Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Seven Deadlies

Even if you’re self-employed, like I am, you have a boss. As far as your clients are concerned, you’re an employee, and they’re the boss. So it pays to consider it a “boss-employee” relationship. That’s why an article from US News and World Report caught my eye. It had a pretty catch title: “7 Things Never To Say To Your Boss.”

The first one was pretty obvious. Don’t say “That’s not my job!” The way your boss looks at it, practically everything they ask you to do is your job. So was the second: “”It’s not my problem.” It is if the boss says it is. And it’s best to think about how to help fix the problem rather than send the message you don’t care.

“It’s not my fault.” Four of the deadliest words. Human nature being what it is, the more you deny it, the more people (the boss) will suspect it IS your fault. According to the article, bosses are more concerned about fixing the problem than fixing blame – although there are certainly many exceptions to THAT – so, again, it’s best to try and find a way to fix the problem, no matter whose fault it is.

The fourth deadly phrase is “I can only do one thing at a time.” What that says to your boss is you’re not up to the challenges of your job. I learned something a long time ago from a really good boss – sometimes you have to “manage your manager.” If you’re working hard on a project the boss has given you, and he or she asks you to do something else, it’s often better to say “I’m working on the Jones project right now – help me prioritize: is this new task something you want me to deal with right now?” Let the boss decide, and your bee-hind is covered!

Although the temptation may be great, it’s not wise to say “I am way overqualified for this job” anywhere the boss might hear it. Maybe you ARE overqualified, but you took the job, you gotta own it. Complaining that it’s beneath you will get you zero points. This point relates to the sixth deadly phrase: “This job is easy – anyone could do it.” If the boss hears you say that, the boss will interpret it as you saying work is stupid.

Remember the story of the young employee who made a Facebook post about how the boss makes them do all this stupid crap at work…and forgot that the boss was a Facebook friend, and saw the post…and responded by saying the stupid crap is called YOUR JOB, and by the way, you’re fired. If the job truly is beneath you and too easy, find a different job. That’s pretty hard to do in this economy, so if you can’t find another job, you’ve got to do the job you have now, and ride it out until the economy turns around.

And the seventh deadly phrase: “It can’t be done.” What the boss hears is “I can’t do this.” And while it may be true, it might be wise to play detective, and rather than say you can’t do it, ask the boss why he or she wants you to do it (ask politely!) and try to get at what problem the boss is trying to solve with the “impossible” task. Teamwork!

Words to the wise.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Will Somebody PLEASE Throw Scooter In Jail?

In October of 2002, Scooter Jensen was charged with misconduct in office for running political campaigns using taxpayer resources. A bunch of others, both Republicans like Jensen and Democrats like Chuck Chvala, were charged around the same time during the so-called “caucus scandal”. Chvala and the others all reached plea deals and served their sentences.

Jensen was the only one of the bunch who actually went to trial. He was convicted of three felonies and a misdemeanor in 2006, but the felony convictions were overturned by the appeals court. It was decided that Jensen should be tried on those counts again.

Three years ago, Republican Attorney General J. B. VanHollen suggested that Jensen should “plead it out”, but that didn’t happen and the case continued. The original trial was here in Dane County, but the politicians rewrote the law in 2007 to say that politicians charged with ethics violations would be tried in their home counties – in Jensen’s case, Waukesha County.

It was a blatantly political re-write of the law, since felonies are almost always tried in the jurisdiction in which they allegedly occurred, which in Jensen’s case, is Dane County. The state Supreme Court is right now considering the appeal which would move Scooter’s case from Dane County to Waukesha County.

So, more than seven years after he was charged…it remains completely unclear about how this case will be adjudicated, where it will happen, and even who will now prosecute the case. Odds are that the Dane County prosecutor who started the case, District Attorney Brian Blanchard, will be elected to a judgeship a week from today in the spring election.

Jensen has spent a fortune hiring expensive lawyers to delay, deny, stall, muddy the waters, and generally drag their feet on his behalf. This has gone on for 2,719 days. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign is keeping track.

There’s an old saying that goes back to the Magna Carta: justice delayed is justice denied. A reasonable delay allows time for both sides to prepare their case. A delay of four years – since the case went to appeal after the 2006 conviction - is unreasonable. A delay of seven years – since Scooter was charged – is unbelievable, unconscionable, and un-American. You have a right to a speedy trial in this country, but apparently if you don’t want a speedy trial, you can buy a chit for that, too.

Only a powerful man, with access to a shipload of money and who peddles a great deal of influence, can get away with stuff like this.

It’s well past time for Scooter to be judged, and, if so ordered, do his jail time.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Is Anyone In Your Party Over 60?

If 60 is the new 40, put me down for being about 39. I’m a baby boomer, class of 1949, so the big six-oh has come and gone. But as much as 60 scared me when I was 30, this is nuthin’. Sure, I’ve slowed down a step or two; but I’m not ready for pasture just yet. In fact, there are a few small perks associated with my advancing age.

My kids and I have always loved the movies. When they were in middle school, the four of us would go as a family to a movie about every other Saturday night. As they matured, the movie-going was far less frequent, and now, it’s actually pretty rare. My son, by virtue of his work and UW schedule, still accompanies me to a Friday afternoon matinee about once a month. When there’s a film like “Hurt Locker”, you can count on us being some of the first customers.

A few Fridays ago, a rare confluence of events allowed both my son and daughter to accompany me to the opening of “Green Zone.” My son and I had planned it for months; but when my daughter suddenly had a day off, I was delighted when her car pulled up the driveway that she’d decided to spend a few hours of her day off with “the old man.”

We headed off to Marcus Point Cinema so we could see Matt Damon in all his glory on the Ultra-Screen.

As we joined the line at the ticket counter and our turn came, the three of us stepped forward. My son is 26; my daughter is 25. I said “three for Green Zone”. She looked at the three of us, then at me, and said “is anyone in your party 60 or over?”

I was impressed!

She did NOT say “are you 60 or over” – which would probably be how most young people would express it. Her question didn’t accuse me of being old (from her perspective). She just nicely asked if “anyone in our party” might qualify for a discount. They knock a couple bucks off the matinee ticket price for us old farts.

I admitted I was 60 or over, got my discount, and we proceeded down the hallway to enjoy the movie. I wanted to compliment the young lady on her approach to asking me about the 60-plus status, but I’ve learned – in my advancing age – that this sort of thing often embarrasses the kids.

For all I know, the wording of the question was formulated by some Marcus corporate flunky in Milwaukee. But the young lady delivered it flawlessly and with a friendly smile. That’s worth some points – and will keep me coming back.

Note to business owners: your front-line people, the ones who actually have direct contact with your customers, are a lot more important to you than you may think.

Friday, March 26, 2010

What DID You Expect?

My friend Mitch Henck was all wound up on his WIBA-AM radio show yesterday morning. Anyone – and I speak from three decades of experience – who does a talk show quickly learns how shallow and downright ignorant (not stupid; ignorant) some people are. Mitch must have hit his breaking point yesterday. For a few minutes, he sounded like Sly does, when Sly works up a lather about Wal-Mart or union-busting. I could visualize Mitch’s face turning red and the veins popping out in his neck.

