Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Boeck and Palin in 2012?

There he was, in all his glory – talk-show host Glen Boeck, in front of a crowd of thousands in Washington D.C., assuring all those present and all those watching on TV or seeing clips of his speech on the news, that we can indeed restore America, or American honor, or the civil rights movement, or something. I’m not really clear on what the big rally was for, but it’s clear the man can draw a crowd and give a speech.

Boeck was the star of the show, but his co-star, Sarah Palin, can draw a crowd in her own right, and has learned a lot in the past few years about how to speak to large crowds. It’s my guess there was as many people there to see her, as there were to see him.

It’s no surprise that the blogosphere is alive with suggestions the two of them should make a run for the White House in 2012, and Boeck quickly said he’s “too divisive” to run for the highest office in the land, but that statement is more a short-term dismissal than a firm “no.” And Palin has the experience of running for national office under her belt now and presumably has learned and recovered from the beating-up she got from the likes of Katie Couric.

I think the two of them – Boeck and Palin – should make a run together in 2012. I’m not sure if Rush Limbaugh or Glen Boeck or John Boehner or Fox News is actually driving the Republican Party these days, and maybe Boeck is too divisive for the Republicans. How about the Tea Party? Boeck calls himself a libertarian and not a Republican, but what little I know about national party politics leads me to believe the Republicans would strongly oppose a Boeck (or Palin) third-party candidacy, since it would draw votes away from “the mother ship.” Boeck’s ego is strong enough to buck the party leaders.

All I know is both of them are acting a lot like candidates, and that usually means something.

If the Republicans lose in 2012, part of the reason will be that the voters will suddenly remember who was running the show when TARP and all that other stuff actually started. If the Democrats lose, part of the reason will be that they didn’t get unemployment under control. If Glen and Sarah win, people will be trying for centuries to figure out what it means.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Monday Media Rant: Telling a Story

A family from New Jersey was in Madison a weekend ago for a wedding; while taking family photos in front of the capitol, they accidentally caught the image of a low-life who was in the process of stealing their travel-bag full of money and belongings. They showed the picture to Capitol Police, who promptly caught the guy and arrested him and returned the possessions to the family.

That’s the story, in about 60 words. It’s such a compelling story that after the local TV outlets got done mangling it, the networks picked it up and did their own stories on it. The network stories bore little resemblance to the local stories, because they recognized the story for what it is – a “human interest” story, more than a “crime story.”

I saw the story on three local stations, and on three networks. One of the biggest differences is the way the network folks approached it: they didn’t talk about “suspect” or “theft” or spend a lot of time on the criminal aspect, but instead wove that into the story, making the family – not the thug – the centerpiece of the story.

Local newswriters are too often influenced by the police report of the incident, which is written in a cousin to English, in a content and style developed by lawyers and taught to police officers. It’s a language that uses phrases like “the incident remains under investigation” – which is usually quite obvious, if they haven’t caught the “perpetrator” (it would be news if they DIDN’T continue to investigate, wouldn’t it?), and words (like “perpetrator”) we seldom if ever use when telling stories.

Cops don’t say “the robber got a bunch of money and ran off” – they say “the unknown perpetrator demanded money and fled on foot” – often, appending “in an unknown direction.” And that’s the kind of language lazy newswriters who are not story-tellers use/steal when writing their “story.”

And then, there’s the old “suspect” thing. So many local newswriters use that word incorrectly, and an awful lot of cops do, too. A suspect is a known person. “John Jones is a suspect in the downtown bank robbery”. A named person. Until the cops name a suspect, they’re not looking for a suspect. They’re looking for a robber. Or burglar. Lawyers, the same class of people who taught cops the new language they must use in writing police reports, advise news managers to caution their staffs about being very careful about who they call what, and that’s how “suspect” is now as widely misused as “closure.”

If somebody robs a convenience store, the cops are looking for a robber, not a suspect. If they arrest and charge someone with robbery, that person then becomes a suspect. They’re not a “robber” until they plead guilty or are convicted in court.

That’s why, not once in the network versions of the story about the New Jersey family’s visit to Madison, did you hear them use the word “suspect” or say that he “fled” with the family’s possessions. Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News went so far as to call the guy (and he called him “the guy”) a thief.

Those who learn the difference between “writing a news story” and “telling a story” usually go a lot farther in their careers.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Flying The Coop (Fathers and Daughters)

By the time you’re reading this, my daughter’s Buick Regal is already miles down the road toward New York City and a new life. She’s leaving a good job, scores of great friends, and her true home – our house – to get a Master’s Degree and start a new profession. The nest was already empty, but she won’t be six miles away any more.

I remember the day several years ago when we picked out that Buick. She was driving one of our many family hand-me-down cars – a venerable old Plymouth Colt wagon with well over 100K on the odometer – when it reached that point when cost of repair exceeded value of vehicle. We test-drove several cars, and decided on the Buick. A good, safe, sensible car, with lots of life left in it – and brand-new tires to boot.

I taught her to drive in that old Colt wagon – can it really be more than 10 years ago? – and, like most other challenges in life, she mastered it quickly. I have no reason to doubt she’ll master the million challenges that lie ahead in her life.

And on this morning when the nest really becomes more empty, I’ll be thinking about all those other milestones in her life: my own personal tour of the UW campus, inflicted on her (and her brother before) when she became a UW student, complete with a stop at the Gritty for lunch; the time she had a blister from wearing too-small roller blades when she was about 12 years old, and finally showed it to me when it started hurting real bad – and I realized it had become septic and rushed her right to the doctor’s office, calling mom on the way, fearful of the worst, being assured by the doctor that she was going to be just fine…and a million other milestones and memories that will never fade, such as what’s become known in family lore as “the night of the bat”, when she woke me insisting there was a bat in her bedroom, my sleepy denials, and finally the spectacle of the bat flying all around the house, cats in full chase, until I coaxed it near the front door with a broom and her brother opened the door and let it fly into the night.

