Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tuesday Media Rant: Stories That Won't Go Away

Every Sunday or Monday following a Badgers home football game, like clockwork, the local paper and several of the electronic news media tell us how many people got tossed from the game, how many got arrested, and how many got some sort of ticket.

This past weekend, during the NorthWestern game, where the Badgers laid a claim on the Rose Bowl, we were informed that 19 people were arrested and 43 ejected from the game. Camp Randall Stadium holds 80,321 people. So if you add the 19 arrested and the 43 ejected, you get 62 – which is 0.000772 percent of the crowd. Not quite one-tenth of one percent.

And this is “news”?

In the “worst” game for arrests and ejections at Camp Randall this year, the Ohio State game, where the Badgers beat a #1-ranked team, 35 were arrested and a little over a hundred were given the heave-ho. Whoah….that’s over one-tenth of one percent of the crowd! Now that’s NEWS, pardner. NOT.

It’s one of those stories that’s reported every time simply because the information is easily available. Not one scintilla of thought goes into the writing and reporting of such a story, yet – there it is, week after week.

And then there’s the “number of hunters who had a heart attack while deer hunting” story. I did the math a few years ago, as part of a consulting project, and discovered that the number of men who had a heart attack WHILE hunting was statistically much lower than the number of non-deer hunting men in the general population who had a heart attack.

Wanna know what kills us old, fat white guys? It ain’t deer hunting. It’s snowfall.

And don’t even get me going about the “busiest shopping day of the year!!!!!” stories which proliferate on electronic media the day after Thanksgiving. They’ve been wrong every year for the last decade – it’s usually the Saturday before Christmas – but this year, given the phenomenal hype and the month-long lead-up to Black Friday, it may actually turn out to have been the busiest shopping day of the year.

Not that anyone except the merchants will really care.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Monday After

My wife Toni, in the photo above, destroying the turkey carcass with a power tool, definitely has the “restaurant gene”, passed on to her by her parents, who owned and operated a popular south-side Chicago Italian restaurant for years. Since it was a family business, my bride cut her teeth in the hospitality business by working as a “salad girl” in her parents’ restaurant during her formative years, while her dad supervised all aspects of the operation and ran the bar, and her mom was the gracious host who greeted customers as they came in. Toni spent enough time in the kitchen of the popular restaurant to have picked up some great tips from some really top chefs and cooks.

The giant bird in the photo above (23.98 pounds) was cooked to perfection, along with all the trimmings, as we’ve come to expect every Thanksgiving. Our kids, who aren’t really kids any more, but independent young adults, have picked up many of my wife’s skills and I believe time will show that the “restaurant gene” was passed along to them. My principal role during our family’s annual Thanksgiving extravaganza is to make sure the raw materials for the feast are purchased, to stay out of the way while the feast is being prepared, and help clean up the “wreckage” afterwards. I harbor no illusions that I could do anything in the kitchen half as well as my wife does.

So, on the Monday after, even though pounds and pounds of leftovers from the Thanksgiving meal were doled out to the kids, we still have a ‘frig stuffed with great food. It will not quite be enough to carry us through the week, but we retained enough turkey and trimmings to make several more full meals.

This truly is a land of plenty, and it’s still a land of opportunity, and though it’s too often a cliché, as tough as times are for a lot of our fellow Americans, we do still have a great deal to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy (?) Thanksgiving!

If you are reading this Wednesday morning, my daughter is somewhere between New York’s LaGuardia airport and our south-suburban Madison home. That’s NOT her in the photo from CBS news, above. Odds are she’ll have gone through one of the new x-ray machines and will not have been subjected to the horrible indignity of an “enhanced pat-down.”

The way I interpret it, security experts world-wide agree with Bruce Schneier’s assessment that two things, and only two things, have boosted airline passenger security in the United States since the 9-11-01 attacks: securing the cockpit door, and convincing passengers they need to fight back.

The aggressive frisking of children at airports, forcing a breast cancer survivor to remove her prosthetic breasts, and the scores of other over-the-top mindless things being done at airports today by the TSA has divided us into two distinct camps: one, which would fit in nicely with a certain group of National Socialists in Europe in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s which feels “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”; and another which is growing increasingly disgusted with the rapidly escalating shredding of our rights as a free people in a Constitutionally-created Federal Republic.

