Friday, August 30, 2013

Singing In a Minor Key, With Diminished Chords

Against my better judgment earlier today, I got caught up in a “discussion” about the noon-time singers at the Capitol.  One of the people with whom I was “discussing” this insisted that rights are not compatible with permits.

The “discussion” devolved from there.

I use quotation marks around the word discussion because it was typical of the discourse that surrounds controversial groups or events like the so-called Solidarity Singers.  In other words, instead of listening, digesting, and replying, it’s more like stating your opinion, and then when there’s a chance to speak again, stating the same opinion more loudly.

Another person said singing in the capitol building is as much a right as singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” during the 7th inning stretch. (I’m pretty sure I read that “argument” somewhere else this week.)  Still another wondered why, with all the really top-notch civil rights lawyers in Madison, they aren’t more involved in filing suits against the Capitol Police or the Department of Administration, or SOMEBODY, to stop the arrests.

I’ll tell you why I think our city’s many highly-talented First Amendment lawyers aren’t filing suits: because they know it’s fruitless. I’m guessing that it would put them in a position to argue in court that nobody needs a permit for anything, as regards the First Amendment, and I’m further guessing that the judge would, at that point, ask them to show evidence that they possess a valid law license - something I don't have, so I'm just guessing here.

I mentioned in the “discussion” that the Wisconsin Constitution – and the Constitution of the United States (as written by God and delivered to the Continental Congress on smoking tablets by Jesus) – means what the courts decide they mean.  And the court has spoken, and it has said a group of more than 20 needs a permit to hold the noontime “concert” in the rotunda.

This assertion on my part engendered a response of “but what the court says is only an opinion, and we’re talking about a natural right that is our birthright and cannot be taken away by any court”.

Suffice it to say the person who gave that response is not likely to be admitted to an accredited law school in the United States.

So I tried a bit of my well-worn “America” speech.  One of the many great things about this country is that we make up our own laws.  We don’t believe, as they do in many nations, that our laws were handed down by Mohammed, or Moses, or Jesus, or whatever religious figure you care to name.  Our laws ARE subject to interpretation (there’s that pesky “court opinion” idea again) and, if enough people don’t like our laws, we change them.

When we think our laws are bad or wrong, we often break them, sometimes noisily and sometimes quite publicly. Like the 18th Amendment to the Constitution (prohibition). After a while, we said “this is ridiculous” and then passed the 21st Amendment, which repealed the 18th. (Oh, and by the way, no real surprise – Wisconsin was the second state to ratify the amendment repealing prohibition, just a couple weeks after Michigan ratified it in April of 1933.)

Sometimes it takes a while for us to change laws we don’t like, because we may have liked the law at first, and then later decided “not so much”.  Like the changes to laws regarding who can get married.  Or who can use marijuana as a medicine.  Or a 55-mile-an-hour national speed limit.

Who knows? Perhaps the paramilitary dragoons who now control the Capitol Police will finally get on the nerves of enough ‘sconnies, and we’ll say “WAIT A MINUTE!!!” and force the Governor to re-think things.  It’s going to take a big noise, though, because the governor is running for President, and when he makes it official, he doesn’t want protesters in the rotunda when the national media come to town.

If they cuff and drag off more singing grandmas, change might happen more quickly. But I’ll bet a nickel that the idea of getting a permit to protest in “the people’s house” is one that’s going to continue to sit well with the majority of ‘sconnies.

(The photo at the top of this post is Copyright Madison Newspapers Inc.)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Daddys, Don’t Let Your Daughters Grow Up To Be Miley

Her people probably told her that to keep her career moving forward, she had to shed (shred) any image people may have of her as Hannah Montana.  Well, that’s taken care of.

We now have these uncomfortable and persistent images of this girl, 20 years old going on 35, doing vaguely pornographic things with a foam finger (a huge number of sports social media sites this morning talked about how they’ll never view the foam #1 finger the same way again), grabbing her crotch every few seconds, and “twerking”, as the young folks say.  That’s the word they use for dry-humping on the dance floor.  (Sorry about the crudity, but, that’s what it is.)  With a guy almost old enough to be her father. (Robin Thicke is 36.)

By the way, his dad (Alan Thicke) and mom (Gloria Loring), both veteran show-biz pros, must be quite proud of him, too.

I’m not sure how Miley’s dad Billy Ray has weighed in on his daughter’s latest stunt; and, to be honest, I don’t care.

The ironic part is, by doing exactly what the MTV Awards have become known for – outrageousness – the 20-year-old Cyrus not only gave MTV what it wanted, but gave “her people” a double-dose of what they wanted.  In addition to shattering any wholesomeness which may have remained with her Hannah Montana image, Cyrus has a lot of people talking about her.

Unfortunately, the old saw is true: there is no such thing as bad publicity.  At least not in show-biz.

Of course I didn’t watch the MTV Awards last night.  Are you kidding?  With shows like Breaking Bad, Dexter, Ray Donovan, and even Ice Road Truckers (one of my favorite guilty pleasures) available?  I saw her performance this morning on everything from Headline News (where anchor Robin Meade confessed that they toned down the clip they ran in the prior hour of the show, because of all the e-mails HLN got) to Morning Joe (where Mika, Joe, and the gang had a field day clucking about her performance), and linked to scores of social media posts.

