Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Man of Action

Perhaps you have not yet heard about Matthew Bent.  He’s the father of boy who’s been bullied for over a year now, and he’s gotten the runaround from the Kaukauna School District, the cops, everybody.  The picture above, from Matt’s Facebook page, tells part of the story.

Everybody has an excuse for not doing something about the bully that’s been hounding Matt’s son. The school administrator Matt was told to call wouldn’t even take his call – until Matt’s story went viral and everybody in the Fox Valley knew about it.  The cops told Matt it’s up to the school police officer to deal with it.  The school police officer first told Matt it was his son’s own fault, for going into an area of the school where the bully was known to hang out.  When Matt asked the school cop about a certain piece of jewelry Matt gave his son after a successful Little League season, a piece of jewelry the bully stole from the boy, the cop said the bully denied stealing it and said that piece of jewelry was available at such-and-such a store.  That was a “good enough excuse” for him.

Meanwhile, Matt’s story continues to explode on the internet, garnering support and encouragement from parents of kids who’ve been bullied and adults who were bullied as kids.

As hard as it must be, Matt is doing the right thing.  He’s “going through the appropriate channels”. And I hope eventually, sooner rather than later, the people who comprise “the appropriate channels” will do the right thing by Matt’s son.  Matt could easily have gone the vigilante route, taken justice into his own hands, and meted out the sort of retribution that ends the bullying in short order, but often begins a serious involvement with the law enforcement system.

I have little faith in the “appropriate channels”, because they’ve failed us so many times. Too often they turn a blind eye to the problem, hoping it will go away; too often when confronted with it, they weasel out using mealy-mouthed excuses about “policy” and “established procedure” – the kind of politically-correct group-think that brought us asinine crap like “zero tolerance” and has us taking off our shoes at airports.

And a certain small percentage of those who were bullied explode in a rage that makes headlines all over the world.

I hope Matt can hold on long enough for the wave of common sense that’s building in the form of a viral media storm to force the foot-draggers to do their job, and directly and effectively address the bullying.

If it seems from my tone like I have personal feelings about this, you’re right.  I’m the tall, scrawny, uncoordinated geek who wore glasses and liked science and wasn’t “cool” and got picked on, and then a few short years later was the six-foot-three 225-pound man-child who meted out vengeful justice in spades.  And learned the truth that bullies are cowards.  And then made a promise to himself to intervene any time anyone was being bullied.

Hang in there, Matt.  Help is on the way – in one form or another.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Fear and Loathing in TV-Land

I peered up from the book I was reading yesterday and saw Wayne LaPierre’s face on the tube, and angrily grabbed the remote and shut TV off.  Having worked in a broadcast newsroom for nearly all my adult life, I always have CNN on in the background, very low volume, just as newsrooms always have the police scanner volume up 24/7.  News can break at any time. 

Scanner traffic and all-news 24/7 cable channels become part of your environment in this biz.
I thought about my initial reaction of anger at seeing LaPierre on the tube.  I am as tired of his “more-guns-more-guns-more-guns” rants as I am of the media constantly plastering his face on TV and broadcasting his rants.  The man is on every network every day!

A few hours later, on the local TV nooz, a reporterette was interviewing some local law enforcement guy who was saying they’re concerned about a possible shortage of bullets, and how they might have to cut back on their training activities if they can’t get enough bullets.

Then it clicked for me.

LaPierre is a genius.  An evil genius to be sure, but a genius nonetheless.  He has kept the cycle of fear and paranoia alive since December 14th last year – well over three months since the mass murders at Sandy Hook.  Whatever the gun and ammo manufacturers are paying him can’t possibly be enough.

He has, pretty much singlehandedly, created the biggest business boom in history for gun and ammo manufacturers, and the boom is showing no signs of slowing down. He has engendered a bull market in the firearms industry the likes of which has never been seen, and every nooz story that airs telling of possible bullet shortages and empty shelves and racks at the gun store drives the boom another notch higher.

Every time LaPierre opens his mouth some TV camera records it.  This is a fairly recent phenomenon in the nooz biz, this rush to “balance” every gun-control advocate (or, name any issue or cause under the sun) with someone who has a different viewpoint.  Every time somebody like Joe Biden says “gun control”, something from Wayne LaPierre must be run alongside it to “balance” the story.

And please, don’t get me started on the concept of “false equivalency”.

But, you know what?  Of all the gun groups out there (and there are more than you might think) Wayne LaPierre is the least extreme national spokesman! Spend a few moments reading the stuff that Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America has put out, and you’ll come away thinking LaPierre is a moderate.

