Thursday, September 30, 2010

Friday Media Rant: We Don't Trust The Media

Do you trust the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly? Odds are you don’t. A record-high majority of Americans have little or no trust in the media, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday afternoon.

Last year, a record 56% of Americans said they don’t trust mass media; this year, it’s up another percentage point to 57%. On the other side of the question, the 43% of Americans who said they have a great deal or a fair amount of trust in the mass media ties a record low.

Here’s a scary note for news managers: the public’s trust in media is now even lower than its trust in the executive and judicial branches of government. And a separate Gallup poll found little confidence in newspapers, too.

Not quite half of those polled said the media are too liberal; about a third say the balance is just about right; and about 15% think the media are too conservative. But no matter how you scramble the egg, more than half – 63% - say there’s bias one way or the other.

And, no real surprise here, the more education and income you have, the less likely you are to trust the mass media.

In the four decades that I worked in broadcast news management, I seldom found overt bias in the work of those I supervised. To be fair, though, most of them were younger people, who tend to be more liberal, and were trained to be careful to attempt to “balance” their stories. I do recall one strident episode back in the mid-90’s, when I left my office to check on things in the newsroom, and overheard a couple young reporters talking about how they were going to write and run certain stories to air during the Rush Limbaugh show “just to piss off all the right-wing freaks”.

I suggested they might do better in their career if they left the news department and applied with the programming department to host a talk show, so they could “balance” Rush with their brilliant insights, and mentioned that it might be important to their future to remember the bright line between “news” and “talk”, a distinction lost on far too many listeners these days.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday-Morning-Quarterbacking (On Thursday)

Suffice it to say he was preaching to the converted. The President’s trip to Madison and his speech had few surprises and not much new information. He was back on the stump, trying to get the college kids to vote next month, and he was energized.

The biggest surprise, perhaps, was Russ Feingold actually showing up at the event. He’d said he couldn’t be there because of some vote in the Senate, but around 3 o’clock Tuesday afternoon he tweeted that he was headed west and would be at the event. Russ is in trouble, and he needs every single one of those college kids there to vote for him.

There was a minor surprise when the Presidential motorcade made a quick stop at LaFollette High, and he joked with the jocks on the athletic field for a while.

It’s no secret that this was a purely political stop. The national TV networks gave it passing mention or none, on Wednesday. The President gave a stump speech very similar to the one he gave at the Kohl Center when he was here during the campaign.

Just as George Bush was always a hit when he spoke to soldiers or sailors at military installations, Obama can rock the house in front of a throng of college kids. College kids at one of the most liberal institutions in the most liberal city in the state. College kids who don’t give two hoots in hell about health insurance; college kids who don’t own property and pay real estate taxes; college kids who haven’t yet arrived in the “real” workaday world when you get your first paycheck and see what a bite taxes really do take out of your earnings, especially in Wisconsin.

The wind of change is somewhere between a stiff breeze and a full-on storm in the Badger state. Every one of those young folks at the rally Tuesday are going to have to vote…and they’re going to have to take a few like-minded friends with them to the polls in November.

I have a feeling not even the bluest of the blue counties in Wisconsin is going to hold back the wind in November, though.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Nancy Pelosi Is Everywhere

Let’s see now, I’ve forgotten….which one of the candidates in Wisconsin in the fall election is Nancy Pelosi? I think I’ve seen TV ads in Madison that Ron Kind is Nancy Pelosi. And I can’t recall – is Tom Barrett also Nancy Pelosi?

It’s so hard to keep all this straight.

Ron Kind isn’t running in Madison; this is Tammy Baldwin’s Congressional territory. (And I’m sure Tammy is also Nancy Pelosi.) The TV ad is designed to reach voters in the northern and western parts of the Madison TV market, where Ron Kind, a Democrat from LaCrosse, is up for re-election in the 3rd district. The TV ad makes it clear that he’s Nancy Pelosi and he’s wrong and bad. I don’t know who’s running against Ron Kind; the ad never even mentions a name. But I know that Ron is Nancy.

The ad in question is being run by some “60-plus” coalition or group or PAC or whatever. It has a number of angry senior citizens (and one woman in particular who is a VERY angry lady, to the point of being Halloween-scary) telling us that Ron and Nancy are thick as thieves and they’re going to take away our Medicare by cutting it to death.

Or something of the sort.

Every election cycle, the ads get dumber, nastier, and more annoying in their attempt, at the cost of anything resembling the truth, to be so scared by the opposing candidate that we can’t possibly vote for them. And every election cycle, nothing is done to change this. Once in a while the politicians talk about it, but nothing is ever done.

Why don’t they just do an ad that says Ron Kind is Hitler, and that he and Nancy Pelosi are trying to impose Obama’s European Socialist Agenda on us to take away our guns and make drugs legal and encourage more “abortion on demand” (is there another kind of abortion?).

By the way, the person running against Ron Kind is a fellow named Dan Kapanke. He’s a Marine Corps veteran and has been in our state legislature for two terms. He seems like a nice enough fellow and he even owns the LaCrosse Loggers Northwoods League Baseball team. Marine; small businessman; ties to organized baseball. Sounds like the all-American combination to me.

You’d think they’d mention that in the ad that says his opponent is Pelosi.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Personal Rail

I want my own train. But I’m not an unreasonable person; I’m willing to make a few compromises to hold the expense level down to ridiculous, not quite as high as absurd. All I hear about from the candidates for governor is train-talk; all I hear about on talk radio around here is train-talk, and when is there going to be an honest referendum on whether or not the people of Dane County really want “regional” or “local” train transit.

Barrett wants the train; he says it will bring jobs. 55 is the number I hear most often. Walker doesn’t want the train, and is apparently willing to ship the federal millions off to Florida, so that we’re not on the hook for countless millions in support and maintenance and subsidies once the medium-speed train (58 mph is not “high” speed, as many of its proponents call it) is built and running.

So, to hell with all the talk show callers and the politicians. I want my own train.

