Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Evil School Supplies List

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of social media posts from friends (younger friends, that is….) complaining in one way or another about the school supplies list their school has foisted upon them.  I am unalterably convinced that these lists are created, supported, and perpetuated by merchants.

In other words, I think the whole thing is a racket.

I saw a post a few days ago from a mom-friend complaining that one of the many items on her kid’s school supply list was “20 sharpened pencils”.  TWENTY.  SHARPENED.  PENCILS.  She admitted that rather than “fight city hall”, she also blew 20 bucks on an automatic pencil sharpener.

Another mom of my acquaintance attempted to fight city hall by calling the school and saying “why 20 sharpened pencils?  That’s silly.  I’m sending my kid to school with ONE mechanical pencil.”  Her comment was not well-received, and she was told that “mechanical pencils are not allowed”.  (These are the people who brought us “zero tolerance” about a decade ago, a policy which I have long referred to as “zero judgment”.

One mom-friend posted that she was surprised at the length of the list for her middle-schooler and the cost of buying everything on the list.  In the comment thread below the post, a woman who said she was a teacher posted that many of the kids in her district simply could not afford to buy all the things on the list, and every year she and her husband pony up their own personal funds to buy the stuff the less fortunate kids and their parents can’t afford.

No doubt she’s one of “the spoiled few” that the Walker billboards referred to during the recall election campaign.

But the biggest scam of all is the graphing calculator scam, which annoyed me no end when our kids were at LaFollette High.  For some math class, they’re told to buy a Texas Instruments TI-84plus graphing calculator.  A TI 84+, and as I learned, NO SUBSTITUTES will be accepted.  (I think the reason for that is, the teacher doesn’t want to have to become familiar with the operating system of a handful of different kinds of graphing calculators.)

Ever checked the price on one of these TI-84+ models?  When our son Dru needed his, back around the turn of the century, they were $99.  So, what do you suppose they sell for now, twelve years later?  Anywhere from $89 to $129, according to a quick internet search I made.  People who are supposed to know about such things say they could be sold at a profit with a price around 11 dollars.

The next year, when our daughter Mallory needed a TI-84+ for her math classes, we asked her to use her older brother’s.  He, of course, had no idea what had become of his TI-84+, so we shelled out another hundred bucks for the damned thing.

At the end of school that year, my sharp-as-a-marble memory came through, and I collected Mallory’s TI-84+ before it could “disappear”.  I also collected her boyfriend’s TI-84+.  And they were able to come up with a handful of friends who would have no further use for their graphing calculators, so I collected the lot of them and called their math teacher at LaFollette, who said he would LOVE to have the TI-84+’s, all seven of them, and would make them available to students whose parents would find it difficult to shell out a hundred bucks for one.

The whole thing is a damnable racket, from “20 sharpened pencils” (no mechanical pencils need apply) to calculators that should have been “obsoleted” 15 years ago.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

RoJo's Handlers v. The Chief Political Correspondent

At a Romney-Ryan campaign event yesterday at Monona Terrace featuring our Junior Senator, Ron Johnson, WTDY reporter Dylan Brogan was barred from attending and escorted from the event by the cops.  RoJo’s handlers told Brogan in essence he wasn’t welcome at their events, because WTDY talk show host Sly has been a thorn in their side by organizing protests to Romney-Ryan campaign events.

Once again, I must get out my soapbox and remind RoJo’s people that the First Amendment is not there to protect popular speech and popular media, neither of which needs much protection; it’s there to protect UNPOPULAR speech and UNPOPULAR media.  Sly is well within his rights to organize and energize the “Walker Stalkers”, who follow the gov around and give him a hard time; and Sly is well within his rights to organize protests when RoJo shows up in Wisconsin. 

When RoJo’s handlers gave Chief Political Correspondent Dylan Brogan the heave-ho, they violated Brogan’s First Amendment Rights; WTDY’s First Amendment Rights; and, more importantly, everyone else’s First Amendment Rights.  Brogan was guilty by association, I guess.  RoJo’s handlers should not be making the mistake most untrained people do, in thinking that a talk show is a form of “news”….although the editorial wall at WTDY has long been pretty thin, no thanks to “news” people like me.

Sidebar about titles: I chuckle when Dylan is referred to as “Chief Political Correspondent”.  They love titles like that over there on RayOVac Drive at MidWest.  I guess it’s supposed to make you think that Dylan is the head of a phalanx of political correspondents in WTDY’s employ.  Among its many enterprises, MidWest has an operating division with 5 employees, and their boss refers to himself as the CEO.  Years ago, when I worked for MidWest in the Fox Valley, my boss, the General Manger (of about 35 employees, a third of them part-time) referred to himself as the “Chairman of the Board and General Manager” of the station.

