Saturday, October 27, 2012

Wonderful Time of Year

People always tell me how much they like this time of year ... with pictures of fall leaves to share to prove it.  There are a number of them who go on to regale me with stories of how cute cats are, and especially kittens are.  (Hell, there's an A and E show about puppies and kittens for Cripes sake.) Real life however, seldom if ever meets expectations of any of those cute little pictures.

Now for those of us residing in the Mission, Ks area, fall can be said to have been somewhat of a disappointment.  Annual rainfall this year is down about 14", and even the scattered showers of the last few weeks hasn't been enough to turn most of the mud flats back into lakes, let alone bring out the best in the trees.  As a consequence, Fall lasted from exactly 10:32 AM to 10:44AM on October 22nd this year.  I tried to get some really great pictures of it to share (so I wouldn't have to use this one), but the batteries in my camera were dead and by the time I found new ones and got them changed, it was over.  

As for cats, kittens, or any other form of domestic feline; pictures of them is as close as you will ever see get to them.  I am violently allergic to these pesky little critters in a way that the least amount of exposure brings on something quite akin to anaphylactic shock.  Call them cute if you dare; but as for me, these tiny predators have more than once sent me to a hospital, and have come far too close to ending my life by the simple act of rubbing up against me.

Fall is a grand season however, and one of my favorites.  We discovered it in this part of the world during a 30 degree temperature swing, so I had to seek alternative reasons for such pleasure.  Of course as a news junkie, a political blogger, and a columnist, this is the best part of the pre-election season. one that gives me opportunity to feed most of my addictions.  Who couldn't help but love the final weeks leading up to voting, where campaign travel and stress turn all but the hardiest candidates into gaffe machines, intent on ruining their political careers into the dumper during the very process of promoting themselves.  My current favorite is the Obama campaign's message given by HBO's Lena Dunham that 'Virgins' (first time voters), should be careful picking their 'first' (candidate for president to vote for).  The wealth of material in this as a Democratic subliminal message is incredible whether one looks back at the sexual antics of Bill Clinton or simply points out that most if not all incumbent Presidents have been screwing the whole country for almost four years; an indication that you might want your first to be a little less promiscuous (or at least wear the protection handed out at school).

Such bounty is not without peril however, as these politicians attempt to bury us under their last minute political commercials.  Oh, it's not as bad here in the wilds of Kansas (a state where even Democrats say they're conservative); but I pity my poor friends in Ohio or any other battleground state for that matter.  My advice to you is to make sure that you have fresh batteries in you TV remotes, and use DVR's whenever possible.

Of course, this is also the time of year when Halloween occurs; a time in which everyday people get to dress up, put on masks, and beg.  (Come to think of it, it really is a lot like political campaign season.)  Having been born and raised in the Chicago area under the first Mayor Daley, I'm one who's long accustomed to the dead rising from the grave at this time of year, walking the streets attempting to find brains, begging for a bit of candy, and finally casting their ballot before being able to 'Rest In Peace' once more (at least until the next election).  

But while some things have remained the same, a lot has changed since those prehistoric days of my youth.  No longer are neighborhood rampages committed by barely pubescent youth; with homeowners trying to remove toilet paper hanging from the trees and scrub the eggs from their windshields, and put out the fires of lighted bags of crap on their front porches.  Groceries are too expensive to be treated as ammunition these days, TP is too expensive even if you buy it in the Mega-rolls, and if you've got something that you can burn that will provide heat, you better save it to cut down on you heating bills. Besides, what kid (or group of them) can afford the gas required to ride around the block, let along the neighborhood.  Even when not planning on wearing a costume, one cannot help but see Halloween as a time of year when an overweight, middle-aged man (I know I'm giving myself a break here) can go to a store and buy four bags of 'Snickers' or 'Kit Kats' without receiving too many sidelong looks at the register.  One can perform this action of gross caloric neglect, muttering some nonsense about 'Beggars Night', secure in the knowledge that the checkout clerks are unaware that the apartment complex does not allow 'trick or treating'.  (As for myself, I merely say that I am stocking up on non-perishable food items that may even become a form or currency after Taxameggedon or the Zombie Apocalypse while I'm taking full advantage of the stockpiling opportunity.)

It also used to be a great time of year to sit down and watch scary movies, but that's become a rather mixed bag these days.  In spite of the fact that there are ten or twenty channels bragging about showing them, most of the Horror movies on them seem to consist of about 5 percent classic horror pictures and 92 percent semi-cheesy zombie flicks.  In the latter, it's hard to tell one from the other, as the zombie makeup all begins to look the same, and the plot consists of a group of people (normally consisting of at least one hot girl, an equally hot guy, a knowledgeable nerd, and a couple of senior citizens or kids) running from the zombies and losing parts of the group as they go along.  Of the classic horror movies, most suffer now by comparison with their Computer Graphic filled descendants.  'Frankenstein' and the Bela Lugosi's 'Dracula' do well enough, but 'The Wolfman' does little but prove that Lon Chaney Jr was not as good an actor as his dad, and the whole 'bats on strings thing' make the rest trying to capitalize on the title look tragically comic rather than frightening at times.

