Friday, February 26, 2010

T-t-t-Too C-c-c-Cold For ANYBODY To Read

When you were in school and had to give a speech to the class, odds are you spent quite a bit of time preparing your speech, and practiced it out loud several times. Your teachers told you that practice makes perfect. Actually, the quote is “practice to be perfect”, which is more than slightly different.

Professional speakers are often challenged to do a “cold read” of a script, flawlessly. Cold, in the sense that you’ve never seen it before, and you’ve got to deliver it without stumbling. Same concept in the music business, where the top studio players can “cold read” a piece of music they’ve never seen, and play it without a mistake. While the skills involved in cold-reading script and music are different, the concept is the same.

Cold-calling in the sales profession is giving a sales presentation to a person or group you’ve never met, and “winging it” through your tailored pitch. Sales, speaking, music – to do it “cold” requires substantial skill.

News anchors, particularly radio news anchors, are called on to “cold-read” news copy constantly. TV folks generally have the luxury of reading scripts from a TelePrompTer - scripts which they’ve had time to review and “practice”. The amateurs and pros are separated not when the TelePrompTer breaks down, because there’s usually a printed script on their news desk, but when they’re narrating live coverage of a breaking news event without a script of any sort.

This is the point in this rant where you find out it’s still another slam against the children who are attempting to write (and in many cases attempting to deliver) news these days.

I have a friend who’s a morning radio news anchor on the number-one news station in one of the largest markets in the nation. I have had the pleasure of working with her, and I’ve never worked with anyone who was better at “cold-reading” a piece of news copy. She’s a top-flight professional. Often, she’s handed a script just moments before it has to go on the air, and one of the reasons she’s so good at what she does is she can “sight-read” right through typing errors, grammar errors, spelling errors, and make the copy “sing”.

Last week she sent me a copy of a script she was handed in the middle of a live newscast. Just for fun, try reading the next three sentences out loud, as if you were a big-time newscaster:

“The lawyer and wife of imprisoned former Illinois Governor George Ryan say they’re asking President Barack Obama for clemency because of health concerns. The 75-year-old was sent to says Ryan has kidney disease and other problems, andprison after his 2006 conviction on corruption charges. His attorney his wife has a terminal lung disease”.

I’m willing to bet there’s not a person alive who could read that paragraph without stumbling.

It looks like it’s a horrid copy-and-paste job that went fatally wrong. I mean, even if the writer stole the copy outright from some other news source, you’d think they could do a better job of lifting it. It’s obvious whoever “wrote” it never proof-read it. There’s only so much even a top-notch pro can do to save a mess like that.

Reminds me of the sort of thing I hear on weekend newscasts around here.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Financial Wannabees...I Mean, Financial Media

Did you know that Nike sponsors (pays for and has its logo on) the “in-the-field” clothing worn by reporters for the Fox Business Channel? Neither did I, till a few days ago, when one of their young field reporters did a stand-up from Ponte Vedra, Florida, as they breathlessly awaited the big statement from the golfer whose many girlfriends undid him.

As a former news anchor – and note, I did not say “journalist”, because I am not now one, and never was – I though it just a bit of a conflict that the “reporter” who was covering the “event” was wearing a polo shirt with two logos: one, the big Nike swoosh, and the other, the Fox Business Channel logo, to cover a “news” event concerning a golfer who makes millions from Nike.

I also noted that neither the in-the-field reporter nor the in-studio anchor on “Fox and Friends” could pronounce the name of that Florida city. (Homework? ME, do homework? Accuracy? Credibility? Hey, I’m on TV – that’s credibility enough.)

Let me make a clear distinction here between the men and women who are writers – journalists – for publications like the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Forbes, Barron’s, Investor’s Business Daily, and the like. These are smart, impartial, hard-working scribes.

Then there’s the TV gang.

Let me throw out a couple names: Neil Cavuto and Jim Cramer. What a pair to draw to! The former on Fox, the latter on CNBC. The words “huckster”, “shill”, and “carnival barker” come to mind. It’s a side-show worthy of any three-ring circus.

Stuart Varney: does his British accent make him more distinguished, more reliable, more credible? No. Maria Bartiromo: hobnobs with CEO and CFO’s, drops more names than El Rushbo, has filed to trademark the name “The Money Honey”; had the notorious dalliance with failed CitiGroup exec Todd Thompson.

Real, sterling journalists there.

Let me make another clear distinction, while painting with this broad brush: Christine Romans of CNN. I see her reports on the CNN morning news broadcast, and she seems to play it straight down the middle, as befits the morning show of “the most trusted name in news”.

Although, for my money (excuse the pun), John Stewart is the most trusted name in news. Often, I watch the repeat of his Comedy Central nightly broadcast at 6 PM, rather than the local TV news. He’s actually doing “real” news, albeit with a bite.

It’s the sort of “anchoring” that’s near and dear to my heart. If only I was 15 years younger…and about a hundred pounds lighter….

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I’m in the middle of reading the new book “Game Change”, by distinguished political writers Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. It’s a unique look deep into the last presidential election, loaded with great inside information from the candidates’ closest staff members and friends. I read very few books about politics, but I’m glad I bought this one.

For me, the 2008 election will always elicit the memory of a warm October afternoon in Minnesota, at a John McCain rally, when a grandmotherly woman who had the mike said to McCain about Obama “he’s an Arab”….and the Senator took the mike from the woman and said “no, he’s not. He’s a decent man”. In the background, you can hear people yelling “liar!” and “terrorist!”, referring to Barack Obama. The video is still up on YouTube.

For some people, Barack Obama is and always will be an Arab, not an American; he was not born in the U.S. and therefore is not the legitimate President; he’s a terrorist who hates capitalism or a socialist or an anarchist or an anti-Christ or the devil incarnate.

Founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin said time and again that a well-informed citizenry is the foundation of a democratic society, and the first protection under the Bill of Rights is free speech and a free press. But facts apparently aren’t what they used to be.

I read a paragraph the other day written by Leonard Pitts Jr. of the Miami Herald. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for commentary. It says “To listen to talk radio, to watch TV pundits, to read a newspaper’s online message board, is to realize that increasingly, we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth. We admit no ideas that do not confirm us, hear no voices that do not echo us, sift out all the information that does not validate what we wish to believe.”

This guy really knows how to write.

That senior citizen in Minnesota was not convinced by her candidate, John McCain, that Obama is not an “Arab”. Nobody will change her mind. To me, she’s typical of so many people who have a set of beliefs, and no facts, no logic, no appeal will change their mind. I still, to this day, get junk e-mails from acquaintances, with some new piece of “proof” that Barack Obama is not a citizen of the United States. For God’s sake, people – let go!

