Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Confederacy of Dunces

If you haven’t read John K. Toole’s novel, for which this post is named, I herby recommend it.  It’s not about the dweebs who now inhabit our state legislature and cabinet positions; rather, it’s a look at some of the sub-cultures which flourished in New Orleans in the 60’s.  I can see Governor Walker as the title character of the book, Ignatius Jacques Reilly, a man who enjoys modern conveniences, but has a middle-ages outlook on life and blames his troubles on some higher power, and claims the goddess of fortune too often gives him a bad spin on her wheel of luck.

I got to thinking about “A Confederacy of Dunces” because of the name of the political dweeb who has introduced a “personhood” proposal as an amendment to our state’s constitution.  It’s the same thing the voters of Mississippi just rejected; a proposal which claims “personhood” begins with a male erection or some such nonsense.  This dweeb’s name is Andre Jacque, and he represents people who live in a gerrymandered district which runs from far southeast suburban Green Bay to Manitowoc.

Andre Jacque would be the sort of typical Cajun name you’d run across in New Orleans.  For those who haven’t had the benefit of living in the Big Easy for a couple years, as I have, the Cajuns (a corruption of the word “Acadian”) trace their origins to the French exiles of Canada.  I’m not going to get into the vast difference between Cajun and Creole, which a lot of Midwesterners think are interchangeable terms.

When dunces like Representative Jacque introduce such backward proposals, the media pounce on them and trumpet them.  Stories like this are like the ignorant utterances of Sarah Palin or Joe the Plumber – fun, because they’re so stupid and uninformed.  The stories get picked up by national media, and my contention is that stuff like the Jacque proposal makes Wisconsin look like some backwater state populated by fundamentalist dunces, and – long story short – it does more harm than good to Wisconsin’s image.

Sort of like the sex education stuff the legislature has been wrangling about lately.  Apparently we need to turn back the calendar to the Nancy Reagan heyday of “just say no”, which began as a mantra against drugs and morphed into a plea against premarital sex.

The more you ridicule absurdly unnecessary stuff like the proposed Jacque constitutional amendment, the harder and louder the push-back from the dunces who think stuff like this is important.  Sort of like Miss Vicki’s radio show:  the shrillness of her rants against the recall apparently increases as a direct function of the number of signatures gathered.

To circle back to the beginning, the title of Toole’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book is taken from a Jonathon Swift quote: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him”.  My adaptation of that quote would be something like “when a true dunce appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the idiots and lunatics will raise their voices in agreement with him”.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

For This, We Give Thanks

I believe it is fair and accurate to say that our “kids” have completed the journey through adolescence, and both have become (in my humble, but deadly accurate opinion) interesting and responsible young adults. 

Ample evidence of this was readily available during their extended stay in our home over the long Thanksgiving weekend.

Lights were turned out when they left their temporary living quarters, in the lower level of our multi-level home!  Since they moved out to be on their own years ago, we’ve converted the “spare bedroom” into a craft studio for my wife, another has become “storage” for seasonal clothes, and our lower level consists of a bedroom, full bath, and large “living area”, in which they set up an air-mattress bed.   We used to call the lower level of our home the Free Energy Area, because they’d NEVER turn off the lights when they left.

I suspect the last several years of paying their own electricity and gas bills has taught them the virtue of saving energy.

My wife and I are early-risers, which means we’re early to bed.  For the three nights that our kids (and their significant others) stayed with us, they stayed up late, conversed, played games (like Scattergories – I have no idea what this is), and did their best to exhaust my supply of beer and liquor (with my blessing), all while being quiet enough to never once rouse us.  Not that many years ago, they’d come home from work or whatever and bang doors, stomp around, blast the TV, and in general act like there was nobody else to be concerned about.  Not this time.  I’m sure they had plenty of fun, but were also considerate and quiet.

After the huge Thanksgiving feast, they all pitched in and helped clean up the dining room and kitchen, without being asked!  What excellent guests!

