Friday, January 29, 2010

I Think, Therefore iPad

Half “meh…”; half “WOW”. That was the consensus of the gang at the health club yesterday morning, regarding the announcement of the new iPad. Some of the folks I talked to can’t wait to get their hands on it and some said they’re sticking with what they have.

I work out at the UW-Health Sports Medicine facility in the UW Research Park for a number of reasons. First, I’m surrounded by scores of doctors in case I have a “grabber” while pounding the treadmill; second, it’s just a hop-skip-and-a-jump to my hip replacement surgeon’s office on Science Court (Dr. John Rogerson, may he live long and prosper) in case I do something stupid and damage his phenomenal handiwork; and third, there’s a mix of people from senior citizens to young UW athletes. And nobody’s there to “see who’s wearing what”.

One young trainer on the staff told me she can’t wait. She sees it as the all-in-one device that she can “keep her life on”. She’ll surf the web, download and read books, text and e-mail, keep photos on it, write notes, you-name-it. I asked her if she thought the size of it would be a problem (it’s about 10 inches high and 8 inches across) and she said “nope”.

Another young man (I’m 60, so to me, a 30-something is a “young man”) who works in the high-tech world at a company in the Research Park thought it might be too big for him to lug around. He’s sticking with his Blackberry and iPhone. He was somewhat off-put by the size, and says “when they shrink it down, maybe”.

I do wonder about the size of it. I’m not a fan of the Kindle. One of the iPad’s nicknames before it was released was “Kindle-killer”. I prefer the printed page – although Steven King’s latest novel, “Under The Dome”, which I’m reading now, seems to weigh more than a bowling ball. And, as a friend of mine with credentials in the hi-tech field asked me yesterday, what if you drop it – even on a carpeted floor? Hmm.

For years, we were told “smaller is better” in the electronics world. Except when it comes to TV’s!!!

I won’t buy one. But my wife will. She walks around with a Blackberry on her hip for work, and is addicted to the iPod Touch she carries in her purse. She e-mailed me yesterday right after Steve Jobs’ announcement that she’s saving her pennies for an iPad. I e-mailed back saying she’d need fifty thousand pennies. She e-mailed back saying she thinks she has 27-thousand pennies in the bottom of her purse.

She’s got about a month to come up with 33-thousand more pennies, and I’m betting she will.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Farewell To His Arm?

There’s a video clip from late in the 1977 NFL season that’s burned into my mind: a short clip of Joe Namath, wearing the L-A Rams uniform, faking a pass and stumbling on those ruined knees and circling toward the end zone from the 2-yard line. One hand is clutching the ball to his chest for dear life; the other is outstretched toward a 300-pound defensive lineman, and the expression on his face clearly says “oh, dear God, please don’t tackle me”.

That’s NOT how I want to remember Brett Favre.

Namath’s role with the (then) L-A Rams was quickly forgotten; he rose to fame as Broadway Joe of the New York Jets. Favre’s career is tied as closely to Green Bay as Namath’s was to New York, although Brett just finished the best season of his career, statistically-speaking.

But, as former Vikes coach Bud Grant loved to say, “statistics are for losers”.

The Saints defense really put the hammer down on Favre Sunday night. Monday and Tuesday all sorts of “pants on the ground” photos went ‘round the internet and circulated through the social media by Favre-haters, illustrating what a 40-year-old man looks like when he’s been put through the wringer by guys about half his age and nearly twice his weight.

There was a lot of “see, Vikes fans - that’s what it’s like” from Packers fans, referring to Brett’s last pass - which he freely admitted after the game was a mistake; that if he had it to do over, he’d have run the ball a few yards to give Longwell (another former Packer) a chance to beat the Saints.

Many of those of us who are Packers fans since birth, raised in the church of St. Vincent of Lambeau, have very mixed feelings about Favre. It was the childlike enthusiasm for the game that made us love him on the field; his childlike, self-centered and tearfully indulgent retirement/non-retirement news conferences that frustrated us; and his childlike selfishness late last summer when he put on that purple uniform that enraged us.

I really hope that he retires now. He’s got nothing left to prove. He beat the Packers twice, proved that he’s still “got it”, and took his team to within one step of the Super Bowl. He deserves to live the life of a retired superstar, a legend like Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, Don Marino, John Elway, Joe Montana, Terry Bradshaw, and the other greatest QB’s of all time.

He also proved -hopefully to himself, as well as to us - that if any given team decides to take him out of the game and end his career (see: Lawrence Taylor v. Joe Theismann, 11/18/85, “The Hit That No One Who Saw It Can Ever Forget”), he’ll limp into the Hall of Fame. Literally.

Next year would very likely be “one season too many”.

Packers fans, let the healing begin.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Vampire" Terrifies Madison Woman

I can’t help it. For twenty years, I was a news anchor in Madison, and old habits die hard. So I often check the Madison Police Department’s website, just to see what the thugs and losers are doing to keep the cops busy.

The incident report about the vampire doesn’t even mention the word. It’s filed as a battery complaint. Happened in broad daylight….just before 9 Sunday morning. What kind of vampire walks the streets in broad daylight?

A vampire wannabe.

More on that, in a moment. In case you haven’t noticed, vampires have apparently hired the kind of public relations help that Tiger Woods needs, and have completely revamped their image. There’s the “Twilight” series of novels Stephenie Meyer has written, and which have been turned into very successful movies.

Stephen King says Ms. Meyer “can’t write worth a darn”, but even the master of horror himself acknowledges that Meyer’s vampire books are HUGE. They’re all best-sellers, and the central figure is a benevolent vampire, Edward Cullen, who CAN exist in sunlight, and has become the heart-throb of millions of teen girls. He uses his powers for “good”. And to protect Bella Swan, his girlfriend.

Then there’s the “True Blood” phenomenon: the multiple-award-winning HBO series about vampires and shape-shifters, based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels written by Charlaine Harris. Sookie is a telepathic waitress who’s fallen in love with Bill the vampire, but he’s one of those old-school vampires who has to sleep in a coffin and can’t stand sunlight - or silver.