Mitch had just had it with people calling and saying they voted for Obama, but this health care thing, well, that’s just not what they expected. And, as Mitch kept saying to them, “what the hell DID you expect? What DID you vote for?” Until the very last few weeks of the campaign, health insurance reform was a huge part of every speech Obama gave. Then the economy went bankrupt and the focus shifted.

Of course, the politicians called it “health care reform”, as if there was something wrong with the way our health care professionals deliver their services, but that’s the result of the sloganeers who have so much power in political campaigns. Anyone who listened to candidate Obama, even if only for the tiny, 20-second video clips they run on network TV news, knew that his signature issue would be reforming the way health care is PAID FOR in America.

Health INSURANCE was the crux of every talking-point from both political parties. Candidate Obama supported a so-called “single-payer” system of paying for the cost of health care. That’s what I wanted, too. I wanted it because I have had seven very significant operations in the past decade, most of them requiring several days of hospitalization and in two cases, several weeks of re-hab, and the worst part of each of them was the hours and hours I spent arguing with my insurance carrier about paying for what THEY agreed to pay for in our contract.

So, I am among the many who are disappointed with what passed for “health care reform” in Washington. I got some of what I wanted, but far from all that was “promised” in the campaign. And I am one of those fence-sitters who’s really not sure forcing everyone to BUY health insurance is going to pass muster with the legal eagles. We’ll see.

Our Attorney General, Republican J B VanHollen, made his predictable attempt to get permission to sue the feds over the new law, and was, predictably, told “no”.

I think the point Mitch was trying to make is that far too few people vote in the first place, and far too many of those who do vote don’t spend enough time finding out very much about the candidate.

Implicit in all this, is my belief that far too many candidates tell us what they think we want to hear, and have no compunction about doing things that will maximize their re-election chances by making their contributors happy. Don’t get me started on my favorite topic, term limits. That’s a rant for another day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

It's Those Commies at the UW

I feel just horrible.

One of the politicians up there under the big top says I’m responsible for the fact that there are unions – we’re talking organized labor unions here, not the kind that house the Rathskeller and offer the beautiful terrace – on the Madison campus of the University of Wisconsin.

You see, I am a member of the Wisconsin Alumni Association (#G0990249466, in case you want to check – and you’ll find I haven’t paid this year’s dues yet….er, the check’s in the mail, Paula…), and Senator Grothman holds the alumni association responsible for these…these….unions. And, further disclosure, I am a card-carrying LIFETIME member of the Wisconsin Union. (That means I can take my pals to the Union Terrace to swill beer and talk smart, at will.)

Our learned politician from West Bend, who, coincidentally is also a member of the UW Alumni Association of Washington County, and holds a Juris Doctor degree from UW-Madison, said in a news escape last week that the mentality of a union is inconsistent with the free thought and respect for minorities that is supposed to go on at all universities.

Hunh? Say what?

Grothman is all wound up about some bill up there that says funds taken from employee salaries can’t be used to discourage people from joining a union. The esteemed senator from the home stomping grounds of our notorious gut-check judge on the state Supreme Court, Madame Justice Zeigler, says this bill was introduced by RADICAL LEFTISTS (his actual words) Spencer Coggs of Milwaukee and Mark Pocan of Madison.

Grothman goes on to say “Hatred for the free exchange of ideas has always been a priority of the hard Left (sic).” That’s the sort of language that must go over big at the Moose Lodge and the Early Risers Kiwanis over there in West Bend.

Mr. Senator Grothman claims to be appalled that the alumni associations and the professors themselves have not been more active in fighting this heinous bill. He writes (or, some doofus on his staff writes) “As long as they have a nice house in Maple Bluff or tickets at Camp Randall, I guess they wouldn’t mind if the freedom to speak conservatively on our campus would be akin to that in Venezuela or Iran”.

Closing this news escape, Grothman exhorts alums, faculty, and students to get off their butts and fight for free speech, noting “there are more important things going on at the UW-System than the size of professors’ salaries and the record of the UW football team”.

Has Athletic Director Alvarez been apprised of this pithy political assessment?

I guess we get the sort of politicians we deserve. And I’m sure Mr. Grothman is quite popular in West Bend.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Guys My Age Swingin' Bats

A couple of lifelong buddies have been making the rounds of the local TV and radio shows, drumming up support for their dream of a softball league for guys 55 and over. Ray Blum and Bob Ruhland played together decades ago, and they’re going to again – this summer, at Goodman Park.

My pal Doug Moe wrote a great column about the Greater Madison Senior Softball League, a few days ago, in the State Journal. I saw Ray and Bob on Channel 3’s “Live at Five” the other night and since then the softball bug has bitten me again. But I’d pound my beautiful titanium left hip into a pile of shrapnel if I did.

I have always loved baseball and softball, and they are two very different games. My very first baseball coach was the legendary Russ Tiedemann, who left Hortonville High to eventually become head baseball coach of the UW-Oshkosh Titans, and Coach Tiedemann has sent more than his fair share of young men to Major League Baseball.

Does the name Jim Gantner ring a bell? Gumby, as they called him, was second-baseman for the Brewers from ’76 to ’92, a member of the World Series team. He was one of Coach Tiedemann’s products, a member of the Titan Hall of Fame.

Like Ray Blum, I’ve faced legendary fast-pitch softball star Eddie Feigner, who campaigned around the nation for years as “The King and His Court”. That guy could make a softball dance! I got a solid single to right off Eddie at the South Side Lighted Diamond in Oshkosh back in the 80's and I’ve replayed the moment in my mind thousands of times. The radio station I worked for back then brought Eddie to town for a charity event, and after the game, I got to buy The King a beer at the Holiday Inn.

I was decent at bar-league softball. I could hit the cover off the ball, but couldn’t leg a single into a double to save my soul. I still have a softball trophy on the shelf in my office, of a game ball the team gave to me after I hit a one-out bases-loaded blast to left field to clear the bases and win the game. Probably any other guy on the team would have had at least a triple, if not an inside-the-park homer on that massive hit, but I barely made it to second. The next guy struck out, which was good, because if I’d had to run, I would have been thrown out at third. We hung on to win the game and the guys gave me the game ball and later gave me a nice trophy to put it in.

If my friend Steve, up in Oshkosh, is reading this, he may remember the night at Sportsman's Park. After I connected with the ball, he said "Boy, did he get a hold of that one!" - and it was one of those audio/video moments that's burned into your memory. I believe another friend named Steve, who lives in Neenah, was pitching for our radio station team that night.

So I’m happy that Ray and Bob are having great success in organizing this over-55 softball league. They said they have room for 8 fifteen-man teams, and they already have a hundred guys signed up.

I have a feeling I’m going to be hanging out at Goodman Park on Wednesday mornings to get my vicarious softball fix. Play starts the 12th of May. Can’t wait!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fear And Loathing in D.C.

