Thursday, April 30, 2009

Another Black Day In Radio

It’s a vicious cycle. The woodman says to the stove, “give me heat”. The stove says to the woodman, “give me wood”. In the business of radio, it’s somewhat similar. At the very time radio programmers need to maintain their best talent, to differentiate their product from the competition, the owners are telling them to cut payroll. And the first to go, in far too many cases, are those who command the largest salaries because of their talent.

I can tell you all about that. Very personally.

A couple days ago, Clear Channel, the largest radio station ownership company in the known universe, fired 590 more people. They fired 1,800 people in January. Yesterday’s round of firings hit Madison, and one of the people they canned was a fellow whose very first job in radio was an entry-level position back in 1989. I know him well because I was the guy who hired him 20 years ago. He worked his butt off, and following the time-honored route, earned his way to a Program Director position several years ago. Now, he’s “on the beach”. Again.

Radio broadcasting is one of the few careers where firing is not really a black mark on your resume. There’s an old saw to the effect “you aren’t really a broadcaster until you’ve been fired”. It’s much like pro sports. For some players, things may not work out under a certain manager, but you flourish under another. Managers who fail in one setting, flourish under a different setting. Except the pay is orders of magnitude better, in sports. And there are far more incompetent radio managers than sports managers.

Radio is somewhat like baseball, in that you work your way up from the smaller markets (leagues) to the big time. At least, it used to be. Now, in markets like Madison, where the radio and TV people came from learning the ropes in smaller markets like Wausau and Eau Claire, they’re hiring kids right out of college or trade school.

Here’s the thing.

Bankers don’t know diddly squat about running radio stations. Or running anything else, for that matter. They know about leverage, derivatives, ROI, IRR, Accreting Principal Swaps, and a number of other arcane things that have little if anything to do with managing talent, and that’s what radio comes down to.

But bankers are calling the shots with broadcasters these days. From the idiots who paid waaaaaay too much to buy Clear Channel a couple years ago, to the morons who thought the way to make money in radio was to cut payroll, to the former owners who sold their businesses for forty pieces of silver, there are plenty of bozos to go around.

I’m saddened that more of my friends and former colleagues lost their jobs this week. But I’m even more sad that so many clearly incompetent people are at the top of the broadcasting industry right now.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Another Downtown Hotel?

It was a hundred years ago, in 1909, that John Nolen, Madison‘s original city planner, envisioned a lakeside park with terraces, connecting the Capitol to Lake Monona. 30 years later, Frank Lloyd Wright was asked to design an alternative to Nolen’s plan. It wasn’t until 1992 that Mayor Paul Soglin actually got the ball rolling on the plans for the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center; in ‘93 the voters approved a 67-million-dollar referendum to build the thing; and construction started in 1994.

I remember all the gloom and doom stories that circulated. It’s being built on a landfill and will collapse into the lake. Secret studies done by unknown engineers prove that the foundation pilings are already sinking. Construction will ruin the lake and kill all the fish. The roof will leak. On and on.

It opened on July18th of 1997, and a dozen years later it’s still standing, so I guess the naysayers were wrong. The city finally had a “convention center”, although much ado was made by city hall that the official name of the place was COMMUNITY and Convention Center, so it was to be the great hall of the people (which I called it for years on the air, during my radio days).

Now, to address the “convention” part of the name. Madison could have had a convention center long before the Monona Terrace opened. Hotel and resort developer John Q Hammons wanted to build one, along with a huge hotel on top of it. The Madison politicos argued so much about it that Hammons gave up, and built his 300-room hotel and convention center in Middleton - a few feet from the municipal boundary with Madison.

Now that Madison had a convention center…and a really world-class one, at that…it was time to book some actual conventions there. Slight problem: no hotel. Now ask yourself: have you ever gone to a convention in a city the size of Madison where you didn’t get off the elevator to attend the convention…and get back on the elevator to go to your room?

In 2000, Mayor Sue Bauman passed out the Kool-Aid, the powers that be drank it, and they decided to hand the Marcus Corporation 13 million dollars in city subsidies to build a 240-room hotel a block or so away. I’m not even going to get into the story of the gerbil tube that now connects the hotel with Monona Terrace. It’s all part and parcel of the huge denial going on about having a hotel ON SITE. The city to this day still talks about how many hotel rooms are within “walking distance” of Monona Terrace.

Now, in still another attempt to get to the magic number of 400 hotel rooms ON SITE, the city is talking about handing Marcus another bundle of money to build a 275-room hotel essentially across the street from Monona Terrace on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Owners of the other major downtown hotels are angry, having spent millions and millions of their own dollars to improve and renovate their properties, pointing out again that convention planners for events of any size want 400 rooms ON SITE.

Here’s the thing. Monona Terrace is doing OK, and that’s all anybody could ever realistically expect. There ARE plenty of local events held there, so it is a “community” center; and there are a fair share of small conventions that book the place. It's a tremendous asset to the city, and kudos to hizzoner (Mayor Soglin) for having the fortitude to get it off the ground 17 years ago. It’s beautiful, bordering on breathtaking when seen as part of the skyline when you round the bend inbound on John Nolen Drive.

We don’t need to throw city money at Marcus to build another “nearby” hotel. If they feel they MUST spend the money, hire an architect to redesign the Overture Center.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Take Off The Gloves, Mr. President

President Obama should mince no words when telling the credit-card companies to stop jacking up the rates and jacking around the American consumer. Not only does he have the moral authority - and obligation - to lecture them, he has the legal authority and duty to step in and force them to change their ways.

Much ado was made about the President of the United States forcing the CEO of General Motors to step down a few weeks ago. “Should we have a politician dictating to private industry who should run the company” was the rant. No, we shouldn’t.

But President Obama, in the case of GM, the car-makers, the bankers, the credit card companies, the investment houses and anybody else who took bailout money, is much more than a politician. He is now a de-facto member of that organization’s board of directors, representing the interests of the American citizens whose tax dollars (and borrowed money) bailed them out.

He gets a say, and he gets a big say, in how they do business, in who runs their organization, and in what policies they follow in their business model.

Anyone who’s ever owned a business that borrowed money knows exactly how big a “say” the lender has in how you run your business…whether the lender is a bank, a venture capital group, or simply a person who owns a significant amount of your debt or equity. The level at which you can compensate your key employees, the earnings standards by which you are allowed to issue dividends, the amount of other debt you can carry, and the balances you must keep on deposit are all typically dictated by your lender, if your lender has even a moderate stake in your operations.

As taxpayers, we have a huge stake in the operations of the carmakers and financial houses of America. While we call them “bailouts”, they’re really LOANS. And anybody who’s ever taken a loan from a bank knows there are TERMS with the loan.