I admit I’m hooked by both the Twilight movies and the True Blood TV shows.

Back to our story about the vampire wannabe in Madison. Madison Police Public Information Officer Joel DeSpain - who’s been a pal of mine for 20 years and who worked with my wife back in their Channel 3 days - is the person who writes most of the police incident reports for the media.

He says the 21-year-old Madison woman was jogging on the bike path on the near west side, where Allen Street becomes Edgewood Avenue, Sunday morning just before 9, when a white guy (DeSpain did NOT say “pale white guy”) in his 20’s, about five-foot-ten with spiky hair, pushed the young woman down. He “flashed his teeth and hissed”, according to DeSpain, but the young woman was able to fight back and run off.

Not one bit amusing in any way to the young woman. DeSpain told me yesterday afternoon the young woman was terrified, and cops aren’t amused one bit by the attacker. This is serious stuff, and if the cops catch this guy, he’s in big trouble.

With these new-age vampires walking around in daylight, will Madison police have to start carrying silver bullets?

I say stake ‘em - right through the heart. It’s the only way to be sure.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

She (Was) So Fine, My 409

Every year in late January, the Speed Channel tortures untold thousands of American men, by televising about 16 hours of the annual Barrett-Jackson auction of classic cars, live from Scottsdale Arizona. And every year, I torture myself by watching as much of it as I can and DVR-ing what I can’t.

I still have about five hours to view.

Most of the high-dollar vehicles auctioned off are what’s commonly called “muscle cars” from the mid-60’s to early ‘70’s, when Detroit crammed huge and powerful engines into small and medium sized cars with names like GTO, Mustang, Chevelle, and Barracuda. But, a lot of just plain “nice” restored older cars, and cars that are simply “rare” are bought and sold as well.

One of my neighbors, who lives a couple blocks down the road, has a blue 1955 Chevy 2-door coupe. He takes excellent care of it, and it looks like it just rolled off the assembly line. He stores it over the winter, but in the warm-weather months, he drives it. I made a point of stopping by his house last week to ask him if he was going to watch the Barrett-Jackson auction, although I knew what his answer would be.

We’ve often reminisced about the cars we owned as younger men (he’s retired) and how we wish we would have kept them. But, like he says, back then they were just cool cars, and every new model year brought a new batch of them.

The first “collectable” car I owned was a 1962 Chevy Impala SS with the legendary 409 engine. 409 cubic inches; 409 horsepower. I bought it back around 1970, drove it, and traded it in for a brand new ‘71 Mustang Boss 351. Through the years, I’ve owned a passel of collectable muscle-cars, but I sold the last of my “fleet” in 1996. At one point, I owned nine cars, including some rare Chevelles and Corvettes.

The one I hung onto the longest - a perfectly-restored 1968 Chevelle SS 396 - I sold to a man in Waunakee for an even thirty grand. That was 14 years ago. Several similar Chevelles sold for nearly six figures in this year’s Barrett-Jackson auction. But the sale that stunned me the most was a 1964 Corvette convertible - in the same color and with the same engine as the ‘64 ‘vette I owned - that went for $550,000.

I got considerably less….quite a bit more than half a million less…when I sold my ‘64 ‘vette to a man in Racine in 1995. I remember my last words to him just before he drove off in it: “Enjoy it, but don’t kill yourself”.

Over the next several days, when I have spare moments, I’ll watch the rest of the Barrett-Jackson auction that I have DVR’d. And like I do every January, I’ll feel a pang every time I see a car like one that I used to own, sold for a price I never imagined the car would fetch.

As my neighbor says, if only we could figure out which car to buy today and put into storage, and, when the time is right, sell it, and put all our grandchildren through college.

Monday, January 25, 2010


DAWN and ADAM. Odds are you’ve never heard of them. They’re not people. They’re acronyms for Drug Abuse Warning Network and Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring. DAWN is a national public health surveillance program which gathers data from people who are treated at emergency care facilities for drug overdoses. ADAM gathers data from law enforcement agencies, from urinalysis of suspected drug users.

A new study pretty much says DAWN and ADAM are way off the mark.

Scientists in Oregon studied untreated wastewater at nearly a hundred different municipal sewer systems across the state, and concluded illicit drug use was much higher and far more widespread than anybody ever thought.

There were a few findings which weren’t really surprising. More meth was detected in rural areas than in urban areas, and more cocaine and X were found in urban locations.

Sound familiar, ‘sconnies?

The big federally-funded studies, like the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, are essentially useless. They rely on responses to questionnaires, with huge under-reporting of drug use, and they miss many of the people who are likely to be drug users. They don’t take surveys.

Drug epidemiologists are excited about the Oregon study, because untreated wastewater doesn’t lie, and it contains the metabolites of everything we ingest, including all “legal” and “illegal” drugs. And it catches all the high-risk populations that surveys, arrests, and ER admissions don’t.

Any low-level drug salesperson can tell you illicit drug use is essentially equal between blacks and whites, but drug arrests of blacks (and other minority populations) are much higher. In fact, a study by the Justice Policy Institute (that’s the po-po, folks) shows what most determines drug arrests is not drug use or drug crime, but how much a jurisdiction spends on law enforcement.

Sort of like speeding tickets: the more traffic cops, the more speeding tickets.

So why are drug epidemiologists all wound up about this Oregon study? Bottom line: it shows that illicit drug use is far more widespread than conventional wisdom indicated. It means there’s hope that far smarter policies can be developed regarding drug use and prevention. It’s not just “poor people in the inner city”, as many suburban non-recreational-drug-users might think.

The longest, probably the most expensive, and certainly the least effective war this country has ever been engaged in - the war on drugs - may be on the verge of some new “shock and awe”.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Supremes: I Hear A Symphony (Of Political Ads)

Let the spending begin anew! Now that five of the nine justices have ruled that money is speech, and corporations are people, it’s time to start REALLY pumping some money into the coffers of the purveyors of political ads…and revive the struggling print and broadcast media!

