Nine is just fine (the monoblogue anniversary post)

December 1, 2014 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Personal stuff · Comment 

Well, here we are. Another year, another dollar.

Since the blogging phenomenon is perhaps 15 to 20 years old, depending on how you interpret its history, I would have to guess mine is a middle-aged site. Lots of sites have come and gone in the span of time since I began this enterprise but still I press on. And middle age is a time when the naivete of youth is replaced by both a maturity and a growing awareness of one’s legacy.

Normally when I do this annual introspective I consider a sort of “state of the site” address I have a number of accomplishments from the previous year, but this year was a little different. Unlike 2013, where I made it to regional and national events like the Turning the Tides conference, the David Craig announcement tour where I snagged a great interview, or – the granddaddy of them all – CPAC 2013, the last year was somewhat devoid of real exciting milestones. Those I had were more in the non-political realm, such as my too-brief tenure for American Certified, which allowed me to focus on a topic I enjoyed researching and writing about, or broadening my scope with occasional music and book reviews.

Instead, the main focus was a Maryland electoral campaign which had plenty of blogging fodder and was won by a candidate who was short on specifics but long on money to lend his campaign, at least to start. No, I was not a Larry Hogan supporter early on (although over the preceding two years I’d written about Change Maryland quite a bit) but he won the Republican primary and found a message which won the day in Maryland, reflecting a Republican tide nationally.

Yet just as the national GOP is already beginning to disappoint supporters who want a stiffer fight on amnesty, Obamacare, and the budget, the potential is there for Larry Hogan to fail the conservative movement in Maryland. It will be something that bears watching, and hopefully other outlets which were extremely critical of Martin O’Malley and his liberal, free-spending ways will be equally as quick to keep the incoming governor in line should he falter from a conservative stance. I know Rome wasn’t built in a day and it will take some time to dismantle, but we need to continually move the ball forward against a stiff defense. (One advantage we may have, though, is that Democrats in Maryland aren’t used to playing that way.)

To be bluntly honest, though, the last couple months have been difficult. Toward the end of the campaign I was so burned out on everything that the thought of packing this enterprise in once the election was over crossed my mind a couple times. After all, my direct political involvement was coming to a somewhat disappointing end because I was defeated for one last term on our Central Committee and I thought it would be a little more difficult given my comparative lack of resources to provide the coverage my readers were used to. I still don’t think I’m back at 100 percent satisfied with my work and output as the election recedes farther into the rear view mirror but it is coming along and perhaps being upfront with those who support me will add a few percentage points to that total.

I sometimes feel this site is having a midlife crisis of sorts as it approaches a crossroads. It was great to have my political advertisers – who, by the way, went 3-1 in their elections – but so far none have stepped forward to replace them. While there was a point earlier this year where Salisbury fell to second or third place among the cities which visited this site most, it’s regained its lead as about 1/8 of my audience, and 3/5 of the total comes from Maryland. (Washington, D.C. is my second-biggest city, though, at a little over 10% of audience.) There have been some new, more passive revenue sources over the year, with another potential one waiting in the wings, but as far as direct sales I have long struggled to reach a goal of 6-10 constant advertisers.

Nine is an awkward age for anything. It seems that it takes having a decade under your belt to bring a little gravitas, but you’re no longer the new kid on the block either. I’ve tried a few new features over the last several months but not all of them have taken root and grew, which is a shame.

Still, I am hoping to go into the one-decade mark next year on the upswing in both revenue and readership; the real test, though, will be what kind of time I can devote to the enterprise. I think that shifting gears a little bit and focusing more on overall policy – with emphasis on key issues like energy, manufacturing, Radical Green, and the quest for limited government – will make for a better site than trying to keep up with the doings of umpteen local and state candidates involved in races I’m interested in because deadlines aren’t quite as pressing. We won the election, so now it’s time to win the argument and start setting sound policy.

In the end, if I were to assess the last year of monoblogue I would have to say I struggled to meet expectations, for a number of reasons. As I noted above, though, the passion is beginning to come back and that’s a good thing. I’m beginning to feel more excited about writing something on a daily basis rather than looking at it as a chore just to keep fresh content up.