I’m not crazy, so I don’t need to have it stop right at my front door. I’d be willing to drive a couple miles from my south-suburban home to, say, HiWay MM at HiWay 14, where there’s already a nice set of railroad tracks, and then take my personal train downtown, or out to the west side, or to the Kohl Center, or wherever. I’d like my personal train to take me up to Hortonville so I can visit mom, and it could drop me off a few blocks from mom’s house, where the train tracks cross Nash Street, and I’d hoof it a few hundred feet to her lakefront home.

I’d also like my wife to have the advantages of a personal train, which could take her to her office on Science Drive, and home after work; and take her down to Chicago so she can visit with her family and not have to deal with the miserable Chicago traffic and reduce the balance on our I-Pass account.

When I’m using the train, I’d like to have personal food and beverage service from young ladies with names like Greta or Ingrid. And, to be fair, when my wife is using our personal train, I think she should have food and beverage service from muscular young men with names like Amadeo or Benedetto.

You think I’m crazy? Maybe so, but no more so than the people who believe we need trains more than we need better roads and bus service, and who are willing to raid the state’s transportation fund to pay for their choo-choos.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Big "Debate"

Anybody who’s ever been on a high school or collegiate debate team (and I’ve been on both) knows that what Tom Barrett and Scott Walker are doing on TV isn’t really debating. It’s more like a joint appearance with some questions from a trio of newsies.

My wife and I watched a bit of the “debate” Friday night – enough for me to know that if Scott Walker becomes our next governor, it won’t be because of his speaking skills. He doesn’t think quickly on his feet and if you were scoring along at home, he didn’t win many points. The State Journal called Friday night’s event “feisty”, and I won’t quibble with that description.

There was some pretty good back-and-forth, most of it initiated by Barrett, who really did try to engage Walker, but the format the Broadcasters’ Foundation uses doesn’t really lend itself to verbal volleying by the candidates. The format sometimes used by the League of Women Voters is a bit more conducive to generating some real give-and-take between the candidates in the Presidential “debates.”

Walker tried pretty hard to tie Barrett to Jim Doyle, whose approval rating is abysmal, and Barrett used the tried-and-true “Scott, Jim Doyle isn’t running in this election” tactic. The discussion about that stupid slow-speed (58 mph) train between Milwaukee and Madison did nothing to further illuminate the issue.

The wind of change is blowing pretty strong this political season, and while I don’t think either of the two is an outstanding candidate, I wouldn’t be surprised at a Walker victory in November. People are pretty fed up with the way things are now.

If Walker wins, it won’t be because he was the better “debater.”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Regulators Who Don't Regulate Anything

This Ken Kratz incident, the horny Calumet County D-A who thinks it’s OK to engage in sexting and soliciting a sexual relationship with women who are the victims of domestic abuse, just stinks to high heaven. What’s worse is, the “regulators” who are supposed to “regulate” out-of-control lawyers looked the other way; the Attorney General looked the other way; and our state’s highest court delegated dealing with rogue attorneys to a toothless and useless new committee some time ago.

Every practicing lawyer in the state pays a dues assessment every year to fund the “Office of Lawyer Regulation”, an outfit so useless and low-profile that even our governor – who is himself a former Wisconsin Attorney General - in a national TV interview with that Snuffaluffagus fellow on ABC the other day called it the “Office of Lawyer Responsibility.” Ooops.

Seems to me this OLR outfit isn’t doing much regulating, if they say it’s in poor taste to sex-text a victim of domestic abuse, but certainly nothing for anybody to get their pants in a bunch about. On top of that, our present A-G, John Byron Van Hollen, knew about this rotten Kratz stuff for nearly a year and did nothing about it, until the Associated Press uncovered the scandal a few days ago. And every day seems to bring a shocking new revelation in the Kratz mess.

From the top to the bottom, it just seems like nobody’s regulating anything any more. You’ve got the auditors who looked the other way while Ken Lay and his pals sank Enron; you’ve got the FDA regulators who allowed huge egg farms in Iowa to operate on the very margins of recklessness and sell tainted eggs; the people who supposedly regulate the auto industry are a bunch of former auto industry execs; the Federal regulators who are supposed to keep an eye on the big drillers like BP are a bunch of sops who accept expensive presents and perks from the oil barons; and the granddaddies of them all, the supposed regulators of the banking and financial industry, have shown themselves to be just about the most stupid and incompetent bastards on earth.

You wonder why people don’t trust the government? You need look no farther than little ol’ Calumet County, Wisconsin.

Snow Job

Now let me see if I’ve got this right: Madison is going to borrow a ton of money to build a station for the choo-choo, unless Walker gets elected and somehow does the seemingly impossible and derails the train; Madison has money to spend developing a “Central Park” idea that’s been in the works for years; Madison will borrow three million bucks to buy the failed Union Corners development land at East Wash and Milwaukee Street, and hold the land until the “right” developer comes along with the “right” project to make the finicky neighbors happy; but Madison does not have 18 thousand bucks to shovel out the bus stops in the coming winter.

Say what?

A new fiat being considered by the august body (which I used to call the “Silly Council” on my editorial broadcasts in the past) would re-define “sidewalk” in Madison to include the concrete pads that serve as bus stops, and a path at least five feet wide from the existing sidewalk to the bus stop pad AND a five-foot path from the bus stop to the nearest lane of travel. This is to insure access to the bus by persons with disabilities.

In other words, the city council is trying to foist a duty that any right-thinking Madisonian would call a “basic city service” onto the property owners, to save the kingly sum of 18 thousand bucks.

What’s wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong is, this is another example of how the city’s priorities can be royally screwed up. Millions for fru-fru but not eighteen grand to perform a fundamental service? Oh, and did I forget to mention that project to build a new municipal library downtown?

Every one of these major projects I’ve mentioned…..the train station, the Central Park concept, the Union Corners bailout, the new main city library, can be debated on their merits by reasonable people with divergent points of view. But trying to save 18 grand by having property owners shovel out the bus stops?

