Monday, February 23, 2009

Go West, Young Man....

...and grow up with the country! That's the whole quote, often mis-attributed to Horace Greely but actually penned by an editorial writer for an Indiana newspaper. My wife and I are headed west for a week or so, and we've vowed to leave most of our modern tech stuff at home. No laptops, no BlackBerrys, just a cell phone, and not even a "smart" cell phone. We're doing something we've talked about for a long time, going out to Arizona to take in some Spring Training games. Hence, there'll be no blogging until after the 3rd of March.
No updating the Facebook status. No obsessing about the retirement funds. No scanning the web just to check on what's goin' on in the world. Sunshine, baseball, poolside margaritas, room service. No e-mail. Just a digital camera and one cell phone with our private number, so our daughter, who's house- and dog-sitting can check in, and vice-versa.
Friday night, we were at a gathering of some of the city's finest old-school news folks. A friend of long-standing, who like me is a former news anchor, was taking pictures, making videos, and even updating his Facebook status on his phone. One of those new-fangled things we really shouldn't call a phone, because it's really so much more. His phone even synchs with Outlook on his desktop computer at home, so he can take his "office" with him wherever he goes. No thanks.
I still recall the look on the young man's face at the phone store when I went in to 'upgrade" from an analog to a digital cell phone several years ago. He said something like "what do you want it to do - games, videos, send pictures, e-mail - what apps do you use most?". I said, after a suitable pause, "I would like it to have the capability to place and recieve phone calls". After a suitable pause on his part to digest this, he steered me to a Motorola Razor, which I still have. It places and recieves calls just fine.
So it's off to Arizona, and a hiatus in the blogging. But I suspect I'll be sneaking into the "Business Center" at the hotel where we're staying, and "just checking up on things" with one of the computers available there. I suspect my wife will, as well. Maybe just a quick look at Facebook.....

Friday, February 20, 2009

A Big Bowl of Wrong

One of the biggest things on the web yesterday was the video of a CNBC reporter ranting against the Obama mortgage bailout plan, which this fellow (Rick Santelli) calls the "Chicago Tea Party". Those of us who pay some attention to what our money's doing got the video clip e-mailed to us by lots of friends and associates. Briefly, what Santelli ranted against was what he calls "the government rewarding bad behavior" - folks who bought waaay more house than they could afford, those who willingly lied on mortgage applications, and those amateurs who thought they could flip a house and make a small but quick fortune, and then got caught when the chickens came home to roost. Santelli, and a lot of folks like him, think the Obama mortgage bailout plan will do more harm than good.
We bought our suburban Madison home eleven years ago. As I've said before, we got a good deal on it, because the couple who built it in 1997 were going through a very bitter divorce and they wanted to unload it. Two years ago, our house was assessed (and appraised, by the way) at just about TWICE what we'd paid for it in 1998. While we paid a few thousand dollars below market value in '98, we didn't get so good a deal that the house was worth twice as much nine years later. Although the "comps" in the neighborhood supported the appraised value, my wife and I were pretty sure that our home wasn't "really" worth that much. Things were going up fast, but we were confident the huge growth in prices would slow. We didn't know it would be so much sooner than everybody thought. When we bought the home, I was 49 years old. I told my wife to pick out the house she wanted, and told her to make it a good one, because it was going to be the house they carried me out of with a sheet over my dead body. During one ten-year period in my younger days as an itenerant broadcaster, I lived in eleven different places. This was the LAST house, as far as I was concerned.
We didn't use our house as an ATM during the years of quickly appreciating prices. We made every payment on time. We shook our heads in disbelief at the prices some of our acquaintances were paying for crackerbox houses in tony Madison neighborhoods like Nakoma. 350 grand for 1450 square feet? No thanks. There are so many numbers being thrown around about the "housing crisis" that it's hard to put it in perspective. But the one that keeps coming up from Santelli and his crew is 92....the percentage of mortgages in the U-S that are being paid on time. So we're like the huge majority of people who have mortgage notes: we pay it on time. Our 401-K's have been halved; our houses are now assesed and appraised at what's much closer to a "true" value; for many of us, our pay has been frozen or reduced; and we're paying higher prices for everything.
To me, sacrifice is cutting out the "extras" in life so you can pay your bills on time. No more $4 cups of coffee, shopping for bargains at the grocery store, tightening the belt in general. So when President Obama says we're all going to have to sacrifice to make things better, I say "already there, Mr. President". Please don't ask me to "sacrifice" so the guy down the street who bought more house than he could afford and fudged the numbers on his mortgage application can be bailed out. I'm not moving just because there's a "for sale" sign in his yard. And let's stop throwing billions or trillions of dollars around without having some earnest, serious debate about it in D-C.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Zero Point Zero