One of the biggest mistakes both the Bush and Obama administrations made with the bailouts was the failure to act like a responsible lender, and dictate clear terms with the loans. This failure to act as a responsible lender crippled their efforts to make changes in the culture of greed and excess that brought them to the brink of ruin in the first place.

We don’t even know what most of the banks did with the billions we gave them. Has no one in congress or the administration ever parented a child? Do they not know the difference between a request and a plea? If your kid says he needs to "borrow" 200 bucks for a brake job, a different set of principles applies than if he asks for a couple hundred bucks for Badger Hockey tickets.

So take the gloves off, Mr. President. Tell the credit card companies there’s a new set of rules. Tell them it’s NOT OK to double the interest rates on their cardholders, and that until they pay back the loans, you’re not just a politician - you’re a member of their board, and will act as such.

Even the Limbaughs and Hannitys should be able to understand it, if you explain it that way.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Fun (or not) With The Media

My weekend of disappointment in the local news media began Friday evening watching the six o’clock news, when I actually laughed out loud at what one of the local TV stations had done to a reporter who’s been a friend for years. In its zeal to warn us about the possibility of rain 250 miles from Madison, they’d unwittingly placed one of those “weather icons”…in this case, a cloud with a lightning bolt coming out of it….right over his FACE as he was attempting to give us an update on this coming weekend’s Mifflin Street Beer Blast.

Never mind that the rain we were being warned about was roughly over Rochester Minnesota, by gum the station was going to make us aware that it was going to be raining somewhere, and our lives wouldn’t be safe unless we saw that little cloud and lightning bolt thingy on the screen.
Saturday progressed with the litany of chores attendant to weekend living in our household, and we settled in to finally watch our DVD of “Doubt” around 8 o’clock, and retired thereafter. We had not exposed ourselves to a local weathercast, so we weren’t fully apprised of the hellacious weather about to break loose.

The full fury of the spring storm hit around midnight, with lots of wind, record rainfall, thunder and lighting galore. Our power went out around midnight and didn’t come back on until a little after 2 AM. When we finally got up Sunday morning, there was no coffee made. The automatic timer on the pot was confused by the long power outage.

There was no TV to be had, and no internet. Our cable company is also our internet service provider, and they were down. So we reverted to the trusty old radio in the kitchen, tuning in the only local station (of the 30 or so that call Madison home) that gives news on Sunday morning. Their top-of-the-hour newscast mentioned nothing about the storm or the cable outage, but we were treated to a story datelined Sheboygan, then one about some child in trouble in Green Bay, and then something about Madison, but I confess I don’t even remember what it was. Nothing that I cared to know about. Three short news "blasts", each about 15 seconds long.

Cable and internet service returned at 11:35, and by noon we were in the car running errands, and flipped on the radio station again to see if we could find out any particulars about the power and cable outage. Nope. This time, the story about Sheboygan, the story about Green Bay, and then about six sports items. TWO short news blasts, unchanged from two hours ago.

The power and cable outage - which affected thousands of people - was caused by some doofus clipping a power pole and leaving the scene. It took me about four clicks on the internet to find that out, this morning.

I could preach here about how the decimation of local print and electronic media newsrooms does take a toll on the product they put out, which consists largely of “wire copy” and maybe an item or two rewritten from a “news release”. But that’s another rant for another time. Weekends have always been the vast wasteland of local news, and since the 70’s broadcast news consultants have been preaching (to the deaf) that we should have our BEST people on, since there are so many more available viewers and listeners.

But top management has never understood what it takes to actually GATHER local news…like whether there was any storm damage, and why the power was out for such an unusually long time, and why the cable service was out for nearly 12 hours. The sort of stuff regular folks around Madison might want to know. Just stick a part-timer in there to “read wire copy”.

And the big bosses wonder why their circulation or audience is they consistently trim the news payroll to "save money".

Friday, April 24, 2009

Shred Fest

We’ve had Earth Day….and now, we’ll have Shred Day. The folks at AARP are putting it on “Shred Fest” across the nation, and in Madison, it’s Saturday from 9 to noon at East Towne Mall. The shredders will be right near the Culvers Restaurant, if you’re planning to navigate the giant mall area tomorrow.

The reason it’s important to shred your personal documents rather than just toss them in the trash is simple. There are some very dishonest people out there, and with the economy in the tank, there are more than ever. You can, of course, do your own “shredding” if you’re patient enough, but if you just toss that junk-mail credit-card come-on into the trash….you’re taking a chance that it may fall into the wrong hands.

Those reading this who think it’s extreme to take scissors to stuff like that, are those who’ve not yet had the “pleasure” of discovering somebody has either attempted to use your name and information to get cash, credit or merchandise, or that somebody has actually done it, and you’ve found out after the fact.

Several months ago my wife was on business for a week in New York City. Since it’s my habit to check our bank account on the internet every day, I thought it strange when the first day she was gone there was a charge on her debit card for a floral delivery service. The next day, there were charges for Chinese Tea, a make-up kit, and a battery-powered sweeping device. That was the give-away. I KNEW she’d NEVER order such a device!

I called my wife to make sure she hadn’t ordered these things on her Blackberry during a break in meetings in mid-town Manhattan - confirmed that she still had the debit card in her possession - and told her to use the debit card from our other bank exclusively, until I sorted things out.

The next call was to the bank, and by that time, whoever had her information had run up five more charges. They swung into action immediately to stop the charges, and since it’s a joint account I was able to swing by the bank and sign some documents stating that we did NOT make the charges in question. They made it as near painless as possible, and it never cost us a cent. We were lucky.

But I’m one of the very few, according to the bank, who monitor their accounts every day.
We never found out who got her debit card information. The bank issued her a new card with a different number, and we haven’t had any problems since, with that card. But a few weeks later, the bank sent me a letter saying there may have been a problem with MY debit card…and just to be safe, I needed to stop in and get a different card and number.

I guess you just can’t be too careful these days.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Getting Grilled - Again

A few days ago I wrote about the issues attendant to my 8-year-old behemoth gas grill, and my desperate attempts to bring it under repair. Suffice it to say the attempts have failed; the unwanted repair part, which I could not intercept, is now winging its way back to Texas; and the grill-shopping commenced.

Actually, we’re past the stage of “shopping” and have made the purchase, but not without a considerable amount of pain inflicted by the dweebs of American commerce.

After I’d gotten past the stage of confirming that it would probably be wiser to purchase a new grill than spend money repairing the old, I fired up my web-browser and got to work doing the first step of the acquisition process: research. I spent more time than I wanted browsing sites of merchants who sell gas grills, and narrowed it down to about four.