The MTV Awards telecast is designed to push the envelope and create talk.  This year, they finally managed to top the Madonna/Britney Spears kiss (which, by the way, is now a full decade ago).  Shows that feature young women strutting around in the skimpiest of outfits miming sex always remind me of a PBS documentary that ran several years ago about the Iraq war.  When asked why he hated America so much and so desperately wanted Americans out of his country, an Iraqi man told PBS “because we don’t want our daughters to grow up to be Britney Spears”.

Pretty well sums it up.

What did somewhat surprise me this morning was reading the reaction on social media of a number of my daughter’s contemporaries, ranging from “made me uncomfortable” to “what was THAT?”  These are young women very close to my daughter’s age (28 next month), many of them her classmates at LaFollette High.  It’s good to know they’re apparently pretty well grounded and see this sort of thing for what it is.  I know the parents of these young women, so it shouldn’t have surprised me that their daughters reacted with surprise and disapproval.

In the grand scheme of things, Miley’s over-the-top porn routine last night has little, if any significance. Tomorrow, it won’t even be a blip on the radar, and it won’t make news again until next year’s MTV Awards show.

But I don’t think I’m the only father whose reaction was “what kind of father lets his daughter be advised by people like this”.

As comedian Chris Rock said shortly after the birth of his daughter, “My number one job in life has just become keeping my daughter off the pole”.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What My Friend Steve Is Missing

Missing, that is, by not watching Breaking Bad on AMC-TV.  Steve doesn’t watch a lot of TV.  In fact, he says the last time he watched TV at home was prior to the turn of the century.  So earlier this week, when he saw me change my Facebook “cover photo” to the image below,

he wondered what it meant, and then created and published his own version of spelling his name out in elements from the periodic table.

Infinitely more creative than the Breaking Bad Name Lab.

Steve is the smartest person I know, and I’m lucky to know a lot of smart people.  We met years, decades ago in Oshkosh, when he strolled into my office at the old WMKC-FM, fresh out of radio school at KIIS-FM in Los Angeles.  He inquired, in his beautifully-modulated bass/baritone voice, if there might be any work to be had.

Hell yes.

We became friends as quickly as we became colleagues; shortly after he decamped to the competition across town, I was thrown under the bus at WMKC and wound up joining Steve and the crew at WOSH/WYTL. There, I had the pleasure of working with, and eventually managing some of the greatest on-air talent ever assembled in the Fox Valley radio market. Our stations absolutely dominated the ratings and I made many good friends, with whom I still interact with today.

Steve became a computer/IT whiz (demonstrating once again that there is abundant life after radio) and has helped me with my computer/tech problems for years.  See that “Rifles At Dawn” graphic at the top of this blog?  That’s Steve’s creation.  He also minds all the tech aspects of my online life.

But, as usual, I digress.

Steve would like Breaking Bad.  I can understand how he “fell away” from television; simply put, there’s a lot of mindless crap out there. But since Steve last entertained himself with the tube, circa 1999, there’s been a huge change.  While the traditional broadcast networks are awash in smarmy reality shows, un-funny sitcoms thoroughly dedicated to the lowest common denominator, and dramas which are either cloyingly emotional or gratuitously violent, the “good stuff” has migrated to the cable channels.

HBO wins bucket-loads of awards every year for its first-rate programming.  AMC has had hit after hit with shows like Mad Men and Breaking Bad. Shows like Homeland Security and Dexter on ShowTime regularly pull in six million viewers.  And, to be quite blunt, these shows aren’t the kind of shows stupid people like.  They force you to think.  They force you to pay attention.  The writing is stellar, the characters are multi-dimensional, the acting is of the highest caliber, and the cinematography is often breathtaking.

Over the past six or seven years, much of the best writing and acting talent has held forth on what used to be “the dark side” of the broadcast entertainment industry: cable TV.  And now, an entirely new venue of first-rate entertainment is being developed by Netflix, and has even engendered a new term: binge-viewing. My wife and I binge-viewed the 13 hour-long episodes of House of Cards on streaming NetFlix, watching the entire series in less than a week. We did the same with the new Netflix series, Orange is the New Black.  This is a whole new extremely consumer-friendly way of offering first-rate entertainment: all the episodes are available whenever you want them.  If you want to devote a day to watching all 13 episodes, not waiting for a new one to come out every week, Netflix gives it to you.

The 8 bucks a month we spend to have streaming Netflix through our Blu-Ray player is the #1 entertainment value at the Morrissey Compound.

And here’s another thing: many of these new shows, like House of Cards, are so well-received that they beg for another season, so Netflix will do another season.  But, like Breaking Bad, the series will come to an end.  It won’t go on forever, like ER, Gray’s Anatomy, and scores of other broadcast network TV shows that started with huge promise but then “jumped the shark” (Happy Days) and devolved into maudlin mediocrity. 

There’s an old saw that says when you envision a beginning, envision an end – and that’s one of the things that makes these new cable-only or Netflix-only shows so good: the writers can focus on developing a plot that comes to a conclusion, and they don’t have to invent artificial devices just to keep the show alive for another 13 weeks/episodes.  Hence, each episode is focused, moves the plot forward to a definite conclusion.  Gee, whoda thunk the formula “beginning, middle, end” would ever work???

