Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Crystal Balling it into 2010

Bigger than an iPod Touch, around the size of a Netbook, somewhat similar in size to a Kindle, but much more capable and versatile. There’s an aura of mystery and anticipation about whatever it is that Apple is going to introduce early in 2010, some say as early as the end of January.

Most of the folks who follow this stuff say whatever-it-is will be about ten inches tall, and will have a high-resolution screen. You’ll likely be able to read PDF’s on it, which would be important to the medical and legal professions, and school districts may be able to save on the cost of buying textbooks.

Some have gone so far as to say it’s a “Kindle-killer”, that Steve Jobs is out to put the Kindle to bed without supper and make this new device the last one you’ll ever need to read books. Sony and Barnes and Noble have products that compete with the Kindle, but some techies say the new Apple device will knock them to the curb.

I have a friend back east who knows a lot more about the tech world than I, and he casts a gimlet eye on the Apple whatever-it’s-going-to-be-called tablet. He points out that the young folks are almost always the early-adopters, and it’s not like they’re voracious readers. They can already watch video and listen to music on their smart phones and iPods, and he says they’re not likely to lug around a battery-gobbling tablet or trade in their web-enabled PDA for one.

As a former broadcaster, though, here’s what intrigues me. I keep hearing in the blogosphere that the iTunes store is being revamped, and it’s more than just a facelift. A guy whose stuff I read a lot, another former broadcaster, Jerry Del Colliano, thinks the iTunes store is getting ready for books, newspapers, video and audio blogs, and…..TELEVISION.

Television on a ten-inch tablet?

Be afraid, my friends in the local TV biz. If Apple develops the paid subscription model everybody’s been trying to do, you’re in big trouble. The FCC is already being pushed hard by the purveyors of mobile wireless communications to do away with the entire TV spectrum and auction it off to them, relegating all TV to cable or satellite transmission.

If Apple becomes the paid subscription model for streaming music “stations”, it could either provide local radio broadcasters with a tremendous business opportunity….or, more likely, further damage an industry which has been in self-destruct mode for a long time. The typical radio station cluster in markets the size of Madison spends less than 5% of its budget on developing “new media”. Not the smartest move in the 21st century.

Broadcasters have long said local content will win most wars, but - they’d darn well better figure out how to get their “local content” onto diversified delivery systems in the next year, or pay the price of being a buggy whip in the jet age.


Don't Party Too Hearty Tomorrow Night

Wisconsin’s culture of drinking to excess is probably the most formidable obstacle to bringing our state’s laws in line with most of the rest of the nation. It’s just a guess on my part, but I think a lot of our politicians are of a mind that their constituents don’t really want them to write much tougher laws regarding drunken driving.

And, in the past four years, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign says the beer, wine, and liquor industry spent over 800 grand to buy off the politicians, and predicts that when we have totals for what’s been spent since this past June, it will exceed a million bucks.

You can rent a lot of politicians for a million bucks.

Here’s what the politicians did, though: they made the 4th DUI a felony - but only if it happens within five years of the 3rd offense. They required interlock devices for repeat offenders, and for first-timers who blow 0.15 or higher. They made the first offense a misdemeanor if a child under 16 is in the vehicle. The somewhat stronger laws go into effect on the first of July next summer.

There’s a lot they didn’t do, though.

A first-time DUI offender gets essentially a traffic ticket, unless there’s a child in the car. Not even a misdemeanor. Somebody should remind our politicians that many of our state’s alcohol-related deaths and injuries are caused by first-time offenders.

Anybody want to argue that first-time offenders have driven while under the influence before, but just didn’t get caught? Pretty safe bet.

Remember the loud wail a couple summers ago when cops set up “sobriety checkpoints” in the Windsor and DeForest area? And the hue and cry about “Operation Nightcap” on the Beltline, which they run every blue moon or so? (Wait a minute - we have a blue moon tomorrow night!) 38 states use sobriety checkpoints to try and keep drunks off the roads, but not here.

We independent and stubborn ‘sconnies are always howling about search and seizure, and entrapment, and so on. But the US Supreme Court has never had a problem with reasonably-run sobriety checkpoints. Our politicians don’t have the intestinal fortitude to mandate checkpoints at places where cops say the biggest problems are.

But there’s hope.

The culture of alcohol to excess in our state is slowly changing. In my checkered past, four decades ago, I bent the law many times and was very lucky to have never been caught. But my kids - God bless them - are adamant about walking or taking a cab when they’re at the bars. I hope they’re representative of their generation.

The legislature’s latest effort to curb drunken driving was lukewarm at best. It may take another decade or so to give our laws some teeth. For the families of all those who will be killed or hurt by drunken drivers in the meantime, it’s no solace, though.

Have a great time tomorrow night, but please let somebody sober do the driving.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Homeland Insecurity: Questions

First, why is this terrorist still alive and in some Federal pen in Michigan? Why did the passengers on that flight from Amsterdam to Detroit not beat him to death on the airplane, after he burned his pee-pee trying to kill everyone on board and more on the ground? Why didn’t they give him the martyrdom he wanted?

Second, who is this doofus we have running Homeland Security now? Janet WHO? What kind of idiot says “One thing you have to understand is that the system worked” when it so obviously FAILED on so many levels? Her stupid, unprompted assertion should go down in history right alongside “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job here”. Yesterday, this Napolitano woman tried to back away from her idiotic statement, telling NBC her words were taken out of context. Right.

Third, what kind of idiots do we have running our national cable news networks when they put headlines on the screen like “Terror Attack Thwarted” (CNN) or “Terror Attack Foiled” (MSNBC)? The act of terror was most certainly not thwarted nor foiled. This kid, who was on a terror watch list, got on an airplane bound for America with explosives, and managed to make an attempt to detonate them while on board the plane over the United States. We’re incredibly lucky that his fumbling attempts failed, but it had nothing to do with being thwarted or foiled.

Fourth, what kind of asleep-at-the-switch slackers are running security at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam? Maybe we ought to ruffle a few Netherlandic feathers and send some of our TSA employees over there to check passengers boarding any flight bound for the USA. There are a few TSA employees at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix I have in mind, who could probably straighten things out at Schiphol in about 3 hours. A 23-year-old kid pays CASH for a 28-hundred dollar ticket, and that alone doesn’t “flag” him? Jeez.

Fifth, why are airports in the US now being coerced by the Department of Homeland Insecurity into still more pointlessly invasive “security checks”, when the failure occurred in the Netherlands, not in the US? Will snowbirds headed from Chicago to Orlando for a family vacation or just a few days on the beach now have to be subjected to fully nude inspections and thorough body cavity searches because the Netherlanders don’t know how to run an airport?


Sixth, the kid's father warned authorities he was becomming radicalized against the US. How does he get a visa?

I could go on, but you get the idea.

One ugly sketchy-looking guy tries to make bombs out of his shoes, and now every airline passenger in America is needlessly inconvenienced. We can only carry three ounces of shampoo onto a plane. God forbid you should forget you have a nail-clipper in a pocket of your jeans. We need some far smarter people actually running Homeland Security and coming up with better ways to keep these misguided Islamic jihadists off airplanes.

My wife can keep up with the latest news about the failed terror attack on her iPod Touch - a device only slightly larger than a credit card - while we’re doing 70 miles an hour down the NorthWest Tollway on the way to grandma’s house.
We need minds like the ones that made that scenario possible working on ways to keep terrorists off airplanes.

Taking our shoes off and being allowed only 3-ounce carry-ons isn't making us safer, and it does NOTHING to prevent a competent terrorist from blowing up a plane. Next time we may not be as lucky as we were on Christmas Day.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Adventures In Customer Service

For thirty-some years, most of my income came from the sale of radio advertising. No radio station every made a buck because it gave better news or played the best music; essentially every dollar comes from the sale of advertising.

So I’ve tried to return the favor by spending my money with advertisers. That’s why we spend a lot of our grocery dollars at Miller and Sons in Verona. They’ve invested advertising dollars on this website, some of which have trickled down into my wallet.

They know they’re up against “the big guys”. There’s everything you could ever possibly want in their store, which has come along way from the medium-size operation it was years ago. But they still carry your stuff out to your car for you - every time - and they sponsor local teams with local youngsters, and all that stuff LOCAL businesses do.

If you ever look lost in one of the aisles, as I often do with the list Toni has prepared for me, a friendly store employee will come up and say “whatcha lookin’ for” and help you find it. Those “sons” in the name “Miller and Sons” learned customer service from their dad, who’s a master of it.

But, the last true goddess of customer service, as my wife refers to her, is Lori, who runs the business for the eye doctor my wife and I have been seeing ever since moving to Madison. Dr. Schanel’s office is on State Street, so it’s always a hoot to visit.

A few days ago my wife cracked a contact lens, which happens with sufficient frequency that it’s just a phone call to Lori to take care of the problem. I just have to call and say “left eye” and Lori takes care of it. Toni’s prescription and our debit card number are on file there, so Lori orders the lens and drops it in the mail to us when it comes in.

Early last Wednesday afternoon, Lori called and said “you work out of your home now, don’t you?” Toni’s contact had come in, and Lori said “with the blizzard or ice storm or whatever’s coming, I think the mail is going to be kind of iffy…and you guys travel over the holidays, don’t you? How about if I just call Badger Cab and have them run it over to you? That way you’ll have it for sure.”

Lori should be teaching PhD courses in customer service at the UW Business School.