For those of you who didn't take your math classes at public school, you'll notice that the numbers don't add up.  That of course is because they don't ... unless you include the current crop of Vampire Love stories.  Of course Bram Stoker's version of the blood sucker was a bit racy for the time, but Anne Rice's 'Interview With a Vampire' gets credit for the now-popular trend.  Most of today's vampires are seen as tragic characters with pale skin and good hair, doomed to live forever looking like a male model, while being forced to turn down every hot chick that sets eyes upon them. (Can you say Twilight?)  Perhaps rewriting 'Romeo and Juliet' with some fangs thrown in sounded like good to entertainment executives who still think that Will Ferrell's and Adam Sandler's best work is still before them; but I think the difference between today's lovers (living vs undead) might be a bit more complicated than that between the Shakespeare's Montagues and the Capulets.  (And as for the idea of kissing a corpse, no matter attractive a corpse it might be ... Ewwwwwwwwww.)

I can't help but love the season however.  Living in an apartment means that I have no responsibility for the leaves that fell off of the trees faster than anything in a Charlie Brown cartoon.  Anyone brave enough to bring a cat into my presence (jumping through those leaves or otherwise) only does it to see me turn it into 'Wor Su Meow' and served with fried rice.  As for the rest, my intention is to bring the month to a close and open the next one watching as much football as I'm allowed (which is quite a lot actually since being unmarried, I actually do set the TV rules in my home), with some election coverage thrown in during the commercials and at halftime to see who has done something really stupid lately. (Today I found out that the candidates are adjusting their schedules to avoid an incoming storm.  Who knew that they had the sense to come in out of the rain?) When it's too early or late for that, I'm sure that cable TV can be counted on for a few non-zombie / non-vampire love flicks to capture my attention without eating my own brains (that I leave to those in battleground states caught listening to political commercials that escape their remotes).  Oh sure, it may sound a bit boring, but I can always inoculate myself against the pain and suffering by dipping into my Snickers stash.  I wish you equal enjoyment in this wonderful time of year.



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Empty Words and Empty Suits

It's six weeks since the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, perhaps long enough to gain some perspective on the situation.  Perspective however, is exactly what seems to be lacking where Benghazi is concerned.  Instead we have firebrands on the left insisting that patience is required to get to the truth on something that's only a story because of politics, and firebrands on the right demanding answers from the White House as to what actually happened before voters go to the polls.  Apparently lost in all of the potential political hype of course is that four Americans are dead, including an Ambassador.

But I guess we've become rather blase about the murder of a mere four people.  After all, soldiers get killed in the two wars we are still fighting overseas and they barely rate a footnote at the end of the Sunday news talk shows.  Perhaps even worse, soldiers are also killed in training accidents while in the process of maintaining readiness to serve their country and that often doesn't rate the news at all.  But it's not just soldiers that die, people are killed in this country every day: on work-sites, in shopping malls, and on city streets.  Some are innocent, some are guilty, and some just find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Unless the media can find a way to make these senseless killings part of an pre-disposed personal agenda that they have on gun control, societal violence caused by movies and video games, or left vs right partisanship however, these senseless deaths are soon relegated to a back page line or two so that we can talk about Lindsay Lohan's most recent court appearance.

So what is it about Benghazi?

Well perhaps because the killing of diplomatic personnel is an issue of a national prestige that seems to be suffering rather badly these days from everything from a loss of international primacy to having to go cap in hand to borrow money from those we only recently considered one of our bitterest enemies.  Americans after all do like to feel exceptional and don't much care for being part of the pack, let alone at the mercy of it.  Part of it might be from seeing this as an apparent failure to control and utilize the technologies that we have pioneered.  Satellite telephones, emails on the Internet, and real-time pictures taken by aerial drones did nothing to prevent, let alone stop what was happening to our people. 

Most of it I think however, may be from the sorry realization that we have once again become victims of the 'empty suits and empty words' that plague our bureaucratically driven government.  For it appears that once again lives have been needlessly placed in jeopardy (and ultimately lost) due to political agendas, CYA rhetoric, and bureaucratic morass that seeks not calm deliberation, but over-cautious lassitude in its dealings with the rest of the world. "The bureaucratic mentality is the one constant in the universe," according to Dr. Leonard McCoy (yeah, the one from Star Trek).  And while taking wisdom from a sci-fi movie seem ridiculous, anyone exposed to government quickly recognized that it's nevertheless true.  In fact this is common and non-partisan malady of bureaucracy, where the recurrence and severity of advanced manifestations can and will be influenced by whoever the current tenant of the White House is. Those symptoms decrease significantly with a powerful personality in the Executive Mansion, but are equally susceptible to Analysis Paralysis setting in with a timid resident who would prefer to 'lead from behind'.   

