Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ben Masel: R.I.P.

Ben Masel taught more judges, cops, lawyers, and just plain regular folks more about the First Amendment than any teacher, professor, lecturer, or conjecturer. It's fair to say Ben made a living off the First Amendment, in a much different sense than the shout-show radio and TV talkers who rely on the First Amendment to get away with the ridiculous nonsense they often spew.

Ben often used a bullhorn, but seldom raised his voice. He was never violent. He never tried to force his way of thinking on anyone, but did a great deal to persuade people to change their mind, and change their views.

Only a force as powerful as cancer could still a voice like Ben's, and, sadly, cancer took Ben this weekend. He was only 56.

As a news anchor, I interviewed Ben scores of times, on a variety of topics. He was involved in a lot of causes, and was a frequent candidate for office. He had a great sense of humor, which he needed, because he was arrested so many times in so many places. He almost always prevailed, and usually those who arrested him wound up getting an on-the-job lesson in how the First Amendment works.

Even though he was undergoing chemo this spring, and in the hospital a lot, Ben made it up to the Capitol Square just about every time there was a rally. Cancer wasn't going to keep Ben down. He was active to his last day.

Madison has lost an institution, and those of us who knew Ben - including the First Amendment - have lost a good friend. Rest in peace, Ben Masel.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

More Stoopid

One of my friends said something profound yesterday, regarding the birthers: “Remember, Tim, 50% of the people who live in the United States are below average IQ." True dat.

There is no birth certificate that will show Barack Obama is white, so perhaps Herr Trump and his ilk should decide to get over it, and move on to such topics as whether or not we really landed on the moon. But, of course, they won’t. Get over it, that is.

Trump will next lead his followers down the path of pretending to “examine” the birth certificate; then, move on to what the hair-man trumpeted to the NY Post, an examination of Obama’s academic records. Who knows? Maybe Obama never really went to college.

I have ranted many times that today, facts are no longer facts. They’re merely assertions, to be disproved by continual assault and deliberately disingenuous questions, repeated endlessly. Because so many people have lost – or never had – the ability of critical thinking, they’re easily led down an intellectually vacant path by people like Donald Trump, Glenn Boeck, and scores of others.

To attempt discourse with these shallow thinkers is a fool’s errand. But don’t assume that the leaders and followers of such groups as the birthers are cut from the same cloth. Trump is a calculating man, better described as clever than smart. He knows exactly what he’s doing with this birther crap, and knows damn well Obama was born in Hawaii. Glen Boeck is…was…a master at playing a role, but his inability to reinvent himself, as Limbaugh has done so many times, has put a huge dent in his career as a national talk-show host.

People like Trump and Boeck see opportunities where many others don’t, and have a unique ability to exploit these opportunities. Boeck is more often close to bat-shit crazy than clever, an emotional cripple whose professional life the last few months has been like watching a slow-motion train wreck.

And Trump? Too bad he doesn’t have a Board of Directors that would tell him to drink a big, tall glass of STFU and get back to running his real estate and TV empire.

Monday, April 25, 2011

I Must Be Stoopid

Everyone is telling me it’s a wonderful idea to split the UW-Madison from the UW System, turn it into a public authority, and let Biddy and her pals guide the world-class institution into a bright new future. I just don’t see it.

In the Sunday paper, even Barry Alvarez, the finest football coach that ever trod the sidelines at Camp Randall, is telling me that Biddy’s plan is a good one. Coach made a lot of sports analogies in his prominently-placed letter, issuing forth platitudes like “Biddy put together a good game-plan” and complete nonsense like “what if the UW-Madison couldn’t compete with anyone except other schools in the UW System” , trying, I’m sure, to whip up support among the shallow thinkers and curry favor with his “boss.”

Last Thursday Isthmus Publisher Vince O’Hern used his “Making The Paper” column as a vehicle to promote the split, writing like a country boy’s first visit to the big city, talking about “the university’s massiveness” and “size and density”, concluding with “No offense to other colleges and universities in the state, but the UW is playing in a whole different league.” Agreed, but far from convinced.

Madison Magazine columnist John Roach posted something on a social media site last week with similar musings about the UW-Madison’s “global brand”, which engendered a lively string of informed comments and well-reasoned arguments against the split, but John was not to be deterred.

I respect and value the comments and thoughts of the people listed above, but having my feet in both worlds….the “UW-System world” and the “UW-Madison world”…I still, respectfully, disagree. Way back when the merger of the Madison world and the “state-schools” world happened in the early 70’s, Madison was clearly in another league. The merger was done for reasons which I believe are still valid.

