Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

Most young folks confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day.  They seem to think of the days as interchangeable, and aren’t aware of the distinction that Memorial Day, which used to be called “Decoration Day” – a day to decorate the graves of dead soldiers – is a day set aside to honor those who gave their life for their country.  Veterans Day, of course, is to honor all our men and women in uniform.

The two young men pictured at the top of this post – my dad, Bill, on the left; my wife Toni’s dad, Mario, on the left – did not give their lives for their nation, thank God.  Both saw plenty of combat in WW2; both had plenty of enemy rounds fired at them.  My dad was combat infantry, shot at countless times by Nazi soldiers; Toni’s dad crewed a B-29 in the Army Air Force, and many times came back from a mission with plenty of bullet-holes in the huge bomber.

They lost a lot of friends and comrades in the war, and both of them instilled in their children a solemn understanding and appreciation for Memorial Day.  Toni and I have passed this understanding and appreciation along to our children.  Just as Toni and I have friends who died in the Viet Nam war, our kids have friends who have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To all those who gave their lives for their nation, thank you, and God Bless.

My family was fortunate to have all its veterans return from service.  For Toni’s dad, it was “home alive in ‘45”; for my dad, it was ’46, as he was sent to Japan with the Army of Occupation after V-J Day.

Dad’s younger brother John, my Uncle Jack, seen here, did not see combat in WW2; the war was over when he put on the uniform, and he was a spy (I prefer that term to “intelligence operative”) during what came to be known as the Cold War.  Because of the nature of his work, Uncle Jack never talked too much about it. 

My Aunt Virginia, my mother’s sister, seen here, volunteered for service during WW2.  Her she is in her WAVES uniform (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service), attached to the U.S. Navy as a Pharmacist’s Mate during the war, with the rank of PO2C - Petty Officer Second Class.  She said to her four sisters “somebody from this family should join the service, and it’s going to be me.”

So excuse me if I violate the terms of the definition of Memorial Day and take time to remember some of my family members who served and came home alive.  I have plenty of friends who served and did not come home alive, and they are in my thoughts today, as well.  

As the saying goes, “All gave some; some gave all.”  God rest those who gave all.  Today, and every day, we honor you.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thugs and Losers

Several millennia ago, when I was a news anchor, I delighted in giving the daily “Thugs and Losers Report” as part of the newscast on one of the stations I was on.  In Madison, a city of a quarter-million in a metro of half a million, there are plenty of thugs and losers making the police blotter every day.  Every cop in the area loved that little daily feature, because I called these vermin exactly what they are: thugs and losers, not “suspects” or some other politically-correct term.

There’s a distinction to be made between the two: a thug, in my lexicon, is a person who uses violence or the threat of it to get what they want.  A loser is a hapless idiot, the kind who hangs around the PDQ or Stop-n-Go (d/b/a “Stop ‘n Rob”) for 8 or 9 minutes, “casing” the joint; then dives over the counter, grabs a few bucks out of the till, and runs out the door….and is promptly collared by a cop who just pulled in to get a cup of coffee or bottle of Mountain Dew.

My reason for doing this was not to be flippant about a serious problem, but to call attention to the fact that our community has plenty of these losers, thugs, gangstas, whatever they want to be called.  Mayor Soglin, a few days ago, minced no words about the loser(s) who opened fire into a crowd of people in the 600 block of University Ave over the weekend, hitting four bystanders.  He called them thugs, and called them out.  He said they were going to LOSE, and they’d best change their behavior or get out of town.  He said he was going to put a phalanx of cops downtown at bar time and rid the city of these scum.  Well, he said it a little more mayorly than that, but he did call them thugs.

During the years my kids were in college here, it was the University Ave bars they frequented on weekend nights: Wando’s, The Church Key, Brothers….and had the wild-west incident happened a year or two ago, my kids would likely have been in the line of fire.

Sort of brings this thuggery home.

So, go get ‘em, your Honor.  Rid the streets of this trash.

