SEE YA!

29 12 2011

Last year I promised to write a blog a week every week for a year – accomplished.  I hope to never make as stupid a commitment as that again.  To volunteer to perform the exact same task one day every week for a year?  No way!

This year I will try to do something different once a week, every week, and absolutely NOT blog about it.  One day I might have breakfast at a greasy dive; one day maybe visit a homeless man at the Vietnam Memorial Park and talk;  buy flowers for Laura for absolutely no reason;  go into the Apple Store and NOT buy anything.   It really doesn’t matter what I choose to do – just one thing completely different every week.   Fix a few things around the house and then hire a professional to fix whatever I screwed up.  But don’t worry, you’re not going to have to read about it anywhere any longer.

Some things bear repeating – blogs do not fall into that category.  Who knows, I might actually learn something.  At least I won’t be blathering away at a keyboard while the world passes by outside my window.  And you won’t be compelled to watch through the window while nothing happens.  Thanks!  John





52nd Post This Year

28 12 2011

WordPress sent me an email this morning asking me to respond to a number of questions regarding my commitment to blog once a week in 2011.  They asked how my blog has changed over the course of a year (not at all); whether I am ready to commit to a blog post a day in 2012 (hell, no); and a number of other questions prompting me to consider my future in the blogging universe (virtually none).

Despair, Inc. (a website everyone should have on their “favorites” lists) has this quote about blogging:

“Never Before Have So Many People With So Little To Say Said So Much To So Few”

I have now fulfilled my commitment to write a blog for every week of the year, which was a sort of New Years’ Resolution from last year.  Tomorrow will be my last blog and will briefly (I promise) describe my New Years Resolution for 2012, which is a very direct result of what I have truly learned from my experience with WordPress this past year.  ‘Nuff said!





THE FAIR TAX

27 12 2011

It is called a Fair Tax, so how could it not be fair?  It is also a “fairly” good idea with a few caveats.  Taxing what you spend rather than what you earn, simplifying the idiotic maze of taxes and codes that currently exist, and making taxes more transparent and easier to understand are all obviously good things.  I am in favor of the Fair Tax, but there are as always a few obvious bugs in the system.  On the other hand, almost any change in our tax system would be an improvement on our current tax system.

The Fair Tax plan is a comprehensive proposal that replaces all federal income and payroll based taxes with an integrated approach including a progressive national retail sales tax, a prebate to ensure no American pays federal taxes on spending up to the poverty level, dollar-for-dollar federal revenue neutrality, and, through companion legislation, the repeal of the 16th Amendment.  Here is where my first major concern comes into play – repealing the 16th Amendment.  I highly recommend that if this information interests you; take some time to read about the history of the 16th Amendment.  I will not bore you with details, but the Civil War history of this Amendment to the Constitution alone is worth reading.

The Fair Tax taxes us only on what we choose to spend on new goods or services, not on what we earn. The  Fair Tax  is a fair, efficient, transparent, and intelligent solution to the frustration and inequity of our current tax system.  Proponents of the Fair Tax will highlight the following positives of the plan:

  • Enables workers to keep their entire paychecks
  • Enables retirees to keep their entire pensions
  • Refunds in advance the tax on purchases of basic necessities
  • Allows American products to compete fairly
  • Brings transparency and accountability to tax policy
  • Ensures Social Security and Medicare funding
  • Closes all loopholes and brings fairness to taxation
  • Abolishes the IRS

As you can imagine, the Fair Tax really is more complicated than it looks.  No complex forms to fill out every April, no need to wade through piles of old receipts to maximize your return, and no (or a greatly reduced in size) IRS!  It sounds like a dream, right?

One of its problems is a simple basic business formula that is an odd anomaly, but is something business people deal with on a daily basis: The Fair Tax rate would need to be higher than claimed to generate enough income.  Proponents of the Fair Tax maintain that the tax rate of 23% they tout will be adequate to (more than) generate the current level of income from all the taxes it would replace (not only the income tax, but corporate taxes, Social Security Taxes, estate taxes, etc.).  That number is tax inclusive, meaning it incorporates the amount of tax in the total from which the percentage is calculated.  If you read it as a normal sales tax (which is tax exclusive), it would be 30%.  A $100 item (before Fair Tax) would have a $30 Fair Tax added; $30/$130 gives us the 23% result we are trying to achieve – therefore the cost will be higher than originally anticipated.

