Friday, May 29, 2009

Please "sin" with your government's blessing!

We awoke this morning to news of a proposal being floated by team officials of the Columbus Blue Jackets, our local National Hockey League team, that, in all honesty, not only asks for you to "sin", but also to possibly put your health at risk, thus seeming to ensure a dwindling fan base, but with the approval of your state and county government.

Say what?

The Jackets have been around for 9 years now, and have begun to hemorrhage money, about 11 million dollars a year, on average. In order to reduce their debt burden, they have asked state legislators to give permission to Franklin County commissioners to impose what is normally referred to as a "sin" tax, an extra amount levied on beer, wine, alcohol, and cigarettes, in order to fund the county's purchase of Nationwide Arena, where the Jackets play, after which the county would then (according to the team) negotiate more favorable lease terms for the team to use the building as their home and offices. Team officials say the current lease terms are too restrictive and are contributing to the outgo of team money.

The team officials do not want you to ask the most pertinent question: If the lease terms were that bad, why did you sign the lease? Did you only agree to this (supposedly) bad deal in order to assuage your massive egos just so you could say, "We have an NHL team here in little old Columbus! We're Major League!"?

Nationwide owns the building, and so did not have to pay for naming rights, thus denying themselves a potential revenue stream. Jackets personnel say they get very little from parking; maybe they should have bought up all the parking lots in the Arena area 9 years ago. The average game night parking cost is $20, far higher than the day-to-day rate for those same spots, but the team is not seeing any of it come their way. And 15 of the luxury boxes were sold in advance to help cover construction costs; perhaps you can charge higher prices for whatever amenities you provide for the luxury suite owners?

The arena has a 99% property-tax abatement, but it does provide at least a million dollars per year to the Columbus Public School system, a cost that would have to be borne by the county should this proposal go through. The dirty little secret about that million dollars: it does not directly cost Nationwide a penny, as it comes from a ticket tax surcharge and a portion of their employees' city income tax.

Originally I thought that the voters would have to approve this madcap scheme, but, from what I heard on the radio today, that may not be an option, as the team officials know that such a proposal is likely to be shot down by the voters, which is why they asked for the county to be given special permission to impose such a tax. If that happened, it almost certainly would face a court challenge and/or a referendum vote.

If you argue that only those who smoke and drink will assume the burden for this tax, consider this: if the revenue stream does not live up to projections, how long would it take for the county to raise other fees and taxes to cover the deficit and keep the money flowing in? What cuts to other services would have to be made in order to keep millionaire athletes playing for dear old Columbus?

If being a team owner/operator wasn't such a great deal, why did you get into the business in the first place? Why should the taxpayers bail you out, especially when you recall that the voters here voted down 56-44% a proposal to have taxpeyers pay for the arena to be built? Voters in Cleveland and Cincinnati voted differently when asked to build sports stadiums, but, as for Columbus, as the old commercial used to say, "That's a whole 'nother smoke".

So, if you are a Blue Jacket fan or a county commissioner, are you ready to ask the people of Franklin County to put their health further at risk with governmentally-approved "sinning", just so Columbus can remain a "Major League" city?


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Passionate fans

One of the things I began to do as my family moved along into the late 1990s was to pick a team from the English Premier League, almost at random, to follow once we finally got the internet.

We call it soccer, they call it football or footie over there.

My interest was sparked by the arrival of the Columbus Crew and the MLS in the US. I decided I needed to learn a little more about the game even though I had begun to play it, watch it, occasionally referee it (kids games, when the official failed to show), and eventually coach it.

I knew absolutely nothing about the league, other than many people considered it to be the best in the world. Also, not being able to read Spanish, Italian or German was a factor in my deciding to follow along with the English league. I came to find out that not only is there a Premier League, but there are numerous other divisions below it, similar to baseball's minor leagues, in which teams all over England play. Then, below the professional teams, there are also an almost innumerable amount of amateur/semi-pro teams going, and all highly organized into leagues, and playing not only for league championship trophies, but also for numerous Cups as well.

The most amazing thing I found was at every level of the professional game not only is there a season-long competition to win the league title, but there is also a dog-eat-dog effort to achieve "promotion" and avoid "relegation". In the professional level, when a team wins the league title, it automatically gets promoted to the next-higher professional level. A team can also gain promotion by winning a playoff between (normally) the four teams which finish 2-5 in the league standings, or table. The promotion battles are tremendous fun to a fan, and for the lucky supporters are exhilarating.

