Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Taking It Easy For A Few Days

Mid-summer break; dallying in the dog park (as seen above); going to Brewers/Cubs games at Miller Park; unwinding and "un-minding" till August arrives.  Please stay tuned.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Government (and other) Failures

A number of my social media friends have been posting items lately about “government failure”; and, of course, re-broadcasting that hate-piece businessman Steve Wynn recently unleashed about how the scary black man who’s President is scaring away new business because of his economic policies.

The Wynn thing is easily dismissed by watching his rant, which is widely available. Wynn simply hates Obama. His assertion that businesses are sitting on their cash now, because of economic conditions created by the Obama administration, is ludicrous. Business operates the way business operates, regardless of whose economic policies (or lack thereof) hold sway. If a particular business is “sitting on its cash”, it’s because it’s advantageous to do that right now. If it was advantageous to the particular business to “create jobs” with its cash, that’s exactly what it would be doing.

Another favorite making the rounds is an op/ed piece from Joe Soucheray, a Twin Cities radio guy with a big following, who recently ranted about the situation between Miller Brewing and the State of Minnesota. If you follow the news, you know Miller was told to get all its products off store shelves in the land of a few thousand lakes, because the company didn’t pay the annual licensing fee necessary to “do business” in Minnesota. (The fee is what Soucheray should have railed about on his “Garage Logic” program.) Long story short, Miller overpaid the fee, the state has no mechanism to deal with overpayments and refunds (which is idiotic), so the licenses lapsed. Soucheray ranted about how because of government stupidity and inefficiency like this, we may as well all throw in the towel, because we “work” for the government.


Perhaps it’s escaped Soucheray’s notice, or perhaps he has “people” who deal with large corporations for him, but anyone who’s over 21 has had countless dealings with the bureaucracy of huge private corporations, with stultifyingly ignorant front-line employees who make our lives just as miserable as the employees of any government at any level in America.

Phone companies: when’s the last time you had a GOOD experience dealing with an issue involving AT+T, Verizon, yadda yadda yadda? Cable companies: ditto. They seldom show up as agreed, and if you have a tech issue, regardless of your level of sophistication, you’re going to be asked if the receiver is plugged in and if the power is on, and countless other inane questions, because THAT’S WHAT’S IN THE MANUAL. Same can be said of most any electronics manufacturer. God forbid you should have a problem with one of their products and need to call their national service number.

Ever had a good experience dealing with a health insurance company? Didn’t think so.

I have a GE refrigerator. We bought it new, and within a few days, the ice-maker FAILED. The local merchant we bought it from referred us to GE, which referred us to a “licensed repair facility”, which told me to go ahead and order a replacement ice-maker from GE and he’d come install it and reimburse me. I ordered the ice-maker, and they sent me the tray that fits under the ice-maker to collect the ice cubes. Can you imagine the kind of nightmare this (one would think) relatively simple problem became, because I had to deal with the twits at GE time and again about this?

Ever tried to deal with an auto manufacturer to try and solve a (one would think) relatively simple, but annoying problem, with a just-purchased vehicle that cost more than you earned in your first five years in the workforce? You’d think they’d bend over backward to make you happy, but NOOOOOO……

I could go on and on, and I’m sure you have plenty of stories of your own about dealing with idiots in NON-GOVERNMENT private organizations. So spare me the belly-aching about government, which is capable of boundless screw-ups. But compared to the irritation you can suffer at the hands of a large, private company, government bureaucracies are pikers.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Biddy's Legacy

Capital Times Editor Paul Fanlund has written an interesting column in this morning’s paper about former UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin, who has decamped for tiny Amherst College. Fanlund says Biddy leaves Madison as an enigma, and cites plenty of evidence to support the view that she never really “got” UW-Madison.

I sent Paul a quick e-mail complimenting him on the column – we’ve disagreed on things he’s written in the past – and mentioned that I think Biddy’s legacy will be as quickly forgotten as the “Teach Me To Bucky” video. She had a cameo role in the video, and I believe her tenure at the helm of the state’s great University will be regarded as a cameo role.