There is absolutely nothing rational about forcing us to carry only tiny containers of mouthwash and shampoo, or taking our shoes off, or checking our underwear. None of that stuff reassures us that the government is “really trying” to keep the bad actors from blowing up our airplanes.

As Seth Godin says, flying to and from domestic locations is safe. Like driving, it’s not perfect, and if somebody is crazy enough to hurt or kill themself or spend the rest of their life in prison, we’re not going to stop them, and even if we did, they’d take to railroad stations, subways, sporting events, or concerts.

As a lot of folks have said, the terrorists have already won, turning us into a “security society” instead of a free people.

I hope your family members who’ve had to travel via commercial air to join your family’s Thanksgiving celebration got there in one piece…with some of their dignity intact…and with plenty of room for second helpings.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Education and Government: Two Things That Shouldn't be "Run Like a Business"

My friend Mike pointed my attention to a wonderful rant, an open letter sent by a scientist named Gregory Petsko to George Philip, the President of the State University of New York at Albany. Philip is presiding over what will remain of his “University” after his October 1st decision to eliminate the departments of French, Italian, Classics, Russian, and Theater Arts to cut costs, listing as one reason the fact that comparatively fewer students enroll in these degree programs these days.

In addition to his (scientist’s) eloquent defense of these now-abolished departments at SUNY-Albany, Petsko also points out that one of the reasons fewer students enroll in these programs is that like many institutions of higher learning today, students are allowed to essentially choose their own academic programs.

Ten million years ago, when I was a college student, we had to complete requirements in a broad array of courses and disciplines, not just courses in our declared (or, back in those draft-dodging days, non-declared) major. How else would a kid who’d just graduated from Hortonville High have learned a little bit about – and developed a lifetime appreciation for – the world’s great works of art? Was it related to my major? No. Nor were the courses in Philosophy which I had to complete before I could get my sheepskin. Nor were the two Phys Ed courses I was ordered to take.

As Petsko points out, young people aren’t wise enough yet to have the kind of freedom to set up their own degree-plan. It’s part of the job of the University to set up the program. Petsko argues that institutions of higher learning that dump programs like SUNY-Albany is doing should be called Colleges or Tech Schools or Career Academies, not Universities. I’m with him on that.

With Scott Walker taking office in a few weeks, and the likes of that horribly misguided Nass person in power over the legislature’s committee that deals with education, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if our governor-who-doesn’t-have-a-college-degree and his pals force massive plug-pulling on programs and departments and courses all over the UW System.

No doubt we’ll be told that we need to run government…and public education…more like a business.

Many of those of us who were coerced to take nine credits of Philosophy back in the 60’s will realize this for the shortsighted folly it is.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Popular and Unpopular Speech

The First Amendment, of course, was designed to protect unpopular speech – the minority view , if you will, to make sure that ALL voices are heard, particularly in political discourse. At least, that’s the way I see it. A lot of folks think “free speech” means it’s protected only for those who agree with their point of view, and forget the part about protecting the expression of a minority viewpoint. I understand the First Amendment to mean that it gives you a right to say what you want, within certain limits, but it also gives the person on the other side of the equation the same right.

There’s a video going around the internet of West Virginia Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, at a committee hearing regarding telecommunications, saying “There's a little bug inside of me which wants to get the FCC to say to FOX and to MSNBC: Out. Off. End. Goodbye”.

I understand Senator Rockefeller’s little bug, and admit to having a little bug like that myself. I don’t need to lecture the Senator on what the First Amendment means. I’m sure he knows perfectly well what it means, even though he doesn’t have a law degree, like so many of his fellow Senators do.

Political discourse in this nation, fanned by Fox News on the right and MSNBC on the left, has become so coarse, so divisive, so blatantly partisan and self-serving, that there’s a temptation to do exactly what that little bug is ooching the Senator and me to do: pull the plug on BOTH of them. And tie the can to El Rushbo’s big butt, and Rachel Maddow’s, and Glen Boeck’s, and Ed Schultz’s, and Sean Hannity’s, and Alan Colmes’s, and the whole lot of the partisan talking heads.

