Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Scent Of Fear (And A Whiff of Panic)

I think it was Wednesday night last week when I heard the first one. Christmas ad, that is. I can’t be sure, because I wasn’t paying close attention to the TV, which was on in the background, but I thought I heard an ad for Christmas shopping at Sears.

Thursday night, I actually saw it.

The line I thought I heard, and apparently did, on Wednesday night, was “Be the Santa you want to be, at Sears.” I yelled to my wife, who was in the kitchen at the time, that it was official…I’d actually seen my first Christmas ad, three days before Halloween. Although I’m sure it was the same ad that ran the night before, four days before Halloween.

The scent of fear pervades the merchant community, with one estimate this year saying people will likely spend only about 2% more this Christmas season than last year, which was a miserably bad year for the merchants. There was another ad I heard in the past few days (you can tell I don’t really pay a lot of attention to the ads when the TV is on), I think it was for Target, talking about Black Friday.

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving, which is almost universally (and inaccurately) reported by the mass media as the “busiest shopping day of the year”, although the Saturday before Christmas has been the busiest shopping day of the year for decades. And with the escalating influence of broadband internet, the way we shop for Christmas is rapidly evolving, hence the term “Cyber Monday”, a recently-coined moniker, referring to the Monday after Thanksgiving when everybody goes back to work and uses the company’s broadband connection to surf the web and shop for Christmas stuff.

Now that broadband (high-speed) internet is available in so many homes, the term “Cyber Monday” will probably be short-lived. We can surf and shop to our heart’s content, in the comfort of our home.

When the merchants start running Christmas shopping and Black Friday ads before Halloween, you know there’s panic in the air. Hang on; we’re in for a bumpy ride with desperate Christmas ads soon replacing the horrible political ads which will die tomorrow.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Breast Cancer "Awareness"

Since this will be my last rant during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the curmudgeonly cynic in me must come out for a final October appearance. I have a modest suggestion for the Komen Foundation and all the other excellent organizations that do so much to try and find a way to end this horrid disease which touches nearly every family on earth.

Stop talking about “breast cancer awareness” and change your pitch to “breast cancer research.”

If you stop and think about it, “awareness” campaigns are for things the general public isn’t familiar with. I’m willing to bet that if you stop a hundred people on the street, every one of them will know someone, either in their assortment of friends or family, that has been personally touched by breast cancer. We’re well “aware” of the disease, and how devastating it can be.

What we need is, in my opinion, more money for medical research and less for “awareness” campaigns. Every time I see or hear about a breast cancer awareness event, and there’ve been plenty in the past month, the cynic in me rears its peaked ears and horns. I saw some product at the entrance to the grocery check-out line last weekend and the packaging said something about a percentage of the proceeds going to help fund “breast cancer awareness.” I commented to my wife that it probably meant a tiny percentage, if anything, would go to a reputable breast cancer charity, and the lion’s share of it would go to put more pink ribbons on the company’s packaging and advertising, under the guise of “breast cancer awareness.”

You can easily make the case that by putting a pink ribbon on its products, a company is helping people be “aware” of breast cancer, when what we really need is a greater contribution to research rather than awareness. Decades of working in a business which is entirely supported by advertising (on-air broadcasting) has made me pay very close attention to what sort of claims are made by the manufacturers of every type of product, so don’t tell me “breast cancer awareness” and “breast cancer research” are interchangeable marketing terms. They’re not. Marketing experts are very careful about how they use words.

I’ve already ranted about the silly annual social media campaigns, like Facebook’s, where women post the color of their bra or where they like to keep their purse, under the guise of breast cancer awareness. It would be better if they’d just donate some money for research and post the dollar amount.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Windmeggadon Brings Thoughts Of Spring (Training)

We didn’t do it last year, but we’ve promised ourselves we’re going to this year. My wife and I, that is. And the topic is a warm-weather vacation when Wisconsin weather is crappy, which means essentially any time between Thanksgiving and Memorial Day. Thing is, we can’t decide if we want to go somewhere really warm…like Aruba or Cancun….in late January, or to Spring Training in Arizona the first week of March.

We went to Arizona for a week of Spring Training two years ago, and it was the best vacation EVER. We loved the high-angle sun, the warm, dry air, watching the ballplayers, doing some fine dining, lolling by the pool, and really unwinding. My fear is, of course, that since we agree it was our best vacation ever, another week at Spring Training might fall short by comparison.

The thing is, when we talk about what we want out of a vacation, we keep coming back to the way we worked the Spring Training visit of ’09. We slept in, had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, spent time by the pool reading the morning papers, maybe did a bit of shopping, headed to the ball park a little after noon and grabbed some hot dogs and baseball until about 3:30, headed back to the hotel, hit the pool, hit the bar, went to dinner, had a nightcap, and then relaxed in the hotel room, balcony doors open with the great night-time desert breeze wafting into the room.

But going to Spring Training in the first week of March means we’ve got to slog through the very worst of the Wisconsin weather before we escape. And although escaping the snow and cold in late January or early February to Cancun or Aruba or Ixtapa or Cozumel or the Bahamas or Acapulco or Cabo is very tempting, neither one of us is the type to enjoy doing nothing but laying in the sun all day. The baseball aspect of Spring Training gives us a daily activity that we really enjoy.

