations to reduce the competitive nature of their corporate endeavors.  It is however, about how charities have seemingly organized themselves into corporations through whoever it is that runs their fundraising and outreach campaigns.

Some months back, I received a request to contribute to the March of Dimes for a contribution to their annual fund.  With it, I received a small quantity of return address labels.  Now I don't do much in the way of 'snail mail' these days, but I had no return address labels and I've always felt that the March of Dimes was a worthy organization; so I sent a check.  A month later I received another request and another batch of labels, and I sent yet another check; in spite of the fact that I had more labels than I could use in years.

A month later (and I believe this is where the corporate aspect rears its ugly head), I received yet another request from the March of Dimes.  This time however, it was not alone; but accompanied by one from St Jude Hospital with yet more labels.  Now St Jude was the patron saint of my grade school and I wore his medal for many years of my youth.  These recollections caused me to send yet another check to yet another of those I consider to be a worth cause, but I was beginning to mumble under my breath while writing it.  This was only the beginning however, of a deluge of return address labels and requests that followed. 

Those months saw me with literally a flood of such such labels (some including note pads).  Traditionally worthy causes like Easter Seals, the American Cancer Society, and Disabled American Veterans were mixed with requests from organizations so obscure that even now I can't remember their names.  Some of the more worthy received contributions, some of the more esoteric ... not so much.  Along with them however, I was now receiving additional monthly requests from some of those I had first supported.  

Now I like to think I'm a relatively charitable person, though I certainly don't feel myself obligated to (or limited to) a tithe. In spite of my heartless condition as an evil Conservative however, I try to support as many worthy causes as I can throughout the year.  I could not help but notice, even without the use of a tin foil hat, that the campaigns of these charitable organizations was beginning to form a decided pattern. Under the philosophy of 'no good deed goes unpunished', it seemed to me that not only were those groups reaping rewards from my generosity had reaped further rewards by selling the mailing lists of their successes (or simply sharing them internally).  Someone had run a statistical analysis and said to themselves, "This guy pays good money for return address labels ... get him!"

Such an obvious ploy and abuse of trust is, unfortunately for many of them, now reaping a return that they may not like.  The barrage of requests for funding have not only exhausted my supply of disposable incoming for such uses, but my patience as well.  I don't take kindly to being set up for a marketing ploy by the same groups that I had considered worthy of support; and rather than reaping the further rewards that their potentially admirable appeals might have expected, they are instead earning little more than my ire.

These commendable groups are not alone in this execrable practice however.  An almost identical situation has arisen where it comes to donations to worthy political causes.  As I have shared a limited generosity to charitable groups, so too have I done so with like-minded Conservative organizations.  Like their non-political counterparts however, I am now deluged daily with non-stop solicitations from one group after another telling me that the scourge of opinions that I disagree with can only be countered by additional or new contributions to their worthy efforts. 

From political parties to non-partisan groups, they too offer me tidbits and toys (like prizes in a box of Cracker Jack) as a preemptive thank you for a contribution I have yet to agree to.  Many of these too are worthy groups with worthy goals; but like the government entities and policies that they apparently want to defeat, they have yet to learn that there is only so much blood that you can get from this stone. Additionally, sharing the fact that you have received a bit of my largesse with other like-minded efforts does not increase your likelihood of doing so in the future; and will probably dilute my ability to do so.

So for all of you clever marketing groups out there attempting to increase your take through the double dipping practice of getting my money before selling my information to other bidders, I can only tell you that you hurt rather than help yourselves.  While I am happy to share what generosity I can, and while I'm more than willing to 'give til it hurts', there are still limits to Charity.  


