Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Everything's a Storm

Among the local TV weather mavens, everything's a STORM or a STORM SYSTEM now. They're forecasting one to two inches of snow for Madison today, and it's a STORM, coming out of a STORM SYSTEM that's going to drop five inches of snow up north.

This gradual move to the imperative is driven largely by consultants, who keep telling the TV's that you win or lose based on your local weather. If you can scare people often enough, you can convince them that their lives are in peril unless they're glued to THIS channel to see THEIR weather.
A few weeks ago, the CapTimes published a survey on whether people thought the local weather folks hyped everything, and five of six respondents answered "yes!". This is the sort of information that never seems to reach "the consultants".
One of the local channels goes into STORM MODE seemingly every time the sky clouds up. Madison has always been the epicenter of nanny-statism, and the weather fear-mongering plays well with that crowd. The deep-voiced man on the local TV weather promos assures you that your family will be SAFE if you keep your dial set on this channel.
Ever notice how the word "chance" was abolished from local precipitation forecasts several years ago? They used to say something like "cloudy with a 30 percent chance of rain". The Weather Channel still says "chance"....but for the locals, the word is "risk". The word "chance" was abolished by the consultants, who told the local weather mavens that "chance" is not scientific. "Risk" sounds scientific...and lends much more perceived credibility. Risk is calculated by professionals with college degrees. Chance is what you take in Vegas. So now, there's a "30 percent RISK of rain/snow". Unless you're watching the Weather Channel or a network news broadcast.
After all, your family's well-being depends on watching THIS channel.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Not On The Road Again

This is the first time since...ah...about 1972... that I won't be "home for Christmas". The trek from Madison to the Fox Valley is just too much for me to handle at my advanced age. What would normally take about an hour and three-quarters on dry pavement would be three or four hours of hell-on-ice-and-snow at 35 or 40 miles an hour to get there, spend a few hours, and then do it all over again.

We knew we wouldn't be making the trip since Monday, when the weather mavens said we were in for a double-whammy of snowfalls, on Tuesday and Wednesday, and damn if they weren't right again. It's been snowing to beat the band since 3 this morning and likely won't let up until about 4 this afternoon. I called my sister last night and said we wouldn't be making the trip. She's the family Christmas hostess this year.

Last weekend, we went down to Hammond, IN to visit my wife's family for an "early Christmas". Under the rules, easements, and codicils to Marriage 2.0, we "rotate" spending the 24th/25th with my family and my wife's family. This year was "my" year...and it ain't gonna happen. That trip back up to Madison Sunday was probably the second-worst driving trip I've ever had to make. Normally we'd circumnavigate Chicago on the Tri-State Tollway, then take the NorthWest Tollway up through Rockford and on to Madison. Not this year!

When we woke up Sunday morning, it was five below with a wind chill of 30 below in Hammond. The Chicago weather mavens had a BLIZZARD warning out for the Rockford area....a half-foot of powdery snow Saturday afernoon, and 30-to-40-mile-an-hour wind from the west Sunday - official blizzard conditions. We decided to take the Borman Expressway to the Tri-State, and then just stay on I-94 to Milwaukee, and then make our westward swing to Madison.

It was the right decision, but it was an unforgettable trip. Cars sliding off the road in front of us all along the Tri-State; idiots doing 60 when prudent speed was 35; and the stretch between the Lake Forest Oasis and Milwaukee was sheer hell - white-outs every couple miles and five below zero with howling wind from the west, blowing our fairly large SUV cross-ways constantly. With five people and our dog aboard, it was five hours of just-about-terror.

So, no thanks to another six or seven hours of that, today. That's the bad news. But the good news is, for the first time in our marriage, all of us will be at OUR home on Christmas, and that is a blessing. We'll go up and visit my mom some weekend when it's NOT snowing and blowing like crazy. And the best part of it is....she'd be a nervous wreck if we tried to drive it today - in full mom mode even at age 81 - so, the disappointment of not being there is mitigated by the love and understanding on the other end.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Judge Who Judged Poorly

The judge says the sounds on the 9-1-1 recording would "hurt the investigation" if released. I say hogwash.

The tape is the last call ever made from Brittany Zimmerman's cell phone, moments before she was murdered. It's been widely reported that the Zimmerman family has been actively campaigning against the release of the tape to the media, saying it would be heart-rending every time they'd hear it.

At the core of the matter here should be the clear distinction between what the family and the police want....no release of the tape...and the public's right to hear just what's on the tape that's caused so many people in county government to tell so many different stories about what's on it.

First county officials and the cops said it was nothing...just some rustling. That was shortly after the murder in April. Then when some dweeb at the Madison PD forgot to have the court re-seal the warrants in the case a couple weeks ago, and we learned that there WAS a scream and other stuff on the tape - sound which everybody from the top county officials to the dispatchers' union reps said was NOT audible. Sounds the investigating detectives say ARE on the tape.

Clearly, somebody's lying here.

When the warrants were inadvertently unsealed, the cops poo-poohed it, saying there was nothing that got out, that would hurt the investigation. But now, the judge says there's stuff on the tape that WOULD hurt the investigation.

As the father of a daughter a year older than Brittney Zimmerman, I can empathize with the family. But for the very same reason, I really want to hear that tape. I want to know for myself who's lying here. If it turns out the scream is there...on the tape....a whole lot of people should lose their jobs, from the bottom to the top. I want to know if county officials and dispatchers union people have been lying to me since April about that call.

The cops didn't tell the truth about how the killer gained access to Brittney's home for a month, creating needless fear and worry.