Although they may grouse about it from time to time, I believe the people of Wisconsin truly love their huge, public, land-grant University. While some would say there isn’t much diversity in Wisconsin, there are plenty of differing constituencies that make up Badger-land, or, as my friend Tom Teuber calls it, “Cheesetopia”. And as another of my friends, talk-show host Mitch Henck is fond of pointing out, “there aren’t many pony-tailed, sandal-wearing folks in the Fox Valley”, which is actually the second-largest metro area in the state.

So many generations of Wisconsinites have been touched in one way or another by the great outreach programs born at the UW. Generations of Wisconsin farmers have benefitted from the research and advice so readily available through the UW’s ag extension programs. The Forest Products Lab has done yeoman’s service for a huge collection of industries, from home-building to baseball. (When Major League Baseball noted a problem with shattering bats a couple years ago, they turned to the Forest Products Lab to study the problem and make recommendations to the bat manufacturers.)

The guy working on a construction job on a sweltering day like today may not be the kind of person you’d think of as a UW supporter, but that fellow might very well know that the medication helping his dad with his heart problem was invented at the UW and patented by the UW Alumni Research Foundation, where they plow the royalty money right back into more research to save lives and improve lifestyles.

When a pet owner or a dairy farmer has a problem too tough for their local vet to solve, the vet says “let’s check with the UW Vet School and see what they have to say about this.” And, while folks in Oshkosh support the UW-Oshkosh Titans, and folks in Eau Claire are big backers of the BluGolds, and Whitewater loves its Warhawks, and on and on….when the Badgers take to the gridiron on Saturdays in the fall, five and a half million Wisconsinites and about 1.3 million cows are all cheering for the UW.

Where does your local doctor or hospital turn when they have a problem making a diagnosis or establishing a plan of treatment or dealing with a tough, unusual case? University Hospital.

That’s the thing that Biddy never “got” about Wisconsin. We’re DAMN proud of our big college on Lake Mendota, we all have a stake in it, we’ve all benefitted from its “work-product”, and we DO have a sense of ownership. Making a change like Biddy suggested, from a public university to some sort of “public authority” that smacked of privatization, did not sit well with Wisconsinites. A radical change of that sort would have to take years to percolate, and if it ever were to happen, would come from the bottom up, not the top down. That’s something Biddy learned the hard way.

Farewell, Biddy. We hardly knew ye; we’ll hardly remember ye.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hot Enough For You?

As a friend of mine (John Roach) said….”five days with highs in the 90’s isn’t an emergency; it’s SUMMER.” True dat.

The photo above speaks for itself. The digital thermometer is in my office, and the outside sensor is on the pool deck, in the direct mid-afternoon sun. I work in climate-controlled comfort. I posted the picture above as my Facebook status, and it engendered a score of snarky comments.

The media are full of the predictable “heat” stories. I shouldn’t make fun of this; I did a “heat” story for one of my employers (Public News Service) Monday, but I managed to elicit a bit of news from the UW cardiologist I interviewed: once past 50, our “thirst system” doesn’t work as well as it used to, and those of us who have passed that milestone are at greater risk of dehydration, because we don’t receive our body’s “thirsty” signal as well as younger folks.

When it gets this hot, and I have to be outside, I usually use a mental cooling system based on my memory of a January night back in the mid-70’s. I’m recording this story here for posterity, so my kids can some day know they weren’t the only young people who got out of scrapes that might have taken their lives.

My friend and former roommate Mike, who had decamped from Oshkosh to Eau Claire to be closer to the young lady who later became his wife (and to advance his radio career), invited me over for a weekend visit at his bachelor flat in beautiful suburban Altoona. We went out for beer and pizza when I got there Friday evening, and Saturday he invited me to go with him to a basketball game in Wausau between Newman High School and Eau Claire Regis High School. Mike was the play-by-play announcer for Regis, on WBIZ-AM in Eau Claire.

We piled into his 1972 Cougar XR-7 and made the two-hour, hundred-mile drive in the late afternoon, found a place to eat, and then went to the school to broadcast the game. When it was done, we packed the broadcast equipment back into his car and headed west on HiWay 29 about 10 PM. HiWay 29 runs pretty much straight as a string between Wausau and Chippewa Falls, where you take HiWay 53 south a few miles to Altoona.