Among the many reasons I remain opposed to the spin-off is that I don’t think Biddy has a clearly-articulated vision for where UW-Madison is, in 20 years; that much of what she claims she wants to accomplish by separating from the “state schools” can be done within the existing structure; and that if the UW-Madison becomes its own entity, it will quickly be priced out-of-reach for far too many Wisconsin kids – like mine – who were smart enough to get into UW-Madison and could still manage to afford it.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Media Rant: The (yawn) Royal Wedding

Try to imagine how little I care about the “Royal Wedding.” I don’t know either of the families involved. What they do will have little if any impact on my daily life. Yet every broadcast news organization that I pay any attention to seems to think I just can’t get too much information about Wills and Kate.

I did not grow up under a monarchy and I have no attachment to the figurehead who appears on the British peoples’ money. I don’t spend Christmas afternoon watching the monarch give a talk on the telly. This year, I’ll spend Christmas afternoon watching the Packers.

I’ve been to Westminster Abbey, and I’ve seen the Coronation Chair and the Stone of Scone (and was reminded about them when I went to see “The King’s Speech) but they’re only a tourist attraction to me.

The closest thing to a “Royal Family” I ever paid attention to was in my formative years, when Jack Kennedy was President, and the national media constantly showed us pictures of his pretty wife and young children. And, to be honest, I sort of felt that way again during the George W. Bush Presidency – we saw his wife, Laura, all the time, and I have kids about the same age as George and Laura’s daughters. But at no time growing up in America have I ever felt we’ve had a “Royal Family”, despite the media’s constant attempt to draw parallels.

I don’t care about what kind of dress Kate will wear; I don’t care who’s invited to the shindig; I’m not the least bit curious about where they’ll honeymoon, or even if Royal People have a honeymoon. But this is the sort of stuff that’s become the daily fare of ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, and the other news outlets.

I can understand a segment on their mid-morning shows, where I believe they still operate under some sort of Leave-It-To-Beaver paradigm where dad goes off to work in the morning, and mom stays home all day and has the TV on for companionship. But segments every half-hour in prime morning and evening news time?

Beats me, although I know TV news is not programmed for males 60+.

I hope Wills and Kate have a nice wedding, and that once it’s over, I won’t have to endure more coverage.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hosting The Tea Party

It seems so hard for some people to understand. The First Amendment is not exclusive property of any gender, race, group, organization, or political party. It’s there for everyone’s benefit. The founding fathers were wise enough to know that popular speech doesn’t need much protection; it’s the unpopular speech that needs protection.

When you’re in Madison, the majority is decidedly left-leaning. Some lean farther left than others, some make a bigger noise than others, but the speech of ALL is protected. That includes Sarah Palin. What’s so hard to understand about that? Palin’s speech Saturday afternoon definitely reflects a minority view in Madison, and it’s fair to call it “unpopular speech.”

A Facebook friend of mine (John Roach) who writes a monthly column for Madison Magazine posted an update on Sunday morning saying “It would have been smarter for the unionists to remain silent and let SP talk all day”. This engendered a string of amazing and revealing comments, some of them from people who apparently think it’s just fine to try and shout down Palin.

Roach made another comment, midway through the string of responses to his initial post, that the Unionists have had the pulpit on the Capitol Square for two months, and no one has shouted them down. Someone then posted that the Palin folks had better audio equipment than the anti-Walker forces could afford (???), which apparently was stated as some sort of justification for trying to shout Palin down.

This is exactly the sort of thing that’s so troubling to the folks who are “in the middle”, so to speak. First, the affordability argument is absurd. Second, it’s the folks in the middle who are going to decide what happens next in Wisconsin, regarding recalls, the budget battle, and a zillion other political things. No one is going to change hearts and minds of the right or left. They’ve made up their minds a long time ago. Trying to shout down Palin sends a message to the folks in the middle that the left doesn’t really believe in free speech.

Allowing people like Palin and Trump to speak freely (although I’m convinced AFP gave Sarah a few bucks to show up in Madison) allows their views to be examined by all, not through the filter of Tweets or Facebook posts, and to be evaluated on the basis of their public pronouncements.

I’m a firm believer that the folks in the middle will make all the difference, and they have a right to hear voices on both sides.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Media Rant: Winning

No, this is not about Charlie Sheen and the media’s incessant coverage of this man who’s made a living telling dirty jokes to a pre-pubescent boy. It’s about a topic I may have issued a rant or two about in the past, namely, the excessive weather-nannying by the local TV stations.

I think we’re winning the battle. By “we”, I mean those of us who have an IQ somewhere north of room-temperature.