And you cops: be safe out there.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Please, Mr. Barrett, Don't Take My Guns Away!!

In a matter of days, I’ll be able to watch a Brewers telecast without having to endure the abominable and abysmally stupid anti-Barrett ad being run, seemingly every half-inning, by the National Rifle Association.

 Tom Barrett has never said nor implied that when elected he’ll try to take away everyone’s guns, but by God the NRA must have inside information that this is one of Barrett’s secret agenda items, just like Scotty’s secret (until elected) plan to demonize public workers.

If there’s anything that works better to rile up those Teapublicans than a hefty dose of fear that a politician is going to take their guns away, I don’t know what it is.  About the only lobby that holds more political power in Wisconsin than the gun people is the bar owners association.  Here in ‘sconsin, we hold dear the right to drive while drunk and carry our guns around with us everywhere.

Don’t paint me as one of those anti-gun nuts.  I own firearms and was trained in the craft of using them by a highly-decorated combat veteran of WW2, my dad.

But the NRA can plant a nice, wet one right square in the middle of my fat behind.  I’ll never belong to the NRA or support it in any way, because of the crap they pull – like the stoopid ad with the hunter’s disappearing gun (I’m not sure if it’s a shotgun or a rifle, and I know the difference) that runs every ten minutes on the Brewers telecasts.  That kind of ad using that kind of tactic disgusts me.

Next thing you know, some Super-Duper PAC will be running ads telling me about Barrett’s secret plan to bring European-style Socialism to the Cheesehead state, and his secret plan to jack up taxes on the job-creators.  Or that he was really born in some foreign country and isn’t a U.S. citizen.  Or that as a boy, he consorted with Bill Ayers.   Or that there are several months of his life that can’t be accounted for, except that customs shows him entering Afghanistan and rumors have him spending time at a terrorist training camp.

Or, worse yet, that he’s a closet Bears or Vikings fan.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Don’t Let the European-Style Socialists Tax the Job Creators!!!

One of the most persistent myths is that the wealthy are the “job creators”, when anyone who has even a limited understanding of economics knows that’s complete nonsense.

Business people, whether they’re wealthy or wealthy wannabes, hire additional staff (create jobs) only as a LAST resort.

And the only thing that prods them to actually hire more people is greater demand for their product or service – demand that can’t be met by existing staff.  That demand has absolutely nothing to do with the people identified by the myth-perpetrators like John Boehner, Paul Ryan, and Rush Limbaugh, as “the job creators”.

Demand comes from the huge (and shrinking) middle class, which spends its money on goods and services it deems necessary.  Demand does not originate with rich people, the government, or large corporations, particularly, the too-large-to-manage financial corporations.

While I’m on the tangent of too-large-to-manage financial corporations, regarding the two-billion-dollar blowout at JP Morgan Chase, haven’t we heard that Jamie Dimon speech before – the one where he says “mistakes were made, we were stoopid, we’ve learned, this won’t happen again?”  Yup.  We’ve heard it before.  It was the same one he gave after the mortgage/credit default swap meltdown a couple years ago.

And these folks, like Dimon, are regarded by some as the smartest fellows in the room?  Please.  They can no more than the man in the moon control or manage an entity as large as JP Morgan Chase.

Oh, and now there’s the “European-style” descriptor, being applied liberally by Faux News and its ideologically affiliated outlets.  President Obama is going to bring us “European-style Socialism” through his “European-style fiscal policy” implemented through “European-style bureaucracy.”

But that’s how we roll in America – by repeating slogans.  Which is fine, as long as you keep your grubby government hands off my Medicare, you European-style socialist!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Trip to Greg's Tuba Store

A few weeks ago, after several weeks of back-and-forth e-mails setting up the deal, I pointed my giant, foreign-made gas-sucking SUV north and headed up to Appleton to “test-drive” a few of my friend Greg Laabs’ Conn 20-J tubas, hoping that one would be a good fit for me, and that it would make the return trip to Madison safely nestled in the rear cargo area of the SUV.