Saturday, August 18, 2012

August Terror Alert (Not): RAIN

August is more than half over, and while the heat of summer keeps most of us here at a high simmer, the Department of Just Blowing Smoke Security (DJBSS) continues in its tireless efforts to root out potential threats in this nation. (Though personally I think they're happy to stay locked in their Command Center as long as the air conditioner works.)   And while they continue to be given little in the way of credit for what many consider to be nonsensical labors at best (and even less in terms of financial compensation); most concede that their ludicrous and largely ignored efforts have thus far proven as effective, if not more so, than threat protection provided for this nation by their TSA 'mall cop' counterparts at airports around the country.

The latest threat assessment slipped out from under the door of their Command Center (an attic room that we keep them locked in for their own protection, as well as ours); can however only be considered a fraud perpetrated by the DJBSS as a payback for cutting their Cheetos rations this month (though they still managed to leave enough residue on the Post-It note they used for their dire pronouncement to prove they still have some left) 

The fact that local television weather fornicators have now joined them in describing this condition, one which must be considered so ridiculous or so dire that it could only be possible as the harbinger of the 'End of Days', should be considered as proof.  Oh we're not talking about earthquakes here.  (We have after all read about California, and our panic about such cataclysms only occurs when someone reminds us how close we live to the 'New Madrid Fault'.)  It likewise goes without saying that we're not talking about tornadoes.  (It's a twister, it's a twister! ... Sorry, I had an "Airplane" moment.)  This is Kansas after all, and such minor weather exhibitions are far too commonplace to draw attention.  

It's becoming increasingly apparent though, that the media acolytes of the weather gods here are talking now about something so extraordinary that I still have trouble even conceiving of it.  For those of you who still cannot understand the dire situation here, we are in fact talking about 'water falling from the sky'! Oh sure, water falls to the ground here all the time (it has something to do with gravity I think), but one could hardly expect less in the constant 100 degree plus temperatures that we've been experiencing and the inevitable perspiration falling from people to pavement (where usually begins to sizzle) or the occasional spilled glass of iced tea.  And yes, we do even have in-ground sprinkler systems attempting to keep local yards from attaining the color of the inside of a baby's diaper; but lately we've considered them as little more than auxiliary cooling systems to hydrate dogs long enough to add their contribution to the unending brown nature of the environment. 

I have it on good authority in fact, from no less an authority than the 'Flat Earth Society', that water comes from faucets and taps; and in rural areas, wells. It's therefore obvious that water comes from the ground and not from the sky.  When there are larger concentrations of it, such that the ground can no longer contain it, it forms rivers to carry away the excess.  These in turn can run together into lakes, and sometimes combine into gigantic formations of water known as oceans.  All of these, I might point out are not out there floating in the air, but are sitting on top of the ground, probably until they can be re-absorbed into the earth they came from. Why the vary notion that water could come from the sky is ludicrous!   

It's certainly possible that during the formation of the planet, back in some dim and prehistoric past, something of this nature happened where Kansas is concerned.  The notion of it's happening in modern times was so far-fetched however, that it took me a few minutes just to figure out how to get a result from an attempted Google search of 'Kansas and water from the sky'.  This exhaustive research led to a term I vaguely remembered from my early school science and history classes called RAIN.  Disbelieving my original results, I thought at first that this might be some sadistic and twisted acronym, perhaps for Really Annoying Imaginary Notion.  Additional research however, convinced me that this was in fact a real word (it's even in the Webster Dictionary) describing an event that has actually occurred in places around the world.  Intrigued, I watched a couple of You Tube videos, but afterward couldn't help but wonder if they weren't faked.

The possibilities set me to wondering though.  What would happen if such an event actually occurred?  Would you need protective clothing or devices to keep from getting wet?  Would bits of water that fell from hundreds or thousands of feet in the air cause physical pain if they struck you?  Would the ground be capable of absorbing such water, containing as much as it does already, or would it simply run off into rivers and lakes?  Would people actually be able to drive while such an event were occurring or would they be incapable of seeing or keep from sliding across road surfaces?  Nope sorry, such a thing is just physically impossible; and I refuse to panic local citizenry by spreading such outlandish fables.  (Yeah, like that's stopped me before.)  So in response to a warning which cannot be taken seriously (even with my tin foil hat on), and in honor of the color often used to describe the substance involved, the threat for the rest of the month will be raised to blue.


