Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Irregular Regulation

It’s a high-falutin’ name…the Government Accountability Board….which was created by the state legislature in 2007, partly as reaction to the public’s disgust with the constant corruption being exposed at the capitol, and partly because even the politicians admitted there wasn’t much in the way of oversight going on up there at the top of State Street.

The board is made up of six retired trial judges, and this week they’re talking about putting some more teeth into what’s been a pretty docile tiger since its inception.

One of the items on their docket is a proposed new law that would ban legislative staff members from doing campaign work on state time. You say - wait a minute - don’t we HAVE that already? Isn’t that the tip of the iceberg that brought down crooked politicians like Chuck Chvala and Scooter Jensen? Nope. Insiders know that when they got caught using state staffers to do their political and re-election work, they “rearranged the furniture” a bit, but didn’t make any substantive changes. And one of these days, Scooter may even actually go to jail. He was found guilty on corruption charges on March 11, 2006, and is still walking around free, getting extension after extension with his high-priced legal talent.

Here’s another “bold” move from the board…they want to ban state lawmakers from working as lobbyists for at least a year after leaving office (gosh - a year???? A full year???) and set up the same rules for state regulators, who would have to wait a full year before they could go to work in the industry they were “regulating” for us. How about….just a modest suggestion here….a TEN-year ban on both politicians who want to become lobbyists, and regulators who want to switch to the private sector in the same industry.

They’re also talking about new rules that would bar lobbyists from bundling their campaign donations to candidates, and limiting when PAC’s can donate to candidates. It just looks so bad when they throw these huge booze-and-gourmet food-at-expensive-restaurant soirees for the politicians while they’re actually in session.

Oh, and another thing….the board wants more leeway in making public the findings of stuff it’s investigating. Far as I’m concerned, the more daylight, the more disclosure, the better. How about “everything the board does or investigates is open to the public unless a small committee of active judges decides it’s best to keep it under wraps for a little while longer”.

I know, I have radical ideas. Too many years of my life spent in the news business, I guess. Heaven forfend the people should actually KNOW what their government is doing.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid.

I guess I should live in New Hampshire, where the license plates proclaim “Live Free or Die”. I’m so tired of everybody telling me how to live my life.

We got about three inches of snow Saturday night. It’s March, it’s Wisconsin. It was “the State Tournament Blizzard” a week late. If you haven’t been a ‘sconnie most of your life, you may not be aware of the urban legend that there’s “always” a significant snowfall some time during the three-day run of the state boys’ basketball tournament.

I’d pretty much had my fill of NCAA Tournament basketball by 6 o’clock Saturday evening, so I switched over to a different local channel to catch the news. There, the 20-something anchor-in-training and the 20-something weather girl dispensed dubious advice to lead the broadcast.

Of course, since it had just begun to snow, they immediately went to the weather-girl to give us the latest on this highly dangerous and extremely tricky winter storm that was raging around us - NOT. After proving to us with geometric logic that it was indeed actually snowing outside, the weather-girl and anchor-in-training advised us against ANY travel of ANY sort. Something like “I hate to say it, but if I were you, I wouldn’t be going anywhere tonight”. The two agreed that this was a most dangerous situation, and going outside should be avoided at all cost.

Presumably, the two followed their own advice, and stayed at the studio until about 8 o’clock Sunday morning, when the gentle snow finally stopped.

Several months ago, one of the local print newspapers ran an item asking people if they thought the local weather people “hyped” the forecast. All but one of the respondents in their admittedly unscientific survey said “yes”.

That article must have escaped the notice of the two twenty-somethings dispensing the televised advice Saturday night…and their bosses. But then, as anybody who knows the biz can tell you, it’s weather that wins the ratings in the local TV game, and the more you can scare people into believing their family will not be safe unless they watch your weather, the higher the ratings will be.

So, when we get a three-inch snowfall, we must be warned against any travel of any sort. We must be reminded to stay tuned to this station, for the latest critical information (and dubious advice). I can’t wait for this summer, and the first thunderstorm we get. We’ll have to be warned that it is, in fact, raining, and that some thunderstorms have the potential to produce hail and high wind.

We must be some pretty stupid people, us TV viewers.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Legislating Morality? We Do It Every Day

I get a laugh out of people who say silly things like “you can’t legislate morality”. Hogwash. We do it all the time, and have ever since our nation was founded. Some political dweeb was repeating that hackneyed crap the other day, talking about the robber barons and their bonuses.

The ten commandments are just as much a book of law as a code of moral conduct, and you’ll find reflections of six of the commandments (4, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10) in the laws of our nation. We don't care too much, apparently, about the graven images or cussing. Plenty of municipalities have "blue laws" where you can't buy liquor on Sunday. But try messing with your neighbor’s wife and see what happens to you in divorce court. Even when we don’t legislate morality, we sure enforce a moral code in our civil and criminal courts.

The IRS code is full of morality. I’m old enough to remember when you could deduct ALL the interest you paid - credit cards, car loans, and of course mortgage interest. Not so much any more except for the home mortgage interest. You see, home ownership is a GOOD thing which the government encourages. No morality there?

My old stomping ground, Oshkosh, is having fun with legislated morality. In a few days, the bulldozers will tear down Supreme Video, on Washburn Street (the HiWay 41 frontage road), so the road can be widened. The place is notorious. A few years back, former State Senator Gerry Lorge got into a mess of trouble at Supreme Video when he exposed himself to an undercover Oshkosh cop.

You and I own Supreme Video, you know. We (the Wisconsin Department of Transportation) bought the porn palace in January for 1.4 million dollars. It was purchased by a Union Grove developer a while back for 600 grand, and the property has an assessed value of just under 349 grand. We paid more than twice what it’s worth on the market, and quadruple the assessed value, because of legislated morality.

The DOT and the city have been trying to move the porn shop for years, without success. Why no success? The LAW says you can’t have a porn shop with video booths closer than 500 feet to a residence, a church, a day care center….I could go on, but you get the idea. The law made it impossible to locate the porn shop elsewhere along the HiWay 41 corridor.

So don’t tell me you can’t legislate morality. We do it just about every session of every unit of government, from a town board to the state legislature. And we enforce a moral code in our courts.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fitchburg: Home To Terrorist Sympathizers?

It disgusts me the depths to which some people will go to smear others in political campaigns. I got a phone call yesterday morning from my friend Jay Allen, who’s been on the Fitchburg City Council for years, and is now running for Mayor against this Vivian person.