First of all, this idea is simply wrong and bad, and will likely cause a chuckle or two from other cities in the nation’s snow belt. Second, what set of priorities – and don’t split hairs about “capital” and “operating” budgets – puts a park or a developer bailout ahead of insuring that persons with handicaps can access mass transit in the winter? Third, even if this absurd proposal actually makes it onto the books as a new ordinance, do the council members actually think the property owners are going to DO this?

Isthmus blogger Dave Blaska suggests that at the very least, if this thing becomes law, the city should deduct $500 from the property tax bill of property owners adjacent to the bus stops, as compensation for their troubles.

I suggest that the proposed ordinance’s sponsor, 11th District Alder Chris Schmidt, quietly withdraw the dumb proposal and kill it before it even gets a first hearing.

This is nonsense.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Recession is.....Over??

So, let me see if I have this right: some group of eggheads back east that fancies itself the arbiter of economics (NBER, which apparently stands for National Bureau of Egghead Research) puts out a news release to the media that the recession is over. And not only is the recession over, it ended 15 months ago, in June of ’09.

Horse puckey. Or, as one economics blogger commented to the L-A Times, “hallucinatory news.”

I don’t know about you, but it occurs to me that these NBER folks who apparently determine if we’re in a recession or not, and when it started and when it ended, would do well to explain to us which planet’s economy they’re measuring, or change their definition of what a recession is. I don’t know what it’s like in your neighborhood, but in mine, June of ’09 was no time for celebration. As I understand it, though, the NBR folks say June ’09 was the bottom of the drop that started in December of ’07. From June of ’09 on, things have been “getting better.”

I’ll believe that when my friend who’s a skilled cabinet maker goes back to full-time work and not just picking up odd jobs here and there. Last time I checked, unemployment was still going UP, and under-employment was still running rampant in the “man-cession.”

Seth Godin, a smart marketing guy whose blog a lot of communications people read, says there are two recessions going on. One is gradually ending – the cyclical recession which we have all the time that comes and goes, which isn’t fun but isn’t permanent. But Godin says the other recession going on is permanent, the one he calls the recession of the industrial age. He observes the “factory” work we did is now being mechanized, outsourced, or eliminated; buyers have easy access to lower prices and many more choices; and thus, the middle class jobs that existed making stuff are gone and not coming back.

Godin says the industrial revolution has given way to the networked revolution, creating a lot of change and a lot of new opportunities, but it’s not going to provide millions of “brain-dead, corner office, follow-the-manual middle class jobs.” Pretty scary talk, but when you look around and see what’s happening at Wolf here in Madison or Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee, with labor agreeing to huge concessions, you know Godin may be onto something.

I guess I’m very much a part of this “networked revolution.” Two years ago, I was doing this, the sort of stuff you’re reading right now, for a company that continues to exist in its present form because its prior generation of ownership and management generated a sizeable fortune, which is now keeping it afloat. In one of my other “jobs”, I gather and report Wisconsin news for a company in Colorado which exists only on the internet. Their “physical plant” is a small office suite in Boulder, not a huge new building full of offices and studios on the west side of Madison.

Godin says the sad irony is that everything we do to prop up the last economy gets in the way of profiting from this new one. I think he’s got a good point there.

Monday, September 20, 2010

More Than Just A Football Game

As Packers fans, we’re aware that one of the hardest tickets in sports to get is for a Packers home game at Lambeau Field. The venerable stadium has been seemingly sold out for every game played there since it was built in 1957, and we’ve all heard the stories about waiting decades to be able to purchase season tickets. As of this season, there are 83,881 names on the Packers season ticket waiting list, and it was reduced by only 126 this past year. At that rate, it will only take you 665 years to have your name on the top of the list, if you register today.

In reality, though, the Packers say it usually takes only about 40 years.

But across the NFL, attendance was down 3% last year, while TV viewership increased. We love our pro football, but for more fans – especially during a recession – the best seat in the house is in your easy chair in front of your big-screen hi-def TV. The NFL is very much aware of that, and at the game’s newest stadium, the home to the Jets and Giants in East Rutherford NJ, it’s a whole new ball game.

The Jets and Giants are offering a free “app” for smart-phone users so they’ll be able to see replays, get stats, and all sorts of content from other NFL games going on that day. The app works only at the new Meadowlands Stadium and it’s good for one game only. The New York Times says over the next few years, the app will also deliver stats on the speed of the players and the ball, and all sorts of other stuff.

The NFL is aware that if it expects fans to still show up for the games, it will have to offer more, or they’ll stop paying the sometimes exorbitant seat-licensing fees on top of the ticket price and stop going. The Jets and Giants are charging annual license fees for season ticket holders ranging from $1,000 to $20,000 per seat, plus the cost of the tickets…which range from $90 for the nosebleed section to $700 for the best seats. (And, that’s for ONE game….not the season.)

The new Meadowlands Stadium invested about a hundred million bucks on new technology, including 500 more wireless antennas to handle the demand; there are 2,200 TV’s scattered all around the stadium; and they’ve installed 48,000 square feet of screens visible from the seats, along with a full-time TV executive to oversee game-day production for the fans.

It’s expected, of course, that other teams will soon be doing the same thing. The NFL is keenly aware that unless it keeps coming up with “extras” like this, the youngest generation of football fans may well just stay home and watch the game on their mobile device, while doing other things.

The game is changing….and so is the way we’ll experience it when we’re actually there.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Gift From The Talk Radio Gods

She’s like a sound-bite machine, this young woman who won the Republican primary in Delaware, where Joe Biden’s seat is up for grabs. Christine O’Donnell is a tea party darling, and will soon light up the phone lines on radio and TV talk shows all over the nation.

She’s red meat for the talk machine.

Friday evening on talker Ed Schultz’s MSNBC show, Ed and top national talk radio consultant Holland Cooke had a laugh-out-loud session about O’Donnell’s victory speech, and Cooke predicted O’Donnell will soon be the darling of the radio/TV talk shows, not only because she’s a fairly good speaker and an attractive person, but because she says the most unusual things.