I will remind my friends on the left, who let out a wail heard ‘round the city late yesterday morning, that this ruling applies to the crowd on Nob Hill (Wisconsin Education Association Council) as well as to the crowd on East Washington Avenue (Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce). Everybody, left or right, can spend, spend, spend!!!

It’s truly a horrible decision for the American sheeple, who have demonstrated time and again that attack ads and negative advertising works, and that they’re not capable of independently seeking the truth or validity of any candidate’s claim.

But it could be a great decision for my former colleagues in the broadcast world, because it means the political ad money will flow like never before. It was political ad money during the Presidential campaign that forestalled the first round of massive layoffs in the broadcasting world. The main burr under the saddle is that broadcasters are forced (by federal fiat) to sell their ad time to politicians at the “lowest one-time unit rate”.

In other words, the politicians made sure years ago they get the best rates for radio and TV ads.

The glut of disgustingly negative political ads we’ll see in the coming months may create enough voter backlash to toss every existing politician out of office, regardless of party affiliation, and may actually hasten the demise of broadcasting in the long run. Lots of viewers and listeners are going to be thoroughly disgusted.

Senator Feingold had a news escape out shortly after the Supremes spoke, saying “It’s important to note the decision does not affect McCain-Feingold’s soft money ban, which will continue to prevent corporate donations to the political parties from corrupting the political process. But this decision was a terrible mistake.”

Corrupting the political process? Senator, you’re kidding, right?

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign minced no words in blasting the ruling, with a news escape which opens by saying “The narrowest of majorities on the US Supreme Court legislated from the bench today, effectively enacting a radical vision of the First Amendment and a bastardized version of democracy that has never been approved by elected representatives of the American people and strays far from the ideals spelled out so elegantly by the nation’s founders”.

It goes on to say that the ruling means public offices are commodities and elections are the marketplace where they’re bought and sold.

Personally, I’m not surprised one bit at the ruling. It’s just another example of how out of touch every branch of government - executive, legislative, judicial - is with the people.

A lot of us are awfully fed up with political business as usual, and this is just another disgusting example.

Ask the folks who just voted in the Massachusetts election about that.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My Encounter With Madame Texter

First, it seems absurd that we even need a law to prohibit sending or receiving a text message while driving. It’s inherently dangerous, distracting, and most of all, completely unnecessary.

But if we didn’t have issues like this to deal with, the dweebs up there under the big top would be doing something more troublesome, like spending money the state doesn’t have or making sure marriage is even safer. Heterosexual marriage, that is.

I’ve had several near-misses with texting drivers in the past couple years, and mainly they’ve been young people who drift out of their lane in the beltline as they thumb the tiny keyboard of their cell-phone at 60 MPH.

But I had a VERY near-miss with a texting driver yesterday morning just after ten o’clock, and I’m outing her right here and now.

I was running some errands on the southwest side of town and was headed east on PD at Verona Road, one of the busier intersections on that side of town. I was stopped, waiting for the light to change to cross Verona Road. I know it was just after 10 because my old pal Sly had just signed off, and I switched over to catch the news on WIBA-AM.

Ironically, John Colbert was delivering the story about the assembly overwhelmingly passing the ban on texting while driving, when in the lane to my left a slow-moving SUV, a Honda CRV, was gradually creeping forward. As it got closer to the vehicle ahead of it, I noticed two things: first, the driver was texting; second, it looked like she was going to roll into the car ahead of her.

She didn’t.

The light changed and three lanes of eastbound traffic moved forward. Madame texter, of course, was slow on the draw, because she was texting. She glanced up, began moving forward, and then - her eyes on her cell phone - began drifting to her right. In other words, drifting right toward my huge, expensive, gas-sucking, foreign-made SUV.

I couldn’t move too far to my right because there was solid traffic in that lane. I laid on the horn and began to wonder if I was going to have to take the ditch ahead, across the intersection, so madame texter wouldn’t hit me. She “came to” just in time and veered back into her lane.

I watched her go up the hill past Star Cinema, and noticed that again she was drifting off into the right lane. Still texting, no doubt.

By the way, this was not some youngster. I got a good look at her, and I’m guessin’ she was all of 50. And, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say if this bill ever becomes law, she’ll ignore it with the same disdain as someone 30 years her junior.

This woman was driving a maroon Honda CRV - not a brand new one, but not all that old - with Wisconsin plate 506-JZT. I pulled into the PDQ station and jotted down the plate so I could broadcast this warning to other motorists.

20 years ago, when I wheeled around in a Corvette which I would put away for the winter, I’d have been behind the wheel of my ultimate winter beater…a ‘76 Chevy Caprice. Three tons of gunmetal grey Detroit iron. I’d have put that woman right into the ditch and never looked back.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Service: Wins Every Time

Imagine your spouse, perched precariously on the top step of a stepladder, 15 feet above the ground, with a broom in one hand and the other hand grasping the edge of the roof, trying to brush the snow off your satellite dish so you can watch TV. Imagine yourself holding on to her by the belt-loops of her jeans, ready to pull her back from the brink of doom if she loses her balance.

This story actually starts back in June, when I pleaded with the satellite dish installer to mount it on the railing of our second-story balcony, rather than on the roof above. I’d heard the stories about signal loss when your dish is covered with snow, and wanted to have easy access to the dish in winter.

He said the snow issue wouldn’t happen. Famous last words. I should have stuck to my guns.

The wife-on-the-ladder-with-a-broom scenario has played out four times this winter, and the last one, a couple weeks ago, was a doozy. (For those who are now thinking “why doesn’t HE go up there?”, suffice it to say there’s not a stepladder made that’s safe for my weight.) Our 25-year-old daughter chastised us for our Keystone Kops routine, and said “next time CALL ME and I’ll stop over and do it for you!”.

There’s gotta be a better way than the wife-or-daughter-on-the-stepladder routine.

A little online research revealed a couple of solutions, to a problem that’s apparently pretty widespread. The most common method is to purchase, to the tune of about a hundred bucks, a fitted cover for your satellite dish. Two problems there: one, a lot of people on the discussion boards said the darn things don’t work with heavy, wet snow; two, there’s the whole issue of climbing up on the roof to install it.

