Thursday, April 29, 2010

Friday Media Rant: “Loudmouth” Sly Nearly Derails The Elver Park Fireworks

After sputtering for a couple days, the Elver Park fireworks show on the 4th of July is apparently back on, with the city saying it’s forging a deal with the Woodman’s grocery stores to put on the show.

On Wednesday, it looked like it was off…with stories surfacing that Woodman’s didn’t want to work with Mid-West Family Broadcasting, and Mid-West saying it couldn’t go it alone.

It didn’t take long for “the rest of the story” to surface. The morning after the story ran on the local TV stations and my friend Pat Simms’ article hit page 5 of the State Journal, Sly was on the air saying he’s the reason Woodman’s won’t work with Mid-West to put on the annual fireworks show.

Thursday morning’s front-page story from Simms explained why Clint Woodman said his family’s chain of grocery stores won’t work with Madison-based Mid-West Family Broadcasting to put on the fireworks show this year. Neither Clint Woodman nor Tom Walker, CEO of Mid-West, aired the dirty laundry in the first article about the demise of the fireworks show, which is understandable, but Simms got the rest of the story the next day.

Back in December, Sly did one of his patented on-air rants about Woodman’s dropping mental health insurance coverage for their workers. I didn’t hear the rant, but according to Simms’ article, Sly then made another one of his patented moves, and got personal, ridiculing the way Phil Woodman wears his pants. (Phil’s the big boss at the grocery chain.)

Clint Woodman told Simms Mid-West should have reined in Sly, and not allowed him to talk badly about someone they do business with.

A scenario not exactly unique, where Sly’s show is involved. He is a polarizing figure.

Sly, of course, will stand on his First-Amendment freedom to rant as he pleases. And Woodman’s will stand on their privilege of doing business with whom they choose.

A couple items of disclosure: for those who don’t know, I worked with Sly for the better part of a decade. We’re still friends. And Pat Simms has been a friend for years, and was a regular guest on WTDY back when Glen Gardner and I were on in the morning.

And, for those not aware, broadcasting is not exactly what you’d call a “growth industry”. It’s slowly dying, just like the newspaper business. I’ll bet, if past is prologue, that the folks on the east wing of the first floor of the Mid-West offices and studios on Rayovac Drive (the sales department offices) are wailing and gnashing their teeth. Again.

There are no winners here, except the people who want to see the 4th of July fireworks show. Sly has a right to rant as he pleases, but criticizing the way the big boss chooses to wear his pants doesn’t win him many points. Woodman’s does not have a right to dictate programming policy to Mid-West because they are a sponsor. They’re buying exposure to the audience, not control of the station. But Woodman’s has a right to spend their money where they choose.

As I’ve told my children many times, choices have consequences.

Are We Really All Arizonans?

Reaction to the new immigration law in Arizona was quick, predictable, and superficial. The left wailed about profiling; Saturday Night Live did a cheap-shot skit portraying Arizona cops as Nazis; and the blogosphere boiled with anger.

But in southern Arizona, most folks welcomed the new law.

Actually, it’s only one step farther than what law enforcement in Dane County does: here, they’ll check your immigration status if you’ve been arrested and wind up in the cooler; there, they’ll check your immigration status for reasonable suspicion.

And that’s what a lot of folks call profiling.

It’s not likely a lot of Irish or Polish or Italians will have their papers checked.

Back in the reign of Mayor Swoozie, I owned a home on Sequoia Trail in Burr Oaks. Several blocks away, along the Park Street corridor, there was serious trouble with open-air drug sales, prostitution, and all manner of troublesome behavior. Boss Bruer, the alder, wanted a loitering ordinance so the cops could more effectively clean things up. The neighborhood supported it, and I mean both white folks and people of color.

But the downtown and west side crowd cried “profiling” – so the ordinance never really happened.

Funny how that changed a couple years ago when the downtown condo crowd started getting roused from their heedless slumber at bar time by noisy drunks.

My point is this: defending the borders is a federal obligation, and decade after decade, the feds have sat on their hands. Now, the people of Arizona are fed up with it, and essentially said it was well past time for something to be done.

What they did is probably the wrong thing. But many people believe it was better than doing nothing, and it may actually prod the feds into upholding their responsibility.

Neither the proposed Madison ordinance years ago nor the new Arizona law solve the problem. They’re reflections of people who are fed up with crime. Many figures are bandied about, but most say 400 thousand foreign nationals are in Arizona unlawfully.

That’s wrong.

It is a federal obligation to clean up our immigration policy, to patrol and defend our borders, and to make sure we know who’s coming into our nation. We can and should welcome people of all nations to our country. And, if they like it here, we should invite them to be citizens of our nation.

But we need to know who they are.

Just like in 1844, when the Morrisseys came here, from Ireland.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Liar And His Lying TV Ad

Who does he think he’s kidding? The CEO of GM, Ed Whitacre, strolling through one of our (and I say our, because as taypayers we own a fair chunk of GM) car plants and telling us how he’s paid back the government loans with interest, ahead of schedule.

Back in the day, if you ran an ad like that, and held a broadcast license, the Federal Trade Commission would call the Federal Communications Commission and have you shut down for running an ad you knew was false and misleading.

The Whitacre ad, which saturated the TV airwaves for the past several days, is more than misleading. It’s a downright, bold-faced lie.

Whitacre’s company got $52 billion in taxpayer aid. Whitacre’s minions sent a check to the U. S. Treasury for $6.7 billion. They got that money from dipping into another TARP (Toxic Assets Relief Program) pot of money made available to GM courtesy of the U.S. Taxpayer.

So, while Whitacre would have us believe he’s “paid up in advance”, his company still owes the taxpayers all $52 billion. Only in the fantasyland of GM finance can you use money borrowed from the taxpayers to “pay them back”.

Pressed to the point, some GM PR staffer said “OK, it was government money, but nobody thought we’d be able to pay it back”.

GM’s “earnings” (losses) certainly don’t support a payback of any sort. But, as public relations executives have known for decades, if you tell a lie often enough, a substantial percentage of people will come to believe it’s the truth.

The GM ad is a lie.

Lee Iacocca must be mad as hell. For those of us old enough to remember the government bailout of Chrysler back in 1979, the same thing happened. Chrysler was effectively bankrupt when it got the “assistance”, and Iacocca a few months later did the same thing Whitacre did…claimed the money was “all paid back”.

All Iacocca got was a $1.2 billion loan guarantee package that included sweeteners to allow the company to renegotiate bank loans, vendor contracts, and the other things that are typically done in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. GM got $52 billion!

But the lies told and myths surrounding Chrysler’s “recovery” in 1979, 1980, and 1981 are the same stuff we’re beginning to hear all over again.

We just don’t learn. The media banks the ad money and moves on.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Toxic Timmy and The Veep In Cheesetopia

Early this afternoon, the Treasury Secretary and the Vice President will make a stop at UW-Milwaukee to sell the President’s financial reform package. And boy, do we need reform.

In many ways, though, it’s politics as usual, with one side lined up against the other, and the last thing we need is politics as usual. Tim Geithner, the Treasury Secretary, is a highly tainted public figure. First, he’s incompetent; second, he’s apparently not very bright; and third, he’s been a “big bank” guy all his life.