Later Friday evening, on Bill Maher’s HBO show “Real Time”, he played a previously un-aired 1999 clip from his old “Politically Incorrect” TV show, where O’Donnell was a frequent guest. In the clip she talks about having dabbled with witchcraft! This is the kind of stuff that talk show hosts live for. Maher promised he’d play a previously un-aired clip from O’Donnell until she appears on his HBO show.

She backed out of a scheduled appearance on the CBS Sunday talk show “Face the Nation” with a terse e-mail offering no explanation. It reminds me of the old William F. Buckley Jr. line “Why does baloney reject the grinder?” At least O’Donnell’s new handlers (her old ones have been trashing her left and right the past few days) are smart enough to keep her away from reputable national public affairs shows, lest she repeat the Sarah Palin stumble with Katie Couric.

O’Donnell talks about how scientists have cloned mice with fully-functioning human brains, and has some very….interesting….views on what pornography is. This stuff is just as good as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s stories about headless torsos buried in the Arizona desert.

O’Donnell hasn’t memorized her stump speech yet, which engendered a few “TelePrompTer” remarks from Ed Schultz and Holland Cooke Friday evening, but like Palin, she’ll master it soon enough. However, O’Donnell seems to be the type who will quite quickly go “off the reservation” with off-the-cuff comments. She just LOVES to speak to crowds, and has made no secret of her ambitions in that arena.

Maybe, as with Palin, if her handlers can keep her away from the Sunday public affairs shows and Bill Maher, Ed Schultz, Chris Matthews, and Keith Olbermann, O’Donnell will have enough Tea Party steam to put her over the top in Delaware. Fox News will make sure she gets plenty of fair and balanced coverage.

Meantime, fasten your seat belts….it’s going to be a bumpy ride!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Friday Media Rant: Copy and Paste Journalism

A few years ago, a young person who worked in a local TV newsroom was fired, after his bosses learned that he copied some news stories off the website of a competing TV station and pasted the material onto his station’s website. He told his fellow employees that he didn’t see what the big deal was; after all, once something is on the internet, it’s anybody’s property.

While you’d think anyone with an ounce of common sense would know that stealing news copy from a competing station and passing it off as your own work is grounds for firing (and will run your station’s legal counsel’s bill big-time), you might be surprised at the attitude an awful lot of young people have about plagiarism. An article about plagiarism on the UW campus in the Cap Times this week revealed a stunningly cavalier attitude from young people about what is and isn’t theft.

One of the examples in the article concerned a student who submitted a paper to a teacher, essentially copied and pasted from Wikipedia. One of the many excuses the young Einstein used to “defend” his action is that Wikipedia articles are written by many authors, hence it’s really no one person’s work.

This kid will probably become the President of Fox News some day.

In many broadcast newsrooms across America, this sort of “copy and paste” (often and erroneously referred to as “cut and paste”) journalism existed long before Bill Gates’ staff invented the “copy” and “paste” functions. Radio and TV newsroom employees have been stealing stories from the local daily paper for generations. For the last decade, though, it’s been easier just to steal the stuff off the newspaper’s website, which means you don’t even have to BUY the paper to steal its news.

Those old-schoolers who gathered broadcast news had a dodge to get around outright theft of the newspaper’s copy, and that workaround is called “attribution.” In other words, when you steal the paper blind, you just write the phrase “The State Journal is reporting” in front of the copy you’ve stolen. Now, I constantly hear stories stolen from the paper without even a professional-courtesy attribution.

Channel 27 is making a big stink about Russ Feingold’s people using snippets from WKOW-TV newscasts to make an ad exposing Ron Johnson’s duplicity about businesses getting help from the government. It’s completely legal, and Channel 27 management knows it, and their huffing and puffing about it is another sad example of fake outrage in an attempt to drive ratings. (It also underscores how close the race is between Feingold and Johnson.)

Back when I was stealing news from the paper to write my broadcasts, I’d usually not only attribute the story to the paper, but often I’d even name the reporter who wrote it…”in George Hesselberg’s / Pat Simms’/ Doug Moe’s/ and many others too numerous to recount here/ story in the State Journal this morning….” Heck, after 20 years in the news biz in Madison, I’d come to know quite a few print reporters and columnists personally, and I’d never be able to face them if I stole their stuff without acknowledgement.

It’s one thing to copy and paste someone else’s work and pass it off as your own; it adds another ethical and personal dimension if you do it to a friend or acquaintance.

PS: Carol Clegg, wherever you are, I’m still sorry that I stole your report on Catholic Baptism in the 4th grade at SS. Peter and Paul School in Hortonville in 1958.

Nader Still Draws A Crowd

I first became aware of Ralph Nader when I was a high school student, in the mid-60’s, because of his book “Unsafe At Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile.” I spent way too much of my time back then drooling over and tinkering with cars, and though I hadn’t read the book (and didn’t until I was in college in the late 60’s) I hated Nader for crucifying the Corvair in the first chapter of his book. I liked the Corvair, though I never owned one, so I disliked Nader.

I disliked him until I actually read the book, and had a “holy crap” moment. This guy was actually onto something. There’s a huge difference between being a nanny and trying to protect us all from the cleansing mechanism built into the gene pool, and being a critical observer. I was essentially forced to read the book by one of my business law professors, who was also a car nut, and used examples from the book several times in class when talking about product liability law – such as it was in the 60’s.

It was that book, of course, which launched Nader into the public eye and awareness, and served as a springboard to his very public life. 45 years since the book was published, Nader can still draw a crowd, and he did a few days ago at the University of Virginia. He packed the biggest auditorium on campus and was given one standing ovation after another by the enthusiastic students throughout the hour and a half that he spoke.

These days, Nader is talking about myths, like those taught in law schools, such as the one that says defendants in our country are innocent until proven guilty. Or the myth that only the Congress has the power to declare war. Or the myth that we have a right to habeas corpus. (Can you say “Patriot Act” or “Homeland Security”?)