It's nice to know that 139 dweebs who work part-time at the state capitol will get a 5.3% raise, but the rest of the state's workforce will get exactly what Dean Vernon Wormer pronounced: zero point zero. Oh, wait - there's about a dozen of the game-show hosts up there who made a big show of renouncing their pay hike. According to the list of 12 in the Wisconsin State Journal this morning who refused the raise, both the state senator and state representative from my district took the money. I guess I don't begrudge the senator....he's the oldest man in the legislature and has only a few million dollars from his real estate empire set aside for his retirement, which HAS to be coming one of these days....doesn't it??
A state budget deficit of over five billion dollars, a stumbling state economy, over sixty thousand Wisconsinites unemployed, but by God those politicians take care of themselves. Even Diamond Jim (who can't get a pay raise unless he's elected again) told his cabinet heads they'll be getting zero point zero. And these are folks with FULL-time jobs, who can't even collect the rich per-diem's the 139 dweebs use to pad their paychecks.
Full disclosure: my wife is a state employee (UW Health) and she makes more than the dweebs, so we're not gonna starve. But it rankles me that she works very hard at her FULL-time job and gets top marks in her performance reviews, and the dweebs, who've run the state into the hole year after year, will get about $2500 bucks more each year. I guess I can't accuse Diamond Jim of following the tactics of the Captains of Industry and Titans of Wall Street. At least he's not giving his inner circle any increases or bonuses while the ship lists dangerously.
I understand it's more of a contrast than a comparison when you're talking multi-million-dollar-bonuses and a $2500 pay increase, but the issue is not money, it's leadership. Every one of those 139 dweebs should have renounced the increase. And this foolishness about how "it's in the budget and we can't change it now" is hogwash and everybody but the dweebs sees through it. And for those who are "giving the increase to charity" - no. Wrong. Write a check back to the state treasury. It's MY money and I'LL decide which charities to support. But then, to have all 139 of them agree on anything is asking for more than leadership. It's asking for vision, courage, and a lot of things which USED to be part of "leadership".

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Diamond Jim swings...and misses....

To hear Diamond Jim tell it last night, everything's going to be OK, we're gonna tax those rich bastards and smokers even more, and with Obama's fat check on the way, we might miss a snack or two but we'll still be able to live pretty high on the hog. Say WHAT? Now wait a minute here. The guv spoke for about 35 minutes last night. I didn't have a stopwatch on it, but I'm thinking about 3 minutes total was very general discussion about what might get cut to make up the 5-billion-dollar defecit...and 32 minutes was about all the stuff we're NOT going to cut.
I know politicians don't like to hand out bad news, and even when they have to, it's always candy-coated to make it as palatable as possible. But last night's biennial budget address induced a sugar high. No more QEO's. Banished. Plenty of money for the big University on the other end of State Street (a good thing); money for the first set of "Doyle Scholars" or whatever they're calling the kids who promised to get good grades and stay out of trouble so they could get a slot at a Wisconsin college or university. Yes, the good times will continue to roll.
So who's comin' out on the short end here? Well, the rich folks of course; and .... well....we'll probably have to cut a whole lot of state employees, but let's not talk about that.
A few other observations: just as in Washington, there's clearly a huge partisan divide in the state legislature. Every time Diamond Jim talked up one of his pet programs, the Democrats would leap to their feet and applaud. The Republicans would sit on their hands and examine their shoelaces. I even saw one of them fiddling with his BlackBerry while the Dems were cheering. Before the broadcast on public TV, one of the local stations had a set-up piece live from the capitol with the requisite Republican and Democratic point-counterpointers. The Democratic guy, Mike Sheridan, said it wouldn't be an easy couple of years ahead. The Republican lady, Miss Kitty (she who invoked the name of Saint Vincent Lombardi when shilling for a bogus "we demand the NFL Network bill" a few months ago), said the new budget would mean more taxes, taxes, taxes. Suffice it to say no new ground was broken.
Then, after Diamond Jim talked and pressed the flesh leaving the chamber, the folks at Public TV did a brief analysis with Todd Berry of the state taxpayer alliance. He said what I was thinking during the speech....pretty much what Diamond Jim is proposing to do, is to move a few things around in the budget, plug some holes with the Obama money, and push the problem into the next biennium. Except you couldn't hear what Mr. Berry was saying very well. The sound person had the audio mix so badly screwed up it sounded like Berry was speaking from a closet in a noisy bar a few blocks away. Too bad they couldn't have created that effect for Diamond Jim.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Nobody Rights Good No More