The simple solution, of which I’m sure the Senator is well aware, is not to have the FCC (which doesn’t really regulate cable-casting) “pull the plug” on them, but to simply make different viewing and listening choices. But, as we well know, that’s simply not the way it works in the real world. The most-listened-to radio program in the nation, Rush Limbaugh’s, didn’t get to be number one because it caters to the far right. I consider myself an independent, but I listen to Rush occasionally simply to laugh at how far he goes to pander to the ultra-conservatives. A lot of my lefty friends listen to Rush to be enraged. Rush’s program has been going strong in Madison for years, and this is one of the most liberal cities in the nation.

I guess the difference is, I view Rush’s radio show as pure entertainment. Too many people think it’s “news”, and that’s why Senator Rockefeller and I have that little bug.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Security Theater

For those who don’t follow the game closely, Security Theater is a term used by many security professionals to describe the sort of thing that goes on in airports all over America now. Lots of semi-trained government employees grabbing your crotch and feeling you up, forcing you to take off your shoes, and now, medium-tech machines that look through your clothes to spice up the boring days of the TSA workers. Lots of activity; very, very little actual security.

Real security, the kind that works, is carried out by the Israelis. They don’t feel you up; they don’t use any of those look-through-your-clothes machines; they don’t make you take off your shoes. They use highly-trained professionals and they profile. An excellent article about this was written just under a year ago, and you can find it here. HT: Dad29

Oh, that nasty word – PROFILING. Never mind that each and every one of us profiles people every single day, whether we’re watching TV or out in public; the politically-correct police have made profiling a dirty word, and they tell us it’s wrong and bad. They tell is it’s OK to feel up nuns and to hassle old folks with canes or walkers and to poke and prod children at airports, because Americans don’t believe in profiling. What a load of horse-puckey.

One of my acquaintances, who writes a monthly column for a local magazine, posted on his Facebook account something about how the enhanced pat-downs are a small price to pay for “security”, given what our brave troops are facing in Afghanistan. Ah yes, let’s drag in the glorious war dead on battlefields far away. My acquaintance fails to see the irony in his post, because most of us think our brave troops on battlefields far away are fighting AGAINST exactly the kind of crap at airports he so joyfully endorses. (That would include defending the 4th Amendment.)

I’m always pulled out of the line for extra attention at the airport because I have a titanium hip. I put up with it stone-faced; there’s no sense giving the TSA goons grief. They’ll just make your life more miserable and further delay your boarding.

The best security I ever experienced, the kind the Israelis use, was during an April 2002 trip to Las Vegas with my wife. Yes, 7 months after the 9-11 attacks. We were in line to go up to the top of the Stratosphere. There was a metal-detector gate and a security guard in front of the “final” elevator that takes you to the top. I told him I had a metal hip joint, and he smiled and locked his eyes right on my eyes, saying “titanium won’t set off the metal detector anyway”. He kept his eyes locked right on mine, smiling, and said “ever been up to the top before?” I said “nope. ‘spose you’re gonna use that wand on me now, right?” He kept his eyes locked right onto mine, and said “naw, go on up there with your wife and enjoy the view.”

This guy should be in charge of the complete revision of our government’s concepts about security, and everyone who works in whatever replaces the failed TSA should be required to spend a day with this guy, to learn how to profile people….just like he profiled me, in Vegas, 8 years ago.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Two years ago this morning, I was summoned from an on-air studio during a live broadcast, escorted to the office of the CFO of the MidWest Family Broadcast Group, and summarily dismissed. Fired. Terminated. It was a Tuesday morning, and I’d known for several days it was going to happen. My friend Glen and I figured it would have happened the day before. He was fired just moments after I got my walking papers. Both of us were shareholders and partners; both of us had long tenure with the company; I had 30 years, Glen had 17. My firing happened in the same office, carried out by the same person that I’d set my retirement date with (it would have been November 30, 2011), just a few weeks before the axe fell on November 18th, 2008.

Nobody bothered to thank us for our years of service. We were both given a bunch of legal papers regarding the termination (so poorly prepared that they even got the address of the Mid-West Family Broadcast Group wrong), offered a few weeks’ severance pay, and reminded that according to the terms of our stock repurchase agreements, the company had two years to buy out our stock and pay us off.

Both of us opted to reject Mid-West’s termination offer, hired top-shelf labor lawyers, and the legal battle for me ended several months later in a “sealed settlement”, terms of which both parties agreed not to disclose. Shortly after the settlement was agreed to, my wife and I decided to get away from it all, and on a spur-of-the-moment idea, spent the best and longest vacation of our lives at Spring Training in Arizona, thereby also crossing one off the “bucket list”. We’re going to cross another one off the list in January, when we spend a week at a resort in Punta Cana.