I guess we didn’t realize how cold it was until we got a few miles east of Wausau. The XR-7 coughed a bit and slowed down, but then regained its stride. We both wondered what the incident was all about, but dismissed it and continued westward. As the night deepened, and the cold intensified, somewhere near the small town of Owen, the Cougar coughed and died. We coasted to a stop.

Mike took a deep breath, turned the key to “start”; the Cougar caught life and we continued our journey, now somewhat apprehensive, and cognizant that it was probably about 20 below zero. We made it a few more miles and the car coughed and died again.

We waited a moment; the car started again; we made it a few more miles, and then the sequence repeated. When we got to the small town of Thorp, we looked for lights on at any service station within sight, but it was late on a Saturday night, and small towns roll up the sidewalks around 10PM.

We did this stop/start thing for the next couple hours, hoping that the battery would hold out, knowing that if we got stranded, we were in very serious trouble. Somewhere around Cadott, we ran into a few miles of “ice fog”, and knew that our goose was cooked if the car conked out and wouldn’t come back to life. What we didn’t know then, but what Mike’s mechanic suggested later, was that the engine was stopping because the gas line was freezing. When we stopped, there was just enough heat from the engine to thaw the fuel filter and a few feet of the fuel line, allowing us to go a few more miles.

A journey that normally would take a couple hours turned into a six-hour ordeal, as we finally rolled into the parking lot of Mike’s apartment complex around 4 AM. The thermometer outside his kitchen window read 26 below.

The following Monday afternoon, Mike called me and told me what his mechanic had said. I went to the gas station nearest my apartment and put a can of “Heet” (gas line anti-freeze) into the tank, and thanked my lucky stars again.

When it gets this hot and I have to be outside, I think of that January night three and a half decades ago, knowing that being young and stupid isn’t always fatal.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I’m so confused.

The Republicans tell me that we must not increase the tax burden on the job creators. Who are these job creators? Are they the ones who get the tax break for corporate jets? Because as far as I know, those folks ain’t hiring. They’ve discovered increased profitability through downsizing, and the jobs they downsized aren’t coming back regardless of what happens with tax rates.

We’ve been told the real job creators are the small businesses of America. A fellow just up the road from me owns a roofing company. After the big April hail storm a few years ago, he and his workers put a new roof on my house. Right now, he’s not creating any jobs because Dane County housing starts are the lowest in years, people are deferring maintenance on their homes when the new roof comes out of their pocket, and we haven’t had a good hailstorm in a while.

Another thing that confuses me is the report a few days ago that said only 18 thousand jobs had been created in America in the past month. These reports don’t go into much detail about who created these jobs, but sometimes they throw in a word or two about “seasonal labor force adjustments”. Everyone bemoaned the low number of new jobs created, so, are these “job creators” who must not be taxed just sort of waiting to see what happens with taxes before they create all these jobs?

Certainly, the jobs creators aren’t rich guys. My friend Bill Wineke pointed out in a recent column that Warren Buffet, one of the richest men in the world, is certainly not a “job creator”. I believe it’s fair to say that Buffet has probably caused the elimination of far more jobs than his acquisitions have ever created.

Could it be that “job creators” is just another one of those cynical, poll-tested political catch-phrases?

Like the phrase “working families” the other party loves to use?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday Media Rant: T M I

Too much information? I think so. Last night the local TV stations named the three Dane County Sheriff’s Deputies (often referred to by weekend talent as “Sheriffs”, as though each county had several Sheriffs) involved in the shootout at a west-side motel earlier this week.

Two of the local TV stations still insist on calling this sort of thing an “officer-involved shooting”, as though it were the job of the news writer to attempt to use every bit of police jargon possible; but, that’s another rant for another day.

This morning, the State Journal ran a small item, also identifying the three deputies by name.

Is this news? I don’t think so.

Is the fact that the three deputies were involved in a shooting incident sufficient reason to identify them by name? The media don’t generally identify firefighters by name, when they respond to a fatal fire, unless they’re getting an on-camera (or, in the case of print, on-the-record) comment from the Captain or Battalion Chief on the scene.

I think the reason the local media identify the deputies by name is that the Sheriff’s Department put out a news release with the names. So, perhaps, the larger question is, if so, why would the Sheriff’s Department do so?