My wife, who does 99.99% of the grilling, on a phone call from Seattle where she was at a conference, expressed her confidence that I could pick out and purchase a grill, after we agreed on salient points like price range, size of primary grilling surface (a spec made deliberately difficult to ascertain by most grill vendors who list “total grilling surface“ prominently - including side-burner area and “warming racks“), and intangibles like esthetics.

Her confidence, of course, was not well-placed.

I set off to personally examine the models I’d selected from my online research, taking my trusty tape-measure to actually calculate the “primary grilling surface”. This led only to frustration and further confusion, as the models I’d selected varied greatly in how the “primary grilling surface” was laid out. Some were “deeper” than our old grill and not as wide; some were wider, but not as deep. Decisions! Which would she prefer - wider, or deeper???

I shot a note off to her Blackberry saying she’d need to “see the grills with her hands”, an inside joke between us, about buying things you “see” on the internet, print ads, or TV.

Upon her return, we went to the store, where she spied a floor-demonstrator model I hadn’t considered. It had a dent. Everything else seemed fine. The sales guy talked to “the boss” and said they’d knock off 150 bucks. DEAL!!! Doing one quick final inspection, I asked “where’s the hose for the feed from the gas cylinder?”. Uh-oh. Missing. Long story short, the great deal on the demo model was not to be.

We wheedled “the boss” (after several trips back and forth between the sales guy and “the boss” - sort of like the crap they always pull at the car dealerships) into providing free assembly of the same model grill, which was in a box in their warehouse. And, we made them check to make sure it really was there. Be ready in a couple days.

Oh yes, and delivery? Well, they don’t do that. But you CAN rent a pickup truck from them for a “nominal” fee. And they’ll even have one of the guys help you load it onto the truck.

I’m thinking Saturday morning my son and I can heft that sucker into the gaping maw at the rear end of my giant SUV, and beat them out of their “nominal” truck rental fee. I just need to do a little more measuring, to make sure.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

Wisconsin has a special connection to Earth Day, which was started in 1970 by Senator and former Wisconsin Governor Gaylord Nelson. One of the more interesting pieces I’ve read about this year’s Earth Day (which is today) was put together for Isthmus by Rob Zaleski, who for years wrote for the Capital Times.

Zaleski’s piece is well-researched and full of quotes from the new generation of environmental scientists at the UW. The gist of it is, there’s hope. In fact, the title of the piece is “Hope For The Planet”.

But, predictably, 12 words into the piece, Zaleski cites Al Gore’s Powerpoint-presentation-made-into-a-movie, “An Inconvenient Truth”, which has been picked apart by scores of scientists who have no axe to grind. Zaleski reminds us that Gore’s Powerpoint won an Oscar, as if to lend some credibility to the presentation.

Let’s talk about “science” and “consensus” for a moment.

In the mid-1800’s, the predominant theory about post-surgical infections was that they were caused by “a mystery gas in the air”. I’m NOT making this up. Along came a Glasgow surgeon named Joseph Lister, who theorized that post-surgical infections were caused by microscopic things called “bacteria”. The consensus of surgeons and scientists was that Lister was off his rocker. Lister sterilized his operating room and instruments with carbolic acid - the first person ever to do so - and suddenly, the hospital, which at that time was a place to die, became a place to be saved.

In the 1930’s, just as the Third Reich was rolling strong in Germany, a hundred German scientists signed a letter against Albert Einstein, proclaiming that his “theory of relativity” was a Jewish hoax. Consensus. (Einstein, by the way, said “if what they are saying were true, one signature would have been enough”.)

Science is not about consensus, whether it’s science about the environment, science about bacteria and infections, or science about time and space.

Al Gore, who is a politician, knows a lot about consensus, since much of politics is about consensus. So when he, and anyone else for that matter, talks about “the consensus of scientists” about global warming, it’s a political construct. It’s not science. Science is about objective truth and reproducible results.

In case after case of people like Albert Einstein and Joseph Lister and scores of other scientists, their names are household words precisely because they broke with consensus.
It would be too snarky even for me to question global warming in light of yesterday’s snow and the past month of below-average temperatures. I don’t have much faith in meteorologists and their ability to actually predict the weather, since they’re wrong so often.

But please don’t tell me that “consensus” has anything to do with truth, inconvenient or not.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Bowing and Shaking

So I’m supposed to think that President Obama shaking hands with Hugo Chavez is a bad and horrible thing, and that the United States does not deal with tinhorn dictators or leaders who were not duly elected by a democracy.

And these are the same people who want me to think that Mr. Obama is not a duly elected President, and there are questions about his birth certificate, and that he’s really not president because he’s really not a true American citizen and therefore none of the things his administration does are legal and we don’t have to obey them.


When the tea-baggers loitered at the state capitol last week, some had signs equating Mr. Obama with Hitler; one told us to beware his plan for white slavery; and we were advised that a lot of President Obama’s bailout money is going to people just looking for a handout.

OK, there was plenty of horrible rhetoric from the other side about President Bush. So I guess this is really just some sort of balancing act. There’s plenty of wackiness on both sides to go around.
I would think anybody who followed the news coverage the past few days would have realized that it was Chavez who was the publicity seeker who couldn’t seem to get enough face-time with the American President, angling for shots together, handing him some weird book, and having his people back in Caracas pump out tons of publicity about their encounters.

Personally, I’m far more annoyed that my President bowed to the Saudi King a few days ago, and that his press apparatchik back home in D-C pumped out a ton of obvious lies about how it really wasn’t a “bow” and that Mr. Obama had to bend down to shake the King’s hand, and blah blah blah….except the video of the event, widely available, showed the gesture clearly to be a bow and not a handshake.


I wouldn’t mind if the Limbaugh crowd crowed about our leader bowing to another leader, but this business of shaking hands with Chavez….not on my radar. Bigger fish to fry, and all that.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Columbine Plus Ten

Plenty of media outlets again today will do what the media always does…re-hash a tragedy to milk more emotion out of it, and try to help us “make sense” of the acts of two deeply disturbed young men. You can’t make sense of it. The news dweebs will also call today’s tenth anniversary of the tragedy the “ten-year anniversary”, displaying a lack of knowledge of proper form to go along with their penchant for indulging in wretched emotional excess.

The cloyingly emotional reports began Sunday morning on seemingly all the news networks and even ESPN. ABC’s Sunday morning show featured an interview with one of the survivors, who broke down completely. Rather than tastefully edit the interview, the producers let the whole thing run, so we didn’t miss one second of the young woman suffering in total emotional disarray.
You can analyze the acts of Klebold and Harris leading up to the tragic day, and second-guess whether or not enough signs were there that somebody should have done something. But all the Monday-morning quarterbacking in the world won’t make sense of it.