After I fired Jay at Mid-West many years ago, he built a very successful business in appliance repair, and has come into my home many times to fix stuff. We’ve remained friends through the years, and I often joke with him that when I fired him, it was the best thing that ever happened to him. Some day, Jay will be able to “buy and sell” me many times over. And he has worked hard for his success. His business is growing by leaps and bounds and he works his butt off.

This Vivian person put out a piece of campaign literature alleging that Jay has “ties to a domestic terrorist organization”. What a load of horseshit, as Bill Lueders at Isthmus exposed in a great online article. Take a moment to read it, and you’ll be as disgusted as I am at this Vivian person. Lueders’ article has a link to the “campaign document” that labels Jay a terrorist sympathizer.
The local blogosphere was abuzz with the story yesterday, and Paul Soglin’s blog resonated this morning with a great post about the smear on Jay.

Here’s the thing that annoys me the most. People like this Vivian person will stoop to any depth to try and make their opponent look bad. And the fear appeal is their stock-in-trade. Remember the recent campaigns that have done the same thing? The gut-check judge smearing her opponent constantly (and the right-wing bloggers lapping it up); the last State Supreme Court election that saw one candidate call the other - a sitting Justice - “Loophole Louie” - and the constant din of negativity that pervades so many of the state and local races these days.

Full disclosure: I am a friend of Jay Allen‘s and a financial contributor to his campaign, but am not connected in any other way with his campaign organization. I can’t even vote in that election because I don’t live in Fitchburg, nor do I live in an area which will be annexed by Fitchburg. Crap like the stuff this Vivian person is throwing around is scary, not only because it’s patently absurd, but because IT WORKS. How else would we have elected a person like the gut-check woman or Herr Goebbel-mann???

I hope the voters of Fitchburg will not be scared by this horrid lie the Vivian person is telling. But too often, the people most likely to vote are those also most likely to be swayed by false allegations of terrorist ties. I hope they see it for the hogwash it is.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Live Like You Mean It - In A Van, Down By The River

“I am thrice divorced, and I live in a van, down by the river.” Immortal words of motivational speaker Matt Foley, one of the many hilarious and memorable characters created for Saturday Night Live by Madison’s own Chris Farley.

The state’s tourism folks may as well have appended Farley’s line to their new slogan, “Live Like You Mean It”. It would have at least lent some originality and Wisconsin flavor to a hackneyed phrase that’s been used by everything from a rum purveyor to a book on how to stop being fat.

Baldy unveiled the new/old/recycled slogan in LaCrosse a few days ago, with the green letters WISCONSIN (aren’t we earth-friendly….green letters) overtopped by a red man (no, not a native American…a man rendered in red ink) doing a cartwheel across the green letters. Red, for those of you who can actually see it (I am red color-blind) is supposed to mean ENERGY.

Never mind that there are only a handful of ‘sconnie guys who can actually DO a cartwheel.
Sarah Klavas, who is the “brand manager” for the state, told the Associated Press she saw no contradiction in using a recycled slogan to promote the state’s originality. For those of you who haven’t checked lately, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s website calls itself the “home of original thinking”.

Say what? ORIGINAL??

The Milwaukee outfit Red Brown Kle' charged us taxpayers 50 grand to foist this new slogan upon us, one which they knew full well had been used by scores of other outfits, and fully disclosed that fact to the tourism bosses two months before it was “unveiled“ a few days ago.

Those folks at Tourism claim it’s a 13-billion-dollar business in Wisconsin, and plenty of us in south-central Wisconsin know first-hand how many primary and secondary jobs depend on tourism, and I’m not just talking about the Dells.

No less an editorial juggernaut than the Sheboygan Press opines “a tourist or visitor judges his or her travel experiences mainly on how well they are treated”. True dat…on our recent Spring Training odyssey to Arizona, we were treated like royalty by everybody from Sky Harbor Airport to the hotel to the ball parks.

The point is, more than any slogan or logo, it’s up to us ‘sconnies to make visitors welcome and enjoy their visit and make them want to come back.

“Live Like You Mean It” probably doesn’t hurt anything, but it probably doesn’t DO anything to make people want to come here.

I’d rather have something like “great beer, great cheese, no toll roads”.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Save A Tree? Not so much....

My good friend Doug Moe wrote a column the other day exhorting his readers to PRINT a copy of any e-mail, document, or file they really wanted to keep. Like me, Doug does not take well to those preachy little things you find in various places that say things like “save a tree - save the planet - consider helping to save the earth by not printing this”.

Hogwash. Trees are a crop, a very carefully-managed crop at that. Thousands of years ago when I was a student at Hortonville High School we learned about trees for paper through a program called Trees For Tomorrow. People who have obviously never learned about the paper industry act as though paper companies make wide swaths through residential neighborhoods, cutting down trees willy-nilly and laying waste to the urban landscape.

We grow a lot of trees for paper in Wisconsin….and a lot of trees for use at Christmas time, so don’t talk to me about “waste of resources“. We’re usually in the top five states in the nation for Christmas Tree production, for something that has a “useful life” of about a month.

But Doug’s column wasn’t about the paper industry and its conservation programs, it was about how computers will “disappear” your stuff and you’ll lose it forever - so, if you’re writing a book (like Doug was, about Bret Favre, when he had a “manuscript accident”), best to PRINT OUT the pages as you write them, and not rely on such flimsy artifacts of technology like the thumb drive.

I learned a long time ago to print anything I really wanted to keep - particularly the stuff other people pay me to write. But I got too lax with my policy when I bought a digital camera several years ago, and stored the photos on my computer. In December of ‘07 I had the mother of all hard-drive crashes, and lost most of the pictures I’d taken with that camera.

My tech guys told me this was the WORST hard-drive crash they’d ever seen, because absolutely NONE of the data was recoverable. They told me for about $1500 they could send it off to a place that does work for Homeland Security to see if THEY could get anything off it, but there’d be no guaranty. I had a hard-drive crash in early ‘06 and my tech guys got what they could off that drive, so some of my early pictures were backed up on DVD, thank you very much, but all the photos I took between early ‘06 and late ‘07 were gone, gone, gone.

Now, I pay for a service that backs up everything I tell it to, which is darn near everything. Since I seem to be prone to hard-drive crashes, I’m waiting for the day my investment in this service will pay off.

If past is prologue, I won’t have to wait too long.

Monday, March 23, 2009

We're Really Getting Hosed (Again)

There's a fascinating post on Slate.com from former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who gave a stunningly clear explanation of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of AIG and the bailout billions.