Nader told the UVA students that what we have now is what FDR would have called fascism. He claims we’re in the middle of a corporate crime wave, and that Universities themselves are being corporatized. One look around the UW-Madison Business School, from Grainger Hall to the Fluno Center to individual classrooms which bear the names of corporations or corporate titans, and you know who’s feeding that beast.

Nader called the UVA students slackers and gave them several verbal kicks in the butt, and the harder he drilled them, the more they cheered. He gave them more hell about making excuses for being slackers than those young people ever heard from their parents, and they ate it up.

76 years young and he can still draw a crowd of young people. There’s something to be said for that.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Better Stock Up On Cough Medicine

This nation’s longest, most expensive, and least successful war (no, not Iraq, Afghanistan, or Viet Nam) has taken still another turn toward the absurd. The “war on drugs” people are seriously considering a rule to require a physician’s prescription for……..wait for it……cough medicine.

Cough medicine.

You think I’m exaggerating or making this up? The Food and Drug Administration is considering such a rule right now (they held another hearing yesterday), and Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Chuck Grassley (R-Outer Space) have already co-sponsored the Dextromethorphan Abuse Reduction Act, which would ban anyone under 18 from buying cough medicine and would mandate restrictions on the sale of cough medicine to all consumers.

Kinda like that stupid rule they made about cold medicines, like Ny-Quil, where you’re limited in the amount you can purchase at any one time - if you can get your hands on the stuff. Often it’s kept behind-the-counter at drug stores and supermarkets. Try to buy more than 3 packages of Ny-Quil (I eat the stuff like candy during the allergy seasons in spring and fall) and alarms go off throughout the store and large men with Tasers and guns instantly appear, and draw down on you.

That cold medicine law was supposed to protect us from the meth lab crowd – but guess what? Since it went into effect, meth production and use are UP everywhere!!!! Head southwest out of Madison and within an hour you’re in tweaker heartland. Ask any cop or deputy and they’ll tell you the meth business is booming (with apologies to “Breaking Bad”.)

So who says the DXM (dextromethorphan) in cough syrup is a gateway drug? Short answer: nobody.

In a survey of teachers and cops, zero-point-zero percent of cops surveyed thought DXM had a negative impact on youth, and ONE percent of teachers listed it. ONE percent. The top five from that survey are alcohol, pot, Rx drugs/pills, meth, and cocaine. DXM was dead last.

So, again, the drug war people are about to pass an absolutely ridiculous law, and tell us how they’re protecting our children from the horrible ravages of gateway drugs, while adding still another needless regulatory burden to the merchant and inconveniencing every customer.

Thanks a lot, nannies.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Career Politician v. Career Public Servant

This morning the Capital Times was nice enough to publish (online) a small part of my retort to Paul Fanlund’s column last week regarding experience and politics. Fanlund argues against term limits, using the analogy that when you need an electrician, you want an experienced electrician, and that voters should not turn against “career politicians” simply because they’ve been in office long enough to have mastered the system.

I heartily disagree.

For one thing, we require substantial classroom and on-the-job training before anyone can become even an apprentice electrician. We require that they spend many months as a journeyman, working with a master electrician, thoroughly learning every aspect of the job, and, if they’ve demonstrated their skill to a number of master electricians, they get to be a full-fledged electrician.

Same with other occupations in which we place our trust. Airline pilots, doctors, lawyers, accountants, just to name a few. Anyone who wants a career in these professions must do years of classroom work and serve an apprenticeship or internship or residency before they can be licensed to handle our business on their own. Even then, doctors, lawyers, electricians, pilots, accountants, and similar professionals must demonstrably stay current with their profession, through mandatory continuing education classes or “check-rides” with a senior pilot.

Anybody who’s rich enough or can raise enough money can be a Member of Congress, and once they’re in, the office is essentially theirs to hold – election cycle after election cycle – unless they do something so monumentally stupid or criminal that they get tossed out. And even then (drunks like Jeff Wood in our own state legislature, hypocrites like US Senator Larry Craig, tax cheats like Congressman Charles Rangel, etc.etc.etc.) they’re often allowed to stay in office until they decide to bow out.

At no point do any of them have to demonstrate they are prepared for the job they’re asking for and at no point do they have to pass a competency evaluation. If they can afford to run the ads (or get them paid for, like our newest state Supreme Court Justices, Madame Gut-Check and Herr Goebelmann), they’re in. Twits like Sarah Palin can tweet or post a comment on Facebook or give a stump speech, but that’s a far cry from sitting down in front of an honest-to-God reporter and explaining a position with some give-and-take.

What I’m saying is, Fanlund’s analogy does not hold. When I hire an electrician or architect or contractor or have an operation or get on an airplane, I’m in the hands of somebody who has successfully demonstrated that they’ve mastered their profession, and can produce a license that says other people who have mastered their profession will attest to it. Even civil service requires demonstrating a track record of learning and successful experience. Not so with politicians.

While I’m at it – I don’t want somebody (Mark Neumann or Ron Johnson or whoever) telling me they’re going to run the government like a business. Government is NOT business. I don’t expect my fire department, police department, the FBI or CIA or Medicare or Medicaid to turn a profit or outsource jobs. The principles of good business and good government may not be mutually exclusive at all levels, but the argument “I’m a successful business person” doesn’t move me one bit.

That said – get your butt to the polls today and vote.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Moron Time

They say you can tell when a politician is behind in the polls, because that’s when they’ll put out the most desperate, idiotic, negative ads. They hire some voice talent who can sound creepy to ooze out the lines, and put together a montage of photos of their opposition with the most unendearing expressions.

“Candidate X voted to support killing American children and to cut off funding for a baby milk factory and advocates drilling for oil at ground zero” is the sort of thing we’re forced to sit through, either on radio or TV.