Friday, August 17, 2012

TFP Column: Not Sherwood Forest, Camelot

This is one of those rare weeks when TFP Editor-in-Chief Michael Miller has apparently lost his mind.  Not content to let me shake up his world with "The EPA is Starving People" earlier in the week, he's now allowed me yet a second disturbing effort in the TFP, "Not Sherwood Forest, Camelot".  

This non-controversial and non-confrontational piece (well, I think so anyway) takes a look at the current presidential offerings of 'Romney Hood' and 'Obamaloney' with what has long been described as the 'Second Camelot' of William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton, you might remember is the last President, Democrat or Republican, to operate with a budget surplus.

But I don't want to burden you here with a surplus of introduction.  I'd rather have you spend the time going to the website of Toledo's largest Sunday circulation, and Ohio's Best Weekly Newspaper for the last three years, the Toledo Free Press.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

TFP Column: The EPA Is Starving People

The heat of the summer seems to be moderating, but the drought continues throughout most of the Midwest.  It seems likely that in spite of more land being planted in corn this year, the harvest in this grain is likely to be less (in fact the Department of Agriculture has told us so).  Corn prices have gone up significantly in the last few years, so farmers seem well-protected by a combination of these higher prices and government programs in place.  

Corn however is food, and less of it means less to eat for people around the world, since the US is a principle exporter of this grain.  There will be even less of it to eat however, with EPA regulations on bio-fuel seeing a fair amount of the harvest being turned into ethanol.  Putting two and two together, it was not a great leap of math to determine that "The EPA is Starving People".  The numbers in this effort all come from reliable sources (none of them owned by NBC), so it might be worth the effort of a few minutes.

We are early in the week however, so there's likely to a lot more to see (maybe even from me); both in the mid-week Star edition and in this week's edition of Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's best weekly newspaper for the last three years in a row, the Toledo Free Press.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Quote of the Day

This is another of those longer quotes, and one which I discovered while reading the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal this morning.  It is however, one that I believes some due consideration for anyone trying to understand government in terms of historical perspective (this one comes from 1924), but especially in the election year of 2012.

The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives.  The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes.  The business of Conservatives is to prevent mistakes from being corrected.  Even when the revolutionist might himself repent of his revolution, the traditionalist is already defending it as part of his tradition.  Thus we have two great types ... the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins.  He admires them especially by moonlight, not to say moonshine.  Each new blunder of the progressive or prig becomes instantly a legend of immemorial antiquity for the snob.  This called the balance, or mutual check, in our Constitution.

- G K Chesterton 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Fixing Four Year Events

The closing ceremonies of the 30th Olympics of the modern era is getting ready to draw to a close.  (I suppose to be more correct, I should be saying the XXX Olympiad; but someone is going to have to explain to me why it's more correct to use Roman numerals to describe a sporting event born of Greek traditions some day.)  Somehow I missed the opening ceremonies (I was probably watching a reality show about Pawn Shops buying the contents of storage units in a swamp full of alligators or something important like that.), and with just a bit of planning and luck, it seems likely that I will miss the closing ceremonies tomorrow.

Now having missed these gala outdoor Broadway shows, some might want to believe that I've more than made it up to NBC and its sister stations by immersing myself in the drama of Olympic competition with its 'thrill of victory and agony of defeat'.  (No wait, that's ABC.)  Wrong!  Like "Friends", "Seinfeld", "Everybody Loves Raymond", and "American Idol" before it; I have somehow managed to avoid more than the amount of viewing time contained in channel surfing past.