Spitzer points out the original decision to bail out AIG, when their phony derivate investments unraveled, was made by…..are you ready…..Hammerin’ Hank Paulson, who was then the Treasury Secretary; Toxic Timmy Geithner, who has Hammerin’ Hank’s job now, but was then head of the New York fed; Lloyd Blankfein, who was at the time the CEO of Goldman-Sachs; and the ubiquitous Ben Bernanke, head man at the Fed.

So, what’s AIG doing with the latest round of bailout billions, other than paying out obscene bonuses to those who ran a failed trading unit? Why, they’re paying off their trading partners in the derivative scheme….Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, UBS, and a who’s-who of failed “banking” institutions.

In other words, AIG sold these big investment outfits crappy derivatives (“credit default swaps”); when the system unraveled and they all went bust, AIG took the taxpayer bailout money and shipped it directly to their trading partners…so they didn’t lose a CENT on these ludicrous “investments”.

Can you say “inside job”? Spitzer does. And he oughtta know.

While these giant financial institutions are being paid back 100 cents on the dollar for their reckless adventures in fantasy, you and I are being asked to shoulder the burden.

Wealthy politician Jim Sensensbrenner, one of our Wisconsin delegation to Washington, echoes the Republican mantra that the government shouldn’t be in the business of abrogating contracts these financial institutions have with each other, and the bonus contracts they have with their employees.


We, the taxpayers, now OWN what's left of AIG. 80% is "ownership" no matter how you look at it. Since we own it, we can sure as hell re-write contracts or fire anybody we damn please.

All across America, we’re rewriting contracts to share the pain of the meltdown. Labor contracts are being changed, tax rates are changing, and everybody’s being asked to pitch in to help out.
Everybody, as it turns out, except the very institutions that brought us to ruin in the first place.
The more carefully you look into what Washington is doing with the money it borrowed in our name as taxpayers, the more disgusting it gets.

We are really being fleeced.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Maa-son, M'waukee, and Boise

Back in the dark ages, before radio and TV news became an occupation for people who like to hear or see themselves (most of them apparently have no real interest in news these days), you had a “chief announcer” (a/k/a “curmudgeon”) who, among other things, was in charge of making sure the rest of the staff knew how to pronounce words.

In the past few days, one local TV person has murdered the name of the challenger for County Exec (hint: it rhymes with Pistol) and the name of a prominent state senator (hint: Plale does not rhyme with whale….it’s two syllables).

This morning, one of the local radio news announcers said “Egg-zavier” would be playing in the NCAA Basketball Tournament today. Egg-zavier. The team is, no doubt, sponsored by Egg-zerox, and it features a marching Egg-zylophone band.

Speaking of sports….the Badgers (prediction: one and done) are playing Florida State in Boise tonight. Now, this is picky, but - as the locals will tell you, “there ain’t no Z in Boise”. They pronounce it boy-see. Not boy-zee. By my estimation, about half the people talking about it on the Madison airwaves this morning have it “right”.

Then, there’s the issue of our state’s largest city. Most of the natives actually pronounce it with two run-on syllables…mwah-kee. One of my former colleagues, who got her degree at UW-Milwaukee, told he she had a professor who would FAIL any student who didn’t pronounce all three syllables.
Madison’s Mayor Dave Cieslewicz (whose name is a mouthful for sure: chess-LEV-itch) is from M’waukee. You can tell, because he (like scores of others) pronounces Madison with two syllables - Maa-son, with that flat, broad “a” sound that Midwesterners love so much.

I know I’m insane about this stuff, but when I lived in New Orleans (that’s N’Awlins, y’all, not Noo OrLEENS) I was hired on the spot for immediate part-time work by the premier local news-talk station. They gave me a piece of copy to read, replete with words like Tchoupitoulas (an uptown street where you‘ll find Tipitina‘s), Treme (two syllables….one of the city’s more colorful neighborhoods), and Terpsichore (another uptown street…all nine muses are represented…and if you pronounce it with three syllables, you’re OUT) and I’d made it my business to learn how to pronounce these things.

And don’t get me going about “short-lived”. The “I” sounds like a “Y”. Can you imagine the pain I’ve inflicted on my family over the years, with obsessions like these?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dooring Without Jim Morrison

How has Madison survived since March 4th of 1856 (date of incorporation) without an ordinance punishing those self-centered dweebs who open the door of their car without looking to see if a bicyclist is approaching?

Well, that glaring deficiency in the city’s municipal code was corrected this week by the courageous action of the City Council, which passed an ordinance that says Mr. Police Officer can write you a hundred-dollar ticket if you don’t check to see if a bicyclist is coming before you exit your car.
The only alder who selfishly voted against the ordinance was Thuy Pham-Remmele, whose feelings about bicyclists have been well documented on YouTube and other national media.

Bear in mind that our state law says bicyclists have to ride at least three feet from a parked vehicle, so they don’t get “doored”, but the powerful bicycle lobby, led by the Lioness of the Regent Neighborhood, Robbie Webber, will make it their business to see that the state legislature sees the light and changes the law.

Let’s have a little session of moot court here, and see how the new law plays out on the streets:

Court Commissioner: You’re charged with failing to see if there was a bicyclist coming before you opened your door. How do you plead?

Defendant: Not guilty.

Court Commissioner: I have a report from Madison Police Officer Smith that you injured Bicyclist Jones by dooring him, and that you didn’t look.

Defendant: Officer Smith was not a witness. He was several blocks away at the time. He came when Bicyclist Jones called 9-1-1. I looked. I didn’t see Jones.

Assistant D-A: Bicyclist Jones says you just threw open the door of your car without looking.

Defendant: Not true. I looked.


Court Commissioner: Case dismissed.

Now, with this dooring ordinance under its belt, perhaps the City Council can move forward with ordinances to prevent fifth-graders from “pantsing” each other within the city limits; to prevent people from shoveling snow onto their neighbor’s yard (oh, wait…they passed that ordinance Tuesday night, too - no kidding); and maybe even an ordinance to get Facebook to go back to the old layout.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Media Are Failing Us - Again

A story I saw on the Today Show yesterday morning illustrates the failure of so-called “news media” to do its job. While the main TV stars were either off in Ireland or off on vacation, the second-stringers back home in New York were trying to hold down the fort.

The main story of the day was the anger bubbling up about the huge bonuses being handed out by AIG. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa said the leaders of AIG should follow the Japanese model: bow deeply, apologize to the public and their shareholders, and then either resign or commit suicide.