I was tempted to keep score on the number of TV ads I've seen in the past week hawking a sale for Presidents' Day, President's Day, or Presidents Day. For those who are punctuation impaired, Presidents' Day is correct. Plural possessive. I recall Macy's getting it correct in their print advertising, but wrong on their TV advertising. How does THAT happen? On Madison TV, the Ashley Furniture folks spent a small fortune on TV ads, hawking their Presidents Day (sic) sale.
OK, I'm a stickler. Within arm's reach of my keyboard is Warriner's Sixth Grammar and Composition, a book stolen from Hortonville High decades ago. To me, it beats the tar out of stuff like the grammar-checker in Word 2007, which I've caught several times trying to "correct" what's already correct in my writing. At least, correct according to Warriner.
My kids, products of the Madison Metropolitan School District and the University of Wisconsin, drive me nuts with stuff like "me and her are going to the mall" and their constant confusion of the correct useage of bring and take. (Which usually results in a bellow of "BRING Me Out To The Ball Game" from the old man.) They're getting better at it though, probably no thanks to my snide comments. My son just wrote a really good op-ed piece that would have passed any grammar check, and a while back my daughter pointed out an incorrect sign at a supermarket lane which said "15 items or less". (Again, for the non-sticklers among is, it should be "15 items or fewer".)
Which brings me to the promo I saw on Fox TV's "House" last night, which said "Fox: Less Commercials, More TV". If you're paying attention, you know it should be FEWER commercials, more TV. Anything you can count, ya know. I've always wondered about the premise of those "fewer ads" announcements. Apparently ads, the biggest source of TV revenue, are bad.
This morning, on a local TV news show, they mentioned (I can't remember in what context) Tom Daschle, who "withdrew his nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services". Daschle withdrew his NAME from nomination, but he can't withdraw a nomination he didn't make, a subtlety lost, I'm sure, on the young TV folks. Reminds me of the late William F. Buckley's retort to a letter to the editor of National Review, wherein the writer said "please cancel my subscription". Buckley's retort: "Cancel your own damned subscription".

Monday, February 16, 2009

They Just Don't "Get It"....

The Roman philosopher Seneca said "luck is when preparation meets opportunity", although a lot of 'sconnies think it was Vince Lombardi who first said it. And if that's what luck is, one of our local guys, Matt Kenseth from just down the road in Cambridge, was lucky yesterday when he won the rain-shortened Daytona 500. He led only one lap of the famous race that starts the NASCAR season, but it was the lap he led that counted. It was the one before the rain came and NASCAR said the race was over. He won the NASCAR championship in 2003 and has had some really good years, but last year wasn't one of them. It's a great start to the new season for the personable young man.
I've always been a fan of motor racing, but wasn't an avid NASCAR fan until Matt jumped from the junior circuit to the big-time about a decade ago. My wife, who didn't know a piston from a pistol, got to be friends with Coleen Kenseth, when she dropped off her dry-cleaning on the way to work one day in 2001 and Coleen said "are you any relation to the guy who's on the radio?". The two became fast friends, and finally my wife said "let's watch NASCAR this weekend". For the uninitiated, NASCAR does a great job of explaining the sport during the weekly telecasts. My wife learned about drifting, drafting, camber, caster, restrictor plates, and all sorts of other technical stuff. I learned that Matt was about to land a huge sponsorship from DeWalt Tools long before a lot of other folks - because my wife heard it from Coleen.
We also learned that among our professional peers, we were unusual in that we actually watched the races. The most common reaction when either of us would be "caught" talking NASCAR with somebody else at the workplace would be something like "oh, yah...NASCAR. I just don't get that". You soon learn that even here in Wisconsin, which has produced a disproportionately high number of very successful race drivers, a lot of folks still consider NASCAR to be a largely southern thing which evokes images of good old boys and rum-runners. When they'd say "I just don't get that", it was code for "why the hell are YOU a NASCAR fan???". Just to tweak my nose at the NASCAR snobs at work several years ago, I put a four-inch high "17" decal in the window of my big black Caddy ElDorado. (Kenseth's car is number 17.) Reactions ranged from "you put a NASCAR thing on a car like THAT?" to "what does the 17 mean?".
I'm hard-pressed to think of another major sport or activity which has done as good a job marketing itself over the past decade as NASCAR. But still, one of the problems drivers like Matt Kenseth...and Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson face is that they're not "good old boys". One of the widely-read NASCAR columnists recently called Gordon and Johnson "cool Californians, rather than colorful southerners". And it's often pointed out that Kenseth is from "WES-consin", a pronunciation that annoys every 'sconnie. So, to all my 'sconnie friends who "don't get it", remember that a home run is just three left turns.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Reporter Facebook "Fan Clubs"