By whipping up the fear that Barack Obama’s Secret Muslim Army is going to come in black helicopters to take your guns away, LaPierre gins up more and more business for the gun and ammo dealers. By constantly repeating his message of fear to “balance” their gun control stories, the media helps spread LaPierre’s paranoia.

Shortage of bullets?  “The Government” is buying up all of them so you can’t get them. Just ask LaPierre or any one of hundreds of right-wing bloggers.

Shortage of assault weapons?  Manufacturers can’t crank them out fast enough to meet the demand of those who STILL don’t own one, but know in their heart of hearts that if they don’t get one now, THE GOVERNMENT will soon shut down production and then they’ll have to pay an arm and a leg to get one on the black market.

Hitler’s first move was to disarm the populace?  The gun guys love saying that, but it’s complete BS.  The only people Hitler took guns from were the Jews. The average German household under Hitler was awash in firearms, many of them brought home after World War One.

The combination of crackpots like LaPierre, the media echo chamber, and native stupidity combined with ignorance of history and topped off by an inept congress have made gun and ammo manufacturers modern-day robber barons.

Yes, I own firearms. Yes, I’ve gone deer hunting with a high-powered rifle. 

No, I don’t have an AR-15 and no, I don’t own any high-capacity clips.

I don’t need them, nor do you.

Monday, March 11, 2013

No, Senator Johnson, You’re Not Entitled to Your Own “Facts”

Two items I read over the weekend prompted me to write this rant: the first was a piece about how people really aren’t “entitled to their own opinion”, if that opinion is counter to scientific, demonstrable fact; the second was a transcription of Senator Ron Johnson’s joust with Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman on one of the Sunday morning TV talk shows.

Perhaps the cliché should be changed to “everyone is entitled to their own delusion”, in the case of people who think the Earth is three thousand years old, that mercury in vaccinations causes autism, and any of a number of things – Michelle Bachmann and Sarah Palin seem to have an endless supply of them – that are counter to demonstrable fact.

And Senator Johnson really shouldn’t try to blow smoke past a Nobel Laureate in his particular field of expertise.  Here’s the gist: Senator Johnson made the claim that the Social Security Trust Fund is a myth.  Why he would say such a stupid thing is beyond me, when it’s obviously not true; but, be that as it may, this came up during a discussion of Social Security on a TV talk show.  When Senator Johnson uttered that nonsensical claim, Paul Krugman said “You said ‘let’s start with the facts’, but we’ve just run aground right there”.  To which Johnson said “Exactly my point – we have got to agree on facts and figures”.  Krugman responded “But your facts are false. Social Security has a dedicated revenue base, it has a trust fund based on that dedicated revenue base…it’s important to realize that the ‘facts’ being brought out here are in fact non-facts.”

Paul Krugman has his own opinions on economic matters, opinions which may or may not be “true”, such as his belief that paying down the nation’s debt is not as important right now as growing the economy, and that we can accomplish some of each at the same time.  That’s an opinion, not a fact. But at least it’s an informed opinion.

Senator Johnson’s assertion that the Social Security Trust Fund is a myth is simply not true.  Social Security is funded by two things: payroll deductions from the earnings of working people, and income from investments in government securities which the Social Security Trust Fund makes.

Senator Johnson is either ignorant of that basic FACT, or – he would like us to believe that somehow “the government” funds Social Securty – a basic UN-FACT.  That sort of assertion, false as it is, falls right in line with similar untrue statements from Johnson about how Social Security payments "add to the deficit".
You and I fund Social Security, and I probably fund a lot more of it than the average person, because I’m self-employed so I personally pay “both sides” of the FICA tax on my income - my portion, and the "employer's" portion.

Senator Johnson is entitled to his opinion that government is too large, too intrusive, and spends too much money.

But Senator Johnson is not entitled to state “facts” which are so untrue as to be absurd.  He does so at the peril of being perceived as a clown rather than a politician.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Quebe Sisters Band Wows Stoughton

Ever since I first heard the Quebe (KWAY-bee) Sisters Band when a friend posted one of their YouTube videos on Facebook over a year ago, I’ve been waiting for them to make a tour stop within driving distance, so when tickets went on sale for their stop last night (Saturday) at the Stoughton Opera House, I pulled the trigger immediately and managed to get a front row center seat. If you like Texas Swing – Bob Wills, Asleep at the Wheel, that sort of thing – you’ll love the Quebes.  All three sisters are Texas Fiddle Champions, and they sing perfectly on-pitch tight harmonies.