Fear is an extremely powerful thing. Fear of peer rejection; fear of failure; fear of loathsome disease; for many, fear of dying. It’s hard to top fear in the range of powerful emotions we feel. Years ago, at some marketing or branding seminar I attended, one of the speakers said fear sells. Fear is the new sex.

Fear motivates; fear purifies. Fear can drive us to take action. Fear is what radio windbags like El Rushbo and Gruppenfuhrer Beck sell. Fear works. Fear, fear, fear. The advertising paradigm used to be “buy this vacuum cleaner (washing machine/mixmaster/household convenience) and it will add years to your life”; now, it’s “have your doctor prescribe this drug for you or you will become very ill and die.”

Opponents to health insurance reform have some of the best fear-mongering slogan-makers around, and the talking-point “GOVERNMENT TAKEOVER OF HEALTHCARE” was one of their finest products. It stuck like glue and got repeated by all media. And yet – here we are, only a full day into the “takeover” – and the system, as yet unreformed, remains remarkably operable. Certainly, the calamity is about to descend.

Remember when Medicare was RAMMED DOWN OUR THROATS? Oh, wait – a Republican or two actually supported Medicare. Anyway, Medicare processed a billion claims last year, and somehow, it still seems to work. My mom gets her health care covered, and the gubbmint keeps payin’ the bills.

On the NBC Nightly News last night, a brief video clip of an elderly gentleman, obviously distraught, carrying a sign that said “keep government out of my life”. Fear. Yah, keep government out of my life - except for my Social Security. And my Medicare. And my VA Hospital. And my mail delivery. And my police department. And my fire department. And on and on. Keep government out of my life. Fear.

The insurance industry hired the services of six lobbyists for every member of congress and spent a significant amount of its shareholders’ potential profits to put FEAR into the politicians; yet, Sunday night, it passed. Not a single Republican voted for it, so the lobbyists’ bills will be paid.

My adult children will be able to get health insurance when they change jobs; pre-existing condition clauses won’t dog them like they did me; they won’t have “lifetime caps” to worry about like I did, after five kidney operations in 2000 and 2001, hip replacement in 2001 (thank you again, Dr. John Rogerson), specialized vocal cord surgery to restore my voice 5 years ago (thank you again, Dr. Charles Ford); and my mom will live to see the “donut hole” disappear in her Medicare coverage.

Hell, this stuff doesn’t scare me. I must be one of those blithe Madison liberals, I guess. I can’t wait for ALL of it to kick in. And don’t even talk to me about what it costs…not until this nation stops spending money it doesn’t have to prosecute bogus foreign wars and bail out businesses “too big to fail”.

Yes, everything does have a price. This is one bill I’ll gladly pay.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Unsolicited Advice to the NCAA

Nobody asked me, but I have some suggestions to the NCAA about improving their national collegiate basketball tournament. It runs like a well-oiled machine, and the crew at CBS Sports does a great job of bringing us the action, capturing the highlights, and making sure we’re able to see exciting finishes with “live look-ins”. But there are some things which need attention.

First, the NCAA should force teams like the UW to put the players’ names on the back of their uniforms. I know, I know – all that crap about “there are no individual stars, we’re one team united”, but the NCAA should put its very large foot down and insist that the names be on the uniforms. I follow the team, but not closely, and I don’t have their uniform numbers memorized. I suspect I am not alone in this deficiency.

I think the NCAA should encourage players to get as many tattoos as possible, and there should be some sort of award for the player that has the highest percentage of available skin tattooed. Maybe they could make the “team tattoo percentage” part of the arcane RPI, which nobody understands anyway. CBS could do little feature-ettes having players explain what each of their tattoos stands for.

It might be fun to have the NCAA encourage every player to wear one of those long “sleeve” thingys that stretches from the armpit to the wrist. Only one arm would be allowed, though. A player could wear one on both arms, but, if any player on a given team decided to do that, the game could start with a bench technical being assessed, and the opposing team would get a free throw.

Longer and baggier pants could be encouraged, too.

While the games are often very exciting, some of them, particularly in the first round, a blowouts. If such a game happened, rather than doing live look-ins exclusively at other games in progress, CBS could do live look-ins at random house parties happening on the campuses of participating schools.

Also, if any given game started to drag, CBS could have a library of still photos of Bo Ryan available for the announcers to comment on. Bo is one of the most facially expressive coaches in college hoops, and perhaps a contest of sorts could be held between the play-by-play announcer and the color commentator to try and guess where any given shot of Bo’s facial dynamics was taken.

“Oh, that’s Bo reacting when he thought there should have been a foul called on the opposing team – I’m pretty sure it was when the Badgers were playing at Illinois in 2006.” You get the idea.

To prevent runaway games in the first round, the NCAA could commission some hi-tech company to develop a basketball which could be inflated and deflated by the referees. If the refs felt one team was scoring too easily, they could slightly deflate the ball to make it harder to dribble, handle, and shoot; and when the opposing team had the ball, it could be re-inflated. When the score got close again, they’d lay off the device.

Just some ideas…after all, nothing’s so good it can’t be made better.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Day two of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is here, and for a lot of people, their hopes of winning the office pool have already been diminished. One or more of the teams they picked to advance, didn’t….fouling up their brackets and dashing their predictions.

16 games were played yesterday, and 16 more will be played today. And, in a couple weeks, Kansas will be crowned national champion. At least, that’s my prediction. But I blew it with Notre Dame, Vanderbilt, and Marquette. Who knew? They're OUT.

There may well be some people missing from your workplace today, and there were probably a few not in action yesterday. A lot of guys take off the first weekend of the NCAA tourney, and get together to watch hoops, drink beer, and talk smack. And yesterday provided perfect weather for firing up the grill to char something to go along with the brewskies and basketball.

For the ladies, it may be a different story. Some are really good at predicting the winners; some do it just to be part of the crowd. Charlotte Deleste, one of the anchors on the Channel 3 morning show, told her viewers yesterday morning that filling out the brackets made her angry. She admitted she doesn’t follow basketball and doesn’t know a thing about it, but just wants to participate. She said she had no clue what “UTEP” is (University of Texas – El Paso) and thought it might be a misprint.

Her cohort, meteorologist Haddie McLean, said one year she filled out the brackets based on the mascots of the team involved…which one she thought could “take” the other. (So, the question Haddie must ask herself this year…can a Badger take a Terrier? We’ll know, this afternoon.)

And there are women like my wife, who follow college hoops, know the game, know the players, know the conferences, and are good “bracketologists”. She covered the NCAA tournament in 2000, all the way to the Final Four in Indianapolis, where Dick Bennett’s 8th-seeded Badgers made it to the semi-finals and lost to eventual national champion, Michigan State. A few years ago she was covering Bo’s Badgers in the tournament at Syracuse, New York, and brought home a whole bunch of ugly bright-orange clothes for everybody in the family.