This is not to decry the achievements of athletes who have dedicated their entire existence to an attempt to stand at the top of the podium in these quadrennial events.  Nor is it a twisted form of protest by a twisted old man engendered by a growing jealousy over his inability to run from the couch to the kitchen, and whose next break of the tape is likely to occur while wrapping Christmas packages.  (OK, maybe a little bit is that.)  My gripe is with the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and NBC (the National Bullshit, sorry, Broadcast Company).

The IOC is after all to sports what the UN is to politics, a self-serving and bloated organization full of graft, bribery, and fiscal irresponsibility.  (Wow, it actually sounds a lot like a government.)  Both organizations are full of petty dictators who seem to meet endlessly, and mostly in secret; with little more decided than to do a more in-depth study and agree to meet again.  Neither the IOC nor the UN gathers any level of world respect, and both manage to go through unimaginably vast amounts of money without achieving anything meaningful in the way of results.  Merging the two together would not only manage to get a far greater number of the villains and thieves in one place, but perhaps by doing so we could move their headquarters to a more suitable location. (I'm voting for any small to medium-sized city in a country whose name ends with 'stan'.)

As for NBC, they lost my respect as a source of information or entertainment even before Johnny Carson blew them a kiss goodbye.  The best that I can say about them is that by using the letters NBC in the many of their network names, they at least warn you of what you can channel surf through without worrying.  They're normal news coverage is shoddy at best, but they fail to rise even to that level of mediocrity when placed up front and center on the world stage, as the Olympics does.  Bob Costas is a nice enough guy, but even he can't make up for failing to cover events that are only noticed, or which shine brightest in these four year venues.  Instead they in insist on filling the limited prime time hours available to 'looks back' at things most have long since lost interest in.  ABC did a better job in the old days, in spite of only having the one-channel flagship network to work with.   

Actually though, my real beef this year has been with the refusal to add political campaigning to the list of Olympic sports.  After all, major elections (in this country at least) are held in Olympic years.  I see no reason why other democratic nations can't bring their political competitions in line with sporting ones.  Not only would this increase world interest in the rivalries, and thereby TV audience and revenue; but it would also increase what's gained by those at the podium's peak.  Not only would they hang a gold medal (not so much gold in them these days) around your neck, but place a gold crown (at least temporarily) on your head. 

And think of the events that could be added!  Presidential campaigns (and many of their lower counterparts) have already become a full-contact sport.  Maybe we could allow teams of their spin-masters to actually take the field and go at it head-to-head.  (It might not be interesting television, but think of the lives that could be saved if they injured each other in such events.)   Debates could be changed to simple 'Rhetoric Singles' matches and VP's could participate in singles competition as well.  Political tickets could similarly debate in 'Mixed Doubles' competition.  

Candidates could receive further approbation and medals for the Olympic version of Political Tap-Dancing (with and without music).  Party spokesman (sorry it's still easier to write than spokespersons) could compete in 'Olympic backpedaling', an event where they walk back or properly interpret the misstatements of their candidates.  Campaign media too could be added to the venue, with Oscar or Emmy like events: 'Best campaign ad with not a shred of fact', 'Best editing in a political ad using their own words to misrepresent the opposition', or 'Catchiest, but most meaningless slogan' come to mind.  Perhaps such incorporation would allow politics to once and for all write down the rules under which such competitions will be held (and not in crayon this time)

While we're at it, why not borrow (unapologetically steal) from those oh so popular TV talent competitions by using celebrity judges and allowing the audience to vote for winners and losers by an 800 number.  We've complained for years that we were sick of medals being robbed from worthy competitors because the French or East German judges were in the tank.  Maybe we could get Sean Hannity and James Carville to sit at the scoring table from the political right and left respectively, pair them up with Bill O'Reilly and Michael Moore (neither of whom will let anyone else get a word in edgewise), and toss in a bit of Chris Matthews to let us know who gives him a leg tingle.  And to balance off the ongoing and spirited competition (mostly for the spotlight, air time, and attention by the judges themselves), we could allow Mr, MS, and Mrs World to vote for winners and losers.  It may not mean much to a lot of the rest of the world, who take their RIGHT and OBLIGATION to vote far more seriously than Americans; but it seems highly likely to at least increase the numbers of those going to the polls in this country. 