It was their first-ever appearance in Wisconsin, and they knocked it out of the park in front of a standing-room crowd at the Stoughton Opera House, which is a perfect venue for their sort of music. I checked ahead, and learned that flash photography is prohibited – no surprise – or I’d have taken a lot of photos. The photo of the band at the top of this post was taken by Laura Cash, and it’s a fairly recent photo.   Far left is the stand-up bass player, Gavin Kelso, a young man just two years out of the University of North Texas - the school that used to be called North Texas State, home of one of the finest jazz programs in the nation.  I expected bass man Drew Phelps to be there last night – I wasn’t aware that he was taking a break from the road, and that Kelso had joined the band eight months ago.  But Kelso is every bit as good as Phelps on the big “doghouse” double-bass.

Grace Quebe is second from the left in the photo; she sings the middle harmony parts and more than knows her way around the fiddle.  In the middle is the youngest sister, Hulda Quebe, who sings the high harmony parts and does much of the solo fiddling. Second from the right is Sophia Quebe, who sings the lead and solo parts and is the real leader of the band.  On the right is guitar man Joey McKenzie, a former Texas Fiddle champ himself, who is an absolute master of the Gibson arch-top guitar, does all the musical arrangements, and sort of “fronts” the band, doing most of the announcing and patter between tunes.


The band opened with “All of Me” which generated a huge ovation from the appreciative crowd, and the band seemed genuinely touched by the response – more on that, later – and Joey went into a short speil about this being their first time in Wisconsin, loving the snow (although it was a rainy, foggy night), and talking about how nice the ‘sconnies were in making the band feel welcome. A couple tunes later they played “Airmail Special”, the great old Benny Goodman swing tune, and after the tune Joey said guitarist Charlie Christian, who recorded the tune with the Goodman sextet decades ago, was one of his early influences.  They did several more numbers, including a couple Bob Wills’ tunes and a couple tunes showcasing the girls’ fiddling abilities, and closed the first half of the concert with a rollicking rendition of the Bob Wills tune “Roly Poly”, which brought the crowd to its feet.


After the intermission, as the band was coming back on stage, one of the audience yelled out “Across the Alley”.  My great front row center seat was about ten feet from the band, and I saw Grace look back and forth at her sisters, and then at Joey, and then I heard Hulda say to Grace “should we?” – and then Grace said to Joey  “what the heck – let’s do it”.  So they opened the second half with that tune, and then Joey said “always happy to accommodate a request when we can….but here’s the tune we were going to open the second half with” and they swung right into “Avalon”, another great old big-band standard, and bass man Gavin Kelso put on a display of high-range walking bass that drew a huge and spirited response from the crowd – which Joey acknowledged at the end of the tune by having Kelso take a bow.   A few tunes later they did a gorgeous arrangement of the gospel tune “Wayfaring Stranger” which generated another long ovation. Then Joey started to introduce the next tune by talking about how every guitar player alive owed thanks to Les Paul, to which there was immediate applause, and the band members all shared quick glances – and, bigmouth that I am, ten feet from Joey, who was looking right at me, I said, loud enough for him to hear, “Les Paul is from Wisconsin”. His eyes lit up and the band exchanged glances again as Joey said “oh, that’s right….I forgot…Les Paul is a Wisconsin boy – we were somewhat surprised that you seemed to respond to his name so well, which usually doesn’t happen on these tours, but that’s right- he’s one of yours!” and, of course, the crowd roared with appreciation.  Then they did “How High the Moon” better than I’ve ever heard them do on all the YouTube videos of the Quebes doing that tune that are available, to a standing ovation.

They wrapped up the concert with a rousing version of “It’s a Sin To Tell A Lie”, which Joey said would be on their new CD which is coming out in late May or June.  Joey thanked everybody for coming, but the audience demanded another tune, so they quickly huddled – I got the idea they’re not used to playing encores, because they unplugged their instruments from the amps and were starting to actually exit the stage – and decided to do “San Antonio Rose”, which left the crowd still wanting more, but very happy. Joey thanked everybody again and said if folks wanted to wait a bit, they’d be in the lobby later to sign CD’s and shake hands.


I hung around with about a dozen other folks in the lobby after the concert, and about 15 minutes later the band came in, so I had the privilege of getting to meet them all and chat a bit with them, and a chance to tell the sisters how much I enjoyed their perfectly-executed tight harmonies with their voices and their fiddles.  I had a bit of back-and-forth with Joey, who thanked me for reminding him that Les Paul is from Wisconsin, and he said they really weren’t sure how this tour stop was going to work out because they weren’t sure if us ‘sconnies were real fans of Texas Swing – and how he was so pleasantly surprised that we seemed knowledgeable about the genre and its history.