The other solution, I discovered, is to buy and install a satellite dish heating element, which “melts snow and ice right off the dish”. Again, the issue of installation…and wiring. Nope. Not for me. I kept thinking the answer is a long-handled brush, on the order of those snow roof-rakes you can buy (which I did a couple years ago, and use constantly). Not to be found online anywhere.

I could reach the dish with a long-handled brush, by standing on our second-floor balcony off the master suite. No risking life and limb; takes care of the snow problem, and evenly-distributed thin ice from freezing rain doesn’t seem to bother reception. My idea was to buy a ten-foot length of PVC pipe - lightweight but sturdy - and attach a brush to the end of it.

Off to Dorn’s Hardware on Midvale Boulevard.

I was standing in front of the wide selection of ten-foot PVC pipe, when one of the staff asked me if he could help. I told him my problem and my theory. He asked a few more questions, and listened carefully. He’d never heard of the snow-in-the-dish issue. Then he said, “follow me to aisle 7”.

There, he showed me a heavy-duty brush, affixed to a collapsible ten-foot pole. The whole thing was about four feet long, and it was sturdy enough for the job! “Painters and house-cleaners use these”, he said. Under 20 bucks.

And that, my friends, is why I go to the local guys, and not the big-box guys. It’s called service.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

There's No Stalgia like Good Stalgia

Last week Thursday started as usual, with coffee and the newspaper, and one of my first pleasures every day is to read what my long-standing friend Doug Moe has to say about things in his column in the State Journal. Doug had the way-back machine on, and was reminiscing about his 21st birthday. Doug so loved the Travis McGee novels that John D. MacDonald penned, that on his 21st birthday, Doug sent away for information about houseboats.

McGee, the protagonist of the novels, lived on a houseboat. The young Doug Moe was fascinated.

Later in the morning, wasting time on Facebook, I saw that several of my friends had posted “throwback” pictures of themselves - another one of those viral things that go around on the social media. I contributed a picture of me at the ripe young age of 33, wearing the official 1982 WISM-AM t-shirt. My wife commented under the picture “Handsome as ever!”, God bless her.

By that time, the nostalgia machine was running full tilt.

I’ve often said my mother is responsible for my voracious appetite for reading, my vocabulary, and my acerbic tongue. She read to me constantly in my early years, and imbued me with a love for reading - and writing. My father taught me the virtue of “putting the hay down where the cows can eat it”, curbing my tendency to use words like “acerbic” and “imbued”.

I figure I can get away with it here, because you guys are pretty smart.
Doug Moe loved the Travis McGee novels, but my addiction was the Hardy Boys mystery novels. I read every Hardy Boys book in the Hortonville Public Library, and the librarian - Sadie Klein - even “imported” Hardy Boys books for me from the Appleton Public Library. Titles like “While The Clock Ticked” and “The Sinister Signpost” still come easily to my memory.

Frank and Joe Hardy were my heroes. I was completely absorbed in their fictional world, and longed to solve the kind of intriguing mysteries they always fell into. I was crushed years ago when I learned the “author” of the novels, Franklin W. Dixon, was really a pen-name used by a number of authors who actually wrote the novels for the Stratemeyer Syndicate.

But my true youth was much more like Tom Sawyer than the Hardy Boys.
I grew up midst pine forests, a crystal clear lake, a sky that was always blue, summers that lasted forever, and the best friends you could imagine. Every day was a banquet of sandlot baseball, fishing, row-boating, bicycling, exploring; every night was camping out under a blanket of blazing stars.

Everybody knew everybody else, from one end of the small village to the other; nobody ever locked the door to their house; and kids who got caught “causing trouble” were taken to their parents for discipline, not juvenile court.

That’s the way I choose to remember it, but I can’t adequately explain it to my kids, who grew up in shopping malls and went to schools with metal detectors and cops roving the hallways.

I wonder what childhood recollections they’ll have, when they’re as old as me. It will probably involve some video game.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

History According To El Rushbo

It was one of those moments that radio programmers dream of. It was just after 11:30 Thursday morning, and I pulled off the road and into a parking lot so I could give the radio broadcast my undivided attention.

Rush Limbaugh was explaining the economic meltdown to me.

El Rushbo and Pat Robertson had themselves quite a day Wednesday, each in their own distinctive way blaming the earthquake in Haiti on something other than plate tectonics. But Thursday, I was seized by a transport of radio rapture, and America’s Anchorman was explaining to me - and about five million others - how the bailouts “really” happened.

I actually went into the glove box of my gas-sucking SUV and pulled out a notepad, so I’d get it right. You see, the captains of Wall Street really didn’t want the bailout money, El Rushbo explained. He said these men were dragged into a back room at the White House, and during a three-hour meeting, were told they had no choice but to take the taxpayers’ billions.

I see.

The Source Of All Truth Who Does His Program With Half His Brain Tied Behind His Back To Keep It Fair went on to explain that nearly all the bailout money has been paid back. (More “breaking news”, I guess.) This was the genesis of his rant - that Obama was whipping up populist class-envy by proposing a fee on financial institutions which accepted the bailout money and were about to pay obscene bonuses.

From behind the golden EIB microphone, the great one further explained that the bankers never wanted to make those sub-prime real estate loans. They were coerced by a government which told them they HAD to make these loans. (Wait a minute - who was in charge of the government back then? Oh, never mind….)

Then, when the loans went bad, according to Rush, the titans of Wall Street had to ingeniously devise these new financial instruments (I presume he was referring here to Credit Default Swaps) which would give them some protection if the loans went completely south.

In a stunning whiplash, a few seconds later Limbaugh said this is exactly what Saul Alinsky and ACORN wanted - total control of the banking industry.
You’ve got to be doing some serious drugs to hallucinate like this.