So, Steve, since this post is for you, why would you like Breaking Bad?  Because it’s a smart show about a smart guy.  Don’t worry, no spoilers here.  Walter White is a high school chemistry teacher, brilliantly played by Bryan Cranston, who missed his chance at being a billionaire by selling out his share of what became a huge software company, for five thousand bucks.  When White discovers he has lung cancer, he “breaks bad” as the young folks say, and becomes a meth cook, to ensure that his family will survive financially after he's gone. Not just any meth cook, but the best by-God meth cook in the world.  The chemistry alone, Steve, would fascinate you.  There have been monographs written about Walter White’s now famous P2P meth cook.  Here’s a link to one of the many analyses of Walt’s meth cook which I think you’ll enjoy, Steve.

Through the course of six seasons, White’s character evolves (devolves?) from a mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher to the most ruthless, murdering, conniving, savvy, successful drug dealer imaginable.  And he does it right in front of his brother-in-law, an FBI/DEA agent.  And right now, we’re in the final confrontation between Walt and Hank (the brother-in-law).  The trip to this point, this breaking point, if you will, has been a breathless ride from Walt’s beginnings as a meth cook with a unique recipe operating a small-time lab in a big-ass RV, through his evolution to running the most sophisticated meth lab ever created (and the show spares few details, Steve), to his ascendancy as the premiere drug lord of all the southwestern US and most of northern Mexico.

That’s why the name lab feature of Breaking Bad’s online presence is so popular: chemistry is central to the development of the show.

And you’ll love this, Steve: at one point, when Walt is beginning to move from street-level supplier to regional meth wholesaler, one of the drug overlords he’s about to dispatch asks him his name, and he replies “Heisenberg”.  See what I mean about this being a smart show for smart people?

So, my friend, with only a few episodes left, Breaking Bad is on an express elevator to hell, and characters are falling left and right.  And in a few short weeks, this show will be over. Should you ever decide to watch TV again, Steve, may I humbly recommend that you begin with Breaking Bad?

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Robber Barons of Education

I was stunned when I read Dan Simmons’ article in the Sunday paper about the super-sweetheart deal the MATC Board gave outgoing president Bettsey Barhorst.  In exchange for “being available” for personal or phone consultations to the incoming new president for a month, and by phone for 3 months after that, she’ll collect 88 grand.


While the deal was approved in a closed-door session by the MATC Board back in mid-June, this is the first we’re hearing about it.  The Board says it didn’t try to hide the deal, and the news release announcing the hiring of Jack Daniels to take Barhorst’s place says only that she agreed to remain available through the transition.


Hell, for 88 grand, I’d “remain available”, too!


The deal says, as I understand it, that during the first month of the transition – September - Barhorst has to make herself available in person, if necessary – with MATC picking up any travel costs necessary for a personal appearance – and for the next 3 months, all she has to do is take a phone call, should the need arise.


Who writes deals like this?  Who needs four months to transition into the job? Daniels has run educational institutions like MATC for 15 years in 3 states.  Anybody who needs more than a month to “transition” to a similar job probably shouldn’t have been hired.


This is even better than the sweetheart deal Governor Walker just worked for his hand-picked Capitol Police Chief, hardliner Dave Erwin, shuffling him on paper to a non-existent job for a few hours, and then back to his top-cop job at a raise of nearly a thousand bucks a month.  That’s a lot of cash for busting a bunch of old folks who sing over the noon hour at the Capitol.


At least Erwin is expected to actually show up and work five days a week.


Apparently the MATC Board thinks it’s the board of some Wall Street corporation, handing out fat sweetheart deals and golden parachutes and the like.  One of the reasons John Matthews remains the most powerful man in education in Dane County is that year after year – at least, before Act 10 – he hammered through great deals for Madison Teachers, Inc. as the union’s executive director.  But those deals were all done in broad daylight, with plenty of scrutiny from the public and the media. 


But deals like Barhorst’s are – if you ask me – completely over-the-top.  88 grand to be available to take calls for a few months.  We need a whole lot more daylight shed on stuff like this, BEFORE it gets approved.


If you’re looking for modern-day robber barons, you need not cast your gaze as far as Wall Street.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Inside The Radio Nooz Beast

If you’ve been following along for the last five years, the largest radio group owner in the known universe, Clear Channel, has been steadily firing hordes of people.  The number is well into the thousands by now.  The company owns, give or take, 850 radio stations (about 10% of the stations in the U.S.) and is kept afloat – tenuously – by a deal largely engineered by Bain Capital.

It is impossible for Clear Channel, which is also has the largest revenue of any radio company in the nation and reaches about 110 million people a week, to meet its debt service on the Bain Capital deal. Ever since the deal was struck, Clear Channel – CC for short – has been reducing operating costs by firing people and not replacing them.  They just keep rolling the debt, generating the fees that outfits like Bain Capital thrive on.

To outfits like Bain, it’s not whether the company is financially healthy; it’s whether it can continue to pay the fees, interest, and “consulting costs”.

