Thursday, February 26, 2015

I Couldn't Say No To Armand

Our home – The Morrissey Compound, as I call it – is in a very quiet suburban area of Madison; a tiny enclave of seven homes in the middle of a nicely wooded tract of land. The homes are built in a huge circle, and our driveways all lead to a giant, round cul-de-sac. There’s never any traffic. It’s quiet and peaceful. The only noise you’ll hear is from the neighbor’s dogs (or, more likely, our two Collies) or the wildlife that abounds in the tiny neighborhood.


Last night around 7, as my wife and I were watching “Better Call Saul” on the DVR, there was a knock on the door. The dogs immediately went on high alert. I can see the giant cul-de-sac and part of our driveway from my reclining chair, so I looked out and saw – nothing.  No car in the driveway, no car parked in front of our house in the cul-de-sac.


I got up, turned on the porch light, and opened the door.  There stood a small young man – couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old – dressed in a heavy winter coat, holding a shovel. He was barely as tall as the top of the shovel. I said “hi”. He said “I’ll shovel your driveway for five dollars.”


We’d had 2 or 3 inches of snow and there were still just a few flurries in the air. I’d figured to hand-shovel the driveway the next morning for some much-needed exercise. So I said to the young man, who was looking me right in the eye, “nah. I can take care of it.”


The only word I can think of to describe his face at that moment is “crestfallen”.  I think the last thing the young man expected to hear was “no”. He was stunned. His mouth opened a tiny bit as he processed the rejection. It seemed to me that he just couldn’t understand why anyone would turn down his offer.


There was a moment of silence, as the dogs poked their heads out of the door and assessed the situation.


The young man was still frozen in silence, and then, slowly, he turned and started down the porch steps. I said “wait a minute. Where do you live?” He turned to face me,  pointed to his left, and said “right over there”. I said “do you live with Daphne?” Daphne, our neighbor two doors down, is a saint. She works in some management capacity at UW-Health and takes in foster children.  He said “yes.”


I said “will you do a good job?”  His face lit up, and he said “for sure!” I said “OK then, go ahead; and come knock on the door again when you’re finished.”


I closed the door and explained to my bride what was going on. I told her when I saw that crestfallen look on the young man’s face, I felt a real pang. He really wasn’t ready to hear a “no”. I told her I felt I had to say yes when I saw that face.

My wife is one of the few people who know that despite my huge frame and usual business-like (some would say “gruff”) manner, the heart of a teddy bear beats inside my chest.


I fetched my wallet, and decided to take a ten-dollar-bill out of it, and stuck it in my pocket. We resumed watching Bob Odenkirk ply his talents as a sleazy lawyer. About 15 minutes later, there was another knock on the door.  Again, I paused the DVR.


There he stood, his shovel at his side, and he said “I’m done.” I said “did you do a good job?” He said “yes.” I handed him the folded ten-dollar-bill. He didn’t look at the bill to see that it was a ten and not a five. He looked me in the eye and said “thank you” and turned to leave. I said “what’s your name?” He said “Armand.” I reached out and shook his hand, and said “we’ve just done a good business deal. Good luck to you.” He said “thank you” again and turned to leave the porch.


I went back to take my place in my ultra-luxurious reclining chair, and my wife and I made some small talk about young Armand the entrepreneur and resumed watching Saul ply his trade.


What I didn’t tell my wife is that what I really saw on our front porch last night was not a kid with a shovel looking for work.  What I really saw was a time-warp playing out on our front porch.


That wasn’t Armand from two doors down at Daphne’s house.  That was me, in the small village of Hortonville, back around 1957.


Monday, February 16, 2015

It Has Nothing To Do With Evolution

Scott Walker knows darn well that the “Theory” of Evolution is about as solid as scientific theories get. The European reporters who asked the question of him last week were just indulging themselves in a bit of progressive humor, knowing full well that Walker would never give them a definitive answer. 


He can’t.


And the reason he can’t is because he’s running for President, which, despite what you might hear in various enclaves in The City Of The Perpetually Offended (Madison), is his right to do.


And because he’s running as a Republican, he knows he can’t answer the question because he doesn’t dare “take a position” on anything that has to do with science, because no matter which position he might take on a question of science, some Republican voter will be ticked off.