Last Monday I watched a review show of the wrap up to the Premier League's season, in which the games that were featured were all concerned with the teams who were fighting to stay up (avoid the drop/go down/be relegated) in the Premiership, and not have to play the next season in a lower-tier of the football pyramid, as it is known. Staying up is literally worth millions of dollars (well, pounds actually) to each club. The focus of the show on these relegation battles brought home to me just how passionate the fans are about their football clubs. The agony on their faces as their club gave up a goal or just missed a score was incredible to see. These people have followed their hometown teams all their lives, and almost live and die with each win and loss throughout the year. The history of their clubs lives on at each match, as almost all the fans spend the entire match singing and chanting the songs they have grown up with since they were children.

Thousands of fans at these matches had earphones, listening not to the call of the games they were watching, but tuned in to other teams' games to keep abreast of the action as their lads fought to stay in the top flight league. In one case, a packed stadium at Hull City remained so even after their game ended as they were awaiting word of a hoped-for loss by a rival, after their club had kept them on edge by playing to a draw. The players also stayed out on the pitch (field to us) to await their fate. When word finally came with the hoped-for result, meaning they were staying up, the fans exploded with relief, and the video board proudly showed "WE ARE STAYING UP!" After waiting 104 years to play in the top English division, Hull City survived by a whisker to stay and play there again next year.

One of the largest clubs, Newcastle United, with some of the longest-suffering fans in the sport, had their hopes dashed after losing their last game. They were going down, and the tears streaming down the faces of their fans said it all. Even the players were hanging their heads at what had happened. Supporters till the bitter end, the Newcastle fans then stood and sang to their players, and displayed "We will support you forever" and "Newcastle till I die" banners as they began to second level of English football next season. And it begins again in August.

It was a great reminder about how much passion those fans put into following their teams, a level any team of any sport in the US cannot hope to match.

Candle scents for the real world

I enjoy the scents of the different seasons. It is one of the many things I enjoy about the area of the country where I live. Spring rolls into summer that 'leafs' into fall and then the snows and warmths of winter. When they are not always available by natural means, several companies offer many of your favorite smells through candles. It is nice to have the warm scent of pine indoors during the Christmas season. Combine that with cinnamon apple and the like and you just want to sit in front of a roaring fire with a glass of wine or a sip of bourbon. The most common problem I see with many of these scents is they just smell like perfumes and nothing very real. If candles are to be named by their scents they should actually smell like what they are. Does 'Ocean Breeze' really smell like the ocean?

The following is a list of scents that could easily be used from the real world, although you may not want most of them.

For that county living feel:
Wet Barn; manure field; wet dog; DDT (although that would later have to be banned); fresh hay; Rendering plant; Skunk (or any roadkill); Well water; Egg farm; Drainage ditch.

Urban scents:
Jersey shore (commonly known as dead fish); Tagger; Rusty Chevy (although any vintage American auto will do); Lawn fertilizer; Gasoline; Restaurant cooking grease; Septic field; Damp basement; South-side (my family will know what this means).

Unfortunately most of the smells we recognize aren't pleasant although every once-in-a-while you get that one scent that takes you stale pink bubble-gum in a pack of baseball cards.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Religion shouldn't be a death sentence

Although I never intended this blog to be an ongoing comment on religion and religious beliefs, it does seem to be happening on a regular basis. But, this is a 'ramble' in no particular order.

Growing up in a fairly structured Catholic environment I had little exposure to other belief systems in my formative years. As I grew older I have had dealings with others of differing faiths. Many of the initial beliefs are similar on the surface but due to the 'structuring' of their rules, that is when we hit the speed bumps. Although I have no formal instruction I do have a sense of right and wrong which is the foundation of what a belief system is founded on. Too often that structure is muddied by arcane and nonsensical rules.

Take the case recently in the news with the mother from Minnesota who fled the state with her child. The young man is in need of medical care to treat a treatable form of cancer. It is sad when a child or anyone is subjected to disease or something else out of their control. The mother fled to avoid a court order to have the child treated with chemotherapy. This is a treatment which by modern scientific methods has shown to be effective although it is not a guarantee of a cure. Apparently the parent's religious beliefs do not lend themselves to treatment from modern medicine. My question is why?