All too often, a rational person’s first instinct is to silence dangerous wackos like El Rushbo, and Glen Beck, the Emotional Wreck. Too often the political left wants to go there. Shout ‘em down!! But this is exactly why the framers of the Constitution wrote that First Amendment. It wasn’t to protect POPULAR speech - it was to protect UNPOPULAR speech.

Even if said speech is a pack of lies. Long as it’s not told under oath, it’s OK.

As I was taught by a wise professor a long time ago, the easiest way to expose a liar is to give their speech wide circulation.

I can’t wait for Rush’s next “history lesson”.

Belly Up - It's Bonus Time!

The pot of bonus money for the Wall Street tycoons, who will get their annual hand-out this month, is said to be 140 billion dollars this year. The Lords of Greed had another really good year, and they’re about to throw their annual party to hand out the checks.

Business as usual.

Oh, there are rumblings from the usual quarters about excess, and lefties and righties and tea-baggers are equally atwitter. On the left, Postmistress Arianna Huffington is suggesting that people take their money out of these giant financial institutions and put it in community banks.

On the right, politician Darrell Issa is poking around Toxic Timmy Geithner’s trash, trying to get the goods on the AIG bailout money, which went in the front door at AIG and out the back door to rescue banks that were AIG’s trading partners.
Never mind that was NOT what AIG was supposed to be doing with the bailout money.

And the tea-baggers? Generally speaking, they don’t have a problem with financial institutions that didn’t take bailout money handing out huge bonuses. Besides, the tea-baggers are in near-frenzy about their sold-out national convention in Nashville in a couple weeks, starring Mrs. Palin.

I shouldn’t poke fun at the tea-baggers. In a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll just a few weeks ago, the tea-bag movement was more highly rated among Americans than either major party. And most of the tea-baggers, like me, don’t believe in the concept “too big to fail”.

Goldmine Sachs, which spawned the current Obama financial brain trust, has about 18 billion in the bonus pot. In a transparent attempt to get “better press” about their bonus propensities, Goldmine said many of the highly-bonused employees give generously to charity, and the firm was contemplating a mandatory charity-donation program for the bonus-getters.

When the Wall Street Journal asked Goldmine about the charity-donation plan, the company could give no specifics. And when Time Magazine looked into the “charitable contributions” made by Goldmine employees in the past year, it found much of the money was “donated” to elite private schools.

So much for the “good PR”.

The British government has just finished levying a 50% tax on bank bonuses, but nothing of the sort is in the works here. But the Obama administration is considering a fee on banks to recover bailout money. New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is investigating the bonus practices of the 8 largest banks in his state. And the FDIC is considering a higher insurance rate for member banks that pay a large portion of their executive compensation in bonuses.

But it’s mostly just talk, and very little action.

When the bonuses are handed out, there’ll be 24 hours or so of negative press, and a bunch of manufactured outrage, but then things will be back to normal.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My "Pre-existing Condition"? I Still Have Teeth.

I love the movies and I love popcorn. The addiction goes back to my formative years, because my dad made the best popcorn in the world, and he would pop up a huge batch and the family would pile in the car and head to the drive-in theater in Appleton or New London.

I shudder to think how much Crisco I consumed between the ages of 3 and 17.
My love of popcorn has often run me afoul of the dental authorities, and a few days back I busted a tooth nearly in half munching down on an unpopped seed. Yesterday, I spent a half-hour in the dentist’s chair. The dentist - Dr. Sweeny, who took over my mouth when Dr. Buescher retired, delivered the expected news.
More on that in a moment.

I like my dentist’s office. It’s not like the one-man-show that Dr. Cousineau operated when I was growing up in Hortonville. I go to Dental Health Associates in Fitchburg, and they must have a couple dozen dentists and a phalanx of other employees. I go there because the Friday before the Super Bowl in 1989 I had a dental emergency, had just moved here from L-A, and my colleague (who would later become my wife) gave me her dentist’s number.

Dr. Buescher saw me that day, patched me up, and gave me his HOME telephone number in case I had a problem over the weekend. Yes, Super Bowl weekend. Any football fan willing to risk interruption during the big game is a professional I want to be associated with.

Back then, he was in a much smaller shop on Wingra Street, but they’ve grown to be a huge operation. It’s like old home week when I go in this big new office on Chapel Valley Road - my dental hygienist, Nancy, spots me in the lobby and we visit about our kids. When they put me in the chair, Annie pops in to say hi and give me some grief about the Brewers. She and my wife are big Cubs fans and thick as thieves. I’ve known Nancy and Annie for years.

Dr. Sweeny comes in and we recount the shocking ending of the Packers game Sunday. Then, down to business. Long story short, the tooth I busted is next to a hole where a tooth was extracted back in 2002. They said I could get along without a bridge back then, so I did.

But that was 2002, and now it’s 2010, and this busted tooth now needs at least a crown. As Dr. Sweeny points out, NOW is the time, if ever there was a time, to put a bridge in and really repair the upper left side of my mouth and fill that gaping hole. No sense putting a crown on now, and then cutting it off if we decide to go with a bridge down the road.

A crown is a grand; a bridge is three grand. The crown will be covered by my wife’s excellent (and expensive) dental insurance. But a bridge….not likely. Why? Because, as I understand it, this insurance company calls my 2002 extraction a “pre-existing condition”. I had a different insurer back then, and when we changed companies in 2008….bingo: pre-existing conditions suddenly materialized around that hole in my head.

Ya gotta love the insurance racket. They’re as good at saying “no” as bankers are these days.

I say, let’s make it a toll bridge, and I’ll be partners with the insurance company

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Network TV: Slow Learner

You are a brand-name known the world around, and have the largest segment of the market for your product. Do you: 1) do nothing; 2) continue to advertise it; or 3) change it.

I’m talking about Coca-Cola and you know what they did in 1985, and how it worked out. “New Coke” was a total flop. It doesn’t take a Harvard Business School study to tell you the correct answer is 2.

You’d think the brain trust at NBC would have heard about that lesson, when they decided to move Jay Leno to 9 PM. The affiliates knew almost immediately that it would be a flop, and asked the NBC brass why they were tinkering with the most highly-rated 10:35 PM show on the air, which also was the #1 revenue-generator.

