Thursday, December 30, 2010

Happy New Year!


Here’s wishing you and yours a fine and happy New Year. No year-end best of/worst of; no admonishments to the politicians; no predictions for 2011; just a wish for a happy, healthy, and prosperous year ahead. I’ll be back Monday.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It Will Never Snow Again


The photo above is submitted in evidence to support the assertion of the title of this post. You think the forecast for rain and 40’s the next couple days is a fluke? Hell, no. It became reality the moment the man from the hardware store dropped off this snorting beast, this Toro 38614 Power-Max 726 OE snowthrower.

The Power-Max is because of the huge American-made Briggs and Stratton engine that powers it; the 7 is the series number; the 26 is for the 26-inch clearing width; the “O” stands for overhead valves in the engine; and the “E” is for electric start. Full assembled and delivered price a dollar short of a grand.

And it all means it’s never going to snow anywhere near my suburban enclave again, ever.

For the uninitiated, there are laws about these things. Washing your car in the summer brings rain, or at least a flock of well-fed birds overhead; raking your leaves in the fall before they’ve all fallen brings on a freshening wind; putting some object in a good hiding place means you’ll never see it again; and so on.

So when the rain comes tomorrow, it will eventually wash away all the snow within a four-mile radius of my home, and the presence of the snorting beast in my garage assures that no snow will fall to replace it.

This is an immutable law of nature, and it doesn’t mean Al Gore was right. It’s just the way things work.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why We're Doomed

We are doomed because myths persist, and the critical thinking skills necessary to see through myths are becoming more and more rare. Some myths – in fact, many of them, are harmless. Some can change your life; some can cause you great harm; some can kill you.

Myths about human reproduction are rampant, despite decades of assiduous effort to educate young people, both at home and in school.

When I was a boy, there was a prevalent myth that you couldn’t get a girl pregnant if you had sex standing up. The “logic” behind the myth (and there’s often some twisted “logic” behind myths) was that the magical fluid couldn’t get “up far enough” to impregnate the girl.

And it was widely believed that you could get venereal disease by using public toilets.

When my daughter was growing up in the early 90’s, there was a myth that sleeping with a bra on would give you breast cancer. I’m not sure what, if any, flawed logic was behind that one.

Yesterday, I read results of a survey of a thousand young people (aged 12-19) from across the nation, done by an outfit called “With One Voice 2010”, which I believe is part of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Although 78% of the teens surveyed say they have all the info they need to avoid an unplanned pregnancy, a third of them (34%) believe that “it doesn’t matter whether you use birth control or not, when it is your time to get pregnant, it will happen.” And half (49%) admit they know little or nothing about condoms and how to use them.

We are doomed.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Monday Media Rant: Say WHAT?

An historic. What? Who taught you that? Unless you speak a certain British accent where you don’t pronounce the “h” in historic, “an historic” is wrong, for the same reason we don’t say an hysterectomy, an home run, an hero, an hitch, and so on. We say “an hour” because we don’t pronounce the “h” in hour. That’s right. Take it up with the Brits.

I had a chance to…. Well, did you, or didn’t you? How many times have you heard a broadcaster say “I had a chance to interview (name)….”. I had a chance to major in Chemistry, but I didn’t. Why not just say “I interviewed (name) and he/she said….”.

School closings. How do they square that with “road closures”, since they decided to change it from “road closings” last year? For the sake of consistency (and idiocy), why not “school closures?” I howled with laughter one morning last week when I heard a local yokel say “school closings and road closures.”

Play-action pass. Don’t you mean “run-action pass?” Every time the center snaps the ball, it’s a play. The key element is the run action, which mis-directs the defense while the quarterback executes a pass, not a running play.

Offsides. How many sides are there? Two. How many can you be on at any one moment in time? One. Offside.

Former Cy Young winner. Did they take the Cy Young award away from him? Every sportswriter and announcer in the world uses this idiotic form. Same thing with “former Heismann Trophy winner”, although there are actually a few of them! Reggie Bush is a former Heisman Trophy winner, because he had to give it back. All the others are simply “Heisman Trophy Winners”, like Ron Dayne.

Welcome Inside Sports Center. Really? Welcome INSIDE? Who talks like that? The same kind of idiots who say things like “The incident remains under investigation.”

I’ve got a million of ‘em. Ask my wife.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas


Hope y’all have a very Merry Christmas. I’ll be back with a media rant on Monday the 27th. Our purebred Collies (and protectors) Shadow and Sunny (above) are looking for Santa.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Too Often, Our "Heroes" Aren't Heroes

Mike Jones is a man to be admired and praised. He did his job very well and with the highest professional standards. But Mike Jones is not a hero.

Mike Jones is the security chief for the Bay District School System in Panama City, Florida, and last week he carried out his assigned duties by responding quickly to an emergency and putting himself in harm’s way. In other words, Mike did what he was trained, hired, and paid to do.

I am not diminishing his actions one bit. I want Mike Jones on my side in an emergency, just like I want Captain Sully Sullenberger at the controls of any airliner I’m aboard. Because I know Sully, like Mike Jones, will handle an emergency the way he is trained, hired, and paid to do.

Neither Mike Jones nor Captain Sullenberger will acknowledge that they’re heroes. Because, dammit, they’re not. Our media has so destroyed the meaning of the word that at least three national news networks, a few months ago, called the passengers stranded on a disabled cruise ship for a few days “heroes.”

Heroes aren’t that easy to come by. And, probably it’s because it’s just the way they’re put together, when ordinary folks do extraordinary things and put themselves at great risk to help someone else, they almost always say they’re not a hero, and are doing what anybody else would do in the situation. Most of them are quite modest.

Who was the “hero” in the Panama City school board shooting? School Board member Ginger Littleton.

After the gunman let her and the other women on the board leave, she could have done nothing but thank her lucky stars and prayed that Mike Jones got there in time to save some lives. But she did what she was NOT trained, hired, nor paid to do. She put her own life in mortal risk by sneaking up behind the gunman and trying to disarm him by slamming her purse against his gun-holding hand.

As usual, the media got it wrong. She’s the real hero here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

You Win, Scooter.

If you can hang on for eight years, and have the resources to hire a VERY expensive legal team, you can thumb your nose at your detractors and move on with your life. Scooter Jensen, you win.

To make a long story short, Jensen was charged with felony corruption in October of 2002 in the so-called “caucus scandal”. He was the only one of the accused felons caught up in the scandal to actually go to trial. The others….Chvala, Burke, Foti, and Ladwig, all did plea deals.

Now, Scooter has joined them. His plea deal, arrived at yesterday with Waukesha County D-A Brad Schimel, lets Scooter off the hook for five grand plus court costs ($89) and gives him two months to re-pay a tad over 67 grand in legal fees he owes to the taxpayers. As the litigators say in court, “my client will make the payment.”

The Jensen case wound its way through the courts for nearly a decade, with conviction, appeal after appeal (even using a law passed by the legislature years after Scooter was first charged), and now has ended in this specious plea deal.

The deal means Scooter can’t seek office, because it means he admits he has violated the public’s trust. But make no mistake: Scooter is, was, and for the foreseeable future will be a “player” on the state’s political scene. Who needs to be a legislator when you can rent them at such reasonable rates?

You win, Scooter, demonstrating again that those who have the gold make the rules.

For those of you who regularly visit this spot on the internet, I don’t need to tell you who the losers are.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday Media Rant: More Firings Ahead for Radio

It doesn’t take a genius to know that there’s going to be another massive round of “layoffs” (firings) in the year ahead. Clear Channel, the largest radio group in the known universe, is not going to be able to pay off the 19 billion dollars it owes lenders. Little things like paying off senior debt don’t worry the vulture capitalists that run radio now; you just turn the screws on the top layer of management and force them to re-finance the deal, insuring another round of exorbitant fees. Everybody’s happy.

Except the hundreds, perhaps thousands more radio folks who are going to get pink-slipped in the coming year by Clear Channel, Cumulus, and Citadel.

Cumulus, which is a huge group owner but not as big as Clear Channel, has spent the last year firing anybody who makes a decent wage and replacing the veterans (or not) with low-paid-still-wet-behind-the-ears “talent.” The bankers who run corporate radio today can’t tell the difference between quality on-air presentation and schlock, and the mid-level managers (those few who’ve made it through the last two years of purges) have no choice but to cut expenses.

Prediction: both Clear Channel and Cumulus will be significantly smaller organizations a year from today, but I won’t venture a guess as to what’s going to happen with Citadel. Cumulus has already tried (and failed) to take over Citadel. The “big three” will just keep re-financing debt they can’t possibly pay, enticing the bankers with more personnel cuts to “make the model cash-flow”.

Who’s the real loser here? Well, the experienced radio folks who will join the ranks of the many like them who’ve already lost their jobs; and, the consumer. The listener. Fewer “live” radio shows; fewer (if any) local news reports; more station clusters being run by one person during nights and weekends; and fewer real reasons to listen.

More music? Please. The mp3 player has taken over that function. More commercials? Sure, if there’s anybody left to sell and produce them. More live, local personalities serving up your daily dish of news and entertainment? Sorry. Not gonna happen.

I think it’s another grim year ahead for radio.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I'm Gonna Miss The Snarler

Marlin Schneider has represented the Wisconsin Rapids area in the state legislature since Jesus was in short pants, but the voters of that area saw fit to throw him out in the mid-term elections. He’s been known to the media (at least, to those of us who’ve been around more than a few minutes) as “Snarlin’ Marlin” for good reason. Once in a while he gets his dander up and unleashes a tirade. He’s done it on the Assembly floor and a good many times to reporters who ask stupid questions.

He’s one of those colorful characters who used to frequent the halls of state government in greater numbers, long before it got taken over by the lobbyists and special interests. Marlin was often the king of per diems, charging the taxpayers 14 or 15 grand a year simply to show up at work. He’d usually rank in the top ten for amount of per diem charged to the generous people of Wisconsin, but nobody doubted that Marlin was really in town and working. Nothing at all unlawful about what he did. He just hung out in Madison a lot.