Many have been complaining for years that it's long past time to do something about what's gone wrong with the Olympics.  Many have also said for years that politics is passed due for change and improvement.  Combining the two might not exactly meet the goals of those complaining the most or the loudest, but it would likely make either temporarily a bit more entertaining while we come up with better ideas for both.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Less Is Most Definitely More

There's been a little sniping in the mainstream media as the 112th Congress begins its summer vacation.  Of course it's not really a summer vacation because since the middle of the Bush years, neither house of Congress likes to adjourn because it allows a sitting President to make recess appointments that might otherwise not pass the Senate.  Lately the recess appointments have been made anyway, which would seem to make the idea of staying in session to prevent it from happening rather ludicrous; but then again 'rather ludicrous' is usually a safe descriptor of Congress anyway.  But I digress ......

The apparent complaint with our National Legislative body is that it has accomplished too little in the way of passing laws, and therefore has not done its duty. Derision is cast on the 112th Congress for passing a repeal on Obamacare, something that many of those running for seats promised that they would do if elected.  Of course the fact that they passed such legislation 33 times since taking office might be a bit excessive, but could perhaps be explained as simply a reminder that occasionally political promises are kept .... even when doing so is meaningless.

Speaking of meaningless, ABC tells us that Congress has however proposed 60 bills to rename Post Offices, 38 of which passed Congress and 26 were signed into law.  Of course they failed to pass a law to fix the Post Office's indebtedness or even force it to fix itself.  As a consequence, the National Department Snail Mail defaulted on a previous Congressional mandate to pre-fund $5.5 billion in health benefits.  (I guess the check must have gotten lost in the mail.)  While I tend to agree with the assessment of ABC in the poor handling of the Post Office woes (oops sorry, felt like something was trying to come back up on me after making that statement), personally I find this lack of productivity rather refreshing.

The Washington Post disagrees however, and went even further in castigating those now on holiday by showing rather graphically the lack of legislative productivity from the most recent bunch; an illustration which must make Ohio's Speaker Boehner proud.

Courtesy of the Washington Post
Apparently being a newspaper inside the Beltway (though only just barely in the Springfield, VA facility) means that they are, like Congress itself, incapable of a proper assessment where this subject is concerned.  There are far too many laws and regulations in this country already, passed by the eager minds and overly productive hands of a group of people who always seem to legislate for everyone but themselves.  The mind numbing size of the Federal Register alone (the big book of Federal Regulations) has grown rather remarkably over the years from its humble origins of 2,620 pages during the FDR Administration.  In fact, the feds recently took this tome online as the only way to deal with its forest killing proportions, since it adds some 70,000 to 83,000 pages per year. (And probably a good deal more than that this year.)  

That being the case, perhaps we should be giving a standing ovation to lawmakers for the gridlock, deadlock, and partisanship which has characterized the 112th.  (Yeah, I know.  I find the idea of applauding politicians nauseating too.)   Maybe in their final session before the end of the year (which for some will include some lame duck time), we can get them to walk back some of the nonsense they and their predecessors have done over the years; subtracting rather than adding to the confusion of overlapping and contradictory federal, state, and local laws.

But listen, let's not stop with merely handing out kudos to the junior legislative body.  How about a shout out to those on the senior circuit with a 6 year-term to play with.  Oh sure you can talk about the arcane rules of the Senate, and how they've been manipulated to prevent real action on the floor; but one can't help but recognize a bunch of guys who haven't even managed to pass a budget mandated by law in three years.  That's non-performance on an epic scale.