If you Google “why customers leave”, you’ll find out there’s agreement among marketing experts that somewhere around 75% say it’s because of poor customer service. My wife and I walked out of a big-box sporting goods store a few weeks ago because the “service personnel” were too busy shooting the bull to bother to help us unload well over a hundred bucks. So we went a few blocks away to the LOCAL store - where we really didn’t think they’d have that big a selection - and were pleasantly surprised, bought high-end hiking shoes, and will go back there again.

I was in the UPS store at Pier 37 in Monona last week, shipping off presents. They were busy, and I mean “slammed” busy. But the franchise owner - a local guy - greeted every single customer the minute they walked into the door, and said “we’re busy, but don’t worry, we’ll get to you in just a couple minutes”. And when my turn came, he said “thanks for waiting”.

The very first “boss” I ever had - the late Ray Baerwald, who owned the A&W Drive-In in Hortonville, gave me the best lesson ever in customer service. He said “the customer may not always be right, but they’re always the customer”.

Such a simple concept, but so right.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

And Again: Highly Addictive, Extremely Dangerous

I suppose if a law enforcement officer isn’t paranoid to begin with, a tinge of it eventually comes with the turf. They’re lied to constantly and incessantly. Cops have to develop tremendous “truth radar” if they’re going to survive on the street.

But Captain Charles Wood, a Waukesha County narc who’s also VP of the Wisconsin Narcotics Officers Association, takes it to a new extreme. He’s convinced the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana Act, which is winding its way through the legislature, is a foot in the door to fully legalized marijuana.

Well, let’s hope so!

Wood really let fly with a recent letter to the editor of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, where he calls the Rickert Act a front for the machinations of those wacky dope-smokers at NORML, the National Organization For The Reform Of Marijuana Law. Wood claims our well-intentioned legislators are being duped by the hard-core weed smokers.

About the only sensible thing Wood says in his screed to the editor is “Polls show Wisconsinites are behind medical marijuana. I suggest dropping the word medical and ask our citizenry if we want marijuana”.

Be careful what you wish for, Captain Wood.

He also advances the predictable smoke-screen that if we change our laws in Wisconsin to allow use of medical marijuana, we’ll be “contrary to federal law”.
Heaven forbid!

That’s what you’ve got, Captain Wood? “Contrary to federal law” and the usual fear tactics about marijuana? That’s IT?

You see, Captain Wood, here in America, we make our own laws. They don’t come down from God, Moses, Jesus, or anybody else, on smoking tablets. If we don’t like our laws, we change them. If enough people break the law (like “the great experiment’, prohibition) we just stop enforcing the law, or we dump it.

So, again, be very careful about what you ask for, Captain Wood. I have a sneaking suspicion that if legalizing marijuana ever DID come under serious consideration in this state - or any other - it would pass. If the good, hard-working, taxpaying, God-fearing people of Wisconsin were to be fully and fairly apprised of the actual cost of enforcing the present law, I’m pretty sure I know which way they’d vote.

And, perhaps once and for all, that foolishness about marijuana being a highly addictive and extremely dangerous gateway drug that almost always leads to heroin addiction and death, would finally be put to rest.


Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Four More Years of Bernanke?

Late last week the Senate Banking Committee, on a 16-7 vote, approved another four-year term for Ben Bernanke to head the nation’s central bank, the Federal Reserve. As far as I’m concerned, Ben and his pal Toxic Timmy Geithner can take a slow boat to China.

At least there was enough opposition to Bernanke’s re-appointment to stop it from sailing through the Senate with a rubber stamp, and it’ll take 60 votes, rather than 51, to confirm him.

A Princeton professor who is said to be an “expert” on the Great Depression, he was named by President Bush in 2005 to succeed that ancient and decrepit old fart, Alan Greenspan, who won my “Asleep At The Switch” award year after year when I was writing editorials for WTDY.

Every time the media need to “balance” some economic story, they drag out that miserable old Greenspan and ask him what he thinks. And Greenspan doesn’t have the common sense or decency to refuse comment. He’ll prattle on about anything.

Greenspan and Bernanke have been wrong about just about everything for the past decade, and while I understand “Person of the Year” status from Time Magazine is to recognize someone who’s been very much in the news - I remember back in 1979 when the Ayatollah Khomeini got the nod from Time - I really think the editors blew it by picking Bernanke.

Just like John McCain The Elderly, who couldn’t remember how many houses he and his wife owned when asked the question by a reporter during the Presidential campaign, Greenspan and Bernanke were absolutely clueless about the gathering storm clouds of the housing/mortgage crisis.

In fact, I believe McCain’s now-infamous “the economic fundamentals remain strong” statement as the mortgage and financial industries collapsed was cribbed from Bernanke.

If he hadn’t so totally misjudged the impending economic crisis, Bernanke could have taken steps to soften the financial collapse. Bernanke, Geithner, and their Wall Street cronies are certainly not the team to lead economic recovery.
Bernanke is not without his supporters and cheerleaders, and I’m not just talking about President Obama. Plenty of powerful politicians and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce think he’s the man.

Not all is lost, though. There’s still hope that the Congress will summon the intestinal fortitude to pass legislation to expand Uncle Sam’s power to oversee the Fed and put some effective curbs on the greed that still runs rampant along that famous little street in Manhattan.

If Bernanke gets his 60 votes in the Senate and another four years at the helm of the central bank, better hedge your bets. As Bette Davis said in one of my wife’s favorite movies, All About Eve: “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night”.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Avatar: A Winner

The Hollywood hype for James Cameron’s new movie “Avatar” started months ago. He hasn’t done anything “big” since “Titanic” 12 years ago, but movie fans loved his work on science fiction adventure films like Aliens and a couple of the Terminator movies.

So, when the buzz started about Cameron doing a hugely expensive sci-fi film to be released in late 2009, movie fans started salivating. Rumor was that he had essentially an unlimited budget, and that he was going to set a new standard for CGI - computer generated imagery.

When the trailers for the movie began appearing a couple months ago, the deep-voiced announcer said Avatar would “change the movies forever”. I’m not sure if Avatar has changed movies forever, but it’s sure set a new standard for movies of this sort.

I saw it late Friday morning at Marcus Point Cinema, on the Ultra-Screen. I decided NOT to see it in 3-D, because I think most of the 3-D stuff out there today still hasn’t moved past the gimmicky stage. I wanted to see Avatar on a big screen to see if the CGI was really that much better. The 3-D would be distracting to me.

My son took his girlfriend to see it in 3-D yesterday afternoon…to the tune of 37 bucks….but said it was well worth it, and suggested that I go back and see it in 3-D.

Suffice it to say, Avatar does not disappoint.

It’s long, with a run-time of two hours and forty minutes, but it doesn’t drag. The plot keeps moving forward. The story-line is formulaic: evil militaristic humans versus peaceful forest-dwelling aliens, but there are enough twists and turns to keep you interested.

The integration of actual digital photographic images with the computer-generated images is astoundingly good, better than anything I’ve ever seen before. Cameron really has moved the industry forward with this movie, and set a new standard.

The opening sequence, aboard a space-ship about to arrive at the strange and distant planet called Pandora, and the establishing shots inside the nerve-center at the human base of operations on the planet, will amaze you with high-tech wizardry.

The final battle scene, a long sequence which seems to be a combination of Star Wars, Apocalypse Now, Aliens, Jurassic Park, and Terminator, is extremely well-done and a fitting climax to the movie.

The blizzard back east will probably hold down the total money-take of the film’s opening weekend, which seems to be the scorecard by which all movies are measured these days, but the word-of-mouth is going to be good and it will make a lot of money. Opening weekend worldwide was around 250 million dollars.

One more thing - the new “memory foam” seats at the Marcus Point Cinema are a pleasant addition. From the coming attractions to the end credits, your butt will be in the seat for the better part of three hours, and it’s a lot easier to take with the new seats.

Now, if Marcus could just catch up to Star Cinema in Fitchburg and add reclining seats….


Friday, December 18, 2009

E-Z Way To Make A Billion Dollars

My friend Steve sent me a link to an article by Henry Blodget from The Business Insider, showing how easy it is to make a billion dollars these days. There’s really only one tricky step, but other than that, it’s just follow the steps and collect the riches.

First, form a bank. Anybody can do it. Just a bunch of paperwork. Second, round up a bunch of your unemployed or under-employed pals to be “bankers”. The next step is the tricky one, but if you’re of average IQ and have above average drive, you can do it. You have to raise a billion dollars in equity.

You do that by showing this plan to fat-cat investors, and odds are they’re greedy enough to want in. You’re doing all the “leg-work” and they’re just along for the ride.

Next, now that you have your billion in equity, borrow 9 billion more from the Fed. Toxic Timmy Geithner will let you have that amount at an annual cost of one-quarter of one percent.

Now you take your ten billion and invest it all on 30-year Treasury Bonds, which pay 4.45%. All that’s left now is to sit back and watch the cash flow in. You’ll be earning around 400 million bucks a year, unless the Fed raises short rates. But they don’t have the backbone.

Pay your “banker” pals (from step 2) huge salaries for all their “hard work” and then - it’s BONUS TIME!!! The industry standard is 50% of revenue, so you’ve got a $200 million dollar bonus pool. Give each of your underemployed/unemployed friends…ah, I mean, “bankers”, a million dollar bonus, and keep all the rest for yourself.

Look at all the jobs and value you’ve created! You’re an economic engine!
If you really want to play the Wall Street game and get greedy, take your venture public. You’ve got no risk on your balance sheet - you’re invested in T-Bonds - so sell a quarter of your “bank” at the standard 20-times earnings, and BAM! You’ve just made a billion dollars.

Use your billion in new equity to start the whole cycle over. In a few years, you’re a multi-billionaire.