Here in Madison, there are really only two radio news departments: the staff at Public Radio, and the staff at the CC Madison stations (WIBA-AM/FM, Don't confuse "sidekicks" who read a couple minutes of "news" in the morning with news reporters, who actually go out and gather news. CC’s main competitor in Madison is the MidWest Family Broadcast Group (Magic 98, Q-106,  According to the latest ratings, CC has a 28.4% market share, and MidWest’s share is 23.3%.  Just before Thanksgiving last year, MidWest gave up and pulled the plug on WTDY-AM and its existing news staff.

Not that long ago, Madison had four active radio news operations: the WIBA stations (before they were bought out by CC), the MidWest stations, the Mid-Continent stations (WTSO-AM, but now WTSO is part of the CC group), and Public Radio. Readers of this blog don’t need me to lecture them about the implications of cutting in half the local radio newsgathering operation.

Generally, when a group operator like CC comes into the market, the first thing they do is pare down the news operation.  You’ve heard the numerous horror stories about local stations, now owned by CC, blithely playing music and commercials while a tornado or other natural disaster bears down on a community and causes widespread damage and loss of life.  The days of a warm body actually pushing buttons to create radio programming (to say nothing of the REALLY old days when an actual, trained, live announcer created programming) are long gone, and now, the vast majority of radio stations after sundown are run by a computerized automation program.

One way Clear Channel has pared its local operations down is by establishing regional “news hubs”, which is why the traffic reports you hear on the Madison CC stations originate in Milwaukee, and many of the afternoon newscasts you hear on WIBA-AM originate in Grand Rapids, MI.  CC has done the same thing with on-air talent: more and more programming is originating at one of these “hubs” and fed regionally to the CC local stations. Vicki McKenna is one of the many CC employees who now do double duty: she does a talk show on a Milwaukee CC station (WISN-AM) from 10AM to noon, and a talk show on a Madison CC station (WIBA-AM) from 3 to 6 in the afternoon.  Vicki’s arch-conservative politics aside, it’s no walk in the park to do five hours of talk radio every weekday.

A few days ago, Clear Channel threw the News Director of its Miami, FL radio cluster – a woman with more than 20 years with the station – under the bus.  My friend Dusty Weis has insider insight into that situation. Dusty, one of the brightest and most capable young reporters I ever had the pleasure or working with, was a colleague of mine in Madison five years ago, until MidWest threw me under the bus.  Dusty made a big career move up, and was hired at that Miami station a couple years ago. But he resigned several months ago - essentially gettin’ out while the gettin’ is good.  Dusty moved back to Wisconsin for a great job with the City of Milwaukee.  He told me CC will not hire a News Director to replace his former boss at CC in Miami, which means an outfit that used to be the premier news-gathering operation in south Florida a few years ago will be headless and directionless. Or, as Dusty says, “just a news beast that gobbles up information and spits out 20-second stories”.  

Ten years ago, that station (WIOD-AM) had double the staff and covered only metro Miami; now, it’s one of those “hub” stations that feeds tiny bites of news to CC stations all over Florida, with half the staff and no real boss . No one with, as Dusty puts it, “with editorial authority or clout with management”.

It’s a doubly sad situation: another veteran news manager is unceremoniously dumped after 20 years of service, and another bright young radio news reporter (Dusty) has left the ranks.

I have seen the future of local radio, and it is not bright.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Never Heard Of A Polka Mass???

I must admit I was shocked Sunday while checking my Facebook news feed to discover a status update from my friend Joy Cardin (yes, that Joy Cardin, the morning show host on Wisconsin Public Radio).  Her post said “Just drove by the Rosendale church. A sign out front said "Polka Service". The parking lot was packed or I would have stopped just to see if it was what I imagined.”

This was followed by a string of comments from folks who, like Joy, seemed to never have heard of a “Polka Mass” or “Polka Service”.

I’ve known Joy and her husband, WISC-TV morning show news anchor Rob Starbuck, for more years than I’d care to admit, and I know they’re both solid ‘sconnies.  Joy is from Appleton, which is a suburb of my hometown of Hortonville, and Rob is from the Ripon area.  Or, at least, I know for sure that he worked at WCWC Radio in Ripon before moving on to the glamour of TV, first in Green Bay, and for the past 25 years or so in Madison.  So I was surprised that Joy wasn’t familiar with the Polka Mass.

At the top of this post is a 2007 photo taken by Kathy Lotaweik for the online publication On Milwaukee dot-com.  It was taken on the south side of Milwaukee at the annual St. Helen’s Parish summer picnic, a huge gathering which has featured a Polka Mass for years and years.  My friend Ralph Thull’s band The Goodtime Dutchmen (from Kewaskum) are performing at the mass.  That’s Ralph on the accordion.  I can’t tell for sure from the photo, but I’ll bet my long-time friend  “Tuba Dan” Jerabik (from Ripon) is behind that big shiny tuba in the back row.  Dan’s been their tuba man for years.  And his son Dan, also a tuba player (and master of a couple dozen or so other instruments) has a very popular band called “Copper Box” which you’ve probably heard of.