So while the media seems intent on deriding Congress for less bang for the buck (understandable certainly, since it is filled with Republicans after all), I think that we can all easily recognize the debt of gratitude the we owe to the Senate Majority Leader for sitting in a cave on a rock and eating raw fish while contemplating 'his precious' ring of power, one that he may well lose for bringing his part of the national legislature almost to a standstill.  (Oh come on, admit it.  He does look like Gollem.)  Many may find Sen Reid's recent activities objectionable or even detestable, but for myself, I cannot help but recognize that a lack of new legislation equals a lack of new restriction.  While the Majority Leader may be seen by many as an obstacle to progress, I see him as a shining example of what government can do best for the people ... next to nothing(Though I can't help but wonder when he and his fellow Democrats will inherit 'the Party of No' mantle that they so richly deserve.)

My only disappointment in all of this is that in spite of the lack of productivity in the legislature, spending continues to increase.  Even in this apparent record level of impotence, these 435 non-union salaried employees seem to be able to throw more money away that their more productive predecessors.  I only wish it were possible to truly celebrate their lack of legislative potency with a corresponding level of frivolous monetary disbursementMore spending, more borrowing, and more scrutiny over every aspect of our lives.  Yes it appears that were the federal government is concerned these days, even their less is definitely more.


Saturday, August 4, 2012

Damn, I Missed My Train of Thought

Being a rider of public transportation these days, one cannot help but occasionally miss the boat, bus, or train (as the case may be) from time to time.  This usually isn't a problem, since if you miss one, there's always another (though here in Kansas there are limitations to such rules).  Missing (or losing) a train of thought can be slightly more embarrassing however, and can even have greater consequences.     

Now though never officially diagnosed with a recognized disorder, I'm the first to admit that I've suffered for more than fifty years (far more than I would like to admit) with the attention span of a two year-old (with all due apologies to two year-olds for the comparison of course).  It's a situation that I should probably be concerned about (since it keeps getting worse); but I can't seem to keep it on my radar screen long enough to do anything about it.  Even as I attempt to write this, I find myself jumping ahead to write down bits that I want to use and will otherwise forget in the next minute or so if I don't.  Let me tell you that it can sometimes be a rather frenetic process trying to assemble the bits and pieces into something resembling coherent thought, which might account for how little coherency occurs in these efforts.     

Some might ask why I haven't had the necessary testing done, since confirming a diagnoses might provide a path to its improvement. The problem however, is that I have little of the patience required for the medical profession to perform their alchemical testing processes on me, and absolutely none for the ensuing pharmacological experimentation required to achieve a 'medicinal balance'.  (In other words, I don't like taking pills.)  Besides, once I turn myself over to the military industrial complex that modern medicine has become, there's no telling what they may find and want to treat; ailments which would thereafter qualify as "pre-existing conditions" that would follow me around under new health care law. 

This condition might well explain in part why I spend so much of my literary efforts in writing about politics.  For in doing so, I can easily acknowledge that I'm not the only one out there suffering.  The strategies of politicians running for election or re-election for too many years is ample proof.  Every time that their teleprompter pontifications end and the subject becomes a Q and A session, we see the prestidigitation begin.  

While the mainstream media can normally be counted on to ask the same tired old questions, from which the candidate can pull a platitude from their tired bag of tricks (PETA gets pissed if it's a rabbit instead); occasionally one of them (or someone from the audience) manages to sneak in a real question about a real issue.  After pausing, smiling, and often reaching out the audience; the candidate (or incumbent) says, "I'm glad that you asked that question."  After stumbling through a couple of completely unrelated responses, they sum up their answer with, "Oh look, squirrel!"      

Amazingly, no one in either the media or the audience immediately stops the proceedings by shouting out, "Hey, that's not an answer!" Seldom in fact, will anyone attempt to re-ask the question in order to clarify an answer that was never given in the first place.  Even more surprisingly, if it's done well, the candidate insists in the follow up response that they think they've answered the question and would like to move on; the audience's short-term memory loss and loss of focus normally allows them to do so.