Decisions, decisions.

If I were a bettin’ man, I’d say we’re gonna be at the Hyatt in Tempe the first week of March. It’s a pleasant thought after two days of roaring wind and chilly temperatures around here.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Wednesday Media Rant: How NOT To Fire Someone

Being fired from a broadcasting gig is something to which I can speak with great authority. It’s happened to me 8 times, most recently just a couple years ago. Some of the whackings were more classy than others; some, like my last one, were downright nasty. I’m sure Juan Williams knows the feeling.

Not only did Williams’ boss, NPR CEO Vivian Schiller fire him over the phone, she told the media hours later that Williams’ unacceptable behavior was between him and his conscience, or his psychiatrist. Real classy, that Schiller woman. A high-profile ten-year NPR veteran fired over the phone. Fox immediately hired him for a couple million bucks a year, and the pushback from NPR listeners began.

It got so heavy, this feedback or pushback or whatever you want to call it from the millions of NPR listeners (latest radio ratings say 34 million people listen to NPR every week, many of them spending six hours a day with NPR) that NPR’s e-mail servers and website crashed. There was genuine anger expressed from the NPR listeners. Many of the e-mails said something like “whether he deserved to be fired or not is one question, but there’s no question that the way you did it, stinks.”

To not have the common courtesy to ask Williams to come in for a face-to-face termination meeting is bad enough, but then to imply publicly that the man needs psychiatric help is WAY over-the-top. Williams, of course, had the last laugh here, and NPR finally did what it’s no doubt wanted to do for years: fire this insolent bastard who had the unmitigated gall to consort with Fox News, the antithesis of NPR. (Schiller claims NPR does not lean left at all; but then again, it’s a matter of perspective, since her formative years were with the New York Times.)

My last firing, which will have been two years ago next month, had similarities to Williams’. It was more about house politics than anything else, and for my 30 years of service to the company, I wasn’t even thanked. A couple days after I was whacked, the CEO (who was in hiding on the whacking day, on “legal advice”) went on the air and libeled me. I, too, had the last laugh, since my lawyer taught the company a very expensive lesson, and the person behind my demise met her own cosmic karma a few months after I was whacked.

As to what the real cost to NPR will be for so poorly handling the Williams termination, we’ll just have to wait and see. There’s a lot of sabre-rattling right now, and threats to cut NPR off the federal teat, but these things tend to blow over pretty quickly. I suspect it might just be a medium-sized public relations headache that will soon dissipate. Regardless, it was a classless act, and Williams –whether you agree with his sentiments about air travel or not – deserved better.

Monday, October 25, 2010

One Week And Counting....

A week from today, presuming you're reading this on Tuesday, I’ll head to my township polling place, fill in the blanks (actually, connect the arrows), and heave a huge sigh of relief. It will mean that within a few hours, the damnable TV political ads will be done for a while, and the robo-calls will end.

I have no idea how Tom Barrett got my personal cell phone number, but he called me Saturday afternoon and asked me to vote for him. At least, it sounded like it really was him, when I listened to the voicemail message. I’m pretty careful with my personal cell phone number, so I suspect his people were using the “sequential dialing” method, where they call every single number in every single exchange, from XXX-0000 to XXX-9999.

I have a Facebook friend who announced Sunday night that now that the Packers had dispatched the Vikings, she and her husband were turning the TV off until the day after the election, and would only watch DVD’s. That’s the most extreme post I ‘ve read so far, but I’ve read scores of them from friends who are just disgusted with the stupid ads that get worse every time there’s an election.

Tom Barrett is a wife-beater and closet flat-earth-society member. Scott Walker is a serial killer and secret member of the KKK. Russ Feingold wears Nazi SS uniforms when he thinks nobody is looking. Ron Johnson secretly blew up that I-35 bridge in Minnesota a couple years ago. Tom Nelson is actually a clever robot designed by Japanese spies to steal our government secrets. Becky Kleefisch secretly works in the porn video industry.

The more stupid it sounds, the more the stupid voters tend to believe it.

My daughter, who is now in Grad School in NYC, lived with us for a month this summer before she moved east, and every day she gets about five political pieces in the mail at our address. I guess she belonged to some state employee union when she worked at UW-Hospital, because most of the crap she gets is from Democrats. The stuff is transported from the mailbox at the end of our driveway to the wastebasket in my home office.

My wife baked some goodies for our son Sunday afternoon, and she called and asked if we could stop by around 3 to deliver them to his downtown home. We knocked on his front door several times at 3 but got no response. My wife opened the door and yelled his name, and he was just a few feet away in the living room, watching TV. He said “omigod I lost track of time…I don’t answer the door any more, because it’s just political people who want me to register to vote or listen to some spiel about their candidate.”

I’m tellin’ ya, this next week can’t pass too quickly to suit me.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Numbers and The Madison Choo-Choo

While in the course of running a number of errands late last week, I heard a clip on WIBA-AM of Mayor Cieslewicz talking about the choo-choo. It’s no secret he’s a big fan of light rail, passenger rail, heavy rail, medium rail, trolley rail, and all the kinds of rail there are. But what he said stuck in my mind, and I spent a couple minutes with a calculator and the internet to try and figure out if what he said made any sense at all.