Having been a polka musician from my high school days in the early 60’s through the mid-80’s, I’ve played my fair share of Polka Masses.  Back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, one of the bands I worked with, the Wisconsin Dutchmen, played a Polka Mass at the Sacred Heart Parish in Oshkosh every year at the annual parish picnic, and then we played another 3 or 4 hours so the huge crowd could dance. That gig was a big one, just as big, I’m sure, as the huge St. Helen’s Parish Picnic in Milwaukee.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting with my friend Ray Konkol, one of the state’s better-known concertina players (with whom I had the pleasure of working with on Ray Dorschner’s Rainbow Valley Dutchmen for many years), and Ray told me that just about every Sunday in summer his small polka combo is booked for a Polka Mass followed by a parish picnic.

I thought EVERYBODY in Wisconsin knew about Polka Masses, and was surprised at the comments on Joy’s status update from folks who were not aware of them, but seemed intrigued by the concept.  One of them posted a clip from a Wikipedia article about the Polka Mass, but, as with many things on Wikipedia, the article was full of errors that any experienced polka musician could point out. The article claimed that the Polka Mass was originated by a Milwaukee priest in the 70’s, but there are plenty of us who have played in Polka Masses way back in the 60’s, at parishes all around the state.

On any given Sunday (or late Saturday afternoon) in summer in Wisconsin, I’ll bet there are at least 40 or 50 Polka Masses being offered all around the state.  And – for all you good ‘sconnies – maybe some day Rosendale will be better known for its Polka Services than for speeding tickets!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Second Annual Baseball Rant

I was beginning to think the baseball rant I put up last year in July was going to be a one-time only thing.

My friend Jennifer Miller, like me, a former news anchor and inveterate baseball fan, went to a Brewers game in late June last year and was annoyed by so many things that she spewed forth a great Facebook rant (the substance of which can be read at the link above) that prompted me to launch into my own rant, sort of riffing on the themes she laid out in her masterful rant.  Not exactly Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody On A Theme of Paganini, but on re-reading, I think I did a creditable job of ranting about my displeasures with the Great American Pastime, most of which had to do with the fans in the stands. Much of the material was hers; much was mine; and I threw in a couple of sage observations from my tuba-playing friend and student of the Game of Baseball, Tom Plummer.

That’s Tom’s smiling countenance at the top of this post, in a photo I stole without his permission from his Facebook page.  He’s holding up the Iowa Cubs t-shirt he caught (blasted from an air cannon) at an I-Cubs home game a few weeks ago, a game which featured back-to-back-to-back home runs (3 in a row) from the hometown Triple-A sluggers.  (Brief sidebar: the Iowa Cubs address is 1 Line Drive, Des Moines. I love that! Line Drive!  I suppose they couldn’t have gotten “1 Screaming Line Drive” past the Postal authorities.)

To me, that photo captures much of what’s great about the game.  Nice facility, attentive fans, fun and games (t-shirts shot from air cannons), and exciting, competitive baseball from guys who really hustle. Take a look at that crowd behind Tom: without trying too hard, you can see people from every stage of life, from children to teens to young adults to middle-aged folks to senior citizens, all drawn to the ball park on a beautiful evening to enjoy the game. America.

Finally, last week, after another of her many annual treks to Miller Park, Jennifer issued forth with another Facebook rant (the entire context of which I’ve copied and pasted below, at the end of this rant), in which she essentially taunts me to reprise last year’s rant with this year’s fresh material.

Shortly after publishing her rant, she sent me a private message, apologizing for attempting to bully me into “immortalizing” her latest rant by blogging about it, and let the record show that I was about to bully her into issuing forth with another rant this year.

Jennifer ranted about the ineptitude of this year’s Brewers efforts, culminating in the suspension of the man who was deemed the Face Of The Franchise, and the Brewers’ masterful stroke of PR in handing out ten-dollar vouchers to every fan through the turnstiles for several weeks, and a few nights ago, bringing back Brewers greats like Robin Yount, Rollie Fingers, Hank Aaron to observe the 20th anniversary (note to annoying broadcasters: it’s not “20-year Anniversary” as so many of you dweebs said) of retiring Yount’s jersey number.

She also ranted about some of the disgusting behavior displayed by fans seated near her (a huge theme in last year’s rant) and mentioned Zack Greinke’s quote about Ryan Braun: “The closer he got to anyone, the more he used them.”

I could rant about PED’s  and suspensions this year, but everyone else is doing that.  Instead, I’ll focus (although a true rant is unfocused) on three things: fans, announcers, and errors.  By the way, how can you be suspended from major league baseball (A-Rod) and still be in uniform, on the field, playing? We need a new word or phrase to describe the difference between the other players’ suspensions and A-Rod’s.  You ain’t suspended if you’re out there being booed at every at-bat at the Cell, baby.

Rant focus number one: the fans.  Far too many of them are entitled, boorish, sloppy, noisy a-holes.  People who spend the big bucks (as I do) to get the seats right behind home plate, and all they do is text or talk on their phone, or constantly wave and mug to the camera so their friends at home can see them exhibiting their self-absorbed childish behavior.  “Look at ME, look at MEEEEEE!!!!!”  Or the fans who must constantly impart their loud opinions to everyone in the section they’re seated in: “Me and 8 guys from the nearest bar could beat these bums!!!”  And the parentless children who have no interest whatsoever in the game, who race around the ball park annoying everyone.