It doesn’t take a logician to figure out that objective reality doesn’t change because you refuse to accept it. But apparently the concept is beyond the thinking power of an awful lot of American citizens.

Print journalism sure picked a bad time in our country’s history to go belly-up. If ever there were a time when we needed MORE truth uncovered, MORE facts revealed, it’s now.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Kathy and Dave Show

Round One of the latest dispute over the 9-1-1 dispatch center goes to Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz. Circuit Court Judge Juan Colas issued a temporary restraining order late last week, that prevents County Executive Kathleen Falk from implementing a phone-tree system for non-emergency calls.

It’s the most public spat the two elected officials have ever had, in a relationship almost always characterized by genuine friendship and a work-together-for-the-common-good ethic.

If you’re not following closely, Falk wants to charge Madison taxpayers about 30 grand a year to continue dispatching calls about parking violations. Mayor Dave says the ultimate decision on that rests with the Public Safety (9-1-1) Board, which has already voted to delay implementation of the charge. Not that Cieslewicz disagrees with the concept; he says in essence you can’t just spring this change on the city and wants more than a week’s notice. The judge agreed.

Cieslewicz says the flap should be sorted out by the 9-1-1 Board and the County Board; Falk thinks she’s got the juice to “just do it”, saying the idea was approved in a consultant’s report long ago.

And, just so you know, the status quo has been in effect for over two decades: the 9-1-1 Center dispatches City of Madison parking complaint calls. Cieslewicz says the city and county need to work together on a 3-1-1 system for non-emergency calls. He wants it up and running in 2 to 3 years.

Well, Amen to THAT!

People call 9-1-1 for the most stupid and inappropriate reasons. When does deer hunting season start? Who do I talk to about getting a building permit for a new porch? Who won the hockey game at the Kohl Center tonight? Where can I go to get a good hamburger?

Think I’m making this stuff up? Ask any dispatcher about some of the wacky calls they get on every shift, from people who apparently have confused the 9-1-1 emergency call center with some sort of telephonic Google.

I’ve got an audio file from a friend in St. Louis of a call to the 9-1-1 center from some woman asking where she could find out what shade of lipstick a local TV anchor was wearing that night.

I’m not so sure that if Dane County manages to get a 3-1-1 center up and running that the number of idiotic calls to 9-1-1 will decrease one bit. There are a lot of really stupid people out there.

As to where our story stands now, Mayor Cieslewicz says if County Exec Falk is willing to settle the dispute outside of the court system, he is, too.

It’s a start. But I suspect a few more lawyers will be running a lot of billable hours over this spat in the next few weeks.

I'm In Telemarketing Hell

It’s a strange love-affair we have with the telephone. The cell phone lets us communicate with anybody, anywhere, at any time, at a reasonable cost and, in my case, with reliable service. All I do is place and receive phone calls and text messages with my cell phone. No need for games, apps, GPS, internet, none of that stuff. I’m a dinosaur.

But this convenience has a price, in terms other than dollars and cents.

A few weeks ago some young lady, Crystal, gave MY cell phone number (by mistake, I hope) to about six million of her closest friends, and I’m still getting calls for her. Got one the other night right in the middle of Lindsey Vonn’s fabulous downhill run at the Olympics. A telemarketer.

Crystal’s real human beings, with one exception, stopped calling as soon as I explained she’d given them the wrong number. The other fellow, who may have been her father, called no less than a dozen times until I finally laid an insult on him that would cause any father’s blood to boil.

A couple months ago, for business reasons, I had to re-install one of my old land-lines for my home office. Didn’t need any bells and whistles: didn’t want caller ID but got it anyway; part of the package. So was a bunch of other stuff I don’t care about. Part of the package.

Can’t I just buy/rent/lease a damn phone line?

Voicemail available: no thanks. On and on, the telephone salesperson went down the list of options. Want it unlisted? Sure, that sounds good…this line is 100% for business purposes, 99.9% of which will be outgoing calls, and I don’t really want it in the phone book or available through directory assistance. That will be $5.95 a month. Seventy-two dollars a year for unlisted service? No thanks.

Big mistake.

Now, every telemarketer in the known universe has the phone number of my land-line, and they use it. Auto warranties. Home improvement loans. Siding for my house. Computer training. Police charities. Life insurance. Health insurance. Car insurance. Homeowners insurance. Pet insurance. Unemployed Rodeo Clowns Retirement Fund.

I signed up for the no-call list from the state Consumer Protection Department when the first telemarketing call came in, but my number doesn’t go on the list until the first of April. And, it will come OFF the list in two years.

A couple questions: why does it take so long to get your phone number on the no-call list? Lord knows the telemarketers can find you in a few hours, once you put a phone line in. And what kind of idiot crooked politicians made it so that your phone number comes OFF the list in two years, and you have to go through the whole “registering” rigmarole again?

Of course, after the first few days, I just shut the ringer off on the land-line phone. But the caller ID shows me that the telemarketers haven’t given up.

I wish I could find Crystal’s real phone number, and give it to the telemarketers.

Friday, February 19, 2010

It's A Dog's Life

I always root for the Collies and the Shelties – herding dogs – when the annual Westminster Dog Show is televised. That's my Collie, Shadow, above. I guess it’s natural, because I’ve only known two dogs really well. The first was our beloved family dog, a purebred Shetland Sheep Dog our daughter named “Nippy”. She was the dog the kids grew up with, who enlivened the household chasing our two cats around and constantly announcing her presence with her friendly bark.

Herding dogs are barkers. You gotta know that before you decide to share your home with one. She was always trying to herd those damn cats, who defied her every attempt to organize them.

Nippy had a tough life. As it turned out, she was from a puppy mill in Iowa, even though the dog store where my wife bought her had all the AKC papers and documentation. We spent a fortune on vet bills to keep her going, through a couple of “toe” amputations which made her walk in a funny, swaying gate, and through so many serious bouts with viral infections it seemed she couldn’t go two months without getting sick.

But we loved her dearly, and when her enlarged heart got so big it started to block her windpipe and made it difficult for her to catch her breath, we had to make that heart-wrenching decision every pet owner eventually faces. On a warm late-March day in 2006, Nippy died peacefully in my arms in the vet’s office.