A few years back, there was a big stink made by some do-gooders that all this “gambling” on the brackets was unlawful, and there was a push made to have the cops shut down all this illegal March Madness gambling. As I recall…and recollection may be faulty, and I don’t want to look it up to spoil my story…some enlightened Wisconsin Attorney General said the Justice Department had more important things to do than send cops around to bust up office NCAA tournament pools.

Back a couple years ago I was heavily invested (I think it was 10 bucks) in the bracketology at work (MidWest Family Broadcast Group) and had won a few bucks after the first round, but the eventual grand prize/big bucks winner was a woman in the sales department who admitted it was blind luck – which annoyed the hard-core sports guys at the radio station no end.

Probably the most entertaining thing about March Madness is State Journal writer George Hesselberg’s annual coverage of the state High School Tournament, where he digs up some of the most unusual and entertaining tidbits about the teams and the tourney. His “Guide For Positive Cheering” that’s up on the paper’s website right now is ten delightful minutes that will help you find a reason to cheer for every team that’s in the WIAA tournament.

George has got it right. If you can’t have fun doing it…whether it’s the state High School Tournament or the NCAA tournament…why bother? Go Badgers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Tro Da Bums Out!

If a new NBC-Wall Street Journal poll just released Tuesday is to be believed, half of the country wants to get rid of every single member of congress. The poll, taken by telephone over the prior weekend, seems to show pretty clearly that not only are we disgusted with Congress; half of us will vote AGAINST the incumbent in the mid-term elections this fall.

If I were Russ Feingold or Tammy Baldwin, I would be afraid. Very afraid. Maybe there’s something to that political TV ad that shows a clip of an angry woman saying to Senator Feingold “you better get your resume ready.” Tammy Baldwin has been talking about health care reform for years, but she’s certainly not been a leader.

The poll was conducted by Democrat Peter Hart and Republican Bill McInturff, both with impeccable credentials as pollsters, and the message is pretty clear: Congress, you stink, and we’re fed up. The survey showed Congress with a 17% approval rating, and as the politicians prepare for the big vote on health care reform, an angry public is not likely to be happy no matter WHAT they do.

The poll shows Americans split evenly, 46% to 45%, on whether it’s better for Congress to pass the plan or leave the current system alone. Pollster Hart told CNBC that if he were advising Democrats, he’d say they have no choice but to vote for the plan because its failure would trigger a catastrophic loss of enthusiasm among Democratic voters in the mid-term elections.

Why are we so fed up with Congress? It doesn’t take a genius (or Karl Rove or James Carville) to figure out why. The two parties have done nothing but argue with each other and try and obstruct each other for the past several years. President Obama, whose approval rating in this new poll is 48%, has certainly not broken the gridlock and partisanship in Washington.

And every Republican politician keeps telling me the Democrats are trying to “ram this health care bill down my throat”, saying the vast majority of Americans are “opposed” to the bill. And the talking heads on TV and radio never ask “which poll says that?” Every poll I’ve seen conducted by a news organization (and not a political party) says Americans are pretty much evenly divided on health care reform.

I cannot imagine why anyone would be happy with the system the way it is, though.

Call me a disgusted American, but I’m sticking with what I posted months and months ago: they’re going to slap together some crap that doesn’t go anywhere near far enough, ladle in a healthy serving of pork, approve it, and call it “reform”.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Top O' The Mornin' - 'Tis Saint Paddy's Day!

Beannachtai na Feile Padraig!! That’s how you say Happy Saint Patrick’s Day in Gaelic. I know this only because I looked it up, even though half my ancestors came from the auld sod. Though I am the oldest child of my family, I can’t recall any of my elderly relatives on my dad’s side speaking anything but English.

March 17th is widely believed to be the day that Saint Patrick died, and while the accuracy of reports about his driving the snakes out of Ireland are suspect, there are some stories of his life in the late 4th and early 5th century, like the snakes thing, which persist. A real Irishman will tell you Saint Brigid of Kildare, whose feast day is February 1st, has just as strong a claim to be the Patron Saint of Ireland.

My father’s family came from the south of Ireland, a tiny town called Lick Finn in County Cork, which is not much more than a wide spot in the road. I visited the place in the 70’s and actually met someone named Morrissey, so we presumed we were relatives. On that same trip, I went to the nearby Blarney Castle and kissed the famous stone. But, I’m pretty sure I had the gift of the gab long before I got down on my back, grabbed the pipes, and slid out to kiss the Blarney Stone.

The potato famine of 1845 to 1852 caused many of the Morrisseys from Lick Finn to board a ship and sail to America and look for a better life. My ancestors came through Boston, where Morrissey Boulevard is one of the main streets downtown. A couple of the boys got jobs with the railroad, building tracks to the west, and when they got to Rush Lake, Wisconsin, they quit the railroad and bought a tract of land and started farming.

As near as I can tell, I’m not really related to the Irish singer Morrissey. And that’s OK with me, because most of his music is moody and dark and depressing. I like the happy and peppy Celtic stuff, like the dancing and drinking scene below decks, from the movie “Titanic”.

And the corned beef? I know, it’s tradition to eat corned beef and cabbage on Saint Patrick’s Day, but corned beef’s origin is in New York City, not Ireland. The cabbage part is Irish, and, of course, no Irish meal is complete without some form of potatoes.

So wear some green and eat some potatoes and have a green beer – a Guinness or a Smithwick’s would be nice – or a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey. But above all, have fun – it’s what the Irish would want you to do.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's Sunshine Week

Even though our state government has rivaled Chicago machine politics for dirty dealing in the past decade or so, we’re fortunate to have had a couple of Attorneys General who take our state’s powerful Open Records and Open Meetings laws very seriously.

Both the current AG, Republican J.B. Van Hollen, and his predecessor, Democrat Peg Lautenschlager, have been vigorous supporters of the public’s right to know what’s going on with their governmental bodies and in their court system. Van Hollen was just named “Political Openness Advocate of the Year” by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.

Van Hollen fights for continued public access to court records, goes around the state giving tutorials about how to use the state’s openness laws, and even expanded the AG’s website to give regular folks information on how to use the laws if they feel some elected official is trying to hide something.

Bill Lueders, news editor of the weekly Madison newspaper “Isthmus”, is the President of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. Every year the FOIC gives out the “Opees” just before Sunshine Week. The “Opee” is an award for defending the public’s right to know, and this week - Sunshine Week - was established to draw attention to the importance of maintaining open government and court access, and to honor those who defend it and make the public aware of those trying to limit openness.

This year, Lueders draws attention to a couple issues he sees as problems in maintaining our state’s record of openness: one is an attempt by a politician to limit access to the state’s popular circuit court website, commonly called “CCAP”, and the other is an attempt to limit public access to 9-1-1 recordings.

Any citizen can find out essentially anything about court records in Wisconsin by going to a county courthouse and asking to see a particular court record; or, you can go online to the CCAP website and do the same thing, much more easily. One of the politicians says this is TOO easy and wants to limit access to the site. The politician in question, Marlin Schneider, says it’s too easy to get too much information about who’s in court and why they’re there. Openness advocates disagree, saying easy public access is neither invasive nor harmful.