I think a reasonable solution to the fan problem was suggested by an anonymous commenter on last year’s baseball rant on this blog, who suggested that there be in essence three types of seating at the ball park: the Baseball Fans Section, where presumably people who follow the game and truly enjoy the sport would be seated; the Family Section, where the undisciplined brats and their clueless parents could plant their behinds; and the General Admission Section, where the drunken riff-raff would be confined to entertain each other.

Rant focus number two: announcers.  I’ve been no fan of the late Jack Buck’s son, who for reasons which are not evident to me (talent is certainly not one of them) has ascended to the highest echelon of Fox Sports Announcers, and is the blatherer-in-chief at whatever game Fox has deemed most important. And this year I’ve also been hypercritical on social media posts of the Brewers own Brian Anderson, who says some of the dumbest things imaginable.  He’s a pleasant enough fellow, with certainly none of the obnoxiousness of Joe Buck, but he is wont to making crazy, thoughtless statements.  One of my favorites from a few years ago, which my baseball-fan wife and I have mimicked countless times, is BA’s pronouncement during the Ned Yost years that “once the game starts, the manager’s job is done. He might as well be a fan in the stands, because once the game starts it’s up to the players”. 

If there was a YouTube video of Anderson saying that, it would have gone viral because of the sheer idiocy of the comment.

He’s motor-mouthed scores of inane comments again this year, but none as laughable as the comment he made (wish I could remember the exact game and the player involved) about an on-field injury to one of the Brewers, when he said “You don’t want to speculate, but it looks like an ankle or lower leg injury”.  Thanks for not speculating, BA.

Most of the guys doing the announcing are really good at it. They don’t say stupid things, they freely speculate (without saying “I don’t want to speculate, but….”) but their speculation is based on experience and insight; they don’t shill for the home team, but are understandably partisan, without hyping; they love the game and respect it.  And there are a very select few – Vin Scully to name my favorite – who are great artists and their account of the game is nearly poetic.

The third and final focus of this year’s rant: errors.  They’ve largely disappeared from baseball.  Not because errors are not committed with less frequency than, say, 40 years ago; but because apparently scorers have decided that errors are bad for baseball: bad for the player who commits the error, bad for the batter, bad, bad, bad. Try to find out how many errors a fielder has, and you’ll have to go through a lot of web-pages before you find one that will actually tell you how many errors a player has committed.

 At my age (64) I’m really old-school: to me, a sharply-hit ball muffed by a fielder is not a hit, it’s an error.  My high school baseball coach, the great Russ Tiedemann, always said “if you can touch it, you can catch it”…and that’s still my mantra.

There was a play in Sunday’s Cubs game where the ball was sharply hit to Darwin Barney; he muffed it, even Len and JD seemed to think it was an error, but – the official scorer said “hit”.  Barney’s not prone to errors; last year he broke Ryne Sandberg's NL-record 123-game streak without an error at second base and was three outs from breaking Placido Polanco's major league record of 141 games without an error.  I’m not going to throw bricks at Barney, Sandberg, or Polanco.  All I’m sayin’ is, there are an awful lot of plays scored as hits now, which would have been recorded as errors a few decades ago.

That’s my rant; your comments are welcome.  Jennifer’s wonderful 2013 baseball rant is below.
The Second Annual Brewers Baseball Rant.
 (The first was immortalized in Tim Morrissey's blog. Will the gods be so kind this year?)
 1. Since they clearly can't/won't hold a clinic on the game of baseball this year, the Brewers nonetheless gave a tutorial in public relations this weekend. What do you do when your franchise player is suspended? Not only do you give the fans vouchers for free food, drinks, merchandise, you haul out the greats of yore: Robin Yount, Rollie Fingers, Hank Aaron. Ok, maybe it was a coincidence that it's the 20th anniversary of the retirement of Yount's number, but their appearances served as a reminder of what was great about this team, and what can be again.
 2. Speaking of the vouchers, I still think that is extremely gracious. What other owner/organization would do that? Now considering that the cheapest foodstuff is around 5 bucks, $10 dollars doesn't get you too far. But by combining our four vouchers, we ended up only spending $4.25 on food and beverages--plus we got a ticket for a free drink just for parking! Can't beat a deal like that.
 3. The girls and I were immortalized a second time on the video board. This time for our Bernie's Bongos prowess. (The first time was a few years ago when Summer fell asleep during the 7th inning stretch. The double-dose baseball loving gene completely passed over her.)
 4. The guy sitting next to me, who coincidentally also has a son who is a senior at UW-O, turned to me and said, "So, you're a Rickie Weeks fan?" I replied, "Yes. Sometimes it's just me and his mama." Then he went on to tell me that the Brewers were THIS CLOSE to trading Rickie to the Orioles just before the trading deadline, but the deal fell apart. I figure the guy had to be drunk or misinformed.
 5. Speaking of misinformed drunks, where do I begin with the group seated behind us? Besides one of them perpetually kicking my seat, and their racist mimicking of Carlos Gomez's accent, one of them repeatedly noted that he had seen the former Attorney General. He knew this, he said, because he came across his name while he was filing briefs last week. (This is where we're supposed to be impressed that he's a lawyer, I guess). I just happened to turn around while people watching, and lo and behold, seated in the box two rows behind us WAS the former Attorney General. Some people also know him as the former GOVERNOR, Jim Doyle.
 6. I don't care what your personal beliefs are, when the National Anthem is played, you will at least stand, remove your hat, and be quiet.
 7. I counted about a dozen people wearing Braun jerseys. (I also saw a few Weeks jerseys, a lot of Lucroy's, and one misguided Turnbow). It put me to wondering whether it's the only Brewers gear they own, or if they still support Braunie. I was in the "let's see the evidence" camp, until I read a terrific column by Michael Hunt in the Journal Sentinel. In it he quoted the pathologically stoic Zack Greinke, who stated: "The closer he (Braun) got to anyone, the more he used them." But, boy, didn't we want to believe that he was all that and a bag of chips!? By the way, Braun's restaurant is having a pizza special.