If you feel lucky, start gambling on things more risky than T-Bonds. You’ll be able to find a lot of guys who used to work on trading desks at places like Enron, AIG, Goldmine-Sachs, and so on, to help you cook up some really far-out things to gamble on. And to create bets on bets (derivatives) to really leverage your butt and get the BIG money rollin’ in!

Don’t worry about the risk.

The taxpayers will bail you out, and you can start all over again….just like in the real world!


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jeronne Maymon: Man-Child

He's six feet, six inches tall, and weighs 250 pounds. A big young man, but not at all unusual for Division One college hoops. Today, Jeronne Maymon may get his official release from the athletic scholarship (an oxymoron if ever there were one) granted to him by Marquette University.

The freshman's dad tells a State Journal reporter things "ain't working out".
Maymon was a part - let me say that word again - part of the Madison Memorial High basketball team that ended its past two seasons in the state championship game. He was recruited by no less than five Division One schools, and chose Marquette.

Now, he's fired Marquette.

They didn't let him play the position he wanted to play, and they didn't give him enough playing time. His dad says Coach Buzz Williams didn't design their offense around his boy.

My, my - whatever happened to the old saying "there's no I in team"? I know. There's no I, but there is a "me".

Anyone who doesn't understand that Division One athletics is a cutthroat business that chews people up and spits them out can stop reading right now.
Marquette hoops coach Buzz Williams had precious little to say Monday when he told the media Maymon was quitting. But earlier in the season, he said of Maymon "He's got to work every possession. When he figures that out completely, he's going to be really, really good. He hasn't figured that out yet."

Jeronne went to see his alma mater host Verona Tuesday night, but wouldn't talk to reporters. Apparently his dad is doing all the talking now.

I have two words for young athletes who let family members do their talking (and negotiating) for them: Ron Dayne. At least the free-agent football player is picking up a few bucks doing ads for a local hot-tub dealer and hawking his book, "The Dayne Game".

I have an idea that it must be very hard for young athletes, who've been pampered and treated specially all their young lives, to realize that the world does not revolve around them. College freshmen, no matter how heavily recruited, do not set the agenda or determine the lineup or game plan for the team.

He who thinks he is indispensable often learns the hard way, he's not.

Old geezers like me are given to mouthing clich├ęs that start with the phrase "the kids these days", followed by a rant about how much tougher life was when we were younger. One thing the kids these days seem to think is the most important thing is "respect". God forbid you should "disrespect" a young person.
Back in my day, respect was something you earned.

Apparently a lot of young people have confused "respect" with civility. Or maybe my idea of respect is vastly different from theirs, which to me seems synonymous with "admiration".

Good luck, Jeronne Maymon. Perhaps you and your dad can find a Division One team that admires you more than Marquette.

Anybody wonder if Vander Blue is re-thinking his commitment to Marquette?


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let The Salt Fly!

First of all, I don’t give two hoots about snow, even the 18 inches that fell on my back yard last week. I have a giant gas-sucking all-wheel-drive SUV that has the best snow/ice tires Tom Holmes could find. I used to have to be on-the-job at 3AM, when the plow jockeys were taking a well-deserved break at Perkins on the Beltline. And I was never late, summer or winter.

Second, since when is a blizzard that was predicted DAYS in advance a time to “experiment” with how the city is going to deal with plowing the streets?

Third, Mayor Cieslewicz says if he had it to do over, he'd do the same thing again. Oh, really? The Italians have a word for that: testaduda. Head of wood. STUBBORN. And, wrong.

Fourth, we're conducting a top-to-bottom review of our policy on plowing in LATE DECEMBER? How about October - or April? Now?

You’d think Dave Cieslewicz was from Miami, not Milwaukee. Fire Chief Amesqua is from Tallahassee, but she’s been up here long enough to know better. And Streets Superintendent Al Schumacher is a native Madisonian.

Disclosure: Al Schumacher and I have been good friends for years. His daughter and mine were big buddies all through their years at LaFollette High and they roomed together during their years at UW-Madison. Al worked his way to the top of the department he’s been a part of for three decades.

I have absolutely no proof, but I suspect when Cieslewicz, Amesqua, and Schumacher and their top lieutenants got together last Tuesday, Al was forced to do a lot of listening and not much talking. He’s been keeping this city’s streets in DAMN good condition since taking the reins several years ago. There’s grousing about the streets on the isthmus, but, what’s new?

Year after year, the city adds more miles of streets, but does Al get more plows? Nope. He’s forced to make due with what he’s got at his disposal. But he has to follow the orders of the Mayor.

A week after the blizzard, local talk radio and the blogosphere - including the Mayor’s blog - are still abuzz about the debacle. The mayor’s latest blogpost is titled “Bilandicked”, a reference to the Chicago mayor who got ousted after a monumental failure to plow the streets after a blizzard.

Former Mayor Paul Soglin’s blog, WaxingAmerica.com, is filled with intelligent post-blizzard give-and-take. One of the points hizzoner eloquently made: what's better - keeping some salt out of the lakes, or having thousands of cars idling for hours, pouring carbon emissions into the air?

If you've even driven in Minneapolis or St. Paul - across the border in the land of ten thousand lakes - following a huge snowfall, you know the streets are white. Not with snow, but with salt. The way the Beltline looked Thursday - bare pavement, lots of salt residue.

So the "experiment" of plowing the itty-bitty streets and not concentrating on keeping the main roads open is over, and it has FAILED, by any definition or metric.

Next time the sky-is-falling crowd on TV tells us there's a blizzard coming, and Mayor Cieslewicz gathers his team, a suggestion: let Al Schumacher do more of the talking, and have the Mayor and Fire Chief do more of the listening.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mysterious Disappearance

When’s the last time you had to fax something to somebody? I had to do it a few weeks ago, and was surprised that the business that I was dealing with wouldn’t let me scan the document and e-mail it to them. I suspect in a few days I may have to fax my property tax bill to my mortgage escrow company, unless this year they’ve become enlightened enough to allow me to do it via e-mail.

Fax machines were the rage in the 80’s and 90‘s. Remember that crappy paper you used to have to use - the stuff that would get all curly? Plain-paper fax was the next big step, but now - it’s so, well, so 90’s to fax anything.

For about 50 bucks today, you can get a half-way decent machine that will scan your documents, photos, or whatever to JPEG or PDF files, and with a few more clicks you can send whatever you’ve scanned via e-mail. To use a fax machine at home, you pretty much need a land-line.

Do you have an answering machine? That’s another thing going the way of the five-cent cigar and the buggy whip. Nearly every telephone service provider will give you voicemail for a couple cents a day, whether it’s a land-line or wireless phone.

How about a phone book - do you still have one of those monstrosities around your house, in a place where you can actually get at it? For professional reasons, I had to have a land-line re-installed in my home a month or so ago, and a couple days later AT+T dumped about 30 pounds worth of paper on my front porch. Phone book. Dinosaur.

While we’re on the topic….how about the Rolodex? Got one on your desk at work? Didn’t think so. Everything’s electronic now, and any decent computer office program has a “contacts” function that’s superseded the once-ubiquitous Rolodex.

Here’s something else that’s rapidly disappearing…the folding paper map. Even if it’s not built into your car, GPS is available on so many devices now that paper maps are becoming a thing of the past. Unless you count printing out directions from MapQuest or GoogleMaps on your computer.

When I lived in Los Angeles a couple decades ago, I carried a couple big, thick, spiral-bound Thomas Brothers maps with me everywhere - one for L-A County and one for Orange County. Seemingly everybody had a Thomas Brothers map. The business electronics firm I briefly managed back then sold them like hotcakes. They were about 30 bucks apiece. We also sold a lot of fax machines.
And we sold photocopy machines. We were an Adler-Royal dealer, and back around 1985 Adler-Royal did a survey and found that the word most frequently associated with “photocopier” was “jam”.

We also sold “typewriters”. Remember them?

One more thing I hope is on the road to obsolescence is stamps and envelopes you have to lick. I buy only the “forever” stamps, and only the kind that you peel off and stick on. And I buy only the “self-sealing” envelopes. I hate slicing my tongue open on those things! Maybe someday the greeting card folks will get the message.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Information, Please

Where you go for information about severe weather may be a function of how old you are. If you’re my age, and can remember dinosaurs roaming the earth, it may have been radio or TV. But if you’re a generation younger, it was more likely you got more “real” information from the internet or your cell phone.

Nobody expects the newspaper to have the latest up-to-the-minute news about changing weather and road conditions, but they try hard to keep their website updated. The three local TV news stations were good until about 7, when they have to join their network programs, and are relegated to a few minutes at half-past for a quick local update. But they run updates on the “crawl” above or below the picture.

Local radio tries to cover breaking and developing news, but news staffs have been downsized so much in the past year the handful who still draw a paycheck doing radio news are stretched too thin to be of much service. On Wednesday morning, after 7 o’clock, WIBA-AM was doing its best to keep current, my old pal Sly on WTDY-AM was railing about Penelope Trunk’s latest outrageous statement; and the “music” stations were doing “frequent updates”.

Local radio is useful in reporting school closings, if you’re listening at the right time; the TV’s run the school closings in a continuous crawl at the top or bottom of the screen; and several of the broadcast stations have the closings (or, “closures”, as several of the TV anchors now say) on their websites.

Radio or TV is likely where parents get school closings, but the younger set has a new-age workaround: the cell phone or the social media website. Your kids probably found out school was closed via text message from a pal, or when they logged onto their Facebook or MySpace page.