Saturday they went to the Badgers-Penn State game (photo above: our son Dru is far left with his fiancĂ©e Ashly; our daughter Mallory is third from the left, with her beau, John; and their friend Breanna and her friend Adam are on the right).  They all piled into my huge, gas-sucking, foreign-made SUV and I dropped them off at the campus-area home of their friend Luke, for a little pre-game partying.  Unlike the prior generation, these young people will NOT drive after they’ve been drinking.  Their cars stayed in our driveway and they cabbed it home after the game.

They came home from the game and a bit of post-game partying sober (Mallory and John were home about 7:30 PM and Dru and Ashly were here an hour later), mixed themselves some drinks, and entertained themselves into the wee hours, long after my wife and I and the dogs had gone to bed.  Not that long ago, they probably would have been candidates for detox after a Badgers game and some heavy post-game partying.

When they pulled up stakes Sunday late morning, they policed and straightened up the “lower living area”, neatly piled the extra blankets, and Mallory collected their towels and put them into the washing machine and started the laundry cycle.  Not that many years ago, they would have left the lower living level in a shambles, with all the lights on and towels strewn everywhere.  Dru and Ashly headed back to Milwaukee, where they now live, and we took Mal and John to the airport for their 1 PM flight back to New York.

They manage their own lives, their own finances, their careers, and are independent, but respectful and considerate.  They participate actively in conversation, seem enthusiastic about their daily routines, and are a real joy to be around.

They’ve grown up and have become interesting young adults.  For this, we give thanks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What? The Supercommittee FAILED?

I was not exactly stunned and shocked to learn that the so-called “Supercommittee” reported failure to achieve anything, and isn’t even bothering to meet today.  There were probably a handful of people across the nation who thought maybe these 12 folks could come to consensus on some cuts and tax tweaks.  But those who thought the committee might accomplish anything at all are the eternal optimists who see a pile of manure and think “oh boy, there’s a pony around here somewhere!!!”.

There is no such thing as reason in Congress any more.  It’s all political push-pull, driven by seemingly unlimited cash spent to buy influence, and the constant quest for party advantage and re-election.  A corollary to this is the signing of “pledges” by so many of these dweebs: pledges about taxes, abortion, marriage definition, and so on.  Pledges seldom allow for compromise of any sort, regardless if it’s for the greater good.

We need term limits.  Rare are the people like Scot Klug, who kept his word and served as long as he said he would.

We need to stanch the flow of influence-buying cash.  That means we need election contribution reform.

Perhaps as much as anything else, we need an electorate that takes the time to really learn about candidates and issues.  We need fewer Tea Parties and fewer Occupys and fewer one-issue groups and more informed voters.

We may need to fire the lot of them, the Members of Congress, and start over.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Ongoing Destruction of The Weather Channel

This is not the first time I’ve mentioned this topic.  I predicted back when NBC bought the Weather Channel they’d ruin it, and as far as I’m concerned, the corporate suits are doing a pretty good job of it.

Did anybody ask the geeks like me, who spend far too much time on the Weather Channel, if we wanted Al Roker on in the morning, to ass it up and make weather puns?  Far as I know, they didn’t ask.  They just put him on with no adult supervision and let him be a buffoon.

Here’s the thing about niche (and, for all you TV dweebs, that’s pronounced “nitch”, not “neesch”) programming.  By definition, it’s designed to appeal to a particular segment of the mass audience.  In this case, I’m guessing, when they first put The Weather Channel on cable years ago, the idea was to capture all the weather geeks out there in TV-land and give them weather, weather, weather.

I admit to my weather geekiness and I embrace it.  For years, TWC faithfully fed my need to know where low pressure systems, high pressure systems, and fronts of all sorts were, and what they were doing.  I’d get up to go to work at 2:30 AM and flip on TWC, and there was a meteorologist, live, giving me my first fix of weather info for the day.

Now that I don’t get up at half past two to go to work, I’m liable to turn on TWC at the spur of the moment just to see what’s going on.  More often than not these days, when I indulge the whim, I see something like “When Weather Struck Without Warning”, “Storm Stories”, “Peter Lik Photographs Great Clouds”, or “Famous Weather Systems of The Civil War”.  Canned programming, instead of a live meteorologist.