Republican voters, by and large, have come to distrust science. A Paul Vale column in the HuffPost a few days ago revealed some staggering statistics: according to a Pew poll in 2009, 54% of Republican voters believed in evolution. A 2013 Pew poll showed only 43% of Republican voters believe in evolution. That’s a pretty significant switch in four years – to go from a slim majority to a solid minority that thinks – well, I don’t know what they think.  I guess they go with the Adam and Eve story.


And because of those numbers, in front of a crowd of international reporters in London, Scott Walker was forced to delight them by “punting” on the question.  The squeals of glee from Democratic punsters could be heard all the way across the Atlantic.


Before you get too smug about your own scientific beliefs, be advised that only 60% of Americans believe in evolution.  Pew research discovered the older you are, the more likely you’ll believe Adam and Eve and not Charles Darwin. The Republican Party has come to rely on older voters and evangelical Christians as its base.  That’s not a theory of mine; it’s more research from Pew.


The acute polarization of American politics is also at play in this “evolution” question. Over the past several years, Republican voters have come to mistrust science. Blame people like Rick Santorum, Glen Beck, Michelle Bachman, Newt Gingrich, or whomever you’d like, but, as I learned decades ago in college, the longer those “don’t trust the smart folks” views are held, the stronger they become. Hence, the stronger the divide.


I know enough about marketing to know that if you’re relying on an ageing base, you’re not “sustainable”, to use a current buzzword.


Some day, the Republicans are going to figure that out. But probably not during this Presidential election cycle. Just ask Scott Walker.



Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Thanks - a Million!

I knew it was getting close. Some time in January I looked, and it was over nine hundred seventy-five thousand. And this morning, I looked again, and it was over a million.  A million page-views on this blog, that is. A million of anything is a lot, and I’m elated to have reached that milepost here.


Thank you.


I started this blog in ’09, just as a way to chronicle things I was thinking about. I had no delusions that anything would ever go viral. It was just a way to express myself, without any editorial oversight. I’m told that blogs have become passé now. I don’t care. I love to write, and I have really enjoyed blogging here.


I haven’t been very faithful to this blog lately. Three posts in December – one, early in the month, which generated a LOT of hits, was when I posted about the late Paulie Heenan, and how we really need to rethink how we deal with cops who take someone’s life. And, this is the first post of 2015.


I have been busy; busier than I’d like to be, in fact, now that I’ve passed the golden age of 65. As a self-employed writer, I’ve whittled my workload down to two gigs. My main job, the one that’s taken a great deal of time the past several months, is redeveloping and reinvigorating a website I was commissioned to create in 2009 by the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association Foundation.


You’re welcome to visit this site, which is now called WBA Newsroom. Crawl around it and find all sorts of things useful mainly to working broadcast news people in Wisconsin – reporters, photographers, news managers. It has quick links to Wisconsin laws specific to gathering news in the Badger State; how to pronounce unusual Wisconsin place-names like Shawano and Oconomowoc; how our state’s Open Meetings and Open Records laws work, as relates to the news media; and all sorts of (I hope) other cool stuff.


Ever since the great recession in ’08, a lot of veteran news people have had to find other work (something I know more than a little bit about), and the Broadcasters’ Association was wise to realize that since so many of us long-timers were gone from newsrooms, and not around to mentor the younger folks, an online resource might be just the ticket to help fill that void.


I’m also in charge of the social media platforms for the WBA Newsroom site.  You’re welcome to search “WBA Newsroom” on Facebook and “like” us there; and, if you wish, you can follow us on Twitter, where you’ll find us at @WBANewsroom.  I try to showcase some of the great work being done by Wisconsin broadcast newsrooms via the Facebook page and Twitter account.


I’m also starting my sixth year as the Wisconsin producer for Public News Service. You can find an archive of the news stories I’ve produced at this link. We try to find important stories the “mainstream media” sometimes overlooks, and draw attention to them via our distribution network of hundreds of Wisconsin radio and TV stations and newspapers.


But now, things have calmed down a bit, and I’m going to find time to unleash some snarky rants on this blog again.


Thanks for all your “clicks” over the years – thanks more than a million, as a matter of fact – and I’m looking forward to getting back in the habit of speaking my mind here.