Getting fired is one of those really critical life events that rank close to the top in the “Schedule of Recent Experiences” that Psychologists and Psychiatrists use to get a handle on what your life is like. Being fired is #3 on the list, with only “death of spouse” and “divorce/separation” above it. Even if you know it’s coming, it’s still traumatic.

I can’t say enough good things about my wife, who was completely supportive through the long legal battle. Our retirement plans had to be adjusted, and thank God our health insurance is on her side of the ledger. Glen and I remain very close friends, and we agree we’re both better off “out” than “in”. We’ve had to reinvent ourselves. We both became our own bosses, and both of us have stitched together a number of projects as independent contractors. Neither of us is up at half past two in the morning any more; we set our own work schedules, and if Glen wants to take a few hours in the afternoon to put some miles on his bike and maintain his fabulous weight loss, he does; if I feel like knocking off for an hour to run the dogs or head to the health club and pound the “dreadmill”, I do.

I will be continuing to work with my clients on my writing and research contracts, and doing part-time work for an online news organization, and it will likely be long past my originally anticipated retirement date of 11/30/11. And I’ll continue this blog. But I won’t mind it a bit. I love what I’m doing, and I’m the captain of my own ship. I’ll be 62 next year, but I sure don’t feel that old. I really do believe 60 is the new 40.

I don’t often look back on the event two years ago; but I’ll always remember the date, just as well as I remember my wife’s birthday and our anniversary. There’s too much to look forward to! My friends, many of them who still work for Mid-West, say they’re happy that I landed on my feet and say things like “maybe the firing was a blessing in disguise”. Regardless, I’d still rather the “retirement” decision would have been mine, not theirs.

So, here’s to the “Undiscovered Country”: the future.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I was not exactly a fan of George W. Bush and have no intention of buying his new book, and my friends know better than to give it to me for Christmas. Yesterday I became aware of a chapter in the former President’s book dealing with events of September 2006. The war in Iraq was bogged down; Americans were starting to really get sick of it; costs were spiraling out of control; Iraq was teetering on the brink of open civil war; and Mitch McConnell came to visit the President in the White House to talk about the war.

President Bush’s account of the meeting is that McConnell advised the Commander in Chief to begin pulling out of Iraq and to start ending the war.

Not because of the American lives (and treasure) being wasted there; not because it had nothing to do with capturing bin Laden; not because the American people were weary of another long, drawn-out and expensive war; not because it was becoming apparent that we were not making any progress; but because McConnell feared the Republicans would take it on the chin in the upcoming elections.

All this, while, as you may recall, McConnell was publicly railing against the Democrats who wanted withdrawal, calling them unpatriotic and echoing Cheney’s line (at least, that’s who I think originated it) that if we don’t kill them (the terrorists) “over there”, they’ll follow us home and kill us “over here.” I know President Bush uttered the trite phrase many times, but Cheney was really running the show. And McConnell repeated the line countless times.

As you also recall, President Bush, rather than beginning a draw-down of troops from Ira q, instead ordered an escalation (“The Surge”), which McConnell publicly supported.

It is this kind of duplicity that so erodes any remaining faith I have in our government’s ability to formulate effective foreign policy.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Horror.....the horror.....

Trapped on a cruise ship, with only bread, hot dogs, bottled water, and military rations….no showers; no sumptuous banquet spreads at every meal; no frolicking to the pounding beat in the on-board disco; the abject terror of knowing that at any time you could be forced to do something or make a choice you don’t want to make.

Such is the gruel of the 24-hour television news cycle.

The folks on the disabled cruise ship are “victims???” At least two national news outlets referred to them as such. One of them (CNN) had a live interview with two of the “victims”, women who seemed to be more interested in craning their necks to see themselves on the TV monitor than paying attention to the insipid questions the anchorette was asking them.

I have a friend who’s a TV news anchor in Milwaukee, and in desperation (driven no doubt by a 20-something producer) she posted on her Facebook page last week a plea for ANYBODY who knows ANYTHING about how to get in touch with ANYONE who has a connection to ANYONE on the disabled cruise ship to call her at once. Presumably, the most tenuous of connections would have been acceptable. I’ve been on a couple cruises, back in the day. I should have called her and volunteered my expertise.