To me, the most annoying part of how NBC is destroying TWC, is in their weekday morning offerings.  Unless I tune in during the first 8 minutes of the hour, and see the lady who thinks she’s some kind of rock star (Stephanie Abrams – the first person TWC put on to be a celebrity, rather than a purveyor of weather information), I’m not going to get much weather.  I’m more likely to see something like “The Business Barometer”, a bunch of useless (to me) information about the stock market and such, aggregated by CNBC.  Or a longish vignette from the National Geographic channel.

The suits at NBC have taken what was an excellent product that perfectly served a niche market, and have tried to make it all things to all people.  News flash to 30 Rock: I want WEATHER from The Weather Channel, not sports, not stock market news, not sewing tips.  And certainly not FAMOUS TELEVISION PERSONALITY AL ROKER assing it up.  WEATHER.  I want WEATHER.

I’m sure the theory behind this “all things to all people” crap is that if they can convince the typical TWC viewer that they don’t need to go anywhere else on the dial to get everything they need in the morning, time-spent-viewing will increase, and drive advertising rates higher.  This is the kind of tortured thinking that passes for programming expertise in broadcasting today.  Instead of finding out what the audience wants and giving it to them in spades, it’s the other way around: give them a whole bunch of stuff and hope they’ll keep watching.

One thing TWC still does better than any other media outlet is cover severe weather live.  They’re GREAT at it; you can tell all those geeks like Jim Cantore and Mike Seidell are really lovin’ what they do; and those in-house experts like Dr. Greg Forbes they call on when things are really flyin’ around add just the right touch of hi-tech weather geekiness to make it all so…..well, so SCIENTIFIC!!!!  Whether it’s a tornado, cyclone, blizzard, windstorm, hail storm, or a huge outbreak of severe weather, TWC is at its best and nobody comes close to being as good as they are at it.

But the rest of the time, TWC is slipping into the mediocrity of most live TV, being pushed slowly into the grave by executives who have no passion for content (weather!) and think only in short-term business considerations.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The University Where Children Are Raped

Getting through the coverage of Saturday’s Penn State – Nebraska game was difficult enough for a cynical old bastard like me, but Sunday morning brought a new wave of nausea.  Some dweeb on TV introduced a story about the game by saying “The healing has begun at Penn State.”

My rear end.  Not by a long shot.  This thing is just getting started.  The surface has barely been scratched.

First, there was the disconnect of ESPN’s “College GameDay” show, which prompted my friend John Roach to describe in a Facebook status update as “tone deaf”.  Not surprisingly, the premiere collegiate football show entirely missed (or deliberately avoided) the essential truth of what apparently happened at the Pennsylvania State University: young boys – God knows how many – were raped, in college athletic facilities, and grown men turned a blind eye and deaf ear.

The man who is accused of doing the raping, Jerry Sandusky, was “one of the boys” in the Penn State Athletic Department, which, along with apparently the highest level of officials at Penn State, conspired for years to cover these crimes.

Then there was the obscene spectacle, captured in the copyright photo above, taken by Gene Puskar of the Associated Press, of the Penn State and Nebraska players gathering and taking a knee at midfield to devoutly pray for the victims.  It was enough to make me puke.  “Everything’s OK now; we prayed to Touchdown Jesus, and everything is forgiven; now, let’s play some ball for Joe Pa!!!”

Then, the trifecta of media excess, the Sunday morning TV news programs, most similar in tone to the ABC report that stated “the healing has begun” at Penn State.

If you don’t believe my assertion that this thing is just getting started, ask the Roman Catholic Church what happens when you look the other way when young boys are sexually assaulted and there’s a conspiracy to cover it up.  The capo and his crew in Rome have spent the last decade selling off hard assets and bankrupting parishes to compensate the victims, and there is still no end in sight to the stream of victims and the flow of cash to compensate them.

This Penn State thing is not even comparable to the crap pulled by Ohio State or Miami.  It’s a completely different and infinitely more disgusting.  But, as in the cases of the Ohio State and Miami, the idiotically blind Penn State partisans are hoping that “football will help the healing process”, when football is the problem itself.