Ten years later, there’s still huge disagreement about the two young men. Five years ago, the FBI and some psychiatrists said Harris was a psychopath, and Klebold was a depressive. More recently another psychiatrist said their actions were a result of their being deprived of video games because of their behavior, and that they turned the rage they’d expended on “Doom” into a very real and deadly plan to kill scores of students at their high school.

There were conferences held on bullying, and a cottage industry of new “anti-bullying” consultancies arose. There was talk of more gun laws. There was finger-pointing at Jefferson County Colorado authorities. Much was made of the (apparent coincidence) that the attack happened on Hitler’s birthday, but later it was fairly well established that the attack was supposed to happen the day before…the 19th…to coincide with the Oklahoma City bombing and the Branch Davidian conflagration in Waco. Apparently, a delay in making the propane-tank bombs was the reason the massacre happened the next day.

It was also the beginning of “zero tolerance” policies regarding “weapons” or “threatening behavior” in schools, which was taken to such an extreme in many communities, like Madison, that no one wants to use the phrase any more. Zero tolerance has often been a substitute for zero judgment.
It’s like the Weston school shooting three years ago, which claimed the life of Principal John Klang. We’ll never “make sense of it” because the young man who came to school with guns that day was obviously another deeply disturbed young man.

And, to no one’s surprise, questions of “how could this have happened here” were asked in Cazenovia in 2006, just as they were in Columbine in 1999. Three years later…and ten years later…we still really don’t know.

And probably never will.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Getting Grilled

We have a large deck off the kitchen and dining area of our home, upon which rests a gigantic gas grill purchased 8 years ago at no small expense. My wife, whose parents owned a very successful Italian family restaurant in suburban Chicago, has been known to have the stove, the Jenn-Aire grill in the kitchen, and the outdoor gas grill all operating at full capacity to create her culinary masterpieces on Saturday evenings when we’re home. This is a year-round thing.

Last Saturday evening, following the purchase of mass quantities of high-end butchery products and several tons of asparagus at the store, as she was in the early preparation stages of the evening’s feast, she came into the media room where I was engrossed in a baseball game, and said “will you check the grill…it smells like gas is leaking”.

That’s never a good sign, especially at El Rancho Morrissey.

Last summer we nearly burned down the house at a family gathering where too many fat-laden brats and sausages were on the grill, resulting in a HUGE conflagration which I battled with a fire extinguisher until my brother put the final touches on the job by emptying several bottles of Leinie’s onto the flames. And a couple summers before that, Chief Bloom and his brave squad had to come over and bail us out of problem with a leaking gas container.

I dutifully checked the grill….found nothing wrong…and reported back. My long-suffering wife dragged me back out onto the deck, turned the gas cylinder on (I hadn’t bothered to take that crucial step), pointed at the crack(s) in the supply line to the firebox of the grill, and said “take a whiff”. Oh. THAT gas smell.

Needless to say, dinner plans were “changed”.

I called the national 800 line for the company from which we’d purchased the grill (at great expense) in 2001, and discovered that our warranty AND extended service plan had expired in 2008. We’ve changed phone numbers since then, and they never got a chance to telemarket us into re-upping. Anyway, I told them what was going on, we agreed that I needed a “new hose and regulator”, and I took their earliest appointment….yesterday afternoon, between 1 and 5.

The robotic phone device called the night before to ascertain that we were still interested in having the service person come over. I pressed “1” and we were good to go. The guy shows up around 2 PM, says “what’s the problem?”.

Bad sign.

He doesn’t know I need a new gas hose and regulator. Gotta order that. Don’t carry it on the truck. Can’t keep all the different ones on the truck. Gotta order it. Takes a couple weeks. Cost on that’ll run ya around a hundred bucks, and when it gets delivered to ya, call and make an appointment and I’ll come back and install it.

So, he’s telling me that I have a $99 trip charge for THIS service call; that I need to find the handbook that came with the grill, get the part number, order it from their parts department, IF they still have it in stock; and when it arrives, I’m supposed to call the 800 number to set up another appointment for him to come over. He left an invoice for his $99 service call, which I will NOT pay. This trip could have been avoided completely if the person I first talked to had been even marginally competent.

If I followed their “plan”, I’d have about 300 bucks of expense to put a part (similar ones retail on the internet for under 40 bucks) in an 8-year-old grill which is not covered by warranty or extended warranty, and it’s gonna take about a MONTH from first phone call to actual repair.

I'll be grill-shopping this weekend.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Kollege Life

Here we are, three days since the premier of the new MTV show “College Life”, and the UW is still standing, and the world is still turning. It’s a half-hour show that runs Monday night at 9:30 about four kids and their “life experiences” as UW-Madison students. They carried camcorders around and recorded just about everything.

I DVR’d it and finally got around to watching it. I gotta hand it to the creators and producers of the show. They’ve cast the show perfectly! Of course, four “regular” college kids wouldn’t be very interesting to watch. They found some dandies. It’s not reality TV, it’s REAL, says the promo.
There’s the girl from Mukwonago who’s extremely proud of her “v-card”. She’s a virgin and she’s going to tell you about it every chance she gets. There’s her “ex”-boyfriend from Mukwonago, who told us he considers her his “property”…even though she wants to meet new boys at college and date them.

She just can’t understand why the two of the can’t “just be friends” now. He can’t understand why she won’t “go out with him” any more…even though the two of them seem to be constantly together.
There’s the mandatory minority person….a boy from suburban Chicago, who apparently thinks it’s very important that we know his mom is Jamaican and his dad is Caucasian - or, at least, the editor of the show seemed to think it was important, because in most of the scenes the young man is in, race is the topic in one way or another.

And it wouldn’t be complete…and it wouldn’t be representative of the UW-Madison student body…without Party Boy. He’s a party animal and he’s come to college to drink and have fun. He’s already set the academic bar pretty low….telling his mom he’d study hard enough to get straight C’s…but he’s set the outrageousness bar pretty high. His dorm room is party central, and he’s already, in the first week of the show, been warned by the residence hall authorities that he’s gonna get bounced if he doesn’t tone things down.

Predictably, UW brass don’t like the show, with Dean of Students Lori Berquam saying it places too much emphasis on dysfunctional relationships and drinking escapades. My old radio pal Sly was pretty harsh on the Dean, noting her appearance in a Channel 3 news story about the show by commenting that she oughtta put on a little makeup and buy some better clothes if she’s going to represent the UW. First, UW brass endorsed the show and cooperated…but when they saw the direction it was taking, backed out.