New York’s Attorney General, Andrew Cuomo, was generating a lot of attention with his vow to track down the AIG bonus-ees, find out who got how much, and get the money back.
The developing AIG story knocked the Bernie Madoff story off the A-block, and moved it down to the C-block or lower.

Quick to attempt to capitalize on the moment, some 20-something producer for the Today Show had some 20-something news writer do a quick script on the AIG story for the second-string anchor in New York, grabbed some video for it, and then set off to “balance” the story by lining up an interview with some 20-something blogger for one of the New York daily papers, whose prime claim to fame was blogging that the AIG bonuses were - well, a good thing, and that the government shouldn’t be in the business of trying to re-write contracts.

Mr. 20-something New York newspaper blogger was allowed to opine to the second-string anchorette “the vast majority of these bonuses are around a thousand dollars”.


At this point, my instinct - after having done news interviews for 30-some years - would have been to ask the 20-something blogger “Where are you getting that information?” - or at least to have challenged his assertion. That’s what news interviewers are SUPPOSED to do.

Nope. The statement of opinion stood, unchallenged. Was the second-string anchorette not listening? Did she not understand what the 20-something blogger was alleging? Did she in fact know ANYTHING about the topic of the interview she was conducting?

The 20-something blogger then spent the next half-hour bloviating on CNBC, the bastard step-child of GE-owned NBC, where his opinions no doubt carried great weight.

Later in the day, when the real news people took over, we learned the scope of the AIG bonuses. 73 people, in the very division (derivatives trading) that sunk the company, got bonuses in excess of one million dollars. 7 got more than four million. One trader got 6.4 million. Many of them took the "retention bonus" money and quit.

There’s plenty of blame to go around here….politicians who posture for the TV cameras, after they gave away the house to these failed companies with no strings attached; robber barons who plundered their own companies and got away with treasure chests brimming with loot; and “news” people who didn’t have the common sense to ask a few questions about it all.

Oh, and by the way - - - CNN first reported the AIG bonus plan on January 28th. They had the number wrong…their sources told them 450 million…but it took me about one minute to find this out using tools that are available to anyone who has a computer and an internet connection. They had a big story and apparently didn’t even know it. Everyone is failing us!

Spring Break

As I write this, my daughter is spring-breaking in Riviera Maya, Mexico, with her best pal. The two of them have been thick as thieves since grade school, and have gone on a spring break trip together…usually to Mexico….for the last six or seven years. Next week my son heads to Vegas - his favorite break spot - with his pals.

They’re both in their mid-twenties, but still in that no-man’s-land between the lifestyle of a college student, and that of a young professional. This year, though, the trip to Mexico is a bit more troublesome than before, particularly since the gals are headed to an area just south of Cancun, which has had more than its share of drug-war-related trouble lately.

Mom gave the mandatory parental caution lecture before they left, and I weighed in with the “don’t leave the resort alone, don’t take a cab alone, don’t do a lot of drinking when you’re not actually at the resort” rant. Since my wife and I were both news professionals when the kids were growing up, they picked up the habit of staying in touch with what’s going on in the world.

I can’t help but wonder what my parents worried about when I went on spring break trips to Florida back in my college days in the 60’s, but I know they didn’t worry about drug overlords having a shootout, or kidnapping me. You could make the trip from Wisconsin to Florida in 24 hours, if you changed drivers often enough, kept an eye out for the cops, and made sure your stops combined fuel, food, and bodily functions.

I seem to recall the preferred route was US 51 south, all the way down to Cairo (which we learned was pronounced “KAY-ro”) Illinois before swinging southeast toward the Sunshine State. The Interstate Highway System back then was more bits-and-pieces than continuous four-lane concrete. By the time you got out of Illinois, you could run with the windows down.

Ft. Lauderdale was the place my college pals and I always went. Best beaches, best girls, best everything. I believe we crammed 8 people into one motel room. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name of any motel we stayed at, or any bar we hung out at, during spring break. I do remember some of the young ladies, though.

I hope, like my parents probably did, that my kids get where they’re going safely, have fun while they’re there, and that they get home safely. More than that I probably don’t want to know.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On Being Irish (March 17th or not)

I’m here because in the mid-1840’s my great-great grandfather left the tiny town of Lick Finn in County Cork Ireland hoping to make a go of it in the new world. He came through Ellis Island with thousands of other Irish refugees of the potato famine, moved down to Boston, and then caught on with the railroad, heading west.

When the railroad got to Rush Lake, Wisconsin, he and his brothers hopped off and homesteaded. The family farm still exists on Morrissey Road just off the north shore of Rush Lake in Winnebago County. My dad went to elementary school in Waukau (“Waukau State Graded School”) a few miles away, and drove to Oshkosh to attend High School, after which he served in the Big War and then returned to Wisconsin to graduate from college, marry my mom, and start his family.

Growing up, I guess we knew we were Irish, but we were never “Irish-Americans”. Our “clan” gathered frequently. Morrisseys, Currans, Days, O’Days, Killeens…Irish surnames predominated at gatherings of the extended family. But for me, my identity was “American”. My best pals growing up were named Dominowski and Mompier. I’m pretty sure they didn’t think of me as a Mick, and I didn’t think of them as anything other than Americans. My mother’s folks came out of Austria to escape the tyranny over there, and my maternal grandmother spoke German. But mom is an American a girl as there ever was.

I don’t care for Irish food; I don’t particularly like Irish music; and the only part of the Celtic culture I’ve embraced is the gift of gab. (The Irish call poets “failed talkers”.) In the mid-70’s, I was on the auld sod, and made a side-trip to the ancestral home-town in County Cork. I visited the Blarney Castle, just a few miles from the ancestral origins, and climbed the steps and got down on my back and slid out and kissed the Blarney Stone.

The former governor of New York, Al Smith, came from New York City’s tough lower East Side, and became the first Irish Catholic to run for President. The story is told that once a lady of temperance was concluding a long, pleading speech with the phrase “I would rather commit adultery than take a glass of beer”. A voice from the audience said “Who wouldn’t?”. Smith reportedly said “ah, a fellow Irishman”.

So go drink all the green beer you want today; wear green; eat that horrible cabbage and ruined beef; put an O’ in front of your name; and have a ball. I’d rather have a serving of my Italian wife’s lasagna.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Everyone is outraged that AIG, which sidled up to the public trough to the tune of 75 Billion dollars, has apparently paid out over a hundred million in “bonuses” to employees this past weekend.