My next concern is simply how foreign nations will react to the Fair Tax.  The Fair Tax website makes quite a few claims about how the Fair Tax will boost US competitiveness in the global market; it’ll make US exports cheaper to other countries, foreign imports will become more expensive (since the Fair Tax will add on top of the taxes the foreign manufacturer paid in their own country), and jobs and investment money will flow into the United States.  The EU becomes a competitive dynamo; their exports are cheaper in our stores, our products are more expensive over there, and businesses start to uproot to relocate in Europe, taking jobs with them.  Initially this was supposed to be a concern for the American Economy, but with the turn of events in the economic realities of the EU, this might actually be a boon and a means of helping the EU back on the road to economic recovery.  This is way above my area of expertise and will probably require decades of study (at which point it will be moot).  Without having some idea of how the other major countries of the world will react, it’s impossible to say whether switching to the Fair Tax will be a net benefit to the country.

The final issue I keep running into from opponents of this new system is that we would devastate the tax preparation market, as well as the IRS.  At the risk of opening myself up to horrible audits, as well as aggravating my accountants, my simple answer is: to hell with them.  We need change – if they can’t find a means of survival, they probably had no reason to exist in the first place.





Largess

20 12 2011

We know from visual experience that a bunch of Americans are morbidly obese.  I prefer the word “grossly” to “morbidly” as an adverb for obese – but that is mostly because if someone expires from obesity, I would no longer have to look at them, and that would make my daily observations less “gross”.  The most recent data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey estimates that 33.9% of Americans are obese.

Obesity is a very expensive medical cost, estimated at 147 billion dollars annually.  My contention is that this money could be spent in better ways to combat this epidemic.  Bigger and better burgers are not the answer.  

Non hispanic black americans have the highest obesity rate (36.8%) in these studies.  Taking into consideration the higher rate of unemployment, the unintended effects of bigotry (see unemployment), and the assumption that Charles Darwin’s theory regarding the survival of the fittest (when viewed through the historic lens of slavery) should have propagated the healthiest race of people anywhere.  I could find no concrete explanation for this phenomenon – my only guess is that fast food is generally cheaper and unhealthy compared to their healthier counterparts.

Hispanics have an obesity rate of 30.7%, but these are hispanics in America.  My experience with food in Mexico is very healthy.  On the other hand, for many hispanics to reach America, they must be able to swim which is excellent exercise.

It seems to me that using simple American Ingenuity, for which we are famous, would enable us to find a way to make these 33.9 percent of Americans proportionately taller.  This would seem to be a reasonable response to the problem (and a great way to utilize that 147 billion dollars annually), and could also be a huge boon to the NBA and the WNBA.

Asians have the lowest obesity rate (16.7%) which only reinforces my belief that if we could just make people much taller, BMI would drop dramatically.

But the very best idea yet would be to engineer people to be around 4′ tall and weigh no more than 90 pounds.  The effect on our collective carbon footprint would be amazing.  Virtually everything from automobiles, planes, clothes, and furniture (to list but a few), would have a tremendous impact on the effect humans have on this planet.  These issues could possibly even be accomplished within a few generations using the aforementioned funds.





Best Use Of Local Products Ever!

14 12 2011

You WILL feel guilty eating this, but it is worth whatever price you must pay for the experience.

Ingredients:
One half dozen fresh cinnamon rolls
One pint Vietnamese Cinnamon Ice Cream from Christopher Elbows Ice Cream Store
One pint Roasted Apple Ice Cream from Christopher Elbows Ice Cream Store
Caramel Ice Cream Topping
One can Apple Pie Filling

Cut cinnamon rolls into approximately 1/4″ cubes and layer in large baking dish. Pour caramel topping to taste over the chopped cinnamon rolls (I use a lot, but fat and sugar free).

Thaw the ice cream and mix together with a wire whip or a food processor. Pour ice cream mixture over the entire dish to cover, sprinkle with cinnamon and allspice to taste, cover and refrigerate for two hours for rolls to absorb the flavors.