At what point does a religion impose a date on progress and say everything after that is bad or against our beliefs. Amish and other sects of that nature can't drive automobiles or use phones etc. However, Mennonites seemingly covered by similar rules of avoiding progress can't drive but can ride in cars and can use power tools. What's the logic in that? At what point does one pick an arbitrary date and say modern medicine can't save a child? Do sulfur drugs constitute an acceptable cure while penicillin does not? Why does an acceptable form of treatment have to be 'natural'? There are a myriad of things in nature that are deadly. Most need to pull their heads out of the sand and understand 'natural' has nothing to do with 'better' or 'more pure'.

The driving force in christian religions is to strive to be Christ-like. And yes, for the religiously ignorant, Catholics are Christians. That should not leave out the options of a better world through technology and science. Science should be used in a way to enhance our values, not act as a barrier to them. A belief structure is not dependent on convenience or modernization. The same beliefs that were true in biblical times will be true in the year 3000 and it shouldn't matter if you are riding in a horse and buggy or a flying Jetson's car.

Progress is the natural state of mankind. Religion should be the guidepost not a barrier by timid religious leaders holding on to their power base.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day

This weekend we observe Memorial Day, but, given the preponderance of mattress sales and "beginning of summer season" pool openings and barbecues, the reason for the holiday has been getting lost in the haze.

Memorial Day was originally called Decoration Day, and was established to remember the Union soldiers who fell in battle during the Civil War. My parents called it that for years after the name was officially changed to Memorial Day and became the focus of a three-day weekend for many people.

Memorial Day is a day for us to remember the sacrifices of those who fought and died during the almost innumerable armed conflicts we have fought lo these many years.

Please take a moment this weekend to remember those who fell in the service to their country, and thank a veteran for their service.

On a personal note, thanks, Dad, for your service to this nation as well.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Their shining star

Two days ago marked a milestone for my family (it is every year). May seventeenth was the sixty-second wedding anniversary of my beloved parents. Having met after WWII, they subsequently became betrothed and married in 1947. It seems such a long time ago. It predates the Korean 'conflict', the Vietnam War, the first Iraq War among others scattered throughout the second half of the last century. (The last century, wow!)

How the culture has changed. Big band swing music was still in vogue and the early years of rock and roll had not yet happened. Frank Sinatra was still struggling to make a name for himself and the rat pack had not yet formed. Saddle-shoes and bobbi-sox(?) had not littered high school gymnasiums for sheltered dances. The idyllic 50's were still years away.

My parents went through turbulent times as our country and the rest of the world grew into a new age. It was an age of promise and risk. Promise from what lay ahead in a new world free from Nazi-ism and Fascism and the climate of global war to the risk of a new atomic age, an age that no one could truly comprehend.

What lay ahead for them was the joining of two large families (as they each came from families of ten or so) and the birth of my four siblings and myself. It was a struggle in the early years but what pulled them through was a belief in themselves and a love between them with an unshakable faith in God. They have instilled in their five children an underlying respect for others and values that transcend trendiness. Their example gave us a strong work ethic and a love for each other. It has been years since my parents have passed away but each May seventeenth I think back to them and a time that was simpler (at least on the surface). The altar of the church was filled with red carnations as May is the month of our Holy Mother and it was celebrated differently in that era.

For the next forty-five years, Beloved Father always gave Sainted Mother red carnations when he sent her flowers. No matter what their failings, they loved each other through thick and thin.

It is with these lessons I devote my life to My Beloved as we grow old together. (As long as she'll have me.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Beware that "SEND" button!

I work in a government office that is headed by an elected official. This particular official is in the 4th month of a truncated term, as his predecessor left hid term early to take over for another officeholder who fell from grace and was unceremoniously pushed out of office by his party; big deposit, no return, as it were, and so the gave of political monkey move-up continued, this time on a statewide level, as opposed to the same game in our fair capital whereby the same party appoints city council members on a seemingly yearly basis to replace a departing member who has moved on, for better or worse. Last year, the number of appointed city council members currently in office was larger than those who had first been actually elected to that office (election: what a novel concept!).

But, I digress.

Early this morning our work e-mail inboxes received a missive from one of the mid-level muckety-mucks whom all politicians employ in various capacities to annoy the drones and worker bees who do the actual workaday work of the office.

This particular e-mail informed us all that sometime this week we would be receiving a telephone call from a firm that had been hired to conduct a 20-30 minute survey about the office and its functions. A sample of the questions was included, and I enterprisingly went to the company's website to see what I could discover about them.