Mayor Dave said estimates are that there would be around 500 thousand (half a million) passenger boardings per year at the soon-to-be-built train passenger terminal in Madison, near the Monona Terrace Convention Center. Half a million a year.

Since most people don’t listen with a critical ear, this stuff just goes past them. But let’s break it down a bit. If there are to be half a million passenger boardings a year in Madison, simple division tells you that’s an average of 1,370 passengers per day. I know, some days would be heavier use days than others, but let’s just go with the straight average.

The average Greyhound bus carries 50 passengers. So according to the figures the Mayor is using, that would mean an average of 27 busloads of passengers would board the train in Madison daily. That, for those of you who aren’t good in math, means a busload full of people every hour on the hour, plus 3 “extra” busloads, on average, every single day of the year.


Do you believe that number? I sure don’t. It’s no wonder there’s so much to-do about this whole rail thing. I believe that the people who support rail are people who are not exactly fans of the automobile, nor the bus, since both burn fossil fuel (gee, I wonder what the train runs on…….) and use the roads, which leads to the evil URBAN SPRAWL and LOW POPULATION DENSITY and on and on.

But half a million passengers a year, boarding in Madison? Really???

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Friday Media Rant: Decisions, Decisions...

Here’s an issue that I never faced in nearly four decades as a broadcaster: having a company official tell me to take down a post on a Facebook account. I didn’t join Facebook until after I was forcibly retired from the biz a couple years ago. But a friend of mine who’s a TV reporter had to deal with the issue earlier this week.

Seems this friend of mine is very well acquainted with one of the candidates for statewide office, having worked with this person in the past. In the course of doing reporting work, my friend read the biography/resume this candidate had put online, and on a Facebook post, my friend commented that the biography/resume was grossly “stretched”, and that this person was hugely exaggerating in a number of areas.

I’m being deliberately vague here to protect the identities of both, but I think you get the idea.

The powers-that-be at my friend’s TV station became aware of the post, and asked my friend to take it down. I can well imagine that conversation – an on-camera reporter making a social media post clearly derogatory to a candidate for state-wide office. Long story short, my friend removed the post, and replaced it with one saying management at the TV station had asked that it be removed.

I sent a message to my friend, saying it didn’t surprise me that the folks in carpet corridor (management) at the TV station asked that the post be removed. My friend’s response was interesting. My friend said unlike nearly everyone else who has an on-camera job at the station, there is absolutely no “promotion” of work things on the Facebook account. It’s a completely personal Facebook page, and my friend has a personal acquaintance with every single “friend” on the account. Only friends with personal connections are allowed access, no “fans from TV land” who don’t really know my friend. Therefore, my friend was annoyed that management intervened, because ALL of us have opinions.

I would have told “management” to jump in the lake, but that’s one reason I’ve been fired so many times. (Me and Juan Williams, I guess…) What would YOU do?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Highly Addictive; Extremely Dangerous! (Again...)

Our friends at the DNR want deer hunters to make sure they’re careful if they accidentally stumble across a marijuana growing operation when the season opens in a few weeks. You know, these sophisticated factory-like operations are all run by cut-throat Mexican drug cartels, and if you should just chance to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s adios, amigo.

Or not.

This recent uptick in the drug hysteria surrounding the Wisconsin gun deer season is almost laughable. A few poachers stumbled into a big grow operation up in the Nicolet National Forest this summer and everybody from the Federales to the local constables are thumping their chests about the huge find. The DNR came out with a news escape a couple days ago warning hunters not to put themselves in danger by trying to “investigate” a marijuana growing site, should they come across one. The DNR even put out an 800 number for hunters to give confidential tips.

Good thing I’m not an active deer hunter any more. If I were lucky enough to stumble into one of these grow operations, you can be assured I’d “destroy the evidence.” And, hopefully, I’d have enough to keep destroying it for many moons.

Monday, the Federales seized 105 tons of marijuana in Tijuana. That’s got a nice rhyme to it…”marijuana in Tijuana”…Jimmy Buffett or Ted Nugent oughtta write a song. “I smoked marijuana, in Tee-ah-wana (I know, it’s pronounced with two syllables in Spanish, ‘tee-WHANA’), and now I don’t wanna, go home any more.” 105 tons is enough to make a small ripple in the supply chain, and inconvenience some of my southern California friends for a few days.

So, all you Bambi-slayers, be careful when you’re out there this fall. We used to worry about all those Flatlanders from Chicago coming up to “hunt” with their ‘sconnie pals, taking pot-shots at cows; now, we have to worry about our new role as narcs for the narcs.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Do NOT Rake Your Leaves!

It’s always fun to read Mayor Dave Cieslewicz’s blog on the city website. He is a very talented writer (yes, I have confirmed that he does his own writing) and has a great sense of humor. A few days ago he posted a rant about how the “higher authorities within his household” (that’s gotta be you, Diane) had issued a decree that the leaf-raking be done.

As it is in my home, prime leaf-raking time would fall during periods allocated for other activities, such as watching important football games on TV (as it is in the Mayor’s home) or taking a nap (apparently, also as it is in the Mayor’s home). However, I haven’t raked leaves in nearly a decade. And, I didn’t know it, but now no less an earth-friendly maven than City Recycling Coordinator George Dreckmann has absolved me (and Mayor Cieslewicz) from any angst associated with not raking leaves.