Since TV’s default position is EXCESS, we were treated last week to constant updates, day after day, of the VICTIMS trapped aboard the dead-in-the-water mega-cruise-ship, inaccurate reports that they were being fed Spam (instead of duck l’orange), and a ceaseless parade of trivial information, breathlessly delivered as “BREAKING NEWS.”

Just think, if this had happened 20 short years ago, we may never have been so completely informed about the plight of these hapless victims.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Media Rant: Citizenship 101

Last Thursday evening when I tuned in the local news on TV, one of the local stations began the broadcast by “teasing” the upcoming stories, including something like “and the nation pauses to honor the veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country”, with a video clip of Vice-President Biden laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

A few moments later, one of the news anchors read the story, with the same phrase about soldiers who had “made the ultimate sacrifice.” I immediately posted a snotty status update on my FaceBook page, railing at the station and pointing out that Veterans Day is to honor ALL veterans, and MEMORIAL Day is to honor dead veterans. My parting shot on the status update was “Citizenship 101.”

But the children who write news these days never had Citizenship 101. We were too busy teaching them in our schools that they are all special; they are all wonderful young people; they can do or be anything they want when they grow up; and all sorts of other crappy, politically correct lies. The courses folks my age had in “civics” have long been abandoned in favor of…..well, in favor of other things.

So it’s likely that the person who actually wrote that tease and the Veterans Day story was never told the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and it’s further likely that their family members who served our nation in uniform, either in the big war (WW2) or VietNam are too far removed from the daily reality of these young people. They probably know someone who’s serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, but they never learned about the meaning of these national days of observation, and why they are so important to so many of us.

My snotty FaceBook status update drew plenty of response, much of it from friends who are, like me, “retired” from the broadcast news business, with comments about the “young people running the ship these days” and similar themes. These young folks have no idea about the sacrifices their grandparents made, and don’t realize at a gut level that unless those sacrifices had been made, we’d be speaking German or Japanese today.

Perhaps we could devote a few hours of precious classroom time in our public schools each year to re-educate our younger citizens about this nation’s history and values. It might be wise to explain again the meaning of the 4th of July, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ping Pong Politics

Memo to the Republicans just elected: We didn't hire you to undo everything done during the Doyle years. If you don't concentrate on creating jobs, we'll fire you, just like we did the Democrats on November 2nd. We don't want the smoking ban rolled back, stem cell research stopped, or anything done about the gun laws. Stop the train, as you promised, and get to work on creating jobs. Playing ping-pong politics - the Democrats passed it, so we'll repeal it, creates a cycle of partisanship the voters are utterly fed up with. Play the game at your own risk.

Memo to Scott Walker: You're not governor until January 3rd. Stop acting like you run the show, even though Jim Doyle is allowing you to. And for God's sake, take time to learn just a LITTLE bit about the stuff you want. (i.e., the Charter Street UW powerplant has already been converted to burn that damnable switchgrass. We don't want it "unconverted.")

Memo to Jim Doyle: There's lame duck, and then there's paralyzed duck. We're still paying you to be governor, not to retire early. Get your ass back to work.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Veterans Day

I am the son of a highly-decorated World War Two veteran and today I am of mixed feelings. There is the feeling of pride and thankfulness that so many young people like my dad answered the call to duty six decades ago and performed so many heroic acts in defense of democracy. And there is the feeling of regret that our political leaders, since that war that ended with so many of the troops NOT “home alive in ‘45”, haven’t made many good decisions since then about appropriate use of American military power.

I am also a child of the Viet Nam era, and though I did not render service to our nation by bearing arms against the “enemy”, many of my close boyhood friends did, and many of them lost their lives shortly after they got that notorious letter in the mail – the one that said something like “your friends and neighbors have selected YOU to defend the United States of America.”

My late father was the Commander of his local VFW post, and when guys my age came back from the Viet Nam war and told their stories, dad and his fellow VFW members became increasingly disgusted with that unwinnable, unsustainable war, and the political leaders who so mismanaged it.

Today I must also acknowledge a feeling of disgust with my country, for a number of reasons. Our political leaders, some of them combat veterans, too often give lip service to men and women in uniform, and callously ignore the real-world needs of their families while they’re gone, and of the veterans themselves when they return. The eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – the official time marking the conclusion of the “war to end all wars”, World War 1 – which used to be called “Armistice Day” and in many nations, like Canada, is still called “Remembrance Day”- gives us pause to remember their service to our nation, but one day doesn’t cut it.