I know I have a lot of fans out there, so if I have let you down a little in the past few weeks you will hopefully understand why. But I must say that the one consistent site metering system I’ve used over the years is pointing to 2014 being a record-breaking year – perhaps the new high will be reached as this very post is promoted because the numbers between 2014 and 2012 (my previous record) were extremely close. Through the end of November my readership for the year was up 4.8% over all of 2013. Add in December and it may be a 10% hike.

I’m hoping to have a little more clarity in other aspects of my life soon, too, so if that pans out I think things will work out for this site as well. Still, your support, thoughts, and prayers would be appreciated as I begin year ten.

Happy Thanksgiving 2014

November 27, 2014 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comments Off 

As is tradition, I’m sitting here the day before Thanksgiving writing a post for tomorrow morning. I’ve looked through my site to find inspiration in previous Thanksgiving messages and found lots of cultural references, words of advice from my friends at the Patriot Post and from Sarah Palin, and a few holiday leftovers as I essentially recycled the same post for the last few years. And yes, I’ve generally referred to one holiday tradition – my Lions always play on Thanksgiving and (almost) always lose. This year they play the Bears on Thanksgiving for the first time since 1999 and 16th time overall.

This year, though, I decided it was time for originality again. I have a lot to be thankful for as far as family is concerned, and today I’ll see the other half as we go to the in-laws for dinner.

Yet I have an extended family of sorts who reads this site and supports its efforts in many small ways, and I don’t take the time to thank them nearly as much as I should. While this site has been supplanted by social media insofar as immediate news goes – and certainly I take the time to say my piece there as well - I can’t use Facebook or Twitter to write about the things I care about, topics which are important to me. And every so often I run into people who say they appreciate what I do and that they leave my site better informed and entertained. At the risk of stealing a bit of thunder from Monday’s post, which will mark my site’s ninth anniversary, let me just say the fun is just beginning.

I don’t want to keep those who read my site here too long today – this posts in the morning so you can read it in the space of a minute or two and then go on with those things which are really important: your friends and family.

So to all those who have read this space, supported me in some way, or took action based on something I wrote, I want to express my thanks and best wishes. Just don’t forget to thank the Creator who bestows His blessings upon you before you pass the green bean casserole.

P4k

November 5, 2014 · Posted in Bloggers and blogging, Personal stuff · Comments Off 

Those who know me and have some idea of what makes me tick realize pretty quickly I am a numbers guy, and there is just something about round numbers that I like. So every time I turn the odometer of 1,000 posts it’s a big deal to me, and hitting the 4,000 mark is no different than hitting 1,000, 2,000, 2,500, or 3,000. (For the record, the last 1,000 posts took 853 days to compile.)

But today is an interesting day in the life of monoblogue. As you probably know, mine is primarily a state-based blog so I write constantly about Maryland politics. Aside from the first year of this site’s existence, though, I have been on the side which was out of power and had little to no say in the governing of this state. Last night, with the election of Larry Hogan, that all changed. While I’m not going to get into my election observations quite yet – I’m saving that for tomorrow morning’s post – but it should suffice to say that it will be interesting going trying to hold Larry’s feet to the fire.

Unlike the last few observances of Pxk, I don’t really have any earth-shattering news on the writing front. Obviously there may be a subtle change in direction now that I won’t be as active in the state GOP, but hopefully the nuts-and-bolts of a party in power will be relatively smooth and uninteresting writing anyway. (The Democrats, on the other hand – now that could be intriguing as a number of them will be pointing fingers about the demise of Anthony Brown statewide and the shellacking they took locally and many may be lining up for 2018.)

Honestly, I don’t know what part I played (if any) in recent successes, but one thing I do know is that I’m glad campaign season is over. Frankly, the last 2 or 3 weeks was a definite grind writing about the political because I was bored with it. When you figure I started covering this election in earnest about the middle of last year (arguably earlier since David Craig was in the running unofficially since 2011) it’s no surprise that I needed something different to write on.

There are some areas I’m thinking may be included here more, though. Thanks to the exposure of doing American Certified for a few months, I have more interest in the nuts and bolts niche of manufacturing, which is a worthy subject to explore. I’ve also had more of an interest in energy issues recently, in part because the two go hand-in-hand to a great extent.