But nobody listened to the affiliates, and now, we know what happened. Again.
And who broke the news about Leno’s move from prime-time back to “late-night”? TMZ. Again. It’s worth noting that while print and broadcasting were gutting their newsrooms to try and stay afloat, a Los Angeles lawyer - Harvey Levin - started TMZ because he saw a trend developing.

Media execs think they can predict the future. They can’t, and they’ve never learned that. Media execs, whether you’re talking about the head of the programming for a big TV network, or the program director of a local radio station, too often think they are “trend-setters”.

Perhaps they should work harder on trend-spotting.

Another case in point: Arianna Huffington, who saw how the news business was shooting itself in the foot by cutting newsroom staff, and launched her news website, Huffington Post, which now reaches millions of readers every day.

As media guru Jerry Del Colliano says, “the future occurs in the present and is not predictable in any way, shape or form. The only thing that is predictable is that any fool who sees the future and takes his or her eyes off the consumer will lose”.

NBC’s vision for the future was that Leno would soon be too old to pull in the attractive younger demographics, so they cut programming costs, put him in on at 9, and hoped Conan O’Brien would be the charm.

Not so much.

Now, O’Brien’s future with NBC is very much in doubt, and in a few weeks we’ll get half an hour of Leno at 10:35, just about enough time for his monologue and one guest. Who knows? Maybe a month after that, Leno will be back doing a full show at 10:35, and O’Brien will be on Fox or ABC.

Newspapers and broadcasters used to know how to please audiences. Now, by and large those media are driven by bean-counters and deal-makers whose goal has nothing to do with attracting and holding an audience.

It’s a shame, because they used to be pretty good at it. Now - well, you’re looking at one version of the future, right here on this blog.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I Don't Care What Color Your Bra Is

Thanks to the wide reach of Facebook, I know what color bra a lot of my female friends were wearing late last week. It was one of these viral crazes that pop up on social media fairly regularly. Women were supposed to post a Facebook status update with the color of their bra, under the guise of “raising awareness of breast cancer”.

I’m not amused. And I AM aware.

My wife had a breast cancer scare a couple summers ago that was not one bit amusing for several stressful weeks. My sister is a breast cancer survivor, who spent the greater part of two years undergoing a number of very uncomfortable drug regimens and surgical procedures. And I have a friend and former colleague who spent her late summer and fall driving from the Fox Valley to the UW Carbone Cancer Center, undergoing chemo and radiation, to beat breast cancer.

She bravely underwent the rigorous treatment and courageously posted some pictures on her Facebook page showing what chemo does to you. You have to be very centered, grounded, confident, intrepid, and undaunted to show the whole world what you look like without hair.

That’s breast-cancer awareness. Posting what color your bra is: not so much.
As so many women have written in blogs and other online publications this past weekend, there can’t be one person in the world who is not aware of breast cancer. So many of us have been touched by it; most of us personally know someone who is (or was) a victim. Mary Carmichael, posting on the Newsweek blog, said we don’t need a context-free reminder about it, we need a cure, and some scientific clarity about best ways to prevent the disease, not a pointless Facebook exercise.

Amen, sister.

I have no doubt that the hundreds of thousands of women who posted their bra color last week had the best intentions, and I happen to know many of my Facebook friends in Madison who did it are tireless fund-raisers for breast cancer research, running marathons, donating money, proudly wearing pink merchandise, which they purchased because proceeds go to breast cancer research and treatment.

The thing is - if I have to spell it out even further - posting an update about what color your bra is a pointless exercise. It’s not awareness; it’s not education; it doesn’t raise one cent to help the victims of breast cancer.

I don’t think anyone was harmed by it, but obviously I have no sense of humor about such a deadly disease, when it’s touched people so close to me.
Next time one of these viral crazes goes around, instead of posting your bra color, go to or or your favorite breast cancer charity site and make a donation.

Then, instead of posting your bra color, just post the dollar amount you contributed.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Inside The Movie Theater Biz

The typical movie theater will make nearly half its annual revenue in May, June, and July, with another big chunk of income around the Thanksgiving-Christmas-New Year period. The period we’re in right now is traditionally the deadest time of the year for theaters and movie-goers.

But things are changing. says the major studios are now beginning to spread their best movies throughout the year. Columbia Pictures took a risk last year releasing “Mall Cop” in late January, and it got big box office.

Theater-owners love a movie like Avatar, because it has staying power. Most folks don’t realize that theaters pay the biggest percentages of their ticket revenue - up to 70% - in the first week of a movie’s run, but it drops down to half of that or less after the first week. James Cameron’s Titanic - the last film he did before Avatar - was a bonanza for theater owners, because it stayed popular for months.

Avatar may not have the staying power of Titanic, but it’s got something else going for it: lots of folks are paying the extra bucks to see it in 3-D or IMAX. Last week it passed the billion-dollar mark. More and more, young folks are shelling out the bucks to see the movies with bells and whistles. J.J.Abrams’ remake of Star Trek last year set the trend: IMAX made up only 2% of the screens it was shown on, but accounted for 12% of the box-office take.

Speaking of box-office take, movie theaters have more than held their own during this recession. The last “down” year was 2005, and since then there’s been slow but steady growth in revenue. The number of tickets sold has been close to 1.4 billion since 2005, but the average ticket price has gone up from $6.41 to $7.46. And that includes everything from the cheap seats for “older” movies at the strip mall, to the 20-dollar extravaganza seats for the IMAX or 3-D movies.

No scoop here: the concessions stand is a license to print money. Six and a half bucks for a tub of popcorn? Four bucks for a big soft drink? Last year the average movie-goer spent just over three bucks on concessions, so I know I’m doing my part to keep the average up. Just over 400 theaters in the U.S. serve alcohol, but the number is slowly increasing.

What about two of the biggest complaints from movie-goers: the long “pre-game” show of trailers and ads, and the annoying kid with the cell phone a few seats away? On the latter, theater owners admit they don’t push too hard on the “turn your cell phone off” rule, because so many of their customers are young people who can’t live without texting or talking during the movie. And one survey showed two-thirds of movie-goers don’t really mind the trailers and ads.