It amuses me to watch the development of how electronic mass media are dealing with the sea changes taking place. A couple of the local TV stations ran live chats, on their websites, for people to exchange information, and ask questions. Actual example: “Will there be trash pickup tomorrow?” Response: “We’re looking into it”. Gee, thanks.

Various local radio and TV stations now offer “breaking news” updates via cell phone messages or text blasts. Everybody’s trying to be everything to all people on all delivery platforms, and it’s creating some interesting scenarios. Quite a few people I know said they got more of what they wanted to know from Twitter, Facebook, and their smart phone.

When Apple comes out with its new tablet some time next year, it’s liable to be a huge leap forward. Word is it will be a PDF reader, iTunes player, video player, internet surfer, Apple aps runner, Kindle-killer, you-name-it. It will further change a world where a third of us DVR TV and watch it when WE want, discover new music not through radio but on the internet, and consider our cell phone our most important personal electronic device.

Since I’m not usually an “early adopter”, I’m going to have to keep scrambling to keep up. But it’s going to be a fascinating story as it develops


Friday, December 11, 2009

Grothman The Grinch

Quick: who’s better at fake outrage - politicians or talk-show hosts? Macht nichts, as my mother’s mother often said.

Glenn Grothman, a Republic from West Bend (Rush calls it the “Democrat Party”, so I’ll return the favor with the “Republic Party”) is outraged about WHEDA spending 14 hundred bucks on flowers for its employee Christmas party.
I know, they call it a “holiday party” in Madison.

WHEDA is the state agency that helps find low income housing for the poor. A week ago today Grothman, who’s on the WHEDA board, sent a super-snotty letter to the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, calling the expense ree-donk-you-luss.

He suggested the money would have been better spent as a donation to the Salvation Army.

And, for once, instead of kowtowing and groveling, the folks who run WHEDA essentially told Grothman to blow it out his…..bee-hind. Not one cent of taxpayer money was used.

Hurray!!!!

Grothman is one of the many people who apparently think government employees should be exempted from the perks and motivators connected with any similar job in the private sector. He grumbles about the “waste of taxpayer money”.

He should know better. Grandstander!

As I understand it, the folks at WHEDA aren’t state employees in the same sense as plow truck drivers, prison guards, and state senators and their staffs. WHEDA doesn’t take money in taxes from the state. It sells bonds to raise the money to run the operation, loaning money to low-income families and boosting economic development. WHEDA charges fees like any other lender. They run a 25-million-dollar budget.

Disclosure: my wife and daughter both work for UW-Health, so they’re “state employees”.

State employees deserve the same kind of perks and motivators that private-sector employees do. It annoys me no end when I hear whining about some state or municipal employee going to a convention, whether it’s in Boise, Beaver Dam, or Bora Bora. So what?!

And if said state/municipal employee at a convention elects to spend some of those “taxpayer-paid salary dollars” at a local night-spot, to take in a play or performance, dine at a fine restaurant, or buy some memento of their visit, I’ll join the local Convention and Visitors Bureau or Hotel Association in thanking them for stimulating the economy.

Every worker needs incentives, whether they earn their pay with their head or their hands. The attitude that “government employees” shouldn’t keep up with the latest thinking at a convention, or be given a night out on the town for a job well done, is just plain wrong.

I wonder how the Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau feels about their state senator’s attitude. I’ll bet The Flowersmith, Bits ‘n Pieces, Blossom Florists, or any other florist in Grothman’s home town of West Bend would love to take an order for 14 hundred bucks.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Good Neighbors



They say we’re often at our best when things are the worst. The blizzard that struck Tuesday night wasn’t really a “natural disaster”, but it did show us who’s boss. Snow totals varied around the area, but we got just under 21 inches in our south suburban Madison neighborhood.


We decided to tackle the job of clearing the driveway at first light, after we’d had a few cups of coffee and scanned the local TV stations to get a feel for how the storm was being handled. For my money, Channel 27 had the best coverage early on, with reporters stationed all around town doing “live shots”.


We live on a secluded cul-de-sac of seven homes, built about a dozen years ago. We’ve known all our neighbors for years. It’s been a stable neighborhood. Abby and Tim just bought the house across the way, and we got to meet Abby for the first time as she was shoveling out their driveway yesterday morning.


First up in the morning are usually Dean and Deanne, who live two doors away. We’ve watched each other’s kids grow up. Dean’s the kind of guy who can fix anything mechanical, and anybody in the neighborhood who’s got a car problem asks Dean for his advice, which is top-notch and freely given.


Dean was out there at oh-dark-thirty blowing his driveway clean, as my wife and I sat on our butts drinking coffee and taking in the news. Later, when we went out to start the snow-moving task, he drove past in his huge Dodge Ram pickup truck, checked our welfare, and did another round of snowblowing on his own driveway. That's his big red Ram truck in the photo above, behind the tree.

Back in the early part of the decade when I was hobbling around with a cane, before I had my hip replaced, Dean would come over with his ATV - complete with snow blade attached - and plow out my driveway. He’d never take a cent. I did try to make sure he was never short of beer, though.


Toni and I put in about a half-hour of snow removal at 7 o’clock and took a break. The phone rang, and it was our next-door neighbor Cecilia calling to make sure we were “provisioned” for the storm. She and her husband Anthony are two of the best neighbors you could ever wish for. We watch each other’s houses when we’re on vacation, loan each other stuff, and just get along swimmingly.


Speaking of hip operations, the first day I was home from the hospital in 2001, Anthony and Cecilia were the first people to visit, bearing food and gifts, wanting to know if there was anything they could do to help me re-hab. You couldn’t find better people anywhere. Anthony’s snowblower is much bigger than mine - and I can’t count the times he’s come over after a huge snowfall to pitch in.


And my good neighbors Sam and Tara next door the other way are another great couple. During the years when I had to leave for work at 3AM to get to the radio station, Sam would often be over with his big snowblower at 6 AM to make sure Toni got out of the driveway and off to work OK. Sam is a wizard with power tools, an accomplished cabinet maker. He’s lent his expertise to everybody in our tiny little neighborhood.


Tom, across the way on the other side of the cul-de-sac, has shared with us the fruits of his huge garden year after year. Nobody grows tomatoes and peppers like Tom. Daphne and James own the house two doors to our east, and when we moved in 10 years ago, Daphne was the first to welcome us to the neighborhood.
We’re lucky. We’ve got great neighbors who watch out for each other, help each other, watch out for each other’s children, and enjoy each other’s company. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, but I still think we’re pretty fortunate to have such wonderful neighbors.


It didn’t take a blizzard to make me aware of how good we’ve got it. My neighbors seem to be at their best no matter what.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snowmeggedon (2)

They were right. It's a real old-fashioned blizzard. I had to shovel a couple feet of snow off the back deck at 5AM so the dog could do her thing. But I'm still grumpy about how the local media handle "big weather".

Apparently, the operative presumption is that we are very, very stupid people, incapable of foresight or the capacity for rational action. This assumption explains why we are inundated with inane stories in the local broadcast media about being careful on the roads, carrying several weeks’ supply of food and water with us if we venture out, and the general nannyism for which Madison is famed.

A cell phone with a charged battery pretty much covers it these days. Unless you’re stuck in a line of traffic on the interstate and goin’ nowhere for 12 hours. Or, did they fix that problem?

Five minutes of watching TV this morning was enough to terrify the weak-minded.
Whenever there’s snow coming - and these days, EVERYTHING is a “storm” - the cycle begins long before the weather portion of the local news broadcasts. In the case of a storm like this one, which really is a storm, it becomes elevated to an “event”. One of the local stations transitions to STORM MODE; one of the others drags out that tired old story about taking bottled water and candles in your car.

Yesterday early afternoon, one of the local newsies was posting on one of his social media sites that the ante had been upped to EIGHTEEN inches of “the white stuff” on the way. I posted that I’d heard it was going to be 42 inches.

Confessing that I am an old curmudgeon with no tolerance for being talked to like I’m a moron, I acknowledge that the broadcasts are not targeted to me. These four-act plays they run every time the sky clouds up in the summer or a snowfall of more than 2 inches is expected tire me. It’s like a meteorological version of The Damnation Of Faust (with apologies to Berlioz).

First they seduce and abandon us (like poor Marguerite); then warn us of the demons and spirits that lurk in the storm; and then they redeem and save us.
I believe all the good folks really care about is whether or not their kids’ school is open, and when the snow will end. I’m just going to go ahead and assume that plows are out and it’s dicey out there. It would be news if plows WEREN’T out and roads were NOT horrid.

If I was in charge, I’d send camera crews out into the storm in old beater cars to CAUSE wrecks. There’d be some dandy video! I’d have them ride along with the plow jockeys and be sure the camera is rolling when some idiot pulls out in front of the plow. Colorful audio there, no doubt.

I’d have the reporters stake out the entrances to ER’s, lying in wait to catch some fat old fart like me coming in on a gurney after attempting to shovel too much snow at once.

Instead of a “live blog” - which is really a chat, not a blog - I’d have some young reporter try to hack into the e-mail server for the National Weather Service, to see what they really knew - and when they knew it - about the “blizzard”. Be more interesting than the “live blog” for the socially inept.

I’d send somebody over to Edgewood or the UW to find a sociology professor who could assure us that the “blizzard” is having a disproportionate affect on the poor and minorities. Now that’d be really “Madison”!!!!!!

But, that’s why I’m not in charge. I’d have waaaay too much fun with this “deadly snow event”.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Snowmeggedon!!!!

I'll be very busy today, desperately laying in supplies, boarding up my windows, chopping more firewood. Far too busy to post anything of substance.