While there's a lot of rumor and misinformation out there, what we do know about Benghazi however is that (as with many of the other senseless terrorist acts that have been committed against this country), there were plenty of warning signs that it was going to happen.  Not surprisingly, there were empty suits with their empty words on the scene; evaluating information and undoubtedly cautioning against appearing too provocative in protecting our people by making our diplomatic compounds more safe.  There were other empty suits as well, busy recommending strategic errors in not only failing to increase the protection of a diplomatic mission in what was and is clearly an unstable country, but in fact reducing it significantly instead in the days leading up to the anniversary of a terrorist success story of 9/11.  

If such agenda-driven inertia from the gutted garments in charge was not enough of a recipe for disaster, this situation was also burdened with the apparent silent somnolence of other career bureaucrats.  Bureaucratic drones, whose greatest danger has been from paper cuts, gave themselves and their fellows a seven hour Reality TV show from aerial drones and consulate cameras instead of responding.  In spite of the horror I'm sure they felt during this high tech marathon of mayhem, I suspect that there was little more dialogue in the room than those four empty and infamous word, "Let's wait and see".  Unless there are strategic moves that have yet to come to light (something hardly likely) what we saw as their response was: no planes were sent to fly air cover or close ground support for those in danger, no rescue teams were dispatched to those in need, no ships currently deployed in the Med were move closer in case their Marines were needed, and in fact no effort was made even to reinforce an embassy in Tripoli that was being warned it might also be facing imminent attack.  The empty words of empty suits apparently ruled the day once more and four who honorably served this nation were little more than served up for martyrdom by them.

I don't much care whether this helps or hurts the incumbent or his opponent.  I don't really care about what the theories for Ambassador Steven's visit to the Consulate in the first place might or might not be.  What I do care about however, is the pencil pushers in Washington are supposed to be defending the people who defend this nation, regardless of how it looks or whose agenda it inconveniences, did next to nothing.  Every bit of information that continues to leak out to the public about this attack on our diplomatic mission in Libya in fact points out how many empty words from empty suits that we've already gotten, not only as it was going on, but in the days that followed.

I'm sure that the days ahead will be full of additional information coming out in bits and pieces; along with the inevitable rumor, innuendo, and conspiracy theories as to the 'facts' of the situation.  I'm sure as well, that those same empty suits are working harder now to get their stories straight than they did then to help those in real danger.  I'm absolutely certain however, that when we look back after all the intelligence agency investigations and Congressional hearings are completed and the reports have long since been filed away, all that will remain is a dirty little secret that will remain unwritten and unrecognized.  That secret, unfortunately, is that American lives have once again been needlessly lost.  They were put at ultimate risk by the mouthings of empty words coming these empty suits, and few of those who will put in their twenty years and retire from the safety of Washington DC will even remember their names in the end, having never similarly risked their empty little lives.  

Please note that nowhere in this effort have I accused anyone of lying, though quite frankly the effort has blood running from my mouth.  I am however, getting rather tired of the continued parsing of previous statements.  Sure it's easier to 'Monday Morning Quarterback' and make these decisions now; but the only thing worse that the so-called professionals backpedaling on the strategies that they've executed (or in this case, failed to) is them playing the "that depends on the definition of is" games about the statements previously made with regard to these failures.  It not only doesn't rise to the level of responsibility that's goes with the authority granted their positions, but it dishonors the memory of those who gave their lives as a result of them.

Monday, October 22, 2012

TFP Column: Consumer Protection Act

It may well be early in the week that an effort of mine is appearing in the TFP, but "Consumer Protection Act" is in fact a timely warning for those of you looking at levies on the ballot in two weeks.

Many have called this next election a defining one, but they're talking about changes in the direction of the ship of state in Washington and not about the local level.  There is a convergence however, in that citizens will be asked to vote about whether they are willing to exchange personal freedom and personal responsibility for continued or enhanced protection from the government for any and every poor personal choice made.  How this is decided may well have an impact on corporations as well as people (something I go into).

Since it is so early, I have no idea what might be ahead in either the mid-week 'Star' edition or next weekend's; but I do know that the only way you'll be able to keep up (whether in popular culture or in news and events) is to keep your eyes open for Toledo's largest circulation Sunday newspaper ... which, for the fourth year in a row also happens to be Ohio's best weekly newspaper, The Toledo Free Press.  


Saturday, October 20, 2012

It Was Beauty Killed The Beast

I was watching a cable news network show today attempting to explain the inability of the mainstream media to discover the facts of the timeline on the Benghazi terrorist attack that saw Ambassador Chris Stevens killed along with three others.  (I found this particularly interesting, since it occurred on the same cable news network that had just aired an hour-long in depth report on the subject the night before.)  What was interesting about the statement however, is that this failure of discovery was in part blamed on the cutting of newspaper and wire service bureaus around the world.  