Bake at 350 degrees, allow to cool on a rack for about 15 minutes and serve. I have no idea how many this serves – there is never any left!





Whiny Whiny Whiny

13 12 2011

I know damn good and well I have no reason to complain. My lifestyle is awfully great, especially in light of the 99.9% of people who are in dire straights instead of my minor discontent.

My major problem is work, and yes at least I am employed. We opened our company 10 years ago with no pay (because that’s how starting a new business usually works.) Within one year we were not only paying ourselves, but had insurance, a small business retirement plan, and began to hire other employees. Life was sweet!

The economic downturn did not affect us too horribly until this year. My business partner handled money very well, and we tightened our belts to weather the storm. However we appear to be back on the ropes again. Our expenses outweigh our income (largely due to a city entity defaulting on a large sum of money that they feel was a risk we should absorb rather than their organization). That is a whole other story however.

The biggest problem I am facing now is that I am bored with the BS part of my job, the fun is not there anymore, my enthusiasm is gone, and I don’t know how to rekindle it. I am very good at what I do, and I absolutely love my clients, but work is drudgery, annoying and completely unexciting. I know that’s why it’s called work and not vacation, but less than three years ago, I could not see a distinction between work and vacation.

Perhaps it is time to retire – I really don’t have that answer yet. I realize this is a very dull blog, but this one I am writing for me.

I am not sure how I’ll get out of this blue funk, and my heartfelt apologies for so many of you who wish this was the biggest problem you were facing. I think we all have some kind of cross to bear, and although mine is an awfully small cross, it feels very heavy and is extremely annoying. I wish all of you the best in the burdens you are carrying, and sincerely hope this does not come across as too much self pity. Each and every one of us deserves better – I hope you all find it!





How To Behave

12 12 2011

Lately every time I pick up a magazine, newspaper article, or more likely read a post from social networks, I find countless tips on etiquette, proper attire, how to behave in every possible scenario I might encounter.

I feel like I have time-warped back to the Fifties. One article insisted that if the invitation calls for “Business Casual” one should only consider dark slacks, a jacket, and a suit coat (khakis were listed as a definite no-no.) Ties were listed as optional.

It was also suggested that if you were not close friends with the host(s), you should research what type of gift to bring as a thank you for the invitation. If you find the host(s) like wine, that would be appropriate – if they enjoy sex toys that require the use of a car battery to operate, I assume that might be a welcome gift – if they are animal lovers, a small petting zoo would be a thoughtful present.

My personal complaint about the revival of new politically correct rules of etiquette is very simple. I don’t give a rat’s ass about what I am supposed to do, or not supposed to do. I don’t need these rules. I think I have enough sense to not bring a menagerie of animals for a gift, and I have never appeared at an event in Underoos.

The fact that people need to follow instructions about their behavior indicates that social networking could eventually take us back to the stone ages. Do we really need to know what not to say; what not to talk about; and how to act around other humans?

I think the answer might be “yes”. I am going straight to Google right now to brush up on my interpersonal skills. I hope I have at least a couple left. Until then, talk among yourselves. A few suggestions: the weather; whether Michael Bolton has the greatest voice ever; where can you still buy Underoos? These topics should keep you busy until it’s time to say goodnight (assuming that is still the correct thing to do.)





The Best Ever KCRiverFest

11 08 2011

KCRiverFest once again lived up to it’s reputation as one of Kansas City’s greatest family-oriented Festivals.  A full-fledged carnival brought a whole new level of excitement to the event; and the free children’s area filled with giant inflatables (thanks to an anonymous donor and private supporter of the Festival) was a huge hit with families of all ages.

Zambelli once again put on a spectacular fireworks display, choreographed with the Shades of Blue Jazz Band (Air Force), and the inaugural lighting of the new Christopher Bond Bridge (photo above)..

The  entertainment by Bradley Gaskin; the ever memorable group Riverrock; and my personal favorite, Julia Othmer, once again brought down the house.  Many other musical performers added to the wide spectrum of musical tastes, and the Americana Stage was a huge hit with the Ragtime and Barbershop Quartet loving crowd.

Thanks go out to all of our supporters – the multiple volunteers who are critical to our success, and of course the Port Authority, the City of Kansas City Missouri, and Friends of the River-Kansas City.