Do you care who the three deputies are? Didn’t think so. They are highly-trained professionals who do a job that often puts them in mortal danger. And, as most people know, when officers of the law are involved in an incident where another person is shot or killed, the officers are placed on temporary leave, presumably to spend time recuperating from the mental shock of having to shoot someone.

I’m not sure for what reason the deputies were identified, not sure what, if anything, it adds to the story; and I’m pretty sure it’s not really “news”. Perhaps someone better versed in this than I can explain it to me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Quintessentially Madison

Late this morning (11:30), if all goes to schedule, there will be one of the more unique protests at the State Capitol, followed by a parade (procession?) to the City-County Building a few blocks away, where the assemblage will rail against our (new/old) Mayor, for not stopping the slaughter.

The protest will begin as a memorial service for the hundreds of geese recently killed in our city’s parks, presumably now being served as goose-burgers to the homeless.

The protest is sponsored by the Alliance for Animals, a Madison group which noted in an e-mail to the media “We will stand together as a tribute to the wild Canada geese and goslings that were rounded up and slaughtered.”

At least they didn’t refer to them as “Canadian geese”, as so many local media outlets incorrectly have. They’re not Canadians. They’re Canada geese.

They’re also the “fallen fowl”, victims of a “bird bloodbath”, the object of countless puns unleashed by the aforesaid local media while reporting on the latest round of goose eliminations. The geese living near the runways at the airport were dispatched some time ago, after considerable ado about whether or not they really did pose a risk to aviation. In the end, fearing a “Miracle on Monona” scenario, local authorities did away with the geese.

More recently, a couple hundred of the critters, which insisted on unmitigated bowel-fowling in the parks, were rounded up (caged)in Brittingham, Vilas, and Olin-Turville Parks late in June and taken to a meat processor to be turned into gooseburgers for local food pantries. It is for these most recent victims that today’s memorial service/protest is being held.

It brings to mind a line credited to W. C. Fields: “If you birds can’t learn to sh#t green, get off my lawn!”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Vote Early; Vote Often

Today is the official beginning of the summer of the recall in Wisconsin.  I suspect turnout will be light, and in the races where “plant” Democrats (Republican operatives) are running against “real” Democrats, victory will be claimed by both sides.  The “plant” Democrats can already claim a measure of success, in that they’ve forced this recall primary election.

The state’s largest newspaper (The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) has editorialized against the recalls, saying the intention of the recall election was not to express dissatisfaction with legislation passed or sponsored by any candidate, but rather should be used only for extreme moral turpitude, in an instance so heinous that it seems prudent to attempt to remove the offender from office before the next regularly-scheduled election.

However, our laws are all subject to interpretation, and what constitutes moral turpitude to one person may constitute vision and courage to another.

Personally, I don’t have a horse in this race; I don’t live in a district where a state legislator is being recalled.  And, I live in a part of Dane County not formerly represented by Joe Parisi, so I don’t even have a “regular” election to deal with.

I’ll just have to wait and see if the organizers of the Walker recall maintain enough steam to actually get enough signatures to force his recall, after he’s been in office for a year.

So, in the meantime, my only counsel to those of you who have a recall or a recall primary election to deal with, is to vote every time you’re given the chance. 

Your simple act of voting sends a message far stronger than just determining which candidate will win.  Voting scares the hell out of a lot of politicians, whose job security depends on hordes of voters not caring enough to vote.

(The Washington Post holds the copyright on the photo above.)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Cleansing the Gene Pool

There seems little doubt that the gene pool needs a little cleansing now and again.  This assertion can be affirmed countless times as we traverse life’s roads and observe the idiots among us.

On my appointed rounds Friday, I observed what I believe to be one of the better examples of how some people should not breed, lest their substandard genes be transmitted to another generation.

I was headed south on Seminole Highway, which is more of a street than a highway, and has no real connection that I can determine with the native American tribe which originated in Florida and now mainly resides in Oklahoma.

Several hundred feet ahead of me in the oncoming lane was a young man on a motorcycle.  I don’t know a lot about cycles, but I could tell it was smaller than the Harley-Davidson machines I know a bit about, but larger than the scooters that one encounters frequently in the campus area.

I could see the young man did not have on a helmet; his choice; I’m not here to preach about wearing helmets.  I could see the cycle drifting slowly toward the center line.  As we closed to within a few hundred feet of each other, I could see the young man had no hands on the handlebars and seemed to be concentrating on something he held in his hands.