Yet there’s one thing which has carried me through and that’s the support of my readers. I suppose I would be writing something even if I had five readers a week, but getting the occasional accolades and “attaboys” about pieces I write doesn’t get old. I’m still humbled by the recognition. When I see the Paypal notice about a hit to my tip jar or get the payment from an advertiser (or, as has happened before, a check from a supporter of the site) I’m still proud to have made that impact with someone. Look at it this way – my advertisers were 3-1 in their races.

I suppose if I have remaining goals for this site, they would be to maximize the readership which can be attained from a part-time blogger (who also has writing clients and works outside the home) and make it even more of a profitable enterprise. I’m hoping those political advertisers who helped me during campaign season transition into non-political ones who keep this thing going for the 3 1/2 years we’re not doing the heavy vote gathering.

In less than a month I’ll be starting my 10th year of doing this site, which is longer than many of those who I link to. Maybe I wasn’t in at the ground floor, but I wasn’t too far from the foundation.

Most blogs don’t make it to 400 posts, let alone 4,000. But as long as I enjoy doing it and am able to do so – I just renewed my server for another year – I hope you keep looking in this space for readable and thoughtful political content.

My political ‘will’

November 4, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off 

Next Monday, nearly a week after the election, the time will come to formally bring down the curtain on my eight-year tenure as a voting member of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee. As of now, the plan is to meet at the Chamber of Commerce and have the incoming group elect their chair and officers. It’s a little different than four years ago, but we have a member who is heavily involved with poll watching and may not be finished until late in the evening. So we decided last night to wait a week, although I would have rather gotten it over with.

I originally wrote the following on my (now private) campaign page back on June 12, when early voting for the primary began, and updated it as the days went on so it would come up on the Facebook wall each day. It was intended as my platform for the next four years on the Central Committee but as it turned out I fell a few hundred votes short in my last campaign. The finality hit me the other day as my treasurer and I finally closed the campaign account.

Even though I didn’t get another four-year term, I believe the items which were on my to-do list are ones which should be followed by my successors. There are indications we will have success this cycle, but some of these items should be attempted regardless of the results today.

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Now we’ve begun the actual voting process, the culmination of a campaign which began for me when I filed back in February. I could only imagine how it is to toil for 18 months or more to win a regional or statewide office, and several candidates have gone that long in their quest. The beginning of the end of my quest for a third (and final) term on the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee opened last Thursday morning at the Civic Center when the polls opened.

Bear in mind that, win or lose, my current term doesn’t end until the polls close on November 4, 2014. We all have a single-minded goal to win as many elections as we can for local Republicans, particularly in races where we can unseat longtime Democrats like Rick Pollitt, Norm Conway and Jim Mathias. With that said, while I’m pleased with a lot of what I’ve done over the last eight years, I have some unfinished business I’d like to attend to over the next four.

First and foremost, candidate recruitment has to step up. We have a good team in place right now, but there are some holes we need to fill around the county, and a particular focus for the next four years is finding people willing to participate at the community level in towns like Salisbury, Delmar, Fruitland, and the others around the county. These local elections are stepping stones for eventual candidates, but they’re also the place where prospective campaign managers and treasurers can learn the ropes as well. This even extends to recruiting for other appointed posts such as zoning boards and similar local openings which can use a dose of conservatism. I would like to see a well-connected member of our group be the point person for knowing which openings can be filled and looking for the right people to apply.

A second focus is the quest for an elected school board in Wicomico County. Obviously we can go a long way toward that goal by making a couple changes in our elected officials this year, since Rick Pollitt and Norm Conway have been the roadblocks in place over the last four years. If not, we have to aggressively pursue other avenues such as a petition drive. We believe the county should join much of the rest of Maryland in pursuing that course; personally I think we could model it on our existing County Council districts.

Lastly, there should be better organization at the precinct level. Now that we’ll have an idea of just where precinct lines will be, the next step is to seek out and find local leaders who can work at the grassroots level. It’s a role which can evolve, but as an example when I led a precinct over a decade ago I printed and distributed a quarterly newsletter to my GOP constituents alerting them to candidates and issues we as a party were promoting. Some of us are already developing databases which can be of assistance in this regard.

Don’t forget you can vote for up to nine of us. I can work with any of the other twelve on the ballot, but the key for me is making it into the top nine once again. In 2010 I made it by just 30 votes and I wouldn’t be surprised if things are that close again.