What got me thinking about this is a snippet I heard on the radio yesterday early afternoon, after dropping my bride off at work following a lunch with her at Granite City near the big western mall. After dropping her off at her office on Science Drive, I headed off to run a few errands while I was out and about, and was half daydreaming on Odana Road when I heard a familiar voice burst into my consciousness.

John C. Smith was giving the news on WIBA-AM (he’s a news guy at the Clear Channel Radio cluster in Ann Arbor, MI, and why he does the 1 PM news on a Madison station is too long a story to get into here) and all of a sudden my ears perked up when I heard the Snarler’s familiar voice yelling “You wanna know why we don’t have a high speed train in Wisconsin? It’s because Vicki McKenna and those two birdbrains in Milwaukee don’t like it!!!”

I missed the rest of the quote because I was laughing out loud. Vicki McKenna is the afternoon talk show host on WIBA-AM, a well-known train hater; and the two Milwaukee birdbrains the Snarler was referring to have to be Mark Belling of WISN-AM (a friend and colleague of long acquaintance) and Charlie Sykes of WTMJ-AM, both card-carrying members of the train-haters club.

The Snarler has become a lame duck, but he’s certainly not becoming a shrinking violet. I’m going to miss those great sound bites.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Congressman-Elect: Obey Only The "Good" Constitutional Amendments

Allen West, the Republican congressman-elect from Florida, had himself a good military career going before somebody ratted him out in Iraq back in ’03. The young Army Lieutenant Colonel was interrogating a civilian Iraqi cop suspected of having knowledge about impending attacks on American soldiers in the area. West admits he held a gun to the cop’s head and then fired a round past his head. The cop talked.

It turned out they didn’t get any useful information from the cop, and when word of the “unusual” interrogation technique got to the wrong (right?) quarters, LTC West found himself in an Article 32 hearing for violating a couple sections of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and, long story short, was allowed to retire with full bennies. This guy was being groomed for one of the top spots in the Army, having seen combat in three theatres of operation and being a grad of the Army Command and General Staff College. But, his military career ended in a court-martial.

West was elected by the people of Florida (who are not, to say the least, given to electing a lot of black people to national office) in the mid-term earthquake. Last week, the Congressman-to-be put his foot square into his mouth on a conservative internet talk-radio program by saying that American news outlets that ran the WikiLeaks diplomatic cable-leak story should be censored. Not “investigated”, as Joe Lieberman suggested, but CENSORED.

Damn, if those Tea Party folks hear about this, young Mr. West is gonna have some ‘splainin to do, for trampling on the Tea Partiers favorite document.

Unless, of course, Mr. West is of the same opinion that some of the Tea Partiers hold, that the Amendments (like the First Amendment, with that damnable guarantee of free speech and free press) aren’t really a part of the constitution.

Or, like my often-referred-to icon from Madison of the late 60’s, Eddie Ben Elson, who announced his candidacy for Dane County DA in the nude from the stage of the Dangle Lounge (an erstwhile strip joint) with a platform that said we should “only obey the good laws.”

Damn that pesky Constitution and all those damned amendments!!!!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Brett Favre: told ya so.....

I spent (wasted) about an hour yesterday trying to find a link to a piece I’d written for one of the online publications I work for. It was a piece about how I thought Brett Favre’s career would end. I wrote it a couple years ago, and I wish I could find the link, but I can’t, so you’ll just have to take my word.

I predicted that Favre’s career would end in a late-regular-season game because of an injury resulting from a violent hit. And I predicted that it would happen this season….the 2010 season….and opined that Favre will have played one season too many, like so many other great and talented athletes.

I’m not sure if his career is over; he’ll likely get that “itch” again this spring, regardless of what he says at the end of this season; but signs seem to say he’s toast.

Favre said the injury that ended his consecutive-game streak started during the Redskins game, a week before that Patriots’ Myron Pryor laid him out and knocked him out of the game. Favre didn’t say which particular hit in the Redskins game did it, but a lot of the sports scribes are now speculating that it was a hard hit from Albert Haynesworth that started the downhill spiral that Pryor finished.

But this morning, there's talk (from the Vikings camp) that Favre is "healing fast" and may play in Sunday's critical game against the Bears - a game moved to the new U of M Stadium.

I’ll also repeat – for the record – another prediction I made in that article I wrote two years ago, when Favre left the Jets and donned the hated purple and gold uniform of the Vikes. One day, and that day may be several years away, but it WILL come, Favre will again stand on the hallowed tundra of Lambeau Field, and he will once again be given a thunderous ovation from the Packers fans as his green and gold jersey #4 is retired and his name is inscribed on the ring of honor at pro football’s shrine in Green Bay.

All will not be forgotten, but all will be forgiven.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Winter Rules Are In Effect

After driving through a raging snowstorm in the Fox Valley last week Thursday and seeing the antics of Madison drivers this weekend, I have decided (in the spirit of Bill Maher) to declare a NEW RULE: only fully winter-qualified drivers will be allowed on Wisconsin roads from November 1st through March 31st.

The fully winter-qualified drivers would have to pass a winter driving test, to be developed by a panel of experts from the Wisconsin State Patrol and the Wisconsin Transportation Department. To be fully winter-qualified, any driver who wishes to operate a motor vehicle on Wisconsin roads in winter will have to pass a behind-the-wheel test, also to be administered by the state Transportation Department, just like you have to pass a test to get a motorcycle operator license – thereby creating many, many more government jobs.

Fully-qualified winter drivers would be issued a distinctive Wisconsin Drivers License, and would be issued special license plates with a large “W” as the last character of the plate. (i.e. my wife, who would pass any such test, would get plates “805-FGK-W” on her Hemi-equipped racing vehicle). Drivers and vehicles would have to qualify. In other words, if I passed this test in my giant gas-sucking all-wheel-drive foreign-made SUV, I’d get the “W” on my plates and would be issued the fully-winter-qualified drivers license specific to vehicle type.

Similar to aviation, the fully-qualified-winter drivers license would state clearly the vehicle or vehicles you were qualified to operate during winter. If I wanted to drive my wife’s Dodge Magnum Hemi, I’d have to qualify in that vehicle. Otherwise, I’d only be qualified to drive my giant SUV. Just as pilot’s licenses work, a pilot qualified on a Cessna 182 can’t fly a Boeing 747 – unless said pilot qualifies for a 747 with the appropriate license type (rating), training, and a check-flight.

This would prevent wanna-be cowboys who own (and qualify in) a Toyota Camry from jumping into an all-wheel-drive Ford F-150 (or Jeep Grand Cherokee or any other AWD vehicle) and thinking they’re invincible on snow and ice, and thereby endangering the rest of the motoring public.

I like my idea. It creates a whole bunch of middle-class-supporting government jobs (sorry, Scott Walker); it makes good winter drivers confident that they won’t get run off the road by some rank unqualified amateur; and, with appropriately stiff penalties for failure to qualify, it would be a huge deterrent to the aforementioned amateurs, who have no business on snowy or icy roads.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday Media Rant: What Did They Expect?

The Badger Herald, a somewhat-right-leaning campus publication, decided last week to “out” UW students who bought Rose Bowl tickets and then immediately put them up for resale at a higher price. In an editorial, the paper printed the names of about three dozen students and called them “the worst people on campus” and further opined that there was a “special place in hell” reserved for those students who attempted to profit from online resale (Craigslist, et.al.) of the tickets.

The local media quickly picked up the story, and it was fodder for the talk radio hosts for a few days. Then, the Badger Herald’s young “journalists” learned a few things about how people operate. By mid-week, the paper had removed the names of the students from its website, and closed down the “comment” section of the story after threats were made. They said they knew there were hundreds more students involved than just the few dozen names they published, but didn’t have the staff to check out all the allegations. They also threw the Editor-in-Chief under the bus, saying Wednesday that the list was his idea, and not the joint idea of the editorial board.

Welcome to the real world, students.

There’s plenty of precedent for this “worst person” concept. MSNBC blabber Keith Olbermann has his “worst person in the world” segment every night. Dick Nixon had his “White House Enemies” list. One Madison lefty who hosts a local cable TV music show frequently names an “asshat of the day” on his Facebook page. Rush Limbaugh does the same thing by name-calling: “Barack The Magic Negro” and “Janet Incompetano” just to name a couple examples.

The young Badger Herald “journalists” seemed somewhat surprised at how mean and nasty – and threatening – the comments were, prompting them to shut down the comment section. This is a HUGE issue in the news biz today, from the very top and most-respected bastions of journalism right down to the local blogger who has a following of only a few people. Anonymous commenters can be real…well, asshats.

A few months ago, a horrible tragedy befell one of our neighbors. One of the local TV stations ran the story on its website, and allowed unmoderated comments. Such disgusting, untrue, and anonymous filth was posted there that my wife and I both personally implored station management to shut down the hateful and hurtful comments. They didn’t.

But other media outlets have taken a much more robust stance on allowing comments or forcing registration with a verifiable name and e-mail address, and the whole thing is a very hot potato right now, with lots of journalism eggheads weighing in on the issue. Some say removing comments and moderating responses is a form of censorship to be avoided at all costs; some say it’s the responsibility of the news outlet to monitor the content and enforce community standards of good taste.

To the young folks at the Badger Herald, I’ll simply proffer an old cliché as advice: if you can’t stand the heat…..

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Going Off The Air For A Few Days

I've got some personal and business travelling to do and a number of things to attend to, so I'm outta here for a few days. If I don't resurface with a media rant on Monday December 13th, contact the TSA. Or the CIA. Or the AARP.

Four More Years

Even though he claims he doesn’t like his dog (an adorable sable Shetland Sheep Dog named Calvin) and the President of the United States has failed to be able to pronounce his name the three times he’s been in Madison, I think Dave Cieslewicz should be re-elected. I certainly don’t see eye-to-eye with him on a lot of things, but I think he’s doing a good job.