Those who are attempting to limit public access to 9-1-1 recordings say it can be very difficult for family and friends of victims of violent crimes to hear the emotional recordings played back by electronic news media. But openness advocates point out that the public really does have a right to hear these recordings, to help make sometimes tough decisions about whether the 9-1-1 center is functioning efficiently.

The Brittany Zimmerman murder case in Madison a couple years ago is an example. Only a select few have been allowed to hear the last words of the UW coed, taped by the 9-1-1 center; but, it led to big changes in the center and a new director. And the public has yet to hear the tape.

There are legitimate reasons to keep confidential some things our elected or appointed officials do, and there are sensitive issues in courtrooms which should be kept confidential. Those reasons are clearly spelled out in our open meetings and open records laws. But as a general principal, the more public access we have, the better our systems will function.

Monday, March 15, 2010

$3 a Gallon - Here It Comes....

This weekend, gas prices in the Madison area ranged from about $2.62 a gallon to $2.79 a gallon. The high price was at a gas station a few blocks from my daughter’s apartment in McFarland. The low price was at the CP mart on East Washington Ave, according to

I filled the tank of my giant gas-sucking foreign-made SUV at a PDQ in Fitchburg last Wednesday and paid $2.77 a gallon. At $2.77 a gallon, it costs me about 50 bucks to fill up, if I run it down to “E”. This time they only got about 40 bucks out of me.

And why is the price of gas going up again? Because it’s springtime. Not because demand is up – no, indeed. Demand is about the same as it was a year ago. Not because there’s tight supply – we have plenty of gas. Because the refiners tell us it’s time to switch to the “more costly” springtime blends of gasoline.

Dang it! Spring just snuck up on us again, and we have to switch over to those “more costly” blends.

Does that mean the winter blends are “less costly”, and come next December, we’ll see gas prices drop because the refiners are switching to the winter blends?

You know the answer to that question.

Gas prices have gone up about a dime a gallon in the last month, and the reasons the refiners give are the changeover to the “more costly” springtime blends, and a rise in the price of crude oil, which is now at its highest level in 2010. Over the weekend it was $83.95 a barrel.

They want us to believe that the cost of a gallon of gas in Madison is somehow tied to the price of crude oil, but we’ve been down that path before, and we know it ends in a circle.

Gas will be three bucks a gallon in a few weeks because we’ll pay it, and big oil knows we will. We don’t cut down our driving until it hits four bucks a gallon, a fact demonstrated clearly in recent years.

So they might as well just shove it up to three bucks a gallon and leave it there ‘till Memorial Day, when they traditionally jack the prices up again.

At least this year, a pal of mine who owns a Prius won’t laugh at me for driving a gas-hog. My vehicle weighs 4916 pounds; his weighs 2765. I get about 16 mpg; he gets around 45, he tells me.

But any time I want to stop or slow down, I can. And the only time my gas-hog goes faster is when I want it to.

Friday, March 12, 2010

WGN News Boss to Staff: Stop The NewsSpeak!

The reaction to Charlie Meyerson’s memo, when it was leaked and posted online earlier this week, was predictable, and just about evenly split between newswriters and anchors who thought it was over-the-top and out of bounds, and those surprised that this schlock was still heard on WGN-AM, one of the nation’s best-known radio stations.

Essentially, Meyerson told his staff to stop writing and talking like a newscaster, and to start writing and speaking in conversational English. What a concept.

When I am hired to do writing coaching, one of the many things I say to the faces staring at me is “never lead a story with a noun clause.” About half know what a noun is, and usually nobody knows what a noun clause is. The people who claim to be professional writers these days don’t even know the fundamentals of English. (Here’s a noun clause: “The city council met last night and…”)

Meyerson has been trying to get news people to write and speak conversational English for decades, and his Monday memo to the staff listed 119 words and phrases which he was banning from the airwaves. It’s the sort of stuff you hear all the time on what passes for newscasts these days.

Words like “flee” and “alleged” and “literally” and “reportedly” and phrases like “area residents” and “close proximity” and “went terribly wrong.” And cop-talk like “fled on foot” and “the incident remains under investigation.” And political-speak like “two to one margin” (two to one is a ratio, not a margin) and “podium” when you mean “lectern” (a podium is something you stand on; a lectern is something you stand behind when speaking).

The Tribune Company’s CEO, Randy Michaels, has for years coached his news people to speak and write conversationally. One of his favorite bits is to affect a “broadcast” voice and say “authorities seek a male suspect alleged to have made off with $50,000 in cash.” Then he’d use his normal speaking voice and say “Police are looking for a man they say stole $50,000.”

I still have a cassette tape I made years ago, when I was consulting in the Springfield, IL market, of a newscast on WTAX-AM (the competition) where the anchor says “fled on foot in an unknown direction with an undisclosed amount of currency.” You still hear that sort of crap today on local radio and TV stations.

Writing news is a skill that takes some training and practice, but it’s not brain science or rocket surgery. As I’ve said so many times, those who are the least accomplished at it usually have no clue how bad they are.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Madison's Lame Effort to Get Google Fiber (Where's Chad Vader When You Need Him?)

A “Public Meeting”….at 7 tonight, at Olbrich Gardens, in a room that holds about 200 people? That’s IT? That’s what you’ve got, Madison? Oh, and “Google Fiber Ice Cream” from the folks at Babcock Hall at the UW.

Not to mention a Facebook fan page for Madison/Google Fiber, and a website,, asking people with “skills” to help figure out how to help the city land Google Fiber.

That’s how you’re going to convince the folks at Google that they should select Madison to be the city where they’ll make a 97-million-dollar investment in the infrastructure necessary to deliver the ultra-high-speed internet service, and create “X” number of new jobs in the process?

By the way, the city says the “X” number of jobs is a thousand, so, given what the city said about how many jobs the renovated Edgewater Hotel would create, the actual number is probably around a hundred.

A little less than a month ago, Google set a March 26th deadline for cities to apply for consideration as a test-site for their fiber internet service, which will deliver speeds almost unimaginably fast. I have Charter’s 10-meg high-speed broadband service, which is as fast as it gets around here, and Google’s fiber-net will deliver 1 GIGABITE speed.

Let’s hope the “Public Meeting” tonight will give the Mayor some ideas. But still….how Madison. A “Public Meeting”. This city has to deliberate everything to death. Every ox must be protected from goring; no person, institution, or memory of same can be offended in any way; and the impact on the poor and disenfranchised must be given due consideration.

And before we proceed with the application to Google, we’d better have the Landmarks Commission and the Urban Design Commission and every single Neighborhood Association weigh in on what kind of structure(s) Google might want to build to deliver this technical knockout punch.

How Madison. How boring.

There’s no Topeka, Kansas right now. It’s Google, Kansas. The city changed its name for the month of March as part of its attempt to lure Google.

Duluth made a humorous video proclaiming that every first-born would be renamed Google Fiber or Googlette Fiber. The mayor of Duluth jumped into frigid Lake Superior in another video made to appeal to Google.