A month later, my wife had completed her research on our next canine friend, and decided there would never be a Sheltie to replace Nippy, and set her heart on a Collie. We met our next dog, a six-month-old sable Collie puppy, at the breeder’s ranch in mid-April. Her parents – both national champions with pedigrees that had the prefix “Ch” (Champion) back five generations, were on-site, along with assorted aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews.

But this was no stand-offish, uppity high-strung show dog puppy. The first thing she did when my wife met her was put both front paws up on my wife’s shoulders and proceeded to give her about a hundred enthusiastic doggy-kisses. The deal was sealed at that point; the rest of the day was spent just having fun watching the breeders put their champion dogs through their paces.

Collies are 38th on this year’s AKC list of most popular breeds (Labs, German Shepherds, Yorkies, Golden Retrievers, and Beagles are the top 5), because Collies don’t make good “city dogs”. They need room to run. And run they do! There are few sights as magnificent and beautiful to me as our Shadow, at full-tilt-boogie, racing across our property at about 30 miles an hour, fluid and floating over the ground, her sleek coat ruffled by the rush of the wind, and then to see her change direction effortlessly without losing a step.

Collies were bred to run all day, and to use that long nose to separate sheep and herd them across expansive pastures in the British Isles.

My friends Glen and Marilyn have three greyhounds, rescues all of them, on their expansive property southwest of Madison, and those dogs can hit 45 miles an hour in three strides. Now that’s MOVIN’. But when they’re in the house, they’re just as docile and well-mannered as my Collie.

Tomorrow, we’re loading Shadow into my huge, gas-sucking foreign-made SUV and heading down to the breeder’s ranch again. There’s an 18-month-old Blue Merle Collie lass that my wife has her eye on, and I think Shadow is about to have a wonderful playmate to run with and patrol our property with….if the stars align properly.

I have a feeling they will.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Strategic Default - and Paying Your Mortgage Last (not first)

It was one of the golden rules of finance our parents harped at us about: pay your mortgage first. No matter what, stay current on your home mortgage, they said. It’s the biggest investment you’ll ever make, and come hell or high water, make sure you pay it on time.

Now, not so much.

An ever-increasing number of Americans are not paying their mortgage first. Some aren’t even paying it at all. They’re paying their credit card bills first – just the opposite of the way it was, not that many years ago. The number of Americans who are current on their credit card bills but behind on their mortgage payments has increased nearly 50% in just the past year. The figures are tracked by Trans-Union, one of the big three credit-monitoring services.

A combination of factors has led to this change in priority of paying bills. A couple years ago, a lot of folks were able to get into their homes with no money down, during the wide-open (and long-gone) days of “mortgages for everybody”. Experts say with those people, there was no real sense of having worked and saved hard to make the down payment on a house. It was easy to buy a house.

When home prices slid downward, falling 30% or more from their peak in the first half of 2006, a lot of mortgage-payers saw the value of their home drop well below what they owed on their mortgage. Right now, about one in four homeowners is in this situation, which bankers and realtors call “under water” – you owe more on your house than it’s worth, and it will probably never regain enough value to catch up.

While this was going on – the stuff in the housing market that led up to the recession – credit card lenders were going in the opposite direction. Remember when you got at least one “pre-approved” credit card offer in the mail every week? Those days are long gone, too. Credit cards are much tougher to qualify for now, so card-holders are concerned about hanging onto the cards they have. No more “transfer your balance to our credit card for our introductory 6-month rate and save a ton” offers.

There’s another factor that influences decisions on which bills to pay and which to let slide. Credit card companies will shut you off in one big hurry if you get behind on your payments, but a foreclosure takes a long time – anywhere from six months on the short end, to a year and a half on the long end. Go two months without paying your credit card bill and your card suddenly doesn’t work at all. Go two months without paying your mortgage, and you get a snotty letter.

Credit cards can be used to buy gas, groceries, clothes, and all manner of goods and services. With unemployment where it is and the economy where it is, more and more people are paying the credit card bill first, and the mortgage last – just the opposite of what it was a few years ago.

Like the man said, the times, they are a changin’.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We're Number 10

Here in Dane County, we’re blessed to have some of the best health care providers and facilities anywhere: world-class hospitals, great health care providers, and municipal government leadership that cares about having healthy citizens. According to a new report released at midnight last night, Dane County ranks 10th in the state for most healthy residents; Columbia County is 25th; Iowa County ranks 17th, Green County is number 30 on the list, but Rock County is near the bottom of the state’s 72 counties at 62nd.

According to the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which did the report, Ozaukee County has the healthiest residents in the state, and Menominee County is the least healthy. The County Health Rankings are the first to rank the overall health of the counties in all 50 states using a standard formula.

The top five most healthy counties in the state are Ozaukee, St. Croix, Washington, Waukesha, and Portage. If you’re not familiar with Wisconsin geography, they’re largely suburban counties near the city of Milwaukee, and on the border with the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area.

The bottom five counties are Menominee, Milwaukee, Marquette, Jackson, and Adams, primarily in the rural areas of central and northern Wisconsin, with the exception of Milwaukee County. The rankings do not include a slot for the City of Milwaukee.

You can take a gander at the rankings yourself by going to the website to see a complete list. There’s a snapshot of the health factors in every county of the state.

Dr. Patrick Remington, associate dean for public health at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, says “this report shows us that there are big differences in overall health across counties, due to many factors, ranging from individual behavior to quality of health care, to education and jobs, to access to healthy foods, and to quality of the air”.

The executive director of the Rural Wisconsin Health Cooperative, Tim Size, says “rural patients face the most daunting of health care challenges: they are older, poorer, and sicker. Rural America is less healthy due to so much smoking, drinking, and eating, and too little exercise, education, jobs, and income”. Strong words.

All the experts seem to agree that factors outside the exam room contribute to good health. A lot of it is up to us, and the lifestyle we choose. But in many ways, where we live does make a difference in how healthy we are.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The TV Newslings Explain "Catching" Sturgeon

I may have mentioned one or two times on this blog that the lack of depth and experience in today’s broadcast newsrooms annoys me more than a bit, but Sunday evening it was a source of humor and laugh-out-loud entertainment.

Nothing exposes your lack of credibility to an audience like completely blowing a story which deals with a deeply culture-specific regional activity like sturgeon-spearing. This past weekend, a Kentucky man, whose wife is from the Fox Valley, speared a 212-pound sturgeon that set a new record for the biggest lunker ever taken out of Lake Winnebago. The DNR figures this critter was an even hundred years old, hatched from an egg laid in 1910.