You see, for many years, television news for the most part was little more than a reporting of what had been previously reported in newspapers.  Many of televisions 'reports' are still mostly rehashing previously printed newspaper stories.  Even today's so-called 'online news' still largely consists if items that are re-sourced by Google, Yahoo, et al from newspaper web sites ... information that would be unavailable to them without newspapers.  In other words, the electronic entities which have supposedly replaced newspapers are themselves merely parasites capable of surviving off of its slowly dying flesh.  While it's often said that the Internet has killed the newspaper (a statement not entirely accurate); the truth of the matter is that newspapers have long been killing themselves through an ongoing process of Innocence and Arrogance.

I was there you see, when high percentage revenues from advertising began to move from being printed on the page to supplements which need to be put into the paper.  (Paid subscriptions and street sales actually cover very little of the cost of producing a newspaper.) Newspaper printing presses at the time were incapable of printing much in the way of color (especially the full or '4 color' ) advertisements, and advertisers were only able to get what they wanted by using commercial printers and printing presses with greater color capability.  Showing a complete innocence of where their market was going and an arrogance of their own importance, newspapers told themselves (and anyone else who would listen) that those advertisers would be back soon enough from this second class form of advertising, begging to go back to being printed in the paper.   

Of course it didn't happen, and in fact these supplements (now called free standing inserts or SFI's) grew at an astonishing annual rate.  Newspapers eventually (and only grudgingly) accepted these products as a necessary evil source of revenue instead of a tremendous opportunity. Even as the numbers of these inserts grew far beyond their capacity of newspapers to deal with, their arrogance had them sometimes refusing these inserts and all but refusing to take advantage of the technology that could assist them in increasing their revenue.  Their continued innocence had them often doing such work by hand at a ruinous cost, as they waited for the trend to reverse.  

By the time senior management reluctantly recognized (again, innocence) that their 'good old days' were gone forever, they were already falling behind the technology curve in a way they would never be able to recover from.  Restrictions on the days of the week that such material would be delivered, an 'all or nothing' attitude where distribution of such product was concerned, and a rejection of the concept of delivering such advertising to non-subscribers (an arrogance that was in each case, later recanted), led most down a path that was far from optimal.  Their business plan was in fact so poor where advertisers were concerned that even the US Post Office was able to compete with them; profiting thereby, and staving off their own demise.

This was not the only area where Innocence and Arrogance found their way into the mix however.  Other areas of advertising where newspapers once reigned supreme were likewise attacked.  Aggressive entrepreneurs sensing blood in the water began to compete with classified advertising on all sides.  Independently printed Real Estate guides garnered an increasing share of the newspaper's 'Home' section.  'Auto Trader Magazines' took a big bite out of the Automobile sections, supplying photography as well as descriptions for anyone selling a car, dealer or not.  Jobs publications soon followed, along with newsprint publications advertising garage and estate sales.  Newspapers however, refused to even attempt to compete with any of these new and profitable methods, their arrogance of position forbidding them to demean themselves by being 'commercial'.  And just like that, more of their revenue departed, never to return.

When the Internet finally did come along in a significant way, all of these new businesses were flexible enough to pick up stakes and take advantage of it, moving their print in large part to the new media.  Added to them were everything from car to real estate websites that could be updated daily.  Before you knew it, anyone could sell anything on Ebay, and anyone could find a job on Monster or Craig's List.  Without these classified revenues, newspapers became even more dependent on the Insert advertising that was still growing.  With such dependency grows desperation, and newspapers were becoming truly desperate, for a third scourge had been added to their future.

Somewhere in the Education process, a generation of students had been allowed to grow up without reading a newspaper.  No longer were grade school students required to cut articles out of the newspaper or magazine that would be discussed in current events class (if such classes were even held).  Instead when required, classes watch VCR tapes of news stories supplied by TV stations to serve the same function.  Unconcerned and Arrogant enough to believe that their audience would return, and innocent of the growing influence of an expanding Internet, they fell even further behind the curve and in even greater financial danger.  Through their own non-participation, newspapers soon found themselves with a generation or potential customers that no longer counted on reading a daily newspaper for their basic knowledge of current events.  Eventually they responded across the country with 'Newspapers in Education' programs, but the programs were limited; and besides, by then one generation was lost and the next could hardly be taught by those who had already abandoned newspapers.