However, 34-hundred customers of Regal Cinemas, a huge national chain which owns a lot of the movie screens in the Fox Valley, signed an online petition asking the company to do away with all the pre-show ads and trailers. And Kerasotes, the large chain that owns Star Cinema in Fitchburg, says it’s a balancing act on the cell phone thing. They try to keep baby-boomers, who hate the interruptions, happy - while still not cracking down too hard on their younger customers.

The future: movies shipped to theaters on computer hard-drives or digitally downloaded from a satellite link. No more bulky cans of film prints. Digital movies can be cued up and run with the click of a mouse, and shipping costs are reduced drastically.

See ya at the movies!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fake Outrage About "Jersey Shore"

The Situation, DJ Pauly D, Snooki, J-Woww - recognize the nicknames? No surprise if you don’t. They’re half the cast of MTV’s latest “reality” show, Jersey Shore, and their latest escapades will air tonight at 9, as they share a summer rental house on - you guessed it - the Jersey shore.

Last spring the fake outrage was about MTV’s series College Life, where a bunch of UW-Madison kids were given cam-corders and set about documenting their excessive drinking, sexual escapades, and the usual stuff college freshmen do. Bascom Hill withdrew its support of the series early on, claiming it portrayed the world-class university in a false light.

For anybody who’s ever gone to college, it was a pretty tame series.

Now, the outrage is from certain quarters in the Italian-American community, denouncing the cast members of Jersey Shore as shallow, superficial, and in no way representative of typical young Americans of Italian descent.

They whine that Mike (“the situation”) is a misogynist, Vinny is too self-absorbed, and that Snooki and J-Woww are trashy and promiscuous. Well, I’ve seen (skimmed through via DVR) four of the five episodes out so far (under the guise of “staying current”) and I concur. But I’m neither outraged nor shocked. It’s just TV being TV.

I caught a clip of the gals on The View excoriating Jersey Shore the other day - Joy Behar whined the loudest about how the show doesn’t represent Italian-Americans. Behar was born Josephina Occhiuto, so she has plenty of Noo Yawk Italian cred, and she said Jersey Shore was trash - not like the “great art” of The Sopranos.

I’m sure the folks at MTV were crushed.

I’ve said it many, many times before: television’s default position is excess. Have you ever noticed the kind of people who are picked to participate in “reality” shows, whether it’s network fare like Survivor or The Bachelor, or cable stuff like The Real Housewives of Atlanta or Jersey Shore? Most of them are not “normal” people.

Normal is boring.

Put eight Dean’s List students in a summer rental at the Jersey Shore and you’ve got the recipe for a show that will get no ratings. Check the Facebook posts of your friends who watch The Bachelor, which started a new series earlier this week, and you’ll find a lot of people glad the airline pilot gave the wacky, needy, neurotic girl a rose - because they know she’ll make the show interesting.

Reality TV fans will never forget one of Wisconsin’s greatest contributions to the art form, namely Susan Hawk, the truck-driving lady from Waukesha, and her “rats and snakes” rant at the end of the first-ever Survivor show. And Richard Hatch, who walked around in the buff much of the time on that show.

Normal is boring.

So no, I’m not outraged about Jersey Shore, even though my wife is of Italian descent. Her family name is Zarantonello.

In fact, the show is so formulaic it’s almost boring

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The No-Fly, No-Sense List

Let me see if I have this right: A United States Senator whose brother was the President of the United States gets his name on the no-fly list and is hassled at airports for weeks. A kid who has explosives sewn into his underpants, whose father has warned us that his kid is an extremist wacko, has no luggage, pays $2300 cash for a one-way ticket to the US, waltzes onto an airliner and sets his pecker on fire trying to kill as many people as he can.

Pretty much right?

I’m referring here to Edward M. Kennedy and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Back in March of 2004, Ted Kennedy was stopped not once, not twice, but FIVE times by the TSA and had to explain who he was to a senior official on-site before he could get onto an airliner. It took his staff two weeks to find out their boss was on the so-called “No-Fly” list, and another THREE WEEKS to get the senator’s name OFF the list.

Three weeks to get off the list. Not one phone call; three weeks.

Joan Rivers was bumped from a Continental flight in Costa Rica Sunday because the screener thought her passport (Joan Rosenberg a/k/a Joan Rivers) looked “suspicious”. Her snappy response to him: “Do terrorists wear Manolo Blaniks? Donna Karan doesn’t make anything that hides a bomb!” Doofus probably didn’t know what a/k/a stands for.

Dick Cheney, who’s been peddling fear to anyone who will listen since he left office (fortunately, the media are finally beginning to ignore him, to the point where he had to post a rant on some website following the Christmas Day bombing attempt, to get attention) wants to even further polarize and politicize the whole security thing.

George Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham, in the movie “Up In The Air”, showing his young colleague the ropes at the airport: “Never get behind old people. Their bodies are littered with hidden metal and they never seem to appreciate how little time they have left. Asians: they pack light, travel efficiently, and they’ve got a thing for slip-on shoes, God love ‘em”.

Unlawful, unconstitutional profiling. But dead-on.

Our constitution says we can’t discriminate against anyone because of their age (there goes Clooney’s first comment), national origin (there goes his second thesis), sexual orientation, disability, etc. etc. etc.

But I say we start profiling, and start right now.

We don’t need to profile anyone based on their age, sex, disability, national origin, or anything of the sort. All we need to do is keep track of where they’ve been, who they’ve been hanging out with, and if they’ve been in communication with people we know are terrorists.

And we don’t need to tell anyone we’re doing it. We just have to do it, and to do it better, we need to spend money on un-sexy things like better intelligence and communication, not sexy stuff like full-body scanners which invade our privacy.
We might even want to have a lot more explosive-sniffing dogs trained.