I’ll watch the show a couple more times to see if it’s headed in any interesting directions…but mainly, I’ll watch it because it’s fun to see local places on national TV.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Poynette Dweebs Strike Again

One of the most colorful characters in Madison's storied history of colorful characters was a lawyer from back in the 60's, Eddie Ben Elson, who announced his candidacy for D-A in the nude, on the stage at the downtown strip club The Dangle Lounge, proclaiming that we should obey "only the good laws".

Apparently, the dweebs who run Poynette, the village board, believe they should only follow the advice of the citizens in "good" referenda. They're not going to turn on the fluoride, even though the voters said they should, by a two-to-one margin, in the recent referendum. Apparently it wasn't a "good" referendum, because not enough people (406) voted. So said dweeb Dave Branish to Channel 3 last night. One look at Dweeb Dave and you know he hasn't seen a dentist in...well, maybe never. He's the poster-boy for fluoridating water, and doesn't even know it.

I've ranted about this before. And another one of the dweebs, Kevin Marquardt, posted a couple comments on the blog. He seemed concerned that I was running off at the mouth without having actually attended a Poynette Village Board meeting. Well, Kevin, like you and your fellow village board members who only follow the advice of people in "good" referenda, I only base my blogposts on "good" media Pat Simms of the State Journal and Marc Lovicott of WISC-TV.

I'm also aware that Somali pirates are causing trouble for shipping in the Indian Ocean, but I've never been on (or in) the Indian Ocean. I've flown over it...does that count? Can I blog about the pirates now? Or do I have to go there in person?

There's going to be fluoride in the water in Poynette again. It's going to take a few months, but they'll turn it back on. Once they figure out who's going to be on the village board, once Andy Ross and a few others let this thing die down again, they'll vote to instruct the utility dweebs to fix the equipment and put the fluoride back in.

And the boys down at the water works will have to do it, all their internet research on flouridation notwithstanding, and even though they'll probably say it wasn't a "good" decision by the village board. Just to be sure, though....after the decisions are made and the orders are issued, somebody oughtta take a sample of the water and send it to the state lab to make sure the boys at the water works are doing a "good" job.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Take ME Out to the Ball Game

Every year an outfit called Team Marketing Research puts out a report about the cost of taking a family of four to a major league baseball game, and this year the Brewers ranked fifth-lowest. According to this report, the cost of the day at the ball park for a family of four is $146 at Miller Park, compared to a national average of $197.

Their figures are based on what they call “average-priced” tickets, and I won’t quibble about what an average-priced ticket costs. When my wife and I go to Miller Park, which is frequently, we tend to buy really good seats, on Stub-Hub, because we love baseball, love being up close to the action, and we consider our treks to the ball park our “summer vacations”. So we don’t buy “average-priced tickets”.

The report adds the cost of the tickets, parking, two programs, four soft drinks, four hot dogs, two beers, and two caps. The latter is presumably for the kids, and I do take issue with tossing the cost of two caps into the “average”. It’s around 40 bucks, give or take, and I suppose parents of children who really aren’t into baseball and don’t already own a team hat might buy them hats.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that the most expensive place to take a family of four to a baseball game is at Yankee Stadium. Their ticket prices are up about 50% from last year to pay for that new stadium, and their food costs are astronomical. Have you ever gone to a ball game and come back telling your friends about what you ATE?

The top five most expensive places are, in order, the Yankees, Red Sox, Cubs, Mets, and White Sox. The least expensive places, in order, are Arizona, Pittsburgh, the Angels, the Reds, and the Brewers.

The average ticket price at Miller Park is about 20 bucks, which is about five bucks below the league average. The average price at the new Yankee Stadium is….well, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. They say the average price of a “premium” ticket is about 53 bucks for the Brewers, and around $510 for the Yankees. They’re using, of course, the “face price” or “stated price” of the ticket, not what you actually pay on Stub-Hub or a similar site.

My wife and I bought “premium” seats for a Brewers game at Miller Park on my birthday at the end of May, and paid 44 bucks apiece, 11 rows back of home plate in section 117. Those are primo seats by any definition. Of course, if you want to sit in a skybox, isolated from the game, you’ll pay more. A lot more. But I’ve always thought those seats suck, and you’re better off at home in front of a big-screen hi-def TV.

So, a Brewers game is still a bargain. They have some very good and talented players, great fans, a top-notch ball park, fine amenities at the game, reasonable parking, and now….all they need is a pitching staff.

Monday, April 13, 2009


In the middle of the second scene of the fourth act of the second part of Shakespeare’s “King Henry the Sixth”, at Blackheath, Dick says to Cade “The first thing we’ll do, let’s kill all the lawyers”.
Frank Lasee, the dweeb politician from Green Bay who obviously hates Wisconsin, and actually graduated from UW-GB, went biblical on Shakespeare when, a couple years ago, he called lawyers a “plague of locusts” and demanded that the legislature cut off funding for the UW Law School.

He may have just been on the take from the Jesuits (Marquette has the only other Law School in
Wisconsin), or, more likely, he was just putting his foot into his mouth again. This is the fellow who said teachers in our state should carry firearms to keep order.

Lasee said we don’t need any more ambulance chasers and divorce attorneys - the kind of populist pronunciamentos that must play well up there in Packer-land. But a recent report from a couple of high-profile Wisconsin lawyers…..UW law professor emeritus Marc Galanter and former judge and state bar president Susan Steingass…says the Badger state has not been overrun by trial lawyers.

The report shows there are actually fewer trial lawyers per person in Wisconsin than in most states. We have one for about every 400 ‘sconnies, while the national average is one for every 264 people.

As to the implication by Lasee (and the constant drumbeat from the WMC dweebs over on East Wash) that Wisconsin is driving away business because we’re a haven for tort filings and civil lawsuits - not so much, according to the report. We have had a spike in civil filings, but over 60 percent of the increase has been from small claims court - suits to collect debts - and a nearly five-fold increase in mortgage foreclosures. Tort filings are actually down by nearly 25 percent.
But you say “aha - what about the huge increase in medical malpractice claims in Wisconsin? It’s driving doctors out of the state!!!”. Again…not so much. The report shows malpractice claims in Wisconsin down by 34% in the past couple years, and the number of doctors in the state has increased. We’re 14th in the nation in medical malpractice filings, and both Iowa and Michigan had filing rates more than double ours.

Perhaps we need higher quality of performance from the politicians in our state….rather than fewer lawyers.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Verbal Acerbity

As usual, I'm p-o'd about something. I admit to being insane about words, usage, language, and composition. I have tortured my children endlessly about their sketchy understanding of how to properly speak and write English, and I blame society for replacing K-12 courses in grammar and composition with courses about how they FEEL about things.