Their market penetration now greatly diminished, they were further attacked by the rise of talk radio and 24-hour news networks on the information side.  Both had an immediacy that newspapers could never hope to compete with unless they substantially changed their business model, something that they were still far to arrogant to consider.  Struggling to retain the inserts that they had once disparaged, having finally admitted that they were the major source of revenue keeping the doors open, many were brought to further humiliation in the realization that it was largely for those once hated supplements that their products were now being purchased.  Enough of that arrogance remained however, that rather than living contentedly off their existing revenue stream, some began to instead cast aside their basic creeds of journalism in a twisted attempt to appeal to a wider audience. Sadly, many dailies turned to the very 'tabloid journalism' that they long decried in a forlorn hope to cling to their diminishing influence and circulation.

Like so many businesses doomed by faulty strategies, some newspapers also attempted to make a last stand by building monuments to their own past glory.  Massive investments in printing press technology that any sane business model had proved was no longer required now stand in mostly silent monument to a strategy designed for winning a war that was long since over.  Web sites that should have been their future and which had been created as a complimentary supplement to their printed page, are proving increasingly difficult to covert to revenue sources however by those innocent enough to have never understood that any audience will always resent any attempt to take away a free handout.

There's still a chance that some of these organizations will survive; and for the nation's sake, we better hope that they do.  Certainly none of the Internet giants have offered a fully functional alternative to them; and seem content to live their parasitic lives.  Weekly newspapers, long skilled at living within a budget of advertising revenue, seemed to have been able to take advantage of the changing market.  Once the poor relations of their daily cousins, most are far more likely to be profitable than their more arrogant relations.  It may well be that we must look to them for the future survival of the industry as a whole.  Based on what I saw and have brought out over a 30 plus year period however, I think that it's clear to see that it wasn't the Internet that has all but killed the daily newspaper, but their own innocence and arrogance of a changing market.  

This entire tale in fact, reminded of the last line of the 1933 classic "King Kong":

"Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty that killed the beast!"

Quotes of the Day

We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.
- Winston Churchill

A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it gives people what they want instead of what a particular group of people thinks they ought to want.  Underlying most arguments against a free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.
- Milton Friedman

(And no, the picture shown above is not me trying on my Halloween costume a few days early to make sure it fits.  Then again ....)


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

That's Debatable

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that at least part of this post was written before the second Presidential Debate had actually taken place.  I added to it after tonight's debate was complete, but only to keep my score up-to-date.  I will not attempt to critique the Townhall debate format or the performances given by the two candidates for reasons that I hope will become apparent by the end of this effort.

For those keeping score, I think that the existing debates stand at 1-1-1.  Nobody doubts that Mitt Romney won the first debate, since his competitor (the President) seemed either uninterested or just didn't show up (perhaps Eastwood's empty chair at the Republican Convention was prescient).  The Biden / Ryan debate has enough people still willing to argue over who won to call it a draw.  I'm giving this last one, though it was awfully close, to the President; not so much for what he said or did (though he did much better than his first effort), but for the glaring opportunities that Romney failed to take advantage of (and which he may come to regret before the election's over).  

I should also note that this may be another case of winning the battle and losing the war, as Romney's performance (mediocre as I thought it was) is likely to do him far more good than the President's will do him.

Last night's Townhall-style debate has little to do with classic debate and less to do with a Townhall.  The only truly amazing part of this may be the continuing ability of organizers to find an audience that's so disconnected from a campaign that's been going on for at least two decades (only years, really?), and so oblivious about how politics and government works that they remain undecided less than three weeks before an election.  All of that being said, the problem that I'm faced with is that win, lose, or draw, whether I should care or not.    

Winning a political debate these days is as much a contest of memory as it is of the positions that the candidate holds.  Days of 'debate prep' (better known as cramming in my school days) has long since turned these events into a contest over who will be able to remember their zingers under the hot lights and pressure of a nationally televised stage.  It's a example of a classic educational process that produces more functionally illiterate high school graduates every year ... memorize and regurgitate upon command.

The candidates are judged (fairly or unfairly) on their ability to memorize their talking points, along with some cherry-picked statistics, and regurgitate them when and if the opportunity presents itself. The live audience and media, like the mindlessly hungry little baby birds they are, gratefully receive these spewed talking points as if they were actual nourishment instead of mostly substance-less filler.  He who manages to upchuck the most in this battle of the political hurlers is at the end declared the winner.

The problem with all of this is one pesky little question:

What does any of that have to do with the qualities of leadership required to become President?

I mean its not like you are going to be daily challenged in front of an audience to retain esoteric data, that's what you have a cabinet fully of Secretaries and Undersecretaries (and recently, Czars) for.  It's not like the ability to fire back zingers when on a phone call in the Oval Office is going to help you get the job done right.  It's certainly not that repeating the same talking points over and over until we tune you out will move the country forward.  Debates are ultimately about winning an argument (often by fair means or foul) and little or nothing about facts or reason; and we've had too damn much of that going on in recent years.