The headline of yesterday’s Wisconsin State Journal was “July 2011 pullout scratched” – still another broken promise from a politician. 1,265 of our troops have been killed in Afghanistan and 9,095 have been wounded. We’re asking our highly-trained combat soldiers to be social workers, police officers, public relations agents, and a score of other duties that are at best tangentially related to the stated mission. We’re asking our citizen-soldiers from the National Guard, many of them who’ve already given years of service to their country, to do the unthinkable and completely uproot their lives and families to give still more – with so little recompense.

I wish we could honor our brave soldiers on this day by keeping ALL of our nation’s promises to them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


The pre-dawn blast that utterly destroyed a home in Sun Prairie early yesterday morning, killed one person and badly injured two others, was more than scary. It was almost terrifying. I’ve never seen a home so pulverized and debris scattered so far from a single blast.

As the sun came up and the local TV stations beamed live shots of the scene, I was astonished at what was revealed in the light of day. And having worked a few home explosion stories in my day, I know the TV shots don’t really do justice to the horror of it all….the sounds, the sights, the smells of the aftermath of a huge natural gas explosion.

Neighbors told the TV reporters they heard an initial, deep rumbling, and then a huge blast that in many cases literally blew them out of bed. Reporters, hours after the 3:30 AM blast, said they could still smell gas in the area. Insulation from the walls and roof of the home was blown to smithereens and covered everything for several hundred feet, hanging in trees, scattered on the ground like snow, and dotting the entire landscape. Not one wall was left standing and the entire structure was leveled. One of the doors was thrown several hundred feet down the road. The structural two-by-fours were turned into matchsticks.

The natural gas pipeline leak and explosion in a San Francisco neighborhood (San Bruno) in September destroyed 53 homes and damaged 120 more, and created a firestorm that raged for nearly a full day. The blast in Sun Prairie destroyed the home, but did shockingly little damage to the neighboring homes and did not create a tower of fire.

The scene in Sun Prairie is a stark reminder of what can happen when you have a gas leak. We don’t yet know all the facts of the story or the circumstances of what led to the explosion, and may never have the full picture. The folks in San Bruno complained for days about the smell of natural gas, but the people who lived in that home in Sun Prairie may never have had a clue that anything was wrong.

After you’ve covered one of these horrific events as a news reporter, you learn never to ignore the warning smell of natural gas. A lot of folks in Sun Prairie now know first-hand it’s not a warning to be taken lightly.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What's In A Name

I was listening to my friend Mitch Henck’s show on WIBA-AM yesterday morning while running errands on the west side, and one of his topics really tripped my trigger. His topic was “names that some people deliberately mispronounce”, but it morphed into commonly mispronounced words. One lady called in and said she hates in when somebody says “Ree-la-tor” (instead of real-tor) and it sent Mitch off on a rant (for reasons which only Mitch would understand) about people saying “Ohio” when they mean “Ohio STATE” and “Kansas” when they mean “Kansas STATE.”

It all got started when a lady called in and said the name Rush Limbaugh. She made it sound like the last part of Limbaugh was pronounced “bough”, like the bough of a tree. It set Mitch off immediately, and he went into a rant about how some of his left-leaning acquaintances deliberately mispronounce the blowhard’s name because they despise him. (I admit: I usually call him “Russ Limbo.”) And Mitch said a lot of his hoity-toity political friends on the left deliberately mispronounce local conservative politico and former school board member Nancy Mistele’s name with the accent on the wrong syllable: mis-TELL.

One “tell” that’s become current is people who say “Democrat Party” instead of “Democratic Party”, a deliberate tweak which I think was originated by El Rushbo himself. Any time I hear anyone say (or write) it that way I know they’re drinking Rush’s Kool-Aid. That ancient idiot Mitch McConnell does it frequently, as in “we will not compromise on anything with the Democrat Party.” Once in a while I write or say “the Republic Party” just to tweak them back.

Another similar one that’s current in the political scene is to refer to the President as “President Barack HUSSEIN Obama”, with special emphasis on his middle name, as though to imply that he’s a Moslem and not a Christian.

Mitch also pointed out that a lot of lefties still deliberately mispronounce Ronald Reagan’s name “REE-gun” because they so despise him. (I’m not sure which is more derogatory…that, or “Ronnie Ray-Gun”, as if he were some sort of space cowboy.)