Yesterday I talked to her about that TV commercial that’s running now, where the dad is leaning into a car on the passenger’s side, giving driving advice to a young girl who appears to be about 4 years old, and then in the final scene she turns from a young child into a young woman, and I said to her “that’s pretty much the way it is” – and I told her, to me, she’ll always be that little tadpole in the green bathing suit that I’d pick up and throw into the pool, and she’d swim back, climb out, and she’d say “AGAIN!!!” until I was ready to drop from exhaustion, day after day in the endless summers of her youth.

Never mind that she’s grown up to be a smart, confident, independent, beautiful young woman who will turn 26 in a month. She’ll always be that little bitty girl who loved to be picked up and tossed into the pool, even after she gets that Master’s Degree and has established herself as a working professional in a new career.

Fathers and daughters. The nest just got a bit more empty; the pool just got a bit more lonely; that Buick is headed a long way from home; and though things are about to change a great deal, in many ways, they’ll always be the same.

Adventures At The ATM

If you say “Madison” and “panhandler” in the same sentence, you’ll likely think of State Street, and the gaggle of hard-core panhandlers who ply the popular venue, searching for spare change or a buck or two. The city has passed ordinances to regulate the panhandlers, and cops will have words with them when they press too hard, and for the most part they’re harmless drunks.

Most people by now probably realize that when you give money to one of these panhandlers, it goes to buy beer, wine, or booze. The city is still struggling with rules about whether or not “convenience” stores should be allowed to sell small quantities of intoxicants (like one can or bottle of beer) downtown.

But over the weekend, a friend was hit up by a man who suddenly appeared at an ATM on Park Street, begging for cash.

The story goes like this: about half past nine Sunday morning, my friend was headed out for a day of fun and relaxation, and stopped to get some cash from the ATM right in front of the Park Bank on Park Street. As she rolled down the window to put her card into the machine, a man “appeared out of nowhere” and asked her if she could give him a few bucks.

He claimed to be down on his luck, but said he was a working man, and said his wife and children had already found a ride up to Sun Prairie so they could “hopefully get a free meal” at the big annual corn fest. He said he had a job at one of those quick-oil-change outfits a few blocks away, and insisted she could come by there at 3 this afternoon, when his shift started, to see that he was telling the truth.

A good con usually contains some very specific references, right?

Then, he pulled a pad of paper and pencil out of his pocket, and said he would “write down his information for her” if she didn’t believe him. She said the closer he came to the car, the stronger the smell of alcohol got. She asked him to step back so she could enter her PIN into the ATM, and he quickly complied.

She got 50 bucks out of the machine and reached out to hand him a 10-dollar-bill, and said he eyed the two 20’s in her other hand, so she quickly pushed the button to run the window up, and left. I asked her if she considered calling the South Madison Police Precinct Station to report the guy, since it’s essentially within eyesight of that particular ATM. She said the guy never threatened her, and figured the ten bucks was “cheap insurance”.

Hope he found a way to get up to Sun Prairie to join his wife and children for lunch. Right.

Monday, August 23, 2010

They Shouldda Tried To Build That Mosque Here

Centuries ago, my professors drummed into my head that the First Amendment isn’t there to protect popular speech; it’s there to protect UNpopular speech. I’ve pointed this out on the air, to news people I’ve trained, and to acquaintances, for decades. Do the Muslims have a right to build a mosque two blocks from the big hole where the World Trade Center towers once rose?

Of course.

What possessed our young president to step so deeply into the quicksand surrounding the mosque controversy still confounds me, and then his “what I meant was” comments a day later were exactly the sort of thing that makes us so annoyed with politicians. Say something ill-advised, get huge pushback, and then back off what you said. At least he didn’t use the old saw “my remarks were taken out of context.”

The whole mosque thing should never have gotten this far. Seems to me somebody in the huge bureaucracy of the Big Apple could have deep-sixed this thing in about fifteen minutes and “permitted it to death”.

Maybe Mayor Mike should send his minions to our fair city for a lesson in how to quickly get rid of projects the ruling political class doesn’t like. As a sidebar seminar, they could also learn how to get stuff that violates building ordinances approved – our guys could show the New Yorkers how the Edgewater project got “approved.”

Imagine that some wacko group wants to build a memorial to the Sterling Hall bombers on private property two blocks away. How long do you think it would take our city plan commission (or the state building commission) to bury that idea in a blizzard of paperwork that would daunt even the most dogged supporter? The idea would be dead and buried long before any of the newshounds got wind of it.

And even if some reporter were tipped, all Mayor Dave would have to say is “this project is going through the same approval process as any other building project in this city”, and the story would advance slowly with items like “too tall/small/wide/narrow/out of proportion/ugly for local ordinance” or “city arts committee nixes plan for bomber memorial” or “campus neighborhood preservation committee craps all over bomber memorial plan” culminated with “bomber memorial group gives up.”

To think that the big boys in New York City could take a lesson in city planning from little ol’ Madison.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Who Is He - Brett Favre or Lindsay Lohan? (Spoiled Brat)

I am a Packers fan and unabashedly so. I was born and raised in the shadow of Lambeau Field in the Fox Valley, and I was at just about every Green Bay home game during the “glory years”, including the Ice Bowl (and I have the ticket stub to prove it), and will be a Packers fan till I draw my last breath. You cannot imagine how much it hurt to be a Packers fan during all those years in the 70’s and 80’s and early 90’s as the Pack floundered - until Mike Holmgren came and turned things around starting in ’92.