We can do better than that! Let’s get those Chad Vader guys, Aaron Yonda and Matt Sloan, to do a video! And call on some other local production and video geniuses like John Roach and John Urban and Dan Presser and Sandy Kowal and Katy Sai and Jay Olsen and on an on and on to lend a hand! We’ve got more talent here than ANY of those other cities!

Or, we could have a “Public Meeting” and talk about it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

So Quiet You Could Hear The Snow Melt

A long, long time ago, a friend asked me if you can really hear corn grow. You can. But try as I might, I couldn’t get my friend to believe me. Perhaps it’s my reputation as somewhat of a ham. I still recall a line a newspaper reporter (Patrice Wendling) wrote about me, when she sat in with me and my wife (we were friends then, not spouses) during a morning radio show 20-some years ago.

The line was something like “his booming voice and imposing presence belie his hammy nature”.

If you’ve spent time in or near a cornfield on a hot, quiet July day, you CAN hear it grow. It’s a chorus of variously-pitched squeaks, and I’m NOT making this up. Ask a farmer. The last time I heard corn growing was last summer on my brother-in-law’s dairy farm in Outagamie County. I was up there visiting my mom, and my sister trumped the proffered visit to a restaurant in Appleton by offering to make us a home-cooked meal in her home.

That’s an offer I’ll never say “no” to, and it meant her husband could join us. It’s a family dairy farm, a disappearing breed in Wisconsin, and before my brother-in-law “came in from the fields” to wash up and join us, I deliberately wandered off their back porch to the cornfield on their “east 40”. The sun was high in the sky; the day was calm and quiet; and the cornfield symphony was clearly audible.

It’s the sort of thing city-dwellers don’t get to experience.

Last week, in our glorious run of beautifully sunny late winter – early spring days, I had another one of those “communing with nature” moments. It was mid-afternoon and I was taking a break from pounding the keyboard. I had let the dogs out to run, and then stepped out onto the deck off the master suite of our home. It’s a big deck, about 8 feet above ground level, facing south.

The dogs had finished their fenceline patrol and were sitting quietly at “moderate alert” on the lower deck, which comes off the dining room and connects, via a wide stairway, with the upper-level deck. It was 43 degrees, but it felt like 60 in the full sun. It was completely silent.

We’re just far enough south of Madison that we don’t get much traffic noise. It’s quiet around us and I know most of the “regular” sounds – birds, squirrels, a distant dog, and so on. But I was hearing something I didn’t recognize. A very soft, gentle, and nearly continuous sound way in the background.

I finally realized I was actually hearing the snow melt!

As the sun pounded down on the snow on the ground, tiny “snow structures” were collapsing as the snow melted, and the sound I was hearing was the collapse of millions of tiny “snow structures”. I looked down on the yard and the sparkling snow and tried to simply enjoy the moment.

The dogs heard a squirrel in the maple tree that shades the lower deck in summer, and the silence was broken and the moment was over. But the moment is “stored on the hard-drive”, to be enjoyed again in reflection – just like the summer day in the cornfield.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tommy Vs. Russ - This'll Be Fun!

Tommy Thompson, who was elected to an unprecedented four terms as Head Wisconsin Cheesehead and Cheerleader, is giving off strong signs that he’s really interested in running against Russ Feingold for U-S Senate. One of his best pals, his former Chief of Staff, Bill McCoshen, has been making the rounds of the TV and radio talk shows whipping up speculation.

Feingold has had his seat in the Senate since 1992, and hasn’t really had a serious challenge. He ran on a shoestring against a couple of very wealthy men back then, and he painted five campaign promises on his garage door in Middleton. His grass-roots trip to Washington caught the attention of the national media.

McCoshen was on “UpFront With Mike Gousha” on Milwaukee TV Sunday, a show carried by several other TV stations in markets around Wisconsin, including Madison, and he said this is the most serious he’s seen Thompson about running in a long time. Tommy has said for a couple years he’s got “one more good race in him”. Yesterday morning McCoshen was on Mitch Henck’s talk show on WIBA-AM in Madison, saying that Tommy’s surrounded himself with the best Republican campaign operatives in the state.

Another of Madison’s political pundits, Sly, speculated a few weeks ago on his radio show that Tommy was making too much money and was too entrenched with his private-sector businesses to make a run….but, yesterday, Sly said on his WTDY-AM show that it looks like Tommy will run against Feingold. McCoshen told Henck Tommy was making strategic moves right now to re-align his other irons in the fire to get ready for a run.

McCoshen said if Tommy decides definitely not to run, he’ll probably say so next month, to give Terrence Wall adequate time to raise more money for his run against Feingold. But if Tommy’s running, we’ll probably hear about that in late May, around the time of the state Republican convention.

The next step, which would be an official step toward running, would be for Tommy to form an exploratory committee to start raising money, and McCoshen thinks that could come in the next couple of weeks.

If it does turn out to be a race between Tommy and Russ, it will likely focus on the issues and not on personalities. There are clear ideological differences between the two, and neither has been prone to run mud-slinging negative attack ads.

McCoshen calls a race between Tommy and Russ “a heavyweight championship battle”. Eagles may soar and Harleys may roar, but a contest between these two titans is bound to generate a lot of heat…and maybe even some light. The noise factor is taken for granted.

The surest sign Tommy is going to run? Last night, Russ Feingold talked about Tommy’s “business” connections on Feingold’s Facebook page. The race is on.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Everything's Falling Apart! (I'm Gettin' Old!!)

In the news biz, a floater is a body found in water, usually very, very dead. Here in Wisconsin, sometimes the spring thaw brings a floater or two to the surface of a lake, and with it, the attendant closure and final bad news for distraught family members and friends.

So, when the eye doctor told me last week that I have a floater, I couldn’t suppress a chortle. I may be a lot of things, but I’m not dead. Not yet.

For most of the last 25 years, my daily routine involves sitting in front of a computer screen, researching or writing, and occasionally running off at the mouth. So when I noticed there seemed to be a small area in the central vision of my left eye that was blurry, I first thought it was a smudge on my glasses.

When thoroughly cleaning my glasses didn’t change things, I chalked it up for a few days as just some dumb thing that happens to gentlemen of a certain age (60, in my case) who sit in front of a computer all day. But when it wouldn’t go away, I made an appointment with Lori at Dr. Schanel’s office to have it checked out.

I briefly described the situation to Dr. Schanel’s associate and he said “Floater. You’ve got a floater”. He told me it was common for “working age people” (how kind of him not to say old farts like me) to get these things, and said he’d like to run a few tests to confirm his diagnosis.

By the way, when your eye doctor talks to you about a “floater”, he or she is talking to you about a tiny embryonic structure inside the vitreous humor of your eye, which gets in the way of the optic nerve (as I understand it) and gives you that blank spot in your vision. They’re apparently quite common and usually not much to worry about.