Leading this nation is far from being the nation's 'Debater In Chief".  It's not about beating the other team, despite what we've seen lately; and in spite of the common myth, leadership is not about reaching compromise.  Oh sure, there will be debate, especially in the legislature, but the Chief Executive's job is to initiate that debate to a common purpose and moderate it to see whether what can be achieved is a goal worth reaching. Leadership is also about finding common ground upon which to build consensus of opinion; and to use that consensus to move a nation forward. 

As for what can only laughingly be called debates these days:
None of the talents of true leadership is either called upon or demonstrated in this year's multimedia circuses.  Points in the real world of governing are not achieved by encroaching on someone's personal space, and success is not achieved by mildly insulting insinuation.    

Since they are no longer the sweeping give and take on actual issues, they're not really educational.  Since they are supposedly designed around undecided voters who seem almost annoyingly unable to come to a decision between candidates, they are far too simplistic.  Since they are continuing to occur after early voting in many states has already begun, they are to some extent irrelevant.  

In fact the only really good part about looking forward is that we have only one more of these made for TV by political operative monstrosities left before election day.

Of course even that's debatable.....

Monday, October 15, 2012

TFP Column: Halloween Costumes 2012

It's time once again for the wildly popular Just Blowing Smoke Annual Halloween Costume suggestions. (Well, two people said they liked it.)  Once again this year, the first bloom on this will be an effort for the Toledo Free Press, with any additions to follow this weekend here in the blog.  With a couple of weeks to play with before you hit the streets, this should leave plenty of time for any proper costume preparation required.  

Of course even the best costume in the world will do you no good if you don't know what's going on this Trick or Treat season.  The only way to be sure this is the case is to read both the mid-week Star edition and the weekend edition of Toledo's largest Sunday circulation newspaper, and Ohio's Best Weekly Newspaper for, "One, no two ... ah, ah, ah.  No wait! Three ... ah, ah, ah.  No, it's four years!"  (Sorry, my inner Count got the best of me.)  

The Toledo Free Press 

TFP Column: They Know Where You Are

The problem with a tin foil hat is that periodically you have to take it out of the closet and see if it still fits.  Such might believe this to be such a case, with the subject I bring up in this weekend's TFP effort, "They Know Where You Are".  

On the other hand, how else would you look at the federal government providing funding to local law enforcement agencies to install cameras on their cars to take pictures of your license plates, while noting the time and location of your vehicle and store that information ... until they need it.  No crime, no warrant, no judges order; just a history of everywhere you've been every time one of these vehicles crosses your path.

I'd like to tell you more about the subject, but I need to peel back a corner of the foil on my window (not my head) and take a peek out there for the black helicopters that I can hear from my desk.  Before everyone becomes as paranoid as I sometimes get, maybe they should take a bit of time to read everything that's available in the largest Sunday circulation newspaper in Toledo, and Ohio's best newspaper for the last four years running, the Toledo Free Press.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

October Terror Alert: DEBATE

October has begun, and while some look forward to putting on decorative costumes and begging for treats at the end of the month, others (far more insidious) are already attempting to disguise themselves as best they can in more traditional attire, while begging instead for votes.  With the big game in the election cycle but a month away and playoff contests long since begun, it's of little surprise that the Department of Just Blowing Security has slid another of their Cheetos-stained notifications from under the door of the DJBSS Command Center.  (They of course must deliver their communiques in such a fashion since we keep the door to this attic room locked at all times ... for their protection as well as ours.)

It's in fact about the potential damage of these purported playoff contests that the DJBSS is attempting to warn us about.  They are talking about of course, about the bombastic battles of political doublespeak known in common parlance these days as a DEBATE.  These current contests of cognitive thought however, should not be confused with historical bouts of magniloquent grandeur like those of the Lincoln / Douglas debates of the late 1850's where issues of sweeping import were contended by articulate statesmen and triumph was achieved by making successful argument based on fact and reasoned opinion; but far more like the Kennedy / Nixon debate of 1960, where manipulation of the thermostat, good lighting, and bad makeup carried far greater impact in the election that followed than the arguments being made by the two candidates that night.

The very term itself seems to carry a far different meaning these days than that of the classical form, standing now for Dialectic Exercise Blocking Any Thought or Elucidation of issues.  This process, once designed for reasoned discussion, clarification of political issues, and divining a candidate's beliefs and positions has instead become bastardized into one of carefully staged posturing and professionally written obfuscation. Where once the incontestability of the facts in an argument carried the day, such events are now instead a mainstream media event in which candidate arguments are limited to less time than that required for the average bowel movement, and where the only winners are the media themselves.  Where once winners and losers were decided by the logic of their assertions, reasoned argument, and facts used in support of them, we are presented instead with degraded attempts at a series of 'zingers' and 'clever sound bites' that will be endlessly repeated in paid candidate commercials ... not because of their truth, but because 'they're catchy and are easy to remember'.