Brett Favre provided me – and every other Packers fan – with some of the best memories since the glory years. I’ll never forget watching Super Bowl 31, in January of ’97, in the living room of our home with Toni and the kids, realizing that the Lombardi Trophy was at long last going to come home where it belongs, to the frozen tundra, gently rolling hills, and lush farm fields of Wisconsin.

We loved Brett’s enthusiasm for the game. We loved it that Sports Center would so frequently run the clip of Holmgren schooling Favre on the sidelines saying “no more rocket balls, please”. (It’s almost as much fun to see that clip as it is to see the one of Vince Lombardi yelling to the field “what the hell’s going on out there”?! ) We loved it that when he completed one of those impossible passes for a touchdown, he didn’t do some half-assed dance in the end zone, but ran downfield to embrace his teammates.

He didn’t live in a mansion during the regular season…just a nice ranch home. He didn’t spend the off-season in Palm Springs or Honolulu. He went home to the tiny town of Kiln. He didn’t drive a luxury automobile; he drove a regular pickup. He didn’t wear flashy clothes; in fact, more often than not he looked like a man down on his luck with three days’ growth of beard. He was a regular guy.

When he got hurt, which was frequently, he “rubbed dirt on it” and went back in. When he got into trouble with pain pills, we hurt right along with him. He had a few flings with the ladies, but, like so many ‘sconnies, his lady put him on the straight and narrow.

And when the Packers pushed him out, he pushed back, and a lot of Packers fans lost some love for him. We were heartbroken when he joined the Vikings. It’s one thing to be a Jet; quite another to put on the purple uniform and the horned helmet.

The last couple years, we’ve come to think that Brett has more than just a tough time retiring; he’s pulling crap that a high school coach wouldn’t tolerate, ducking out of training camp, and carrying on a months-long soap opera which culminates in the absurd scenario of his coach and teammates begging him to come back. He said Wednesday “this is my last season”; did you believe him?

They say time heals all wounds, and there is a day coming when all of us Packers fans will shower him with love again. It may be more than a few years down the road, but the crisp fall day will come when Brett will again tread the hallowed turf of Lambeau Field, the day his name goes on the “Ring of Honor” at the stadium, when all will be forgiven, and he will again be ours for the ages.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Quick Note of Thanks

Thanks to David Douglas of WISC-TV for doing the story, and to my wife, for pushing the state Transportation Department to close the Rimrock Road on-ramp to the westbound beltline. The DOT finally caved in, and will close that ramp this afternoon until the construction work is farther along and the entrance ramp can be set up more safely. My daughter and I saw another wreck there, yesterday afternoon. Let's hope nobody is killed before they finally DO close the ramp.

(See also my rant last week "Somebody's Gonna Get Killed There".)

We're The New TV Program Directors

A poll conducted by the nation’s largest cable company, Comcast, says 62% of their customers nationwide use their DVR to time-shift TV programs. There’s no reason to suspect the numbers are different for any of the other major cable providers like Time-Warner, Charter, and satellite services like DishNet and DirecTV.

Remember the VCR? The first decision you had to make in the early days was VHS or Beta; we know who won that fight. The first couple generations were difficult to program and you had to have a good supply of blank tapes around, or you had to “tape over” something. Too often, what got “taped over” was a show another household member really wanted to see – and hadn’t yet got around to watching.

Another limitation of the VCR was the storage method itself: videotape cassettes. If you put it on the slowest speed (which meant the crappiest reproduction) you could maybe get six hours of programming on one tape. At one point in the mid-80’s I had well over 300 videotapes, carefully labeled and stored.

The TiVo was a step forward, but I never bought one. It came out just before Charter started offering the Moxi-box to its customers, so we went with that. Moxi allowed hi-def recording, and like similar systems, was easy to program. It was intuitive and you could program it easily with the remote control. The principal limitation, in the early days, was storage. You could only “save” about 8 hours of hi-def content. In a later version of the Moxi box, which we changed to about four years ago, storage was essentially quadrupled.

Now, we have DishNet, and its hi-def dual VCR. You can record two programs at the same time – without actually watching either one of them. Back in the VCR days, you couldn’t do that. Back then, when audience share was dominated by ABC, CBS, and NBC, the networks would often “counter-program” – schedule on of their programs to run opposite another network’s popular programs, forcing you to make a choice about which one to view.

By my count, my wife and I regularly watch 7 programs (not counting news broadcasts), and 3 of them are on HBO. I watch Ice Road Truckers on the History Channel, and there are 2 on ABC and 1 on Fox we watch. We love Mad Men, which is on AMC Sunday night opposite one of our HBO shows, so we DVR it and watch it later in the week. And when Breaking Bad and Dexter start new seasons, we’ll DVR those shows, too.

If you don’t like the song the radio is playing, you change the station…or, you don’t listen to radio for music and play your own CD’s or mp3’s. With the number of cable or dish channels available today, and the ability to easily time-shift them, the majority of Americans are now their own program director.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Great Graphing Calculator Scam

As usual, I’m mad as hell about something, and right now I’m mad about the price of graphing calculators. The anger started building Sunday morning, when my long-suffering wife was perusing the ads stuffed into the State Journal, and announced “look at this….a T-I graphing calculator….they’re still a hundred bucks.” She recalled my ire a decade ago, when we were bullied by our children into buying each of them a $125 graphing calculator for their calculus class at LaFollette High.