I take my giant lawn tractor out of the shed, set the mowing deck down about a half-inch off the ground, and mow the leaves to death. I wasn’t really aware of it, but this is called “mulching” in environmental circles, and is apparently beneficial to the grass.

I’ve done it since 2001 essentially because I’m lazy, and mowing the leaves to smithereens with my giant lawn tractor gives me a sense of power. Now, I’ve learned that I’m being friendly to the environment by being lazy in this manner, and I’m OK with that.

I don’t live in the city of Madison, but in sort of a no-man’s-land in the Township of Madison, which, I’m told, will some day in the mythical political future be annexed into the city. I wanted us to be annexed into Fitchburg, because now with long-time friend Jay Allen holding the Mayor’s office there, I could constantly browbeat and annoy my old pal Jay with bogus complaints about “wasting my property tax money.”

I’m acquainted personally, though not as well, with Mayor Cieslewicz. I never fired him, which I did to Jay in the far distant past. But, as usual, I digress.

Dreckmann says the City of Madison disposes of around 16 thousand tons of leaves every year, at a cost of 1.1 million dollars. Mayor Cieslewicz suggests that given the benefits of mow-mulching, including saving money and fossil fuel, we should feel no guilt about not raking. My giant lawn tractor is, I’m sure, much more fuel-efficient than a Town of Madison dump truck, so I’ll be doing my part to save the planet again this fall.

Particularly when the Badgers play Iowa Saturday afternoon.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Whole Truth

So, the woman who wants to be Lieutenant Governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, is out with a TV ad that proclaims we have the best health care in the world, and if it wasn’t for that fact, she wouldn’t be here today to proudly run with Scott Walker.

For those who don’t follow the game closely, Kleefisch is a former Milwaukee TV personality who had a pretty large tumor removed from her innards a few weeks ago, and has apparently made a complete recovery. In the ad, she goes on to condemn what she calls a “government take-over of health care” and infers that Tom Barrett is wrong and bad because he favors this “take-over.”

I don’t even know where to start in picking apart this deceptive ad. Let’s start with Madame Kleefisch’s health insurance. She has coverage through her husband, who is…..wait for it….a state representative from Oconomowoc. So the Kleefisches have state GOVERNMENT insurance coverage. “Oh, but it’s a private insurance company policy”, whines the Mrs., when confronted about the duplicity in her ad.

That’s right, Becky. It’s a private company. But your coverage is paid for, courtesy of a contribution of around twenty grand a year from the taxpayers of the state of Wisconsin. So, you have, no matter how you slice the dice, GOVERNMENT insurance coverage. You have allowed the government to “take over” your health care, Becky. You and Joel are firmly attached to the state teat when it comes to health insurance.

You can make the case that we have the best health-care system in the world; you cannot make the case that we have the best health-care access in the world.

What the Kleefisches of the world don’t seem to understand is that so many people are essentially shut out of that system. Worse yet, they don’t seem to care.

The election is two weeks from today. I can’t wait.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Paraprosdokian Delight!

I hadn’t heard or read the word “paraprosdokian” since my college days, but late last week, it was the subject line of an e-mail I got from my youngest sister. She’s an elementary school teacher in Oshkosh, and I hope she’s not inflicting paraprosdokians on her fifth-grade class!

A paraprosdokian (the word comes from Greek, meaning “beyond expectation”) is a sentence that ends in an unusual way, where you think you know how the sentence is going to end, but then there’s a twist at the end. Groucho Marx and Henny Youngman were among the best practitioners of the paraprosdokian. One of Groucho’s many fine paraprosdokians: “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn’t it.” And there’s Henny Youngman’s most famous line: “Take my wife – please!”

They teach stuff like this in creative writing classes. Sometimes the paraprosdokian is a single sentence, like “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car” or “To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.” Sometimes they’re two sentences, like “You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice” or “Always borrow money from a pessimist. He won’t expect it back.”

I vaguely recall being taught, in some class many years ago, about the “garden path sentence”, where the ear is led to believe the sentence is going to conclude one way, and it doesn’t, such as “Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.” Often, it’s two short sentences that create the garden path, as in “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”

I’m not sure what this is called, but I pulled it on my kids in their pre-teen years just about every week, and they (politely?) laughed every time. I guess it’s sort of a riddle, and it goes “What does a dog do that a man slips on?” The answer is “pants”, and it’s all in how you deliver the line, but it became a ritual in our house that whenever I started saying “What does a dog do…” the kids would have a contest to see who could be the first to yell “PANTS!!!!!”

I love words, and how we use them. I guess that’s why I was so tough on the broadcasters and news writers I worked with for decades. Back then, one of my favorite lines was “If I agreed with you, we’d both be wrong.”

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Friday Media Rant: "Officer-Involved" Shooting

Earlier this week, there was an “officer-involved” shooting on the south side of Madison. I know this because the three local TV news operations all told me about it. Of course, they didn’t bother to hyphenate the term; they just copied it right off the top of the police incident report. One of the stations further reported that the young man who was shot by the deputy was “transported” to a “local hospital.”