How do we know AIG got 75 billion in bailout money? We don’t. We’re taking Washington’s word for it.

How do we know AIG paid out 105 million in bonuses this weekend? We don’t. We’re taking their word for it.

The financial media tell us AIG had to pay the “bonuses” because it was in their employment contracts. This, of course, is the same financial media that warned us about the impending economic meltdown (NOT!) and the same media which were so thoroughly excoriated by John Stewart on Comedy Central last week.

As the government counseled us against panic in the early days of the meltdown, it was obviously in panic mode itself. It shoveled tons of money at AIG and other poorly-managed businesses - money it didn’t have, and money that came with apparently absolutely no strings attached.
Later in the meltdown, with the borrowed money still being shoveled at failing companies at an incredible rate, a few strings were attached. But we still don’t have any reliable source which can tell us who got how much money, with what terms, and what they’re doing with it. Basics of lending money.

Just a thought about future dolings-out of money we don’t have to companies that have shown no evidence of being able to manage it: maybe we ought to put a clause in there saying that if they accept the bailout money, it nullifies any “bonus clause” of any employment contract until such time as the bailout money is paid back.

We ARE going to get paid back, aren’t we?

Why Can't Things Just Stay The Same

For those who use Facebook to stay connected, it’s been an interesting last few days. They’ve changed it. Changed the way it looks and acts. Just when I was getting comfortable with it, it’s all different.

I know it’s a sign of my advancing age that I seem to be more comfortable with familiar things, but I take comfort in the old saw “people don’t know what they like, they like what they know”. I can’t believe I’m the same person who in the 60’s wanted to change everything.

Just when I got comfortable with Windows 95, they came out with Windows 98. My first computer ran Windows 3.1 and the computer I’m writing this on runs Windows XP, and that’s where I’m stopping. No Vista for me. I’ve learned to get XP to do what I want it to do, and I’m not fighting the battle again. As far as I’m concerned, the Mojave Experiment is alien science.

One of the companies I write for wants me to upgrade to Microsoft Office 2007 so I send them stuff in Word 2007. I have Office 2003, hence Word 2003. I’ve installed the Office 2007 compatibility pack, but that’s it. I’ve been stalling them by saying “your IT people can convert it to whatever they want”. I can read their stuff, and they can read mine.

I’ve been forced to make the change from VCR to DVR, and it seems to be for the better. But I can only tell my DVR to record a certain program…not to record a certain time. So if the program starts late, I get the end of the program that preceded it, and miss the end of the show I wanted to see. If I thought that was going to happen back in the VCR days, I could set the timer to record an extra 15 minutes or so. I can’t figure out how to do that with the DVR.

My anti-virus software is constantly demanding that I upgrade it. I’ve given up that fight. I just let it boss me around.

They always used to have 64 teams in the NCAA Basketball Tournament, now they have 65. The Super Bowl used to be in January, and now it’s in February. The World Series darn near ended in November last year. Spring Training used to start in March, now it starts in February. They seem to be constantly fiddling with the date we set our clocks ahead or back an hour.

Why can’t things just stay the same?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Children Having Children

Summer was giving way to fall and a hurricane was raging in the south. In the north, at the Republican National Convention (Country First!!!), the most recent Palin baby was being thrust into the spotlight, while another Palin baby was cookin’ in his young momie’s belly.

Mom in this case was 17 year old Bristol Palin, who’d paired with a high-school dropout and the love of her life, Levi Johnston, a full year her senior. Now, surprise to none, Bristol and Levi have gone their separate ways, and Tripp Easton Mitchell Johnston, at two months old, faces the tough future of all products of teen pregnancy. The deck is stacked against Tripp and Bristol.

As the sociologists have told us for decades, the prime indicator of poverty is teen pregnancy.
Oh, lots of teen parents say the same thing Bristol and Levi did to the newsies at the convention in September. They love each other and they’re going to get married and just love that baby forever. Doesn’t often work out that way. Fully a third of pregnant teen girls say they’re CERTAIN they’ll marry the guy who impregnated them; a quarter more say chances are good they’ll marry the father. But statistics are harsh. Less than 8 percent of teenage moms marry the baby’s father within one year of the birth. Teen marriages are twice as likely to fail than marriages where the woman has reached the age of 25.

Kids who are 17 and 18 years old have no idea what life is all about. They’re completely unsure about their place in the world, and most don’t find it until they’re well into their 20’s.

In my lifetime the sociological paradigm has completely changed. Used to be you got married and had a baby. Then it changed to having a baby and then getting married. Now, it’s getting pregnant and NOT getting married.

Bristol is still in high school in Wasilla, and tells the public prints she’s thinking about college in the fall. Levi was in an apprenticeship program with an energy services company, but he got kicked out when they found out he doesn’t have a high school diploma. But hey - he’s got a wicked slap-shot!

Who’s taking care of the love child? Well, lots of folks. Grandma, grandpa…the usual suspects. And Grandma still preaches abstinence.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It DOESN'T Make Sense.

A shooting rampage in Alabama leaves ten people dead….16 dead in a school shooting in Germany….the news was pretty grim yesterday, the sort of fare the 24-hour cable TV news outlets dine on. At the beginning of each half-hour, staid-faced reporters and reporterettes intone moribund updates from scenes where news took place hours before.

The most commonly-used cliché in so many of the reports I saw and heard was the phrase “trying to make sense of it”….as in “the people of this small Alabama town are trying to piece their lives back together and make sense of the horrible tragedy that unfolded here just hours ago”.

Attention, news dweebs: you CAN’T make sense of it. This is a man who shot his mother and her dogs, and then set her house on fire and went on a killing spree. I does NOT make sense and you CANNOT make sense of it. It is INSANE behavior. The young man who killed the people in the school in Germany picked mostly female victims to shoot. NO, we DON’T know why. He was INSANE. We can’t “make sense of it”.

In a little over a month, we’ll have to endure countless “news” reports about the tenth anniversary of the Columbine killings in April of ‘99. (Of course, though, the semi-literate news dweebs will say “ten-year anniversary”.) We will be exposed to all manner of weak and effusively sentimetal stories about how life has changed in the small Colorado town in the past decade; how the people have picked up the pieces of their lives and moved on as best they can; and perhaps the question “how could this have happened here” will even be answered for us by one of the newsies.