In a nutshell, the company specializes in "branding" (presumably not with hot irons); image-making and identifying who and what you are (or want to be seen as) is their specialty.

So, a politician who asked to be appointed to an office for which he has little or no apparent qualifications (but he is rather personable) has asked a company (at who's expense?) to interview staff members to determine what each one does, how they want to make the office work, how to change things, and, oh, by the way, what image do you want to project for yourself and the office? What should be the top five goals for the next two years?

We will be asked for our insight and perspectives (emphasis in the original) into the values and goals that are shaping Dear Leader's term in office, and will influence how we craft a mission, vision, and agenda for the years ahead.

This sounds suspiciously like Bill Clinton's weekends early in his first term when it was announced he would spend time "seeking out his core values". Pardon me, but if you don't already have and know them, why are you running for office? Must be for the money and trappings of power.

About an hour after the mid-level muckety-muck sent out her e-mail, we were told to ignore it, as it was only meant for the eyes and ears of the muckety-mucks and higher, and not for the likes of us worker bees.

It seems this staffer does not know the difference between the "Everyone" button and the "Top Secret: Eyes Only for Those in the Know" grouping that is in the e-mail contact lists.

Your tax dollars at work!

The Heretic II

As I write this I shall be watching for a giant hand coming down from the heavens. It will most likely come from Sainted Mother trying to swat her youngest son as he again points out the flaws of the Catholic Church. Mind you, this again has nothing to do with the faith of the Church but the trappings surrounding the institution.

Recently in Spain a priest has borne the brunt of running afoul of the Vatican. He has been seen in the company of a divorced female and has admitted he has feelings for this woman. He would also like to have a family with her. On top of that he would also like to remain a priest. You can almost count bodies falling. The Church will never stand for this.

How far have we come as a faith and people not to realize how decadent the Church was in its past. Popes, Cardinals, Bishops and all down the line have used the power and influence of the Church over the centuries to do as they wished, concubines and all. I'm quite sure most of these practices have been denounced by some tribunal or another by later officials but it still comes down to the same thing. Priests are human and subject to human failings.

The time has long come and gone for the Church to revoke the oath of chastity for a man to enter the priesthood. The population has well exceeded the capacity to produce priests based on the old guidelines. There are numerous men who would gladly take on the challenge of having a family and leading a congregation. I believe in this instance the Protestants have it right. It is flawed to think priests should be unmarried because Christ never married. Christ was the fruit of marriage in the public eye. What is a more sacred institution than marriage? The priesthood and marriage shouldn't be mutually exclusionary. If one does decide to take on this monumental challenge they must understand their family life many times comes second. The spouse would need to know this from the start. It would take a stouthearted woman to submit to this challenge. I can think of no finer example than Rev. Billy Graham and his wife who have been stalwarts of faith and dignity over the years. That is the type of priest I would follow.

Yes there are many who have fallen from grace in the Protestant faiths and become the subject of headlines. These have mostly been obviously transparent 'evangelists' whose primary concerns have been more about raising money for themselves than it has been about religion. There have been many more instances of priests becoming headlines for their seedy behavior.

Perhaps I have not given my parents enough credit. They always taught us to think for ourselves. Maybe that soft-scented breath of wind is her answer in passing.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Routines of life

How many times have you been told that habits and routines are bad? They make you complacent. Often over the years, I would guess. But not all habits are bad habits. Of course smoking (I quit cold-turkey seven years ago), too much alcohol, over-eating and the like are all bad. These are the habits of 'sin'. But those aren't the habits I mean.

My days are never the same due to my schedule. As a retail manager for twenty-five years I work nights, days, early days and weekends. It is not uncommon to work eight, nine or ten days in a row. As often as not I get home to kiss My Beloved who is fast asleep and must wake before she does to go back to work. My weekends need to have the word 'off' in front of them to be relaxing. Most just know these days as weekends. Such is the life of retail. I'm not complaining. It has mostly been a worthwhile career. It does however have it's moments.

Most people are able to get into a routine to make their lives normal. Usually that involves up daily at a certain time, meals also like clockwork etc. North of 50 has by my observation, a life that runs on a consistent schedule. The Stache and Baby Sis, however both live a harried existence. For me, I have few if any routines afforded North of 50. My life is generally one, big un-routine. I must fit grass-cutting, house fixing, reading, exercise etc. into whatever vacancy that has come about. Working on a home fix-it project is hard when one only has a narrow window of an hour or two at a time. Often the prep work takes that long and then it is time to stop.