You see, I've been watching the local TV news. It would appear that the end is nigh.

I can only hope we make it through this storm, which may be the worst in recorded history.

Tomorrow, I'll have some tips to help our brave local newsies get through the harrowing day.

Meantime, be afraid. Be very afraid. And whatever you do, don't leave your home after 3 this afternoon. You may never make it back.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Settled Science?

A lot of my acquaintances are going to hate me for writing this. As far as global warming is concerned, I’m an agnostic. I’m not sure if it is, or isn’t. But a substantial number of the people I know are not only convinced, they’re nearly militant about insisting Al Gore is right.

I think he’s wrong. And now, with some of the “science” behind it falling apart, or at least coming under serious question, he’s strangely silent.

Do I think the climate is changing? Yes. It always changes. It apparently goes through long cycles.

One thing I do know for sure is that science is not at all about consensus. At the end of the 19th century, all his fellow scientists and surgeons thought Joseph Lister was bonkers. He’s the man who discovered bacteria, but when he talked about it, the scientific community of the day said it was settled science: high death rates in Glasgow hospitals were caused by an invisible, stinking miasma in the air.

Sound familiar?

Some of the biggest “names” in climate research are in trouble, after somebody hacked into the e-mail servers of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia northeast of London. The Washington Post says Phil Jones, the director of the CRU, is stepping down. US News and World Report says Penn State professor Michael Mann is in hot water with his institution.

Jones and Mann are two of the biggest names in climate research, and it appears that they are not very scientific in their methods. They’ve been caught trying to quash the work of anybody in the climate research community that doesn’t agree with them.

Science, like medicine, puts great faith in “peer review”. That’s so somebody’s wild, rogue speculation doesn’t become “settled science”. It has to be reviewed by a group of peers. And it appears very clear that when it came to peer review, Jones “peer-reviewed” Mann’s work, and vice-versa.

The e-mail flap has led to literally thousands of Freedom of Information requests from the media, to take a look at the data, methodologies, and supportive evidence behind CRU’s publications.

Al Gore’s 2006 Oscar-winning PowerPoint presentation, An Inconvenient Truth, has been excoriated by reputable scientists. Two minutes of doodling around on the internet will net you a whole mess of unsettled pseudo-science in the Gore presentation. I get the idea that Gore is in it to generate speaking fees and sell books. Really.

The capital-T Truth about global climate change is still very much unsettled. Truth in something so complex will not be easy to come by.

The scientists who were caught trying to stifle disagreement about climate research have done a huge disservice to their cause, and to the reputation of all scientists. It’s not a holy duty imposed by Al Gore. It’s science. It’s not consensus.


Friday, December 4, 2009

Porn and the Family Council

Porn is an industry where they exaggerate the size of everything, says David Klatell of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. Pretty nifty turn of phrase for an academic.

Juliane Appling, who along with her merry band of gay-haters runs the Wisconsin Family Council, is just out with a “comprehensive” study which she says shows how porn threatens marriages, children, communities, and individual happiness.

The guy who did the study, Patrick Fagan, PhD., says porn is addictive. He works for a Washington think-tank. He says viewing porn releases dopamine. Bingo - addiction.

They stop short of saying porn causes train wrecks in neighboring states, fires in orphanages, and may have been behind Tiger Woods’ recently publicized “transgressions”.

But they do say porn is a major threat to marriage, family, children, and the community.

So, how pervasive is the porn industry? Not anywhere near as much as the industry would have you believe. There are widespread claims that it’s a 10- to 14-billion-dollar-a-year enterprise, but, as the good professor said, this is one of those claims that’s wildly exaggerated.

So is the claim that adults spend 4 billion dollars a year on renting or buying X-rated videos.

Since it is an “industry”, there are some believable numbers out there, and a Forbes Magazine/Adams Media study says the closest you can get to an estimate on the real amount of money spent on adult videos is somewhere between half a billion and 1.8 billion dollars a year.

The same attempt to put numbers to the porn industry says there’s about a billion dollars a year spent on downloading porn from the internet, about the same amount is spent on porn and soft-porn magazines, and about 128 million a year on pay-per-view porn.

Meanwhile, back at the Wisconsin Family Council, Appling claims in their Wednesday news escape that she “knows thousands of Wisconsin marriages and families (which) have been ruined by this insidious industry”.

Indeed. Thousands.

Plenty of my former colleagues in broadcasting referred to their workstation computer as “the porn machine”, but it was a joke. A somewhat dated NetRatings study showed news websites get about 41.1 million unique visits per day; finance websites rack up 34.2 million daily visits; greeting card websites account for 25.5 million hit’s a day, and porn sites….22.9 million daily hits.

It takes more than what’s left of the broadcast industry to rack up 23 million hits a day, so the online porn biz is doing OK.

One more gem from the “talking points” about the study on the WFC website: “Child-sex offenders are more likely to view pornography regularly or to be involved in its distribution”.

In writing workshops, we used to call that sort of talking point “stating the obvious with a sense of discovery”.

But, if anybody can save us from pernicious porn, it’s the Wisconsin Family Council.


Miss Vicki, The Katherine, and Coincidence

How wondrous our local media in this season of joy. Thursday afternoon, Miss Vicki (as the BlaskaBlog calls her) held forth on WIBA-AM, shreiking at Sheriff Mahoney for not "supporting his deputies" during the big contract dispute.

Of course, Sheriff Mahoney, as an elected official, is forbidden to electioneer or advocate as regards the deputy's union, which earlier in his law enforcement career he led.

But subtleties like FACTS are often the bane of talk shows.

Then, at 6, on News 3, it was obvious that Andy Choi drew the short straw in the newsroom, and he had to go out and stand in the snow in front of the Beltline, to prove that it was indeed snowing and that the first snow of the year again wrought havoc upon the communters.

My wife used to be forced to do this inane story. I feel your pain, Andy.

Then, a bit later in cast, they did a story about The Katherine bemoaning the county's horrid financial situation....no money...toughest budget since the great depression and all that...acknowledging that as many as 20 of the county deputies could be laid off.

The very next story - The Katherine, all smiles, at a news conference announcing that in her largesse she was granting my long-time pal Barry Levinson TWO HUNDRED THOUSAND of the county's dollars, as a loan, to help him improve his famous Mustard Museum. Barry just moved it from Mount Horeb to Middleton.

Am I the only one who sees the irony here, or, is it just "coincidence" the stories ran back-to-back?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bankers With Guns

I had to check it out for myself. A blogger whose stuff I frequently read posted something the other day about upper-echelon types at Goldmine Sachs - I know, it’s really Goldman Sachs Group Inc. - arming themselves with handguns.

Could it be that the barons of Wall Street are actually scared of a popular uprising against them, after they looted us, fleeced our Treasury, grabbed the bailout money, and still go around handing out obscene bonuses to themselves?

You bet.

Alice Schroeder, a respected financial author and journalist who does a blog for Bloomberg.com, found out that senior execs at Goldmine Sachs are applying in droves to the NYPD for permits to carry pistols. Schroeder discovered that one of her friends had just written her first-ever reference for a gun permit, and it was for a Goldmine Sachs banker.

The NYPD would confirm only that many of the top dogs at Goldmine do have pistol permits, but declined to name names, and said a large number of pistol permits for Goldmine execs were pending.

Our worst nightmare - city-slicker bankers with guns!!!

A few days ago, just before the start of the annual gun deer season, I wrote a rant about, among other things, the true hunter’s nemesis - a city-slicker from Chicago, invited up to Wisconsin by a client for the thrill of the hunt, armed to the teeth with a high-powered rifle and enough ammo to sink a ship, and absolutely NO training or experience with firearms.

Bankers with pistols is a horrible scenario. According to the FBI, of shootings involving a handgun, most happen at a range of seven feet. And you’d be AMAZED at how many people MISS a target seven feet away. And at how many people freeze at the moment of confrontation.

My younger brother, who got the same excellent firearms training that I did from our late father, a highly-decorated WW2 combat infantry veteran, got his start in the world of high finance working for a Denver bank keeping their high-rollers happy. He’d take the rich guys elk or bear hunting, and more than once had to step in and make the killshot when the client was paralyzed with fear.

He got to be good friends with a lot of rich people by keeping his mouth shut about what actually happened.

Any experienced hunter, whether they’re carrying a .243 or .308 Winchester or a Browning .30-06, basic Marlin or top-of-the-line Weatherby, can drop a deer with one shot easily at a hundred yards, and likely can make one shot count even at the 200-300 yard range.

But a banker - in the city or at home in the Hamptons with a 9mm Glock he’s never fired? Or maybe cranked off a few rounds at a practice range or at some weekend commando class, paid for by the company?

Be afraid, be very afraid.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Unsolicited Advice For Tiger

Tiger Woods has made nearly a billion dollars, some of it on the golf course, most of it endorsing products. Nike alone pays him about 30 million a year to haul their clubs around the course, wear their clothes, and sport their logo.

Everybody from local sports columnist Andy Baggot to my YourNews colleague Bill Wineke to ESPN's Michael Wilbon says Tiger doesn’t owe anybody an explanation about the now-notorious fire-hydrant-and-tree- smashing incident late last week. Private matter, they say. Between Tiger and his car insurance company, I guess. He’ll pay a ticket of $164 for careless driving; case closed.

My wife had a similar reaction to Wineke’s when learning the vehicle involved was a big, black Cadillac Escalade. He was a pitchman for Buick, wasn’t he? I pointed out to my bride that last summer, Buick pulled the plug on the big paychecks to Tiger to cut costs. He played in the world’s last Buick Open golf tournament anyway. No hard feelings. Bailout money doesn’t cover celebrity endorsements.