Vice-President Biden is pretty much along for the ride.

The proposed reforms, though still very much in-the-making, include a mechanism for liquidating large banks/investment houses that get themselves into trouble; there’d be an entirely new bureaucracy to police lending practices from a consumer standpoint; and a plan to require those insanely risky derivative investments to be traded on open exchanges.

Most of this stuff is through the House, and the Senate is still tinkering.

Predictably, the Republicans are lined up against the plan, particularly the part that requires the investment houses to spin off their derivates trading operations. And the Republicans pretty much had their way in getting rid of that stupid 50-billion-dollar bailout fund, which I think was put in the legislation simply so the Democrats could “give” on something.

Most people’s eyes glaze over when you start talking about credit default swaps on collateralized debt obligations, but that’s the monkey wrench that brought the giant financial houses to their knees. If you believe what people like author Michael Lewis (“The Big Short”) say about it, the top echelon of executives in the big financial outfits really didn’t understand the tremendous risks their derivatives traders were taking.

In common parlance, these traders had their companies on the hook for billions and billions and billions of dollars of risk, which the top execs had no idea about. And so much of it was done “off the books” that it’s hard to get a clear picture of the staggering amounts of money involved.

Pretty much all we know for sure is that you and me, and our grandchildren’s children are on the hook for bailing them out, with no reasonable expectation right now that it won’t happen again. After the meltdown and the bailout, the big banks and investment houses simply went back to doing what they were doing, because there were no strings attached to the bailout money, and no regulations in place to stop them or even effectively monitor them.

We need better regulation and better regulators, and don’t come at me with “free market” arguments, or we’ll have to talk about “too big to fail”, and that’s a conversation you do NOT want to have if you’re opposed to more stringent regulation and more competent regulators.

And, just between you and me, it would be OK with me if Greenspan, Geithner, Bernanke, and the whole lot of them simply disappeared.

I don’t think we could possibly do worse.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Highly Addictive; Extremely Dangerous (...again)

What if the headline in the State Journal Friday had read “Big beer brewing operation busted; 2 men charged”…instead of “Big marijuana growing operation busted; 2 men charged.” Such a headline might have been possible during the prohibition era, another failed “great experiment” in forcing the beliefs and morals of a tiny minority on the majority.

It’s still news when the cops bust a dope-growing operation, particularly one of pretty good size, being run out of a home in a residential neighborhood. (Clue: the electric power bill for the home was $913 a month.) Cops seized 628 marijuana plants, each, they said, capable of producing a pound of pot apiece with a street value of 1 to 3 thousand bucks.

As Mel Gibson’s character Dale McCussic said in the movie “Tequila Sunrise”: what street is THAT?

Or, as one of the local TV stations reported, each plant producing about a pound of pot, with a street value of 1 to 3 million dollars. Easy mistake to make, but if a pound of pot could bring a million bucks, there’d be a lot more billionaires in this world.

We struggle in Cheesetopia to decide whether we should legalize “medicinal” marijuana. The cops keep yammering at us that it’s a highly addictive and extremely dangerous gateway drug, which leads to heroin addiction and death; that even allowing a wedge in the door by legalizing pot for medicine would inevitably result in greater availability of the illicit weed.

As the cops know all too well, marijuana is already easily available.

So why do we still play these games? For one thing, because people lie when being surveyed. “Are you in favor of legalizing marijuana?” “Oh, heavens no.” And then the cops and politicians trot out these “surveys” to support their position.

Perhaps the “oh, heavens no” people “experimented” with marijuana in their late teens or early 20’s. Perhaps they share a joint at a party once every few months. Perhaps, as a few choice politicians have said, they never inhaled.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

Friday Media Rant: Talk Shows are NOT the NEWS!

I had some fun stirring the local media pot again this week. On Wednesday, the State Journal printed my letter to the editor about the difference between talk shows and news. And again, I heard from a lot of my friends in the media, but this time, unlike my rant against the extremes of the local weather mavens a week ago, they were unanimous.

People just don’t know the difference between news and opinion any more.

In the Saturday State Journal, there was a letter to the editor from a Verona man who was annoyed that Sly was loudly heckling Tommy Thompson’s speech at the tea party event, and the man wrote “how can we trust his reporting?”

Sly’s “REPORTING”??????

My old pal Sly is many things…rabble-rouser extraordinaire; bad-boy; road-rager; and the most enduring talk-show host this market has ever known. But I know Sly well enough, after having sat across the glass from him in an adjoining studio for over a decade, to know that not even Sly would call himself a “reporter”.

So I wrote a letter to the editor of the State Journal pointing out that there used to be a fairly bright line between talk show content and news content, but blowhards like that braying ass Limbaugh, who egomaniacally calls himself “America’s Anchorman”, have dimmed the line. There’s a big difference between talk shows…which are entertainment and opinion….and news, which is fact-checked journalism.

Before you call me a hypocrite, please bear in mind that for all the years I was on WTDY, I was careful to label every one of my newscasts “news and comment”. And the newscasts I did for decades on Q-106, Magic 98, The Lake (rest in peace), and other Mid-West stations, were straight-down-the-middle reporting: no slant, no comment, nothing but facts, written and delivered in what I’d like to think was a lively and conversational fashion, but totally free of opinion and comment. Even when I would pinch-hit on JJO, doing news for Johnny and Greg, it was lighter stuff appropriate to the audience, but not commentary or opinion.

After the paper ran the letter Wednesday morning, my e-mail in-box started to fill up with comments from many of my friends in the local radio and TV news biz, agreeing heartily with what I’d said, and decrying the corruption of “news” by outfits like Fox. Some writer pals of mine on Linked-In sent messages commenting positively on my letter, and some Facebook friends sent messages saying, in essence, “Amen”.

Is there a liberal bias on network TV news? I think so. Dumb Dan Rather did a lot to drag down the credibility of network TV news in his tenure at the anchor desk.

But to think that Sly, Vicki McKenna, or Mitch Henck, all of them friends of long-standing, are doing “reporting” or “news” – please. Every one of them clearly shows their bias day after day on the air, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s ENTERTAINMENT. And every one of them is really good at it. Vicki and Mitch both have a solid background in news, and they’ll be quick to identify the difference between what they’re doing now, and what they used to do.

It’s just that so many people are so lazy, or just plain stupid, that they don’t know the difference.

That’s why we have the kind of politicians we deserve.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Day - Should I Ride My Bike To Work?

Wouldn't be much of a ride...since I work at home.

But one of the many tiny things you could do on Earth Day is curtail your pollution by driving less, and since the weather favors it, you might even bike to work. I know this will come as a shock to many people who know me, but in a distant past, I actually did bike to work quite frequently.

Me on a bike. What a picture that would be, now. I don’t think they build one strong enough to hold me.

My friend Glen Gardner is up on his bike all the time, maintaining that trim and muscular body he worked so hard to attain a couple years back. In fact, he bikes so much that he actually wore out a bike last year. Like me, his office is in his home, so he doesn’t have to “ride to work”.