We were given to understand that we had essentially no choice in the matter; it had to be a certain type of graphing calculator officially approved by the math-powers-that-be, and it was made by Texas Instruments, and its name was TI-83 or TI-84 or TI-something. One hundred and twenty five dollars a copy, thank you very much. I recall the price quite clearly.

I groused about it to anyone who would listen. When we bought the damn things – I don’t remember where – I recall the price variance among Madison merchants was negligible. And I impressed upon both my young scholars that they’d better take DAMN good care of this investment, because we were not keen on replacing a “lost” graphing calculator.

I also wondered about parents of kids taking calculus who weren’t as economically fortunate as my wife and I, having to cough up that kind of money for an electronic device which, in my estimation, would get approximately 6 to 10 hours of use per week for nine months.

Time passed and the kids graduated from LaFollette and moved on to the UW, and when our daughter, the younger of the two, was packing up to move into Ogg Hall as a Freshman (the old Ogg that was demolished a couple years ago, not the new one), I saw her graphing calculator on the top of a box of stuff which was NOT to be moved into the dorm. I asked her if she ever intended to use it again, and she said “probably not” – so I asked her if I could donate it to LaFollette High.

She said she thought her older brother was no longer using his, and her high school boyfriend probably had his around somewhere, and came up with a few other names. I put her in charge of making the calls and said I’d pick them up if necessary. I called Mike Meissen, who was Principal at LaFollette at the time, and asked if it would be OK if I donated these calculators (we eventually amassed 7 of them), and he said the head of the math department would be DELIGHTED and could quietly make them available to students who were smart in math and short on resources. I cleaned them up, put fresh batteries in them – and each one takes FOUR double-A batteries – and dropped them off at LaFollette.

I relate this tale not to be nominated for sainthood, but to draw attention to the price of technology. In almost every case, the cost of some bit of technology (like a graphing calculator) goes DOWN dramatically over the years, even as minor improvements are made and “new” models come out. Our first HDTV cost us three grand; we replaced it a couple years ago for half that, and got a bigger screen (65”) to boot. When we bought it, it was “last season’s model” and marked down.

I can’t think of a single thing that would explain why the price of a graphing calculator would be essentially the same as it was a decade ago. Texas Instruments has got a REAL good thing going for itself.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Way Too Big To Fail

I got an e-mail last week from an acquaintance who used to be in the news business, and now in retirement is apparently a tea-party supporter. The e-mail lists 12 points about how big Wal-Mart is, and then suggests that since Wal-Mart is so big and successful, the people who run Wal-Mart ought to run the U.S. government.

The e-mail refers to our congress as “corrupt morons”, which in too many cases is an apt description.

Being the skeptic that I am, I checked out the claims made in the e-mail (no, I don’t even take stuff as gospel from people in the news biz) about how big Wal-Mart is, and surprisingly found that all the claims were true, and apparently taken straight from the Wal-Mart corporate fact sheet.

It says Americans spend 36 million bucks at Wal-Mart every hour of the day, and that the company (which operates on about a 3% margin) makes just under 21 grand every minute. Wal-Mart is bigger than Home Depot, Kroger, Target, Sears, CostCo, and K-Mart combined, and employs 2 million people worldwide, 1.4 million in the U.S. alone.

Based on gross revenue, Wal-Mart is the largest corporation in the history of the world. It sells more food than any other store in the world, and since Wal-Mart got into the grocery business 15 years ago, 31 big supermarket chains have gone bankrupt, and Wal-Mart now sells more food than Kroger and Safeway combined.

Wal-Mart has just shy of four thousand stores in the U.S., of which 1,906 are SuperCenters like the huge edifice at South Towne Drive and the Beltline. That’s a thousand more stores than it had five years ago. This year 7.2 billion purchasing transactions will occur at Wal-Mart stories. (The population of the earth is around 6.5 billion.)

More than half of the population of the U.S. lives within 5 miles of a Wal-Mart store; 90% of Americans live within 15 miles of a Wal-Mart; and 97% of Americans live within 25 miles of a Wal-Mart.

The e-mail then morphed into a rant about government “failures” (Postal Service, War on Poverty, Freddie Mac, et.al.) and suggested that the President and every member of congress should quit, and that we should just let Wal-Mart run the government, since they seem so good at running big things.

I’m far from convinced that Wal-Mart should run the government, but the people doing it now could stand some improvement.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Reefer Madness

Several years ago, a county sheriff just north of Madison got his deputies and assorted other law-enforcement types to trundle through the countryside on a summer weekend, looking for cannabis, and when they managed to pull up about six or seven examples of what in common parlance is “ditch weed”, the sheriff put the uprooted plants on a table, called a news conference, and told the media about the “success” of his quest.

He called the ditch weed “highly addictive and extremely dangerous marijuana”, and referred to it as a gateway drug.

About a year ago, a phalanx of deputies, State Troopers, DEA personnel, and assorted others went tromping through the Navarino Wildlife Area and found a fairly large marijuana growing operation they’d been tipped to by some hunter. The Shawano County sheriff trumpeted their success.

A few days ago a bunch of law enforcement officials conducted raids in Outagamie, Brown, Menominee, and Oconto County, and corralled a bunch of weed (10 thousand plants and 2 to 3 hundred pounds of processed cannabis, says the Attorney General), a stash of weapons, and enough cash to finance a decent weekend in some exotic locale.

The Oconto County Sheriff, Mike Jansen, said this was a coordinated effort that had been two years in the making…trailing suspects as they bought stuff at local stores, surveilling all manner of suspected perps,..that finally paid off with the big bust. TWO YEARS!