My few little routines give me a small amount of normalcy in life. When I do have a morning off I like to spread the newspaper out on the counter and sip a cup of coffee while I leaf through the pages. I rarely if ever turn on the TV while home alone. I prefer sports talk radio until the afternoon. This way I can work on things around the house and still keep in touch. Much to My Beloved's dismay (at times) I have wired the house with speakers that I may wander from room to room, level to level and not miss a syllable. Generally, I'm not much for listening to music unless in the car. Whatever tasks I need to complete I try to wrap up before My Beloved gets home from her work. Then it is time for us to be together. That is the one habit I will never try to change.

On that note, enjoy whatever routines give your life pleasure and structure as long as you don't become a slave to them.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

And the blind shall follow blindly

Having reflected for several days on recent developments I find myself not only disillusioned but actually disgusted with news of the H1N1 (swine) flu strain. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have completely and unabashedly blown this health concern out of proportion. This has caused a wide-spread panic over much of the country and in places around the globe. For once I do not fault the news media for creating this panic as they are simply reporting what the two most prominent health agencies are continually feeding them.

A pandemic is described as an epidemic over a wide geographic area affecting a large proportion of the population. In the 1918 influenza outbreak 675,000 people died in the United States alone. If the population of the US at that time was 125 million people, that equates to .54 percent of the population having died. Conversely, there are currently only 380 cases of H1N1 in the US as of this morning. Based on a population of 300 million, that is .00012 percent of the population that is even sick. That is hardly a pandemic, much less an epidemic. It's not really even a hiccup. Virtually every sickness/illness in this country has more people affected than H1N1.

It is sad when any person dies from a situation where they have little or no control. And, it is the responsibility of WHO and the CDC to keep the population informed on a wide range of health issues, but it is also their responsibility not to create a panic. With people walking around in blue masks all over the country for no reason, they have completely failed in this task.

These medical organizations have fallen in love with the word pandemic. It has been used increasingly over the past two to three years when any new health issue arises. Everything is the next great pandemic. They continually tell us we are long overdue for a virulent killer. What they also fail to remember is the state of health care in 1918 paled in comparison to modern medicine. There were no drugs to combat infections, no vaccines nor the infrastructure to respond to wide-spread disease. Medicine was little more than what it was during the black plague. Today modern science has a host of resources and drugs to fight back against any rampant outbreak.

Unfortunately I must also blame the general public for being so afraid of their own shadows that they blindly succumb to panic situations. Not everything you hear on the news is correct and absolutely true to the extent it is told. It is time we learn to think for ourselves and use common sense.

Unfortunately common sense is not as common as we would like to think. Most would sooner kill the pig because they don't understand and won't take the time to learn.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Where never lark or ever eagle flew

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds--and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of--wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there,
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air----

Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew-
And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

John Gillespie Magee; RCAF

This is one of my favorite verses. The author, a pilot, was killed in Britain during WWII. I was first exposed to it as a closing spot for a local television station in my early years. It was a voice-over as a jet climbed and soared through those same clouds.

I have always been fascinated by flight, both planes and spacecraft. As a child my family would sometimes go to the airport and watch the planes takeoff and land. Hey, we were poor and it was entertainment. To this day I will stand and watch a plane fly by or overhead. It is beauty and technology entwined, grace, speed and power. The open sky makes for a startling backdrop.

I have never piloted a plane, other than one made of cardboard, with crayon gauges and tinker-toy levers. I think even most of the ugly craft have their own beauty. Although jets are sleek and powerful I have always had a preference for the prop. It is man and machine. The planes specifically of WWII are some of my favorite: the F4U Corsair, P38 Lightning, P40 Warhawk and PBY Catalina, just to name a few. Of more modern craft the Starfighter, F16 Falcon and A6 Intruder are some of the more elegant craft.

Someday I would love to be aloft in one of these magnificent machines. For a birthday present one year, Sainted Mother gave me a glider ride. My Beloved cruised the heavens aloft with me (and the pilot). It was wonderful.

And one day, I will reach out my hand, to touch the face of God. (Unless I'm in a commercial aircraft where I would most likely be arrested).