Now before those on either the left or the right begin nodding in a sad example of the 'bobble head' effect of so many true believers while reading this, you should understand that I think this one of the few bi-partisan efforts of politics.  Both political ideologies are equally guilty in participation and both are equally susceptible to its machinations.  Even Libertarian candidates can fall prey to the process, though usually in their case it's not that they're trying to dodge the question as much as they're trying rephrase it in such a way that the answer makes sense.   

For example     

Question: Do you support the concept of traditionally sanctioned Marriage between a Man or a Woman or do you approve of Gay Unions? 

Answer:  No. 

Follow up: Wuh?  (The media is often confused by direct answers to poorly phrased questions, as they fail to provide good soundbites.)  

Answer:  I think (not believe) that government, at any level, has no place sanctioning marriage.  Churches may choose to sanction or ban practices relating to the union of couples as it suits their beliefs, and the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees them the right to do so without government interference.  Forcing a couple to obtain a license from the government in order to marry is over reach, and therefore denying them such a license for any reason should be irrelevant.

See those damn, pesky Libertarians keep throwing in distractions like limited government, the First Amendment, and the use of government force where it has no place.  Now what kind of answer is that?  But such occurrences are unfortunately rare, as Libertarian candidates are seldom asked such questions by the mainstream media (or any others for that matter).  And so we are left with a political rope-a-dope that Muhammad Ali would be hard-pressed to compete with, and a dearth of answers that's far too common in the legerdemain of modern politics.  

Though perhaps the gridlock, non-stop electioneering, and rhetorical nonsense being currently spouted (especially at the national level) is in fact a direct result of the apparent short attention span of the American voter.  Their ever-present need to be distracted in every aspect of their lives from entertainment to politics (when you can tell the difference between the two, of course) may be the only thing keep the few who actually do voting. 

Wow, it seems that I may be jumping around a bit in this effort, so perhaps I should attempt to sum this up for you and .... damn!  What was talking about again?

Look, Squirrel! 

Quote of the Day

(I wanted to put this up in the Quotes of the Week, but it was just too long.  It was also, on the other hand, far too good a quote to leave out.)

A nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves amongst those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor: he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that can no longer exist. A murderer is less to fear. The traitor is the plague.

- Marcus Tullius Cicero

Thursday, August 2, 2012

TFP Column: Falling Leaves Falling Levies

Last night's marathon writing session started out as a simple attempt to do a mid-week rant, but almost as quickly as the Blob (Steve McQueen version of course) it had grown out of proportion and completely out of control; requiring topical separation surgery before it engulfed the computer I was writing in on.  The part that didn't couldn't fit on the blog here yesterday however, is linked here today for your edification and education.  Editor-In-Chief Michael Miller, in yet another example consistent misjudgment and blinding speed, had it put up on the TFP website almost before it reached him electronically.

"Falling Leaves Falling Levies" will no doubt become part of a recurring theme in the days leading up to the November election, as I try to point out some of the perils and pitfalls of these self-imposed taxes on the voting public of the Glass City.  There's a lot of smart people in the Glass City, and continuing to reach out to them with logic and reason might just sway a few voters.  Reaching out to them with half-baked humor, prose dripping with sarcasm, and barely veiled insults (you know, like I normally do) might have some effect as well. 

Speaking of smart people in the Glass City ....  All the really smart ones keep up on what's going on there and the rest of Northwest Ohio by reading Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's best weekly newspaper for the last three years .... The Toledo Free Press     


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Property and Taxation

There's been some public discussion in a number of places about the levies coming up in cities around the country.  This talk is not only about the worthiness of these efforts (or lack thereof), but about the levy process itself.  At issue is whether those not owning property, and therefore not paying their share of property taxes and their associated levies, should even have the right to vote on taxing their fellow citizens. While having pointed out a number of occasions that many of us not currently owning property do in fact pick up some incremental cost in these taxes (for they cannot be honestly called anything else), I can easily understand and agree with the point of view of someone saying that non-owners do not bear the same burden.  Something about the discussion kept nagging at me however, and I was forced to continue puzzling it out long after it ended.