You can make the difference. Ask yourself: what other candidates have spelled out their agenda to such a degree? Only a few of us bothered to fill out the League of Women Voters questionnaire, but I’ve not been shy about saying exactly where I stood on the issues.

So this is my case. I’m asking for and would appreciate your support between now and June 24.

**********

One thing which amazes me still is that we made it through an entire term without turnover, which to me proved we took our role seriously. So the three new members – Dr. Greg Belcher, Julie Brewington, and Dr. Mark Edney, who have all been relatively active in the Central Committee meetings or Republican circles over the last few years – have a tough act to follow. I wish them success.

As for me, there has been sentiment within the group that they want to keep me around as Secretary, which can be done because it’s allowed to be a non-voting position. I could participate and record meetings, but would not have a vote. At this point I’m willing to do so; however, there are a few party-related burdens I have which I’d like to divest myself from and I’ll discuss those with the group in due course.

Finally, it turns out to be a happy accident that I will reach a milestone tomorrow, so after the votes are counted tonight I can take stock of where I am personally and professionally and plan accordingly. I’m sure you will be here to find out.

Buy now, or pay more later

September 30, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Maryland Politics, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off 

Due to the need to comply with the law that states a business with a presence in the state must collect sales tax, for Maryland residents today is the final day of shopping on Amazon tax-free. The opening of a distribution center in Baltimore made the change necessary.

This affects me to a small extent because I’ve been an Amazon Associate site for a number of years. I doubt I would be the one to collect sales tax, but I’m sure my small cut of the action won’t be increased by the extra six percent things on Amazon will cost to Maryland residents. (In fact, government will be making more money than I do in most cases.) In the past, though, Amazon has ended associate programs in states where they collect sales tax, so it’s very possible that this little revenue stream of mine will go away effective tomorrow.  (At the moment, it appears that it will not.) It might be great for people who found a job in one of these Baltimore distribution centers, but those of us who made a little bit of coin in this manner aren’t happy.

On another front, it would be interesting to know how many people with relatives or close friends in Delaware that they visit frequently will be simply slapping their address on the shipping label, although I suppose having a method of payment with a Maryland billing address may bring up the charge as well. Surely we all know someone who went to Delaware to purchase a big-ticket item in order to avoid paying a couple hundred extra dollars in sales tax to Maryland, so I have no doubt people may do the same thing for Amazon. With Delaware being so close and most in this area knowing someone who lives there I would suspect this will become a bit of a trend.

In the meantime, the box on my right sidebar awaits – get while the gettin’s good.

The back nine and the golden moment

September 22, 2014 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comments Off 

I’m going to tell you about my weekend, but I want to tell you a recollection first.

Some years ago, Rush Limbaugh talked about doing a book called The Back Nine. As I recall, it was going to be about the lessons he’d learned and some of the things he wanted to accomplish in the second half of his life. As it turned out he instead decided to pour his writing energy into children’s books and that Back Nine project presumably will stay on the back burner if it’s even still on the stove.

Well, this morning I begin my back nine. Some of you who read this were privy to the clubhouse celebration on Saturday, and you also know a lot more than me about how it came about. One of my friends let me in to the fact there was a secret Facebook group to plan all this, sponsored by my social media maven of a fiance. (Heck, she has more Facebook friends than I do, although not by a whole lot.)

On Friday morning, though, I planned out my weekend of writing. The Weekend of Local Rock segment I posted yesterday was originally supposed to be Saturday’s piece and something else would have gone on Sunday – I would have figured that out. But Friday afternoon I was shocked to see my parents’ van in the driveway – yes, my Depression-era parents came up from Florida to celebrate my half-century.

A few hours later, as we were playing cards, I got a call from my daughter, to whom I jokingly said, you could join the party in 10 hours if you drove down from Ohio. Her and my son-in-law walked in 10 minutes later.

I soon figured out that all the chairs in the garage weren’t spare junk Kim’s relatives were getting rid of and figured we would be hosting many of them the next day. On that count I was correct but there were quite a few others who came by as well – to all I say thanks for sharing the day, even if it was two days early. That’s why Saturday’s post was so brief and cryptic. I was a little preoccupied during the day but I didn’t want to go completely dark.