Readers of this blog may not be aware that back in the 60’s, 70’s, and early 80’s, I spent many nights playing tuba in the back row of some of the finest territory bands in the upper Midwest, and most of those jobs involved playing polkas.  I did dozens of LP albums and hundreds of TV shows with polka bands.  And, for this kind of work, the most prized tuba is the Conn 20-J model, hand-made in Elkhart, Indiana, until the early 80’s.  Since they’re not made any more, those that still exist are prized.  I bought my first 20-J at Heid Music in Appleton in 1966 and paid 600 bucks.  I sold it just prior to moving to California in the 80’s for a thousand bucks.  Nowadays, a fully-restored Conn 20-J can fetch thousands of dollars.

I’ve known Greg Laabs for years.  He graduated from Hortonville High five years after I did, and we’re both products of the finest tuba teacher and mentor in the state, Ernie Broeniman.  Ernie played with many of the big-name polka bands around the state, and 25 years ago formed his own group, Dorfkapelle, modeled after the great big-bands of Europe.  Greg also followed in Ernie’s footsteps as a polka tuba player, and Greg has been at it for 35 years, and is so good at it that he’s a member of the board of directors of the Wisconsin Polka Hall of Fame.  Along the way, he’s collected and restored quite a few Conn 20-J’s, and has also collected some great artifacts of the polka business in the spacious outbuilding behind his house.

When I arrived and entered Greg’s “tuba store”, he had three 20-J’s lined up and waiting for me to play.  He has nearly a dozen 20-J’s in his collection, from the three you see here to a couple of meticulously restored 20-J’s that are WAY out of my price range, to a couple “bar horns”, as Greg calls them; horns that, well, have seen better days, still play well, but aren’t very much to look at.

As we visited and caught up with each other, Greg showed me a few of the many albums (they’re all CD’s now) he played on, and told me a few stories about how he’d come by the many horns he has in his collection.  Some he bought from eBay and Craig’s List; many are simple private-party transactions, similar to what I did in ’84: just put out the word my horn was for sale, and sold it to the highest bidder.

Over there in the corner of his shop was a trombone hanging from the ceiling.  I asked about it.  He said “oh, that was Jay Wells’ trombone.”  Jay Wells had a background similar to mine; he was a broadcaster by day and a musician by night, with the famous Red Ravens orchestra.  Lawrence Duchow formed the band in 1933 and named it “Lawrence Duchow and his Red Raven Inn Orchestra”, as their regular gig was playing at the Red Raven Inn in Hilbert.  The band became a huge national hit, touring and recording, and in 1953 called it quits.  Jay Wells bought the rights to the name Red Ravens and Duchow’s music library in 1960, and for years fronted the band, which he called “Jay Wells and the Original Red Ravens Orchestra.”  Greg bought the library from Wells quite a few years ago, long after the band had become idle, and the library sits carefully packaged and stored in Greg’s building.  Man, if those sheets of music could talk…..

Finally it came time to get down to business.  Greg told me a bit about the pedigree of the three horns we’d narrowed it down to; his horns #2, #5, and #12.  The number two horn, shown here, has seen more than a few miles and has picked up its fair share of bumper stickers from polka gatherings around the state, and a nice WTKM radio station sticker (one of the few stations in the state that still plays a lot of polka music), but the horn has a great sound and plays very easily.  Greg told me he used it on the last studio recording job he had.

I played a few tunes on the other two horns, and decided that the number 12 horn was the one I’d buy.  The horn was built in 1968, and Greg bought it from a man in Indianapolis, who’d bought it from a high school that was selling off its fleet of tubas and replacing them.  Apparently the man who bought it from the high school didn’t ever actually play it very much.  Greg told me that when the horn arrived, he took it out of the cases right away and dragged it off to Winneconne for a regular Wednesday-night old-time jam session.  The next day he took the horn over to our friend Randy Dorschner, who runs an instrument repair shop in Appleton, to have the horn reconditioned.  Greg said a couple days after he dropped the horn off, Randy called him and asked how the horn had played at the jam session in Winneconne.  Not the best, said Greg, but…playable.  Randy told him that as he was taking the horn apart to recondition it, he found about a dozen stick-pins jammed into the lead-pipe of the horn, and caught in a bend in the horn just ahead of the first-valve junction.  No doubt some high school kid’s idea of a joke.