The source of my discomfort was realized when I understood that levies, like property taxes themselves, are part of the over all annual tax burden that citizens in this country are extorted to pay under the threat of fines, seizure, and imprisonment at the hands of our own government (with the able assistance of its myrmidons at the IRS).  As such there are advantages and disadvantages to the status that we hold where each form of taxes are concerned.

Earn a high salary and you are likely to pay a higher tax rate.   Cash in stocks or sell property that those less fortunate don't own, and you'll pay a capital gains tax on the profits of such a sale.  Die rich and you'll be hammered with a large estate tax to add insult to the permanent injury.  In each of these situations however, the tax code (which started out at 504 pages and as of 2010 had grown to almost 72,000) is likely to provide you something in the way of a loophole or two if you've got a good enough accountant to find them.  In other words, there is often an offset achieved in some part between what has to be paid and what gets a pass.

My discomfort was the dirty little secret that no one talks about when this disparity in taxes is discussed .... the Mortgage Deduction.  You see while a homeowner makes a mortgage payment and a lessor his rent, the interest on a home mortgage is tax deductible.  For those buying the biggest place they're allowed to by the company financing it, mortgaging as much of it as they can possibly get away with, and staying less than seven years in the home purchased; in fact most of what they will make in the way of a mortgage payments will be interest on the loan and therefore tax deductible.  No part of the rental payment a lessor makes to his landlord during the same period will carry a similar deduction.

Imagine if you will that two people went to a car dealer to obtain identical new vehicles. Both handed over the same down payment money and both agreed to make monthly installment payments, but one purchased the vehicle and the other leased.  The person leasing may have reduced his monthly payment through his down payment, but that money was now gone forever and at the end of the lease there will be nothing to show for either it or his monthly payments; though the payments themselves would be less.  The person purchasing also reduced his payment through a down payment and established equity in his purchase.  Monthly payments made, though higher, would increase the equity in the purchase.  At the end of the loan, the purchaser would in fact own a car with some intrinsic value and the renter would own nothing.

Both would be freely made choices and the results of agreements fairly established however; in overall effect they would be virtually equal and neither would have the advantage.  Now consider these two people and add in a tax break for the interest on a car loan and ask yourself if the deals are still equal and you are likely to conclude that they are not.

So when we go back and look at the overall annual taxes paid by the property owner and non-owner, we can see that the property tax burden of the homeowner could be offset in some part (if not all) by the savings obtained on the income tax side of the equation.  The non-owner, while paying less of the property tax / levy burden; would pay a higher percentage of income tax on the money he earns, since there is no corresponding deduction to reduce their tax rate. 

This is not to say that property taxes are not an egregious burden on citizens; and that the continuing and increasing abuse of levy requests aren't adding insult to injury.  Living in a state that forces its residents to pay property taxes on vehicles before they can be legally licensed can't help but point that out to even those of us who rent.  Understanding however that as a renter I am able vote on levies (turning most of them down by the way), still seems reasonably fair to me in spite of the limited impact I bear from from.  After all, no one has yet offered me the chance to vote on limiting or removing the mortgage interest tax deduction and you haven't seen me bitching about it (even here).     

One might even add that the practices involved with the mortgage interest income tax deduction, coupled to the government encouraged sub-prime lending practices under which most 'too big to fail' lending institutions operated, and fed to borrowing public who has been told for years to buy the biggest barn of a home that they could and mortgage it to the hilt because real estate is one of the best and safest investments that they can make; largely fueled the bubble whose bursting caused the current economic downturn.  

And while there is still much discussion of government-subsidized refinancing for underwater mortgages which will further burden ALL TAXPAYERS, I haven't heard even one call to consider those locked in a lease and whose fortunes have likewise suffered.  You know, it might just be that it's we who aren't paying our 'fair share' property taxes who should be righteously pissed off.