So today, the actual birthday, is almost anticlimactic. Yes, I will have a blizzard of Facebook notices, but it will otherwise be a day where I run a number of errands. (I am skipping the WCRC meeting tonight, though.)

But turning 50 creates a change in one’s mindset. Not that I could really help it, but I have never liked having a birthday which is regularly the first day of fall because I am a summer person and can’t stand winter. But at least in this locale it’s normally in the midst of a weather period where the days are still summerlike yet the nights are cool and clear, the start of what we call “second season.” Time for the locals to enjoy the beach again.

By that token, perhaps I am getting into my own “second season.” Admittedly, I’m not in the best of shape but hopefully I’m not too far gone to fix it up. I still have a couple decades of work to give, yet have plenty of experience behind me to know how to do things right. In just a few years Kim and I hopefully will have an empty nest, with that young lady successfully making her own way.

So there’s a lot to look forward to. I even get a birthday Google. (I know, so does everyone else, but it is fun.)

Birthday 2014

I have to admit that for the most part my forties were a stormy decade with a great number of challenges and doubts. I’m not out of the woods quite yet, but I figure someone has a plan for me and things will turn out for the best. After all, how many people have a fiance who would go out of her way to the extent she did to plan this event?

So I look forward to my fifties and the start of my back nine. Yes, there are a few hazards I will have to deal with but I figure there’s a reason the 50th anniversary is the golden one.

Fore!

An abrupt change in plans

September 20, 2014 · Posted in Personal stuff · Comments Off 

Well, my plan for tonight was to go down to 3rd Friday and get some pictures for a post. But plans change and I won’t be by the computer a whole lot the next couple days.

So if you want good 3rd Friday coverage, Jonathan Taylor always makes an effort to take plenty of pictures. I also will let you in on a returning advertiser and whatever else comes up in the next 36 hours or so. Just stick with me, the payoff will be worth it.

The final appeal

Tomorrow the vast majority of those who will participate in our primary process this year will go out and vote. While early voting did bring a few to the polls, about 70 to 75 percent of the overall vote is cast on election day, based on previous results. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m on the ballot tomorrow as I run for one more term on the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee.

Perhaps some of the others who are running have spelled out their agenda for the next four years, and we on the Central Committee have a lot to do in the next 4 1/2 months – our terms do not end until after the polls close November 4. I’ll be busy trying to find volunteers for the Farm and Home Show, Good Beer Festival, and Autumn Wine Festival. All these events are important for voter outreach and I have served as a coordinator on all these the last several years, along with being the Secretary this term.

But a couple weeks ago, before early voting began, I wrote a piece on my campaign’s social media page outlining my goals for the next Central Committee should I be fortunate enough to be re-elected.

*********

Now we’ve begun the actual voting process, the culmination of a campaign which began for me when I filed back in February. I could only imagine how it is to toil for 18 months or more to win a regional or statewide office, and several candidates have gone that long in their quest. The beginning of the end of my quest for a third (and final) term on the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee opened last Thursday morning at the Civic Center when the polls opened.

Bear in mind that, win or lose, my current term doesn’t end until the polls close on November 4, 2014. We all have a single-minded goal to win as many elections as we can for local Republicans, particularly in races where we can unseat longtime Democrats like Rick Pollitt, Norm Conway and Jim Mathias. With that said, while I’m pleased with a lot of what I’ve done over the last eight years, I have some unfinished business I’d like to attend to over the next four.

First and foremost, candidate recruitment has to step up. We have a good team in place right now, but there are some holes we need to fill around the county, and a particular focus for the next four years is finding people willing to participate at the community level in towns like Salisbury, Delmar, Fruitland, and the others around the county. These local elections are stepping stones for eventual candidates, but they’re also the place where prospective campaign managers and treasurers can learn the ropes as well. This even extends to recruiting for other appointed posts such as zoning boards and similar local openings which can use a dose of conservatism. I would like to see a well-connected member of our group be the point person for knowing which openings can be filled and looking for the right people to apply.

A second focus is the quest for an elected school board in Wicomico County. Obviously we can go a long way toward that goal by making a couple changes in our elected officials this year, since Rick Pollitt and Norm Conway have been the roadblocks in place over the last four years. If not, we have to aggressively pursue other avenues such as a petition drive. We believe the county should join much of the rest of Maryland in pursuing that course; personally I think we could model it on our existing County Council districts.