The finish on the horn has a bit of wear, and there are a few dents here and there, but it plays great.  Greg insisted on calling his wife out to the outbuilding to photograph the occasion, and she was kind enough to take my camera and capture this shot of the two of us and the “number 12 horn”, which indeed made the trip home to Madison with me.

Quite the place, Greg’s tuba store.  Filled with memorabilia and items of historical significance, all of which are in good hands.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"Business-Friendly" Government Regulation

Above is a photo (a “screen capture” from Channel 26 in Green Bay) of the poster-child for “business-friendly” state regulatory agencies, Cathy Stepp.  A failed contractor, Stepp became a politician highly critical of the Department of Natural Resources.  So critical, in fact, that her new pal Scott Walker put her in charge of the DNR.  And she promptly named another politician and DNR-hater to be her executive assistant – Scott Gunderson.

The May 6th Wisconsin State Journal carried an article by reporter Ron Seely who exposed one of Stepp and Gunderson’s scams to have the DNR turn a blind eye to a waste-hauler’s excessive dumping of human waste near water wells.  Stepp, of course, accused the paper of sensationalizing the story, but she refused to talk to the paper.

What the hell.  What’s a little pee and poop in the drinking water.  Big deal.  Nobody cares.

Some of the Republican trolls who inhabit the legislature whined about how they thought the DNR was supposed to be a more “business-friendly” agency.  Idiots.

You want a business-friendly regulatory agency?  I give you the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, which is so business-friendly it turned a blind eye to the entire slice-and-dice mortgage and credit default swap debacle that brought down the economy – and is so clueless and powerless that outfits like JPMorgan Chase are STILL making multi-billion-dollar losing gambles.

I don’t want “business-friendly” government regulation.  I don’t want “business-antagonistic” government regulation.  I simply want regulation to the letter of the law and/or administrative code.

I don’t want to drink someone else’s pee because Cathy Stepp and her merry band of government-haters think the DNR should be more “business friendly.”  If some business is using arsenic to pressure-treat lumber, and is cavalier about handling the toxic stuff, I want it shut down until it complies.  If a paper company is dumping PCB’s into a waterway, I want it shut down until it complies – and then, I want it to clean up the mess it made.

Does the Wisconsin DNR have a reputation for being heavy-handed?  Yes.  They can be real a-holes about things like where you can and can’t build a dock, how big it can be, and how far it can reach into the body of water.  And yes, I remember clearly that when I was a young man, plenty of folks in the Fox Valley, where I grew up, said DNR stands for “Damn Near Russia”, because it enforced all these “rules and regulations” – like how many walleye you could take out of the Wolf River and how many deer you could legally kill.

Only a very shallow thinker would favor “business-friendly” regulatory agencies.  And Lord knows there are plenty of shallow thinkers under the big top at the head of State Street.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Insanity of Politics

So, Mitt Romney pushed down some boy and cut some of his hair off.  And this happened 47 years ago.  And this “proves” that he’s a bully?

I don’t know what it’s going to take to change this cycle of charge and response regarding ludicrous minutiae, but this latest “gotcha” about Romney is ample evidence, as if more were needed, that our political system is doomed unless it changes radically.  Radical, as in “from the roots”.

To me, it is absurd that this item is even carried by “mainstream media”; that it is constantly repeated and expanded upon; that it persists (lead story on at least two national TV news shows this morning); that anyone even CARES about this; and that some of the less intellectually endowed among us seem to think this “proves” that Romney is a bully.