 8. You guys can't even score Rickie from third with one out! That's pathetic! As the pinhead lawyer behind me said, "I didn't spend $50 to watch a Triple-A team!" Triple-A? I've seen home talent teams play better. Mercifully, September is just around the corner.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Personal Remembrance of Sharyn Wisniewski

I first saw notice of Sharyn’s death in a post on Facebook, and thought “that can’t be right; she’s way too young”. Sharyn died of brain cancer Thursday, and she was only 62.

Through the course of my former career as a news anchor, I spoke with Sharyn on the phone hundreds of times, chasing news stories.  For many years, Sharyn was then-County Exec Kathleen Falk’s executive assistant, and for several years after that, she was the marketing director and official spokesperson for the Dane County Regional Airport.

The County Exec’s office and the airport: a couple places where news frequently happens, and I encountered few people as thoroughly professional as Sharyn in dealing with the media.  After a number of years speaking with her in an official sense (news gatherer to news source), I finally met her in person at some social function.  It’s not unusual for radio news anchors to never actually meet in person people they speak with frequently.  Reporters do; they get out into the field and stick microphones and cameras in people’s faces; anchors pretty much live in the studio, and when pressed into service chasing breaking news, they do their interviews on the phone.

You used to be able to spot a rookie radio or TV news reporter or anchor in Madison easily, because they’d mispronounce her name.  Sharyn pronounced it the Polish way – wis-NESS-kee (although I suppose the true Polish pronunciation would be closer to “vis-NYEF-skee”).  Rookies would mispronounce it the American way, wis-NEW-skee.  That usually happened only once, until someone who’d been around a while heard the mistake and corrected the rookie.

Of the hundreds of “official” conversations I had with Sharyn, I remember only one in particular.  It was several years ago. Something happened to some Midwest Airlines passenger jet at the Dane County airport; I don’t even remember the specifics, but I seem to recall the cabin filled with smoke after the plane landed and firefighters were on the scene as they hustled people off the plane.

Newsrooms have a lot of “secret phone numbers” where they can get in touch directly with news sources without going through switchboards or layers of gatekeepers.  I heard about the incident on the scanner and called Sharyn’s secret direct number and she picked up the phone right away.  I said “Sharyn, this is Tim at MidWest, what’s going on?”

A bit of explanation here.  When I was on anchor duty in the newsroom after 9 AM, I was responsible for news for all the radio stations in the building – which, back then, was 7: WTDY, Magic 98, Q-106, The Lake, WJJO-FM, The Tux, and LaMovida.  If there was breaking news, I’d get it on all the stations, either by going on the air live with the individual station’s on-air personality or by recording a news bulletin audio file which would go on the air in the next “break” on the station.  So, rather than identify myself with call letters, like “This is Tim from WTDY” or “This is Tim from Q-106”, I‘d just say “This is Tim from MidWest” – as in MidWest Family Broadcast Group.

Anyway – to continue the story, after I identified myself as “Tim at MidWest”,  Sharyn said “Good morning, Tim”, and began a recitation of very specific information – the airplane’s flight number, the type of equipment (what kind of airplane it is), the number of people on board, and the level of response from the fire department.

Suddenly it dawned on me that Sharyn thought she was talking to Tim Hoeksema, Chairman of the Board of Midwest Airlines, who would also have identified himself to her as “Tim from Midwest”.

I interrupted her and said “Sharyn, this is Tim Morrissey from the MidWest Family group of radio stations, not Tim Hoeksema of Midwest Airlines”.  We had a good laugh together about the unusual coincidence, and I told her all I needed to know right now is whether anybody was hurt and if there was any danger to people at the airport. I said she’d already provided all the other stuff I needed to know to write and deliver a news bulletin.

I told her I knew she was going to be very busy, and that I’d get off the phone so she could take other calls.  She laughed again, and said “next time there’s something involving Midwest Airlines, just identify yourself as ‘Radio Tim’ right away”. 

I know I spoke with Sharyn many more times after that incident; but I’ll always remember the “Tim from MidWest” story.  What a wonderful, professional, and friendly person she was.  I’m sad that she’s gone so young.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Madison: Where The Circus Is Always In Town

It’s official.  The battle of the choirs at the state capitol is the latest attraction at the permanent circus called the state legislature.