I often wonder if all the “evidence” is really “destroyed.”

I also wonder – again – if the taxpayers were ever given an accurate and realistic accounting of the costs of this failed “war on drugs”, would they continue to be so complacent in how law enforcement authorities allocate their time and resources?

Perhaps I’m just advocating what I talked about in last week Thursday’s essay, and suggesting, like Eddie Ben Elsen, that only the good laws should be enforced.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Somebody's Gonna Get Killed There

There’s going to be one hell of a wreck at Rimrock and the belt. It’s only a matter of time. The re-working of the Park Street interchange is a ticking time bomb. And, the old saying “it’s going to get worse before it gets better” probably applies.

A few weeks ago, city traffic engineers compiled the annual list of most dangerous intersections in the city, and at the top is Park Street and Badger Road. Anyone who has to navigate that minefield on a regular basis is aware of the dangers, but for infrequent users, it’s a snake-in-the-grass ready to strike. They’re working on changes to the intersection right now, so it’s all torn up, making it even more dangerous.

A few hundred feet away, on the Beltline, they’re making major changes to the Park Street on-ramps and off-ramps both eastbound and westbound, compounding the issue. When it’s done, it might actually make the Badger Road – Park Street intersection less dangerous and it will most certainly make the Park Street interchange with the Beltline much safer and more navigable.

Anyone who’s anywhere near the Park Street off-ramp from the westbound Beltline on a Saturday in the fall when the Badgers are playing at Camp Randall Stadium knows how far traffic backs up waiting to get off the Beltline to head toward the UW campus.

But the way they’ve got the traffic pattern set for merging with the westbound Beltline from Rimrock Road and merging with the eastbound beltline from HiWay 14 (which becomes Park Street and HiWay 151 under the Beltline overpass) is gonna get somebody killed. This is not a shot at the state’s traffic engineers. Their options in fixing this mess are limited, because of the way the intersection was originally set up, decades ago.

Because the westbound exit to northbound Park Street is completely shut down, those coming into the city from the southern suburbs (like me) are essentially forced to take Rimrock Road to get onto the belt. There’s no “merge lane” or “acceleration ramp” because of the cramped quarters forced by the expansion of the Park Street westbound exit. You merge directly onto the Beltline, and that’s where somebody is going to get killed.

A week ago today, I forgot about the horrid mess merging the belt from Rimrock, and got there not too long after a wreck. It was easy to see what happened. A woman driving a small green car must have attempted to merge onto the belt, lost her nerve and slammed on the brakes, and got rear-ended by a truck behind her. You’ve got to trust that the person in the vehicle ahead of you will actually merge onto the belt, because you’re busy craning you neck over your left shoulder to see what’s coming at you on the belt. And, since there’s so little warning to drivers on the westbound belt that a real mess is coming up (how about one or two “merge left” signs between South Towne Drive and John Nolen Drive???), the outside lane of the belt becomes a bumper-car chute. It’s the same nightmare with the merge to the eastbound belt from Park Street.

My new route now takes me up Rimrock and over the Beltline, past the Revenue Palace and the Coliseum, to John Nolen Drive…where I make a right turn, backtrack half a mile, and enter the westbound belt from John Nolen. Then, I merge as far left as possible, to keep my distance from vehicles entering the belt from Rimrock. It takes longer, but gives me a better chance of remaining alive.

I hope they get the Park Street interchanges fixed before somebody gets killed.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Cafeteria Catholics and Eddie Ben Elson

An article in the State Journal yesterday about the bishop warning his flock not to take advantage of the provision in the diocesan health insurance policy which provides for payment for birth control medications gave me a chuckle. I used to work with a couple of “Cafeteria Catholics”, who loudly professed their faith, but picked and chose which rules and guidelines to follow.

Sorta like one of my favorite Madisonians, Eddie Ben Elson, who ran for D-A decades ago (at one point, in the nude, on the stage at the Dangle Lounge, a long-gone local strip joint) proclaiming that he’d enforce “only the good laws.” The old-timers reading this will remember that Elson actually lived in McFarland, and was given to mowing his lawn in the altogether as well. And that he communed with a “beautiful, black, womanly angel” who told him back in a vision in ‘73 that the Comet Kohoutek would hover over McFarland, an astro-escalator would descend, and good people would ascend with him to escape the big oil spill that was coming.

Eddie was either prescient about the Exxon Valdez or the recent disaster in the Gulf, or lived too close to those huge oil storage tanks on the north end of McFarland.

As usual, I digress.

As I understand it, the Roman Catholic Church says contraception is immoral (for reasons best left unexplored here), and all diocesan employees sign a morals clause saying they’ll follow the church’s rules and teachings. A spokesman for the diocese told the paper diocesan employees would be warned about against using birth control, and failure to obey would constitute defiance and could lead to unemployment.

Since the founder of the Roman Catholic Church is not available to answer questions about rules, morals, and guidelines, the church often calls a meeting where the elders decide how the church feels about things. Like the meeting (First Vatican Council) in 1870, where they voted in the Papal Infallibility rule, a widely misunderstood ruling which many people erroneously think the Pope, when seated on a certain chair in the Vatican, is infallible.

There are still quite a few people of my acquaintance who are annoyed with all the changes Pope John the 23rd got started with the Second Vatican Council back in the early ‘60’s.

I’m OK with people who decide to follow whichever rules they like; I’m fine with people who are spiritual but not necessarily religious; I’m not OK with people who call themselves “good, practicing Catholics” but decide for themselves which rules are good and which aren’t.