Or, we might train TSA agents to do what George Clooney’s character did in “Up In The Air”, and just keep it to ourselves. That way, we don’t need a “No-Fly” list. And Joan Rivers and Ted Kennedy can get on airplanes.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hey - The News Is On Now

I had to hear it for myself. The new “voice” of CBS news is an actor; a famous one, but an actor nevertheless. Not even a voice actor. A movie actor. Morgan Freeman. And he’s hopelessly miscast in the new role, replacing Walter Cronkite as the man who tells us CBS News with Katie Couric is now on the air.

I normally don’t watch Katie, because I don’t like her one bit in her current role as news actress. But I had to hear Freeman, and quite frankly he sucks at the job. I love his movies, but whoever produced the session for the CBS News “logo” should be fired, along with Freeman. One of the finest actors of our time and he comes off like a doofus in the new role.

It started years ago, when CNN hired “The Voice Of Darth Vader”, James Earl Jones, to say in his deepest voice “THIS IS CNN”. When Katie Couric took over for Dumb Dan Rather (remember, the best CBS news anchor, Bob Scheiffer, only did it on an “interim” basis), to try and add credibility to the perky/bubbly/happy-talk style of Ms. Couric, they dragged Walter Cronkite (a/k/a “The Anchorman”) back into the studio and made him record the introduction to Couric’s news show.

At the time that happened, I was doing the WTDY morning show with the estimable Shawn Prebil (click on the link and see how the company I was with for 30 years never learned to spell my name properly), who has since decamped for Minneapolis/St. Paul’s KSTP-AM), and will never forget the morning he asked me (thank God, not on the air, but bullpen before the show) “who’s that new voice on CBS News? It’s some old guy.” I had to explain to Shawn that it was the voice of Walter Cronkite. (How would he know? Uncle Walter retired long before Shawn got to high school.)

Not too long after Uncle Walter began his stint as the “announcer” for the CBS Evening News, a real pro…Howard Reig….retired at NBC after decades of being THE voice of NBC News. So who did they get to replace this broadcast icon? An ACTOR - Michael Douglas.

Listen to the introduction to the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams tonight. You’ll hear incredibly sloppy voice work, where Douglas swallows the words “New York”. You’ll hear him say “nooz”. The word “news” is a diphthong. Properly pronounced, it rhymes with what a cat does: mews.

Freeman sucks in his announcer role; Douglas sucks in his announcer role; and you hardly ever hear James Earl Jones’ dulcet tones on CNN any more.

The last guy who introduced my newscasts on WTDY is a guy named Chris Corley, a professional voice artist who sits in front of a mike at his home in Florida and churns out pages and pages of copy every day, for which he is more than richly rewarded. More power to him.

The best announcer I ever hired to do a “news intro” for me: Don Pardo. Yes, the erstwhile voice of Saturday Night Live. He recorded several “intros” for me when I worked in the Fox Valley and wouldn’t take a cent. He thought it was a hoot.

Guy I wish I had? Don LaFontaine. Voice of God. Voice of a million movie trailers. Guy I used to run into every so often in my southern California days. But, he’s gone on to his eternal reward. If they have CBS Nightly News in heaven, Don was disappointed last night around 5:30.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Security Theater (Remove Shoes Before Entering)

Aviation security experts like Bruce Schneier call what we’re doing at airports in our country “security theater”, because it does nearly nothing to actually keep us safer. Fear is contagious and it’s whipped up by the media, and politicians like to throw our money away on things which are quite visible, but certainly not effective.

The facts of the attempted Christmas Day bombing are very troubling. A kid without luggage buys a one-way ticket and pays for it in cash; his father has warned authorities that his son hates America; and he actually manages to get explosives through whatever passes for “security” at Schiphol airport.

The kind of security that stops this stuff has nothing to do with limiting liquids to three ounces, or taking your shoes off. It has to do with invisible stuff that doesn’t make good theater, like enhancing intelligence-gathering and forcing diverse agencies to communicate with each other.

In other words, the kind of stuff politicians hate to spend our money on.
After the failed shoe-bomber Richard Reid was thrust onto the world scene, Newt Gingrich decried the hastily-implemented policy of forcing all passengers in our airports to remove their shoes for inspection as worthless, and said - sarcastically - “what are we going to do if some terrorist hides explosives in their underwear”?

Well, Mr. Newt, the joke’s on us, I guess.

What kind of flawed thinking says we’ll be safer if we react to whatever the terrorists happened to do the last time they attacked? Apparently, the kind of thinking most bureaucrats and politicians use.

Every time bin Laden releases another cassette tape, the media give it huge play and find the most scary people they can, to pontificate and sell more fear.
Let’s face it: Homeland Security is a bad joke. It’s nothing more than another hugely expensive government bureaucracy, an outfit my friend Mike calls “too big, too general, too wasteful, too clumsy, and hopelessly larded with career bureaucrats and political appointees.” And the woman who runs it now, this Napolitano woman, is every bit as incompetent and clueless as her politically-appointed predecessors.

As President Obama begins his review of our security agencies - again - tomorrow, I hope he doesn’t conclude that what’s needed is still another bureaucracy of some sort, or even more laws, rules, and regulations.

The more we undermine our constitution, the more we make our airports look like third-world armed camps, the more liberties we surrender under a false sense of “being more secure”, the less work the terrorists have to do.

The more “security theater” we tolerate, the less safe we are.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome Twenty-Ten

Bring it on, 2010. With the New Year comes a new name for this time-waster; "The Way Things R" was OK, but "Rifles At Dawn" better characterizes my native snarkiness and impatience.

I'm already cranky, because of overindulgence in fine Cuvee and succulent prawns last night, and staying up well past the dawn of the new decade, and I'm already out of patience with the broadcast twits who insist on saying "Two Thousand Ten" instead of "Twenty-Ten". One local dolt goes an unnecessary step farther by calling it "Two Thousand AND Ten". Gee, I guess that means I was born back in "Nineteen Hundred And Forty-Nine".

Thanks to those of you who invest the time to read these rants, and my resolve is to pull even fewer punches in 2010. Best wishes to all.