For a while, not too long after the first earth day, I was in “California trim” (or ‘sconnie slim, if you prefer) and I lived about six blocks from the radio station where I worked in Oshkosh, and if the weather permitted, I jumped aboard my bike for the quick commute. It was more a matter of economics than defending the earth. My car was a pavement-ripping, modified, high-horsepower Mustang, and it was just too unkind to it to start it and run it six blocks and shut it off.

In my New Orleans days in the early 80’s, I biked a lot, just for exercise and pleasure. I was in the process of losing a hundred pounds at one of the most expensive fat-farms in America (Thompson Clinic) after having spent the better part of a year eating my way through every famous restaurant in N’Awlins, and getting ready to move back to Los Angeles, where fat people are not allowed. Biking helped burn off calories.

I have no idea what happened to that bike. I dragged it from Louisiana to California to Wisconsin, and lost track of it.

Mayor Cieslewicz made some very interesting observations in his blog Tuesday, pointing out that the dominant bike in America is the ten-speed road racer, which does not exactly lend itself to the “commute to work”. On his recent visit to Europe (the volcanic ash plume has diminished to the point that he and County Exec Falk finally caught a flight back to Madison) he noted that Europeans ride sturdy bikes with upright handlebars, low crossbars, and chain guards, so they can ride to work in “work clothes”.

With one of those ten-speed racers and the low-down handlebars that make you lean forward, you have to wear your Lycra to ride to work and pack your “business clothes” to change into. The mayor says “it’s as if we’re all driving sports cars when what most of us need is a reliable mini-van.” (And you thought he hates cars.)

He claims in the European cities he visited, one of every three trips is made by bike, while in Madison it’s about 4 in a hundred. He suggests that if we’re ever going to improve that ratio, we may have to, among other things, rethink the basic American bike.

Not a bad idea to contemplate, on Earth Day today, or any other day.

The three-speed Raleigh bikes that I owned as a kid in the 50’s and early 60’s might be just the ticket for the 21st century.

Or that Schwinn Black Phantom that I coveted back then…and couldn’t afford!

The Un-Mavericking of John McCain

It used to be if you looked up “maverick” in the political dictionary, there was a picture of John McCain along with his biography. Now, he says he’s not a maverick and never was one. He’s a “partisan”.

Must be running for re-election.

I had a good deal of respect for McCain years ago, when he seemed to be functioning as a United States Senator – crossing the aisle to do deals to help people and advance beneficial legislation; standing on his own two feet, following his own political instincts.

I lost a good deal of respect for McCain during the Presidential campaign, when it seemed at times he was clueless about what was really going on in America, when he didn’t even know how many houses he and his very wealthy wife owned, and when he parroted the line from another old fart about how the “fundamentals of the economy are strong” as the world was collapsing around Wall Street.

I regained a good deal of respect for McCain late in the campaign when, one warm late-fall afternoon in Minnesota, he took the microphone away from an elderly woman who said “Obama is an ay-rab” and said “no, he’s not. He’s a decent man”. It was, to me, the mark of a man who knew it was over for him, and he wanted to salvage some remnant of his reputation.

Now, with his latest assertion that he never was a maverick, and his complete 180 on immigration policy, and his adoption of any position that he thinks will gain him votes, I think John McCain is more to be pitied than ridiculed. What is it about the U-S Senate that causes old men who should have retired from public life years ago to attempt to go on and on? Can the perfume of perceived power be that alluring?

Anyone who’s read the book “Game Change” and believes the reporters who wrote it (Mark Halperin and John Heilemann) understands that he had no idea who Sarah Palin was when he chose her as running mate. The book says he thought the campaign managers were talking about Tim Pawlenty, the Governor of Minnesota, and that McCain was stunned at Palin’s ignorance.

Now, he calls on her to come and campaign for him, in his re-election bid in Arizona.

He’s in his mid-70’s, he’s an authentic American hero, he’s married to a beautiful and intelligent woman who happens to be extremely wealthy, and many of his homes, including his principal residence, are in Arizona, land of the high-angle sun and predictably gorgeous weather. What on earth would cause such a man to want to spend any more of his life in that swampy bed of snakes on the Potomac?

Whatever it is, it must be awfully powerful. Perhaps addictive would be a better word.

It’s time for the voters of Arizona to call John McCain home, to help him retire from public life, to play golf in the Arizona sun, and write his memoirs.

Maybe he’ll admit that he once was a maverick.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My Adventure In Iceland

Back in the 70’s, when I was doing a lot of travel as a musician, I got a surprise visit to Iceland and will never forget the adventure. The recent volcanic activity that’s messed up air travel all over Britain and Europe brought back memories of my unexpected vacation in Iceland.

I was on a European tour with a band and we’d finished up in Munich, and were aboard a DC-8 charter headed back to the States. Because the British air traffic controllers were on strike at the time, we were told we’d be headed around the British Isles to the north, to avoid flying through their airspace. We were supposed to fuel up at Shannon Airport in Ireland, but the new plans meant we’d have to make a quick stop at the NATO base in Keflavik, Iceland, to fuel up for the trip over the big pond.

We landed in Keflavik, were able to spend about an hour off the plane in a lounge at the base, then got back aboard for the long trip. We taxied to the end of the runway and started the take-off roll. Just before the plane became airborne, we head a loud “CRACK!” and a few seconds later, I noticed hydraulic fluid starting to coat the windows on my side of the plane.

I said to the guy sitting next to me – a bass player from St. Peter, Minnesota, “this can’t be a good thing.”

What we didn’t know was that the bang was caused when the landing gear of the DC-8 clipped a chain at the end of the runway. We weren’t high enough to clear the chain, and later were told by the pilot that he thought they’d taken a load of bad fuel, and he couldn’t get enough power to get the plane up fast enough.

A moment after the big bang, the pilot got on the intercom and said “we’ve had a problem on take-off and we’re going to circle for a while and dump the fuel, and then come back to Keflavik and land.” As we flew circles over the North Atlantic venting fuel, we’d picked up an escort of NATO fighter planes. As we prepared to land again, the pilot told us to brace, that we were going in without landing gear, and as soon as the plane stopped, we should get off right away.

The runway was foamed and we came in on the belly of the DC-8 stretch jet. It was noisy, but the plane slid straight down the runway and stopped. The cabin attendants opened the doors, deployed the slides, and out we went.

We ended up spending four nights and three days at the Loftleider Hotel, after bussing about 30 miles from the NATO base at Keflavik to Reykjavik. We were wined and dined by the airline, which was slow in deciding to send another plane to take us from Iceland to the US, and was dealing with complications of the British air controllers strike.

The locals were intensely curious, and the Reykjavik newspaper sent reporters to interview the “American heroes”. I still have a copy of the paper, but of course can’t read a word of it. Icelandic is a strange language. We were taken on bus tours of the countryside; saw the volcanoes; saw the steam vents; visited the Althing, the national parliament of Iceland; and absorbed the breathtaking beauty of Iceland.

I remember Iceland as a country of fiercely desolate landscapes, dotted by colorful cities and very friendly people. Reykjavik was a very modern city, with geothermal heating the principal way of keeping the inside warm. It’s that same “geothermal activity” that caused all the problems the last few days.