Back in my undergrad days, in a group discussion during a mandatory 3-credit Ethics class, the consensus seemed to be “pure anything is F’d” – be it Rational Egoistic Hedonism, Stoicism, Utilitarianism, whatever. We decided as a class that we’d rather pick and choose the best from Kant, Mill, et.al., and that to adopt all the rules and teachings of any philosopher was just not in the cards for any of us.

I guess there’s still a lot of that going around.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I'll Take That Kind Of Pay "Hit" Any Time

When somebody tells you they took a pay hit, do you assume they’re going to make more money, or less money? Usually, I guess, when you TAKE a hit, you’re going to make less. I suppose, in a poker sort of sense, if you GET a hit, you might make more money.

Matt DeFour’s article in the State Journal Monday says the average increase in teacher pay and benefits across Wisconsin is 3.75%. The headline writer didn’t do DeFour any favors when he or she headlined the article “Teachers’ pay, benefits take hit.”

I’ll take a hit like that any time.

Too many folks that I know personally have taken one hell of a hit in their pay in the past couple years, a few of them taking a 100% hit and being shown the door in this crappy economy. I don’t begrudge the teachers’ pay and benefits increase at all. Some of my pals are teachers, I have been a faculty adjunct at 3 Universities, and my “baby” sister is a teacher in the Oshkosh school district. The work is hard and not everyone has a talent for it.

Years ago, when I wrote and delivered daily editorials for a local radio company, I would rail against the way the Madison school superintendent (back then, it was Art Rainwater) would position an actual increase in the school budget as a “cut”. Art was always talking about all the cuts he’d have to make if the voters didn’t approve whatever spending referendum was up for a vote, when the fact is that what was being “cut” was the RATE of INCREASE.

If in a “normal” year you were used to increasing operating budgets by, say, 10%, and you were forced to lower the next year’s increase to 8%, I suppose you could call that a “20% cut”. (No, it’s not a “TWO percent cut” – two percent of 10 is 0.2, which is a two-tenths of a percent cut. It’s a two percentage-point cut, to be technical.) But in the crazy world of school (and, often, government) finance, an increase is often referred to as a cut.

No matter how you choose to phrase it, nor how poorly and misleading the story’s headline is written, our state’s teachers are going to do all right. Maybe not as good as they’d like (don’t get me going about Viagra for the Milwaukee teacher’s union), but they’ll be OK.

But the way we finance public education in this state is appallingly and disgustingly wrong and broken. That’s what really needs to get fixed, not just the way the headline portrays the story.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

It's Human Nature

You can’t blame Mayor Dave Cieslewicz for trying to get rid of Thuy. She’s been as big a thorn in his side as Brenda Konkel was when she was an alder. The mayor’s solution for Konkel? Support her opponent in the election. That’s one of the reasons Bridget Maniaci defeated Konkel and got elected to the council.

Thuy, who pronounces her name “twee” for those of you not familiar, is Thuy Pham-Remmele, who represents the city’s 20th aldermanic district on the west side. Thuy is not exactly what you would describe as a shrinking violet. She weighs in, often at great length, on seemingly every issue that comes before the city council.

So this election, Mayor Dave has hitched Matt Phair’s wagon to his star and is pushing for Phair to run for election to replace Thuy. Who’s Matt Phair? He’s the husband of the mayor’s personal secretary.

Madison is a not a bit city, nor is it a small city. If you say “Madison” anywhere in the nation, people will assume you’re talking about Wisconsin. It has a Wisconsin identity just as strong as Milwaukee’s. It’s quite likely that outside the 20th aldermanic district, very few people know Matt Phair’s spouse is Mayor Dave’s personal secretary.

But in the 20th district, you can be sure that Thuy will make that fact abundantly clear to the voters.

When the weekly publication “Isthmus” asked Mayor Cieslewicz about whether Phair would simply be a rubber stamp for anything he wants, the mayor said “I don’t think he’d hesitate to disagree with me.”

Oh, really?

In a mythical future where Phair has unseated Thuy, if a Phair comes down on an issue on the same side as the mayor, accusations will be made (or, at least the people will think) that he’s simply doing his spousal duty to support his wife’s gainful employment. If he disagrees with the mayor on an issue, he’s going to be in trouble at home.

I don’t think there’s a married person reading this who would disagree.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Just Give Me ONE HOUR With El-Rushbo...

I should just play a CD or listen to music. But when I’m in my expensive, foreign-made, gas-sucking SUV between 11 AM and 2 PM weekdays, I listen to that bloated windbag Rush Limbaugh. I guess that’s the genius of his program – you can love him; you can hate him; but you listen. He didn’t get to be the most listened-to person on radio by being boring.

But he is predictable.

The oil spill disaster? What disaster? They can’t find any oil to clean up. The entire event may have been set in motion by the Obama Regime, as a way to get us to give up personal automobiles and use mass transit.

The appeals court ruling that strikes down California’s anti-gay-marriage “law”? An activist judge, setting aside a decision made by the people of California, and inserting his own bias as a substitute for law.

President Obama is the least experienced and least qualified person in any room he enters, and Sara Palin has more experience and is better-suited to national leadership than the man-child.

The government is running two of the nation’s largest auto companies, and they’re failing because nobody in the Obama Regime knows anything about cars.

All four of the above (oil spill, appeals court ruling on Prop. 8, “least-qualified”, and government-run car companies) are entirely predictable positions taken by Limbaugh. Watch the morning news, and you can easily predict how Rush will spin and twist it.

Before you label me as just another “Madison Liberal”, bear in mind that I believe the same could be said of any of the left’s national talking heads. You know which side of an issue they’re going to come down on, and how they’re going to spin it left instead of right. Rachel Madow and Keith Olbermann are just as predictable as Rush, Glen Boeck, and Sean Hannity.