To me, too often grim news is made worse by dweebs who think spewing clichés is reporting.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bernie's Big Adventure

Tomorrow’s the big day for swindler Bernie Madoff, the man who apparently ran the largest Ponzi Scheme in history. He’s expected in court in New York, and he’s expected to plead guilty. Most credible estimates put the total of his swindling in the neighborhood of 50 billion dollars, and his victims number over 14 thousand.

There’s an old saw that says if a thing seems to good to be true, it probably is. My sympathy is somewhat attenuated for the “victims”, in this day and age of derivatives, credit default swaps, mortgage-backed securities, and scams of every kind and nature coming to light. It’s easy to say the victims were greedy and reckless. But Madoff’s scheme was extremely sophisticated, like any really good con.

One thing I’ll be watching closely is how they treat his wife, Ruth, who was apparently in on the scam from day one. She called herself a mere “bookkeeper” for Bernie, and she’s trying to get the court to set aside about 70 million dollars for her to keep, including the posh Manhattan penthouse. Records, such as they are in this case, seem to indicate she also managed to squirrel away about 15 million bucks in the hours just before the law swooped down on Bernie.

How should such a scamster be punished? Immediate incarceration seems prudent. Forcing him to tell all he knows about other big-time financial scamsters seems obvious. He’s 70, so a 30-year prison term doesn’t seem excessive. He faces over a hundred years in prison. I say let’s show mercy… let him out when he’s 100.

Perhaps a mention of Chinese justice is in order, since they seem to pretty much own us now. Remember the Chinese tainted milk scandal last year? A small group of business people added melamine to milk to boost the protein count. 300 thousand people got sick. Six infants died, 13-hundred were hospitalized with kidney problems. The Chinese government investigated and determined six people were at the center of the scam. Their assets were seized and their businesses shut down. Three were given long prison terms. One was given life in prison. The two at the core were convicted and executed.

Let’s see how much of Bernie’s ill-gotten fortune he and his wife get to keep.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Commie Plot To Kill Us All

My friend Pat Simms wrote an article in the State Journal about the big fluoride debate in Poynette, and it brought back a flood of childhood memories not only about fluoridating water, but polio, the red menace, fallout shelters, and the like.

Some dweeb who’s a village trustee in Poynette has “researched” fluoridation on the internet and has determined to his satisfaction that it’s poison. Well, it is, Mr. Dweeb, and so is water, if you drink too much of it. Apparently, he and his little committee just shut off the fluoridation equipment and didn’t tell anybody about it, and when the locals finally found out, they got mad, and are now engaged.

I remember the big debates in my small home town of Hortonville, up in the Fox Valley, about fluoridation back in the 50’s. Joe McCarthy, the man from a few miles away in Appleton who saw commies everywhere, had the public’s eyes and ears. This fluoridation thing was just another commie plot to kill all the capitalists, said Senator Joe. Since I palled around with the village dentist’s kids, at least I had another perspective on putting fluoride in the water. Long story short, the village board went ahead with the commie plot and never looked back.

The article also made me recall something from the same time-frame: memories of standing in line with the rest of the village folks to get the Salk vaccine against polio. We trekked to the high school and stood in line to get the vaccine. The postmaster’s son had polio. He was my age, and struggled to get around with his braces and crutches. The vaccine came too late for him.
I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just our proximity to Tail-Gunner Joe’s home base that led to the “atom-bomb attack drills” we had in grade school. We knew so little about the affects of radiation at the time that it was widely assumed that if we could survive the explosion - by ducking under our desks when CONELRAD warned us - we’d emerge unscathed to rise up and fight the commies. For those who didn’t happen to be in school when the commies struck, the basement of the village hall was the officially-designated fallout shelter. We knew fallout was dangerous, but had no clue as to how dangerous until the 60’s.

It’s interesting how the cycles of history work. Growing up in the 50’s, most kids were worried by the prospect of dying in an A-Bomb attack by the commies. First, my kids were concerned they’d become victims of a Columbine-style attack on their school….now, it’s terrorists with “dirty bombs”. What goes around, comes around.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Saving Daylight Can Kill You!

I hope you’re not reading this from a Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. Daylight Saving Time, apparently, can kill you. Or at least increase the odds you’ll have a heart attack, according to Swedish researchers who found a 5% increase in heart attacks the three days following the “springing forward”….and a 5% decrease in heart attacks the three days after we set the clocks back an hour in the fall. The increase, they think, is because of sleep deprivation.

This whole thing goes back to Ben Franklin, who believed the saving of daylight would also save candle-wax. Franklin, characterized by the comedy troupe “Firesign Theater” as the only American President who was never an American President, had a lot of good ideas.

Then, the government got involved, and, well - they were just trying to help, I guess. Indiana, which reluctantly went along with Daylight Saving Time a few years ago in 2006, did a study. Seems DST didn’t save energy, like the government said….it actually increased it about one percent, and as near as they can figure it was because of increased air-conditioning use. I’m not putting a lot of faith into that study.

The feds countered with a study last year that said we do indeed save energy with DST, so you can pick the study you like, I guess. I rely on anecdotal evidence, compiled by yours truly over the last decade or so. I can attest that our dog doesn’t consult the clock when she thinks it’s time to get up. Our Collie, like the Sheltie before her, doesn’t “spring forward” or “fall back”.
Having just spent a week in southern Arizona at Spring Training, I can see why those folks don’t bother with Daylight Saving Time. That high-angle sun down there around Phoenix provides plenty of daylight year-round. And it’s not like the daylight up here in Madison at 43 degrees north. Being that much closer to the equator (Phoenix is 33 degrees north) makes a HUGE difference in how hot the sun feels and how much relative power it has to cook your skin.

So if you make it past Wednesday and don’t have a heart attack because of the time change, good for you. You’ll need the strength, because on average, Madison gets seven inches of snow in March….and three-and-a-half in April. It’s not the time change that’ll kill ya…it’s the shoveling.