Mother nature is an awesome force. I’m glad she was calm when I was in Iceland, years ago.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Tommy and Tea: The Two Don't Mix Well

The tea party people are a curious lot. They have selective memory when it comes to history, and their slogans are sometimes unintentionally ironic – like the well-publicized one about keeping the government out of my Medicare. That’s why at first, I was surprised to hear that the tea-sippers had invited Tommy (or, perhaps he “volunteered”) to talk last Thursday.

Along with the likes of Vicki McKenna and that shadowy group that calls itself “Oath-Keepers”. Why would these people who claim to abhor big government tolerate – much less invite – Tommy G. Thompson to their party? It bothered me for half the weekend, until I thought a bit more about it.

As my friend and YourNews colleague Bill Wineke has pointed out, Tommy is a dinosaur, from the era when the two major political parties respected each other and worked with each other, and the kind of politics Tommy practiced when he governed Wisconsin resemble the current policies of the Obama administration. Tommy, as Bill points out, just doesn’t fit with the Republican Party any more.

We like Tommy because he has the aura of the regular fellow about him. While he is a highly educated man, with a Juris Doctor degree from the UW, he talks like a man who struggled to get through high school. As governor, he taxed the living daylights out of people. (How do you think Miller Park got built?) He’s a cheerleader. He loves to say stuff like “where Eagles soar and Harleys roar and the Packers score”. And we know he loves our state.

This is a man who broke down in tears when he announced that he was answering President Bush’s call to Washington to run Health and Human Services. He loves Wisconsin. But now, he’s a Washington power-broker, who makes literally millions of dollars a year trying to help clients get millions of dollars from the federal government.

How on earth does a man with Tommy’s record fit in with the tea party people?

He doesn’t. But they seem not to know it. This is a group that reveres Sarah Palin. She railed at President Obama’s plan to reduce our nuclear stockpile, saying we need a return to the Reagan days. Yet Reagan suggested repeatedly, 25 years ago, that we reduce our nuclear stockpile by a third – the same thing President Obama is proposing.

Wasn’t Tommy the man behind Medicare Part D – which the tea party people should be calling another example of a “socialist government program”? And what about the huge bureaucracy Tommy made even bigger with his “W-2” Welfare-to-Work program in Wisconsin? Isn’t he one of those socialists the tea partiers hate?

Why was Tommy at the tea party? Because there’s no real place for him in what the Republican Party has become in this state, even though he’ll still be prominent at all their gatherings. And because he has a born politician’s love for giving speeches to crowds. He can still whip ‘em up.

Even if, like last Thursday, his very presence mocked the event.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Friday Special: Logomania

Anyone can see why a Native American would be disgusted by the mascot, logo, whatever you want to call it that represents the Cleveland Indians baseball team. It’s a horrible caricature and should have been retired decades ago. And the Washington “Redskins?” Good Lord.

At the risk of offending those who take the First Amendment as an absolute with no grey areas, might I suggest the formation of a Committee Of Good Taste which would be tasked with pointing out mascots or logos or nicknames which should never have come to be in the first place. I think they could complete their task in a day or two, and then disband.

In their typically weasely way, our politicians took a crack at the issue this week, and decided to let the State Superintendent of Public Instruction be the arbiter of taste and offensiveness in these matters.


My high school mascot was the Polar Bear. Don’t ask me why the folks in Hortonville decided on that unusual, though not quite unique mascot. Mascots at the colleges I’ve attended (or been employed by) include the Badger, Titan, Green Wave, Matador, and Gold Rush. Not a controversial one in the lot.

No one can tell us how we should feel about things. That’s a decision we make for ourselves, but we can change our feelings about things, sometimes, when we assimilate new information. Nothing I’ve heard or read has changed my feeling that there’s not a single Indian-themed mascot in the nation that was created to offend Native Americans.

And I’m really not sure what all the fuss is about. I’m of Irish and Austrian extraction, and I take no umbrage whatsoever concerning the Boston Celtics or the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. I know the outdated term “Paddy Wagon” came from the drunken Irishmen the New York City cops transported to jail. Some say it came from the fact that so many Irish were cops in NYC. They couldn’t get any other jobs…”no Irish need apply”. If somebody calls me a “mick”, I’m not offended. I have a pal of Prussian extraction who refers to me as “the drunken mick”. No problem.

But that’s just me. And maybe it’s why I don’t understand all the noise being made because Waunakee chose to name its teams the Warriors or Berlin calls its teams the Indians. Oshkosh West High, my parents’ Alma Mater, used to be the Indians, but now they’re the Wildcats. Apparently Oshkosh is more politically correct than Berlin.

I’m actually still not sure what the official nickname of Marquette University is. I had to google it to be reminded that it’s now “Golden Eagles”, but I don’t think anybody calls them that. Several years ago when they were flip-flopping back and forth with their nickname, I called them the “Warriors” on a sports report I did for a local country radio station. The program director passed me in the hallway a few minutes later and said “please refer to Marquette by its correct nickname.” On the next sportscast, I referred to them as “the Marquette Bloodthirsty Savages”.

No wonder I’ve been fired from every radio job I’ve ever had.

When I think of “Native Americans”, I think of nothing but positive attributes, and how horribly we as a nation treat them. So if enough of them want us to stop using their names as sports mascots, I guess it’s OK. But…as the saying goes…I don’t think any offense was intended.

Tax Day - Tea Day

I don’t know what to call myself any more. I’m not a Kennedy-style liberal or “Janesville Democrat”, as my old pal Sly calls it. I’m not the same young man whose first real political involvement was to campaign for the late Republican Bill Steiger, in his successful 1967 run for Congress in the seat Tom Petri now holds. I wasn’t old enough to vote for Steiger, but even in ’67 he looked younger than me.

I used to think I was a libertarian, believing it was the role of government to deliver the mail and defend the shores and leave me alone. And I’m not a tea party person, and don’t really fit in with the Americans For Prosperity movement. So I’ll stick with “independent”. Some would say “curmudgeon” fits best.

Today, tax day, is as good a day as any to try and figure out which label, of the many available, fits you best. A number of years ago, during my WTDY days, Sly asked everybody at the station to take some sort of “test” that would tell you just how liberal or conservative you are. Answer 40 questions and find out what label fits. Sly, of course, was as far left on the spectrum as you could get. Chris Krok, the controversial mid-day talk show host, who’s been (like me) fired in every market he’s ever worked in, and has just landed a new gig in Dallas, was somewhere right of Attila the Hun.

Two staff members scored right smack dab in the middle of the liberal-conservative spectrum: Pam Jahnke (the “Fabulous Farm Babe”), and me. No one was surprised. We’re both small-town ‘sconnies who believe you determine your own fate based on your effort, that you give a hand up but not a hand out, that you have to give an honest day’s work to get an honest day’s pay, and all that stuff. Neither liberal nor conservative values, to be sure, but compatible with “independent”.

Today from 11:30 to 1 the Taxpayer Tea Party will be held on the capitol square, sponsored by the group Americans For Prosperity. I’ve lived in Madison long enough to know who’ll be up there on the square at noon, drinking in the rhetoric from Vicki McKenna and Tommy Thompson and that crew. They’ll talk about deficit attention disorder (sort of an intriguing re-arrangement of words), bailouts, and socialism. And we’ll find out if Tommy’s running, I guess.