As of this writing, his biggest single paycheck-issuer, Nike, says they’ll stand by their man. Tiger won’t lose a dime in endorsements because he’s a bad driver, pun intended.

Unless it’s because the accident followed a nasty domestic battery incident, and that’s the kind of stuff the new mainstream media….TMZ and Entertainment Tonight…will dine on. There’s no evidence of that, though it won’t stop the gossip websites and shows from implying it.

Baggot and Wineke and the others are right: Tiger doesn’t owe us any more of an explanation than Barbara Lawton does for her abrupt pulllout from the Governor’s race.

But both of them handled the situation quite poorly.

Just as the Lawton pullout has fueled everything from the malicious gossip of a Green Bay talk-show host to a search of her official e-mails trying to find a clue about why she quit, Tiger’s silence is deafening.

All he’s said, officially, is that the accident was solely his fault. Did anyone believe or allege otherwise? He’s said the horrible rumors aren’t true. Which rumors?

Because he’s the top-ranked golfer in the world, sports writers and commentators give him a break when he slams a club in anger or drops the F-bomb after a bad shot. He’s expected to win every tournament he enters, and pressure like that nobody needs. But, that’s what you get when you’re on the verge of being the only athlete-billionaire around.

So what should Tiger have done? He should have lied his rear end off, the American way.

He should have called some reporter pal (like Brett Favre calling Greta Van Susteren) and said “I had a sleepless night going, was really tired, pulled out of the driveway to take in the night air, and somehow hit the gas instead of the brakes. Next thing you know I’m in the middle of the lawn half stunned, with my wife trying to get me out of the car. I feel like a dope. I guess I’d better leave my driving to the golf course for a while.”

I was lied to for thirty years in the news biz. I’ve heard them all. I know the difference between a convincing lie and a bad lie. If you’re reading this, Tiger, I’m available to consult, on a fee basis.


Thing is, though, that my suggested lie doesn’t explain why Rachel Uchitel made a quick trip to L-A and lawyered up with Gloria Allred…..that wasn't just for PUBLICITY, was it????

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Private Lives; Public People

It was a week ago Wednesday that local TV news anchor Sarah Carlson had a very public incident involving an affliction she’s made no secret of: epilepsy. Toward the end of Channel 15’s morning news broadcast, the personable young anchor had a seizure on-air, and was taken to the hospital.

Sarah’s OK, and when I called WMTV they said she was doing fine and would soon be back on the air.

The station confirmed an outpouring of concern for her from the viewers, and a lot of folks took time to send her electronic get-well wishes. Although we may have never actually met the folks we hear giving news on local radio and TV stations, we often feel we know them. Anybody who’s ever been “in the biz” can tell you about how many times they’ve been approached by folks they don’t know.

I’ve known Sarah since her days as a radio news reporter and anchor for WIBA-AM, and have been a guest in her home. She is just as nice, friendly, and personable in “real life” as she appears to be on TV.

She’s been on the Channel 15 morning show for the past three years, and was diagnosed with epilepsy about a year ago. In her role as health reporter for the station, Carlson has reported and blogged about epilepsy. She’s on the board of directors for the Epilepsy Foundation of Southern Wisconsin.

Carlson has done a lot, personally and professionally, to help raise awareness - and money - to help fight the disorder, which affects more than 50 thousand Wisconsinites.

I’ve often said the default position for TV is “excess” - with so many reporters and producers trying to wring every possible amount of emotion from any story. The old adages “if it bleeds, it leads” and “if it cries, it flies” are more true today than ever before.

That’s why I was surprised that our local daily newspaper - The Wisconsin State Journal - apparently asked for a copy of the video of Sarah having the on-air seizure. I didn’t think the paper would play that game, since there’s nothing educational about seeing a TV anchor have a grand mal seizure on the air. It would be pure voyeurism.

According to the article, Channel 15’s News Director, Chris Gegg, “declined to provide footage of the incident, citing privacy concerns“. If I’d have been in Gegg’s shoes, I would have flatly said “none of your business”. But then, the reporter would have whined about how it happened in public, and the people have a right to see it, or some such pabulum.

I hope Sarah is back on TV soon. I “scan the band” of local TV news outlets every morning, and always spend a few minutes watching Sarah, Charlie, and Christine.

If the local paper is looking for disturbing TV footage, perhaps they can link to the video of the expensive homes falling into Lake Delton during the flooding a couple summers ago. It’s a sure bet the TV stations will drag out that footage again this June.

Or they can hound Tiger Woods for the REAL story…..


Monday, November 30, 2009

Fighting The Good Fight

Who better to fight for the baby boomers than a baby boomer? On the first Monday of 2010, Nino Amato will take the reins of the statewide non-partisan advocacy organization for the aging, the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups - CWAG. Those of us who are aware of the fine work this organization has done call it “See-Wag”.

I broke bread with the personable Madisonian a few days ago, and there’s no doubt that he’s full of energy and ready to rumble. And his plate will be full at CWAG. He’ll run a staff of 23, including seven lawyers, fighting for things like health care reform, low-cost prescription drugs, consumer protection for the aging, making sure we can afford our energy bills, and other critical issues.

Not tasks for the faint of heart.

But Amato has a track record of success in getting things done, and is uniquely qualified to head this important organization. His resume includes stints as a health care executive with Meriter Health Services and as a member of the University of Wisconsin Hospital Authority Board. He knows the ins and outs of the issues and challenges of health care.

Energy costs are of huge concern to senior citizens living on fixed income, and Amato was President and Executive Director of the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group, and a Senior VP with Wisconsin Power and Light.

Throw in stints as President and CEO of Forward Wisconsin, membership on the UW Board of Regents, and President of the Wisconsin Technical College System Board of Directors, and you’ve got some idea of how well-rounded and accomplished Amato is. Lots of experience, lots of connections.

There are 76 million of us baby boomers. We’re facing challenges just as our parents did, and a few they never imagined. The recession has decimated our 401-K’s and made retirement a guess, rather than a plan. We’re likely to live longer than our parents, and we’re deeply concerned not only about their health care, if they’re still living, but for our own.

Never has there been a time when it’s more important to have effective advocacy for our concerns. CWAG has a three decades of history, standing up for us, making our voice heard by lawmakers and regulators, and helping those whose voice may not otherwise be heard.

Amato has deep roots in the community. He has graduate and undergraduate degrees from the LaFollette School of Public Affairs at the UW, and if you’re as old as me, you’ve probably dined at the restaurant his parents owned here for years.

CWAG is headquartered here, on the east side, but has nine district offices throughout the state representing over 400 groups. When Amato starts his new position on January 4th, his reputation for not side-stepping difficult political issues will come into play immediately.

One of his favorite sayings is “Many small people, who in many small places do many small things, can alter the face of the world”. It’s a piece of graffiti from the collapse of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago.

There’ll be no shortage of walls to scale…or break down…when the start of a new year brings the start of a new challenge for Nino Amato.


Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Almighty Shopping Day Is Here

Every year on this day I play a game. I count how many TV people will mindlessly parrot the old saw about this being the busiest shopping day of the year. It’s not, and hasn’t been for decades. The Saturday before Christmas is the biggest shopping day of the year, according to the National Retail Federation and the International Council of Shopping Centers.

But TV folks are more about showbiz than facts.

Last year, a Wal-Mart employee was trampled to death when Black Friday doorbuster sales began. TV loves to show those crowds of folks stampeding into the stores. Makes for great “visuals”, as they say in the biz.

Oh, it’s a busy shopping day, to be sure - and store traffic will be high - but anybody’s who ever endured that Saturday-before-Christmas mess will tell you which shopping day is really the “busiest”.

Two years ago in Madison on the Saturday before Christmas traffic was so bad the Westbound Beltline exit to Gammon Road was backed up to Seminole Highway. But that was two years ago, when credit-card fueled spending was out of control. Now - not so much.

That’s why retailers are nervous.

Black Friday means different things, depending on who you are. Originally, Black Friday was an insider term, a piece of jargon shared by cops and retail employees, referring to the horrible traffic and the incredibly rude customers.

That phrase got spun by marketing consultants who wanted to put a more positive tone to it, saying it was the day the ink on the ledger turned from red to black.

Now, everybody and their brother advertises “Black Friday” specials.
So, where does Black Friday actually rank in terms of dollar volume of shopping? In the past fifteen years, the highest it’s been ranked is #4 (2002), and the lowest (in ‘93, ‘98, and ‘99) was 8th. For a handful of stores, particularly smaller stores, today will be their biggest day. But the big-box mass retailers know the real bonanza is yet to come.

But there’s nervousness and fear in the air this year. 93% of shoppers surveyed by the Associated Press say they will spend the same or less this year. Four out of five shoppers this year say they’ll be using cash, not credit, to buy presents, and that usually means buying less. Credit card shoppers are far more impulsive.

Consumer spending is the single largest driver of overall economic activity, so what happens today at the malls and stores will be very important in determining how the economy bounces back from the worst recession in 70 years.

Has it come down to “as Black Friday goes, so goes the economy”? No, but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear somebody on TV say it today or tonight.

There’s always Cyber Monday….but, that’s a different story.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Beware Facebook "Friends"

I spend about a half-hour a day on Facebook, partly because a lot of my friends are “newsies” like me, and they post links to interesting news articles. Such was the case last week, when a Facebook friend from Appleton, who was also a newsroom colleague of mine years ago, posted a link to a story in the LaCrosse Tribune.