This is “too big to fail”, athletic version, and it’s just getting started.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day Salute: Uncle Jack

I posted the picture above on Facebook today in honor of Veterans Day.  It’s my dad’s brother, Lt. John Thomas Morrissey, and the picture was taken around 1950.  My first memories of Uncle Jack go back to around 1955, when I was six years old, and I remember being given my first VERY fast ride in a car in Uncle Jack’s brand new Buick. It was a black sedan with those “portholes” in the side, a huge swath of chrome along the side, with bright red accent paint alongside the chrome.  Uncle Jack called that car “the red-winged blackbird”.  He told me it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to talk about our high-speed jaunt, and that we should just keep it between us.  I did.  Until now.

It was a “company car” – issued by Liggett and Myers, the tobacco company Uncle Jack worked for when he came home from serving in the Army.  He took a job as a route salesman for L&M Cigarettes.  He never talked about his experiences in the Army.  My dad, who saw plenty of combat in the waning days of the war in Europe in ’44 and ‘45, and then served in the Army of Occupation in Japan, never said much about his experiences, either.  If you asked dad about what Uncle Jack did in the Army, he’d only say “Uncle Jack was a spy”. 

In my grandparents’ bedroom in the huge family homestead in Oshkosh there was a large, framed charcoal drawing of Uncle Jack.  It was top-notch quality, and the specifics I can remember were that the drawing had Jack’s name, the name of the artist who did it, and it said “Fort Holabird, Maryland” with a date.  I wish I knew what happened to that charcoal drawing.  I wish I had it.

When you asked my grandpa about what Uncle Jack did in the Army, all he’d say was “he was with the Counter-Intelligence Corps”.  The CIC is the forerunner to the CIA.  I also know that Uncle Jack could speak and read Japanese, and that in his home were many beautiful pieces of art from Japan.  He said he learned to speak Japanese in the Army, and that yes, he had spent some time in Japan.

I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about what Uncle Jack did in the Army, and if your imagination is like mine, I’ll bet you guess he did some pretty interesting things, which he simply could never talk about.

That’s the thing about those guys that served in combat and who did “undercover” work for the military.  They don’t talk much about it, except perhaps when they’re with their peers.

So, here’s a Veterans Day salute to my late Uncle Jack, and to all the other men and women who have served in the armed forces of our nation.  Thank you, all of you.  A lot.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


First of all, the state should not put up a Christmas tree in the center of the Capital Rotunda.  Like it or not, agree or disagree, it is a Christian symbol.  Like it or not, agree or disagree, this is not a Christian nation. 

 A decorated tree does not connote or relate to anything but Christmas.  It’s not a “holiday tree”, as the politically-correct police would have us say.  The decorated tree is not a symbol of Memorial Day, 4th of July, Veterans’ Day, New Year, nor any other holiday.  It is a symbol of Christmas.

It is not a Hanukkah Bush.

Second, could we please not waste any more time debating this?  Could we not have any more segments on TV and talk radio arguing about what to call it?  Could we stop saying that the phrase “holiday tree” is an attack on Christianity?  (I’m not sure…has Fox News dragged out that annual warhorse yet, or is it too soon to talk about the attack on Christianity?)

And, third, would the media be kind enough to stop the knee-jerk reaction to be the first to get Annie Laurie Gaylor (Freedom From Religion Foundation) to comment on the non-existent controversy?

Take a look at the photo above: where do you suppose it was taken – Dallas? Chicago? Montreal?


Where it is referred to as a Christmas tree.

Monday, November 7, 2011

It Looks Pretty Bad for Penn State

A quick read of the criminal complaint leads me to believe that this case is going to be a stunner, and it may take down a lot of people.

It appears that one of the former Penn State coaches, Jerry Sandusky, ran some sort of foundation for young men which he used to troll for boys he could fondle (taking showers with, touching, etc.), and that a lot of people looked the other way.

There is a lot of “looking the other way” in big-time collegiate sports.  But this case, which has been smoldering for a dozen years, burst onto the public consciousness this weekend, and already Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley is on administrative leave (by his own request, late Saturday night), and one of the school’s Senior VP’s, Gary Schultz, decided after the case broke that he’d go back into retirement immediately.  Curley and Schultz face charges they lied to a grand jury about the case.