Mind you, I don’t even live in Madison, so technically I don’t have a horse in this race, but what Madison does affects the entire metro area. He’s come a long way from the “Progressive Dane” days (whatever happened to the PD’ers? We don’t hear much about them lately…) and has moved center-left, enough toward center for my tastes.

I don’t think much of his failed “mandatory inclusionary zoning” (affordable housing) ideas; I certainly disagree with his “new urbanism” approach to everything; he has these wacky ideas to make Madison a bicycle paradise (at the expense of the motor vehicle); I don’t like his ideas to “save” the Great People’s Palace of the Arts (the Overture Center); I’m not a fan at all of the choo-choos that he loves; but he keeps the city running and doesn’t tax its residents to death.

He’s a strong enough leader to admit his mistakes, like the one a year ago today when the streets turned into rutted ice tank-traps after the big snowstorm, because of decisions he made regarding when to plow and salt. It takes a big man to face the angry public after the mess and say “I made a mistake.” He could have thrown Streets Supt. Al Schumacher under the bus following that debacle, but he didn’t. He stood in front of the TV cameras and radio microphones and apologized. That takes some cojones.

We differ fundamentally on transit. When I see the westbound beltline still clogged up at 8:45 AM, like I did yesterday on the way to the health club, I think “we ought to add another lane to this thing.” Mayor Dave thinks “we’ve got to get more cars off this highway.”

But, with very rare exception, the streets get plowed and the trash gets picked up and the cops are professional and polite and the firefighers are top-notch and city hall doesn’t take bribes and magazines of all sorts still say Madison is a great place to live. And Dave Cieslewicz is one HELL of a good writer with a very well-developed sense of humor. He’s competent and he’s likable. Four more years? Hell yes.

And by the way, Mr. President, it’s pronounced “chess-LEV-itch.”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Jinxing Things

I have an old, reliable, two-cycle-engine, single-stage snowthrower that doesn’t owe me a dime. It’s hopelessly inadequate for the jobs I ask it to do, but it has never failed me, and I’ve never spent a cent on maintenance. Every winter I test-fire it when the first snow is forecast; every year it fires right up and runs like a charm, and this year is lucky 13.

Last year, when we had that huge storm December 8th and 9th, my little single-stage 21-inch-swath snowthrower chugged through two-foot drifts like a champion. I’d run it into the drift, let it take a bite of the snow and toss it aside, and run it into the drift again, until I’d beaten a path through it. 18 inches of snow fell during that storm last year, and my little champion, which was designed for about a 4-inch snowfall, handled it with aplomb, asking only for another tankful of gas half-way through the long job.

I don’t even know what company sold this machine. Along about the 8th or 9th winter it dealt with, the stick-on decals fell off. The plaque riveted to the body of the thing says it was manufactured by some outfit called “Murray” in Jackson, TN, and the engine is a Tecumseh. I know that we bought it at Menards the first winter we lived in this house, 1998, and that we paid $300 bucks (give or take) for it, opting (wisely, as it turned out) for the fancy electric start feature. I did a quick check and similar models now go for well over twice that price.

Plug it in, prime it with a few pushes on the big rubber thingy, set the choke to “FULL”, turn the key to the ON position, press the “START” button, and it roars to life. Disconnect the power cord and fiddle with the choke a bit after it’s been running about 30 seconds, and you’re off and running. I haven’t even changed the spark plug. The thing just keeps running. I’ve even stopped measuring how much two-cycle oil I add to the gas. When the gallon can that holds the two-cycle mix is empty, I just fill it up with gas and pour in a healthy dollop of two-cycle oil. The machine never complains.

I know, of course, that I have now completely jinxed things, and that the very next time it’s called into service it will puke up a rod or something similarly heinous and die right there on the spot. I’ll transfer a thousand bucks into the checking account and go shopping, right after old reliable has been given a decent memorial service.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Monday Media Rant: El Rushbo – Deus ex machina

Every year in his December newsletter, my friend Holland Cooke makes his predictions for the coming year. Cooke is at the very top echelon of radio consultants, and when it comes to consulting News/Talk radio stations, nobody is better. Cooke consults stations which DO carry the Rush Limbaugh Program, and stations which don’t. As he says, at “work”, he’s an agnostic: if a client station carries Rush, he’s the biggest star on radio. If a client station competes with Rush, he’s the biggest buffoon on radio.

But Cooke says business is business, but conscience is personal. He says the 2010 Radio Embarrassment of the Year is Rush Limbaugh. “Beyond the potty-mouth problem, there’s the relentlessness of the angry, often offensive narrative the Rush Limbaugh Show has degenerated to, to attract attention”. Cooke goes on to say “talk radio is becoming a punch-line and we (broadcasters) are letting it happen, by condoning the kind of crap Rush puts on the air.”

Pretty strong words about the most-listened-to program on radio.

Cooke’s first 2011 prediction is “Rush, Interrupted.” Cooke re-states that his professional position with a Rush-affiliated client station is to help them capitalize on the success of the program, and then says “But I’ve got an uncomfortable feeling about where Limbaugh’s consequence-free existence is heading. Because many affiliates can no longer afford to produce local programming, Rush is – as big corporations were called during late-Bush-era bailouts – ‘too big to fail’. And I fear he may”.

Cooke’s next 2011 prediction is that Glenn Boeck will fade. No scoop there. His teary-eyed schtick is wearing pretty thin, and his bogus history lessons are becoming more absurd. Everything and everybody is under attack, right Glenn?

Rush has had a national talk show since 1988. He’s reinvented himself several times. He is, at heart, an entertainer, which gives him a real edge over the “deadly serious” talk hosts who think politics is religion. I’m not sure how much longer Rush can sustain his act. Maybe my friend Holland is right, and 2011 will be the year he starts to crumble.

Friday, December 3, 2010

We Vote With Our Heart, Not Our Head

Several centuries ago at some sales training seminar that I attended, sales and marketing guru Chuck Mefford (now CEO of Lighthouse Communications) said “buying decisions are made emotionally and defended logically.” Of course, Chuck was trying to teach us how to sell radio ads (or, in my case, manage the people who did the actual selling), but the statement has always stuck with me.

For many people, the decision to do things….whether it’s something big like buying a car or house, or something small like taking a vacation or which restaurant to dine at…is made with the heart, and defended with the head. It’s more likely that you drive a Ford or Chevy because your dad drove a Ford or Chevy than that your decision was made based on research.

So when I read my friend Dave Zweifel’s rant in the Cap Times Wednesday, it brought a smile to my face. Dave is annoyed that so many people voted “against their best interests” in November – citing the majority of senior citizens who voted for Republicans, even though it’s the party with the plan to privatize Social Security and make huge changes to Medicare. And Dave notes – as I have confirmed MANY times over in conversations with friends and acquaintances – that two-thirds of voters incorrectly believe their taxes have gone up under President Obama, and that the number of illegal immigrants is not climbing, but in fact is about a million fewer this year than in prior years.

Dave points out that the TV advertising by the Republicans worked. He says they convinced people that down was up and up was down. And, acknowledges that the Democrats did a miserable job of telling their side of the story. Most of us know by now that there’s so much “negative” political advertising for one simple reason: it works. Voters are sheep. They’ll believe anything.

I think what happened in November was, a lot of us were tired of the same-old-same-old from our politicians, so we simply voted against them. This, I believe, is one of those situations that Chuck Mefford would say was made emotionally, and is being defended logically. It’s obvious the Washington crowd didn’t get the message, so it’s going to happen again in a couple years.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Health Insurance Reform? We Don't Need No Steenkin' Health Insurance Reform!

While leaving a Dave Matthews Band concert at Wrigley Field the evening of September 17th, navigating the steep concrete steps in the nosebleed section of that ancient firetrap, my wife stumbled and pitched forward into an iron-pipe railing. She was with her brother and sister, a nurse, who rendered immediate care. Three days later, my wife woke me at 3 AM unable to take a deep breath and in great pain. We made a trip to the UW-Hospital Emergency Department, where she was diagnosed with a cracked rib and torn ligaments. She got some really good drugs, some good advice, and we went home.

Three days later, she could barely move and wasn’t getting enough air to keep a mouse alive. We headed back to the ER, and after shooting her full of more really good drugs to manage the pain, they kept her under observation to see if her breathing would improve. During the observation stage, a woman who said she was from our insurance company came into the ER and said we had a $60 co-pay for ER visits. I handed her three $20 bills and asked her why they hadn’t collected the $60when we were here a few days ago. She didn’t know.

After four tortuous hours, the ER doc who was treating her said “looks like you’re not getting any better – we better book you a room upstairs”….and they wheeled her bed from the ER to a room in the UW Hospital. (A distance which seemed to be several miles, if you’re not familiar with that huge place.) Shortly after she was settled in her new digs, the very same insurance lady came into the room, and handed me back the same three $20 bills I’d given her several hours ago. She said “your policy says if an ER visit results in an admission to the hospital, you don’t have to make the co-pay.” My wife stayed overnight, with contant monitoring, frequent meds and tests, and the usual amount of poking and prodding. We finally got outta there early the next afternoon.

This past Monday, two bills in two separate envelopes arrived from UW-Hospital, each for $60, the co-pay for my wife’s two ER visits. I called the number provided, explained, and was told that this was an issue for me to discuss with my insurance company. I agreed to pay the $60 for the first visit and called the insurance company.

Phone conversation: Why did their lady collect the $60 and then give it back? (Don’t know.) Can you point me to the page or paragraph or chapter of my insurance contract that says I have a $60 co-pay for ER visits? (I just did that to tweak the lady, and of course she couldn’t answer.) I repeated the line about ER visits that result in admissions and after a lot of stammering, she said “claims would get back to me on that.”