All I know is that when somebody asks if Mister mo-RISS-ee is there when I answer the phone, I know it’s somebody who doesn’t know me and is about to try to sell me something.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Derailing the Medium-Speed (58 mph) Train

The numbers just don’t work. At least, none of the numbers I’ve seen with my own eyes, or have heard bandied about on local media (i.e., Mitch Henck’s show on WIBA-AM). It’s no coincidence that shortly after the earthquake at the polls last Tuesday, the Doyle administration took a step back from the train and halted things temporarily while they “study” it a bit more.

I disagree with many things Scott Walker has said (and implied) that he’s going to do when he takes office (the vague “put Madison on a diet”; the luddite view he holds of stem cell research; his absurdly inadequate Lieutenant Governor, and on and on) but I agree with him that this medium-speed train thing between Madison and Milwaukee is one of the biggest public boondoggles ever.

The attitude “but if we don’t take the money from the Feds (and just where DOES that money come from, really?) it will go to Florida or Georgia” doesn’t hold water with me. The train thing reminds me just a bit (here comes the unfair comparison) of that dandy present Jerry Frautschi and his wife gave the city.

Sure, the medium-speed rail project will create jobs. Damned expensive jobs. And it will likely never be close to self-sustaining. It won’t need just a small municipal boost, like the wonderful Goodman Pool, it will need millions and millions in subsidies from us, every year in the foreseeable future.

My generation has already piled up enough debt on our children’s future.

Thou shalt not press down upon the brow of the Wisconsinites this crown of railroad spikes; thou shalt not crucify Wisconsin on a cross of railroad ties.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Full-Time Madison City Council?

Before you say “look what we got when we made our state legislature full-time”, just wait a minute. I think that was one of the most stupid moves in state history, and the 92 boneheads up there at the top of State Street (you’ll have to figure out which seven I don’t think are boneheads) are capable of far too much mischief as “full-time lawmakers.”

A letter to the Editor of the Cap Times Wednesday from Barry Gore of Madison really got me thinking. He makes a very persuasive case for going with a full-time, VERY downsized, professional city council. Right now we have 20 elected alders, paid $7,545 a year, most of whom have full-time day jobs. They don’t have offices in city hall; they don’t have city phones; the lot of them are assigned a staff of two city employees.

I lived in Los Angeles for years; they manage to scrape by with 15 alders. Gore points out St. Paul MN has many similarities to Madison, with seven alders who are paid 56 grand a year. Meetings start at 3 PM. Portland OR (which our mayor often sites as Valhalla) has a mayor, four at-large commissioners, and an elected auditor.

The point is, it’s time to get rid of these 17 nutballs (you’ll have to figure out which three I don’t think are nutballs) and their tiny neighborhood fiefdoms, draw new boundaries, and collapse the council down to 7 or 9 people. Pay them a decent salary (60 grand?), give them bennies, give them offices in city hall and expect them to be on the job from 8 to 5, and start the council meetings at 3 PM like they do in St.Paul. No more taking critical votes at 4 or 5 AM. No more endless questions about minutiae (from a certain west-side alder).

When we’re done with that, we’ll tackle that unwieldy behemoth called the “Dane County Board of Supervisors.”

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Man's Best (and most patient) Friend

The indignities our pets put up with. Many of those of us who love dogs (and cats) and live with them, consider them family members. We talk to them; we discipline them; we often give them their own “bed” to sleep in; we take them on trips with us; we buy them treats and toys and presents; and when they have a birthday, we sometimes go overboard.

I happen to think the photo above, of my wife with our purebred Collies, is cute. Some would say it’s demeaning; some would be annoyed at the extent to which we’ve gone to pretend our canines are humans. The birthday girl is to the left. Shadow turned 5 last week. She’s a tri-sable Collie. Her “sister” (see what I mean?), Sunny, in the middle of the picture, is a Blue Merle Collie. She’s 2. We got them from the same breeder and they have similar championship blood lines and many common ancestors.

Perhaps that’s why they’re so tolerant of our attempts to humanize them – superior genes. They didn’t fuss a bit when Toni put those party hats on them. They were patient as I maneuvered around them with the camera. They happily put up with all our foolishness and I’d like to believe they loved the attention.