But the ninth circle of my hell (which, by the way, is “colder than hell”) is reserved for those who are supposed to be professional practitioners of language - writers and speakers - who apparently have never prepared themselves for a career using words.

The smallest thing can set me off. This morning, it was a sports column, where the sub-head referred to a “former Cy Young winner”. Former? They took it away from him? Same thing with “former Heisman Trophy winner”. Would you call Jody Foster a “former Oscar winner”? Once an Oscar winner, always an Oscar winner. Even OJ is still a Heisman Trophy winner.
I guess they’re afraid we’ll think THEY think somebody who won the Cy Young a few years ago, like Eric Gagne (yes, Brewers fans, he did indeed win the NL Cy Young in ’03) is the REIGNING Cy Young winner.

And don’t get me started on the number of sports writers and announcers who think prolific means the same thing as proficient.

Here’s another one that sends me into a frothy fit: all the TV folks who don’t know the difference between a lectern and a podium. And that would include just about all of them, from the networks down to the smallest local affiliate. A podium is something upon which you stand. Like the winners of Olympic medals at the medal ceremony. A lectern is something from which you speak. Like the lectern from which the lector lectures, in church. I know, I know. I’m insane.

Here’s another one from this morning’s news: “sawed-off” shotgun. SAWN off. Sew, sewed, sewn; saw, sawed, sawn. Absolutely nobody gets this one right, except G. Gordon Liddy. He’s the only (former) broadcaster I’ve ever heard say “sawn-off shotgun”. Except me.

Right after they did the story about the “sawed-off” shotgun-toting robber (why do they say shotgun-toting? The last person I heard using the word "tote" in a conversation was my late paternal grandmother), the TV station I was watching aired a commercial for a local car dealer, which had….according to the graphic on the screen…”hundred’s of used cars available”. Hundred’s. Presumably the author’s and copyrighter’s and editor’s and producer’s and director’s of those commercial’s don’t know the difference between plural and possessive.

Then they did the story about the “six-year anniversary” of the war on Iraq. In English, that’s written (and spoken) as “sixth anniversary”. Unless like the TV dweeb you’re from the Department of Redundancy Department. You can tell me I'm wrong when you find a Hallmark card that says "Happy 50th-year Anniversary".

However, in the spirit of Passover and Easter, all the transgressors are all forgiven, because I know the teachers who helped me learn this stuff - God rest their souls - would have found several errors in style and usage in this rant. May they forgive me as well. Healing is too much to hope for (for which to hope).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Transport Rapture

In my opening statement, I will stipulate to three things: Barry Alvarez is the best and most successful football coach the UW has ever had; Cindy Alvarez is a model citizen and community benefactor; and I’ve never liked the way they do business at the UW Athletic Department.

The other day one of the local TV stations unearthed a story about how Cindy Alvarez gave a $1500 motor scooter to one of the Badger football players. My reading of the story is that she “won” the scooter in a raffle a while ago; or she bought it for a raffle in 2007 and then “won” it. Or something like that. Details, details. It’s so hard to remember. Anyway, she owns it; didn’t want or need it; and gave it to one of her hubby’s players who “needed transportation”. And that’s what the owner of the motor-scooter store told the TV station.

That’s the store owner’s story, and he’s sticking with it. Or at least he stuck with it for a few days, and then when the TV station asked him again, he started to use the word “sold”. Or maybe she gave it away. Or sold it. Now, he can’t seem to remember.

In between, the TV reporter asked the UW Athletic Department about the gift. Oh, no, no, no, not a “gift”…no indeed, that would violate NCAA rules, said the spokesman. Cindy SOLD the scooter to a player. You got a bill of sale on that, asked the TV reporter. Nope, said the spokesman, but…ah…we’ll get back to you on that (they did). What’s the player’s name that she gave the scooter to, asked the reporter. Can’t tell you, said the spokesman. Neither did the Athletic Department.

Back, again, to the man who owns the scooter store. What’s the player’s name, the one you gave Cindy’s scooter to, asked the reporter. Don’t know, said the store owner. Some young guy. Nice kid. Never did catch his name.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight now: Cindy Alvarez bought a scooter. It was going to be raffled off. Nobody can remember if it was raffled off. But she owned it. Some young guy who’s a football player went to the store where the scooter was kept, and drove off on it. But the owner of the store didn’t get the name of the fellow who apparently just came in and drove off on Cindy’s scooter.
But an NCAA compliance officer “has reviewed the situation and finds no violation”.

This gang oughtta run Wall Street.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Election Redux

Here comes the train....and shorter council meetings...and business as usual at the DPI. Other local bloggers who are far-better informed and much more involved than I, like hizzoner, have a great "take" on the election. However, in my tradition as a former news anchor of delivering the least informed and most opinionated rant, I have some thoughts.

Apparently it wasn't about the train; and it wasn't about the 9-1-1 Center. I don't know what it was about, but Kathleen Falk has been elected to a fourth term as Dane County Executive. She won the urban vote and Mistele won the rural vote. Now, Kathy can give that deposition in the Brittany Zimmerman murder case. Wonder how THAT's going to turn out.

I saw a clip with Brenda Konkel on Channel 3 this morning where she said her loss to newcomer Bridget Maniaci for City Council was because of things like personality and stuff people don't care about. She told the State Journal Maniaci twisted her record and it was spring break. (Well, we do need the BITTERNESS for the Seder table tonight......) At least the Council meetings won't be as long when the new Council is seated, as we all know Brenda's penchant for extending the debate about everything. Oh, and a note to the anchorette on the local ABC really need to learn to pronounce the names of the people who hold and run for local political office. I know you're busy being a mom and all, but those Italian names aren't really that hard to pronounce. (A touch of snarkiness here????) Lord knows there was plenty of blame to pass out in the last two months in the local media for failure to do homework on pronunciation.

And how about that old terrorist Jay Allen getting elected Mayor of Fitchburg? Since I can almost literally throw a stone into Fitchburg from where I live in the wide-open Town of Madison, I'll need to redouble my efforts to spot terrorist gardeners setting up shop over there off Rimrock Road. I'll wait till a more decent hour to call my friend the appliance-repair mogul and congratulate him. I'm sure Mark Vivian lost because during the 11th hour of the campaign, Monday night, he had to help direct the anti-terror forces beat back that attack on our Capitol from a wayward Canadian pilot.