Lastly, there should be better organization at the precinct level. Now that we’ll have an idea of just where precinct lines will be, the next step is to seek out and find local leaders who can work at the grassroots level. It’s a role which can evolve, but as an example when I led a precinct over a decade ago I printed and distributed a quarterly newsletter to my GOP constituents alerting them to candidates and issues we as a party were promoting. Some of us are already developing databases which can be of assistance in this regard.

Don’t forget you can vote for up to nine of us. I can work with any of the other twelve on the ballot, but the key for me is making it into the top nine once again. In 2010 I made it by just 30 votes and I wouldn’t be surprised if things are that close again.

You can make the difference. Ask yourself: what other candidates have spelled out their agenda to such a degree? Only a few of us bothered to fill out the League of Women Voters questionnaire, but I’ve not been shy about saying exactly where I stood on the issues.

So this is my case. I’m asking for and would appreciate your support between now and June 24.

**********

I was also one of the few Central Committee candidates to fill out a survey from the state’s League of Women Voters. Bear in mind I had to stay under 400 characters, so it was a tough editing job.

**********

1. Qualifications: How do your qualifications and experience prepare you for the duties of this office?

I have already served on the Central Committee for eight years, currently acting as the Secretary. It’s the culmination of nearly two decades of political involvement both here in Maryland and in my native Ohio. I also serve as the Secretary of the Wicomico County Republican Club, and have been entrusted with a leadership position there for the last several years.

2. Priorities: What should be the priorities of the party?

As a local Central Committee, our most important job is recruiting and supporting Republican candidates for elective office. But a key secondary duty is registering new voters as we try to make this a Republican county. Our candidates should stand for limited government which exists at the level closest to the people, so that local matters are handled here in Wicomico County and not Annapolis.

3. Filling Vacancies: If the Central Committee is called upon to choose a candidate to fill a vacancy in the General Assembly or other office, what would be your criteria for selecting the replacement?

In my time on the Central Committee, we’ve had to replace Page Elmore in the House of Delegates and Bob Caldwell on Wicomico County Council. While the rules are different in each case – particularly in Elmore’s case, where he passed away during a contested primary – the aim is to find a good, conservative candidate who will best represent the people as well as hold the seat in the next election.

4. Open Primary: Would you support opening the party’s primary to voters who have not chosen a party affiliation on their voter registration?

I do not support an open primary. While there are compelling arguments for an open primary, I believe that the closed primary represents an incentive for interested voters to choose a party. Unless the primary is opened up for both Democrats and Republicans so that unaffiliated voters have that choice, the GOP should maintain its closed primary system.

**********

In closing, I should remind voters that many of those who are or seek to be on the Central Committee will be in attendance at the Wicomico County Republican Club meeting tonight. We’ll be meeting at the Chamber of Commerce building, 144 E. Main Street in downtown Salisbury. The social time begins at 6:30 and meeting at 7.

Several members also attend a pre-event Happy Hour at the Cellar Door Tavern, which is located at 111 Camden Street. That begins around 5-ish and runs until around 6:30 – we’re informal like that.

And despite the fact it’s elsewhere on the page, let me note: For items which pertain to my campaign Michael Swartz for Republican Central Committee – Authority: Kimberley Corkran, Treasurer, Michael Swartz, Candidate.

There. Now I’m covered. So if you want to cover the common-sense conservatism space on the Central Committee, I would appreciate your vote tomorrow.

Extra hours

January 31, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off 

Now I know why I couldn’t be a politician.

Tonight I went to a fire company banquet. No, I’m not a volunteer fireman: I attended because my future mother-in-law was honored for 50 years of service to the local ladies auxiliary. But not only was I there, along with a significant portion of this town’s fire company, but so were two local Delegates, the State Senator, and most of the County Council and town commission – oh, and a candidate for Delegate that I recognized as well.

You may read about it in the local news, but the point is multiply that by a half-dozen local fire companies in the county and then add the fundraisers, parades, and other local events where it’s good to have a face in the place and you wonder how the elected officials ever get any sleep. At least the State Senator had a plate of food – which was very good, by the way.