There are far too many entities to thank for all of the coordination that makes this Festival successful, but mostly it is you, the residents of Kansas City and all of the surrounding communities that make this event fun for all of us.

Thanks again for another fabulous year – we have even bigger plans for 2012, and look forward to seeing you again next year!





Most Children Left Behind?

29 06 2011

When I was in school, teachers had curriculum to follow, and much of what I was forced to learn I felt at the time was not important. I believe those teachers understood that it was not what I learned but that I learned how to learn. The things I found boring and useless were interesting and fascinating to other students. Those educational interests are what will lead you to different places in your life. You should be able to think for yourself, find the values in what you know and believe, develop self-esteem, and work in an industry where you can always learn, grow, and prosper. This line of thought led me to examine the pros and cons of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It is more complicated than I would have guessed, but I hope to cover many of the salient points of the topic.

PROS: If all tests are carefully designed to be consistent with the learning expected in every classroom, there should be a distinct connection between curriculum, assessment, activities in the classroom, and most importantly, cognitive learning.
2.) Common standards are important because it is difficult to compare grades across schools and teachers because of local “norms”. A level playing field in education would be the ideal situation – unfortunately this situation does not exist.
3.) Decades of study now show that the quality of teachers’ tests are very weak compared with rigorously developed long-term tests.
4.) One reason the American educational system is failing is because there have not been high stakes for failure. A number of studies have indicated a strong positive relation between high stakes consequences and performance on assessments.

CONS: Standardized tests oversimplify knowledge and do not test higher-order thinking skills. SAT scores between the 1970s and 1980s declined. Why? More students decided to attend college than ever before and they took the SAT tests. This does not indicate a scoring decline, but rather a skewing of the numbers. In fact, SAT scores have been on an upward trend from the early 1990s through the 2000s.
2.) Standardized tests do not take into account the interaction between teachers and their students in the complex social system in todays classrooms. The largest single factor in the problem with our education system appears to be the instability of both families and communities.
3.) Important learning outcomes are simply not measured by standards testing. Standardized tests measure little more than socioeconomic status – administrators and teachers should not be held responsible for scores reflecting what has happened to their charges before. These tests fail to differentiate instruction for different kinds of children, and condemn low-achieving students to learning in an unproductive and boring system.
4.) High-stakes accountability systems create negative consequences: higher dropout rates and lower retention skills, not to mention unethical test preparation/teaching to the test.

My point is simply that the cons outweigh the pros by a very large margin. It is time for No Child Left Behind to go away or change drastically. Maybe this time our teachers and educators can work together to devise a better model for a system. Politicians are obviously not where we should look for this type of direction. One of the principal authors of “No Child Left Behind” was Margaret Spellings, who served in many capacities under George Bush, mostly in the field of education. Ms Spellings has never worked in a school system, and has no formal training in education. In fact, she appears to have less qualifications than I have discussing this very topic.





FOR CLAYTON HUNTER – Sodium Free BBQ

20 06 2011

A great friend recently had open heart surgery to remove something he accidentally placed on his aorta. He has been instructed to remove salt from his diet, with the added stipulation that he increase his protein (meat) intake. I am an avid smoker (not just cigars, but bbq items as well). One of my biggest complaints and challenges have always been the amount of salt in both prepared products and most recipes found published. And so with my good buddy in mind, I set out to create a recipe for a salt free dry rub. it is a little bit on the spicy side (the way I like it), but can easily be toned down to suit your taste. Enjoy and live well – less bloated – and maybe even a little longer.

Salt Free Meat Rub

Just mix all ingredients well and rub into Brisket or Pork (probably works well on Turkey, Chicken, Lamb – whatever.)
6 Tbls. Smoked Spanish Paprika
9 Tbls. Granulated Suger
9 Tbls. Dark Brown Sugar
3 Tbls. Toasted Cumin Seeds
3 Tbls. Chili Powder
3 Tbls. Chipotle Powder
3 Tbls. Fresh Ground Pepper
3 Tbls. Cayenne Pepper
3 Tbls. Onion Powder
3 Tbls. Garlic Powder
2 Cups Salt Free Italian Seasoning
6 Tbls. Ground Jalapeno Powder

Makes enough for two flats of brisket and 6 pork tenderloins.