It wasn’t that long ago that dreck like this was fodder only for the tabloids.  But, as has been demonstrated time and again, TV news isn’t news; it’s entertainment.

I don’t give two hoots in hell for Mitch Romney (around the house, I call him “Mike Rummy” to my wife) and have, as a parent, learned first-hand that bullying is not to be trivialized.  I’ll say this for Romney’s handlers: they have learned that the only way to deal with this crap is to acknowledge it without admitting to it (“I don’t remember the incident”), apologize, and then move on.

There will be the pundits who will say Romney’s apology was not sincere (Rachel Maddow and CNBC); the left will act as though this is the most offensive act ever perpetrated by one human being on another, and will theorize that this schoolyard scuffle set the pattern for a man who loves to fire (bully) people.  I’m waiting for somebody in Wisconsin to find someone to come forward and say Scott Walker bullied him in school, setting the pattern for Walker’s bullying of the public employee unions.

It’s been a great week in politics.  A man who’s now on his fourth wife, preaching to his national radio audience about the sanctity of marriage; the voters of the Badger state disrespecting women by electing a man to run against Walker (“it was Kathleen’s turn; she deserved to win”); and another GOTCHA moment regarding a candidate for national office.

Next thing you know, they’ll be telling us our city council members are TEXTING each other during those marathon council meetings, and we’ll have to get all riled up about “secret closed meetings” and whether those texts are different from a couple council members talking quietly to each other in the hallway outside the council meeting.

We are fiddling insanely while Rome burns.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Why The Kathleen Lost

The simple answer is, because she robo-called me during dinner Monday night.

The more complex answer has to do with voter perception about her binding ties to organized labor, the nastiness of the campaign she ran against Peg Lautenschlager for Attorney General a few years ago, and the undeniable fact that Tom Barrett for the last few weeks has been acting like he actually wants to win the Governor’s office this time around.

Back to the robo-call, and, if I may, a long digression.  Several thousand years ago, during one of my southern California iterations, as a marketing exec for the Jack Kent Cooke Organization (Cooke Media Group, to be specific), among other tasks, I wrote scripts for the telemarketers in the huge phone rooms of the Los Angeles Daily News.  Back in those heady days in the 80’s, LA had three viable daily newspapers: the Times (back when it was a Chandler paper, before the Tribune Company bought it), the Herald Examiner (a Hearst paper), and Jack Kent Cooke’s Daily News.  The Daily News was a jaunty paper with lots of color, lots of attitude, and we wrote telemarketing scripts for various zip codes, tailoring them to the specific demographic and ethnic group we were trying to reach.  Daytime scripts were heavy on the coupon aspect of the paper – you were more likely to reach housewives at residential phones during the day, and all the telemarketers had to say to close the deal was “the coupons in the Sunday paper will more than pay for the cost of the subscription”.  And, these were real, live, flesh-and-blood think-on-their-feet telemarketers, the kind who know when to abandon a script, and when to say “maybe this isn’t a good time to talk; I’ll call you back in a few days”.

Long before the advent of no-call lists, we used “sequential dialing sheets” to reach the listed and unlisted numbers.  For instance, in each L-A metro area code, the other marketing whizzes broke down the exchanges, and the telemarketers went to work.  For instance, in the 213 area code, the targeted exchange, let’s say 486, would produce call sheets that looked like this: 213-486-0001, 213-486-0002, all the way to 213-486-9999.

A couple things we knew for sure: robo-calls were not effective; and that a trained, professional, polite  telemarketer could boost sales (circulation) more than any machine playing a recorded message (with a “press 1 to be connected to a sales agent right now!” spiel).

Back to The Kathleen and the interrupted dinner.