Several hours later “claims” got back, and said the reason they weren’t picking up the $60 was because my wife was not ADMITTED to the hospital; she was merely taken to a different room for “observation.” That's one hell of a lot of "observation" - 7 hours in the ER and 22 hours in a hospital room.

I have no doubt that this "admission-observation" thing is complete insurance malarkey.

Since the insurance company, like me, operates on “regular business hours”, I will not spend the time necessary to argue them into the ground on this one. I can make a hell of a lot more than $60 in the time it would take to deal with the insurance clowns and their layers of bureaucracy.

You win, you bastards.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

'tis The Season...

It was the unlikeliest of combinations – a young black man and an old white man, brought together by circumstances, at one of the busiest intersections in Madison: Park Street and the Beltline. I had the dogs loaded into my gas-sucking foreign-made SUV yesterday afternoon and was headed to the South Side Branch of the Post Office when the situation unfolded.

As we pulled off the westbound Beltline on the newly-reconfigured northbound Park Street exit ramp, at the bottom of the small hill was a huge GMC Acadia, doing about one mile an hour, and right behind it – in front of me – was a newer Chevy Monte Carlo. The driver’s side door of the Acadia opened, and a white-haired elderly gentleman popped his head out, bent down from the driver’s seat, and looked under the big SUV – while it was still headed toward the traffic signal about 20 feet ahead.

This looked like trouble.

The SUV came to a dead stop, and the elderly gentleman got out of it, looking confused. The young man in the Monte Carlo ahead of me swung to the left, stopped behind the SUV, put on his 4-way flashers and got out of his car and approached the elderly man. A short conversation took place. I pulled up behind the two vehicles and ran my window down.

The young man made eye contact with me – as traffic at one of the city’s busiest and most dangerous intersections began to back up – and I said “everything OK there?” He came up to my SUV and said “yah, the guy’s kinda confused. I think he’s out of gas.” I said “I’m not in a hurry – you want me to deal with this?” The young man said “no, I got this – I just got laid off and I’m not going anywhere in particular. I’ll call him a tow truck” and pulled out his cell phone.

I said “mighty neighborly of you” and he let out a small laugh. He said “let me get traffic for you and you can pull around me and be on your way. By the way, nice dogs.” I said “thanks….good luck on the job thing.”

This young man should be working for somebody in a position of responsibility. He seems a pretty sharp and smart young fellow, and I hope somebody gives him a chance. He knows how to assess and take charge of a situation. It’s hard to find folks like that. It’s brutal out there, but I hope he lands another job soon. Merry Christmas, stranger.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday Media Rant: Stories That Won't Go Away

Every Sunday or Monday following a Badgers home football game, like clockwork, the local paper and several of the electronic news media tell us how many people got tossed from the game, how many got arrested, and how many got some sort of ticket.

This past weekend, during the NorthWestern game, where the Badgers laid a claim on the Rose Bowl, we were informed that 19 people were arrested and 43 ejected from the game. Camp Randall Stadium holds 80,321 people. So if you add the 19 arrested and the 43 ejected, you get 62 – which is 0.000772 percent of the crowd. Not quite one-tenth of one percent.

And this is “news”?

In the “worst” game for arrests and ejections at Camp Randall this year, the Ohio State game, where the Badgers beat a #1-ranked team, 35 were arrested and a little over a hundred were given the heave-ho. Whoah….that’s over one-tenth of one percent of the crowd! Now that’s NEWS, pardner. NOT.

It’s one of those stories that’s reported every time simply because the information is easily available. Not one scintilla of thought goes into the writing and reporting of such a story, yet – there it is, week after week.

And then there’s the “number of hunters who had a heart attack while deer hunting” story. I did the math a few years ago, as part of a consulting project, and discovered that the number of men who had a heart attack WHILE hunting was statistically much lower than the number of non-deer hunting men in the general population who had a heart attack.

Wanna know what kills us old, fat white guys? It ain’t deer hunting. It’s snowfall.

And don’t even get me going about the “busiest shopping day of the year!!!!!” stories which proliferate on electronic media the day after Thanksgiving. They’ve been wrong every year for the last decade – it’s usually the Saturday before Christmas – but this year, given the phenomenal hype and the month-long lead-up to Black Friday, it may actually turn out to have been the busiest shopping day of the year.

Not that anyone except the merchants will really care.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Monday After


My wife Toni, in the photo above, destroying the turkey carcass with a power tool, definitely has the “restaurant gene”, passed on to her by her parents, who owned and operated a popular south-side Chicago Italian restaurant for years. Since it was a family business, my bride cut her teeth in the hospitality business by working as a “salad girl” in her parents’ restaurant during her formative years, while her dad supervised all aspects of the operation and ran the bar, and her mom was the gracious host who greeted customers as they came in. Toni spent enough time in the kitchen of the popular restaurant to have picked up some great tips from some really top chefs and cooks.

The giant bird in the photo above (23.98 pounds) was cooked to perfection, along with all the trimmings, as we’ve come to expect every Thanksgiving. Our kids, who aren’t really kids any more, but independent young adults, have picked up many of my wife’s skills and I believe time will show that the “restaurant gene” was passed along to them. My principal role during our family’s annual Thanksgiving extravaganza is to make sure the raw materials for the feast are purchased, to stay out of the way while the feast is being prepared, and help clean up the “wreckage” afterwards. I harbor no illusions that I could do anything in the kitchen half as well as my wife does.

So, on the Monday after, even though pounds and pounds of leftovers from the Thanksgiving meal were doled out to the kids, we still have a ‘frig stuffed with great food. It will not quite be enough to carry us through the week, but we retained enough turkey and trimmings to make several more full meals.

This truly is a land of plenty, and it’s still a land of opportunity, and though it’s too often a cliché, as tough as times are for a lot of our fellow Americans, we do still have a great deal to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy (?) Thanksgiving!


If you are reading this Wednesday morning, my daughter is somewhere between New York’s LaGuardia airport and our south-suburban Madison home. That’s NOT her in the photo from CBS news, above. Odds are she’ll have gone through one of the new x-ray machines and will not have been subjected to the horrible indignity of an “enhanced pat-down.”

The way I interpret it, security experts world-wide agree with Bruce Schneier’s assessment that two things, and only two things, have boosted airline passenger security in the United States since the 9-11-01 attacks: securing the cockpit door, and convincing passengers they need to fight back.

The aggressive frisking of children at airports, forcing a breast cancer survivor to remove her prosthetic breasts, and the scores of other over-the-top mindless things being done at airports today by the TSA has divided us into two distinct camps: one, which would fit in nicely with a certain group of National Socialists in Europe in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s which feels “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”; and another which is growing increasingly disgusted with the rapidly escalating shredding of our rights as a free people in a Constitutionally-created Federal Republic.

There is absolutely nothing rational about forcing us to carry only tiny containers of mouthwash and shampoo, or taking our shoes off, or checking our underwear. None of that stuff reassures us that the government is “really trying” to keep the bad actors from blowing up our airplanes.

As Seth Godin says, flying to and from domestic locations is safe. Like driving, it’s not perfect, and if somebody is crazy enough to hurt or kill themself or spend the rest of their life in prison, we’re not going to stop them, and even if we did, they’d take to railroad stations, subways, sporting events, or concerts.

As a lot of folks have said, the terrorists have already won, turning us into a “security society” instead of a free people.

I hope your family members who’ve had to travel via commercial air to join your family’s Thanksgiving celebration got there in one piece…with some of their dignity intact…and with plenty of room for second helpings.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Education and Government: Two Things That Shouldn't be "Run Like a Business"

My friend Mike pointed my attention to a wonderful rant, an open letter sent by a scientist named Gregory Petsko to George Philip, the President of the State University of New York at Albany. Philip is presiding over what will remain of his “University” after his October 1st decision to eliminate the departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian, and Theater Arts to cut costs, listing as one reason the fact that comparatively fewer students enroll in these degree programs these days.

In addition to his (scientist’s) eloquent defense of these now-abolished departments at SUNY-Albany, Petsko also points out that one of the reasons fewer students enroll in these programs is that like many institutions of higher learning today, students are allowed to essentially choose their own academic programs.

Ten million years ago, when I was a college student, we had to complete requirements in a broad array of courses and disciplines, not just courses in our declared (or, back in those draft-dodging days, non-declared) major. How else would a kid who’d just graduated from Hortonville High have learned a little bit about – and developed a lifetime appreciation for – the world’s great works of art? Was it related to my major? No. Nor were the courses in Philosophy which I had to complete before I could get my sheepskin. Nor were the two Phys Ed courses I was ordered to take.

As Petsko points out, young people aren’t wise enough yet to have the kind of freedom to set up their own degree-plan. It’s part of the job of the University to set up the program. Petsko argues that institutions of higher learning that dump programs like SUNY-Albany is doing should be called Colleges or Tech Schools or Career Academies, not Universities. I’m with him on that.

With Scott Walker taking office in a few weeks, and the likes of that horribly misguided Nass person in power over the legislature’s committee that deals with education, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if our governor-who-doesn’t-have-a-college-degree and his pals force massive plug-pulling on programs and departments and courses all over the UW System.

No doubt we’ll be told that we need to run government…and public education…more like a business.

Many of those of us who were coerced to take nine credits of Philosophy back in the 60’s will realize this for the shortsighted folly it is.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Popular and Unpopular Speech

The First Amendment, of course, was designed to protect unpopular speech – the minority view , if you will, to make sure that ALL voices are heard, particularly in political discourse. At least, that’s the way I see it. A lot of folks think “free speech” means it’s protected only for those who agree with their point of view, and forget the part about protecting the expression of a minority viewpoint. I understand the First Amendment to mean that it gives you a right to say what you want, within certain limits, but it also gives the person on the other side of the equation the same right.

There’s a video going around the internet of West Virginia Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, at a committee hearing regarding telecommunications, saying “There's a little bug inside of me which wants to get the FCC to say to FOX and to MSNBC: Out. Off. End. Goodbye”.