I wrote a screed about the over-the-top weather nannying on our local TV stations for an online news publication last year, and it generated the biggest response of anything the site had done in months. Opinions ran heavily in favor of my rant against the constant, stupid, annoying interruptions, with the whirling symbols on the screen that look like tornados (one of the stations had SEVEN of them on the screen at one point) and the senseless repetition of obvious information.

The biggest push-back to the screed was from four local TV folks – two weathermen and two people in news management. I think they were angry that I exposed their “scientific terminology” (terms like “Storm Mode Doppler” – there is no such thing; Doppler Radar is Doppler Radar) as mere marketing language. But, as I’ve said so many times, these people will tell you that they’re in the business of saving lives, so arguments involving logic and rational thought fall on deaf ears.

But I think there’s a crack in the wall now.

This past Sunday, when we were under a Tor-Con 8 watch (another piece of marketing language from the Weather Channel….Tor-Con is a made-up term standing for “Tornado Condition” that the folks at the Weather Channel invented in an attempt to give themselves a marketing edge), I DVR’d three of the local channels (3, 15, and 27 – 47 takes its news/weather/sports stuff from Ch 27 and the others don’t play the weather game) and it became apparent that somebody – I’m guessing at a pretty high level in their station organization chart – told the weather nannies to keep their stuff in commercial breaks whenever possible, and NOT to cover up network programming.

That’s progress. They still have a map that covers the lower left part of the screen, a “crawl” either on the top or bottom of the screen, and those annoying BEEPS that drown out the program audio – but, it’s apparent they’re under orders to ratchet back the fear and minimize the interruption of programming.

We’re winning. Small battles, to be sure, but the changes I noted last Sunday evening bode well.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Security Theater

I’ve posted several rants on this topic before, but the recently-released camera-phone video of the TSA employee “patting down” the 6-year-old girl at the Armstrong Airport in Kenner (New Orleans) has prompted me to vent again.

Near as I can tell, about half the people I’m connected with in social media think it’s just fine that TSA has to do this – I mean, after all, there was an “irregularity” in the full-body scan that was administered to the girl moments before she was groped, er, “inspected” by the female TSA employee. And it would be just like those terrorists to plant bombs on a six-year-old girl travelling with her mother.

The other half think this sort of stuff is just more evidence, and there’s plenty of it, that the TSA should be defunded and our rights as free Americans should be restored - like the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

Those who think this sort of thing is what we must do to combat the terrorists and be safe in our travels would probably be sanguine living under a dictatorship or under totalitarian government. Their mindset seems to be along the lines of “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” As long as you’re in the majority, or are in favor with the ruler, things are just fine. Such as, if all those Jews in Germany (like many of my maternal ancestors) had just moved somewhere else where they’d be with more of their own kind, they’d have been much happier.

Those who think this sort of invasive full-body search of a six-year-old travelling with her mother was more than just over-the-top security theater are probably the kind of folks who would have saddled up and rode with Paul Revere late the night of April 18th, 1775. And, I hesitate to draw the analogy, that they would be the kind of folks who would have helped toss tea into the Boston harbor a year and a half before Revere’s midnight ride.

And maybe it’s just that I’m tired of being pulled out of the line and given very personal attention EVERY time I fly somewhere, and those who think feeling up six-year-old girls is OK don’t do much air travel.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Is This the Republican Nominee for 2012?

One of the weekend TV shows I watched – I wish I could recall which one – claimed that now, over 50% of those identifying themselves as Republicans believe there is some doubt that President Obama was born in the United States. Enter the new CEO of the “Birthers”, Donald Trump.

Never mind that Trump’s so-called “research” on the topic is complete and utter nonsense. Many, many respected organizations like this one have completely repudiated Trump’s wild lies…er, assertions.

Never mind that outfits like ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, and others had days to prepare for the “interviews” with Trump last week where he gleefully trumpeted (pun intended) his so-called “research” left Trump’s bloviations completely unchallenged….not even a “you know, Donald, what you’re saying here has been disproved by a lot of reliable investigative organizations.” These network operations simply gave a man who claims to be thinking about a run for President free reign.

Never mind that Trump will never do the work necessary to mount a serious candidacy.

El Rushbo says what Trump is really doing is showing the Republicans how to beat President Obama: create doubt and keep repeating the demand for more “proof.”

I’m not sure which bothers me more – the fact that ABC-TV uses the Trump interview, where he espouses complete and unchallenged bullshit, to promote viewership across several dayparts (broadcaster lingo for morning, daytime, evening, overnight, early prime, prime, fringe, etc.) across several days – great for the ratings – or that anyone who thinks this tired old issue which was put to bed a long time ago is still something “we need to talk about.”