The Kentucky man, Chad Denton, pictured above with his prize, got the sturgeon-spearing bug from his wife’s Menasha family. This was his third trip up to Wisconsin to join his in-laws in pursuit of the wily sturgeon. These prehistoric fish lure spearers from all over the nation, and the Lake Winnebago sturgeon-spearing season is studied by biologists around the world. It’s very carefully controlled and as soon as the carefully-calculated yearly limit is reached – they close the season immediately. A fellow by the name of Ron Bruch has been running the DNR’s sturgeon-spearing program for decades.

I’ve been sturgeon-spearing on Lake Winnebago, back in my Fox Valley days,so I know a bit about it; you can’t live in the Fox Valley and NOT know about sturgeon-spearing season, if you pay attention to the news at all. Everybody covers it – the radio and TV stations from Milwaukee to Green Bay; the local papers; and it’s a general topic of conversation in the deep winter.

Full disclosure: my single sturgeon-spearing “participatory journalism” experience consisted largely of imbibing Korbel Brandy against the cold, standing over a gaping hole in the ice with spear poised for a couple hours, seeing nothing, and then sitting in the comfy bar at the South Side Ice Yacht Club (Oshkosh) and telling fish stories.

As usual, I digress.

The Sunday night 5 PM news on the local NBC station was sandwiched in between live coverage of the Olympics, and since Daytona was a boring bust this year with all the pothole problems, I suspect even more folks than usual were watching the NBC telecast.

I like the young anchor, Dana Brueck, who’s also one of the best reporters in Madison. She’s a Chicago girl, smart as a whip, graduate of the fine J-school at NorthWestern University, and she’s doing some reporting that’s turning heads in the Madison news community. She’s logged some on-air time in Michigan and South Dakota, and she’s also a big force with one of my favorite organizations, WAGS…the Wisconsin Academy for Graduate Service Dogs.

She told the story about how the new record sturgeon had been “caught” on Lake Winnebago, and then, doing the requisite chit-chat in the “toss” to the weatherman, Chuck Koch, she mentioned the sturgeon story again. Koch lost all credibility with me forever when he expressed his surprise that Lake Winnebago was even “open” at this time of year.

Earth to young weatherman: Lake Winnebago is NOT open…sturgeon are speared through huge holes (not to exceed 48 square feet by DNR rule) cut through the TWO FEET OF ICE on the lake. This kid, according to his bio on the NBC-15 website, is from Viola, WI, a UW grad, and he’s done brief TV stints in Milwaukee and Green Bay….and he thinks Lake Winnebago is OPEN on February 14th?

Then, at the end of the broadcast, when they do the “happy-talk” fill prior to the NBC Nightly News, sports-boy Nick Austin (whose online bio says he went to school at Central Michigan and did a brief stint in Colorado TV) joined Brueck and Koch and they re-hashed the story about the record sturgeon. Austin wondered aloud about what kind of pole and line were strong enough to pull in a 212-pound fish, and further inserted foot in mouth when he said something about how tough it must have been to “reel in” that huge fish.

Earth to young sports-boy: it’s sturgeon-SPEARING season. You know what a SPEAR is, don’t you? But that subtlety apparently escaped the notice of the newslings.

My wife, also a Chicago girl who’s never set foot on the frozen expanse of Lake Winnebago in the wintertime, looked on with me in amazement as we watched this train-wreck unfold. We shared incredulous looks and then burst out laughing when the broadcast mercifully ended.


Monday, February 15, 2010

New Math Meets The Snarler

There was a time, not too long ago, that Snarlin’ Marlin Schneider, the politician who’s represented the Wisconsin Rapids area in the state legislature since shortly after the earth cooled and before the dinosaurs appeared, had the reputation as Wisconsin’s great personal privacy watchdog. He went after identity thieves with a vengeance, and wrote a whole bunch of new laws to stymie them.

It’s a good thing journalism, real journalism, not the blogosphere or talk radio “news”, isn’t dead. There are still a few old-line organizations like the Associated Press (whose members, like me in a former lifetime, referred to it as “The Associated Mess”) which still know how to ferret out a story, and hold politicians’ feet to the fire.

Case in point: the AP filing an open records request to get copies of the “hundreds” of letters the Snarler claimed he’d gotten from folks who said their lives were ruined by information posted about them on the state’s website for court records, commonly called CCAP - pronounced SEE-cap, for those few of you who don’t know about it.

Turns out that the “hundreds” of letters from “innocent people” is really 22.

Mild exaggeration is sometimes a desired trait, particularly if you’re telling a joke or are acting as a parent. But when you’re an elected official trying to gin up support for an unnecessary law that restricts the public’s right to know what its courts are doing, it’s best not to exaggerate by a factor of ten or thereabouts. It’s too easy to get caught telling a tall tale.

CCAP is a very, very popular website. On a slow day, it gets 3 million page-views. On a busy day, it gets 5 million page views. Not exactly Google (a hundred million a day) but quite considerable. To be candid, a lot of the page-views are likely pure voyeurism. You can find out how many speeding or drunken driving tickets your neighbor has, and if he or she has been accused or convicted of committing any serious crimes.

If you look me up on CCAP, you’ll find that I filed a will in Dane County in 1990 (which has since been superseded) and that I was party to a joint-petition divorce in 1996. You won’t find some dandy speeding tickets I got a couple decades ago when I was wheeling around in Corvettes and assorted muscle-cars. I really don’t know why; maybe they’re just too old. There was one I was particularly proud of, but…I digress.

The Snarler is concerned that if you apply for a job, and your potential new boss looks you up on CCAP and finds that you were accused of some heinous crime (of which you were NOT convicted), that they’ll drum up some excuse not to hire you. Or the same if you’re trying to rent a new apartment.

On the other hand, it might be a good thing for a school bus company operator to know if an applicant has a slew of speeding or drunken driving tickets that he or she “forgot to mention” in the interview or “didn’t remember” when filling out the application. Or that your child’s day-care provider has been convicted of drug-trafficking.

To me, the good so much outweighs the bad when it comes to public access to court records, that we don’t need the Snarler’s proffered protection. Besides, even if they pull the website down, you can still go to the courthouse and look this stuff up.

Thanks, but no thanks, Representative Schneider. 22 complaints out of 5 million Wisconsinites doesn’t make your case.

Friday, February 12, 2010

My "Friend", Chuck Yeager

On a hot afternoon in July of 1987 I strolled from my office at A-1 Business Electronics on Sierra Highway in Palmdale California to the 7-Eleven store around the corner on Palmdale Boulevard, a few hundred feet away. Slurpee time. As I entered the store, there were about eight or nine people there, in various stages of committing commerce. But my heart stopped for a moment when I saw who one of the customers was.