It is as wrong for RoJo’s minions to ban WTDY’s reporter(s) from public political events as it would be if the Dems decided that reporters for WTMJ and WISN in Milwaukee should be banned from their public events, because of the right-wing bent of Charlie Sykes or Mark Belling.  Granted, neither Sykes nor Belling organize protests against Democratic party public events, like Sly does for Republican events, but the concept is the same.

Quite a few years ago, when Susan J. M. Bauman, our city’s first female mayor, got mad at Sly for saying something untoward about her on the air, she banished the station’s reporters from City Hall.  (Somewhere in my vast t-shirt collection is one Sly had made, with a caricature of Bauman on a broom, hovering over the Capitol building.) The ban lasted for several hours, until General Manager Bill Vancil phoned the station’s local lawyer, who then phoned Her Honor (who is also a lawyer) and reminded her about that pesky First Amendment thing.

The picture at the top of this post is of the late Ben Masel, the best friend the First Amendment ever had in Madison.  Ben essentially made a living by suing municipalities, police departments, and sundry other organizations which violated his First Amendment rights. 

In this country, it’s OK to say unpopular things about the government and those who seek its highest offices.  The First Amendment doesn’t care which political party, if any, is doing the speaking.  RoJo’s handlers should not need a refresher course on that fact.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

We Just Have to Wait for Them to Die Off

I couldn't care less if Todd Akin runs, doesn't run, gets elected to the Senate, or doesn’t get elected.  He’s just one of the many dinosaurs and luddites that inhabit the political world.

I think he actually believes that horseshit he spewed about women’s bodies having some secret juju that rejects pregnancy as a result of “legitimate rape”.

If only more politicians would be called out on the stoopid crap they say.  Michelle Bachmann saying God told her to run.  That should have ended her political life long before the bullcrap about HPV immunization causing retardation.

So many of these dinosaurs insist on attempting to inflict their misguided religious values on other people.  Think life is sacred and there should be no abortion (or, as the arch-conservative meme now is, “until Roe v. Wade is properly decided”)?  Fine.  Don’t have an abortion.  Think abortion is murder?  Fine.  Don’t have an abortion.

Trying to run other people’s lives, lifestyles, morals, and values is big in the vein of flawed thinkers like Todd Akin, who in the next breath will say that gubbmint should stay out of our lives.

Why do these dinosaurs like Akin, Bachmann, Rick Perry, that Santorini person, and others of their ilk continue to present themselves for “public service”?  Because they see themselves, apparently, as missionaries and proselytizers. 

A crypto-conservative Texas talk show host of my acquaintance (Chris Krok) spewed some nonsense on his social media feed the other day about Jenny McCarthy being a horrible mother because she consorted with a man outside wedlock.  To fundamentalists like Krok, the admonition “judge not, that ye be not judged” doesn’t apply to them.

The time will not come in my lifetime, but eventually these dinosaurs will die off, and we can go back to the halcyon days when common thieves and hard drinkers ran Congress.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tommy, Tammy, or Tea?

I have an idea that the U.S. Senate race between Tommy Thompson and Tammy Baldwin is about to get down in the mud.  WAY down in the mud.  Hope I’m wrong.

But if it does get down and dirty, I think I’ll enjoy watching the ads.  And I’ll even seek out ads that don’t run in the Madison market.

In some ways, what happened in the Republican primary is kind of like the old rule of radio programming, which goes something like “if you’re going to change format to compete with an existing station within that format, bring a large checkbook, and prepare to lose”. 

Tommy, Eric, and Mark (Fitz the lesser was never a factor) were all competing in the same format: conservative.  Tea People in the Fox Valley liked Eric better, and he won those counties.  Mark “Partial Birth Abortion” Neumann won….ah….I can’t remember, a couple counties way up north where they speak a different dialect of ‘sconnie.  And Tommy – well, Tommy flirted with the Tea Persons just enough to get them interested, and carried the vast majority of counties in the state.  Tommy was able to navigate the waters well enough to stay just far enough to the right….while keeping Eric and Mark to his right, causing a fractured vote that left none of them with a majority, but Tommy with enough votes to win.

Now that Tommy has vanquished his opponents, he can set his sights on destroying Tammy.  Quite a few of my lefty pals here in the bluest county in the state are whispering things like “why Tommy? Why not Eric? Jeez, Tammy, it’s Tommy Thompson.  Why didn’t you just stay in your seat in congress forever? The second district would have sent you back there every election, but now….you’ve got to beat Tommy.”