There's a disturbing new trend among certain local TV reporters. They're forming their own "Fan Clubs" on Facebook. I don't like it one bit. Fan clubs, indeed. It's a big bowl of wrong, as Jeff Green from Curb Your Enthusiasm would say.
As near as I can tell, the "adult" Facebook craze hit Madison in January. It seemed all of a sudden everybody I know was joining. Being the father of two twenty-somethings, I've been aware of Facebook for years, and have given my kids plenty of lectures, gone unheeded I'm certain, of the dangers of posting stuff to your Facebook page that you wouldn't want a prospective employer to see. I signed up early in January when a former colleague sent me an "invite" to see some pictures he'd posted. When my wife joined a few weeks ago, she immediately "friended" both kids. About an hour later, she said "I think I'd better un-friend them", and did. There really is such a thing as too much information. At her place of work, the I-T folks have been ordered (wisely) by the top brass to ban access to Facebook from workstation computers. It can be a gigantic time-waster for those who lack discipline.
It's been a fun diversion, and I've been able to re-connect with a lot of folks I worked with or knew in years gone by. You can tell a great deal about an adult based on their Facebook presence. You can quickly identify those people who really need to find a life. For the younger folks, it's hard to tell. Many of them apparently have "online identities" which differ greatly from their true personality. I guess they're just engaging in light fantasy.
The local reporters who have just recently formed their own "Facebook Fan Club" page are all, not surprisingly, under 30. And from what I can tell, the only people who've joined their fan clubs are the other young reporters who have a fan club and a few of their co-workers. I'm not opposed to Facebook fan clubs for things like sports teams, fermented malt beverages, and such. I'm even a Facebook fan of Senator Russ Feingold. But the local reporters' fan club come-ons say things like "join my fan club and get to know me and send me story ideas!!!". I guess this is why I proudly wear the mantle of the curmudgeon, having managed reporters for over 30 years. Instead of goofing off on Facebook, how about actually leaving the building and talking to some REAL people, and finding some REAL news, and reporting it?!?!?
I'm a dinosaur and I know it.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cranky About Insurance

As it says on my profile, I'm usually cranky or pissed about something, and this time it's insurance. I probably know enough about insurance to be dangerous, since my dad put a lot of bread on the family table owning a sucessful independent insurance agency, and he did it well enough to leave my mom a beautiful home on the lake and enough money to live comfortably. Because we lived in a small town, my dad was essentially "on-call" 24/7/365. He represented 21 different insurance companies, but his many, many clients didn't buy insurance from a company. They bought it from Bill Morrissey, the guy with the office on Main Street. After hours problem? Dad's home number was listed, and people called him there. Kid piled up the car at midnight? Call Bill, make sure we're covered. Accidentally ran the tractor into the side of the barn just before morning milking at 5 AM? Call Bill, make sure we're covered. Better call him at home, he's probably up by now anyway. When my folks were off playing golf or on a weekend trip, all six of the Morrissey kids were taught how to respond to phone calls from dad's customers, and to take DETAILED messages, long before the advent of the "answering machine".
So I know what it's like to run your own insurance agency. It's a lot of hours and you can't really walk away at 5 PM and lock the office door and call it a day. Your business is customer service, and that doesn't mean retail hours.
I've had my car and home insurance policies with the same suburban small-town agency since I moved back to Wisconsin 21 years ago. He's not an independent agent; he represents only one company, and it's a big one. He bought the agency from his dad, when his dad retired, and like me, he grew up "in the biz". So when I got the renewal notice for my wife's car insurance policy in the mail yesterday....and it was a nearly FIFTY PERCENT increase....I called the agency. Since she bought the car a year and a half ago, the insurance cost has essentially doubled. No speeding tickets, no accidents, no claims. It's a very sporty car with a 350-horsepower engine, the bane of the insurance companies, but we've been "clean" and I've never missed or even been late on an insurance payment in 21 years. They really couldn't explain to me why the policy cost had increased so much, so fast. Every time it went up....and there's NOTHING like having not one but TWO "youthful drivers" on your car insurance policy, as we did for many years to remind you of all the hidden costs of having kids...they explained in detail why the policy was going to be so expensive. And we paid it. And now both the kids have their own policies, thank heaven.
I'm pissed not so much because the rate went up....but because it went up so much, and they really can't explain to my satisfaction why. And I'm really pissed that after 21 years with this guy and his agency, I'm going to have to shop around. I know what it's like to lose a good-paying customer.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Job Security