I understand Senator Rockefeller’s little bug, and admit to having a little bug like that myself. I don’t need to lecture the Senator on what the First Amendment means. I’m sure he knows perfectly well what it means, even though he doesn’t have a law degree, like so many of his fellow Senators do.

Political discourse in this nation, fanned by Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left, has become so coarse, so divisive, so blatantly partisan and self-serving, that there’s a temptation to do exactly what that little bug is ooching the Senator and me to do: pull the plug on BOTH of them. And tie the can to El Rushbo’s big butt, and Rachel Maddow’s, and Glen Boeck’s, and Ed Schultz’s, and Sean Hannity’s, and Alan Colmes’s, and the whole lot of the partisan talking heads.

The simple solution, of which I’m sure the Senator is well aware, is not to have the FCC (which doesn’t really regulate cable-casting) “pull the plug” on them, but to simply make different viewing and listening choices. But, as we well know, that’s simply not the way it works in the real world. The most-listened-to radio program in the nation, Rush Limbaugh’s, didn’t get to be number one because it caters to the far right. I consider myself an independent, but I listen to Rush occasionally simply to laugh at how far he goes to pander to the ultra-conservatives. A lot of my lefty friends listen to Rush to be enraged. Rush’s program has been going strong in Madison for years, and this is one of the most liberal cities in the nation.

I guess the difference is, I view Rush’s radio show as pure entertainment. Too many people think it’s “news”, and that’s why Senator Rockefeller and I have that little bug.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Security Theater

For those who don’t follow the game closely, Security Theater is a term used by many security professionals to describe the sort of thing that goes on in airports all over America now. Lots of semi-trained government employees grabbing your crotch and feeling you up, forcing you to take off your shoes, and now, medium-tech machines that look through your clothes to spice up the boring days of the TSA workers. Lots of activity; very, very little actual security.

Real security, the kind that works, is carried out by the Israelis. They don’t feel you up; they don’t use any of those look-through-your-clothes machines; they don’t make you take off your shoes. They use highly-trained professionals and they profile. An excellent article about this was written just under a year ago, and you can find it here. HT: Dad29

Oh, that nasty word – PROFILING. Never mind that each and every one of us profiles people every single day, whether we’re watching TV or out in public; the politically-correct police have made profiling a dirty word, and they tell us it’s wrong and bad. They tell is it’s OK to feel up nuns and to hassle old folks with canes or walkers and to poke and prod children at airports, because Americans don’t believe in profiling. What a load of horse-puckey.

One of my acquaintances, who writes a monthly column for a local magazine, posted on his Facebook account something about how the enhanced pat-downs are a small price to pay for “security”, given what our brave troops are facing in Afghanistan. Ah yes, let’s drag in the glorious war dead on battlefields far away. My acquaintance fails to see the irony in his post, because most of us think our brave troops on battlefields far away are fighting AGAINST exactly the kind of crap at airports he so joyfully endorses. (That would include defending the 4th Amendment.)

I’m always pulled out of the line for extra attention at the airport because I have a titanium hip. I put up with it stone-faced; there’s no sense giving the TSA goons grief. They’ll just make your life more miserable and further delay your boarding.

The best security I ever experienced, the kind the Israelis use, was during an April 2002 trip to Las Vegas with my wife. Yes, 7 months after the 9-11 attacks. We were in line to go up to the top of the Stratosphere. There was a metal-detector gate and a security guard in front of the “final” elevator that takes you to the top. I told him I had a metal hip joint, and he smiled and locked his eyes right on my eyes, saying “titanium won’t set off the metal detector anyway”. He kept his eyes locked right on mine, smiling, and said “ever been up to the top before?” I said “nope. ‘spose you’re gonna use that wand on me now, right?” He kept his eyes locked right onto mine, and said “naw, go on up there with your wife and enjoy the view.”

This guy should be in charge of the complete revision of our government’s concepts about security, and everyone who works in whatever replaces the failed TSA should be required to spend a day with this guy, to learn how to profile people….just like he profiled me, in Vegas, 8 years ago.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Passages

Two years ago this morning, I was summoned from an on-air studio during a live broadcast, escorted to the office of the CFO of the MidWest Family Broadcast Group, and summarily dismissed. Fired. Terminated. It was a Tuesday morning, and I’d known for several days it was going to happen. My friend Glen and I figured it would have happened the day before. He was fired just moments after I got my walking papers. Both of us were shareholders and partners; both of us had long tenure with the company; I had 30 years, Glen had 17. My firing happened in the same office, carried out by the same person that I’d set my retirement date with (it would have been November 30, 2011), just a few weeks before the axe fell on November 18th, 2008.

Nobody bothered to thank us for our years of service. We were both given a bunch of legal papers regarding the termination (so poorly prepared that they even got the address of the Mid-West Family Broadcast Group wrong), offered a few weeks’ severance pay, and reminded that according to the terms of our stock repurchase agreements, the company had two years to buy out our stock and pay us off.

Both of us opted to reject Mid-West’s termination offer, hired top-shelf labor lawyers, and the legal battle for me ended several months later in a “sealed settlement”, terms of which both parties agreed not to disclose. Shortly after the settlement was agreed to, my wife and I decided to get away from it all, and on a spur-of-the-moment idea, spent the best and longest vacation of our lives at Spring Training in Arizona, thereby also crossing one off the “bucket list”. We’re going to cross another one off the list in January, when we spend a week at a resort in Punta Cana.

Getting fired is one of those really critical life events that rank close to the top in the “Schedule of Recent Experiences” that Psychologists and Psychiatrists use to get a handle on what your life is like. Being fired is #3 on the list, with only “death of spouse” and “divorce/separation” above it. Even if you know it’s coming, it’s still traumatic.

I can’t say enough good things about my wife, who was completely supportive through the long legal battle. Our retirement plans had to be adjusted, and thank God our health insurance is on her side of the ledger. Glen and I remain very close friends, and we agree we’re both better off “out” than “in”. We’ve had to reinvent ourselves. We both became our own bosses, and both of us have stitched together a number of projects as independent contractors. Neither of us is up at half past two in the morning any more; we set our own work schedules, and if Glen wants to take a few hours in the afternoon to put some miles on his bike and maintain his fabulous weight loss, he does; if I feel like knocking off for an hour to run the dogs or head to the health club and pound the “dreadmill”, I do.

I will be continuing to work with my clients on my writing and research contracts, and doing part-time work for an online news organization, and it will likely be long past my originally anticipated retirement date of 11/30/11. And I’ll continue this blog. But I won’t mind it a bit. I love what I’m doing, and I’m the captain of my own ship. I’ll be 62 next year, but I sure don’t feel that old. I really do believe 60 is the new 40.

I don’t often look back on the event two years ago; but I’ll always remember the date, just as well as I remember my wife’s birthday and our anniversary. There’s too much to look forward to! My friends, many of them who still work for Mid-West, say they’re happy that I landed on my feet and say things like “maybe the firing was a blessing in disguise”. Regardless, I’d still rather the “retirement” decision would have been mine, not theirs.

So, here’s to the “Undiscovered Country”: the future.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Duplicity

I was not exactly a fan of George W. Bush and have no intention of buying his new book, and my friends know better than to give it to me for Christmas. Yesterday I became aware of a chapter in the former President’s book dealing with events of September 2006. The war in Iraq was bogged down; Americans were starting to really get sick of it; costs were spiraling out of control; Iraq was teetering on the brink of open civil war; and Mitch McConnell came to visit the President in the White House to talk about the war.

President Bush’s account of the meeting is that McConnell advised the Commander in Chief to begin pulling out of Iraq and to start ending the war.

Not because of the American lives (and treasure) being wasted there; not because it had nothing to do with capturing bin Laden; not because the American people were weary of another long, drawn-out and expensive war; not because it was becoming apparent that we were not making any progress; but because McConnell feared the Republicans would take it on the chin in the upcoming elections.

All this, while, as you may recall, McConnell was publicly railing against the Democrats who wanted withdrawal, calling them unpatriotic and echoing Cheney’s line (at least, that’s who I think originated it) that if we don’t kill them (the terrorists) “over there”, they’ll follow us home and kill us “over here.” I know President Bush uttered the trite phrase many times, but Cheney was really running the show. And McConnell repeated the line countless times.

As you also recall, President Bush, rather than beginning a draw-down of troops from Ira q, instead ordered an escalation (“The Surge”), which McConnell publicly supported.

It is this kind of duplicity that so erodes any remaining faith I have in our government’s ability to formulate effective foreign policy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Horror.....the horror.....

Trapped on a cruise ship, with only bread, hot dogs, bottled water, and military rations….no showers; no sumptuous banquet spreads at every meal; no frolicking to the pounding beat in the on-board disco; the abject terror of knowing that at any time you could be forced to do something or make a choice you don’t want to make.

Such is the gruel of the 24-hour television news cycle.

The folks on the disabled cruise ship are “victims???” At least two national news outlets referred to them as such. One of them (CNN) had a live interview with two of the “victims”, women who seemed to be more interested in craning their necks to see themselves on the TV monitor than paying attention to the insipid questions the anchorette was asking them.

I have a friend who’s a TV news anchor in Milwaukee, and in desperation (driven no doubt by a 20-something producer) she posted on her Facebook page last week a plea for ANYBODY who knows ANYTHING about how to get in touch with ANYONE who has a connection to ANYONE on the disabled cruise ship to call her at once. Presumably, the most tenuous of connections would have been acceptable. I’ve been on a couple cruises, back in the day. I should have called her and volunteered my expertise.

Since TV’s default position is EXCESS, we were treated last week to constant updates, day after day, of the VICTIMS trapped aboard the dead-in-the-water mega-cruise-ship, inaccurate reports that they were being fed Spam (instead of duck l’orange), and a ceaseless parade of trivial information, breathlessly delivered as “BREAKING NEWS.”