He did his tests – which involved putting numbing drops into the eye (that’s a lot of fun) and shining an extremely bright light into the eye. He found the floater. He also said my eyes were pretty healthy in general and in good shape, but that we’d have to “keep an eye” (pun intended) on this floater, and check it again in a couple months to determine if it was getting worse and would need further attention.

Did I mention that part of his complete eye exam involved “dilating” my eyes with drops of medicine? Perhaps not, because I may have blocked that from my memory. Suffice it to say that it’s a unique experience, especially when it’s a beautiful sunny day like it was last Thursday. Even with clip-on sunglasses over my prescription sunglasses, I had to narrow my eyes down to tiny slits to deal with the overpowering sense of brightness.

And when I come back in May, he’s going to dilate my eyes again. Wonderful. It just takes all the fun out of a visit to State Street.

And, I guess it’s just another one of the many things I’ll have to look forward to as I move forward into my 60’s.

Pretty soon I won’t be able to stall my primary care doctor any longer, on that colonoscopy he tells me it’s time for again.

Ain’t life grand!

Friday, March 5, 2010

It's A (Police) Dog's Life

Town of Madison Police Office Tony Pucillo and Brando

There are dog-people and there are cat-people. The divide is sometimes pretty clear; sometimes, the line is blurred. I love cats and I love dogs. I’ve cohabited with both, but if push comes to shove, I’m a dog person.

For me, like it is for a lot of folks, it’s not a “take it or leave it” proposition. My two purebred Collies are members of the family, in every sense. I’m sure it’s that way with Town of Madison police officer Tony Pucillo, who’s been Brando’s handler for a long time. They’ve got that human-canine bond, for sure, but the bond between police dogs and their handlers goes very deep.

They’re side-by-side in life-and-death situations. Doesn’t get more intense than that.

Late last week, Officer Pucillo got a scare – and, it takes a lot to scare a veteran cop. Brando was vomiting on and off, and he just didn’t have his usual energy. Brando is more than just a hard-working Police Dog. He’s a member of Officer Pucillo’s family. So when Brando didn’t perk up after a couple days, Officer Pucillo took him to Exceptional Care For Animals on the West Beltline frontage road, to have him checked.

Dr. Mark Koepple did some poking and prodding, and there was no doubt that Brando had a pretty sore tummy. Dr. Koepple ran some blood tests and did an X-ray. That’s how he discovered that Brando had somehow managed to ingest a few things that he shouldn’t have, including some metal. No wonder he was feelin’ low and dehydrated!

There was a pretty fair chance that some sort of surgery or endoscopy would be necessary to remove the stuff that shouldn’t have been in Brando’s stomach, but – Lady Luck smiled on Brando and he was able to “pass” the stuff without Dr. Koepple putting him on the operating table.

And Dr. Koepple wouldn’t take a cent for his work. Town Police Chief Scott Gregory gave Dr. Koepple a big, public thank-you for taking care of Brando.

Brando and Officer Pucillo were featured in the May 2008 edition of Police K-9 Magazine, which told the story of their March 2007 encounter with a man wanted for burglary and sexual assault. He’d held a 21-year-old UW student hostage in her apartment at knifepoint, and then drugged her. Officer Pucillo and Brando answered the call, and, long story short, Brando took down the thug who came at them with the knife. First Brando pulled him to the ground by grabbing his leg, and then grabbed the arm with the knife in his powerful jaws. The thug then surrendered to Officer Pucillo.

I’ve lived in the Town of Madison since 1999 and am a big supporter of the Town’s K-9 program. My two Collies “protect” my property and “patrol” my fenceline…but, I say this without hesitation: my wife and I, and our dogs Shadow and Sunny, sleep a lot better because Officer Pucillo and Brando are patrolling and protecting.

Thank you, Tony and Brando.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Two More Local News Veterans Head For Greener Pastures

It started as a trickle a couple years ago. It’s not a flood now, but it’s a huge and steady leak. Radio and TV reporters in Madison are either being shown the door, or cheating the hangman and escaping from the gallows. Two more familiar local TV faces – Linda Eggert and Kim Sveum - are leaving “the biz” for jobs which, right now, are probably a lot more stable.

Eggert, who’s been with Channel 3 for at least a couple decades, is taking a communications job in the public sector, and Sveum, who’s been in Madison for the past 10 years with Channel 27 and its news partner Channel 47, is taking a job in the health care industry. Both of these women are accomplished professionals in the news biz, and they take with them a huge amount of “institutional knowledge” about our community.

It’s the kind of knowledge that can’t – and won’t – be replaced. Nobody can afford us “old-timers” any more. The children are in charge.

A couple years ago, in the “first wave” of defections from the biz, long-time reporter Joel DeSpain left the friendly confines of WISC-TV on Raymond Road for a job as the “mouthpiece” of the Madison Police Department. Not too long after that, my long-suffering wife, who’d worked with me on radio for a decade and spent the next 15 years working with Joel and the crew at Channel 3, left to take a Marketing and Public Affairs job with UW-Health, making the same move photojournalist Don Cady had made a few months earlier.

Also in the “first wave”, familiar Channel 3 staffers Katy Sai and Jay Olsen left the TV biz to form their own production company. Rob Crane, a talented news manager who’s worked at a couple local TV stations, headed off to a media job with a local utility company around the same time.

Not all the exits have been voluntary. Some have just “not had their contracts renewed”. Some, like veteran WIBA radio news reporter Jennifer Miller, have fallen victim to the wholesale bloodshed at the big group radio operators. In Miller’s case, it was the biggest radio consolidator of them all, Clear Channel (a/k/a “The Evil Empire”) which threw her under the bus.

Local 9 PM TV news anchor and WISC-TV reporter Teri Barr fell victim to a second round of personnel cuts a few months ago and was dismissed; ironically, her husband still works there as a photojournalist – another endangered species.

And some, like me, were axed more because of house politics than anything else. My first phone call after my termination - after 30 years with MidWest Family Broadcasting - was to a lawyer at the top labor-law firm in Madison, and it resulted in a settlement, specifics of which both parties have agreed not to reveal. A few moments after I was terminated in November 2008, my good friend and colleague Glen Gardner was terminated after 15 years with MidWest, and moments after Glen was sent packing, five-year MidWest veteran reporter Erik Greenfield was dismissed. He was hired back after another news department staffer quit in disgust a few days later. Greenfield has since taken a communications job with state government.

When you add up the broadcast and print news terminations, layoffs, buy-outs, and resignations in Madison in the past couple years, it’s a stunning amount of experience and talent that’s either moved online or to “the other side”.

These broadcasting jobs are gone, and they’re never coming back. It’s a bad time to be “in the biz” – but, the future – well, you’re lookin’ at it…….

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Go To Hell, Jim Bunning - You're A Loser

Jim Bunning, the former baseball player, is pushing 80. He’s old, he’s grumpy, and his undistinguished political career is coming to an end. Knowing that his own party, the Republic Party, would put him out to pasture in the Bluegrass State if he didn’t retire, he’s going out with a whimper by acting as a sphincter muscle.