Now, one of the candidates for governor, Scott Walker, wants us to think that his opponent, Mark Neumann, based on a vote in congress well over a decade ago for some transportation bill, is Nancy Pelosi – because she voted for the same bill – which, by the way – Walker hailed as a good deal for Wisconsin when the bill was passed and signed into law. They're doing an ad point-counterpoint now. "You're Pelosi!" "No I'm not!" "Yes you are!"

I can’t wait for tomorrow’s primary to be over, so I can sit through the next round of moronic ads.

This sort of foolishness is done for one reason, and one reason alone: it works. At least, that’s what the political analysts say. On the other side of the coin….candidates often attempt to compare themselves to figures we revere, in an attempt to bask in the glory of their memory. You hear the name “Ronald Reagan” quite a bit. Presumably, he’s a positive figure; Pelosi, by analogy, is presumed to be a negative figure, from the Republican point of view.

Even on the local scene last week, Assembly candidate Brett Hulsey was asked by Gaylord Nelson’s daughter to remove the picture of Hulsey with her dad from one of his campaign flyers. Seems the former governor and senator’s daughter was not of the opinion that her dad would support Hulsey’s campaign. (To his credit, Hulsey recalled the brochures immediately.) Sometimes, posing for holy pictures backfires, I guess.

The closer the race, the dumber and nastier the ads. I’ve got a feeling we’re going to be fed a banquet of BS in the days following tomorrow’s primary, regardless of which candidates win.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Apparently It's News If The Media Says It Is

Perhaps I wouldn’t recognize news if it walked up to me on the street and whacked me in the butt with a two-by-four. Perhaps my understanding of what it is to be a “reporter” differs too greatly from the norm. And maybe I’m just disgusted at what gets reported and what passes for “news” these days.

Some idiot with a 50-person congregation in Florida says he’s going to burn a bunch of copies of the Koran (Qur’an, if you prefer) tomorrow, on the 9th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks (“nine-year anniversary”, as too many semi-literate news announcers will say). This is news? National news? Lead-story, top headline NATIONAL news? Now, he’s decided to back off - or, maybe not. He's waffling.

This whole story is two lines on some blog in Gainesville, Florida, as far as I’m concerned. Where is the judgment of these "news organizations"?

Once the Secretary of State of the United States got drawn into the controversy, and heads of foreign nations joined the fray, it was news, all right. And the only reason it got to that point, if you ask me, is because the people who decide what news is have no real compass about this stuff.

I fully expect my many friends in the media to push back at me on this. But to me, it’s like that horrible excuse for a human being at some tiny “church” in Kansas who leads his moronic band of sycophants to funerals of soldiers killed in action, and parades around with gay-hate signs. Giving people like this the kind of national media exposure they get is just as sick as the stunts they’re pulling.

Does the cleric in Gainesville have a right to burn the Koran? Absolutely, just as I have a right to loudly belch or fart in the middle of a meal at a nice restaurant. Only a person with a pathological need for attention would do so, though. And that’s what these bible-thumpers are: pathological persons.

But in the news game today, it’s most definitely monkey see, monkey do. If NBC picks it up, ABC, NBC, Fox, HAVE to run it, lest the (nonexistent) “comparative news sampler” think they missed the story. It has nothing to do with judgment; it has everything to do with mindless, blind “competition”, and it’s all internally driven.

Some whack-job at a tiny “church” in Florida threatens to burn the Koran and this becomes the number-one national news story in America? And continues to lead the news cycle when he backs down? And then waffles?

How sick we are.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Term Limits

I look forward to the print edition of the Capital Times every week, and the first thing I do is flip to Paul Fanlund’s column. I like his writing style, the topics he chooses, and frequently agree with his point of view. But I must take exception with his latest offering, titled “In politics, ‘experienced’ and ‘smart’ are now slurs.”

Oh, he’s right about that. Dummies like Sarah Palin and Shawn Hannity are powerful national figures. Gretchen Carlson of Fox and Friends is a Stanford graduate and Rhodes Scholar, but she’s apparently been coached to act like a dumb blonde. (No offense to blondes.)

Fanlund points out that Senator Feingold is a Harvard Law grad and a Rhodes Scholar, and opines that such credentials these days are treated like black marks. Agreed. The media give just as much weight to the opinion of that jackass “Joe the Plumber” as they do to our Junior Senator from Wisconsin.

Fanlund says it appears in this election cycle that lack of government experience and promises of simple solutions (to complex problems) are being rewarded. Again, agreed. But this is the point in his essay where Fanlund and I disagree. He says term limits are, for lack of a better word, bad. I say we need them.

Fanlund argues “the next time you have a wiring problem, avoid hiring a repairman who is a ‘career electrician.’ To me, that makes about as much sense (as term limits)”. Fanlund says we need smart and experienced leaders with the courage to enact the tough reforms we need. Again, agreed, but where I disagree is that “smart and experienced leaders” does NOT mean people who have spent the better part of their lives playing the political games in Washington DC.

Being an electrician requires a very specific set of skills and a lot of training. We literally trust these people with our lives. Same with doctors. Airline pilots. On and on. Being a Member of Congress, as far as I’m concerned, requires vision and courage. The actual law-writing and other critical “political” functions are actually carried out by staff members, who are career civil servants, and are, indeed, “smart and experienced” experts.

The President of the United States is subject to term limits. And, since this is America, if we don’t like our laws, we just change them, as we did to allow FDR a third term. Then we, as Americans, decided to go back to the two-term law after FDR.

One of the main reasons so much corruption has crept into our Congress is, in my opinion, the constant chase for campaign money – a problem that would become far less an issue with term limits. Career public servants, like Russ Feingold, say they effectively are subject to term limits, because they don’t appoint themselves but are “re-hired” by the people. As any political observer knows, that concept is true in theory only, given the incredible power of incumbency as demonstrated in every election cycle at every level of government from dog-catcher to United States Senator.

Fanlund needs to look no farther than our own state legislature to observe the corrupting power of incumbency. Spend a few moments on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s website and you’ll be astonished at the facts about incumbency compiled there.