Friday, March 6, 2009

"Exceptional Achievement" Bonuses at the UW

Let’s talk numbers. Badger Football Coach Bret Bielema just got handed a bonus check for a hundred grand for “exceptional achievement”. Not that many years ago, a hundred grand was serious money. Now, it’s just a door prize at the big jock palace on Monroe Street. So with a 3 and 5 record in the Big Ten last season, his performance was .375. That’s a heck of a batting average, if you’re talking baseball, up there in the Chipper Jones mid-season range. But if you’re talking coaching, it means you LOSE 62.5% of the games you play. Hardly “exceptional achievement”. 7 and 6 overall, but a couple of those wins were pre-season victories over glorified high school squads…as Bielema follows Alvarez’ method of lining up some cupcakes to dine on, in the pre-conference season.
Let’s see….did he win or lose that bowl game the Badgers played in this year? Oh yeah, he lost. Don’t know what his “exceptional achievement bonus” would have been had he won, but given the way they throw money around over there, it probably would have been SEVEN figures. Now we’re closing in on Wall Street-style bonus money!
Don’t get all riled up that it’s taxpayer money that’s being handed out to coaches whose performance can best be described as mediocre. It’s money from the corpuscles….the boosters….that underwrites the charitable nature of the bonus system. There’s a great history of generosity over at 1440 Monroe Street. If a rogue chancellor who can’t be brought into line should happen to deny pay raises to the coaches, well by God the boosters will happily hand out more money.
And the big boss, Mr. Alvarez himself, told the State Journal “you don’t change the rules once the game has begun”, in defending the hundred-grand handout to Bielema. How enlightened, Barry, but the “game” is over for another season and even if business isn’t down at your fancy steakhouse on the far west side, a lot of folks who are hurtin’ in this economy might find your statement insensitive at best.
During my days as a daily working stiff in the world of broadcasting, I had a bonus structure associated with my compensation package. If I performed exceptionally in agreed-upon objectives, I got a lot of extra money. Mediocre performance - “at expectations” - garnered a very modest sum (about 1% of my annual total compensation - Bielema got about 10% of his base for performing BELOW expectations, regardless of what his "contract" says); and performance below expectations would earn me a trip to the CEO’s office for a pointed discussion. You may well have a similar arrangement. You get rewarded when you perform well; you don’t get rewarded when you do only what’s expected.
Of course, they won’t change things over there at jock headquarters, because they don’t have to and won’t be under any real pressure to do so. The “exceptional achievement bonuses” will continue to be handed out for sub-par performance. Like the business tycoon who buys a big yacht and puts a Captain’s hat on his head. To him, he’s a Captain. To a Captain - he’s no Captain.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Madison's CEO Speaks Out on Weed!!!!

My old pal Sly is at it again. While my wife and I were off in Arizona soaking in baseball and sunshine, he was up to his old tricks of getting elected officials to say controversial things.
Full disclosure: for those of you reading this who don’t know, I sat across the glass window from Sly’s studio for quite a few years in the early part of this decade, doing news and being constantly interrupted by the local bad-boy. What our city’s longest-running talk-show host (30 years in radio, the last 20 of them here) doesn’t want you to know is that underneath all the bellow and bluster beats a heart of gold.
As near as I can figure, about the time my wife and I were westbound on the Superstition Freeway headed from Mesa to Tempe to watch the Brewers and A’s play last Friday, back in Madison Sly was having a little on-air chat with Mayor Cieslewicz about the Verveer flap. Several days ago, some Madison cop wandered into a restaurant where the powerful downtown Alder was having a chat with the owner of the joint, when she claims she detected the odor of the highly addictive and extremely dangerous mind-altering weed….and, for reasons which no one seems to be able to understand, quickly did an about-face and high-tailed it out of the joint. Her sergeant made her write it up, so it became an “official police report” at that point.
The morning paper reported the incident on the front page, and the Alder, who sits on the city’s potent Alcohol License Review Committee, and is an Assistant Dane County District Attorney, says he did nothing wrong, smoked no weed, and didn’t smell what the officer did.
Sly is no pot-head. Says he doesn’t like the stuff. His demons, as his listeners know, came in the form of pain pills and vodka, a problem he beat several years ago. As I recall, the only time he talked on-air about smoking pot was getting stoned in the back seat of a former Madison mayor’s car. (NO, not THAT one - the female former mayor.) So when he got Mayor Dave to talk about the Verveer incident, Cieslewicz said he thought marijuana should be legalized and pooh-poohed the whole Verveer incident as a tempest in a teapot. Madison de-criminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in the past century.
Channel 3 TV picked up the story, and that’s how I found out about it - and they ran audio tape from Sly’s chat with the mayor and acted like the mayor’s offhand comment was a real scoop. They ran the story on the local news yesterday morning, complete with an officious quote from some city hall flack about how the mayor’s “opinionated statement” about legalizing marijuana did not signal the advent of a new initiative from the Cieslewicz administration and did not reflect official city policy. (Too bad!) No doubt the next salvo will be one of those famous Neil Heinen editorials on Channel 3 about the recklessness of the mayor’s comment and the horrible effects of the gateway drug.
We’re so hung up on this 1930’s mentality about killer weed. For heaven’s sake, we now have a PRESIDENT who admits he did cocaine when he was younger. Could we mellow out a bit about the offhand comment of a mayor who reflects the predominant attitude of his community?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Fox News Show That's GOOD

Once a broadcaster, always a broadcaster I guess, even on vacation. Ever since I first started in the biz, whenever I've travelled my custom is to check what's going on, media-wise, in the market. There's an old industry saying about how "listeners/viewers listen/watch, but broadcasters monitor". The first morning we woke up in Mesa last week on our Spring Training vacation, I flipped on the hotel TV to do a scan of the local morning shows. I stopped at KSAZ, Channel 10 in Phoenix, a station owned and operated by Fox TV...what they call an "O and O" in the biz. They were doing a "live shot" from the Superstition Freeway at McClintock Road, about a mile from our hotel. It was the sort of story most newsrooms get their teeth into...a horrible death in a bizarre wreck that bottles up traffic for tens of thousands of commuters. Their young reporter was actually doing a pretty good job of limiting the sensational aspects of the story, and getting good information out. They followed the story and advanced it every single time they came back to it.
I "scanned the band" to see what the other stations were doing for coverage, but after a half-hour of coffee-sipping and channel-scanning, decided Channel 10 was doing the best job. Over the course of the week, I did limited channel-flipping and mainly watched Channel 10 in the morning. They do a live FIVE-HOUR morning show from 5 to 10 AM, which is pretty much unheard of, and unlike the huge majority of TV news operations, they put a HUGE amount of resources into their morning show, with five "named" personalities who all are seen in every quarter-hour. They start each half-hour with a news guy and the "top ten stories on Channel 10 this morning". Unlike the network's "Fox and Friends" morning show, there is not a whiff of political slant in their reporting, their story selection, or their presentation.
The morning show really moves. They do plenty of "light" features, like best bargains in grocery shopping and the latest fashions for the coming summer season, but you never feel you're being cheated out of a news story for the "fluff stuff". Unlike the mid-west, where weather is a prime factor in any TV newscast or show, it's a much smaller part of the Channel 10 show, and rightly so. The weather guy is also one of the two main hosts of the show, and he steps off one set and to another to do a brief weather update. After all, how much should you expand on "sunny and mid-80's for the next week"? The entire presentation was, as far as I'm concerned, top-notch and one of the very best morning shows I've ever seen on TV. And I've lived in L-A and have seen some good morning TV.
This morning, back at home as we were starting our work day, we had the usual local morning TV show on. Just as I was thinking it, my wife (who spent 15 years as an on-camera TV reporter) said "boy, this morning show really doesn't have much energy, does it?". True dat. Even the local TV station that promotes its morning news show as being "fun" doesn't have half the energy the Channel 10 show did. Staid anchors, who think "fun" is doing a trivia bit once a half-hour or tossing in a story about Britney Spears' coming concert tour. By contrast, there isn't much life to be found here. Each co-anchor takes a turn reading the news stories, a long weather segment, a quick feature, and repeat. Formulaic and predictable.
I know, I know....I'm comparing the 5th largest TV market in the US with the 84th...and local ad revenue in Madison would never support a five-person morning show. But what's obvious is something I learned very early in my broadcasting career....enthusiasm makes the difference. The folks doing the Channel 10 morning show in Phoenix have me believing that they really like what they're doing, and they're having fun doing it. I don't get that impression around here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Spring Training, Take One