He led a one-politician effort to block extension of unemployment benefits, claiming that now is the time for the government to stop buying things it can’t afford.

Like all those wonderful wars he voted for? Nope. Like funding a program that actually does real and tangible good for people who have been thrown out of work in this horrid economy.

He lost the game and gave in last night.

Jim Bunning is the poster-boy for so many things that are wrong with the United States Senate and American politics in general. Blessed with an excellent curve ball and a sneaky fastball, he pitched a perfect game for the Phillies against the Mets on Father’s Day in 1964. His accomplishments in baseball led to enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, an honor he richly deserved.

And, he loved to piss off his manager, Gene Mauch, by ignoring Mauch’s signals to the catcher and throwing whichever pitch he pleased. Nobody tells Jim Bunning what to do.

Now, he’s out on his own again, ignoring signals from his own party members to back off and stop blocking 10 billion dollars in unemployment funds. Of course, the Senate makes up its own rules, and could easily work around Bunning’s obstinacy, but – that’s another thing that’s wrong with the Senate and our politics.

Time Magazine named Bunning one of the five worst Senators, a dubious distinction he earned every bit as much as his induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame. As of this writing, Bunning’s last public appearance in the media was when he was confronted by a number of reporters as he was getting into an elevator in the Capitol.

A “Senators only” elevator: another symbol of the high regard in which our politicians hold themselves: they even have exclusive ELEVATORS.

Bunning huffed and puffed and ignored the reporters’ questions about why he was holding up the money unemployed people desperately need, before he made his escape.

Yes, soon-to-be-former Senator Bunning, you’re right. We don’t have the ten billion dollars for the unemployment program. Just like we don’t have the money for the wars you enthusiastically support and the car company bailouts and the bank bailouts and on and on.

Your socialized medicine and generous public pension are assured for the rest of your days.

Hit the shower, Jim. You’re of no use whatsoever to the American people. We won’t miss you.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

What ABC News Is Doing Is Bound To Happen Here

The cutting and slashing is going on right now at ABC News, where they’ve decided to do without the professional services of 3 or 4 hundred people. Most of those who will lose their jobs – or who have seen the handwriting on the wall and will “take the buyout” – are photographers and producers.

This is the future of TV news.

My wife was an on-camera TV reporter for many years, and before that, she was the Assignments Manager at Channel 3 in Madison. Before that, she hung out with some smart-mouthed guy on the radio (me). So I have some inside knowledge of how the biz works.

If you’ve ever been interviewed for a local TV news story, you probably met two people in person and possibly talked to another person on the phone. The person you may have talked to on the phone was the Assignments Manager; if not, it was the reporter, asking if he or she could do a story with you.

If you agreed, when they showed up, it was two people: the reporter and the photographer. The reporter asked the questions; the photographer ran the camera. Then they went back to the TV station, wrote and edited the story, and some producer massaged it a bit.

The way the network TV operations do it, it’s with THREE people: the reporter, the photographer, and the “producer” (or “field producer”). As I understand it, the role of the producer is to line up the story, coordinate the “shoot”, and get soft drinks or coffee for the “talent” (reporter).

Think of the movie “Groundhog Day”: Bill Murray is Phil, the weatherman/reporter; that pretty lady Andy McDowell is Rita, the producer; and Chris Elliot plays Larry, the photographer. Truth to be told, in the non-Hollywood world, it would have just been the reporter and the photographer, since they worked for a TV station and not a network; but that wouldn’t have made for much of a movie.

Things have changed vastly in the TV news business. Even here in Madison, more and more times, reporters have to “shoot” their own stories. They have to go out into the field to get the story, and they have to set up and run the camera.

This is not a good time to be a “photojournalist”. It’s not exactly what you’d call a growth industry. ABC News is the first of the network operations to downsize its in-the-field news teams, but I have a feeling the other networks will soon do the same thing. It doesn’t take a corner-office “suit” with an MBA to figure out that two people instead of three is cheaper; and one person instead of two is cheaper. One person instead of three is MUCH cheaper.

Through the years, I’ve come to know some Madison photo-journalists pretty well – been in their homes, partied with them, shared war stories with them, even borrowed power tools from them. Folks with names like Kathy, Don, Jay, Bill, Doug, and others. I stand in awe of their talent. They have an “eye” for pictures, and know how to tell a story with pictures alone, and how to enhance a story with the RIGHT pictures.

They notice subtle things that most of us wouldn’t, and have an artist’s eye for what’s a “good” shot and what’s not. It’s a real talent. It’s the difference between a “snapshot” and a “photograph”. But ABC thinks that kind of talent is dispensable.

Broadcast news is enduring the death of a thousand cuts.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Free Advice To The Mayor And The Bus Company

So Mayor Dave wants the big bosses at Madison Metro Transit to “rein in” their overtime expenses and stop paying bus drivers over a hundred grand a year. Well, hallelujah! It’s not like this abuse hasn’t been going on for well over a decade. Quite a few years back, the State Journal pointed out the highest-paid City of Madison employee was a bus driver.

Apparently nobody got riled up about it, and nobody did anything.

A week or so ago, again, the State Journal published a list of highest-paid city employees, and whaddyaknow…there’s a whole mess of bus drivers at the “tippy-top”, as the late Gene Parks would have said.

But now – with unemployment, even in “recession-proof” Madison running rampant, and the collapse of the economy, there’s a LOT of pushback. And this time, Mayor Cieslewicz claims he’s going to put an end to it.

Quick question: why is the city’s bus company allowed to run its operations so sloppily that this problem even happens? You mean to tell me they didn’t see this HUGE overrun in overtime hours coming, and didn’t say anything about it to anybody, until the paper put it on the front page? (Answer: nobody cared, until now.)

And how come nobody cares about this stuff until unemployment soars and the economy tanks – what kind of management is THAT?

If you have ignored the story, which has been playing out for days now, there are about a dozen senior bus drivers who hog up all the overtime (because their union contract ALLOWS them to) and they’re all pulling down well over a hundred grand a year by working 85 or 90 hours a week.

And now that what’s left of the local media is paying attention to it, they’ve found out there’s a whole passel of bus mechanics who are gaming the system and lining their pockets, running the same scam.

Good lord, if these bus drivers….holders of Commercial Drivers Licenses, all of them….were hauling potato chips or hogs, instead of human beings, they’d never get away with it. Too many laws and rules against it. State Troopers would stop their rigs at the scales and they’d sit until a new driver could be brought in….just like they do on commercial flights, where the pilots can only be at the controls for a specified number of hours in a day.

So, how do we end this practice of city bus drivers with the most seniority getting first dibs on overtime hours, and hogging it all up? Simple. New rule. Has to do with passenger safety, so it trumps all the other stuff. And the new rule still lets the most senior drivers have first dibs on OT.

Here’s the new rule:

No city transit bus driver shall be allowed to work more than X number of hours per week.

Let the managers figure out what the value for X should be…50, 55, whatever. And put the rule into effect tomorrow.

You’re welcome.