It also impressed on me the sense of community many still feel. Unlike certain political clubs, I noticed a nice mix of ages at this banquet as there were many members of the Millennial Generation in attendance, with most being involved in the fire company. While I was brought up for part of my adolescence in a rural area, it truly was a rural area and not a small town. The closest incorporated community was five miles away from me, although we lived about a mile from a small hamlet of a couple hundred, mostly residents of a trailer park. So I never dealt with the local fire department.

One part of the ceremony was the receipt of several checks from the county, the town, and the ladies auxiliary (which was the largest.) This body of women put together over two dozen charitable events each year for the fire company, a sum which supplemented the overall funding from the town and county. That dedication was echoed in the awards given out to various firefighters who went beyond the call of duty, one taking many extra hours to test equipment vital for the safety of all.

Living in an area which has primarily volunteer fire companies, I’m well aware of the many methods the various small-town outfits use to try and raise funds – anything from renting out the fire hall (pretty much a staple) to selling food by a busy intersection to holding Monte Carlo nights. It’s those events which really take most of a volunteer firefighter or EMT’s time – this small town only had 84 ambulance runs, so it probably didn’t have a vast volume of fire calls. None of the firefighters made it to more than 2/3 of the calls, but I’m certain they did their share for the fundraising.

But I hear a lot from those running for office about making the time to stop by the firehouses as part of their campaigning. I guess I sort of understood the intent, but since I’m not a volunteer firefighter I didn’t quite get the point. Tonight’s event helped in that respect, particularly when you consider they were in session today. Makes for a long day.

While the scope of the work has changed over the years for the colunteers, it’s hard to imagine a small town without a volunteer fire department, and even harder to imagine politicans not gladhanding at their banquets. It was something from which I learned quite a bit.

A toast to a Happy 2014!

January 1, 2014 · Posted in Personal stuff · 1 Comment 

The last time I wrote this sentiment (2007) the year turned out pretty good for most of us, so why not try it again and see if I can bring back that mojo?

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Friends, fellow bloggers, and countrymen:

May 2014 be the best year of your life and the worst year of the rest of your life!

Michael Swartz
www.monoblogue.us

**********

Drink ‘em if you got ‘em.

Wishes for a Merry Christmas 2013

December 24, 2013 · Posted in Personal stuff · 1 Comment 

I’m returning to tradition this year and leaving monoblogue dark for Christmas. Hopefully you have much better things to do with your family than to be reading my website – it will be back Thursday.

Last year I informed you that I work on a peripheral basis with the retail industry, since writing and book sales don’t pay all my bills. This is now the third Christmas I’ve been involved in this, and maybe the “new norm” is that store traffic isn’t spectacular, but steady. Granted, this year I happened to not be working during the days immediately before the holiday so perhaps things picked up at the last minute. Honestly, the only stores which seemed to be doing great business out of those I do were GameStop and Toys R Us, probably because of the recently released PS4 and Xbox One. Seemed like a lot of people were investing in video games.

On the other hand, Best Buy, Target, and Walmart and our local mall were steady but not really as large as I’ve seen before. Of course, Target has its own set of problems these days.

Naturally we still have family and the original reason we celebrated the holiday to begin with as items to fall back on. I’ve noticed over the years that the stuff we buy is generally of a fleeting amusement – things which may eventually find their way to the back of the closet, break down, or otherwise fall from usefulness in a short time. But family is hopefully much more long-lasting, even if what seems to be an annual occurrence of global warming (in the form of a snow and ice storm) made travel to see those family members difficult or impossible. As a native Ohioan, I’m a veteran of a few Christmases where my intent to travel and see family were thwarted, such as the year the plans of turkey with the in-laws turned into frozen lasagna with my parents. 8″ of blowing snow will do that.

Of course, there was a time a couple thousand years ago where we all had a reason for hope thanks to the birth of our Savior, and that’s really what the celebration should be about. To that end, once again for your holiday listening pleasure I bring you my friends from Semiblind doing  ‘O Holy Night’. (You may have to goose the file and start Windows Media Player to get it to play, but it’s worth it.)

Merry Christmas to all of my friends and readers.