Transported? Did they beam him there, like in Star Trek? There are four “local hospitals” – UW, Veterans, Meriter, and St. Mary. Why not just say which one? At least they didn’t say “rushed” to a local hospital. (It would be news if the rescue crew lollygagged, stopped for coffee and a sandwich, and took their sweet time in getting the gunshot victim to the ER.)

Back to the “officer-involved shooting.” First of all, nobody talks like that. Not even cops. But every one of the TV stations reported it that way, for reasons which have long escaped me. Apparently it’s the “copy and paste” style of writing that’s so prevalent today. Just copy the police report and paste it into your newsroom word processor. That is, after all, what highly skilled reporters and journalists do these days, isn’t it?

Every so often, they’ll tell us about somebody who was “extricated” from a vehicle and rushed to a local hospital. God forbid they should alter the language on the police report and say the wreck was so bad the person had to be cut out of the car, the way 99.9% of us would.

Later on in the newscast, the traffic person told us there were “no reports of any accidents.” Who talks like that? Only the local traffic reporters. No reports of ANY accidents. Why do they insist on sticking the word “any” into the sentence? Nobody talks like that, except all our local traffic reporters. I’m always thankful, sitting on my wide butt in my huge easy chair in the media room of El Rancho Morrissey, that the local TV stations are thoughtful enough to give us quick traffic reports. I always trusted that if there was a wreck so bad that it tied up traffic in knots for miles, they’d make a point of telling us on the news, anyway.

Next time, we’ll talk about the “ay-thee” disease to which so many local talking heads have fallen victim.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Recycling Isn't Always Good

So, FAILED Brewers skipper Ken Macha has an interview with the FAILED Pittsburgh Pirates, and who knows? Macha may just wind up managing the Pirates next season. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit. It’s the coaching carousel, where no matter how bad you stink up the joint in one city, there’s always another team that says “hey – let’s see if we can get him!”

Apparently, there are only a certain number of guys who can ever be major league managers, and if you thought the United States Senate was an exclusive club, take a look at the ranks of Major League Baseball managers. It’s like a Who’s Who of has-beens who bounce from team to team, stinking up the town in one city, and moving on to stink up the joint in another town.

How is it possible that Dusty Baker is still employed as a Major League Baseball manager? He had one decent year with the Giants, but FAILED to move the team into the Fall Classic; he stunk up the joint so bad in Chicago with the hapless Cubs, failing again to move an expensive and talented lineup (Sosa, Prior, Wood, past the first round. So, the Reds hire him, and, no surprise given his record, the Reds got knocked out of the first round of the playoffs by the Phillies a few days ago.

I have worked a couple times in my former life as both a faculty adjunct (hired-gun teacher) and as a full-time university administrator and I can tell you from first-hand experience that institutions of higher education, for all their liberal bravado, are actually some of the most conservative places on earth. It takes FOREVER to change ANYTHING.

Football isn’t really different. Once in a great while, someone - Matt Millen comes to mind - fails so badly that they’re out of the ranks of football management forever. Millen’s record as CEO of the Lions is the WORST performance in NFL history, and….shockingly….he’s no longer connected with pro football. (Ex-jock announcer doesn’t count. And that’s a rant for another day.)

Ned Yost presided over the greatest skid in Brewers history, and was fired before the ’08 season ended, but he took over managerial duties for the Royals in May.

Don’t be surprised if the Pirates or some other team hire the useless Macha. Bobby Cox finally retired, so the Braves will have to find some worn-out has-been to run the club next year. Who knows – it might just be that loser Ken Macha.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Are You "Aware" of Breast Cancer?

I’m pretty well convinced that most people with an IQ of 55 or higher are “aware” of breast cancer. So when I see these ill-conceived social media campaigns to “raise awareness” of breast cancer, I’m not amused. Last year on Facebook, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, women were encouraged to post as their status the color of their bra.

This year on Facebook, women were encouraged to post as their status where they like to keep their purse. The proliferation of posts like “I like it in the closet, where it’s dark” and “I like it on the back seat of the car” and “I like it in the bedroom” did little more than create a few adolescent giggles and smirks from those who exploited the obvious double-meaning of the status updates.

Most importantly, like last year’s bra-color campaign, this year’s “where do you like to keep your purse” campaign did nothing to help fight the disease which affects so many of our friends and family members.

I’m sure I annoyed more than a few of my Facebook friends last week when I posted a status update that said “I’m pretty sure that most people with an IQ of 55 or higher are ‘aware’ of breast cancer. And don’t care where you like your purse, and last year I didn’t care what color your bra was. Instead of telling me where you like your purse, why don’t you reach into it and donate some money for breast cancer research, and DO something to help find a cure”.

I’ll have to admit my patience with this “awareness” crap is in pretty short supply this year. I wrote a rant last week about how my friend and former colleague, Robin Colbert, had a double mastectomy and hysterectomy in her fight against breast cancer. I’m happy to report that she’s now home from the hospital, in pretty good spirits, and seems to be recovering well.

I know my many female friends who participated in this year’s “awareness campaign” on Facebook were simply having fun and the comments on their status were often entertaining. No harm.

But I sure wish they’d walk the walk (pun intended) as well as talk the talk. It takes only a few seconds longer than updating your Facebook status to go to a website and donate a few bucks toward breast cancer research.