My wife and I agreed our past week was the best vacation ever. We'd talked about going to Spring Training since we started "dating", and this year we finally pulled the trigger. The experience was everything we'd hoped for, and more.
Our flights out (Madison-Denver-Phoenix) were ALL on time. I don't need to post about the TSA. The stupid ritual of removing the shoes, etc. etc. is a tired topic. My titanium hip sets off the metal detector every time, so I'm always accorded the pleasure of an individual pat-down and wanding every time I fly. We were cramped in a Canadair CRJ-200 from Madison to Denver, but the flight from Denver to Phoenix was on an Airbus A-320 (yes, the same type of aircraft Captain Sullenberger "landed" on the Hudson River) which was much more comfortable. Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, which the announcements every 90 seconds or so reminded us "it's the FRIENDLIEST airport in the world!!!", was easy to navigate, and we hopped onto the shuttle bus to the rental car facility. In Phoenix, they've just completed a new rental car facility, which is about a mile from the terminals, but is state-of-the-art and check-in took about 5 minutes and we were off and running in a new Chrysler 300 Touring Edition. Nice car.
We headed east down I-10 to the Superstition Freeway (US 60), a gorgeous 12-lane strip of concrete that quickly whisked us to Country Club Road, where we exited and made one turn into the hotel parking lot. It was 83 degrees at 4 PM and we checked in and hit the pool. After some swimming and hot-tubbing, we had dinner at a local steakhouse/rib joint in Mesa and had a nightcap at the hotel bar.
During the course of the next week, we took in ball games at parks all over the Phoenix area, including several at the Cubs' home at HoHoKam Park, where we discovered that the late Harry Caray and every other Cubs fan pronounces it incorrectly, with that flat, broad midwest "A" sound....all the natives pronounce it "ho-ho-com", not "ho-ho-kam". We took in a game at Phoenix Municipal Stadium (Brewers - A's) and the crowning glory was Sunday's game at Camelback Ranch in Glendale. It was the first-ever ball game at the brand-new luxurious facility (White Sox and Dodgers new home)...and the two played the first game there, with the Dodgers as "home" team. Walking from the parking lot to the stadium, we noticed the Hi-Def TV orgination for the game was being done from the Token Creek Productions Hi-Def truck....a touch of home! Once the politicians stopped patting themselves on the back during the pre-game portion, American Idol Jordin Sparks (a local girl, from Glendale) sang the National Anthem and a squadron of F-16's from nearby Luke AFB flew over. Big show. The ball park was ready...my wife Toni's old family friend, Roger Bosshard, the Sox groundkeeper, was in charge of the turf at Camelback Ranch, and since we had Row 1 seats in Section 5, he saw Toni and came over and chatted with her for a bit.
Every person we encountered in the Phoenix/Mesa/Tempe area was friendly. Even the guys hawking the beer and soft drinks in the stands at the ball park thanked you for your purchase and said "thanks for coming and enjoy the game". The hotel staff were falling over themselves to attend to our every need and want. Restaurant staff said "thanks for coming and we hope you're enjoying yourself here". (It's pretty obvious you're not a local when you have pasty white skin, which quickly "browns up" in the hot desert sun.)
At the games, because the stadiums are so much smaller than the big-league MLB parks, you're much closer to the players and the action. The veteran players, who aren't obsessed with making a spot on the roster, joke with the fans and sign tons of autographs for the kids. It's a great experience.
Monday morning we checked out of the hotel, took the rental car back to the new facility at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, and noted that navigation on I-10 was EXTREMELY easy, as the exit for rental cars was clearly marked and the route was simple to follow. We were outta there in a flash, and boarded the shuttle to the airport, and underwent the security check again. Our route back was Phoenix-Chicago-Madison, the flight to Chicago was aboard another Airbus A-320 - which took off just a few minutes late and got us to Chicago only 4 minutes late. The O'Hare experience is....well, enough to make you appreciate your vacation. We came in on one concourse (A) and had to board the next flight in the F concourse...which is about three-quarters of a mile away in a different building. We walked briskly with only 48 minutes between connections, and then arrived at gate F-1-A in time to WAIT for an hour and a half for a delayed flight. We walked down the stairs and onto the tarmac, and they finally herded us onto the small plane (another Canadair CRJ-200) and locked us in the thing for FORTY MINUTES without moving. First we had to wait forever for the de-icing truck to douse the plane, and then we had to wait an eternity for the push-back crew to shove the plane out of the commuter-flight area and onto the taxiway. We were second for takeoff and landed in Madison about 95 minutes behind schedule.
It's tough to go from a week of 85 and sunny to clear and 4 this morning...but, that's the kind of thing that makes a vacation, a vacation. My summation: if you've ever thought about taking in a few spring training games, choose the Cactus League, and head to Arizona rather than Florida. The longest trip between ball parks from the west end of Phoenix (Camelback Ranch) to the east end of the Valley of the Sun (HoHoKam in Mesa) is about 35 minutes, and you'll find friendly people who appreciate your business. The games are fun, the players are friendly, the ball parks are great, and all you have to deal with is the usual negatives associated with air travel.