For just an hour, I’d love to sit with Rush in his studio at the Southern Command in sunny Florida, and be given carte blanche to comment on anything he says. But, I suspect a lot of people feel that way; perhaps as many as half the 5 million people who listen to his show.

When he tosses off a line about the “drive-by media and state-controlled Associated Press”, and then, moments later, references an Associated Press story as the absolute truth about some matter, I’d call him on it. When he talks about the Obama Regime running General Motors, I’d ask him where the government controller’s office is at GM….or to produce evidence of any memos from the Obama Regime. Not “the government”, which does more than its fair share of regulating carmakers, but a memo from the White House telling GM what to do.

Anyone with a facility for critical thinking could easily best Rush in any debate and trip him up easily. But that’s why he doesn’t have guests on his show and why the few callers actually heard on the air are carefully screened. It’s why his failed TV show didn’t work. Rush is at his best in theater-of-the-mind radio.

The thing that scares me the most are the listeners to Rush, Boeck, Hannity, Madow, Olbermann, et.al. who think what they’re doing is “news”.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Old Dog; New Tricks

The thing is, I do so little – and yet so much – with my computer. I need and use internet access constantly; e-mail is critical; I store our family pictures on the computer; I record and edit digital audio files (about 99% voice only, doing news interviews on the phone); and I write a lot of stuff.
Like the stuff you’re reading right now.

I don’t play games and don’t store or download music, but my wife’s entire iTunes library is on the computer.

I have written screeds before about how you can’t buy a piece of technology like a desktop workstation computer and then think it will last forever and that its technology won’t be superseded. My techies (at Mad City Techs….free plug) made a service call at my home a month or so ago, and after updating my router and tweaking the venerable Compaq desktop (again!) said “you know, Tim, it’s time.”

When the old machine soon started to get really cranky again – refusing to run Internet Explorer, doing goofy things when I was working on writing projects (in Microsoft Word, 2003 edition), and sometimes just freezing up, I called Eric at Mad City and said “you’re right…it’s time…spec me out a new workstation computer.”
Long story short, Eric installed the new wonder-box Tuesday, made double-sure that everything I needed to run my business was working, and gave me a brief tutorial on Windows 7 and Microsoft Office 2010. He also made sure the new computer “knew” everything the old computer knew – documents, e-mail archive, appointment calendar, pictures, iTunes, Adobe Audition (my digital audio program) – and finally I said “OK, Eric, I think I can take it from here”.

For those who know or care about such things, the large black box has the name “Dell” on it; the word “vostro” at the top left (I’m given to understand that this is Dell’s small-business line of computers); that it indeed has Intel inside – the sticker says “CORE”; it has enough memory (8 GB) I think, to contain the Library of Congress several times; and please don’t ask me more about the particulars. I don’t know. It’s new and it’s fast. I can bully it into doing what I want it to do.

But now, I must learn to work WITH the new software, this “Windows 7” and “Office 2010”, instead of fighting it to do what I want it to do, as if it were the old stuff. So, a trip to the bookstore is on the list of things to do. I learn best by reading first, and experimenting second. I’m not like my adult children, who never read instructions and just jump in and do things on computers, seemingly intuitively.

I have a feeling it’s going to be a long weekend for this old dog.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hail To The Chief(s)

Call me a small-town boy who grew up thinking Indians (or, in PC language, “Native Americans”) were some of the coolest people around. We wanted to hunt and track with the skill of an Indian, be as brave as Indians, respect the land and its resources like the Indians, and we didn’t say “are you kidding me?”, we said “honest Indian?” when a friend made a statement we found hard to believe – the idea being that Indians would not tell lies.

I was born in a city and county named for Indians. Oshkosh was the name of an Indian Chief, and it is the seat of government in Winnebago County, which is named for the tribe Chief Oshkosh led. In the village where I grew up, Hortonville, the summer recreation baseball team I played for was Kluge’s Chiefs. We were allowed to pick our team names, and the local shoemaker who sponsored the team said we’d chosen a good nickname, and challenged us to play and conduct ourselves like Indian Chiefs – with honor and our best effort.

So I hope you’ll excuse me if I don’t understand what all the fuss is about, concerning “race-based” mascots. And no, even though my ancestors came from Ireland, I don’t mind that Notre Dame calls itself the “Fighting Irish”, and I’m not one bit offended by the Boston Celtics name or mascot.

The latest horrible transgression against Native Americans has apparently been righted without a fight. Yesterday there was to have been a hearing before the State Department of Public Instruction, a hearing where the Kewaunee School District would have been bullied into dropping its “Indians” nickname. There are more than 30 other school districts in the state that are under the DPI’s microscope, and will soon face the wrath of the PC police in Madison.

Most, I’m sure, will follow Kewaunee’s lead, and elect not to spend money the district doesn’t have, to hire representation to make their case that not only do the local Indians approve the nickname and mascot, they consider it an honor. They’ll need the money (they don’t have) to replace all their team uniforms and signage. How ironic that the state, which has failed so miserably to support our public schools, forces substantial costs on districts that are struggling to survive.

The issue, of course, is not money.

But those few people who believe a nickname like “Indians” is racist and that such nicknames have no place in modern society will have to do a great deal more to convince me that anyone is actually being offended here
Then again, I’m just a small-town boy.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

An Eye-Opener, Or A Political Stunt?

Today, a group of city and state officials will gather here in Madison to begin the process of deciding whether Peter Theron will be granted a permit to run a demonstration on city streets the last Friday of this month.