Next year, perhaps the “awareness” folks will decide that it would be fun to post as their status how much money they just donated for breast cancer research.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Classless Behavior

It’s the longest-standing rivalry in collegiate football – Wisconsin and Minnesota – and every time they play, the trophy called “Paul Bunyan’s Axe” is at stake. The Badgers have now retained possession of the axe for seven years in a row. After every year’s game, they have the score of the contest inscribed on the handle of the axe, and the winning school gets to keep the axe in its trophy case until the next gridiron contest.

With the realignment of the Big Ten (or eleven, or twelve, or thirteen, whatever it is now), Barry Alvarez pushed hard to make sure that the rivalry stayed intact, and that Wisconsin and Minnesota would meet every year, no matter how the conference was split to accommodate the addition of Nebraska. Suffice it to say Wisconsin-Minnesota is an important and significant football rivalry, more significant even than the famous rivalry between the two schools on the hockey rink.

So when the Badgers had pretty thoroughly trounced the Gophers Saturday afternoon, and it was late in the game, and Coach Bielema kept his starters in, including star running back John Clay, more than a few tongues started wagging about “piling it on” the Gophers. Then, when the Badgers scored with a handful of minutes left in the game, and went for a two-point conversion, serious questions arose about why the Badgers were running up the score.

After the game, the Minnesota coach, Tim Brewster, rebuffed Coach Bielema’s proffered handshake, in fact slapping his hand away, and obviously said some strong words to Bielema. In his post-game conference, Bielema acknowledged the rebuff, and when asked what was said between them, he said something like “suffice it to say we weren’t talking about car deals”. When asked why he went for two when the game was obviously in control, Coach Bielama said something about how “it’s on the card – when the score is thus and such, you go for two, so I just followed the card.”

Most outstate media outlets, including the Los Angeles Times, said the “card” thing was, in essence, a load of horse manure. Even Wisconsin fans had serious questions about the decision. 70% of those responding to an online question about it on the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s website said it was wrong to go for two. Social media sites, like Facebook, were full of comments from fans taking two decidedly different tacks on the issue. Some said “the Minnesota coach is a crybaby” while others said “Bielema is classless.”

I think it was tasteless and classless to keep the first string in so long, and to go for two when the game was clearly in control. While the Badgers have dominated the series in recent years, some day the tables will be turned, and football memories are long. In some future year, if the Gophers are up by a bunch of points late in the fourth quarter, and keep their starters in, and go for a two-point conversion after a late-game touchdown, we’ll see that they’re as classless as Wisconsin was this weekend. We’ll see if revenge trumps class.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My Friend, The Choosy Mother....

Early reports are that the "Jif and the Choosy Mothers" reunion event was a success. I hope to get a full report some time this week. My friend Glen Gardner, partner-in-crime for years at MidWest Family Broadcasting, owner of the Dane County YourNews website, colleague and mentor at Public News Service, and all-around good guy, went back to his rock roots this weekend.

Glen and his radio station pals back in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a couple decades ago, had formed a band called “Jif and the Choosy Mothers”. Glen played guitar. The band did a lot of fun gigs, and developed a name for itself in the region. It doesn’t hurt when several of the band members are on-air personalities on one of the top-rated radio stations in Cedar Rapids, Z-102.9. People came to see the band and had fun, and that’s a big part of what it’s all about.

Since our untimely demise at MidWest Family Broadcasting, Glen has, like me, picked up a number of part-time self-employment gigs to keep bringing home the bacon. And, I don’t think Glen would be mad if I mentioned that he’s bringing home a lot more bacon these days than he did with MidWest. One of those gigs is consulting at that famous Cedar Rapids radio station where Jif and the Choosy Mothers were born, and – sure enough – one thing led to another and the Mothers got back together.

Saturday night they held forth at the Chrome Horse Saloon, complete with a shapely gal fronting the band and a tight, powerful horn section backing them up. Glen posted some video of one of their rehearsal sessions, and I just know they rocked the house. Their show was titled “Still Marginal After All These Years.”

Once you learn to play an instrument, it stays with you. Oh, sure, your technique goes downhill rapidly without practice, but once you’ve mastered the instrument, whether it’s a guitar, trombone, drums, or keyboard, you can work yourself back into reasonable shape in a fairly short time. Sort of like riding a bike.

In a former life, I was a musician, too, but that’s a story for another day. I know that no matter how the concert was received by the audience Saturday night, my friend Glen and his pals had a blast.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Mike McCabe: Pessimistic Optimist

Mike McCabe has to be an optimist. Mike’s the head of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, and he is a relentlessly positive person. He has to be, since he spends his professional life pointing out the corrupting influences on our state government, knows about all the ugly, squirming things hiding under the rocks of state politics, and seems constantly enthusiastic that some day real change will come.

His post earlier this week, titled “Damned Either Way”, had a pretty hard edge to it. McCabe echoes the sentiment that basically, we have two bankrupt political parties bankrupting the country.

I’ve said plenty of times in the past few weeks that the wind of change is blowing pretty hard, not just around here, but all over the nation. The Democrats, who control Congress and our state legislature, have failed miserably. A lot of Dems are going to get the heave-ho in a few weeks. But, as McCabe points out, if a recent Associated Press survey is to be believed, the electorate hates the Republicans even more than it hates the Democrats.