Just think, if this had happened 20 short years ago, we may never have been so completely informed about the plight of these hapless victims.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Media Rant: Citizenship 101

Last Thursday evening when I tuned in the local news on TV, one of the local stations began the broadcast by “teasing” the upcoming stories, including something like “and the nation pauses to honor the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country”, with a video clip of Vice-President Biden laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

A few moments later, one of the news anchors read the story, with the same phrase about soldiers who had “made the ultimate sacrifice.” I immediately posted a snotty status update on my FaceBook page, railing at the station and pointing out that Veterans Day is to honor ALL veterans, and MEMORIAL Day is to honor dead veterans. My parting shot on the status update was “Citizenship 101.”

But the children who write news these days never had Citizenship 101. We were too busy teaching them in our schools that they are all special; they are all wonderful young people; they can do or be anything they want when they grow up; and all sorts of other crappy, politically correct lies. The courses folks my age had in “civics” have long been abandoned in favor of…..well, in favor of other things.

So it’s likely that the person who actually wrote that tease and the Veterans Day story was never told the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and it’s further likely that their family members who served our nation in uniform, either in the big war (WW2) or VietNam are too far removed from the daily reality of these young people. They probably know someone who’s serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, but they never learned about the meaning of these national days of observation, and why they are so important to so many of us.

My snotty FaceBook status update drew plenty of response, much of it from friends who are, like me, “retired” from the broadcast news business, with comments about the “young people running the ship these days” and similar themes. These young folks have no idea about the sacrifices their grandparents made, and don’t realize at a gut level that unless those sacrifices had been made, we’d be speaking German or Japanese today.

Perhaps we could devote a few hours of precious classroom time in our public schools each year to re-educate our younger citizens about this nation’s history and values. It might be wise to explain again the meaning of the 4th of July, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ping Pong Politics

Memo to the Republicans just elected: We didn't hire you to undo everything done during the Doyle years. If you don't concentrate on creating jobs, we'll fire you, just like we did the Democrats on November 2nd. We don't want the smoking ban rolled back, stem cell research stopped, or anything done about the gun laws. Stop the train, as you promised, and get to work on creating jobs. Playing ping-pong politics - the Democrats passed it, so we'll repeal it, creates a cycle of partisanship the voters are utterly fed up with. Play the game at your own risk.

Memo to Scott Walker: You're not governor until January 3rd. Stop acting like you run the show, even though Jim Doyle is allowing you to. And for God's sake, take time to learn just a LITTLE bit about the stuff you want. (i.e., the Charter Street UW powerplant has already been converted to burn that damnable switchgrass. We don't want it "unconverted.")

Memo to Jim Doyle: There's lame duck, and then there's paralyzed duck. We're still paying you to be governor, not to retire early. Get your ass back to work.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

I am the son of a highly-decorated World War Two veteran and today I am of mixed feelings. There is the feeling of pride and thankfulness that so many young people like my dad answered the call to duty six decades ago and performed so many heroic acts in defense of democracy. And there is the feeling of regret that our political leaders, since that war that ended with so many of the troops NOT “home alive in ‘45”, haven’t made many good decisions since then about appropriate use of American military power.

I am also a child of the Viet Nam era, and though I did not render service to our nation by bearing arms against the “enemy”, many of my close boyhood friends did, and many of them lost their lives shortly after they got that notorious letter in the mail – the one that said something like “your friends and neighbors have selected YOU to defend the United States of America.”

My late father was the Commander of his local VFW post, and when guys my age came back from the Viet Nam war and told their stories, dad and his fellow VFW members became increasingly disgusted with that unwinnable, unsustainable war, and the political leaders who so mismanaged it.

Today I must also acknowledge a feeling of disgust with my country, for a number of reasons. Our political leaders, some of them combat veterans, too often give lip service to men and women in uniform, and callously ignore the real-world needs of their families while they’re gone, and of the veterans themselves when they return. The eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – the official time marking the conclusion of the “war to end all wars”, World War 1 – which used to be called “Armistice Day” and in many nations, like Canada, is still called “Remembrance Day”- gives us pause to remember their service to our nation, but one day doesn’t cut it.

The headline of yesterday’s Wisconsin State Journal was “July 2011 pullout scratched” – still another broken promise from a politician. 1,265 of our troops have been killed in Afghanistan and 9,095 have been wounded. We’re asking our highly-trained combat soldiers to be social workers, police officers, public relations agents, and a score of other duties that are at best tangentially related to the stated mission. We’re asking our citizen-soldiers from the National Guard, many of them who’ve already given years of service to their country, to do the unthinkable and completely uproot their lives and families to give still more – with so little recompense.

I wish we could honor our brave soldiers on this day by keeping ALL of our nation’s promises to them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Scary

The pre-dawn blast that utterly destroyed a home in Sun Prairie early yesterday morning, killed one person and badly injured two others, was more than scary. It was almost terrifying. I’ve never seen a home so pulverized and debris scattered so far from a single blast.

As the sun came up and the local TV stations beamed live shots of the scene, I was astonished at what was revealed in the light of day. And having worked a few home explosion stories in my day, I know the TV shots don’t really do justice to the horror of it all….the sounds, the sights, the smells of the aftermath of a huge natural gas explosion.

Neighbors told the TV reporters they heard an initial, deep rumbling, and then a huge blast that in many cases literally blew them out of bed. Reporters, hours after the 3:30 AM blast, said they could still smell gas in the area. Insulation from the walls and roof of the home was blown to smithereens and covered everything for several hundred feet, hanging in trees, scattered on the ground like snow, and dotting the entire landscape. Not one wall was left standing and the entire structure was leveled. One of the doors was thrown several hundred feet down the road. The structural two-by-fours were turned into matchsticks.

The natural gas pipeline leak and explosion in a San Francisco neighborhood (San Bruno) in September destroyed 53 homes and damaged 120 more, and created a firestorm that raged for nearly a full day. The blast in Sun Prairie destroyed the home, but did shockingly little damage to the neighboring homes and did not create a tower of fire.

The scene in Sun Prairie is a stark reminder of what can happen when you have a gas leak. We don’t yet know all the facts of the story or the circumstances of what led to the explosion, and may never have the full picture. The folks in San Bruno complained for days about the smell of natural gas, but the people who lived in that home in Sun Prairie may never have had a clue that anything was wrong.

After you’ve covered one of these horrific events as a news reporter, you learn never to ignore the warning smell of natural gas. A lot of folks in Sun Prairie now know first-hand it’s not a warning to be taken lightly.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What's In A Name

I was listening to my friend Mitch Henck’s show on WIBA-AM yesterday morning while running errands on the west side, and one of his topics really tripped my trigger. His topic was “names that some people deliberately mispronounce”, but it morphed into commonly mispronounced words. One lady called in and said she hates in when somebody says “Ree-la-tor” (instead of real-tor) and it sent Mitch off on a rant (for reasons which only Mitch would understand) about people saying “Ohio” when they mean “Ohio STATE” and “Kansas” when they mean “Kansas STATE.”

It all got started when a lady called in and said the name Rush Limbaugh. She made it sound like the last part of Limbaugh was pronounced “bough”, like the bough of a tree. It set Mitch off immediately, and he went into a rant about how some of his left-leaning acquaintances deliberately mispronounce the blowhard’s name because they despise him. (I admit: I usually call him “Russ Limbo.”) And Mitch said a lot of his hoity-toity political friends on the left deliberately mispronounce local conservative politico and former school board member Nancy Mistele’s name with the accent on the wrong syllable: mis-TELL.

One “tell” that’s become current is people who say “Democrat Party” instead of “Democratic Party”, a deliberate tweak which I think was originated by El Rushbo himself. Any time I hear anyone say (or write) it that way I know they’re drinking Rush’s Kool-Aid. That ancient idiot Mitch McConnell does it frequently, as in “we will not compromise on anything with the Democrat Party.” Once in a while I write or say “the Republic Party” just to tweak them back.

Another similar one that’s current in the political scene is to refer to the President as “President Barack HUSSEIN Obama”, with special emphasis on his middle name, as though to imply that he’s a Moslem and not a Christian.

Mitch also pointed out that a lot of lefties still deliberately mispronounce Ronald Reagan’s name “REE-gun” because they so despise him. (I’m not sure which is more derogatory…that, or “Ronnie Ray-Gun”, as if he were some sort of space cowboy.)

All I know is that when somebody asks if Mister mo-RISS-ee is there when I answer the phone, I know it’s somebody who doesn’t know me and is about to try to sell me something.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Derailing the Medium-Speed (58 mph) Train

The numbers just don’t work. At least, none of the numbers I’ve seen with my own eyes, or have heard bandied about on local media (i.e., Mitch Henck’s show on WIBA-AM). It’s no coincidence that shortly after the earthquake at the polls last Tuesday, the Doyle administration took a step back from the train and halted things temporarily while they “study” it a bit more.

I disagree with many things Scott Walker has said (and implied) that he’s going to do when he takes office (the vague “put Madison on a diet”; the luddite view he holds of stem cell research; his absurdly inadequate Lieutenant Governor, and on and on) but I agree with him that this medium-speed train thing between Madison and Milwaukee is one of the biggest public boondoggles ever.

The attitude “but if we don’t take the money from the Feds (and just where DOES that money come from, really?) it will go to Florida or Georgia” doesn’t hold water with me. The train thing reminds me just a bit (here comes the unfair comparison) of that dandy present Jerry Frautschi and his wife gave the city.

Sure, the medium-speed rail project will create jobs. Damned expensive jobs. And it will likely never be close to self-sustaining. It won’t need just a small municipal boost, like the wonderful Goodman Pool, it will need millions and millions in subsidies from us, every year in the foreseeable future.

My generation has already piled up enough debt on our children’s future.

Thou shalt not press down upon the brow of the Wisconsinites this crown of railroad spikes; thou shalt not crucify Wisconsin on a cross of railroad ties.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Full-Time Madison City Council?