I don’t fit in with that crowd, even though I think the biggest blunder in recent history was the bailout of the “too big to fail” financial houses. I think Sarah Palin is the most dangerously stupid person on the planet. And if word got out that I favored a single-payer health insurance system, the tea party folks would run me off the square. Even if I told them I think “the great train robbery” is the biggest government boondoggle in Wisconsin history.

I’m not like former Madison School Board member Bill Keys, who claimed to be happiest when he was writing out his check to pay his property tax bill. But I think the current crop of politicians has failed us horribly in making education a real priority in this state – and paying for it.

And I don’t want any government – federal, state, or local – to bail out one more thing, with my tax dollars or money borrowed from my kids’ grandchildren.

So I guess the label “independent” still fits pretty well. Happy tax/tea day.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Marine PFC Thomas Leon Armitage, KIA Viet Nam 2-12-69

Just west of Appleton, a couple hundred feet south of where Highway 96 crosses Outagamie County Trunk Highway M in the tiny town of Medina, there’s a small and neatly-kept little sanctuary called Armitage Park. It was set up by Tom Armitage’s parents, who lived in the house next door to the park, in memory of their son who was killed in action at age 20 in Quang Tri Province, Viet Nam, on the 12th of February 1969.

Tom was a grade-school pal who died, they say, when he threw himself on a grenade to save the lives of his rifle squad. Tom was born the 4th of April, 1948, was drafted in ‘68, sent to Viet Nam, and died on his first tour. He was a Rifleman with G Company, 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines.

He was one of the many unsung heroes of that horrible war.

I got an e-mail Monday from another of my grade school pals, Mike, pointing me to Tom’s page on the “Virtual Wall”, which commemorates each of the 58-thousand-plus who died in Viet Nam. You can find it at and look up the name of any soldier who died in the war.

My friend Mike and I have similar memories of Tom. He was of average height and weight in grade school, but he got picked on a lot. He was a fun kid who had some unusual mannerisms and ideas. It’s the same now as it was back in the late 50’s – grade school is very much a place where conformity is currency. Mike and I were both bigger and taller than the average grade school kid. We both liked Tom, and often came to his defense when other kids picked on him or tried to bully him.

One of Tom’s favorite phrases was “Smarter than the average bear”….and he’d say it just like voice actor Daws Butler (a contemporary of, and collaborator with Stan Freeberg) did, as the Yogi Bear character on the Huckleberry Hound TV cartoon show. Tom just liked the sound of it, but I think the other kids thought he was trying to tell them he was smarter than them.

As near as we could tell, Tom had a little container of shoestring potatoes for lunch every day. Once in a while, one of the kids would make a quick trip to one of the stores on the main drag of Hortonville over the lunch hour, and Tom would always ask whoever was going to bring him back a 5-cent bag of Planters Peanuts. More than once Tom borrowed a nickel from me to get his peanuts, and he always paid me back.

Invariably, after the promised peanuts were delivered, Tom would stomp on the bag and smash the peanuts to small pieces. His explanation was “you get more for your money that way” - the sort of harmless eccentricity that most grade school kids abhor.

I lost track of Tom after grade school. He didn’t go to Hortonville High; I’m not even sure where his folks sent him for high school. But I remember the day my dad told me Tom had been killed in action in Viet Nam. My dad, a decorated WW2 vet, was no fan of that Asian war, and groused about good soldiers being killed by bureaucrats trying to run a war from thousands of miles away.

That rotten war that ended 35 years ago this month and took the lives of so many of the young men I grew up with or knew as a college student. It still angers me. What a horrible, horrible waste.

Marine Rifleman Thomas Leon Armitage, decorated war hero, rest in peace. Your friends still remember you, and we thank you for your service to our nation.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Good Guy: Brewers' Owner Mark Attanasio

Mark Attanasio said when he bought the Brewers back in 2005, the payroll was 39 million, and he never thought there would be a day when it would be over 90 million, and approaching a hundred million dollars a year.

But that day is here.

Attanasio says the Brewers payroll is over 90 million right now, and he’s still trying to figure out a way to sign Prince Fielder to keep him with the Brew-Crew. Milwaukee is the smallest media market in the big leagues, and Packers fans understand very well the implications of trying to run a big-time team in a “small” town.

Because Attanasio has opened his wallet pretty wide the past few years, making sure slugger Ryan Braun is secured, and bringing C.C. Sabathia here for that wild ride a couple years ago, the attendance at Miller Park has topped 3 million the past two seasons. That’s a LOT of ‘sconnies through the turnstiles, and the owner, bless his heart, is committed to keeping a Brewers game affordable for the fans. He will not raise ticket prices through the roof just to sign Fielder or keep a stable of high-quality players on the team.

The Brewers average ticket price this year is $22.10, below the major league average of $26.79 and less than half of the average Cubs ticket price of $52.56…which is the highest average ticket cost in the majors this year. Veteran baseball fans know that if you want really good seats at a Brewers game, it can cost you 75 to a hundred bucks at StubHub or one of the other broker sites.

But a primo seat at Wrigley field can set you back 3, 4, or 5 hundred bucks….for a “regular” game. That’s one reason so many Cubs fans invade Miller Park when the Brewers host the Cubs. You can get a really good seat for a fraction of what it would cost to buy one at Wrigley when the Brewers are there.

The National League Central Division is not one known for spending New York City kind of money on payroll, and despite the skyrocketing Brewers payroll over the past few years, the Brewers rank fourth in spending in the division. The Cubs are on top with a payroll this year of 144 million, and the Pirates are on the bottom, with a payroll of 39 million. The Cards spend 94 million to hold the #2 slot, the Astros 92 million, then comes Milwaukee at 90 million and the Reds at 76 million.

Like any smart business man, Mark Attanasio praises his customers, and credits the fans with terrific support of the team. And, because he’s been willing to spend money to keep the team in contention, the fans return the love and keep buying tickets.

As a born-and-raised ‘sconnie, I think a lot of our state’s sports fans are like me. You don’t have to win the division pennant or the World Series or the Super Bowl every year. You just need to put a competitive team on the field, give them the coaching they need, and treat the fans with respect.

I think all those elements are in place again this year for the Brewers, and I’m proud to wear my Brewers blue and cheer for them.

Now, if we can just BEAT the Cubs tomorrow....

Monday, April 12, 2010

Local TV Weather Nannies Push Back!

Fighter and bomber pilots say if you’re taking flack, you must be close to the target. Commenting on the YourNews version of this rant, Perry Boxx, the News Director at Channel 27, said it was “absolutely the dumbest article I’ve ever read about severe weather coverage” and took issue with me calling myself an “insider”. Brian Olson of the Channel 27 weather staff posted a long rebuttal, saying I don’t understand what those little rotating thingys they put up on the screen mean; he doesn’t like my trivialization of weather warnings; says “Severe Doppler” is not named to scare people; and claims Sioux Falls SD is an even bigger weather-nanny market.