Here in what can most kindly be called semi-retirement, it's nice to know that my "new gig" is pretty safe. I've taken on a project with the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Foundation to help get a website off the ground, which will be an online resource for every radio and TV newsroom in the state. Whenever the topic comes up with any of my former colleagues, they always jokingly say "make sure there's something that keeps a rookie from saying "Sha-WAH-no" on the air!!!
Shawano is a beautiful little community just northeast of Green Bay and up the road a bit from Bonduel. For those of you not initiated in the unusual pronunciation of some of our state's great Indian place-names, Shawano is "SHAW-no" and Bonduel is "bon-du-EL", not "bon-DOOL". Veteran 'sconnies will throw you a curve once in a while with a place-name like Oconomowoc just to make sure you know they've been around the state long enough to know how the syllables divide and where the accent falls. (It's "o-CON-o-mo-woc".)
There are plenty of weighty topics we'll put on the site to help rookie reporters and transplants get a quick lesson in Wisconsin's powerful Open Meetings and Open Records laws, and a thumbnail of where they can and can't take their cameras and microphones, and how to avoid incurring the boss's wrath by defaming someone on the air. But the one that consistently draws the most comment in my social encounters is the importance of learning how to pronounce the place names of our state, and the wonderful Polish names of some of our state's prominent elected officials, like Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. (It's "chess-LEV-itch".) Or whether or not you pronounce the first letter in State Representative Dan Knodl's name. (He's from Germantown, and the answer is yes.) If you don't know that in Wisconsin we pronounce Rio "RYE-oh", you'll sound like a boob to the real 'sconnies.
As I was having coffee this morning and planning for a noon meeting with the webmaster of the new site we're putting up, I had one of the local TV stations on. I vary my viewing habits to catch a little of each morning show before I move the session into my home office, to get a flavor for the day's news. Then, she did it. She said "sha-WAH-no". This woman, who lives in Janesville and has been on the air in Madison for 8 years, completely blew it. She's from Idaho and has worked there and in Nebraska, but she committed the ultimate Wisconsin place-name sin.
If you notice a little more spring in my step today, it's because I know this WBA Foundation internet project has great merit. Now, if we can only convince broadcasters to use it, when we get it up and running....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Selig swings....and misses...again

First of all, it's patently absurd to pay the Commissioner of Baseball 18 million dollars a year. Selig is worth about 5% of that. If that. I'm not sure which will be his greatest legacy....the All-Star Game tie, or the Steroid Era. And while we're talking about the Steroid Era, spare me from the amusing headlines like "A-Hole" and "A-Roid" and all the rest. Bud has had scores of chances to do something meaningful about steroid juice and whiffed at every opportunity.
About the best thing that can be said about Alex Rodriguez and steroid use is that at least he manned up about it, owned it, and didn't pull a Clemens. He did it at a time when at least a hundred other Major League Baseball players did it. That doesn't make it makes it non-remarkable. Can you say you really had no idea that McGuire and Sosa were pumping themselves up with drugs back when they were "saving baseball" in the home-run-derby year? Can anyone who saw the "before and after" pictures of Jason Giambi not know beyond a reasonable doubt that he was juiced? Baseball fans looked the other way for a decade.
Baseball has become about as credible as bike racing when it comes to banned substances. At least NFL players, like the Vikes' Onterrio Smith, invested in whizzinators. I'm pretty sure he bought the model that came with five extra bags of dried urine. Selig has dodged the issue of performance enhancing drugs artfully, setting up an elaborate shell game, with what he calls a serious consequence for players who are caught. Baseball treats steroids about as seriously as Wisconsin treats drunken driving. They don't really do too much until you've been caught five or six times.
If Major League Baseball was serious about banning peformance enhancing drugs, there'd be no lattitude for violators. Get caught - you're out. For life. Selig is either unwilling or unable to get the owners to see that their sport is clean, or it isn't. As far as A-Rod and the rest of the juicers - I think my kids will look back on that time as "the steroid era" of baseball, and they will regard it just as another part of the lore of the sport. Sorta like the pre-helmet days of hockey. I guess it's like an old pal of mine sometimes says...there may not be a solution to this problem, but it will resolve itself. Bud could solve the problem, but he's apparently not capable.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Katie and The Captain