I believe Scot Klug would still hold the 2nd Congressional seat if he wanted it, and hadn’t taken himself out of the race after his promised 8 years, and the seat which had been held by Bob Kastenmeier since the earth began to cool went back to a Democrat.  And Tammy’s held the seat since Klug gave it up.  But that was back in the days when bat-shit crazy didn’t fly with the electorate, like it often does now.

So Tammy – who will be positioned as a Dane County Liberal HOMOSEXUAL – will take on the guy who, if he isn’t the most popular politician in state history, is in the top 3.  Tommy is on first-name basis with folks in all 72 counties.  Tammy is on first-name basis with people in…oh, say three counties.

Pocan’s a lock for Tammy’s seat in congress;  but it’s gonna be real interesting to see how dirty the Tommy-Tammy race gets.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

How People Like George W. Bush Get Elected

The short answer, and the obvious one, is that people liked W.  He was more likeable than his opponent.  He was the guy you wanted to sit down with and have a beer.  He had no credentials for the job he sought, leading the free world.  But people ‘liked’ him, kind of like “liking” a friend’s post or picture on Facebook.

That’s how Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are going to get a bunch of votes.  They’re handsome.  They smile a lot.  And, should they get elected, it will be due in no small part to people “liking” them.

 Mitt made his choice for VP official this weekend, standing in front of the U.S. S. Wisconsin (BB-64) at its permanent berth in Norfolk.  (Sidebar: I’ve been aboard the Wisconsin, and it’s an impressive ship, like all the WW2 battlewagons.  The Wisconsin was being refurbished at the Avondale Shipyards in New Orleans when I lived in the big easy in 1986, and I managed to snag an “invite” to board and tour the ship through my part-time job at WWL-AM.  The folks at Avondale couldn’t say no to a Wisconsin boy, I guess.)

Saturday afternoon, I was somewhat surprised by the Facebook posts concerning Paul Ryan.  One in particular stood out.  It was a post about how this woman, who lived for many years in Janesville, knew Paul Ryan, knew his family, and proclaimed that he always seemed like an honest and sincere person, and she had now decided that she’d vote for Romney/Ryan.

The irony is so abundant in her post I don’t know where to begin.  Like many of my social media friends, this woman is a broadcaster.  She lost her job at a Clear Channel station when the huge purges began in earnest in 2009.  For those who don’t follow the game too closely, shortly after Bain Capital took the helm at Clear Channel, the world’s largest broadcast group began shedding personnel like crazy, to make the impossible cash flow requirements of their new loan package.  She was one of the thousands of victims of the second round of Clear Channel personnel cuts.

This woman was fortunate to land another broadcasting job, but it’s part-time, and she augments her income by bartending.  She has no benefits at either job, and is on Badger Care for her “health insurance”.

That this woman has now decided to vote for Romney/Ryan because Paul Ryan seems like such a nice guy perfectly illustrates the theme of this blog-post.  Bain Capital put her out of work, and Ryan’s budget plan would make it even more difficult for her to get health care at an age when she’ll begin to need it the most.

She will be voting against her own personal best interests, and not even with the “higher motive” of philosophically agreeing with the Romney/Ryan platform - at least, that part of the platform which is self-evident at this point.

But she likes Paul Ryan.  He’s always seemed like such a nice guy. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Cult of False Balance

If ever there was an outfit that’s not fair and balanced, it’s Faux News.  But Roger Ailes is smart enough to know that “balanced” is a very important word to news consumers, who want to believe they’re getting both sides of the story; and Ailes is clever enough to know that when you have no intention of being balanced, you need to tell people, and tell them frequently, that your product is “balanced”.  And, of course, fair.

Full disclosure: I am not a journalist and have never claimed to be one, even though I was a radio and TV news anchor for much of my adult life.  I have no formal training in the profession.  Not that long ago, a journalist was a journalist.  Either you were or you weren’t.  If you worked for a newspaper as a reporter and claimed the mantle “journalist”, if you shifted jobs from reporting to writing a column, you became a “columnist” rather than a journalist.  There used to be very high walls between such compartments and very bright lines defining what a journalist is or does.  You don’t have to be a journalist to commit journalism, but if you claim the title, you’d better follow the standards to which journalists are held.