It’s said the Army is run by the Sergeants. Washington is run by the bureaucrats, only a handful of whom are actually “elected.” Term limits for U.S. Congress? Absolutely. And doubly the same for our state legislature.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Death of an American Dream?

An article a few days ago in the Toronto Globe and Mail newspaper said the slump in the U-S housing market, now more than three years old, is the most severe since the Great Depression, and the author of the article, Joanna Slater, seems to believe that a part of the American dream has died with the decline of the housing market.

She talked to a lot of American experts in writing the long article, which I’ve seen shared by a lot of my friends (and institutions) on their social media sites. Things have changed dramatically and will likely settle to a “new normal” which will be quite different. It seems certain, and the experts agree, that no longer will our homes be used as an ATM to fund college tuitions, boats, fancy cars, second homes, and travel.

The Madison housing market was an incredible engine of growth for years, and hasn’t fared as poorly as much of the rest of the nation during the past three years. In our little corner of the suburban world, the assessed value of our home has gone down nearly 20% in the past two years (nationwide average is 30%), with the big drop coming in 2009. But before that, we were on the same rocket-ride as everybody else in the Madison metro area.

In 1989, my former wife and I bought a 3-bedroom ranch in the Burr Oaks neighborhood for just over 60 grand. Nothing special; just a nice 1300-square-foot house that was close to work for both of us. When we divorced in 1996, a professional appraiser determined the value of the home to be 128 grand. We’d put in a new kitchen and added a 12 by 16 sun room and a huge deck and pool, a total of about 40 grand in improvements, but the rest of the increase was a steady annual climb in value.

Toni and I bought the house we live in now in 1999, and early in 2008 it had, according to the professional appraiser, doubled in value. In both cases – ten years apart, in 1989 and 1999 – we bargained hard and got relatively low prices. But as everybody knows, the days of doubling your home’s value in 9 years, even in Madison, are gone, and likely gone for good. Most experts now say when this thing settles out, you’re looking at maybe 2 to 4 percent a year growth. Maybe.

According to the article, one in four homeowners in the U-S now owes more on their mortgage than their home is worth. A scary number of homes, even in the Madison metro, are in foreclosure. This is a fundamental shift.

It may not be the death of an American dream, as the article says, but it’s a very different ball game.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Barry's Excellent Jock Palace

The die was cast when Donna Shalala hired Pat Richter to be Athletic Director at UW-Madison in 1989, and shortly after he signed on to an athletic program in horrid disarray, Richter hired an assistant football coach from Notre Dame named Barry Alvarez to attempt to bring the football program, which had languished under Don Morton, back to life. When Richter stepped down on the first day of April, 2004, and turned the AD’s job over to Alvarez, the transformation was complete.

The University of Wisconsin at Madison was in the business of NCAA Division One athletics, big-time.

Once you’ve made the decision to get into that business, you’re running with the big dogs, and you’ve got to keep up. Alvarez wants a 77-million-dollar facility for sports medicine, strength and conditioning, and jock academics that would be sort of “jock central” for every student-athlete on campus. He asked for it in 2008 and the Board of Regents approved it, only to have the project slapped down by the state Department of Administration.

He’s asking for it again; and it’s not likely to come up for serious review until after the fall elections. And before you say to yourself “is Alvarez nuts? In THIS economy?” consider this: if you’re going to run with the big dogs, you’ve got to (fill in your own euphemism for “pee in the tall grass”). Alvarez is right when he says the athletic weight room and locker rooms are among the shabbiest in the Big Ten (or eleven or twelve or whatever it is now).

Conference schools Purdue, Iowa, Ohio State, Indiana, Minnesota, and Michigan have all recently spent a whole bunch of that Big Ten Network money that’s rolling in now (6 million bucks a year, here, minimum) and more, to upgrade their facilities. Alvarez says the addition of Nebraska, with its premiere football program, really ups the ante, and he warns that soon, we will start losing recruits in all sports, not just football, because the other Big Ten schools will have facilities that are far superior. Think this sort of thing doesn’t matter to young jocks? Think again.

Whether or not you agree that we should spend 77 million bucks on another jock palace; no matter what you think about the role and place of collegiate athletics at the UW; regardless of your personal feelings about Barry Alvarez, he’s right. If we don’t spend the money and build it, we’re going to slide right back into the Ade Sponberg/Don Morton era.

If you’re going to run with the big dogs, you can’t stay on the porch.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Why So Many Idiots?

I was bored with the station I had on while tooling down the westbound beltline Wednesday afternoon, so I flipped the station and heard Dennis Miller riffing with Dana Carvey. Funny stuff. Then they started talking politics. Carvey dissed Sarah Palin who was raising eyebrows that day by announcing a speaking date in Iowa (think caucuses). Miller – supposedly the “thinking man’s comedian” – sprung to Palin’s defense when Carvey brought up the notorious Katie Couric interview.

Miller opined that Palin had just been “dragged” down from Alaska; was new to the public scene; was no doubt tired; not used to the media spotlight; and further opined that she’s now become a formidable force in American politics.

Among mouth-breathing morons, I suppose.

I went back and looked at the Couric interview; and the one with Charlie Gibson. It’s very easy to find them on YouTube. Couric: “What newspapers and magazines do you read?” Palin: “All of ‘em; any of ‘em; lots of ‘em…” Go watch it for yourself. Watch the Gibson interview, for which she was carefully prepped by John McCain’s staff, and tell me what you think about her answer to Gibson’s question about the Bush doctrine.

This was NOT “gotcha” journalism in either case. These were run-of-the-mill questions you’d ask to get to know anyone running for the second-highest office in the land, not some parsing of prior public comments by the candidate. And Miller chalks it up to jet lag and inexperience? By the way, Dennis, what magazines and newspapers do YOU read?

Then that evening I saw a local TV guy interview some cretin named Dave Westlake, who apparently wants to represent Wisconsin in the United States Congress. He believes there’s plenty of scientific evidence that the earth was created less than six thousand years ago. (Apparently the media have been covering it up by not reporting it.) Where do they find these whack-jobs who run for public office, and whatever happened to FACTS?