No one wants to talk to a telemarketer while they’re eating or have their meal interrupted by a robo-call.  People have meals at divergent times, so it’s not practical/feasible/possible to “block out” 5-6 PM or 5-7 PM or whatever for a “no-call” time.  And robo-calls can’t ask if you’re eating or otherwise occupied and decide maybe it would be best to say “I’m sorry; I’ll call at a different time”.  And, the thing is….politicians KNOW robo-calls don’t work.  A couple weeks ago Isthmus ran a story about how politicians know the calls don’t work, yet they continue to pour thousands and thousands of dollars into this failed approach.  The head of the National Political Do-Not-Contract Registry, Shaun Dakin, told Isthmus robo-calls “have a perfect record of never having worked”, citing a number of respected studies.

We don’t need this fact to indict the political class as being hidebound and stupid, because plenty of such facts are already in evidence.  Political consultants and campaign operatives just keep ordering the robo-calls because they’re cheap: less than a nickel a call, whereas today a live telemarketer call can cost a buck.

Another sidebar: it’s amazing, based on the number of tweets and Facebook status updates, how many people don’t realize that our politicians exempted nearly all political and campaign activity from the no-call list.  The calls are perfectly legal.  Some states have a few restrictions on robo-calls, and Indiana and Wyoming prohibit them altogether.

So, when I was chomping down my chicken breast and salad Monday at 6:15 PM and the phone rang, with a 608 area code displayed, I answered it.  I’ve learned not to answer any phone call from the 414 area code in the evening, because it’s invariably a political call.  When I answered the call, The Kathleen launched into her script – probably something about remembering to vote tomorrow – I don’t know, because I disconnected the call after about five words.

My bride said “who was that?”, and I said “Kathleen Falk, sealing her doom.  We won’t need to watch the election coverage tomorrow night.  She’s toast.”

And so she was.

(The Sheboygan Press holds the copyright on the photo at the top of this post.)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Tea-ing it up...

I’m so confused.  Is Tommy a tea person or not?

The shot above, captured by, shows Tommy a few months back, Tea Party flag proudly flapping in the wind behind him, whipping up the crowd in Madison.

Yet when I asked someone who’s supposed to know about these things, he told me Tommy is the antithesis of everything the Tea people stand for: big spending, big government, mass transit, yadda yadda yadda.

Last week Tommy and his pals Scotty and Becky put on a show at the Leach Amphitheater in Oshkosh, drawing a crowd (?) of nearly 200 people, and giving speeches about what they consider to be important things.  Scotty, of course, said he deserves to win the recall because he’s doing great things for Wisconsin.  Becky said pretty much the same thing.

But Tommy can’t just stand behind the lectern (although, nearly everyone in the media calls a lectern a podium – which is something you stand on, not stand behind) and give a talk.  Tommy gets out from behind the lectern and paces up and down the stage, giving his patented fire-‘em-up speech about ‘sconsin and all the good things about ‘sconsin like the Packers and the Badgers.  Man, there’s some real cutting-edge stuff: let’s cheer for the Packers and the Badgers!  Yay

Anyway, I digress, as usual.  In the most recent Oshkosh talk, Tommy let the cat out of the bag: he said he’d been talkin’ (Tommy usually drops his g’s) with a bunch of business people the past few days, and they’re tellin’ him that they’re just rarin’ to go with more hirin’, spendin’, expandin’ their inventories, and pumpin’ up the state economy, but they’re not gonna do it until after Scotty wins the recall.  Tommy didn’t say what would happen if Scotty loses, but it’s fair to assume that if that Barrett fellow wins, there’ll be no hirin’, spendin’, expandin’, or pumpin’ up.

If I were still working in the nooz biz up in the Fox Valley, I would have called Tommy’s people after the speech and said something snotty like “certainly you can provide me with the names of the business leaders Tommy has been talking to about these expansion plans that will happen after Scotty wins, because I’d hate to think that Tommy just made that stuff up….and I don’t want to go over his itinerary for the past few weeks and try to make educated guesses about who the secret job-creators are.”

I guess we’ll just be left to wonder who those mystery job-creators are, until after the 5th of June.  And as to the question of whether Tommy is a tea person or not: I guess the answer depends on who’s askin’.