Now, we have people using terms like “advocacy journalist”; “investigative journalist” (as if regular journalists didn’t investigate); even “crusading journalist”, the term local muckraker Dave Blaska uses to describe Vicky McKenna.  (Sidebar: I used to be Vicky McKenna’s boss.  I hired her in 1995 to be a radio news reporter.  She was a journalist and a damn good one.  She uncovered more stuff about the behind-the-scenes dealings involved in the early stages of the plan to build Miller Park than any other radio news reporter in Madison.  But when she started doing a talk show, she stopped being a journalist, no matter what Dave Blaska says.)

The concept of balance in journalism has been, I believe, corrupted to absurdity.  Too many people practicing and managing the art and science of journalism have apparently adopted an attitude that EVERYTHING must be balanced.  Again, my favorite example: some dweeb currently in the public eye, say, oh, a politician or movie star, says the Earth is flat, and the headline of the story is “opinions vary on the shape of the earth”.

Don Lemon, the young man who anchors many hours of CNN’s weekend news coverage, was clearly out of his depth Sunday afternoon when trying to report on the attack in Oak Creek (which one local reporter, who was on the scene Sunday night, repeatedly referred to as “Oak Park”).  Lemon repeatedly called the temple a church, repeatedly said the shootings happened “south of Wisconsin” when he meant south of Milwaukee, and repeatedly contradicted in his summaries what reporters on the scene were saying moments earlier.  In the most egregious case of this, shortly after Greenfield Police Chief Bradley Wentlandt (and wasn’t he GREAT in the role as law enforcement spokesman!!!) held a news conference and announced for the first time that the officer who first responded to the shooting was NOT the officer who took down the shooter – a real piece of news – Lemon summarized the news conference as not containing much new information.  Ooops.  Only the biggest scoop to be revealed in the past four hours.

As usual, I digress.

Lemon at one point in the coverage read a statement from President Obama regarding the shootings, and as soon as he finished reading it, he said, in an urgent tone of voice, that CNN was expecting to get a statement from Mitt Romney regarding the shootings, and AS SOON as CNN got it, he would “report” it.

God forbid CNN should read a statement from President Obama, without a “balancing” statement from Mitt Romney (which came about 10 minutes later).

This may come as a shock to you, but I don’t care what Mitt Romney has to say about the shooting; and truth to be told, I don’t care what President Obama has to say about the shooting, unless it’s something other than the usual platitudes politicians mouth after events like this.  I think if I were anchoring CNN coverage, I would have appended the President’s statement by saying something like “the President, who made some bullshit statements he never followed up on about demanding stricter gun controls in this country following the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, has apparently learned to avoid making such statements, since he omitted such a statement following the theatre shootings in Colorado and now has chosen not to make any reference to gun control following the shootings in Oak Creek”. 

And, I think if I were anchoring CNN coverage of the Oak Creek shootings, I would have further said “and don’t expect us to read a statement from Mitt Romney; his PR people can get back to us with a statement if Romney is elected”.  I have this vision of all sorts of behind-the-scenes functionaries at CNN falling all over each other “efforting” (God, I hate that non-word…..) a comment from Romney to “balance” the comment from the President.

I guess I’m emboldened by Aaron Sorkin’s fictional news anchor Will McAvoy (brilliantly played by Jeff Daniels) in the new HBO series “The Newsroom”:  McAvoy tends to call a spade a shovel and calls out politicians on their bullshit statements.

You can call it balance or perspective or whatever you want; but I do believe the concept is widely misunderstood by far too many people putting out news today.

Feel free to disagree with me.  I may need someone to “balance” my comments.

Friday, August 3, 2012

He Didn't Win The Gold Medal!

Last night on Channel 3’s Live at Five show, Mark Koehn’s Wisconsin Traveler segment was a five-minute interview with Olympic Gold Medal speed-skater Casey Fitzrandolph, who was raised in Verona and now owns a small farm outside Hollandale. 

It was a great interview, because Mark got Casey to talk about how he persisted to win the Gold, and his perspective on the Olympics now.  Mark’s laid-back style caused Casey to really relax and open up about his life.

When the interview was over, I couldn’t help but think that Casey’s remarks could be construed as a variant on the “you didn’t build it” meme that the Romneyites have seized upon.

There is NO doubt that Casey Fitzrandolph won that Gold Medal (and all the other Silver and Bronze Medals) because of his own personal effort.  Those medals are his; he won them; and there is no arguing with that fact – even in this day, when so many people seem to think they’re entitled to their own opinion and their own facts.

What made me think of the “you didn’t build it” meme was Casey’s reflection on what went into winning the gold.  He talked about how his parents would get up early in the morning to drive him from their home in Verona in to Madison so Casey could practice on a sheet of ice.  He talked about the many coaches who worked with him to help him develop as a speed-skater and how he was inspired by Madison’s Eric Heiden.  He talked about his parents taking him to Milwaukee so he could skate competitively at the Petit National Ice Center, with its 400-meter Olympic oval track.