It’s sort of like the Anthony Wiener story: just when you think it’s finally going to go away and leave you alone, another new twist comes along that propels the story into another full day of media coverage.

This morning, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney was on Mitch Henck’s WIBA-AM show trying to explain how he really “isn’t on the side of the Solidarity Singers” and how he would “never encourage anyone to break the law”.  Yesterday, it came to light that a local nooz organization (WMTV Channel 15) got into the business of making news as well as reporting it, when one of their reporters applied for a permit, presumably for the so-called Solidarity Singers, to use the capitol rotunda at noon – and then never did a story about it, leaving that small detail to a bunch of other local media.

If you’re not in the Madison TV market or don’t read one of the Madison newspapers or listen to WIBA-AM, you’re probably not aware of the latest lunacy under the big top at the head of State Street.  So here’s a bit of background.

A couple years ago when Governor Scott Walker (“I’m a reformer!!!”) was ramming Act 10 through the legislature – the so-called “Budget Repair Bill” – all sorts of hell broke loose in Madison, with mass marches, sit-ins and sleep-ins at the capitol building, dueling press conferences, national TV coverage, 14 Democratic state senators decamping to Illinois in a failed attempt to avoid a vote on Act 10, yadda yadda yadda.  During this period, the Solidarity Singers were born.

Believing that’s it more important to be heard than to have actual singing talent, the group which varies in size depending on the day and the weather has occupied the central rotunda of the capitol every weekday over the noon hour, singing lefty tunes like “Solidarity Forever” (to the tune of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah”).

After a couple years of this daily song-fest, a bunch of TeaPublicans got tired of it and wrote and passed a law, the purpose of which was to kick the singers out of the capitol.  But, there’s that pesky First Amendment thing, so a challenge was filed, and a judge said groups of 20 or more had to have a permit to gather and demonstrate (read: sing) in the capitol.  Why 20?  Well, the judge said you gotta pick some number.

Now those of you not from the People’s Republic of Madison need to understand a few things: groups like the Solidarity Singers think the First Amendment is there just to protect what THEY want to say. Here it comes….the Eddie Ben Elsen reference!  He’s the guy who ran for D-A of Dane County back in the 60’s, announcing his campaign naked on the stage at a strip joint known as The Dangle Lounge, with a platform plank saying people should “obey only the good laws”.  Sort of like the Tea People, who only believe in the GOOD parts of the Constitution, which was written by Jesus.

And you wonder why it’s so much fun to live in Madison.

Last week, the Capitol Police, with help from the State Patrol, said they were going to begin enforcement of the permit law, and started arresting the singers.  This sort of thing is as irresistible as chocolate-covered strawberries to the newsies, who flocked to the capitol, cameras rolling, microphones on, note-pads at the ready, to capture the scene of senior citizens being cuffed, taken downstairs, being ticketed (around 200 bucks), and then being released.

After a couple days of this, local political operative Mike Blaska (referred to in the media as “right-wing blogger Mike Blaska”) got a group together, got a permit, and announced to all that would listen that his group – the “We Got A Permit Singers” – would be holding forth in the rotunda.  This prompted the un-permitted lefties to hold their competing noon hour sing-fest outside on the capitol grounds.

Media madness, of course, ensued.

Bad-boy Sly (referred to by the media as “left-wing talkshow host Sly”), no stranger to political shenanigans, went inside the capitol and started shouting insults at Dave Blaska, so Capitol Police told my former broadcast partner he’d best move along, and three of the boys in blue escorted Sly to an exit.

Next chapter: by what he says is complete coincidence, Dane County Sheriff Dave Mahoney happened to be passing through the capitol rotunda the other day, and stopped to say hello to some of his constituents in the Solidarity Singers who recognized the Sheriff.  This became fodder for the local gossip mill, the story morphing into “Sheriff Mahoney supports the Solidarity Singers” – which caused our Sheriff to go on Mitch’s show on WIBA this morning to explain that he doesn’t take sides, and just happened to be at a meeting at the capitol which ended over the noon hour.

Of course, the locals all remember our Sheriff at the peak of the frenzy over Act 10 a couple years ago saying that Dane County Sheriff’s Deputies were not “Walker’s Palace Guard”, a statement which he had to walk back with the local newsies.  No surprise that his coincidental stroll through the capitol last week during the sing-along wound up with the spin it did.

See what I mean about it being fun to live in Madison?

Then, yesterday, when no one was arrested at the noon-hour sing-along, the story emerged that the reason for no arrests was that a Channel 15 reporter got a permit for the noon sing-along.  As the rest of the news outlets scratched their head about this blatant example of participatory journalism, the nooz boss at Channel 15 said the reporter got the permit because he was going to do a story about how easy it is to get a permit, and then, breaking news broke (one presumes it was the story of the letter Sharon Wand supposedly wrote to The Monroe Times, recanting her testimony in the case of her husband and brother burning down their house and killing 3 of their children) so the Channel 15 story about the singers and the permit never came to be.

Oh, it’s a circus, all right.  And who knows what will happen at noon today.  Or tomorrow.

See what fun you’re missing by not living here?