It was Chuck Yeager, the first man ever to break the sound barrier, the first man ever to fly at Mach 2; wartime ace, test pilot extraordinaire; the man who personified “The Right Stuff”; legendary aviator and American icon.

Palmdale at that time was the fastest-growing city in California, for several reasons. A house that cost a million bucks a few miles down the road in L-A was about 175 grand in Palmdale; you could commute to a job in L-A proper in reasonable time on great freeways; Palmdale was the home of Air Force Plant 42, where the B-2 Stealth Bomber was being built, and it’s a hop-skip-and-a-jump from Edwards Air Force Base, where Yeager and the other test pilots hung their helmets.

I caught Yeager’s eye and smiled; he smiled back. I came up to him and said “mind if I shake your hand?” He extended his hand without hesitation. We had a very brief conversation, maybe two minutes. I mentioned that I’d met Bob Hoover at the EAA Fly-In in Oshkosh a few years ago, and now that I’d met Yeager, I figured I’d met the two best pilots that ever lived. He laughed, talked a bit about his buddy Bob Hoover, who was Chuck’s wingman when he first broke the speed of sound (at Edwards Air Force Base in 1947, back when it was called “Muroc Army Air Field”), and I chided him about his recent “movie star” cameo in the movie “The Right Stuff” and his TV ads for AC Delco.

I joked that if he had a better agent, today we’d be calling it a “Yeager boom” instead of a “sonic boom”. I’m sure he’d heard that one a million times. Small talk, but he was a gentleman through-and-through and smiled and laughed and made me feel like he enjoyed the conversation. He paid for his pack of chewing gum and got into his big black Chevy truck and headed out.

At that time, in 1987, Yeager had already retired from the Air Force and was working as a consultant up at Edwards AFB. He was paid the sum of one dollar a year, just so he’d be covered by worker’s comp. He was 64 years old on that summer day I met him, and he was still flying the hottest stuff the US had to offer. At the annual air show at Edwards AFB on October 17th last year, the 86-year-old Yeager opened the show, flying an F-16 fighter jet over the crowd and breaking the sound barrier….just as he had done for the first time in history when he was a 24-year-old test pilot at the controls of the Bell X-1.

Chuck Yeager turns 87 tomorrow. A few days ago, I noticed a Facebook friend of mine who runs the Young Eagles program for the Experimental Aircraft Association had become Facebook friends with Yeager. Wow – Yaeger is on Facebook?! I sent him a “friend request”, adding a small note that we’d met briefly in Palmdale many years ago, and that I was glad to see he’s still goin’ strong.

He replied the next day confirming my friend request…with a note saying “I remember you- you’re the big guy from Wisconsin. We talked about Bob Hoover at the 7-Eleven on Palmdale Boulevard”.

A two-minute chat, 23 years ago – and he remembered. I was blown away.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Earthquake or Tornado: Pick Your Poison

As earthquakes go, it wasn’t much of a shaker – but the quake that hit northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin about 4 AM Wednesday morning was enough to rouse me, and cause the dog to come briefly to attention. My wife slept through it. It was first reported as a 4.3 quake, but after the scientists had a few cups of coffee and checked all the data, they decided it was actually a 3.8. It was centered in a rural area about 50 miles northwest of Chicago.

Having lived in southern California for many years, I’ve been through some far, far nastier quakes. I was at work in Madison a few years ago on that April morning when a small quake hit, but I didn’t feel that one. Lots of listeners did, and called in to report.

The local TV and radio stations made mention of the quake on their morning shows, and lots of viewers and listeners weighed in. About as many reported not feeling it, as did. The social media like Facebook and Twitter were alive with “did you feel it at your house” posts Wednesday morning.

I’ve learned that I sleep deepest in the early part of the night, and since I spent 20-odd years getting up to go to work at 2:30 AM, once it gets to be that hour of the morning I’m prone to waking up at the slightest disturbance. I felt the house shake gently, and knew immediately it was an earthquake. I heard our Collie, who was sleeping at the foot of the bed, rouse and dig her claws into the carpet. It was over in a few seconds, and I went right back to sleep.

A lot of folks who were posting on social media early in the morning thought it felt like a heavy-duty plow had gone by their house. One Facebook friend of mine who’s a video production goddess said at first she thought the guy with the big plow had dropped his blade on the pavement right in front of their garage, because the house shook. She got up to investigate and then figured it was a quake. Another friend said there was a ruckus in her house because her birds all flew off their perches when the quake hit.

Another media friend, who lives atop a ridgeline near Mount Horeb, posted that it felt like the “big plow” had just made a pass past the house. Another Facebook friend who teaches at WCATY (Wisconsin Center For Academically Talented Youth) said she slept through it, but one of her friends posted under her comment that it felt like a huge snow plow had dropped a giant blade on the pavement.

I was visiting a pal in Pacoima (CA) on a February morning in 1971 when the 6.5 Sylmar quake hit, just a few miles away. We’d partied pretty hearty the night before and I’d passed out on his couch. I was literally thrown off the couch at the stroke of 6 AM when the quake hit, and that baby packed a punch. 65 people lost their lives in that quake.

In October of ’87 I was living in Palmdale (CA) when the Whittier Narrows 5.8 quake shook the entire L-A metro area. I was in bed and the house started to shake pretty hard. Dishes fell off shelves in the kitchen and I was headed outside (you don’t want to be inside if the house falls apart) when the rockin’ and rollin’ ended. The motion stopped, and I turned on TV. The guys on KNBC-TV were pretty shaken, but trying to hold it together, when the first aftershock hit, and the two anchors literally went under their desk for cover.

Lots of ‘sconnies have asked me “which is more terrifying, an earthquake or a tornado?” – and my answer is tornado, by far. In an earthquake, the terror is over in seconds. In a mild one like yesterday’s, there’s no terror at all. But a tornado – no thanks. The terror and uncertainty can seemingly last for hours. And usually, the TV weather folks spend hours ginning up fear of tornados every time we get a heavy thunderstorm.

Gimme an earthquake any time. But then, I’ve been lucky…….I’ve lived to tell about them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Selig: Statue-worthy?

Centuries ago, when Glen Gardner and I were holding forth during the morning drive time on a certain local AM radio station, we’d often ask the question of our listeners: statue-worthy….or not? Barry Alvarez was the measuring-stick. His bronze likeness went up in the Kellner Plaza at Camp Randall Stadium in October of ’06. It’s a fine tribute to the man who is the most successful coach the UW football team ever had.