The Reds beat the Brewers 6-1 Wednesday night and Cuban left-hander Aroldis Chapman got his first major league win. His top pitch speed was a blazing 103 MPH. These are what reporters and most people would call FACTS. They are not subject to debate.

David Dwight Eisenhower was born in Denison TX on October 14th, 1890, and he reversed the order of his given names when he enrolled in West Point. He was the 34th President of the United States and the last President to be born in the 19th century. These are FACTS, and they’re not subject to debate.

But where the current President was born, despite the existence of a certified birth certificate, and the religion he has practiced for decades, are now apparently subject to debate. By morons. The kind of people who think radio-carbon dating is some sort of mystic hoo-doo that has nothing to do with settled science. The sort of people who think there’s some vast left-wing conspiracy that produced a fake Obama birth certificate. “He’s an AY-rab”, as that woman in Minnesota said to John McCain on the ’08 campaign trail. (Much to his credit, McCain corrected her immediately.)

Russ Feingold runs ads saying Ron Johnson (who has enough problems with honesty on simple FACTS like when Pacur was founded) wants to drill for oil in the great lakes – even though our Junior Senator knows damn well Johnson advocates nothing of the sort. Pandering to the morons.

My God, this nation is in trouble.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

We Hip Oldsters

How much time every day do you spend on Facebook? The topic came up the other day in a conversation with a friend, and we both spend a similar amount of time – not all that much. But I decided to see if I could find out what the “average” is for the 55+ set.

I couldn’t get the answer, but I did find out a bunch of interesting stuff. A consultant whose work I admire, Jerry Del Colliano, says right now, people OVER 65 are adopting Facebook at a faster pace than any other age group. The most recent month for which figures are available, May, saw 6.5 million more adults 65 and over creating a Facebook account, which is three times greater than the rate one year ago in May. Younger demographics were, of course, the early adopters, but now it’s retired folks who are connecting on Facebook.

I spend a LOT more time writing stuff like this than fooling around on Facebook and Twitter.

Americans have increased their time on social networking sites by 43% in the past year, while use of e-mail has declined by 28%, according to Del Colliano, who gets his information from the Neilsen folks.

One thing that hasn’t caught on that strongly yet is use of e-books….like the Amazon Kindle. By the end of the year, the folks at Simba Information say there’ll be about ten million e-readers in use in America, up from about four million a year ago. That’s great growth, but not what many had predicted. I still prefer to hold a book in my hand – but as my eyesight changes for the worse, I could probably be convinced to buy an e-reader so I can ootch the print size up a bit!

One other note: the business staple of my generation….the BlackBerry…has now slipped to third place in the smart phone race, behind iPhone and the new Android phones. Apple is still selling iPhones as fast as it can make them, and global shipments of mobile phones running Google’s Android system are up 886% in the second quarter of this year.

Del Colliano says the first ten years of this new century were devoted to the internet; the next ten will be all about the mobile internet. I think he’s right.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Visit To The Dental Authorities

At first, I was angry with my dentist when he told me he was going to retire. This is a man who’s known my mouth far better than I, for the past 22 years. And he’d kept it running through thick and thin, extractions, root canals, crowns, threats of bridges (avoided), fillings, and cleanings. I was selfishly convinced nobody could take care of me the way he had, but realized the day was soon coming when I’d be talking about “retiring”…in whatever form that may take…and my selfish anger quickly dissipated.

We met, Dr. Buescher and I did, the Friday before Super Bowl Sunday, a cold day in January of 1988. I’d moved to Madison from L-A in July and hadn’t yet needed a dentist, but woke up with a whale of a toothache that morning. I simply consulted the yellow pages (remember when we did that, before the internets caught on?) and found the dental office closest to work, and it turned out to be Dental Health Associates on Wingra Street. I called, pleaded my case, and Dr. Buescher’s people said he’d see me at 1:30. He promptly drilled out the cavity, put a filling in, and handed me his business card. He wrote his home phone number on the back, and said “don’t hesitate to call me at home if it gives you any trouble this weekend.”

Who does that?

My visit to my new dentist, Dr. Sweeny, yesterday morning, illustrated how far dentistry has come since I first sat in Dr. Buescher’s chair back in January of ’89. A few years back, the dentists built a huge new palace on Chapel Valley Road in Fitchburg. Dr. Buescher was deeply involved in the financial aspects of the practice, and he was rightfully proud of the new building as he gave me a tour shortly after they moved from Wingra Street. A couple years later, when he retired, he introduced me to Dr. Sweeny, who’s continued my excellent care.

Now, when you have x-rays taken, as I did yesterday morning, they still drape that ridiculous lead blanket over you, but about two minutes after they take the shot, it’s up on a computer screen a few feet from your face. Whatever “developing” of the x-ray they do, is done automatically, and a digital image is generated, and the detail is scary good. Dr. Sweeny pointed out the issue he was concerned with, on tooth #20 (somewhere in the back of my mouth) and I could clearly see the cause of his concern – a dark-shaded area near the root, which he said was a sign that it was full of bacteria and the nasty critters were slowly eating away the bone surrounding tooth #20. That particular tooth has a dandy root canal and crown, courtesy of Dr. Buescher, but Dr. Sweeny said it’s going to have to come out, probably early next year. Ouch. Double ouch, financially – extraction and then implant.

But that wasn’t why I was there yesterday morning. I was there for a filling. It used to take an hour or so to get a filling done, but now – much quicker. A little gel to numb the gum, a quick shot of Novocain, ten minutes later, he’s in with the drill, his assistant whips up a quick batch of amalgam filling, he puts it in and shapes the filling, and you’re on your way in about 20 minutes. I make it sound simple, but I know there’s tremendous skill involved in this.

All this high-tech stuff comes at a price, of course. My insurance will cover most of yesterday’s procedure, but I can’t wait to find out what I’ll be on the hook for in January, when I have to deal with the oral surgeons for the extraction and implant.