LaCrosse cops are “friending” UW-LaCrosse students, going through the photos they’ve posted online, and then busting them for underage drinking, based on the photos. And the cops are going about it in a very sneaky way.

Why would a 19-year-old college boy/man agree to a Facebook friend request from a cop? Because the male cop not only used a female name, but also used the photo of an attractive young woman as his “profile picture”.

LaCrosse cop Al Iverson freely admits his deception. He used the identity ruse to become Facebook friends with 19-year-old UW-L student Adam Bauer, went through Bauer’s photos, saw one with Bauer holding a beer, and then ticketed him for underage drinking.

Officer Iverson did the same thing to several other UW-L students. The arrest report Iverson wrote up claims Bauer admitted to underage drinking, but Bauer denies it. However, he pleaded no contest to the charge and will pay a fine of $227. The other students similarly caught are doing the same thing. Plead it, pay it, grumble, move on.

Cops say social networking sites like Facebook are fair game, because posting photos of drink-fests glorifies alcohol consumption and binge drinking. Cops also use social networking sites to try and catch sexual predators.

I joined Facebook a year ago, after getting an invitation from a personal and professional friend of long-standing who’s one of the best reporters on the staff at the Wisconsin State Journal. A few days later, my wife joined and set up her own Facebook account, after crawling around on my account and being amazed at how many folks our age had a Facebook page.

We soon both got “friend invitations” from our son and daughter, who’d been on Facebook for years, since their undergrad days at the UW. We accepted - and then quickly “un-friended” our own children! TOO MUCH INFORMATION.

My wife and I had a brief chat about it, then talked to the “kids” (they’re both in their mid-20’s now) about how there are many aspects of their private life that we prefer NOT to know about.

My wife, in her motherly fashion, spoke with both of them about the kind of status updates and photos they post. The standard “nothing on the internet is private” speech. I think it’s safe to say we have a very, very different concept about “privacy” than they do. It’s one of those things parents do, that falls on deaf ears, but….you’re parents for life, and ya gotta do it.

And that’s part of the “problem”. Different standards. The college students ticketed for underage drinking in LaCrosse seemed amazed and indignant that the cops would use their PUBLIC internet postings to bust them.

Are my wife and I Facebook friends? You bet. We got married because we were best friends for years, and we have no secrets. We’re parents, and friends, to our children…but real friends, not just Facebook friends.

There ARE some things better not known.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

She's Mad As Hell

Terri McCormick strolls into a bar, sits down, greets bartender Jim - and launches into a soft-pedal rant about career politicians and the insiders who run things in government. In case you haven’t seen the video, it’s easy to find on YouTube. She’s gearing up for another run.

As I was born and raised in the Fox Valley, I’m still moderately interested in the political wars up there. But the most interesting thing about McCormick’s video to me, is trying to figure out which bar she used to shoot the video.

I’ve patronized more than my fair share of drinking establishments in the Fox Valley, but don’t recognize the venue.

If you watch the video (part one - it’s mainly a big tease for part two) you’d never guess that McCormick is a magna cum Laude graduate of UW-Oshkosh, who also holds a Master’s Degree. If you ever heard any of her various rants while she was a member of our state legislature, you’d never believe she’s a highly educated woman.

Ya see, up dare in da Valley, dey talk difernt talk.

McCormick was elected in 2000 to represent part of the Fox Valley in the state legislature. The way the politicians have gerrymandered the state’s voting districts, she represented the largely rural part of the Valley west and north of Oshkosh, skirting around Appleton, Neenah, and Menasha, all the way up to Bear Creek.

She served three terms in the legislature, and left of her own accord. Big fan of term limits. Now, she’s got her sights set on the seat again. When she ran against that Pissant John Gard in 2006 for the U-S Congress seat in the Valley, to say she got creamed would be an understatement. My friend Barry Orton mentions this in his excellent post about McCormick on Paul Soglin’s blog.

Right now, Steve Kagen holds the 8th Congressional district. It’s ten thousand square miles starting in Appleton and running north and west through Green Bay all the way up to Vilas County. Big chunk of real estate, including Peshtigo, home of the Pissant (John Gard).

I’m no fan of Steve Kagen. I was a patient of his, spending tons of money in his Oshkosh allergy clinic for two and a half years back in the early 80‘s, paying for those bogus injections in an attempt to mitigate my horrid allergies. I got much better two weeks after I finally fired him, but he went on to make a fortune pedaling his snake-oil remedies - enough money to beat back the Pissant and take the Congressional seat.

And for a Democrat to win in the Fox Valley, it takes a pretty big checkbook.
But I’ll tell you this: I’d far, far, far rather have Steve Kagen representing my mom and three of my siblings in congress than that horrid Pissant Gard. Too bad he's "out of politics".

It’ll be worth the time just ta hear dem two arguin’ wit each udder, and dat ain’t just da Lienie’s talkin’!!!!


Monday, November 23, 2009

Bailing Out The Overture Center

More than a decade ago, back in 1998, Madison businessman Jerry Frautschi made an absolutely stunning announcement. He was going to give the city an unbelievable sum of money - eventually totaling over 205 million dollars - to build a performing arts center.

No city this size in the world has ever been the recipient of such a huge gift.
Now, what they said would never happen is imminent. The taxpayers of Madison are perilously close to being liable for paying 2 to 3 million dollars a year to keep the Overture Center running. We midwesterners don’t subscribe to the old saying about not looking a gift horse in the mouth. And Madisonians analyze and debate everything.

So when Susie Bauman, who was Mayor then, said the taxpayers would NEVER be on the hook for the Overture Center, a lot of folks were skeptical. That was to be expected, though. This is Madison.

Trying to explain the intricacies of the financial maze that’s behind the Overture Center without causing you to stop reading and leave this website is a challenge I’m not up to, so I’m hoping that you’ll take my word that it is hopelessly complicated. The organizational structure and financing have been re-done many times in the past decade, trying to keep the Center afloat.

But now, for the first time ever, the outfit that runs the Overture Center, a separate entity called “Madison Cultural Arts District”…MCAD, has an operating deficit. They’re out of money and out of reserves. They’ve burned through all of Jerry Frautschi’s original gift, and another five million he generously put in a couple years ago when the Center faltered.

The bottom line is, the Overture Center has to drastically change the way it operates.

Once again, the arts mavens are going to meet with the financial mavens, hoping the bankers will forgive some of the debt, and approve still another round of financing to keep the doors open.

I’m not smart enough or conceited enough to make suggestions. This is a hugely complicated problem which doesn’t have a simple answer. And as snarky as I can be, I’m not as snarky as some of the people who’ve posted comments about the Overture Center on other websites.

Other communities our size have had decades of “base-building” and fund drives before they could afford to build a performing arts center. So it’s happening backwards here. We got the center; but we really don’t have a firm base of patrons and supporters.

Perhaps, in the final analysis, we were not “worthy” of the gift. Maybe Christmas came too early for Madison.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Deer Hunters: Be A Narc

As one who was raised in the great Wisconsin tradition of going out for a slog in the woods with a high-powered weapon to kill Bambi, I laughed out loud when I came across the news release from the DNR . They want hunters to be on the lookout for drug-growing operations as they search for the elusive 30-point buck in the woods over the next nine days.

Remember the story I did about a month ago, about how 78 cops of various sort spent the day on the Navarino Wildlife Refuge up in Shawano County, after getting a tip that there was highly addictive and extremely dangerous marijuana growing there? Some small-game hunter saw a couple shacks and the remains of a huge marijuana growing field, and tipped the narcs.

Of course, they got there after the good weed had been harvested and processed, but managed to pull a couple stragglers out of the ground and proclaim it a successful bust.

Now, the DNR wants anybody out there hunting during the nine-day gun deer season to be on the lookout for “anything suspicious”. They warn us not to put ourselves in any danger, but if we spot something suspicious, we should back out the way we came in, and then when we’re safely away, write down the location and any other observations, and call the cops.

After all, a 30.06 with a sight or a 12-gauge is no match for a 9-millimeter Glock, or an Uzi, or an AK-47, or whatever weaponry the pot-growers might have.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that if my youngest brother, who is an accomplished sportsman and conscientious hunter, spots a grow operation, the narcs will not be notified. Being the oldest of the three brothers, I would probably proffer a different suggestion.

But that’s just a hypothetical, ya know.

A lot of my Madison pals don’t understand this hunting thing at all. I always get a charge out of the guy who ties a dummy dressed up in blaze orange on the hood of his car, and drives around town. OK, point made, in a humorous way. You don’t like hunters. Save Bambi.

My dad taught all three of his sons how to hunt. He was a decorated World War 2 vet, combat infantry, who knew his way around a firearm or two. And the first thing he taught us, before there was any talk of hunting, was firearm safety. Between my dad, his brother, and my grandpa, who was a law enforcement officer, they had enough handguns, shotguns, and high-powered rifles to equip a formidable contingent.

The first rule we learned was that the gun is ALWAYS loaded. No matter what, there was absolutely NO horseplay with weapons. And when we earned the privilege of buying a license and hunting with dad, safety was always the number-one consideration. Always be SURE you’ve got a clear shot, and that there are NO hunters anywhere near your target.

I never worry when I’m around my brothers with firearms. We know what we’re doing.

What do I worry about? The city-slicker investment banker from Chicago, who’s been invited up to Wisconsin by a client, to join him for the thrill of the hunt. No gun? Don’t worry, we have plenty. No license? We’ll getcha one Friday night. No training? Don’t worry, nothing will happen. Famous last words.