It's not a secret that I am a big supporter of The Chief, Cheif Justice Shirley Abrahamson. She marred Toni and me in the Supreme Court Chamber back in the roaring 90's, and I'm glad she's on her way to becomming our state's longest-sitting Supreme Court Justice. I wasn't too happy that her campaign ads implied that she helps people with mortgages in foreclosure, but she's a fair and impartial justice, and has been one of the greatest advocates of openness in government. Anybody who writes or talks for a living should be happy she won another ten-year term. I'm also happy that Julie Genovese (gee, another Italian name for the anchorette to stumble over) was elected to the Dane County bench. She and Steve Ehlke ran a good, positive race. No matter which one won, we'd have a good judge.

A mixed bag, education-wise, as far as I'm concerned. No surprise in this economy that at last check the Middleton-Cross Plains school referendum was losing; no surprise that Libby Burmaster's hand-picked heir for head of the state DPI was elected (thanks to a trillion dollars in ads from the teachers' union, too) but I was a fan of the "mom on a mission". I'd like to see a different approach from the DPI. But Arlene Silviera cruised to victory in the Madison School Board race, which is a good thing. She's smart and gets things done.

And the night wouldn't have been complete without a win for fluoride in Poynette. I've blogged about this before, and I'm pleased the locals, in an advisory referendum, didn't believe all the scary stuff on the internet, and voted to tell the water department to fix the equipment and turn the fluoride back on.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Dog's Eye View of Today's Election

Vote early, vote often…as they say in Chicago. I’m making my trek to the polls right after I get done writing this…and taking my famous dog in for her annual array of shots, tests, and immunizations from the vet.

Perhaps I can convince someone at the polls to let my dog vote. She’s 3 and a half, which I guess is a little over 24 in “people years”. They say Collies are pretty smart, as dogs go, so I see no reason why she shouldn’t be allowed to cast a ballot. She’s probably just as informed as a lot of the people who will show up today to vote.

There are always the “one issue” voters. The candidate could be an axe-murderer, crook, thief, pedophile, or garden variety dummy, but a lot of voters will cast their ballot for the candidate based on his or her stated philosophy about abortion, gay marriage, nuclear power, or any one of a number of hot-button issues.

Then there are the party sycophants, who vote based on a candidate’s political affiliation. These are the “straight-ticket” voters. They’d make good members of congress, who almost always vote the way their party bosses tell them to. My friend Russ Feingold is a great exception to that glittering generality.

Here in Dane County, we have to vote on a County Executive today, and for me that’s a difficult choice. I don’t like the way Kathleen Falk has handled the crisis at the 9-1-1 Center, and her penchant for putting political cronies in critical jobs (like the guy who resigned after all the problems at the 9-1-1 Center were uncovered by local reporters). But I’m not sure Nancy Mistele is the right person for the job, either. By the way....when IS Kathleen going to give that deposition in the Brittany Zimmermann case?

I’ll ask my dog for advice on that race, as we pull into the polling place. I wonder where Falk and Mistele stand on dogs. Falk has done some great things with the dog parks in Dane County, so that may tip the balance with my Collie. I know Mayor Cieslewicz has a Shetland Sheepdog, so he’s cool with me. The dog we had before the Collie was a sable Shelty, just like Mayor Dave’s. But he’s not up for re-election.

We also have to decide if Tony Evers or Rose Fernandez should be our new Superintendent of Public Instruction. Evers has been Libby Burmaster’s right-hand-man, and Fernandez is regarded as an “outsider”, I guess because she’s never worked for the DPI. The Teachers’ Union loves Tony and has spent a fortune running ads for him, so maybe it’s time for an outsider to give it a shot. Change is a big theme these days. I’m not sure where Tony and Rose stand on dogs.

Neither of these elections is partisan…but we know very well which candidates are aligned with the Democrats, and which ones are aligned with the Republicans. Which is why I think the “dog” angle is just as good as anything else as a tie-breaker.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Wretched Excess in the Local Media

The media often disgusts me. And I say that, after having worked in “the media” nearly all of my professional life. I guess it’s not the media, but many of the people who work in the media who disgust me. Like the guy my friend Dusty blogged about the other day, the guy sticking his camera in the faces of weeping family at Brittany Zimmermann’s memorial on campus Thursday.

My friend Barry Orton, who edits my friend Paul Soglin’s blog, also caught Dusty’s post and talked about the political angles, as related to the race for County Executive which culminates at the polls tomorrow.

I’m disgusted with the excess the media goes to, too often. Do we really need a CLOSE-UP of Brittany’s family shedding tears for their daughter whose life was brutally cut short by a killer still at large? Is the common denominator this unidentified photographer was aiming for so devoid of imagination that they can’t know the family is in mourning without seeing a close-up of the tears?
Dusty mentions that another old friend of mine, Joel DeSpain, one of the best local TV reporters and story-tellers the city ever had (before he went to work as a spokesman for the Madison police), tapped the offensive photographer on the shoulder and told him to back off.

In her many years of covering television news (before she went to work for UW-Health), my wife (who worked with DeSpain) was often assigned to do stories that involved families who’d just experienced tragedy. We talked about how must remember that we are human beings first and reporters second, that as representatives of the media, we must treat the victims of tragedy with the same respect and accord we’d expect. In all the great TV stories my wife (and Joel and their colleagues) did, they NEVER over-did the emotion. They made it obvious with their words and respectful pictures.

It’s sad, but for a number of reasons, the Toni Morrisseys and the Joel DeSpains of the local TV scene are disappearing, along with so many of their colleagues who were human beings and community members first - and reporters second. They could bring you the emotional impact of a tragic story without going to wretched excess.

But young folks like Dusty renew my hope that perhaps some of this new generation of reporters and media people will use their skills to tell tragic stories with respect, and without over-doing the raw emotion.

Dusty’s blog is titled “it’s all about the story”. Frank Sinatra used to say “it’s all about the song”. I’m not much of a believer in coincidences, but I do see parallels. There’s hope.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Mascot Rage

I am very angry with my high school. For as long as I can remember, they have been the “Hortonville Polar Bears” and their mascot, Polie, is a large, white bear. This nickname and mascot denigrates an entire species of animal, and the Hortonvillians - Hortonvillers - Hartoonians - whatever - will not desist.

I am very angry with the Boston franchise of the NBA. For as long as I can remember, they have been the “Boston Celtics”, and their mascot, “Lucky”, is some sort of leprechaun. This nickname and mascot denigrates an entire race of people, MY people, the Irish, and the Bostonians will not desist.

I am very angry with Notre Dame University. For as long as I can remember, they have been the “Fighting Irish”, and their mascot, the Notre Dame Leprechaun, is portrayed in a fighting stance with both fists raised. This nickname and mascot perpetuates a stereotype of MY people, the Irish, as drunken Micks who are troublemakers and brawlers, and Notre Dame our mother will not desist.