I’ll get to that stuff in a moment.

I had about ten responses on the YourNews blog; YourNews Publisher Glen Gardner posted a link to my rant on his Facebook page Friday morning, and later in the morning I re-posted Glen’s link on my Facebook page. That generated about 40 more responses, via Facebook postings, confidential messages, comments to this blog, and direct e-mails to me from people who didn’t want to be publicly identified as commenting. (Those people really ARE insiders…every one of them a TV news employee.)

Mike L. posted on the YourNews blog that Bob Lindmeier was the only one who told people in Stoughton to take cover immediately, just before the tornado hit in August of 2005. Not counting what Perry Boxx and Brian Olson posted, Mike’s comment was the only one generated which did not further ridicule the excesses of local TV weather.

A sarcastic Madison man, J.A.K., posted “Severe Doppler will no doubt be replaced by Osama bin Terror Doppler in a year or so.” One well-known local reporter, P.S., posted “I loved this story…severe weather Doppler indeed!” Another friend, M.T., said when the local TV folks go into the wall-to-wall severe weather coverage, she mixes up a pitcher of margaritas and invites her neighbor over to watch. She also said she misses the late Jim Mader’s great, calm presence on local radio during storms.

My friend T.T. of Madison pointed out the excesses and scaremongering coverage have a "cry wolf" effect, which makes a lot of people simply ignore them.

D29 decried the over-the-top “severe” weather coverage in Milwaukee, and said “No kidding – it RAINS in spring here?” Two pals of mine who work in TV news in Green Bay, J.B. and B.K., opined that the severe weather coverage in their market HAS to be worse than Madison, and went on to describe the excesses. Another fellow I used to work with, S.B., said he learned a long time ago that you couldn’t trust the hype put out on local TV weather, and another former colleague, R.S., said TV goes into the “sky is falling” mode in his market whenever there’s a storm within 200 miles.

A Madison pal, M.M., said “we interrupt this post. A severe sarcasm alert has been issued for all of south central Wisconsin. High winds may carry away your sense of humor!”

That’s the thing. These TV weather folks do NOT have a sense of humor about this. They are on a mission to save lives, and there’s nothing remotely humorous about that. And, that’s why you cannot reason with them, and why they are convinced beyond challenge that their excesses are justified. They’ll never admit, and perhaps do not even acknowledge to themselves, that it’s all driven by marketing hype and it’s gotten out of control.

Some unsolicited advice to Brian Olson: you’d never make a good lawyer. Your post is full of what lawyers call “admissions against interest.” You admit that “Severe Doppler” is no more than a marketing tool; and saying Sioux Falls is worse than Madison is like saying “OK, I killed a few people, but Hitler killed more”. And those rotating thingys still look like tornado symbols to me. The point it makes is that your whiz-bang presentation is so arcane that only an “insider” can decipher it.

And Mr. Boxx, my sarcasm about being “an insider” is lost on you, but that happens a lot with me. I tend to be more sour than sweet. Any time you want to compare broadcast credentials, radio or TV, let me know. I’ll be glad to submit my national, regional, and local awards and recognitions from groups like the NAB, RTDNA, OCRB, WBA, and many other broadcast and print organizations in all the states I’ve worked in, to an independent judge for review. You might ask the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Foundation who it hired last year to write its Kidder Broadcast News Resource Center website.

With a little research, I think you’ll find I have the credentials to be a broadcast critic.

Friday, April 9, 2010

New Local Weather Toy - "SEVERE" Doppler???

Chicken Little is alive in Madison, and he’s disguised as “Severe Doppler Radar”. I laughed out loud when I heard this new term Tuesday night on one of the local TV stations. It’s the station that’s always tracking storms. “Severe Doppler”. Of course, there is no such thing; it’s just the latest example of the fear-mongering done by the weather folks.

I’m not picking on Bob Lindmeier. He’s as nice a guy as any of the other local TV weather folks, and each of them is a weather-nanny in their own way. The science involved in their profession seems to have been co-opted by the marketing and consulting crowd, and to play the game, you’ve got to try and scare people.

I have a friend who travels quite a bit in his line of work. He’s on airplanes probably 200 times a year, visiting a huge assortment of American cities. He’s the George Clooney character from the movie “Up In The Air”, except he doesn’t swoop into town to fire people. He’s a former broadcaster, so he watches the local TV news in the cities he’s working in, and he agrees with me that Madison is by far the most weather-nanny-ish city in the nation.

“Severe” Doppler, indeed. Where is Elmer Childress when we need him!!??

At one point, at around 6:57PM Tuesday, Bob had no less than 17 “tornadoes” depicted on his super-duper-weather-map….those little round thingys that spin, which apparently show that there’s potential rotation in the air mass at that point. I say “no less than”, because I paused the TV picture with my DVR, and counted. But some parts of the screen were blocked out by other graphics that were part of the colorful presentation, so I couldn’t be exact.

It’s designed to terrify you, and make you believe that if you don’t have this particular station on, you could die.

For those of you who may be new to the Madison area, let me help you understand the terminology, so you and your family can be safe during the long spring and summer season ahead. There are only two types of weather warning on Madison TV: there’s the “Severe Tornado Warning” and the “Extremely Severe Tornado Warning.”

The first means it’s cloudy, and it might rain. The second means it might storm, with thunder and lightning.

Because I’m an insider, I can tell you about the warning you’ll never see on TV, and that’s the ultra-secret “Bob-Gary-David-Laurie” alert. That’s when all four of the city’s Chief Meteorologists, Bob Lindmeier, Gary Cannalte, David George, and Laurie Mercurio have called their families and told them to take cover. It means the four of them agree that we really could actually have some truly severe weather. The “Bob-Gary-David-Laurie” alert is extremely rare, and you’ll never know about it.

OK, I’m being snotty and sarcastic and snarky here. I’ve met three of these chief meteorologists, and I’ve know Gary Cannalte for 20 years, and worked with him in my local radio days, and he’s as fine a person and friend as you could ever ask for…and there’s nobody I’d rather have “on my side” when we’re in for severe weather.

My gripe with their “product” – all three of them – is that it’s shaped and influenced by marketing and ratings goals, and it’s far more intrusive than I think is necessary. And, in a Cap Times informal survey a year or so ago, most people hold my point of view that it seems the TV stations are just a bit too intense with their marketing of fear. Science has been overshadowed by commerce, and legitimate concern has been trumped by the race to be “THE” weather station. It’s all about image and ratings – under the guise of “keeping your family safe”.

“Severe” Doppler, indeed. The Austrian physicist it’s named for (Christian Doppler) is rolling in his grave.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pick One: TV or the Internet - Which Do You Keep?

Right now it’s neck-and-neck, with the Internet pulling ahead of TV. A new study from Edison Research and Arbitron – the TV ratings people – says just over 49% of Americans would give up their TV before their Internet service, with 48% saying they’d rather keep TV than the Internet if they had to make a choice.

Edison, a respected research firm, says when the question was first asked in 2001, nearly three-quarters of those polled (72%) said they’d give up the Internet before they’d give up TV. Every year since then, the Internet has trended toward being our favorite choice, to the point now where it’s pretty much 50-50.