On the other end of the statue spectrum, there’s that horrid and revolting thing out in front of the stadium.

I still think that if I could get enough fire-water into my pal Doug Moe, I could convince him to assist me in tying one end of a rope to that abomination, and the other to my huge gas-sucking all-wheel-drive SUV, and we’d pull that ugly thing down and drag it down Monroe Street and through campus.

With a stop at the Big Ten Pub and every other watering hole along the way.

Using Barry Alvarez as the standard, Glen and I would throw out names to the listeners and ask them to respond to the statue-worthy-or-not query. Bret Bielema? Jury’s still out. Bo Ryan? You bet. Jeff Sauer? For sure. Mark Johnson? Why not. You get the idea.

So when I heard the Brewers were putting up a statue of Bud Selig at Home Plate Plaza at Miller Park, I was deeply conflicted. Selig – Mr. Magoo – up there next to the statues of Hank Aaron and Robin Yount? I don’t think so. A seven-foot bronze statue on a base, designed by the same guy who did the Aaron and Yount statues? Some fans will revere the statue; I’m afraid others, like me, might be tempted to use it as a depository for used beer – if you know what I mean.

There’s no question Bud Selig is the reason the Brewers are in Milwaukee; and there’s no question he was right there with Tommy Thompson, pushing the rock up the hill to get Miller Park built.

But he’s is the same guy who ruined the ’94 baseball season; who let the 2002 All-Star game at Miller Park end in a 7-7 tie; who turned his head the other way when it was obvious that guys like Sosa and McGuire were juiced to the hilt; and who, as far as I’m concerned, has FAILED as Commissioner of Baseball.

Come to think of it, he wasn’t much of a leader as a franchise-owner, either – even though his daughter Wendy was theoretically in charge of the team. Mark Attanasio put his money where his mouth is, and I’m pretty sure when his tenure as owner ends, he’ll be statue-worthy.

While I’m on a roll here – the Kohl Center is one of the classiest acts of all when it comes to public art. The Dale Chihuly “Mendota Wall” that circles the wall of the Kohl Center when you walk in, is world-class art. And the new light sculptures called the “Kohl Center Promenade” that UW art professors Steve Feren and Gail Simpson did, are interesting, dynamic, and tasteful – a great example of public art.

But a statue of Bud Selig alongside Hammerin’ Hank and Rockin’ Robin – I don’t think so.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

"Deserving" To Win

Did the New Orleans Saints “deserve” to win the Super Bowl? Sure. So did the Colts. So does any team that makes it to the championship game of their sport, from Little League Baseball to Junior Hockey to the National Football League. So I guess the real question is, did the Saints deserve to win MORE than the Colts?

I don’t think so.

I lived in New Orleans back in the 80’s, when the Saints were so pitiful that people went to the home games in the Superdome with bags over their heads. If you wanted to see the game back then, you had to go. Under the NFL rules, if the game wasn’t a sellout, local TV was blacked out. Believe me, it wasn’t hard to get a ticket to a Saints game back then. And this was before the advent of home satellite TV, so if you wanted to see a home game, you went – or drove up to Baton Rouge to a sports bar or whatever.

No “NFL Ticket” packages from DishNet or DirecTV to get around a blackout.

In January of 1986, when the Bears played (and destroyed) the Patriots in Super Bowl XX, the joke around New Orleans was that the big game would be blacked out in the New Orleans TV market because it was being played in the Super Dome. Of course it wasn’t, but folks in the Big Easy were so used to having NFL games at the Super Dome blacked out that they groaned at the joke anyway.

But times change.

Katrina came and went, and left devastation that may never be fully repaired. The Saints spent an entire season playing “road” games. Their home venue, which was badly damaged by Katrina and had become a temporary shelter for thousands of victims of the hurricane, needed a lot of fixin’.

And the Saints started to get a lot better.

They got the guy who won the 2005 Heisman Trophy, running back Reggie Bush from Southern Cal. The next year they picked up Purdue quarterback Dru Brees from the Chargers, and things started to look a lot brighter for the franchise. Tom Benson, the wealthy car dealer who owns the Saints, was even seen smiling once in a while. They started winning games.

And in the past season, they did more than win. They DOMINATED games, and sent Brett Favre limping into the locker room after they took his Vikings apart in the NFC Championship.

So the story line began to be that the Saints “deserved” to be in the Super Bowl, and they “deserved” to win, because if they did, it would somehow mean that New Orleans is truly “back” from Katrina.

Not so much, if you ask me.

The Saints won the game convincingly, but what remains of the infamous Lower 9th Ward is just one of the many ugly scars on the city which may never heal. It’s still a national disgrace, what we let happen to the people who lived there, and those who never came back after Katrina. Apparently, to the rest of the nation, as long as the lights burn bright and the drinks flow freely on Bourbon Street, New Orleans is fine.

The Saints won the Super Bowl and I’m elated for them, and I proudly wore my old New Orleans garb Sunday. But they didn’t deserve to win because the city was hit by a devastating hurricane. They deserved to win because they played better than the Colts.

New Orleans still deserves a lot more from us than what we’ve given. More than a game they won by themselves.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lessons From Dad

In a small cemetery on the northern end of Hortonville, my dad is at rest, near his golfing and snowmobiling pals, his card-playing buddies, his business associates, clients, and friends. William J. Morrissey, born in Waukau, WI on the 5th of June 1924; passed away 15 years ago today. His marker notes his service to our nation, and he was buried with full military honors and a 21-gun salute from his buddies in the American Legion.

One of the spent .30-06 shells from that rifle salute at his burial is within arm’s reach on my desk right now, next to a similar brass casing from the rifle salute given to my wife’s dad when he was buried – with full military honors – a few years ago in suburban Chicago.

A few days ago we had some new friends over for dinner, as I showed them the “family wall”, on the hallway leading to the master bedroom suite of our home, they saw the picture of my dad and Toni’s dad, in their World War 2 uniforms, next to our family portrait. Just to the left is a picture of my mom’s sister, my late Aunt Virginia, in her World War 2 WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services) Navy uniform.

“So you’re from a military family?” one of them asked.

Nope. Just a regular family. It brought home the point that people born in the 70’s, like our new friends, don’t have the same perspective as us “baby-boomers”. It’s probably hard for them to get their head around the fact that back in the 40’s, just about every family in America was a “military family”.