So be safe out there, hunters.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Gimme A Double Cheeseburger

There’s a fight going on between the second-largest hamburger chain in the world - Burger King - and the company’s franchise owners, who control 90% of the chain’s 12 thousand locations.

It’s all over the cost of a burger.

The franchise owners are suing the King over its one-dollar double cheeseburger promotion, saying they’re losing money on every one they sell. The franchisees don’t want Burger King to have total control over where they set their prices on menu items.

The dollar-deal went nationwide about a month ago, even though the franchise owners had twice rejected the deal because of the expense involved. Burger King says its research shows the dollar double cheeseburger deal will draw more people into the restaurants, and they’ll spend more money.

Franchise owners say the math just doesn’t work.

So how much does it really cost to make a double cheeseburger? According to the lawsuit the franchisees filed, and franchise owner Dan Fitzpatrick of South Bend, Indiana, it’s $1.10. If you add up the cost of the meat, the bun, the cheese, and the other toppings, it’s about 55 cents. Half the total. Fitzpatrick says the other half covers typical Burger King expenses, like employee wages, rent, royalties, equipment, advertising, and the other standard costs of doing business.

When Burger King introduced the dollar double cheeseburger, they were hoping it would lure more people to come in and eat there. They had hopes it would boost business by 20%.

You’ve seen the ads on TV….fast-food restaurants are slashing prices to try and get us to come back. Even the national burger chain headquartered here, in Sauk City - Culvers - has just started advertising a four-dollar meal deal. It seems everybody from the number-one chain, McDonalds, to the smallest local outfits, are advertising some sort of low-cost deal to drum up business.

But a fast-food analyst for Deutsche Bank told the Associated Press that as much as half the gain in business from increased traffic could be lost, because we’re simply spending less when we order food.

The poor economy has hit the fast-food business as hard as every other kind of business.

If the fast-food industry had to rely on people like me for business, they’d be broke. I’ll stop at a fast-food place two or three times a month at most. I’ve tried the pricey new Angus third-pounder at McDonalds, and I like it a lot. But for my money, the butter-burgers at Culvers are very hard to beat.

By the time the Burger King suit has wended its way through the federal court system, the fate of the dollar double cheeseburger will long since have been determined. But it’s interesting for me to learn that the actual cost of the product, all told, is a buck-ten. I thought it would have been higher.

I may stop in and try one of those dollar double cheeseburgers…..before the promotion ends!


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Finding A Job When You're 60

It was one year ago today that I was summoned to the office of the Chief Financial Officer of the Mid-West Family Broadcast Group, a company I’d been a shareholder with for 30 years, and in front of two witnesses in a 7-minute meeting, I was handed my walking papers.

The Monday after Thanksgiving I handed the papers to my lawyer, and she took over. Six weeks later, the legal battle was over, and I won a (sealed) settlement. A week after that, I started my next life as a self-employed writer and landed a huge project. And started this blog.

So, when I read the account of Elizabeth Miller of Merrimac, which just made the papers late last week, I was keenly interested. She was 59 years old in April of 2007 when she was applying for work as a grant writer. She’d been working as a grant writer for the past ten years.

On a conference call with two employees of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, she finished the phone interview with them, hung up, and then went to make another call. When she picked up the phone, she heard the two still talking about her. According to Miller, they were guessing that she was about 59 or 60 years old.

Miller says she heard them say a lot of employees at InterVarsity were about 59 or 60 years old, and would be retiring in five years. Miller says the two agreed they didn’t want to add to that problem by hiring her, so they decided to call another woman and interview her for the job. That woman was 29 years old and no grant writing experience.

So they hired her.

As you might imagine, Elizabeth filed a federal age discrimination lawsuit. InterVarsity will have its day in court with Elizabeth, and InterVarsity’s spokesman - an old friend and former fellow broadcaster Gordon Govier - says they’ll present their side, and thinks they’ll win.

Not if Elizabeth is telling the truth, and a jury is involved. Slam dunk.
My termination at Mid-West had nothing to do with my age, and my lawyer never alleged that it did. I was 59 years old, but it was house politics. They said it was the economy. The other guy that was fired that day was 52. Another long-time shareholder and employee. When they whacked us, they knocked a huge chunk off their payroll. That much is certain.

Even if Elizabeth Miller wins her suit against InterVarsity, she’ll still face the same prejudice if she looks for work. It ain’t easy being 60 and trying to convince a 20- or 30-something human resources person you still have a lot to offer.

But, like any other prejudice, most folks can be pretty good at covering it up. And that’s the hard part. You know it’s going on, but you can’t prove it.

Truth is often not that easy to come by. And even if you uncover it, it may not “set you free”. Sometimes uncovering the truth is very expensive.

As the lawyers say, bring a big wallet, and prepare to lose. Good luck, Elizabeth.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nose As Long As A Telephone Wire (Liar, Liar....)

Our newest state Supreme Court Justice, Michael Gableman, ran an ad in his campaign accusing sitting Justice Louis Butler of causing the release of a convicted rapist, who went on to molest another child. This was back when Butler was a Public Defender. The ad called Justice Butler “Loophole Louie”.

The ad was a lie. A complete, total fabrication. A few “true” statements stitched together in a way that created a lie. Whether or not the ad was a lie is not even an issue. Even the three-judge panel tasked with coming up with a recommendation on how to deal with Justice Gableman admits the ad was a lie.

It’s just that they apparently don’t care.

The three judges late last week issued a report recommending that the Supreme Court dismiss the ethics complaint against Justice Gableman. Even though the three judges admit that Gableman’s “Loophole Louie” ad stacked a series of statements together in a completely false and deliberately misleading way, they say it’s OK.

If you or me or any other regular person pulled that kind of crap during a police investigation, we’d be charged with obstructing justice. Pull that kind of crap in a courtroom, giving testimony, and you’ll be charged with perjury.

The state’s largest-circulation newspaper, The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, titled its editorial lambasting the three-judge panel “A lie is a lie is a lie”. The paper’s editorial board came to the same conclusion that any reasonable person would, namely, that Louis Butler played absolutely no role in the rapist’s release.

Gableman’s ad was a lie.

The saving grace here, is that the highest court doesn’t have to follow the three-judge panel’s recommendation. It can simply ignore the recommendation; it can censure Justice Gableman for lying in his campaign; it can dole out a suspension without pay; it can even have Gableman removed from the state Supreme Court.

But - and it’s a big but - Justice Gableman has no choice but to recuse himself from the decision. He can’t vote on his own fate. And given the way the best state Supreme Court money can buy has been functioning lately, it could very easily be a 3-3 deadlock. If that happens, Gableman is off the hook.

On a loophole, so to speak.

Most kids, except the ones who are sociopaths or pathological liars, learn early in their development the concept of “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”. Their parents or peers teach them that deliberately misleading somebody, about something important, is wrong.

Michael Gableman besmirched the reputation of a good man in his quest to gain access to that fancy chair in the Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol. The voters put him there, but they were lied to.

Somebody should do something about that.


Monday, November 16, 2009

The End Of The World....or not.

Roland Emmerich is a German-born movie director who loves disaster and special effects. His 1996 movie “Independence Day” was a whiz-bang scenario of aliens invading Earth. His 2004 movie “The Day After Tomorrow” made Al Gore happy. It was Emmerich’s interpretation of global climate change killing us all.

This weekend, I saw his latest offering, titled “2012”. It was standard Emmerich fare - lots of over-the-top special effects, a soundtrack that will temporarily deafen you, huge cities destroyed, and our attempt to escape from the destruction. John Cusack trying to save his family from certain death, battling every obstacle imaginable. I was, however, disappointed. The plot stinks and the effects are good, but not great.

As some reviewer said, Emmerich gets an “A” for special effects, and an “F” for science. I’ll give him a “B” for special effects, and “F” for science, but an A+ for three direct references to Wisconsin. And Woody Harrelson is pretty good as a crazy talk-radio guy.

The movie is based on the incorrect belief that the ancient Mayan calendar “runs out” on the 21st of December, 2012. Some say Nostradamus made a similar prophecy. The problem is, even the Mayans know their calendar doesn’t “end” in 2012. Mayan archaeologist Guillermo Bernal says there are Mayan calendar inscriptions that go out well beyond the year 4772.

A Mayan calendar cycle, the 13th Baktun, ends on 12-21-2012, but - as any Mayan can tell you - that just means another cycle begins.

But that would wreck the anticipation Emmerich tries to set up in the movie.
Long before this Hollywood blockbuster was even in pre-production, there were plenty of novels published about December 21st 2012 being the “end of days”. Google “2012 end of the world” and you’ll get more than 35 million hits.

Some people - gullible people - take this sort of stuff really seriously. The media are full of stories of people who are actually worried that the world is going to end in a couple years and they’ll never see their kids grow up.

Shortly after the release of “The Day After Tomorrow”, my wife and I were at a dinner party at a friend’s home on the fashionable west side of Madison. Several of the people there, and this was before the second drink, were talking about how the movie is “proof” of global warming. And these were partially-educated adults!
Rather than be my usual snarky self and embarrass my wife, I resorted to stronger doses of Crown Royal.

We do love to be scared at the movies, though. And the special effects for “2012“, while not much better than the stuff in his 2004 movie “The Day After Tomorrow”, are still good. But I expected better stuff. The effects in the “Terminator” and “Transformers” movies are much better, if you ask me. The plot development is often tediously predictable.

The run-time of two hours and 35 minutes is excessive; but, most “blockbuster” movies are way too long these days. Add in the six trailers and the ads they run before they roll the feature film, and you’ve got nearly three hours invested.

Worth it? Yah, but barely.