The way we get news, and the way we consume media, is rapidly changing.

More than a quarter of American adults now say they get news on their cell phone. Three-quarters of smart-phone users say they get their weather forecast from their phone. And now, just about every American (92%) say they use multiple sources (TV, radio, print, Internet, phone) to get their daily dose of news.

Local TV news still ranks top among news consumers, but national network news is a close second. Next in rank order is online news….like what you’re reading right now….followed by radio news, local newspapers, and national newspapers. Only half of the Americans surveyed now say they actually read a local newspaper, while 78% say they get it from TV, and about half say they listen to radio news at home or in the car.

Half of the people surveyed by the Pew Internet and American Life Project say they use four to six different “platforms” every day to get their news.

We’re also becoming far more “interconnected” in our own homes, as TV and the Internet continue to blend together. Liechtman Research Group data says a quarter of American homes have an Internet-to-TV connection, and 5% of us are watching stuff like YouTube and Hulu on our TV’s, not on a computer screen.

My friend, top-notch radio consultant Holland Cooke pulled all this information together. He’s the guy doing his best to help AM radio stations stay alive in the midst of all this new competition.

One other tidbit: Cooke writes slogans for a living (among other things) and his headline on this item is “Are you ready for some phone-ball?” Verizon Wireless has just signed a $720-million four-year deal to stream NFL games – yes, stream to cell phone users – who will pay $13 a month.

To watch NFL games on their phone.

No thanks….I’ll be seated in front of my 65-inch HDTV on Sunday afternoons this fall. The times are changing, but, in my opinion in this case, not for the better.

Football on a phone. No thanks.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

I Had My Say (At The Polls) Yesterday

The old saying proclaims that we get the kind of government we deserve. We must not deserve very good government, since so few of us care about it, on the basic, local level. There were no state-wide issues to decide yesterday; no state legislators to vote for or against; just local and regional decisions. School board, referenda, county board, judge. Government at the basic level.

At 11 o’clock, I was the 74th voter at the Town of Madison town hall. Five of my neighbors were there, doing their job, checking to make sure I was who I said I was, keeping track of the votes, helping people who had questions about the ballot, helping them find out which ward they live in – all that basic stuff that makes democracy work at the fundamental level.

The folks who’d signed on for the low-paying and essentially thankless job of running the polling place know who I am, and greeted me by name when I walked in. But they made me say my name and address out loud. Doing it by the book, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. After I made my choices and stuck the ballot into the electronic thingy and heard the “ding”, I thanked them for their service and told them I’d go out and try and drum up some business for them.

One of the many great things about elections here in America is the secret ballot. You don’t have to tell anybody who you voted for. And nobody has the right to tell you who to vote for, or how to vote on any issue. As Americans, we make our own laws and rules, from my sparsely-populated township ward’s ordinances, all the way up to the highest laws in our land.

We make the laws by voting for the people who will represent us, and if they don’t represent us the way we want, we vote against them. If we don’t like the laws or rules they make, we break them. They didn’t come down from God on smoking tablets; we made them. There’s usually a consequence when we get caught breaking the rules, but if enough people break the rules, we usually decide that maybe it’s the rule that’s bad, not the people who are breaking it.

If only that last sentence were truer in actuality than in theory. We have some pretty stupid laws, and some pretty ineffective representatives.

That’s why I more often than not vote against somebody than for somebody. There were a lot of folks we sent up there to the big top to fix the horrible problems with education funding in our state. They didn’t do it. And they blame everyone else. But they’re the only ones who can do it.

When I see what’s going on with public education in this state, and particularly in the Madison school district, I know I’m going to be doing a lot of “voting against” when those folks up there at the top of State Street are up for “renewal”.

Even if my friends and neighbors disagree with me and send the current lot back, I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing I had my say.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It's An Eminence Front....It's A Put-On, Right?

Like the early 80’s song from The Who, it’s an eminence front…it’s a put-on. It has to be a “face” being put forward by the Catholic Church regarding the steady drumbeat of revelations about bad priests who were protected, shuffled around, defended, and their crimes denied. But the song, most say, was about cocaine and tragedy, not the church. About how people “put on a face”, and when Pete Townsend first introduced the song, he said it’s what happens when you take too much white powder.

When Holy Mother Church officially starts blaming the media for the problem, you know there’s deep trouble.

My friend and colleague Bill Wineke writes far more eloquently than I about this topic, and he’s far more knowledgeable. But Bill’s not a Catholic, and I am – or was – and it’s a very complicated story.

As a young man growing up in Hortonville in the 50’s, our priest was Father Leo Przybylski, a Polish-American who pronounced his name “sha-BIL-ski”. He was a big man with a big sense of humor, who knew the name of every child in all 8 grades at Saints Peter and Paul School. He was like so many other priests – a dedicated man of the cloth, servant and shepherd of his parish, and a completely trustworthy man.

Like many other Catholics, I left the church not long after I left for college. I never officially stopped being a Catholic, but – again – my religious background is hopelessly complicated. I am (or was) a member of four very different religions, but they all shared one thing – one form or another of the “golden rule”. I think the Catholics officially washed their hands of me when I married a divorced Catholic woman in 1983, without obtaining the proper sanction from the Bishop. That marriage took place in a Lutheran church with a Lutheran minister; my marriage to Toni in 1997 was in the Supreme Court Chamber at the Capitol, performed by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

This fresh scandal uncovered, regarding the deaf children in Wisconsin, is only the latest chapter, but it’s one of the ugliest. The fact that Rome now officially refers to it as “petty gossip” is deeply disturbing. Their instinct, all along, seems to have been to protect the church, rather than the victims. Now, that “protection” is to blame and try to discredit and even boycott the messenger.

It’s too late for the church to get out in front of this disgusting mess, which apparently goes all the way to the very top of the hierarchy. But it’s not too late for the church to take ownership of the problem and start working to solve it, rather than attempt to hide it or cover it up.

Father Leo Pryzybylski and the countless other Catholic priests who were dedicated servants, teachers, mentors, and role models, will not rest in their graves until the church addresses this problem and abandons the eminence front.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The iPad And Me

According to all the tech-savvy folks who write tech columns for the public prints, the Blackberry now has a “stodgy” image. Stodgy? Who knew? Blackberries, which used to be called “Crackberries” to signify the addiction their users have to the small devices, are now becoming passé. Apparently, they’re not as “interesting” as the other smart phones out there today.

Like millions of other Americans who work in the salt mines of corporate America, my wife has a Blackberry to connect her to work. A few days ago, she told me she doesn’t like it any more. Doesn’t like the tiny keyboard (but does like the tiny “keyboard” on her iPad?) and thinks the model she has is “old”. Don’t ask me what model it is…but it looks like one of the first-generation Blackberries to me. It’s black, more square than rectangular, and has a small “screen”.

I stopped being an early adopter of new technology quite a few years ago. I still have a turntable connected to my audio system! No, not the kind that scratchers and DJ’s use on the club scene; the kind that you can play LP albums on. But even my turntable has a USB cord so I can plug it into my computer, make digital files, and burn CD’s.