Collies were bred to herd sheep and run all day. They have a long nose to push between sheep and separate them. They need room to run, and are not good “apartment” dogs. We fenced our expansive back yard so they could run to their heart’s content. As working dogs, Collies need a “job.” Since we don’t have sheep, they make sure the deer, squirrels, and wild turkeys remain at bay, as they patrol the fenceline. They take their work seriously.

I learned a long time ago you get out of a relationship with a pet what you put into it. The more you love them, the more they love you.

There’s a lesson for humans in there, somewhere.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Local Media do a Good Job on Election Coverage

All the local TV news shops put their best foot forward last night and provided really solid election coverage. Since the races were tight, and numbers a bit slow to come in, they did an admirable job of filling the time with pundits and "news analysts", just like the networks did.

Channel 3 had more information on the "crawl" at the bottom of the screen than did the other three stations (15, 27, and 47), with more statewide and regional races flashing by on the "tickertape"; and all four provided their network's coverage until the locals took over. It wasn't hard to find out what information was available. But I was disappointed when I woke up this morning and began to scan the local TV stations, and Channel 3 did not have its "crawl" at the bottom of the screen working (technical problems?). It's the fastest way to pick up information, but when I scanned to 15 and 27 they had the "crawl" running.

Lowlight of the night for me was when I scanned to Channel 47, which was carrying Fox network coverage until 9, and I was informed by "Fox News Contributor" Sarah Palin that journalism is more rotten than politics today,and that when she went to college and got her degree, it was all about "who, why, what, where, when, and how" and just providing facts, not opinion. She's right at home at Fox, huh?

The State Journal's coverage this morning was excellent and comprehensive, and their website (madison.com) was alive with updates all night. My only bone to pick with the paper is that what Ron Johnson gave last night in Oshkosh was not an "acceptance" speech (which is given when you accept a party's nomination for office) but a "victory" speech. Watching the video of Feingold's concession speech, I think he knew long before last night that he wasn't going to be re-elected.

I didn't listen to any local radio last night, so I won't comment. But I do have a bone to pick with the graphics folks at all the local TV stations. The names and numbers are WAY too far apart on the "crawl" - the name is way on the left and the number (vote total) is way on the right. It's too hard for the eye to go all the way across the screen to get the information, every time the crawl changes. It would be nice if they could put the names and numbers MUCH closer to each other.

But I tip my hat to all the hard work and long hours put in by our local print, radio, and TV news folks - they did a great job. I just wish some of the outcomes had been different.

And don't get me going about the new Brewers' skipper....the only good thing I have to say is at least he's not a recycled loser from some other major league managing position.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Teach 'em All a Lesson: Vote Today

The purveyors of televised collegiate and pro sports -ESPN, Fox, Versus, et.al. – have taken to giving every weekend a nickname: Rivalry Weekend, Separation Saturday, and on and on. If they were in the business of televising election coverage, they might well call today “Toss-Out Tuesday.” Many people who go to the polls today will be voting against somebody.

A recent Rasmussen poll said 65% of likely voters would get rid of the entire Congress and start over. A lot of us are fed up with the crop of losers infesting Washington, and it doesn’t take a Rasmussen poll to know that there’ll be a lot of “voting against” today.

Fewer than 40% of Americans will vote today, or have voted already, because of the early and absentee voting that’s allowed and often encouraged now. I’m not going to get into the predicting business, either on turnout or result, but you can bet that I’ll be casting my ballot today at the Town Hall.

As marketing blogger Seth Godin says, “If you don’t vote because you’re trying to teach politicians a lesson, you’re tragically misguided in your strategy.” As Godin points out, since 1960 voting turnouts in the mid-term elections are down seriously, and it’s mainly because of the rotten TV ads we’re forced to endure. Godin posits that in too many cases, the politicians – or at least, those who actually run their campaigns – don’t want us to vote.

Political advertising, among other things, is designed to suppress the turnout of the opponent’s supporters. If the ads annoy you to the extent that you’re not going to vote for tweedle dumb or tweedle dumber, their strategy has succeeded.

Don’t let the cynics who run political advertising win. Even though you’re disgusted with the negative ads, the nastiness of the campaigns, and the absurdity and lies we’ve been fed for the last two months, take the half-hour (or whatever) and vote. Your vote today sends a lot more messages than you may think, even if you’re “voting against.” Just do it.