Our latest generation

December 23, 2013 · Posted in Business and industry, Personal stuff · 2 Comments 

Despite what many consider a less-than-successful holiday shopping season, there apparently is one category doing quite well. The recently-released Microsoft Xbox One and Sony PlayStation 4 game consoles are hard to come by because they’re flying off shelves worldwide, with both selling over 2 million units according to this New York Times story.

Both are driving customers away from the Nintendo Wii U console, which came out in 2012 but has suffered from “meager sales.” My impression on this is that the serious gamers decided to wait until the new generation Microsoft and Sony products came out the next year, and the kids who seem to be Nintendo’s biggest market moved from their DS handhelds to tablets rather than to the Wii U. (At least that’s the path my fiance’s nephew took.) Our household has a Wii unit which is rarely used – I guess it’s just so 2006 – and the leading gameplayer tends to play on her phone while my fiance prefers a tablet.

This is just a small sample size, though. I want to talk about a trend.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that everyone has a Christmas budget to spend. Given the $499 price point of the Xbox One and $399 retail for the Sony PlayStation 4 – although would-be entrepreneurs who pre-ordered extra units are charging more online, taking advantage of supply shortages – it’s clear that the Christmas lists get a lot shorter for those looking to purchase these units as a key component. Factor in another $100-$150 for games and you may have a sparse-looking set of presents under the tree. Many people went to GameStop or Best Buy to purchase the units and pretty much wrapped up their Christmas shopping in one stop.

To the extent that I don’t participate in online or offline computer gaming, you can call me a Luddite. I understand, though, that electronic gadgets have surpassed actual social interaction as the leisure-time preference of those in the Millennial Generation. Even I’ve fallen into that trap because I spend a good portion of my waking hours sitting in my chair with my laptop, reading or creating more content for you to enjoy.

Yet it’s amazing how far we’ve come in the last century, since leisure time itself is more or less the end result of technological advances in that period. That’s not to say there wasn’t a little bit of time for frivolity in the 1800s, but those brief stretches tended to simply punctuate a life otherwise filled with drudgery and back-breaking toil to keep a family fed, clothed, and housed in a three-room hovel. In this day and age there are still those who don’t have enough food, shelter, and clothing to thrive but the vast majority are pretty much assured of three hots, clothes to wear, and a place to call home. Some of those common household items those in “poverty” own, such as air conditioning, microwaves, and cell phones, might well have been considered living like a king just a half-century ago and still would in many blighted regions of the globe.

Speaking of a half-century, in less than a year I reach the Big 5-0 myself. So I was a youngster when the home version of Pong first came out – the one we received was actually a competitor called Odyssey. We wired this bulky white console to the television in our living room (which was the spare room in our house at the time, since the family watched the other television in the family room) and marveled that we could manipulate that little dot on our screen with the rectangles we could move up and down, even back and forth!

My memory on this is hazy, but my recollection is that the Odyssey was a gift from our parents to the three of us, and probably was the one large item we received that year. Back then we probably opened six to eight presents apiece, a total which included clothes. But we had new clothes to wear, a newly-built house with five acres of yard to play ball on, and plenty of food – definitely your prototypical middle-class family, which for the majority of my childhood had my dad as the sole breadwinner. (My mom began working part-time when I was in middle school.)

The point is that things sometimes evolve in unexpected directions. Aside from the advance in technology, the Christmas we had in 1976 or 1977 when we got the Odyssey isn’t going to be all that different than this year’s edition when the kids find an Xbox One or Sony PS4 under the tree. But the world in which we find ourselves is a whole lot different, because the kids of today may be shuttled to and from the homes of various parental units and generations rather than spending Christmas at one place with the entire family. Mom might have to work late at one of her jobs on Christmas Eve, so no getting up before dawn to open presents on Christmas morning.

I suppose that if there’s anything I wish for this Christmas, I would like to see the next generation of gaming consoles be purchased and given in homes where the family units are strong because people are enabled to enjoy the blessings of liberty in such a way that only one earner is required, and that the decision to have children isn’t one taken lightly as a “choice” rather than a child. I don’t think I was deprived of a thing growing up as I did, even if my mom and dad didn’t always cater to our every whim and money was occasionally tight. We didn’t get all we wanted, but looking back I received most of what I needed. (Some of it you just have to learn on your own.)

The old adage is that the family that plays together, stays together. I suppose it matters not whether the game is Monopoly or on the Xbox, just that the family is together.

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