I can easily understand why any of these outfits (ABC, NBC, etc.) are eager to have The Donald on one or more of their talk shows, but to allow him to spew his nonsense unchallenged is mystifying to me. Maybe on Entertainment Tonight or a show of that ilk….but not on “network TV.”

After all, we have far more significant and impactful national issues to discuss – like funding for Planned Parenthood.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Trust Nothing

The image above is stolen from the Ace of Spades HQ blog.

Says it all.

Prepare for the onslaught of the expensive lawyers.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Deeply Divided

Stand by for a recount.

And stand by for more evidence of a state deeply divided about what's going on now, and what's going to happen in the next few years.

Say what you want about either Prosser or Kloppenburg, a race this tight means there's a huge divide about what kind of a Supreme Court we want; whether or not there are collective bargaining rights for state and municipal employees; and whether or not we're on the right path as a state.

At least we've got Hizzoner to once again help Madison navigate the minefield ahead, regardless of the outcome of the Supreme Court race.

Kudos, Paul Soglin. Back to the future.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Vote Early; Vote Often.

I can’t vote for Paul Soglin. But that’s only because I don’t live in the city of Madison. If you live in the city, I strongly suggest you vote for Hizzoner. I believe so strongly that Paul is the right man for the job at the right time, that I may just wander over to the polling place for the 57th Ward, where I used to live, see if I’m still on the voter list (it’s only been 16 years)and cast a vote or two for Paul.

As a former varsity debater, I know what happened on Channel 3 last Friday night from 8 to 9 PM was not a debate, even though they like to call them that. But whatever it should be called….joint appearance, political panel, campaign stop, whatever…Paul Soglin was the clear winner, in my humble but deadly accurate opinion. Kudos to moderator Eric Franke and his team for putting together some good questions for Soglin and Cieslewicz. I’ve known Paul for 23 years, personally and professionally, and I’ve never seen him more energized and more ready to take on and solve the challenges ahead for Madison. Dave has done a decent job of running the city, but Paul is uniquely qualified to guide Madison through the minefield the Walker administration has created for Madison and Dane County.

The Daily Cardinal, in endorsing Paul, called him a legend. They don’t know the half of it.

After I commit my voter mischief in the city of Madison, I think I’ll take the short drive to the Fitchburg Fire Station on Lacy Road, see if my name is still on the voter rolls for the 9th Ward (it’s only been 15 years), and cast a ballot or two for my old friend, Jay Allen. Even though I fired him years ago, and he harbors those terrorist gardeners in his community, he’s similar to Soglin in that he seems to be most happy when he’s mayor.

And, each of these several times I’ll vote in various jurisdictions, I’ll be marking the ballot for Parisi and Kloppenburg.

After all, the voter fraud that’s rampant in Cheesetopia is a serious issue, and I certainly want to do my part to make sure it continues unabated. Feel free to join me.

Vote early; vote often.

It's Silly Season Again

….and once again, I am compelled to relieve my bladder into the wind (or, as the TV weather people would say, “winds”) and post my annual rant about the wretched excesses of the local TV weather folks.

It was a thunderstorm, people. We get about thirty or forty of them every year. It had a lot of rain (“rains”), strong wind (“winds”), even some hail (“hails”?), and (Chuck, I’m talking to you here) some of us even knew enough to put our cars in the garage before the storm hit without you reminding us about it every four minutes.

Last night’s thunderstorm wasn’t really all that much, in terms of actual danger and damage done, but to the local TV weather folks, it may as well have been Armageddon. Whether you were watching the country music awards on CBS, the Trump/Firing show on NBC, or the Millionaire show on ABC, you were treated to a constant stream of untimely (and, in my opinion, unnecessary) interruptions by the local weather nannies.

I’ve gone down this street enough times to know it’s a dead end. This rant will change nothing. The local TV weather folks will tell you they’re in the business of saving lives when the sky clouds up, so I know this is falling on deaf ears. Yet, survey after survey in Madison shows most people believe the weather folks are over-the-top hypesters.

It’s not really about saving lives. It’s not really about warning people. It’s not even really about the weather. It’s about branding, and consultants have said for years the station that wins the weather wars will win in the ratings. The station that wins in the ratings gets to charge the most for its ads.

If you’ve got super-storm-mode-poplar-doppler-mega-radar with all the toys and gadgets and bells and whistles, you’ve got to show it off. You’ve got to scare people into believing that if they’re not watching your station when the sky clouds up, you and your family will die.

If the opinions advanced in this annual rant were not valid, those charged with managing the stations and their on-air product would have put a leash on their weather nannies a long time ago, and ordered them to tone it down.