So….that leaves….the TEA Party??? No thanks.

Madison television is saturated with some of the most stupid, nasty, negative political ads we’ve seen since the last state Supreme Court election. And in most cases, it’s tweedle dum and tweedle dumber. Russ Feingold has gone negative. Feingold’s challenger, Ron Johnson, who insists government doesn’t create jobs, tells us he’s running for U-S Senate so he can create jobs. Am I the only one who sees the idiocy and hypocrisy in that assertion?

Tom Barrett has some fuzzy-edged magical plan to take us back to the days of milk and honey when Tommy Thompson held forth from the east wing of the Capitol. Scott Walker is going to reduce taxes, balance the budget, and create jobs. (Wait a minute….here’s another Republican telling us the government, which doesn’t create jobs, is going to create jobs.)

McCabe joins the ranks of those who are beginning to wonder if we’ve reached a point when the existing two-party system is no longer sustainable. I think we passed that point some time ago.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Beware The Quacking Of A Lame Duck

I first met Kathleen Falk wandering the halls of MidWest Family Broadcasting in 1997, back when the studios were on Ski Lane on Madison’s South Side. She was about to be a guest on that bad-boy Sly’s morning talk show, and she was looking for a cup of coffee to fortify her. I knew who she was; so I introduced myself and asked her to follow me through the maze of hallways to the coffee pot.

We made small talk, and I led her back to the WTDY studio area, so she could face Sly’s interrogation. I do recall distinctly that on the way to Sly’s on-air studio, she asked for my vote in her campaign to become County Exec. Always the politician.

No one has held the job of Dane County Executive longer than Kathleen Falk (or, as her right-wing detractors call her, “The Kathleen”) and if you ask me, she’s done a pretty good job of running this wacky county. Budgets in line with inflation and growth; builder of coalitions and consensuses; famously direct with her department heads; skirmishes with the Sheriff over funding; notorious incident with the failures of the 9-1-1 dispatch center in the Brittany Zimmerman murder. On balance, she’s done well.

I just wish she didn’t want that damnable choo-choo so much.

By announcing her exodus now, it gives plenty of time for those who want the job to organize and make a case to the voters, although it looks like she’s going to have to clear out by December 28th to make the deadline to hold an election to replace her. Lots of names have been mentioned; we’ll see how that shakes out. But now that she’s a lame duck, don’t think for one minute it means her power and influence will be reduced.

Like her or not, you must acknowledge that Kathleen Falk is a leader. She builds support for her ideas and plans, and moves them forward. Now that she doesn’t have to please any particular coalition in a re-election campaign, she’s free to do a LOT of stuff she might not otherwise be able to do.

Beware the lame duck. She’s beholden to no one. And I hear that train a’comin’.

Good Luck, Robin...

I am constantly amazed at the courage displayed by my family, friends, and colleagues who are engaged in a battle with breast cancer. Today is going to be a very tough day for a friend of long-standing and former co-worker, Robin Colbert. Robin and I worked together for years at the Mid-West Family Broadcast Group in Madison, until she moved up to be news director for WIBA-AM and its Clear Channel sister stations in Madison. Her two-year battle with breast cancer has led her to the point where she’ll spend most of this gorgeous early fall day in an operating room at UW-Hospital, where she’ll undergo a double mastectomy and hysterectomy.

Robin courageously went VERY public with her breast cancer battle yesterday from 10 to 11 AM on Mitch Henck’s show on WIBA-AM, telling the high-rated station’s scores of listeners how it all started nearly two years ago, when she felt that tell-tale lump while doing a self-examination in the shower. Joining Robin and Mitch was Dr. Lee Wilke, the newly-arrived head of the Breast Program at the UW’s Carbone Cancer Center. Robin and Dr. WIlke both took calls from the listeners, while Robin’s father – veteran Madison radio newsman John Colbert – sat in the adjacent news studio listening to his daughter recount her story of tests, biopsies, chemotherapy, and now – recurrence.

I don’t know where these women find the courage to be so public about something so emotional, so frightening, so….personal. Another long-standing friend and former radio news colleague from the Fox Valley, Sheree, boldly documented her fight with breast cancer a year ago on her Facebook page, with photos after each chemo treatment at the UW. She even posted pictures of “Bald Sheree”, when the treatments caused her hair to fall out. “Bald Sheree” is back as her Facebook profile picture, as we observe Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and she’s posting a regular series of “thinking pink” status updates this month.

These are some strong, strong women.

My wife had a breast cancer scare a few years back that gave us some extremely anxious moments, but the expert doctors and technicians at UW-Health were able to determine that it wasn’t cancer. My sister Lynn is a five-year breast cancer survivor.

As you go about your business on this beautiful, warm, early fall day, take a moment to think about my friend Robin, who is spending this day on an operating table at UW-Hospital, fighting breast cancer with cold, hard surgical steel. And then, please – take another moment to send what you can to the National Breast Cancer Organization, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, or your favorite breast cancer charity. It only takes a few clicks of your mouse.

It doesn’t take anywhere near as much courage to donate money, as it does to go through what my friends and family have. It’s time to really kick cancer’s ass.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Road Trip!