I am very happy with the New York City franchise of the American League of Baseball. For as long as I can remember, they have been the “New York Yankees”, and their most recent attempt at having a mascot (“Dandy” - a human dressed to look like a bird, with a large and unattractive hat ) was assaulted and beaten by Yankees fans so many times between 1980 and 1985 that management dispatched Dandy, and George Steinbrenner claims to have no recollection of Dandy.

I am very confused about the Poynette School District. For as long as I can remember, they have been the “Poynette Indians”, and their mascot has been an Indian in a feathered headdress. This name and mascot denigrates an entire race, and perpetuates a stereotype of Native Americans as a warlike people who were always in full battle dress, but they haven‘t used the mascot for about the past ten years. A few days ago, the Poynette School Board decided that starting next year, Poynette athletic teams will no longer be known as the Indians. But they didn’t decide what the new nickname will be, and they won’t, until the first of January 2010.

I think they should be the “Poynette Paquettes”, for the 19th-century fur trader Pierre Paquette, after whom the village was supposed to be named - don’t ask me how it got to be “Poynette”; and their mascot should be the chemical symbol for Fluorine (F). Or the chemical symbol for the Fluoride ion (F*), which is what they’re not putting in the water there any more.

Just a thought. But I can’t see how “Paquettes” or “F” or “F*” would offend anyone. Oh - wait a minute - no doubt some would call them the Poynette F'ers.

Never mind.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Brittany Zimmermann - One Year Later

A year ago today, early in the afternoon, a 21-year-old UW student, Brittany Zimmermann, was apparently stabbed and beaten to death in her apartment near campus on Doty Street. By most credible accounts, her last living act was to call the Dane County 9-1-1 center, but no one came to help her. Her fiancé found her body, in a scene that was so horrible he thought she had been shot to death.

In the year that has passed, we still know very little more than we did when the horrible crime happened. Media requests for more information about her last phone call have gone largely unanswered. Quite a few people have heard the tape of the call - union representatives, high-ranking county government officials, a few lawyers and a judge, but the media and public have not. So we can’t really decide for ourselves how badly the call was botched.

The man who ran the 9-1-1 center at the time of the botched call, Joe Norwick, stonewalled everybody, and eventually “retired” when the public outcry became so loud that not even the County Executive, Kathleen Falk, could protect her hand-picked 9-1-1 manager any longer. Falk is being challenged for the County Exec’s job in an election a few days away, by a woman who has made the botched call and ensuing cover-up the central issue of the campaign.

A year ago, I was still working as a news anchor, and the Brittany Zimmermann story grabbed my gut like the story of another of Madison’s unsolved murders, that of Kelly Nolan, the young co-ed who disappeared on a June night in 2007 and whose decomposing body was found a couple weeks later, miles from the downtown bars where she was last seen. I am the father of a daughter who is close in age to both Brittany Zimmermann and Kelly Nolan, and at the time of the Zimmermann murder, my daughter was living just a few blocks away from Zimmermann’s apartment.

After the Kelly Nolan disappearance, my wife and I had a long talk with our daughter about being safe downtown. Young people think they’re indestructible and that bad things only happen to other people. If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I’m saying. Two murderers of young ladies are still out there, somewhere.

After the Brittany Zimmermann murder and the obvious wagon-circling and months of coverup from public officials, my blood got hotter every time a new facet of the story would be uncovered by hard-working local reporters.

Every decent parent has a huge drive to protect their children, to keep them safe, to teach them how to get along in the world, and to do it in a way that doesn’t stunt their ability to make a life for themselves.

I’m disgusted with all these public officials who have obviously told so many lies about the Zimmermann case. I’m angry that the whole thing has become a political football and not a concerted effort to find out what went wrong and fix it. All I want is the same thing any parent would want - if my daughter calls 9-1-1, I want someone to come to her aid pronto. And I want the same for every parent of every child in Dane County and everywhere else.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Severe Words About Severe Weather

A friend who knows of my disdain for the scare-tactics of the local TV weather folks pointed me to a recent article in the Tennessean that talks about NOAA using stronger language to get people to take action when severe weather threatens.

You can find the official NOAA news release online easily, and it does indeed confirm that they’re considering much stronger language, particularly when they warn us about tornadoes.

The weather mavens were particularly concerned about the weather events a year ago in February, when the so-called “Super Tuesday Tornadoes” killed 56 people. NOAA looked into it, did a lot of interviews and asked a lot of questions, and discovered something the academics call “optimism bias” - people listen to and watch the warnings, but assume they’re not in danger and the warning is for somebody else.

NOAA feels like it was doing its job, getting the word out…but the word(s) they used weren’t strong enough. So last September, when Hurricane Ike bore down on Galveston, NOAA warned residents to “take cover or face certain death”. Strong enough for ya?

This tornado season, we’ll probably hear a warning more like “this is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation”, rather than “Doppler radar has indicated a severe thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado”.

Most folks don’t have a direct line to NOAA. They don’t dial up the NOAA website and they don’t have a NOAA weather radio, although there’s no difficulty in getting either. They rely on the local broadcasters to provide storm warnings. In Madison the most-listened-to radio stations have contract deals with one of the local TV stations for weather service, so let’s admit it’s the local TV stations that carry the ball here.

Perhaps one of the reasons for this “optimism bias” is what I’ll chose to call the “lupine vocalization factor”. Crying wolf. Last summer, at one point during the live coverage of weather during a thunderstorm, one of the local TV stations had no less than FIVE “Doppler indicated tornadoes” on the screen at one time. Five.

It only takes one to flatten your neighborhood and change your life…just ask the folks in Stoughton about that…or Barneveld….but to my way of thinking, the TV weather folks constantly over-play their hand, warning us of “blizzard-like-conditions” that never materialize, and showing animated on-screen images of tornadoes that really aren’t there. We’ve been numbed by their scary predictions that don’t come true.

TV weather is an extremely competitive business at the local level. Stations invest millions of dollars in weather technology and training for their weather folks. Owners demand a return on that investment, and programming consultants tell them how important it is to “win the weather war”. So it becomes a competition in who can “out-warn” the other. And they’ll admit they’d rather error on the side of caution.

Perhaps the big local TV bosses should have lunch together, and talk about how they can be more of a public service in reporting and forecasting weather, and do less lupine vocalizing.

This Is NOT an "April Fool"

Just for grins, go to this webpage. It's not a joke. It's the set of local news headlines I wrote on the morning of November 18th, last day with Mid-West.

They took my picture and bio off the website immediately, but have left this up for over four months now.

And, if you call their newsroom and nobody picks up, guess whose voice you'll hear on the message?