Then I got a chance to talk with bass player Gavin Kelso, and we had a nice, long conversation.  I told him at first I was like “where’s Drew Phelps?” because I enjoy Drew’s playing and his expressive face – but that within a few minutes I realized that he (Kelso) was every bit the bass player Phelps is.  I told him I was a bass player years ago, so I had an appreciation for the skill and effort that went into his performance.  He told me he graduated with a music performance degree from North Texas just two years ago – and that the tuba was his second-favorite instrument! So we “talked tuba” for a while. He told me he’d played with a few other groups right out of college, including a Dallas-based Celtic Rock group called “The Killdares”, where Joey had heard him, and when the opportunity with the Quebes came up 8 months ago, he auditioned for the job and got it, and was really enjoying the touring.  He told me he was really looking forward to their ten-day Russian tour, which starts Wednesday.  He said they were headed home to Texas this (Sunday) morning for a few days off, and then it was off to Russia!


I suddenly realized that I was the only person left in the lobby, besides the band – I was so engaged in talking with Kelso – and so I said “I better get outta here so you folks can get some rest”.  They all shook my hand again and said how much they enjoyed Wisconsin, and the folks they’d met here.  What a great evening – a wonderful performance, a chance to actually meet them, and – you can bet that when their new CD comes out I’ll buy it, and any time they’re within driving distance I’ll go see them again.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Hitler, Dahmer, and the Politics of Hate in Wisconsin

For those of you reading this blog who are not following politics in Wisconsin – and believe me, I pay as little attention as I can  - this great state which once had the reputation of being the epicenter of clean and open government has become an open sewer of filth, characterized by vile name-calling and narrow-minded “me first” politics.
On both sides.


The most recent incident was late last week, when it was announced that the John Doe probe into activities surrounding Scott Walker’s office when he was Milwaukee County Executive has been closed, and that no additional charges will be filed.  Apparently the Democrats had been hoping that Walker would be indicted on criminal charges, and they were deflated to learn that those conducting the probe closed up shop after catching a handful of Walker’s top lieutenants in a variety of moderately serious charges, leaving Walker unscathed, save for the perception that for the CEO of Milwaukee County, he apparently had no clue what kind of shenanigans his senior staff was up to. (Wink wink nudge nudge.)


But, as my lawyer said to me many times in my legal battles with my former employer five years ago, “there’s no law against being stupid”.  Apparently the guv is OK with leaving that perception.


Shortly after the John Doe probe was shut down late last week, Graeme Zielinski, the (former) official spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, let out a blast of Tweets, three of them comparing Governor Walker with Jeffrey Dahmer.


If you don’t know who Jeffrey Dahmer was, you can stop reading now. 


Shortly after Zielinski’s blast of Tweets hit the internet, a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter called my former colleague Mark Belling –who was vacationing in Hawaii – and asked for reaction.  Belling, the host of the highly rated right-wing talk show on WISN-AM and frequent filler-inner for Rush Limbaugh on his nationwide radio show, said “and they accuse my side of hate speech?  What’s the difference between Graeme Zielinski and Jeffrey Dahmer? Only one was found to be insane.”


Of course, my long-time friend and colleague Mr. Belling was trying to make a clever remark to the newspaper (a remark which got a good deal of play), but Mark apparently forgot that in 1991 a jury found Dahmer was NOT mentally ill (I know, I know---the worst murderer and cannibal in Wisconsin since Ed Gein) – a point which, while factually accurate, is probably not really well-remembered by us ‘sconnies.


But this time, Zielinski’s hateful Tweets did NOT get massive re-Tweeting.  Apparently, even the hardest of the hard-core left realized that Zielinski was in outer space.  In fact, several lefty friends whose Twitter feed and Facebook posts I follow began to ask their fellow Democrats to call the party headquarters (listing the phone number with their Tweets and Facebook status updates) and say “it’s time for Zielinski to go”.


And, indeed, Monday we learned that the DPW took action.  They docked Zielinski a week’s pay – about a thousand bucks - banned him from Tweeting - and removed him as party spokesman, although plenty of Dems are still calling for his outright dismissal, saying this latest flap is far from an isolated incident and should be regarded as the straw that broke the camel’s back.


Although I doubt it, this public woodshedding of Zielinski could be a start toward toning down the hateful rhetoric.  The Republicans and their young turk, Jeff Waksman, the mouthpiece for the Dane County Republicans whose acerbic partisan rants (“press releases”) have caused the Party to issue formal apologies, could take a hint and tone down their messaging, too.


Governor Walker is not Hitler, despite the signs and placards saying that during the protests against Act 10, and he’s not Dahmer.  He may not be that popular in the bluest of the blue counties in the state, but he is the duly elected (and reaffirmed through recall) Governor of all Wisconsin.  The Democrats can change that at the polls next time around, but comparing him to a serial-killer cannibal is not going to win them many friends.