But that generation never defined itself that way. Service to their nation and their community must have come more naturally back then. Like so many service men and women after the war, my dad used the G-I Bill to get a college education; started a family, started a business. Those returning vets built and defended their families and their businesses just as they had defended their nation – with pride, honor, and a lot of hard work.

My dad taught me all the things any good father teaches his children – work before play; few good things come easily; a job with doing is worth doing right; keep a civil tongue in your head (I’ve slipped more than a bit on that one); pay yourself first (the virtue of saving); and he taught these lessons and countless others by word AND deed.

He taught me how to handle and respect a firearm, took me hunting and fishing, put me (and five siblings) through college, and helped me become an adult. One of his best lessons: marriage is seldom a 50/50 proposition. Sometimes it’s 99/1. You get out of it what you put into it. If it’s a good relationship, it’ll balance out in the long run. Try to look at the big picture.

As I matured, I discovered dad’s advice about marriage was true about a lot of things in life. His lessons have shaped my life.

I can’t believe he’s been gone 15 years. Today, I’ll be thinking of mom, in her beautiful home on the lake in Hortonville, a few miles from where dad is at rest, and how she must miss him.

And wondering if I’ll ever measure up to the standards they set.

Friday, February 5, 2010

How Too Right The Gnus Good

My rant Tuesday (“The Pullet Surprise”) is still drawing comments from my friends in the media and the news biz. In it, I whined about how the children doing news these days aren’t very good at it, are horrible writers and poor speakers, and don’t seem to have much real curiosity about things. And it seems none of them are really up on what used to be called “current events”.

My friend and fellow media conspirator Glen Gardner posted a link to the rant on his Facebook page, and the comments started pouring in to me. The rant was also picked up by a friend who’s spent his life programming and running radio stations, and his comment under the link he posted was something along the lines of “broadcast news these days seems to be more of a Junior Achievement project than a professional enterprise”. There was a long string of posts under it, agreeing, and giving more examples.

More examples aren’t needed. There are plenty. Just take a look at the Facebook group “Overheard in the Newsroom”.

My wife, whose journalistic credentials are impeccable and include 30 years of award-winning radio and TV news reporting, a presentation at the highly regarded NewsLab in Washington DC, and a seminar at the prestigious Poynter Institute in Florida, had a laugh with me the morning after my rant ran. One of the local TV anchors doing a story about a fire informed us that “the house suffered major damage”.

We both said “how much did the house suffer” and she added “I wonder if it cried”.

The word the news writer was looking for is “sustained”, not “suffered”, and not that many years ago, before the decimation of newsrooms everywhere, a senior staffer would have caught the error and pointed it out to the person. But now, senior staffers – like my wife and me – don’t haunt broadcast newsrooms any more. The children are in charge.

One of the commenters to my rant said “Total stupidity is not limited to journalists. Denuding most organizations of senior-level supervisors and/or senior level producers (worker-bees) has resulted in zillions of stupid and uninformed decisions. But hey! Experience costs money, and we can’t afford all that experience.”

How well I know.

The evening after my rant ran, Brian Williams introduced a story on the NBC Nightly News by saying “It’s the three-week anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti”. Say WHAT? Three-week anniversary? What child wrote that – and why didn’t Williams catch it? The Latin root of the word anniversary….anni….means “year”. So, not only can you not have a “three week anniversary” (how about writing “It’s been three weeks since the devastating earthquake struck Haiti”), you shouldn’t write stuff like “Fifty-year anniversary” (in English, that’s “Fiftieth anniversary”), although everybody from the network people to the local newspaper reporters do it.

They should know better, and there aren’t those “experienced people” around any more to catch such an obvious mistake.

If you’re still with me here, and enjoy a well-written news story and decry the decline of standards in the news biz, follow the group called “Fake AP Stylebook” on Twitter. Whoever’s writing that stuff is really good, really funny, and for too many news organizations today, their Tweets hit way too close to home.

In closing, just let me use the horrid cliché that you hear night after night on local TV: “The incident remains under investigation”.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Wonderful New Toys!

There are plenty of trade shows and conventions in Las Vegas, for obvious reasons, but the one that generates the most talk is the Consumer Electronics Show in January. This year’s edition was brimming with the latest hi-tech toys. I read my friend Holland Cooke’s account of the show and was immediately jealous that he was there and I wasn’t.

Ford Motors CEO Allan Mulally wowed the attendees with the new MyFord Touch Drive. It’ll appear in upscale Fords later this year, and by 2015 four out of every five Fords made in North America will have the 8-inch screen in the center of the dash. It responds to voice commands. It’ll read your incoming text messages to you. And you can surf the web with it - but only when the car is in “Park”.

And - here’s another nail in radio’s coffin - it will be VERY friendly to your iPod and music library. Mulally put on a side-by-side demonstration that had people buzzing. One driver took just over 30 seconds to find a song on his iPod, and he had to look at it and touch it, diverting his attention from the road. The other driver, using the MyFord Touch Drive, found the same song in less than 5 seconds, without taking his eyes off the road or his hands off the wheel.

Speaking of cars - one of the other new products at the show is called “Car-M.D.” It’s a computer program you can buy, to help figure out what’s wrong with your car. It tells what the mechanic really needs to do to fix it, and how much the repair should cost. Sort of an electronic “Click and Clack”, without the humorous comments.

Wanna shake it like a Polaroid? You can, again - the Polaroid folks unveiled their new camera at the show, which looks like the classic Polaroid camera, but it’s digital and has a built-in printer. A 3x4 print costs half a dollar.

Parrot introduced the AR-Drone toy helicopter. It’s controlled by wi-fi, and you can fly it by tapping the screen of your iPhone or iPod Touch. Cooke says it’s got four propellers and two on-board cameras, one for flight control, and one which sends aerial video back to your iPhone or iPod Touch. Cool!

To further enable “helicopter parents”, Taser introduced a couple new products, neither of which are stun-guns. “Mobile Protector” is the ultimate nanny for your kid’s cell phone. It allows parents to block and monitor text messages and inappropriate phone calls, and it controls when your kid can have access to texts and calls.

And Taser’s “Driver Protector” sends an alert to you if your kid is speeding or gets into a wreck, and has sort of a “LoJac” function that can help you and the cops find a kid who’s gone missing or has been abducted. At that point Cooke opines “the cops can then Taser the perp.”