Theron, a Republican who is running against incumbent Democrat Tammy Baldwin for the 2nd District Congressional seat, wants to conduct a train-crossing simulation August 27th between 4 and 6 PM. He wants crossing guards with flags to stop traffic for one minute, 13 times an hour, on John Nolen Drive, South Blair Street, East Wilson Street, and Williamson Street.

This is either one of the greatest political stunts ever attempted, or a potentially graphic demonstration of what it will really be like when the trains that have been talked about for the past 20 years in Madison are running.

Mind you, there’s no clear start date for the commuter rail, because the Regional Transit Authority hasn’t even decided yet when it’s going to hold a referendum on the additional sales tax money it wants to fund the trains. And the so-called “high speed rail” (it really isn’t high speed, more like medium speed compared to true high-speed rail) passenger train from Madison to Milwaukee is expected to start operations early in 2013.

Some say Theron’s idea is no more than a political stunt, and even if the city/state committee allows him to pull it off, it won’t be representative of reality when the trains are actually operating. Others say it’s about time somebody actually gave all these train supporters a look at what they will be doing to traffic on the isthmus.

Theron, who has made eminently clear he’s opposed to train projects of all sort, says his goal is just to see what will happen to traffic downtown if the proposed trains ever do leave the station.

Stay tuned. This should be interesting, especially if the committee allows Theron to do it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Lindsay Lohan: Meh.....

One of the certain signs of aging is that you no longer recognize many of the names and faces on the tabloids at the Uber-market checkout line. A couple weeks ago, my wife and I were in one of those lines at a local mass-discount grocery store, and I recognized only two of the names on the most prominently-displayed tabloid: Kardashian and Gibson. My wife recognized one of the other names, but drew a blank on all the rest.

I know Gibson from his movies; I liked the Lethal Weapon series; wound up sitting behind three nuns at a local matinee screening of “Passion Of The Christ” (these elderly Brides of Jesus hadn’t been to a movie since the 60’s, and I had to keep reassuring them that yes, this was the correct theatre, and yes, eventually they would stop running all the trailers and ads and actually show the movie); now, Gibson is apparently just another drunken racist boor with deep personal problems.

I knew the name Kardashian from the OJ Simpson trial. The late Robert Kardashian was one of the phalanx of expensive lawyers on OJ’s defense team. I was NOT aware that he is actually the father of the “celebutantes” (I had no idea there was such a term until I Googled “Kardashian”) Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe, who have apparently come to fame by starring in several quite racy amateur porn videos.

The amount of coverage of Lindsay Lohan’s adventures is obscene. It seemed to be on every TV channel I scanned during breakfast yesterday morning; there was a story about her release from jail on the local news radio station; it was all over the internet. Not just a blurb or a mention; even CNN did a long piece about her release from jail. I’ve seen none of her movies and know about her only because the media keeps telling me about her.

I’m amused that there are two distinct camps concerning the pronunciation of her name. There’s the “LO-han” camp, and the “lo-en” camp. Left to my own devices, I’d pronounce it “lo-en”, with equal stress on the syllables, but I’m Irish, and I’m not sure how she pronounces it. Comedian Bill Maher was here in Madison a couple days ago, and several of the local newslings pronounced his name “MA-Her”, with two distinct syllables. (Useless sidebar: Maher’s dad was a radio announcer.)

I don’t really care to know anything about Ms. Lohan’s life. I take it she’s a self-absorbed young woman with deep issues and deep personal problems, and Lord knows there are more than enough people like that to go around. Being the father of a young woman just a bit older than Ms. Lohan, I hope she gets the help she obviously needs to repair herself.

That would seem to be a deeply personal matter, but – I guess I’m showing my age again.

Monday, August 2, 2010

That's Some "Leak"....More Like A Flood.

Bradley Manning, a young man who holds the lowly rank of Private First Class in the US Army, is cooling his heels in the Marine brig at Quantico, awaiting possible trial for leaking nearly 80 thousand intelligence documents to the website “WikiLeaks”, which put the stuff online for all to see.

Government and military leaders are in an uproar about the “leak”, with some claiming that the information leaked puts a lot of lives needlessly at risk.

Leak? 76,900 documents is a “leak”? Hell, the last time there was a leak that big, Noah built an ark.

On the Sunday morning talking heads TV broadcasts, there was much speculation that PFC Manning had outside help, possibly from a civilian computer hacker, who helped Manning set up encryption software to facilitate sending the classified information to the website.

So, Manning had help. Ya think???

Just like Ollie North, all by his little old self with a pot of money from a rich businessman, was able to move some of our nation’s most powerful and secret war weapons all around the globe a few decades ago. All by himself. Right.

The more people that know something, the harder it is to keep it secret. Just ask the Clintons about how they handled security for their daughter’s wedding Saturday. Need-to-know basis.

Guess: how many people do you think hold a top-secret security clearance in the US? A thousand? Five thousand? Try EIGHT HUNDRED FIFTY-FOUR THOUSAND. Yup. Nearly a million people right now hold a top-secret security clearance.

A few weeks ago the Washington Post did a story about how large, duplicative, and out of control our nation’s intelligence effort has become. 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on intelligence, counterterrorism, and homeland security. And nobody at any level of government could explain to the Post exactly which organizations do what, and with whom they share information.

So, it did not surprise me one bit that a low-ranking enlisted man in the Army could get his hands on tens of thousands of “secret” Afghanistan war documents, and send them off to a website.

Do I condone what he did? Absolutely not. Am I shocked that it happened? Not one bit. It’s a strange new world out there.