I've never been a fan of Katie Couric's work and last night's 60 Minutes interview with Captain Sullenberger confirmed my non-fan status. Did he pray when he was guiding the Airbus into the Hudson River? That question from Katie was as dumb as the Captain's response was brilliant - "no, I figure I had 150 people in the rear of the aircraft taking care of that for me". As usual, the pampered network star entertainer was going for some cloying emotion - "Captain of Doomed Airliner Prays While The Hand of The Lord Makes a Brilliant Dead-stick Landing"...or something like that.
I understand why Katie did the interview, and why CBS used her instead of someone far more competent in the skill of interviewing. She's their star, and we all know what she did for their network news ratings. She must be propped up at every possible opportunity, and this was a big opportunity. So she asked the dumb, uninformed, chatty questions I expected, eliciting little new information, and completely unable to penetrate the professional cool of the Captain. This guy's no Sara Palin. I can't help but think Ed Bradley would have gotten more out of the interview.
By sheer circumstance, I've had the opportunity to spend some time with some of the greatest pilots that ever lived. I had a completely chance encounter with Chuck Yeager at a 7-11 store in Palmdale, when I lived in southern California in the 80s. We were standing in a short line to check out and he was kind enough to chat with me for a few moments. Having lived and worked in the Fox Valley for years, I spent a week every summer broadcasting live from the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual Fly-In Convention - the world's largest aviation gathering. I had the good fortune to do hours of live interviews each year with aviation legends like Bob Hoover and Dick Rutan. Every one of them exudes the calm confidence of a well-trained, highly experienced professional.
At the EAA Fly-In in 1980, after doing an hour on WOSH-AM with the late Leo Loudenslager (who'd just won the 5th of his 7 US Aerobatic Championships and was at that time a few years from winning the first of his two World Aerobatic Championships) we were making some small-talk after the interview, and he mentioned he had to head downtown to find a bank. I volunteered to be his driver, seizing the chance to spend even more time with him. We walked about a hundred feet to a radio station vehicle at my disposal and got in. As we left the flight line and headed to the gate, he said "your right front tire is down a few pounds...mind swinging into a gas station to pump it up?". I realized in an instant that he had "pre-flighted" the car before he got in. As we chatted in the car, he explained how you never know when you may have to perform an "emergency maneuver" and how you want to make sure you've done everything to put the odds in your favor of surviving. He was killed in 1997 when a guy abruptly crossed the center line and hit Leo's motorcycle.
When I heard the tape of the radio contacts Captain Sullenberger had with the air traffic control folks, I heard that same deliberate, precise, controlled attitude I'd heard from the great pilots I'd interviewed over the years. All business. A job to do against tremendous odds, and completely in control of his emotions and actions. Exactly the kind of guy I want up front when my wife and I head to Spring Training in Arizona in a couple weeks.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The IRS Swings...and misses, again....

When your postal carrier knocks on the door and says "this is from the IRS, and I'll need a signature"....your heart skips a beat. Even if you have nothing to worry about, you can't help but swallow a little harder for a moment. The IRS. The guys that got Capone. The guys who nailed me for a hundred-dollar-fine a couple decades ago when I FAILED to report $55 for a stringer payment. The Chicago station that sent me the check did so right away...but they sent the Form 1099 months later to an old Wisconsin address and it never got forwarded to me in L-A. My tax man said "just pay the fine". I'm still sore about that.
At least yesterday it was the postal carrier, and not a Federal Marshal. Shortly after we bought our suburban Madison home 11 years ago, we started getting official-looking mail for a person who's never lived at the address. We're the second owners of the home, and we essentially stole it from a builder who built it for himself...and after living there a few months his wife served him divorce papers. Nasty. At the close when we purchased it, the temperature in the escrow company's office was approximately 15 degrees below zero. Those folks really didn't like each other any more. But the official-looking mail we were getting was not for either of them.
As usual, I digress. My wife and I both know the person to whom the mail was addressed, and that's all I'll say about it. At first, we just put "not at this address" on the letters and stuck them back in the mailbox for the carrier to deal with. That, of course, changed nothing. About five years ago, when I was still working as a news anchor, I called the IRS's media contact person in Milwaukee and explained to her that we kept getting IRS mail for this person, and told her specifically how they could find him. It's not that hard. Suffice it to say he's not attempting to hide in any way. That, of course, changed nothing.
Then, a couple years ago, feeling a sense of civic duty, I would place the unopened envelope in a letter, address it to the IRS Center from whence it came, and briefly explain that the person they were trying to reach was not at this address, and had never lived there. I sent back letters to the IRS folks in Kansas City, Austin, and Atlanta as they arrived. This summer I just gave up. I must have made 40 contacts with the IRS over the past decade, each obviously ignored. After all, this is where the computer says he lives.
When my wife came home from work last night, I told her about this escalated attempt by the feds to get in touch with this person....SIGNATURE REQUIRED. This spun off into a conversation about how big a task President Obama will have, not only getting the Republicans to horse-trade, but about how sometimes big government agencies, like big business, can be so damned ignorant. Like that fellow who told the SEC that Madoff was a fraud, a year ago - and nobody listened. She said, summing up the conversation about the IRS and its ineptitude in finding this guy, "you could probably Google him and find him in one second". So, earlier this morning I did. It took less than a quarter of a second and five of the ten listings on the first page Google displayed were for this particular person, and the first one led to a site with his work address and phone number.
Our government inaction.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Going Out With A Bang