Before you say “look what we got when we made our state legislature full-time”, just wait a minute. I think that was one of the most stupid moves in state history, and the 92 boneheads up there at the top of State Street (you’ll have to figure out which seven I don’t think are boneheads) are capable of far too much mischief as “full-time lawmakers.”

A letter to the Editor of the Cap Times Wednesday from Barry Gore of Madison really got me thinking. He makes a very persuasive case for going with a full-time, VERY downsized, professional city council. Right now we have 20 elected alders, paid $7,545 a year, most of whom have full-time day jobs. They don’t have offices in city hall; they don’t have city phones; the lot of them are assigned a staff of two city employees.

I lived in Los Angeles for years; they manage to scrape by with 15 alders. Gore points out St. Paul MN has many similarities to Madison, with seven alders who are paid 56 grand a year. Meetings start at 3 PM. Portland OR (which our mayor often sites as Valhalla) has a mayor, four at-large commissioners, and an elected auditor.

The point is, it’s time to get rid of these 17 nutballs (you’ll have to figure out which three I don’t think are nutballs) and their tiny neighborhood fiefdoms, draw new boundaries, and collapse the council down to 7 or 9 people. Pay them a decent salary (60 grand?), give them bennies, give them offices in city hall and expect them to be on the job from 8 to 5, and start the council meetings at 3 PM like they do in St.Paul. No more taking critical votes at 4 or 5 AM. No more endless questions about minutiae (from a certain west-side alder).

When we’re done with that, we’ll tackle that unwieldy behemoth called the “Dane County Board of Supervisors.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Man's Best (and most patient) Friend


The indignities our pets put up with. Many of those of us who love dogs (and cats) and live with them, consider them family members. We talk to them; we discipline them; we often give them their own “bed” to sleep in; we take them on trips with us; we buy them treats and toys and presents; and when they have a birthday, we sometimes go overboard.

I happen to think the photo above, of my wife with our purebred Collies, is cute. Some would say it’s demeaning; some would be annoyed at the extent to which we’ve gone to pretend our canines are humans. The birthday girl is to the left. Shadow turned 5 last week. She’s a tri-sable Collie. Her “sister” (see what I mean?), Sunny, in the middle of the picture, is a Blue Merle Collie. She’s 2. We got them from the same breeder and they have similar championship blood lines and many common ancestors.

Perhaps that’s why they’re so tolerant of our attempts to humanize them – superior genes. They didn’t fuss a bit when Toni put those party hats on them. They were patient as I maneuvered around them with the camera. They happily put up with all our foolishness and I’d like to believe they loved the attention.

Collies were bred to herd sheep and run all day. They have a long nose to push between sheep and separate them. They need room to run, and are not good “apartment” dogs. We fenced our expansive back yard so they could run to their heart’s content. As working dogs, Collies need a “job.” Since we don’t have sheep, they make sure the deer, squirrels, and wild turkeys remain at bay, as they patrol the fenceline. They take their work seriously.

I learned a long time ago you get out of a relationship with a pet what you put into it. The more you love them, the more they love you.

There’s a lesson for humans in there, somewhere.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Local Media do a Good Job on Election Coverage

All the local TV news shops put their best foot forward last night and provided really solid election coverage. Since the races were tight, and numbers a bit slow to come in, they did an admirable job of filling the time with pundits and "news analysts", just like the networks did.

Channel 3 had more information on the "crawl" at the bottom of the screen than did the other three stations (15, 27, and 47), with more statewide and regional races flashing by on the "tickertape"; and all four provided their network's coverage until the locals took over. It wasn't hard to find out what information was available. But I was disappointed when I woke up this morning and began to scan the local TV stations, and Channel 3 did not have its "crawl" at the bottom of the screen working (technical problems?). It's the fastest way to pick up information, but when I scanned to 15 and 27 they had the "crawl" running.

Lowlight of the night for me was when I scanned to Channel 47, which was carrying Fox network coverage until 9, and I was informed by "Fox News Contributor" Sarah Palin that journalism is more rotten than politics today,and that when she went to college and got her degree, it was all about "who, why, what, where, when, and how" and just providing facts, not opinion. She's right at home at Fox, huh?

The State Journal's coverage this morning was excellent and comprehensive, and their website (madison.com) was alive with updates all night. My only bone to pick with the paper is that what Ron Johnson gave last night in Oshkosh was not an "acceptance" speech (which is given when you accept a party's nomination for office) but a "victory" speech. Watching the video of Feingold's concession speech, I think he knew long before last night that he wasn't going to be re-elected.


I didn't listen to any local radio last night, so I won't comment. But I do have a bone to pick with the graphics folks at all the local TV stations. The names and numbers are WAY too far apart on the "crawl" - the name is way on the left and the number (vote total) is way on the right. It's too hard for the eye to go all the way across the screen to get the information, every time the crawl changes. It would be nice if they could put the names and numbers MUCH closer to each other.

But I tip my hat to all the hard work and long hours put in by our local print, radio, and TV news folks - they did a great job. I just wish some of the outcomes had been different.

And don't get me going about the new Brewers' skipper....the only good thing I have to say is at least he's not a recycled loser from some other major league managing position.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Teach 'em All a Lesson: Vote Today

The purveyors of televised collegiate and pro sports -ESPN, Fox, Versus, et.al. – have taken to giving every weekend a nickname: Rivalry Weekend, Separation Saturday, and on and on. If they were in the business of televising election coverage, they might well call today “Toss-Out Tuesday.” Many people who go to the polls today will be voting against somebody.

A recent Rasmussen poll said 65% of likely voters would get rid of the entire Congress and start over. A lot of us are fed up with the crop of losers infesting Washington, and it doesn’t take a Rasmussen poll to know that there’ll be a lot of “voting against” today.

Fewer than 40% of Americans will vote today, or have voted already, because of the early and absentee voting that’s allowed and often encouraged now. I’m not going to get into the predicting business, either on turnout or result, but you can bet that I’ll be casting my ballot today at the Town Hall.

As marketing blogger Seth Godin says, “If you don’t vote because you’re trying to teach politicians a lesson, you’re tragically misguided in your strategy.” As Godin points out, since 1960 voting turnouts in the mid-term elections are down seriously, and it’s mainly because of the rotten TV ads we’re forced to endure. Godin posits that in too many cases, the politicians – or at least, those who actually run their campaigns – don’t want us to vote.

Political advertising, among other things, is designed to suppress the turnout of the opponent’s supporters. If the ads annoy you to the extent that you’re not going to vote for tweedle dumb or tweedle dumber, their strategy has succeeded.

Don’t let the cynics who run political advertising win. Even though you’re disgusted with the negative ads, the nastiness of the campaigns, and the absurdity and lies we’ve been fed for the last two months, take the half-hour (or whatever) and vote. Your vote today sends a lot more messages than you may think, even if you’re “voting against.” Just do it.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Scent Of Fear (And A Whiff of Panic)

I think it was Wednesday night last week when I heard the first one. Christmas ad, that is. I can’t be sure, because I wasn’t paying close attention to the TV, which was on in the background, but I thought I heard an ad for Christmas shopping at Sears.

Thursday night, I actually saw it.

The line I thought I heard, and apparently did, on Wednesday night, was “Be the Santa you want to be, at Sears.” I yelled to my wife, who was in the kitchen at the time, that it was official…I’d actually seen my first Christmas ad, three days before Halloween. Although I’m sure it was the same ad that ran the night before, four days before Halloween.

The scent of fear pervades the merchant community, with one estimate this year saying people will likely spend only about 2% more this Christmas season than last year, which was a miserably bad year for the merchants. There was another ad I heard in the past few days (you can tell I don’t really pay a lot of attention to the ads when the TV is on), I think it was for Target, talking about Black Friday.

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, which is almost universally (and inaccurately) reported by the mass media as the “busiest shopping day of the year”, although the Saturday before Christmas has been the busiest shopping day of the year for decades. And with the escalating influence of broadband internet, the way we shop for Christmas is rapidly evolving, hence the term “Cyber Monday”, a recently-coined moniker, referring to the Monday after Thanksgiving when everybody goes back to work and uses the company’s broadband connection to surf the web and shop for Christmas stuff.

Now that broadband (high-speed) internet is available in so many homes, the term “Cyber Monday” will probably be short-lived. We can surf and shop to our heart’s content, in the comfort of our home.

When the merchants start running Christmas shopping and Black Friday ads before Halloween, you know there’s panic in the air. Hang on; we’re in for a bumpy ride with desperate Christmas ads soon replacing the horrible political ads which will die tomorrow.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Breast Cancer "Awareness"

Since this will be my last rant during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the curmudgeonly cynic in me must come out for a final October appearance. I have a modest suggestion for the Komen Foundation and all the other excellent organizations that do so much to try and find a way to end this horrid disease which touches nearly every family on earth.

Stop talking about “breast cancer awareness” and change your pitch to “breast cancer research.”

If you stop and think about it, “awareness” campaigns are for things the general public isn’t familiar with. I’m willing to bet that if you stop a hundred people on the street, every one of them will know someone, either in their assortment of friends or family, that has been personally touched by breast cancer. We’re well “aware” of the disease, and how devastating it can be.

What we need is, in my opinion, more money for medical research and less for “awareness” campaigns. Every time I see or hear about a breast cancer awareness event, and there’ve been plenty in the past month, the cynic in me rears its peaked ears and horns. I saw some product at the entrance to the grocery check-out line last weekend and the packaging said something about a percentage of the proceeds going to help fund “breast cancer awareness.” I commented to my wife that it probably meant a tiny percentage, if anything, would go to a reputable breast cancer charity, and the lion’s share of it would go to put more pink ribbons on the company’s packaging and advertising, under the guise of “breast cancer awareness.”

You can easily make the case that by putting a pink ribbon on its products, a company is helping people be “aware” of breast cancer, when what we really need is a greater contribution to research rather than awareness. Decades of working in a business which is entirely supported by advertising (on-air broadcasting) has made me pay very close attention to what sort of claims are made by the manufacturers of every type of product, so don’t tell me “breast cancer awareness” and “breast cancer research” are interchangeable marketing terms. They’re not. Marketing experts are very careful about how they use words.