My wife is now officially an early adopter. She plunked down her 600 bucks Saturday and got an iPad. And another hundred bucks for something I think is called “Mobile Me”, which apparently has something to do with a cloud.

Near as I can tell, it’s just a bigger, bulkier, heavier version of her iPod Touch. You can’t make phone calls on it. You can’t take pictures with it. I guess you can play your iTunes on it, though. And read a book or newspaper, if you pay to download the content.

These tech whizzes who write columns about new gadgets claim Blackberry users are defecting in droves to the more fun new smart-phones, like the iPhone, Droid, Google Phone, and whatever else is new and exciting. Blackberry has a 42% market share, but it’s dropping. And as I peruse these columns, it seems it’s like the old Ford versus Chevy argument, in a way. iPhone users won’t say nice things about Blackberry products, nor will Droid users.

NASCAR on wi-fi.

There was a live demonstration of the new iPad on the CNN Morning Show Friday, and they compared it to the Kindle. It’s more of a contrast than a comparison. The screen on the iPad is much larger, and it can do a lot more than simply display words on a “page”. They asked the tech writer who was demonstrating the iPad if it will replace the laptop computer, and he thought not.

I have a laptop. It’s an ancient H-P laptop that got my daughter through four years at the UW, and by today’s standards, it’s a dinosaur. But it does everything I need it to do – process words and surf the web. It has a nice, big keyboard, and I don’t think I’d ever trade it for the much smaller “virtual” keyboard of the iPad.

I’ll just stick with my old H-P laptop and my ancient Motorola Razor cell phone. If either breaks down, I’ll borrow my wife’s iPad, my son’s iPhone, or my daughter’s Droid phone. I’m sure any of them would be glad to rub it in, and tell me I’m a museum piece.

And I’ll write about it on my desktop computer, which is one of the most powerful and fast computers money can buy (and my tech guys can tweak), and does anything those other devices can do, faster, better, and louder.

Except make phone calls.

Friday, April 2, 2010

NewsSpeak: No Hebrew Allowed!

Have you noticed how seldom you hear the word “get” on radio or TV these days? Hopefully not, or you’d be as crazy as I am about stuff like this. Apparently, the news writing and commercial writing gods have decreed that the word “get” shall be stricken from all public records, removed from buildings, and shall no longer be uttered in the realm.

The word that replaces get is “receive”.

“Buy one – receive one free!!!” I actually heard that on a TV commercial a few nights ago. Who talks like that? But, the point I’ve been trying to make for decades as a news writing coach is NOBODY talks like broadcasters. One of the big bosses at Chicago’s WGN stirred up a hornet’s nest a few weeks ago when he put out a memo to his staff telling them to knock off the broadcast jargon and write and speak conversational English.

Apparently, whoever the trendsetters in news and commercial writing may be, they want to make sure we don’t confuse the meanings of the word “get”. The acronym GET means different things depending on where you live. In Bakersfield, CA, it’s the bus company: Golden Empire Transit. In the state of Washington, it’s the Guaranteed Education Tuition program.

If you’re Jewish, it means divorce. A “get” is the divorce document. It is given from the husband to the wife he’s dumping, and the basic get says “You are hereby permitted to other men.” It signifies to the world that the Hebrew laws of adultery no longer apply.

So the broadcast writing trendsetters must be Jewish, and they’re happily married. No gets.

Here’s the last line of a news story that was on one of the local TV stations earlier this week: “He received non-life-threatening injuries in the crash.” Again I ask – who talks like that? Who “receives” injuries in a car wreck? The far more accepted cliché is “suffered” injuries, which is just as bad. Heaven forefend they should say “he wasn’t seriously injured” or “he’s gonna be awful sore tomorrow, but he’ll live.”

Another line from local TV last night in a commercial for a resort: “Stay two nights and receive a third night for free”! Huh? You mean stay two nights and GET the third night free. (Notice how I cleverly left out the unnecessary word “for” in front of “free”.)

From a radio story on a local station this week: “He received a citation for drunk driving”. How about “he got a ticket for drunken driving.” (That drunk/drunken thing is something all the broadcasters get wrong, every time.) Picture a cop pulling over some guy who’s weaving all over the road, giving him a field sobriety test, and then saying “Here, receive this citation.”

To bring some closure to this topic, the next time a write a rant about NewsSpeak, I’m gonna find out who changed “closing” to “closure” when they’re telling me about all the “lane closures” at the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee or on the eastbound Beltline in Madison.

They’ll receive some “closure” from me when I catch ‘em.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Financial Meltdown: They Really Were That Stupid

If you liked the story line of the movie “The Blind Side”, the “football” movie which is really a unique family story – for which Sandra Bullock won the best acting Oscar, and are curious about how the economic meltdown happened, you might want to pick up the book “The Big Short”. Michael Lewis wrote the book the movie is based on, and he’s uniquely qualified to do financial writing.

Lewis actually worked on Wall Street for years, as a bond trader for Salomon Brothers. He has a Master’s Degree from the London School of Economics. But his real talent is telling stories, and his approach to explaining the financial meltdown is from a story-teller’s perspective, which means he actually makes it interesting.

In the news reports about the aftermath of the meltdown and bailouts, you probably heard terms like “credit default swap” and “collateralized debt obligation” – CDS’s and CDO’s. You don’t have to have anything but a basic understanding of what they are – and Lewis is a good “explainer” – to follow the story.

There’s another “common man” element that keeps the book interesting. Have you ever had a job where you were pretty sure the boss had no idea how to do your job, or even really what it is that you did for the company? There was a lot of that going on in the financial world prior to the meltdown. The biggest bosses at the biggest financial institutions, at least the way Lewis tells it, really did not know what their people were doing, and almost certainly didn’t understand it.

Maybe Ken Lay was telling the truth when he said he had no idea what they were really doing on the trading floor at Enron. And even though the Enron story is very different than the subprime mortgage market meltdown that put the world of finance on its knees, it’s a similar scenario. Both involved “short selling” - hence, the title of the book: The Big Short.

There are at least two sides to every bet. If you bet your pal five bucks that the Packers will beat the Bears, the two sides are obvious. Your side is the Pack; his side is the Bears. If you both agree the Packers will win, you might make a bet on the point spread: by how many points will the Pack beat the Bears. And any number of people could do the same, with a lot of other possibilities, like instead of betting on the game or point spread, you could even bet on which guy will win the wager. (Derivatives.)

You can place bets, through a broker, if you think a stock is going to go up – which is called a “long” position; or, bet that it will go down, which is a “short” position. The essence of Lewis’s story is that a very small group of investors figured out just how rotten the subprime mortgage market really was, that there was absolutely no effective oversight, that the risk evaluators (like Standard and Poor’s, and Moody’s Investor Services) had NO clue how risky the market was, and that the bigwigs had no clue whatsoever about what their traders were doing.

This small group of people “shorted” the subprime mortgage market and all the derivative investments associated with it, and made a fortune when the market collapsed.

Lewis’s narrative is fast-paced, with very interesting characters (not unlike the big football player, the precocious little brother, and the dynamic mom in “Blind Side”), and he explains the technical terms in a way that’s easy to understand.

A great story with great characters told by a great storyteller makes for a great book.