Some folks have a way of making a dramatic entrance; others have mastered the art of making a dramatic exit. A former UW Badger athlete has apparently made one of the most notable exits in the storied history of exits from the UW. She holds the #1 spot currently in my "hall of fame" of notable exits.
The UW campus is situated right in the heart of Madison, and like many other Big Ten campuses there's a lively street with a strip of bars catering to the college crowd. Of course, in Madison, at the biggest party school in the nation, we have TWO streets crowded with establishments catering to the UW crowd...State Street, which links the state capitol with the campus, and University Ave, a multi-lane thoroughfare which runs right through the heart of campus. Along University Ave there are many watering holes which attract the college kids and the "townies". Wando's has the famous "fishbowl", a drink made in a goldfish bowl with about a dozen different kinds of liquor. One of them will do you in, if you're not an experienced drinker. Around the corner on Lake Street is the KK...the Kampus Klub....which is jock central. On any given night you'll find it packed with current UW athletes, former UW athletes, and scores of attractive young women collectively known as "the jersey chasers". And there are many other bars which attract a mix of the college crowd and those of us who are "a bit older".
There are many great stories about how UW athletes, present and former, have entertained the masses with their drunken antics at "bar time". There was a great joint just off State Street that hockey players frequented. It's not there any more; it was bulldozed to make way for the Overture Center. One summer night a decade or more ago, a couple of NHL players (of the myriad who forechecked their way to fame at the UW) got into a literal pissing contest outside the front door of the pub. All the male patrons joined in. The city cops wisely told them to knock it off, rather than creating a big to-do about it. I have a pal who brags about the night he got into a real pissing contest with players from the Chicago Blackhawks. Nowadays, there's a city ordinance against "depositing human waste" in public. True.
Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne kept a pretty low profile at the bars, but ended a teammate's football career by giving him a powerful right cross to the face after some locker room horseplay got out of control. Broke the other guy's eye socket and about a dozen other bones in his face. They don't talk much about that over on Monroe Street, at the UW jock HQ.
Now, there's the story of the young lady who made her exit from a UW sports team this week. I won't use her name or mention which team, but you can find out pretty easily. Every time an athlete is suspended or kicked off the team, the jocks go into full-protect mode. Nobody talks. It's been in the paper, but all the coach will say is the young lady was removed from the team for a non-team-related incident. Of course, any reporter with a modicum of moxie can find out what happened. With all the blogs and MySpace and Facebook posts out there, nothing's a secret. The story most often repeated in the blogs is that this young lady has been known to have a few too many at the bars from time to time, and has been given advice about her behavior. Advice, which as we know, most young people ignore. Apparently she got into a contest involving the consumption of 40-ounce bottles of Old English beer - known to the young folks as "OE40's". After downing her third, the predominant stories go, she stripped down to her skivvies and sports bra, inserted two roman candles on the saddlebags of her motor scooter, lit them, and took off down University Ave. (As veteran 'sconnies know, ya gotta put in a lot of "anti-freeze" so you don't feel the effects of the cold when you leave the bar.) The predominance of posts indicate that when she was pulled over on the scooter by city cops, she claimed she didn't speak English.
If the story is exit ever!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Taxes? We Don't Pay No Steenking Taxes...