I’ve already ranted about the silly annual social media campaigns, like Facebook’s, where women post the color of their bra or where they like to keep their purse, under the guise of breast cancer awareness. It would be better if they’d just donate some money for research and post the dollar amount.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Windmeggadon Brings Thoughts Of Spring (Training)

We didn’t do it last year, but we’ve promised ourselves we’re going to this year. My wife and I, that is. And the topic is a warm-weather vacation when Wisconsin weather is crappy, which means essentially any time between Thanksgiving and Memorial Day. Thing is, we can’t decide if we want to go somewhere really warm…like Aruba or Cancun….in late January, or to Spring Training in Arizona the first week of March.

We went to Arizona for a week of Spring Training two years ago, and it was the best vacation EVER. We loved the high-angle sun, the warm, dry air, watching the ballplayers, doing some fine dining, lolling by the pool, and really unwinding. My fear is, of course, that since we agree it was our best vacation ever, another week at Spring Training might fall short by comparison.

The thing is, when we talk about what we want out of a vacation, we keep coming back to the way we worked the Spring Training visit of ’09. We slept in, had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, spent time by the pool reading the morning papers, maybe did a bit of shopping, headed to the ball park a little after noon and grabbed some hot dogs and baseball until about 3:30, headed back to the hotel, hit the pool, hit the bar, went to dinner, had a nightcap, and then relaxed in the hotel room, balcony doors open with the great night-time desert breeze wafting into the room.

But going to Spring Training in the first week of March means we’ve got to slog through the very worst of the Wisconsin weather before we escape. And although escaping the snow and cold in late January or early February to Cancun or Aruba or Ixtapa or Cozumel or the Bahamas or Acapulco or Cabo is very tempting, neither one of us is the type to enjoy doing nothing but laying in the sun all day. The baseball aspect of Spring Training gives us a daily activity that we really enjoy.

Decisions, decisions.

If I were a bettin’ man, I’d say we’re gonna be at the Hyatt in Tempe the first week of March. It’s a pleasant thought after two days of roaring wind and chilly temperatures around here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wednesday Media Rant: How NOT To Fire Someone

Being fired from a broadcasting gig is something to which I can speak with great authority. It’s happened to me 8 times, most recently just a couple years ago. Some of the whackings were more classy than others; some, like my last one, were downright nasty. I’m sure Juan Williams knows the feeling.

Not only did Williams’ boss, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller fire him over the phone, she told the media hours later that Williams’ unacceptable behavior was between him and his conscience, or his psychiatrist. Real classy, that Schiller woman. A high-profile ten-year NPR veteran fired over the phone. Fox immediately hired him for a couple million bucks a year, and the pushback from NPR listeners began.

It got so heavy, this feedback or pushback or whatever you want to call it from the millions of NPR listeners (latest radio ratings say 34 million people listen to NPR every week, many of them spending six hours a day with NPR) that NPR’s e-mail servers and website crashed. There was genuine anger expressed from the NPR listeners. Many of the e-mails said something like “whether he deserved to be fired or not is one question, but there’s no question that the way you did it, stinks.”

To not have the common courtesy to ask Williams to come in for a face-to-face termination meeting is bad enough, but then to imply publicly that the man needs psychiatric help is WAY over-the-top. Williams, of course, had the last laugh here, and NPR finally did what it’s no doubt wanted to do for years: fire this insolent bastard who had the unmitigated gall to consort with Fox News, the antithesis of NPR. (Schiller claims NPR does not lean left at all; but then again, it’s a matter of perspective, since her formative years were with the New York Times.)

My last firing, which will have been two years ago next month, had similarities to Williams’. It was more about house politics than anything else, and for my 30 years of service to the company, I wasn’t even thanked. A couple days after I was whacked, the CEO (who was in hiding on the whacking day, on “legal advice”) went on the air and libeled me. I, too, had the last laugh, since my lawyer taught the company a very expensive lesson, and the person behind my demise met her own cosmic karma a few months after I was whacked.

As to what the real cost to NPR will be for so poorly handling the Williams termination, we’ll just have to wait and see. There’s a lot of sabre-rattling right now, and threats to cut NPR off the federal teat, but these things tend to blow over pretty quickly. I suspect it might just be a medium-sized public relations headache that will soon dissipate. Regardless, it was a classless act, and Williams –whether you agree with his sentiments about air travel or not – deserved better.

Monday, October 25, 2010

One Week And Counting....

A week from today, presuming you're reading this on Tuesday, I’ll head to my township polling place, fill in the blanks (actually, connect the arrows), and heave a huge sigh of relief. It will mean that within a few hours, the damnable TV political ads will be done for a while, and the robo-calls will end.

I have no idea how Tom Barrett got my personal cell phone number, but he called me Saturday afternoon and asked me to vote for him. At least, it sounded like it really was him, when I listened to the voicemail message. I’m pretty careful with my personal cell phone number, so I suspect his people were using the “sequential dialing” method, where they call every single number in every single exchange, from XXX-0000 to XXX-9999.

I have a Facebook friend who announced Sunday night that now that the Packers had dispatched the Vikings, she and her husband were turning the TV off until the day after the election, and would only watch DVD’s. That’s the most extreme post I ‘ve read so far, but I’ve read scores of them from friends who are just disgusted with the stupid ads that get worse every time there’s an election.

Tom Barrett is a wife-beater and closet flat-earth-society member. Scott Walker is a serial killer and secret member of the KKK. Russ Feingold wears Nazi SS uniforms when he thinks nobody is looking. Ron Johnson secretly blew up that I-35 bridge in Minnesota a couple years ago. Tom Nelson is actually a clever robot designed by Japanese spies to steal our government secrets. Becky Kleefisch secretly works in the porn video industry.

The more stupid it sounds, the more the stupid voters tend to believe it.

My daughter, who is now in Grad School in NYC, lived with us for a month this summer before she moved east, and every day she gets about five political pieces in the mail at our address. I guess she belonged to some state employee union when she worked at UW-Hospital, because most of the crap she gets is from Democrats. The stuff is transported from the mailbox at the end of our driveway to the wastebasket in my home office.

My wife baked some goodies for our son Sunday afternoon, and she called and asked if we could stop by around 3 to deliver them to his downtown home. We knocked on his front door several times at 3 but got no response. My wife opened the door and yelled his name, and he was just a few feet away in the living room, watching TV. He said “omigod I lost track of time…I don’t answer the door any more, because it’s just political people who want me to register to vote or listen to some spiel about their candidate.”

I’m tellin’ ya, this next week can’t pass too quickly to suit me.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Numbers and The Madison Choo-Choo

While in the course of running a number of errands late last week, I heard a clip on WIBA-AM of Mayor Cieslewicz talking about the choo-choo. It’s no secret he’s a big fan of light rail, passenger rail, heavy rail, medium rail, trolley rail, and all the kinds of rail there are. But what he said stuck in my mind, and I spent a couple minutes with a calculator and the internet to try and figure out if what he said made any sense at all.

Mayor Dave said estimates are that there would be around 500 thousand (half a million) passenger boardings per year at the soon-to-be-built train passenger terminal in Madison, near the Monona Terrace Convention Center. Half a million a year.

Since most people don’t listen with a critical ear, this stuff just goes past them. But let’s break it down a bit. If there are to be half a million passenger boardings a year in Madison, simple division tells you that’s an average of 1,370 passengers per day. I know, some days would be heavier use days than others, but let’s just go with the straight average.

The average Greyhound bus carries 50 passengers. So according to the figures the Mayor is using, that would mean an average of 27 busloads of passengers would board the train in Madison daily. That, for those of you who aren’t good in math, means a busload full of people every hour on the hour, plus 3 “extra” busloads, on average, every single day of the year.

Really?

Do you believe that number? I sure don’t. It’s no wonder there’s so much to-do about this whole rail thing. I believe that the people who support rail are people who are not exactly fans of the automobile, nor the bus, since both burn fossil fuel (gee, I wonder what the train runs on…….) and use the roads, which leads to the evil URBAN SPRAWL and LOW POPULATION DENSITY and on and on.

But half a million passengers a year, boarding in Madison? Really???

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Friday Media Rant: Decisions, Decisions...

Here’s an issue that I never faced in nearly four decades as a broadcaster: having a company official tell me to take down a post on a Facebook account. I didn’t join Facebook until after I was forcibly retired from the biz a couple years ago. But a friend of mine who’s a TV reporter had to deal with the issue earlier this week.

Seems this friend of mine is very well acquainted with one of the candidates for statewide office, having worked with this person in the past. In the course of doing reporting work, my friend read the biography/resume this candidate had put online, and on a Facebook post, my friend commented that the biography/resume was grossly “stretched”, and that this person was hugely exaggerating in a number of areas.

I’m being deliberately vague here to protect the identities of both, but I think you get the idea.

The powers-that-be at my friend’s TV station became aware of the post, and asked my friend to take it down. I can well imagine that conversation – an on-camera reporter making a social media post clearly derogatory to a candidate for state-wide office. Long story short, my friend removed the post, and replaced it with one saying management at the TV station had asked that it be removed.

I sent a message to my friend, saying it didn’t surprise me that the folks in carpet corridor (management) at the TV station asked that the post be removed. My friend’s response was interesting. My friend said unlike nearly everyone else who has an on-camera job at the station, there is absolutely no “promotion” of work things on the Facebook account. It’s a completely personal Facebook page, and my friend has a personal acquaintance with every single “friend” on the account. Only friends with personal connections are allowed access, no “fans from TV land” who don’t really know my friend. Therefore, my friend was annoyed that management intervened, because ALL of us have opinions.

I would have told “management” to jump in the lake, but that’s one reason I’ve been fired so many times. (Me and Juan Williams, I guess…) What would YOU do?