I started noticing the changes just north of Rosendale in Fond du Lac County. The trees became much more colorful, and the Ron Johnson signs became much larger and appeared far more frequently. Scott Walker signs were in evidence everywhere. As I’d told my Chicago-born-and-raised wife, I’m from a different part of the world that’s NOT like Madison; I’m from the Fox Valley.

Saturday morning, after having determined that my broken-ribbed wife was able to navigate on her own for several hours, that she had good pain meds on board, and that the dogs were prepared to protect, defend, and nurse her, I grabbed a bunch of my favorite CD's and headed up to Hortonville in her Dodge Magnum R/T HEMI, leaving my foreign-made SUV in the garage. It’s fun to drive her powerful machine every so often, and her car hasn’t seen much use since she busted that rib on the 17th of last month in a fall leaving the Dave Matthews Band concert at Wrigley Field with her sister and brother. She can’t drive with a load of morphine and oxycodone on board.

Mom had put out a call to all her children that Saturday was “fall action day”, with a long list of tasks she needed help with – moving furniture out of her bedroom, which is being re-painted and re-carpeted tomorrow; putting the summer outside stuff away for the winter; cutting down the peonies; that sort of stuff. All too often m y siblings who still live in the Fox Valley manage these things without my help, but I knew it was time for me to pitch in.

Election season is when you see the obvious visual clues that the politics of the Fox Valley are not at all like the politics of Madison and environs. The yard signs are a dead giveaway that Republicans rule the roost up there. Just north of Rosendale on HiWay 26 I saw the first gigantic Ron Johnson billboard, and as I hit HiWay 41 just south of Oshkosh, the Johnson and Walker signs and billboards proliferated.

There was a HUGE billboard on HiWay 41 near Neenah proclaiming “Fiengold + Kagen = PORKSPENDERS!” with an illustration of a pig under the huge letters. Steve Kagen is the allergy-clinic king and DEMOCRAT who holds – tenuously – the Congressional seat in that neck of the woods. He’s in as much trouble as Feingold this time around. Can you imagine seeing a “Feingold + Baldwin = PORKSPENDERS!” billboard in Dane County?

As I exited HiWay 41 at HiWay 15 in Appleton for the quick jog over to Hortonville, I counted ONE political sign for a Democratic candidate (Barrett) along the hiway through Greenville to Hortonville, a lonely little petunia among the huge forest of yard signs and billboards for Republican candidates.

It was a quick trip up and back, with just time enough to get through mom’s “to-do” list and spend some quality time visiting with my family members. But it was enough to reinforce my suspicion that it’s more than just the color of the leaves that will be changing this fall.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Obey Only the GOOD Guns Laws, Madisonians.

The City of Madison and its Police Department are about to get their johnnies slapped around by the courts. So far, the five men charged for doing absolutely nothing unlawful aren’t asking for money, a fact which city taxpayers must be most grateful for. So far.

If you missed the story, on Saturday September 18th, five men, all of them members of a group that supports carrying guns openly in public, went into a Culvers restaurant a few hundred feet from East Towne Mall, each of them with a handgun in a holster on their belt, and sat down to eat. Some nervous-nellie east-sider called the cops just aghast that something this heinous could happen in MADISON, and the cops went into the restaurant and made a shambles of the Constitution and our state’s laws.

They CUFFED the men, charged two with obstructing because they wouldn’t give their names, and charged all five with disorderly conduct. A few days later, cops dropped the obstructing charge against the two men, but pressed the disorderly conduct charge on all five, who filed a lawsuit last week accusing the city and the cops of violating their constitutional rights.

How many Americans know that you do NOT have to give your name to a cop just because he or she asks for it? Not very many, apparently. And the cops, who are used to getting their way about everything, decided to write those two who understood their rights a nice fat obstructing ticket, which stuck for a few hours until someone who knows the law read the incident report and said “better drop those obstructing charges, boys…..”

Just so we’re clear on this, you do NOT have to give your name or identify yourself to a cop just because he or she asks you to. That is, unless between the time I’ve written this and you’re reading it, the Nazis or Commies have taken over this country. We don’t ask citizens to “see their papers” without damn good reason in this nation. (And don’t get me going on Arizona’s issues with this. Different kettle of fish.)

A few days ago, Madison Police Chief Noble Wray told a local TV reporter he was “proud of the way his officers handled the situation”….and further opined that “we’ll have to decide what to do in situations like this in the future, when someone is upset by someone carrying a holstered gun”, or words to that effect.

How about this, Chief - how about not letting some nervous-nelly eastsider who withers at the sight of a handgun not decide which state laws and Constitutional Amendments apply in Madison? Or should we bring back one of my favorite Madison characters from the 60’s and 70’s, Eddie Ben Elson, who ran for D-A on the platform “only obey good laws.”

I’m not some gun nut. I’ve been trained in firearms use by a highly decorated WW2 combat infantryman: my father. And I don’t carry a sidearm in public and never have; likely never will. And I was raised to respect the Constitution of the United States and its Amendments, and the laws of the sovereign states.

So until those laws or Amendments are changed, I don’t want some whiny bitch dictating which ones are the “good laws.”

Unless she plans to patrol the parking lot at East Towne well after dark, looking for thugs and losers who are UNLAWFULLY carrying concealed weapons and looking for an opportunity to rob or steal.