Here in the city of the perpetually offended - or, as my pal and former colleague Dusty ( calls it, "America's Kegorator", we take our taxpaying as serious business. Nobody in Madison missed a beat last fall when the big pols said paying taxes was patriotic. We pay 'em in full, and we pay a lot of 'em in Wisconsin. None of this "I didn't know having a car and driver or luxury jet available 24/7/365 was taxable" around here. We know what a free ride is. Those dern flatlanders charge us a buck and a half to cross their state line heading south from Beloit on I-90. Then they nick us for nearly a buck every 7 miles or so on the Northwest Tollway. Even with my I-PASS, I pay a "reduced rate", but it still costs me about seven bucks in tolls every time I drive to Chicago. By the way....ya gotta wonder when they'll take Rod Blagojevich's name off all those toll booths. In the Badger State, you don't pay a dime to drive on our roads. Jim Doyle's name isn't on any toll plazas....just on that sign that says "Welcome to Wisconsin".
Methinks Mr. President has made a huge stumble with this whole Daschle deal, and with Treasury Timmy, as well. As I've said here before, I'm not a fan or follower of national politics, and apparently most of the dirt that's been uncovered about Daschle was available to fans long before it hit the headlines. Turns out not only did he "forget" to report his livery arrangement to the IRS, but most folks probably weren't aware that the service was provided by a Health Care Industry Titan. We turned control of medicine over to the insurance companies a long time ago, but I think most 'sconnies would rather not have somebody with such tight connections to the health care industry trying to "reform" it. Come to think of it, here in the seat of government for the state, where pickup trucks still outsold sedans when the car business was alive, we don't have much in common with folks who have somebody else provide them a car and driver, except of course for the guv. He gets a Crown Vic and a State Trooper to drive him around. That's OK with us. We know that lots of corporate big-wigs get a leased luxury car as a perk, even in Madison, but they still do their own driving.
If Mr. President is going to convince us that there's going to be change, he needs to make sure the folks he wants to be on the front line aren't tax cheats, and aren't in bed with the industry they're going to "reform". But give the Pres props for manning up on the national TV network newscasts, admitting he screwed up. He gets a "do-over" on this one, and his Mulligan had better be straight down the fairway this time.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Highly Addictive; Extremely Dangerous.

Four or five summers ago, a county sheriff just north of us called a news conference to display the fruits of the weekend labors of a gaggle of deputies and a passel of Army National Guard troops whose CO apparently happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were going on, but it was before the huge buildup that made ANG troops pretty scarce around the home-front. The sheriff displayed proudly to the media a table laden with about 50 marijuana plants, which under his personal direction the "task force" had located and hauled back to the cop shop.
It was transparently obvious that the booty was what's commonly called "ditch weed" in this neck of the woods. The troops had been deployed around the county over the weekend to help rid the county of the scourge of killer weed. The stuff they brought back had a street value of about ten bucks, aggregate. Ditch weed, as smokers quickly learn, gives you more of a headache than a high. But, it was a nice weekend; not too humid and pleasantly warm, so no doubt they enjoyed the scenery and the exercise. Probably unknowlingly passed more than a few meth labs in their travels, but as usual, I digress.
The sheriff told the media that what we had here was a whole mess of - and I quote - "highly addictive and extremely dangerous marijuana". Ever since that weekend, I'd find a reason about once a week to write a news story that involved marijuana in one way or another, and I'd always include the descriptor "highly addictive and extremely dangerous". Madison decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana decades ago, and the city in general has a pretty casual attitude about it. That attitude probably existed long before the "third coast" days of the 60's on the UW campus, and well before the ordinance was written. It wasn't too long before one of the talk show hosts in the building appended "a gateway drug, which almost always leads to heroin addiction and death" to the original line.
Comes now the story of Michael Phelps, the swimming phenom who won all the gold medals in the Beijing Olympics. Back in November, at some house party on a campus in North Carolina, somebody took a picture of Phelps taking a hit from a bong. It's all over the news this morning - front page of the sports section of the local morning paper; big story on the Today Show about how Phelps has admitted the mistake, and called it the equivalent of a youthful indiscretion (he's 23; it happened when he was 22). Apologized and said it wouldn't happen again. After all, you can't hawk Wheaties if you're a known stoner, and being a spokesperson for the rollling paper and bong industry isn't anywhere near as lucrative as his present endorsements.
We're apparently at the point in Presidential politics that once-stunning revelations about college-age drug use are just a blip on the radar now, but if you want to do national endorsements for huge corporations, you'd better back away from the bong. And, you'd better be careful about the photos you post on your Facebook or MySpace page. I'm still left wondering why it took three months for that photo to "surface" in the tabloids.