In other words, he talked about all the people who helped him win Olympic Gold.  Like a great quarterback who engineers a monumental come-from-behind win, he talked about the people who helped make it happen.

I was struck by the similarity in Casey’s remarks to the interviews I’ve heard with many other successful athletes and captains of industry.  Many of them, like Casey, are eager to share the credit.  But there are those who are content to “blow their own horn” and don’t have a word to say about all the help they got to get where they are.

This is another example of the huge divide in our nation.  As the Republicans have demonized “government” for the past few decades, President Obama is trying to point out that the role of government is NOT the same as the role of business, and that government can and should be a partner in business success stories.  This is in direct contrast to business owners and politicians who talk only about government’s “burdensome” regulations, government “obstructionism”, fees and taxes, and claim that the government itself is a “job killer”.  (What a disconnect: politicians acting as if they had nothing to do with the government.)

You can showboat in the end zone after you’ve caught a touchdown pass and draw all the attention onto yourself; or you can acknowledge the lineman’s block that allowed the quarterback to throw the pass.  It’s all in how you look at it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


One of the questions you, as an Olympics-consuming adult must ask yourself, is: did I have a Twitter or Facebook account in July of 2008, when the Summer Olympics were held in Peiping?  (That’s the way they spelled Beijing when I was in grade school.)

If the answer is “yes”, you’re probably not a bit disturbed at the way NBC is presenting coverage of the London Olympics.  If the answer is “no”, you’re probably over 35, and you’re unhappy about all the spoilers being posted on social media.

Many years ago, we became an instant-gratification society.  Can’t afford it? Put it on a credit card and get it now.  Domino’s Pizza 30-minute delivery guarantee.  Sentry Foods guarantee that if there are more than two people in the check-out line, they’ll open another register.  (I think they let that one slide years ago.)  Drive-up banking.  H and R Block instant tax refund.

But, like any axiom, there are exceptions.  Because of the way TV is programmed these days, we avoid “spoilers” until we’ve seen the program or episode.  On any given Sunday night, my wife and I are now DVR’ing Breaking Bad, True Blood, The Newsroom, Mad Men (in season), Dexter (in season), Homeland (in season), Political Animals, Ice Road Truckers (guess which one of us watches that show), Real Housewives of New York (or New Jersey or Orange County or Beverly Hills – again, guess which one of us watches that one).  Is it any wonder I gave up on Falling Skies and The Killing?  Sunday night overload.

Sometimes, in fact, often, we don’t see a Sunday night show until Wednesday or Thursday night.  Much of the TV we have decided to watch runs on Sunday night, and the DVR (with multiple tuners and the capability of recording more than one channel at a time) has made us the Program Director – just as the advent of the Sony Walkman (and the later mp3 players) gave the consumer the power of the radio station Program Director.  You never have to wait to hear a song you like.

NBC paid about 1.2 billion dollars for the rights to televise the Olympics; NBC is a business; and businesses operate under a profit motive.  Did NBC pay too much?  Of course.  NFL Football isn’t even sustainable; the aggregate television rights cost more than the money recouped through advertising, but  - ya gotta have it.  NFL Football was the true genesis of the Fox Network.  (Not to be confused with Fox News, which was a virgin birth.)

I watched Super Bowl XLV, in February of 2011, in which the Pack beat the Steelers, from the comfort of my media room at home: 66-inch HDTV, 500 watts of surround sound, soft seat, cold beer, hot snacks.  My wife was a few feet away and we were the only two (not counting the dogs) who were in the room, but I shared the experience, via Facebook and my iPad, with friends in Appleton, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis (and, everywhere else, for that matter).  There’s just enough time between plays to type something like “that WAS NOT a catch” or “the ump blew that call”. 

You can be angry about the Olympics spoilers that pop up on Twitter and Facebook, and you can shake your fist at NBC for not televising the Olympics the way YOU want it, but it’s not likely to change soon.  The television business paradigm hasn’t caught up to the instant-communication realities of 2012.  NBC is going to milk the marquee events for every dollar they can, time-shifting them to “prime time” when they can charge the highest ad rates.

There are huge changes ahead in the way live TV events like the Olympics will be televised, but I’m not smart enough to hazard a guess on what will be changed, and not stupid enough to hazard a guess on how they’ll be changed.  I do think we’ll look back on the 2012 Olympics as the point where change began.