Limited attendance at such events will probably not have a adverse impact on a person's ability to reason out future decisions logically, but prolonged exposure to these displays of bad manners and even worse behavior can have deleterious effects on the minds of those who expect to exercise their electoral rights and responsibilities.  Attempts to make voting decisions on candidates or issues based on what has become little more than the indecent exposure of public natural fertilizer production can in fact cause .... well, the kind of government that we live with far too often today.

If for some reason, you begin to suffer from depression incurred by attending such toxic events, or feel an indecisiveness that makes you believe that you may have already been over-exposed to this year's political DEBATE process, feel free to contact the DJBSS at 1-800-RAT-BUTT.  While personal ignorance of the dangers is no excuse and will engender little sympathy in those on the phone banks (meaning that they probably won't give a rat's ass about your particular exhibition of poor judgment).  If however, you can catch these normally cranky bastards in a good mood, they might at least recommend a number of products of the brewer's, winemaker's, or distiller's art that have in fact served as a prophylactic measure prior to such exposure, and as a medicinal treatment to minimize the most painful symptoms if taken during or after such encounters. 

They might also let you know that if for some reason the intake of these organic compounds fails to immediately minimize outward manifestations of intellectual infection, continued treatment using various forms of these chemical hydroxyls should be continued until either the evidence of your symptoms begin to dissipate or you realize that you no longer care that you have them.  Successful treatment can normally be recognized when the pronouncements of those participating in such vocal violations of decency are no longer considered inspiring or offensive, but instead only tedious and mildly amusing.

Since this is a Presidential election year, it's expected that such deplorable and disgusting behavior will be going on at the local, state, and national level on a rather grand scale and for most of the month.  The terror threat for October has therefore been raised to brown; the color of the massive quantities of bullshit that will no doubt be produced as part of their efforts.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Candidates Count On Us

The election is still some weeks away, but our twenty-four hour a day mainstream media seems intent on asking us how we're going to vote; when of course they're not trying to subliminally tell us how we're going to vote. They're apparently able to gain such knowledge through a rather arcane and twisted form of telemarketing known as polling. Don't get me wrong here.  There’s nothing actually new in using such a process, and there have been reputable firms like Rasmussen who have been doing it for many years; but these once reputable families have spawned a host of illegitimate offspring.

You see, with the increase in the number of network news organizations, the need to fill twenty-four hours of programming, and the desperate desire of daily newspapers to feel at least somewhat relevant in today’s world; it seems that everybody and their illiterate brother now wants to stick their name on this process of suffrage soothsaying. In fact, I don't believe I've seen this much attention paid to polls by the media since the year that the national newspaper conference and the stripper's convention were going on at the same time in Las Vegas. (I believe that's the year they came up with the slogan, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas".)

These pollsters will tell you that they've become quite sophisticated over the years in what they call 'leveraging' their polls to compensate for the number of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans expected to participate in the voting process. Voters in turn will tell you that they've become quite sophisticated themselves in conniving pollsters of into specious target identification (lying about the information counted on by pollsters for accuracy). Having briefly studied this often confusing form of mathematics while in college, I was always curious as to how in their methodical application probability and statistics, pollsters could also factor in that the only people analyzed were those willing to stay on the phone long enough 'to answer a few simple questions'.  Such a bias in data gathering hardly seemed to form a true sample. This would seem to become especially problematic when pollsters are attempting to gather numbers on 'likely voters' as opposed to 'likely poll takers'. 
Of course once their results are published we see one of their real purposes, as they become endless fodder used by media moderators and pundits alike. Those whose candidate is ahead can talk about the reputable nature of the polling organizations, while those behind can berate such organizations for media bias, improper skewing, and inconsistency with other polls. After they've decided that the information that they've just spent 30 minutes tearing apart and putting back together is of no value, they can go on to tell you how it will skew the polls on voting day for the final 30 minutes of their respective programs. Those ahead complain that leading in the polls causes voters not to vote for a candidate who already appears to be winning. Those behind in turn can complain that such numbers dissuade those supporting their candidate for bothering to vote in what these numbers say is a foregone conclusion against them. 
There are organizations that attempt further accuracy to such information by analysis of the output of the various polling organizations, believing that by averaging the inclinations of those averaging the inclinations, they can improve the odds of success. They may be right in method of course, but you certainly don't see anyone using such a methods at the crap table.

For myself, I find the entire process more than a little annoying under most circumstances, but perhaps that's because I am constantly beleaguered for my opinion from pollsters who think I still live in a battleground state. Oh sure, I can occasionally amuse myself by convincing the person on the other end of the line that I'm of a different race, income bracket, or political persuasion. After a while however, even randomly manipulating the careful conjectures of these statistical sadists loses its appeal.