Sandusky faces 40 counts of abuse, including 21 felony charges, for abusing 8 boys between 1994 and 2009.  Many of the incidents allegedly happened in a Penn State athletics building.

As is so often the case, the initial news reports lead to more questions than answers.  Why is this just coming to light now?  How much did Joe Pa know, and when did he know it?  Why haven’t the parents of the boys who were alleged victims said something sooner?

Sandusky was on Joe Pa’s staff for 32 years, and the jock world saw him as Joe Pa’s successor.  Except, of course, Joe Pa hasn’t retired.  Joe Pa is now 167 years old and has been head football coach at Penn State since 1871.  Joe Pa is expected to still be head coach of the Nittany Lions when they play the Badgers at Camp Randall on November 26th.

Unless, of course, he suddenly retires and disappears.  Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We Learned Nothing from 2008

The man above, Jon Corzine (photo copyright Forbes) just finished spectacularly crashing his firm – MF Global – as if it were 2008.  40 to 1 leverage on European bonds.  And now the FBI wants to know if maybe ol’ Jonnie used some of his customers’ money to make this huge and fateful wrong bet.

It’s likely, regardless of what the FBI discovers, that there’ll be any serious consequence for Corzine.  He’ll wash his hands in bankruptcy court and walk away from it.

Just like all the others did.  Except for the ones we bailed out, that is.  They were "too big to fail."

For those who don’t follow the game closely, Jon Corzine is a Democratic politician and long-time baron of Wall Street.  Earlier this year, he lost his brief job as Governor of New Jersey to Chris Christie.  Before that, he ran Goldmine (Goldman) Sachs.  You may recall that firm being in the news in late 2008.

Oh, it’s all one big club, these titans and barons who run the money in the United States.

As a Democratic Party pol, Corzine decried the exorbitant salaries on Wall Street.  So what kind of a deal did he make for himself at MF Global?  A tiny salary of 1.5 million dollars per annum, a signing bonus of 1.5 million dollars, 11 million in stock options, and 400 grand to his lawyers for setting up his compensation plan.  And let’s not forget…the back end of the deal, which says if he leaves MF Global, his options immediately vest, he gets 12.1 million in cash as “severance”.

By the way, MF Global’s second-quarter report shows 64 percent of the firm’s revenues went to compensation.  The only businesses in the world that operate this way are Wall Street firms.

These guys keep doing this, and keep getting away with it without a consequence. 

We learned nothing from 2008.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Why I Don't Feel Safer Today

Today, the first of November, Wisconsin’s new concealed-carry gun law goes into effect.  And I don’t feel one bit safer.

I’m not a gun hater.  I am thoroughly trained in firearms use by a highly-decorated World War Two Combat Infantry Veteran - my late father.  I have trod the woods and fields of Wisconsin legally hunting deer and small game.  That’s me, above, a few years ago, doing some target-shooting on my land in Colorado.

The reason I don’t feel safer today, mainly, is that those people who argue most vociferously for their right to carry a concealed weapon are, I believe, also the most likely to actually USE that weapon.  The same people who will say things like “an unloaded gun is a useless thing” and “I carry it for protection” and “cars and baseball bats kill people; nobody’s talking about taking them away from us”.

The rights-demanders are seemingly just itching for a situation where they can draw their concealed weapon and put it to use.  We can debate this assertion, but you won’t likely change my mind.

I will feel less safe because I, or a member of my family, may find themselves in a situation where somebody with four hours of weapons training actually uses a concealed weapon, and I or my family member ends up injured or worse because we happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Law enforcement officers are thoroughly trained in weapons use, and they have professional protocols to follow.  I want them to be carrying a weapon wherever and whenever.  I trust they will know when to shoot, and when not to shoot.  The rights-demanders: not so much.

As to my personal relationship with concealed carry:  I won’t apply for a permit, and I will not violate the law by unlawfully concealing or carrying a weapon.  Suffice it to say that if someone invades my home when I’m around, there will be nothing concealed about what I choose to greet them with.