Frequent readers of this blog know that my daily-driver is a huge, foreign-made, gas-sucking SUV, not at all a fair match for a cycle.  My behemoth tips the scales at 4,960 pounds with half a talk of gas and nobody aboard, so I’m at least two-and-a-half tons, approaching approximately 500 pounds (guessing 350 for the bike and 150 for the rider) at a closing rate of around 60 mph.  So, I slowed and steered right as the bike, now less than a hundred feet away, continued to drift toward me.

I got far enough to my right to insure there would be no experiment in the physics of the collision of inelastic objects, and as cycle-boy passed me, with his head still down, I could clearly see that he was texting.

It won’t be long and this moron will be cleansed from the gene pool.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

...beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

My friend, Tom Bier, Station Manager at Channel 3 in Madison, gives a compelling presentation regarding broadcast news to various civic groups and assemblies. Every time there’s a trial like the recently-concluded Casey Anthony trial, I think of Tom’s presentation, when he’s talking about covering high-profile trials, and after some exposition, asks “so….do you think we should have a law that forbids all media from covering trials until after the verdict is rendered, and then only if the accused is found guilty – show of hands?”

Without fail, just about everyone’s hand goes up. (Tom is great at setting this up, talking about things like “media bias” and “affecting the jury pool”.)

Then, he says, “so, you would have been OK with not seeing or hearing anything about the O. J. Simpson trial – he was found not guilty, you know?”

So it is with the Casey Anthony trial. Somebody killed that darling little girl. And somehow duct tape got on her little face. And her body got wrapped in a garbage bag and tossed into the woods. But all we know for sure is that Casey Anthony’s family defines “dysfunctional”.

There are thousands of murders and murder trials every year in our country. The heinous death of the two little boys in Madison, whose bodies were discovered Wednesday morning,  will not likely be the kind of case that garners national attention, like the case of the “disappearance” of Audrey Seiler a few years back.

A pretty young girl is one of the crucial elements that rockets a case to Nancy Grace level; Anthony’s case also involved an incredibly cute and defenseless little girl; and it had the crucial undertone of sex, with the notorious photos of Casey in a “hot body” contest at a bar and the photos of her partying with her young friends.

It’s not likely we’ll ever know what really happened. Because of the intense coverage for the past three years, we saw and heard things that the jurors may not have. And we did not have to sit in judgment of her, with the literal power of life and death over the troubled young woman.

Somebody killed that little girl. The prosecution’s case wavered; the expert testimony was not the kind of stuff you see on CSI; and, to the jury, it was not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Casey did it.

And in America, that’s all that counts.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Uncivil Discourse

What sort of horse’s ass goes on national TV and calls the President of the U.S. a “dick”?  Mark Halperin does.  Now, for a few weeks, Mr. Halperin will have to take his views somewhere other than MSNBC, which almost immediately suspended him for what he said, and moments later issued an apology to the President.

There’s nothing at all unlawful about calling the President of the U.S. or anybody else a dick.  Our Bill of Rights pretty much guarantees that.  But it’s tasteless, disrespectful to the office, and while it’s the kind of thing people say in every-day conversation, it’s still wrong to do it in/on the forum Halperin had at the time.

And please, don’t tell me “oh, sure, he gets suspended for calling Obama a dick, but if he’d called George Bush a dick, nothing would have been done.”  That would be an infantile false-choice comparison.

Nationally-syndicated radio talk show host Neal  Boortz told the folks in Atlanta a couple weeks  ago essentially to start shooting thugs and piling up dead bodies to take back the city; this is the sort of thing you hear up and down the AM radio dial these days,  from nationally-syndicated programs carried on hundreds of stations, to local talk-show hosts on puny stations that only cover a few hundred square miles.

Not too much is capable of shocking us any more, particularly if the name-calling is connected in any way to what passes for political discourse these days.  It seems to be a contest of who can say the most shocking or boorish thing, in what my friend Holland Cooke, the number-one AM radio station consultant in the nation calls “living a consequence-free existence.” 

The most discouraging thing to me is that we continue to reward these dweebs with our attention.

(Copyright owner of the image above is The Ohio State University Alumni Association.)