Now, it's quite clear that there are lies being told about what is - and isn't - on that tape. That's why the judge is wrong. It should be released to the media so we can hear it and judge for ourselves about the operation of the emergency communications center we rely on. Few things the county does actually have life-and-death implications. Police, emergency services, and the communications center must be 100% reliable, 100% transparent.

The judge has judged poorly.

Friday, December 19, 2008


This time, the local weather folks pretty much got it right. After the usual two days of pre-storm hype, by last night at ten they had the storm pretty much in their crosshairs. No more ranting about two inches of freezing rain followed by 13 inches of snow. They said it would start at ten and end about nine the next morning. And....the snow ended a little after nine this morning and the Town Plow came through a few minutes ago, around 10:30.

Actually, the "Town Plow" is a big-ass front-end loader, and the man at the controls not only scooped up the foot or more of snow in our little secluded cul-de-sac, but actually back-dragged the snow OUT of our driveway entrance. Those Town of Madison guys have it all over the city guys. (No offense to city streets super Al Schumacher, a friend of long-standing and the hardest working man in Madison today.)

One of the more amusing parts of snowmeggadon was this morning in the six o'clock hour of the local TV news, where one of the local reporters was stationed at the Seminole HiWay overpass at the Beltline Freeway, doing a "live-shot", and warning us in the most dire terms that travel was not recommended and nearly impossible....while we could CLEARLY see the traffic moving at about 45 miles an hour on the beltline, behind him. Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Perhaps he wasn't aware the moving traffic was clearly visible in the background of the live shot.

My wife took advantage of our broadband connection at home and her Blackberry to "work" until the Town Plow came through, and she just headed off to the office on the west side. Ain't technology grand!

As for me....I'll be putting finishing touches on the snow-blowing, and then packing for Chicago and points east, as we head out of town for a few days at sunup tomorrow.

Next time, among other things, I'll talk about the current attitude of "everything's a STORM" apparently held by our local weather corps.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Hot Tub Debacle

When we bought our house eleven years ago, one of the many things that made us decide to buy this particular house was a three-ton marital aid, conveniently positioned a few feet from the french doors of the master suite leading to the deck. The master suite is on the highest level of the four-level home, and the way the home is landscaped this deck is about 8 feet above grade.

I'm referring, of course, to the hot tub. When filled with water, it weighs a little more than six thousand pounds, according to the literature. So it's a pretty sturdy deck, held up by some pretty sturdy timber.

We got a lot of use out of the tub, particularly on those bitter-cold January nights in Wisconsin. Nothin' like a good soak when it's ten below zero, under a starry sky.

A couple years ago in the fall, well past the five-year warranty, the tub went on the fritz, and though I'd drained it and had the best intentions of getting it fixed, time slipped away. When I did get around to calling the hot tub folks the next spring....it was too late. I hadn't completely drained it, which means hooking up a shop-vac and actually sucking it bone dry (who knew?), so when the water left in it froze, it wrecked the pump motor and busted up a bunch of PVC plumbing. Coefficient of expansion, and all that.

The diagnosis was terminal. So I got out my trusty reciprocating saw, cut it into microwave-oven-size chunks, tossed them off the deck to the ground below, and my son and his friend helped me lug the remains to the curb. Down at the Town of Madison Town Hall, they'd assured me the fellows on the truck would pick it up and haul it off, and they did, bless them.

That takes us to the present day.

Last Friday night, my wife went off to a hot tub party with some of her gal-pals. It was that cold Friday night when the moon was as close to the earth as it ever gets, and she came home at midnight saying "that's it...time's up. We gotta replace that hot tub". So we went shopping the next day, and wrote the big check. Delivery and installation set for 8 this morning, air temperature five above zero, giant snowstorm forecast for tonight. As she left for work, my wife said "won't it be great to have that hot tub all set for snow-meggadon?".

Or not. Did I mention we have a complicated architectural arrangement of the two decks on the back of the house....one coming off the dining room, at grade level, with a five-foot-wide set of steps up to the deck off the master suite?

So when the fellows arrived at 8 this morning with the new hot tub on the truck, wisely the crew leader decided to "eyeball things before we schlep this monster all the way around the house". We're talkin' about a 150-foot schlep, from the driveway, around the side of the house, to the rear, onto one deck and then up to the elevated deck. The literature says it weighs 848 pounds empty, so they put down ten-foot sections of four-inch PVC pipe and sorta roll it to wherever it's going.

Mr. Crew Leader took one look at the arrangement in the back of the house, and said "ain't gonna fit. Too wide for that gap.". Even by tilting it on its side, the tub was too wide for the opening between the two decks. He measured it to prove it to me. Both decks have the code-requisite 54-inch-tall wooden fencing around them, so.....to get the tub into place would require:

1. Cutting off the fencing on a six-foot section of the lower deck, to allow them to maneuver the tub onto the lower deck, and then up to the upper deck.


2. Cutting off the fencing on an 8-foot section of the upper deck, to allow access by lifting the tub up to that level and sliding it onto that deck. Even then, you need six strong guys to do this. With me, there were four of us. Three of us met the definition of "strong".

Isn't the definition of a dilemma two choices, neither of which is good?

Suffice it to say there was no sawing-off of the deck fencing. The new marital aid is now back at the warehouse.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

So This Is How "Retirement" Is - ?

At 9:53 AM on Tuesday, November 18th, 2008, I sorta said farewell to 30-some years of radio news writing, anchoring, DJ'ing, talk-showing, and broadcasting in general. Now, I'm a kept man, husband of a phenomenal woman who still gets up and goes to work every morning....and actually seems to like her job!

All my friends said "you should blog"!!! So...here goes. It took me a month to get to this point, so expect a slow start.

I'm usually pissed off about one thing or another, and this shall be a semi-regular account of the things people do to disappoint me or annoy me.

Let the diatribe begin!