Inevitably, I can't help but remember what polling has done to governance, and to be appalled that political campaigns have come to be run by these daily interrogations of the people in order to decide what the candidate believes from day to day. Such misuse of mathematics insults those who show the personal responsibility required to work for candidates, let alone those who show up on election day. All deserve better than to be constantly cross-examined to discover if they are as fickle in their core beliefs as the candidates that they invariably support.
I am proud to say however, that there has been one exception to this rule lately. It was a time when polling was far from required to divine the beliefs and the mood of the nation. For one brief and shining moment during this recent week of the campaign, the nation finally stood united. Partisan political bickering was set aside, if only for a time, and there was bi-partisan support across the nation crying out to the world with one voice on a Tuesday morning, 
 “We gotta get the regular refs back to work in the NFL.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Presidential Debate Zingers

(Anyone expecting serious political analysis in what follows will find themselves disappointed at best.)  

Well we're only one day away from what the media has been hyping as the most momentous political event of this year's presidential election (at least so far).  It's not that I don't understand how the media has lost all sense, other than their own sense of self-importance, can believe that watching two politicians dodging direct answers to often set up questions in front of cameras is in any way unusual, let alone consequential (at least in a sarcastic way).  After all, there are going to be three more debates for presidential candidates, and one for their running mates.  Of course, such contestation will be on every regular and all the news networks, giving it some significance; but given that many will choose to ignore such posturing, they might also want to consider the importance of the day when the nation's electorate actually gets to cast ballots (unless of course, you think that some of them will be similarly be voting four times) as a day of equal or greater importance.

I've examined the records of these two debate participants (part of the job), noting in passing that this first face-off will be heard in the Rocky Mountain state, and have come to the conclusion that this one may well be shaping up to be as exciting as a singing contest between Coloradans John Denver vs Dan Fogelberg.  Both have delivered some outstanding efforts in the past (Denver and Fogelberg, not Obama and Romney), but neither seems likely to produce an outstanding performance this week, having achieved room temperature some years back (pick your pair here).

The incumbent President's talking heads are already saying that it's likely that Romney will likely win this first debate, citing his experience in recent full contact efforts in the Republican primaries.  This seems somewhat strange, considering in how little esteem they hold any Republicans.  When you add that these same people believe that their candidate is the smartest person on the planet and therefore one who finds such mundane duties as security briefings and meetings with foreign leaders as unnecessary, such pronouncements seem rather incongruous.  There's also something almost tawdry in setting the nation's expectations about your candidate's ability to lead so high, and his ability to defend the way he's done so the last four years so low.

On the other hand, Barack Obama's opponent has shown himself over the last two election cycles as a true 'plain Jane, white bread' Republican, often full of retread ideas; coming off as dull as only a politician can, and as compelling as an allergy commercial.  Being a mainstream Republican, one must also keep in mind his party's latent ability to as the WSJ's Stephen Moore has said, "never to pass up an opportunity to pass up an opportunity", refusing to recognize or take advantage when their opponents expose a policy weakness in a very public way.  

Failure to allow any other serious candidates into the debate since the Ross Perot debacle now means that there's something to be said for the idea that both the media and the two major political parties have turned presidential dialectics into a 'Last Comic Standing' event.  There's compelling evidence to make one think they've succeeded so well, that it's now little more than two clowns doing extended stand-up tours full of their best 'one liners'.  There are those who go even further to say that the tragic humor in this process is that there's far less difference between the party platforms (routines) than they'd like us to believe; much like there's far less difference in the speed at which they're driving the nation off of the 'Thelma and Louise' cliff approaching.

Unfortunately, it's the very media that has been hyping the upcoming contest as critical to deciding who the next leader of this nation is (close elections make good television), that will immediately be casting aside 90% of what's said after the debate is over.  They will instead make a big deal out of a couple of the 'Zingers' delivered by one candidate or another.   The President himself in a recent speech in Las Vegas reinforced this point, hinting that his opponent might even have a 'Zinger advantage'.  

(For those who may not know, a 'Zinger' is a term used to describe a witty remark.  Real Zingers however are cake treats with creme filling, shipped to stores under both the Hostess and Dolly Madison brands, though both are owned by the same Interstate Bakeries.  Neither of the tastier versions unfortunately, will be delivered by either candidate at the debate venue.)         

Based on the writing skills available to current politicians, it seems likely that a memorable line or two might come out of these debates.  Unfortunately, it's equally likely that little else will be remembered from each night's event.  Regardless of political persuasion, these lines will be played ad nauseum on the news, and used in paid political ads as well.  Most are occasionally clever, seldom truly memorable, and usually of far more concern to the media repeating them than to voters who they expect to judge candidates by them.

Without being able to predict the winner of the first debate, let alone the four that follow (including that of the VP's), and without being able to anticipate the eventual victor in election itself; there is one conclusion that I have already been able to come to regarding the entire debate process and its Zingers however:  

I always liked Twinkies better anyway.