In all, more than twenty thousand new products were debuted at this year’s show - more than enough hi-tech toys to keep Santa and his elves very busy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Mike Sheridan: Stoopid

The Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, Mike Sheridan of Janesville, would do well to review the concept of “avoiding the appearance of impropriety: with great power comes great responsibility.”

He’s admitted to dating the lobbyist for the company that runs the Check ‘n Go payday loan stores, an industry (I use the term broadly) which has engendered legislation now pending, to curb its wretched excesses.

Like charging 500 percent interest on “loans”.

Sheridan, of course, sees no conflict of interest here. Nothing to see here…move along…nothing to see here.

An arrogant and insulting stance, from a man who claims he’s the victim of a “gotcha” campaign by his political enemies.

Sheridan thinks a 36-percent interest cap on these payday loan outfits goes too far.

This, from the Assembly Speaker of the only state in the union which does not regulate these bloodsuckers.

And the politicians wonder why we despise them.

His hometown paper, the Janesville Gazette, got wind of the story and asked Sheridan about it, and the man - who’s currently divorcing his wife, and that is COMPLETELY his personal business - admitted he’s dated Shanna Wycoff, a lobbyist for Axcess Financial.

The thing is, Mr. Speaker, you CAN’T date anyone you want to. That’s the “great responsibility” part of the “great power” equation. You are entitled to a personal and private life, but only a politician would fail to see the horrid conflict of interest that’s obvious to residents of the real world.

She quits her job - or you quit yours - and date away.

The Democrats howled when Republican Scooter Jensen (is he still not in jail?) was elected majority leader a few decades ago (well, it seems that long) and his wife was a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Credit Union League.

Know what Mrs. Scooter did? She quit her job.

But, in a state where we have the Gut-Check Woman (Justice Annette Ziegler) and the I-Hate-Defense-Lawyers Man (Justice Michael Gableman) on the highest court, such conflicts of interest are business as usual.

I return, as I often do, to the question George Hesselberg used to frequently ask when he wrote a column for the Wisconsin State Journal: HDDTTWA? How dumb DO they think we are?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Pullet Surprise

There was a moment in the Sunday night Grammy Awards telecast that should have made every Madisonian stand up and do a fist-pump. It was when Green Day thanked Butch Vig for his help in their success. The band won the award for Best Rock Album for their album “21st Century Breakdown”.

Yet, just about the only place you could find mention of the hat-tip to one of Madison’s stellar musicians was on the internet. Wire stories in the local paper; packaged network stuff from the local TV’s Monday morning.

One of my friends e-mailed me decrying the fact that on the station that carried the Grammy Awards, the local news that followed the broadcast made no mention of the Green Day shout-out. They talked about the telecast and the awards, but made no mention of the thank-you to Vig.

I suppose it’s possible the young folks doing the news don’t know who Butch Vig is, and what he’s meant to music not only in Madison, but to the world.

This is either another sign that my friend and I have become dinosaurs in the media world, or that local news has taken a real hit here with the downsizing of so many print and broadcast news departments in the past year or so. So much experience has been lost. So much perspective has been lost.

Tom Petner, a veteran award-winning journalist, writes a column for the broadcast news magazine called “News Pro”. Like me, he’s often amazed not only at the loss of talent in newsrooms across the country, but by the sometimes shocking lack of knowledge by those who work in broadcast news now, and those who want to.

His column this month tells the story of an applicant for a TV news job, who listed, under “awards and achievements,” a link to, where she was featured as girl-of-the-month.

A national media headhunter told Petner one of her all-time favorite stupid mistakes was from someone who submitted a resume listing as a reference a person who was a “Pullet Surprise Nominee.”

That’s “Pulitzer Prize Nominee,” for those of you who don’t follow journalism closely.

And there was the story of the young TV anchor wannabe who submitted a resume video, which contained some examples of the person’s on-air work, and then ended…no doubt unintentionally…with some very intimate footage of the anchor in the bedroom.

Way to check your work before you broadcast it!

I often wonder what it is that attracts young people to broadcast news these days. Too many of them don’t seem to be really inquisitive; their writing and speaking skills are horribly deficient; they seem to have no historical or community perspective; and don’t seem to be really interested in current events.

Must be the long hours and crappy pay.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Rant: I'm NOT Crystal!!!

About three weeks ago, some lady named Crystal gave MY cell phone number to about forty thousand people, and now my life is misery. I started out being nice when the first few calls came in; transitioned to impatient; moved on to vulgarities; and am now in full-on rage.

There are some very stupid people in this world.

There’s one guy, who sounds like he’s my age, who calls about every other day - and has for three weeks now - and asks to speak with Crystal. First I told him he had the wrong number. Then I shifted to ignoring the calls. His number came up so frequently on the phone that I just ignored it. Yesterday morning, I answered his call, and when he asked for Crystal (after I’d told him at least five times this isn’t her number) I told him she was performing a lewd act with me right now and couldn’t talk.

If you’ve ever seen the raucously hilarious 1986 Danny DeVito-Bette Middler movie “Ruthless People”, you’ll know the line I used, regarding the lewd act. If you haven’t seen the movie, rent it. I guarantee you’ll be in stitches. Just don’t let the youngsters get their hands on it.

Crystal shops at Wal-Mart, and no doubt visits their website, and she likes to buy ringtones. I know this because every day I get a mess of browser messages on my cell phone from these outfits and many others, who think I’m Crystal.

Crystal must have tried to do business with a home security company in Illinois. I know this because it’s among the score of idiots who keep calling. They were so annoying and called so many times that last week I called their number, got through their phone tree far enough to ALMOST reach the person who could remove my number from their calling list - and got her voicemail. I left a polite message.

One of this home security company’s salespeople called again Friday, so my voicemail message did no good. I called the company back, got to the same person’s voicemail, and left a non-flattering message.

No one has ever had my cell phone number but me. I was among the very first to have a 698-prefix number a couple days after the 698 prefix was opened in the 608 area code. Back then, the company was called “Cingular”, but now it’s AT+T.

The thing that annoys me the most is the number of people who’ve called my number repeatedly, expecting to talk to Crystal. Since I sit at a desk in my home office for hour after hour every day, it’s easy to jot down the numbers of the people that call and note how many of them will wait a day, and call again.

I can understand calling right back if you think you’ve misdialed, but not waiting a day and calling the same number again. Particularly when you’ve confirmed the number with the person you reached (me) and that person (me) has told you Crystal gave the wrong number to a lot of people.

The old saw goes “repeating the same behavior with the expectation of a different outcome is one of the definitions of insanity”.

As I said, there’s a lot of stupid people out there.