Tuesday, September 16, 2014

There's No Debate

I must say I was very disappointed by the Congressional candidates "debate" hosted by the Fond du Lac Rotary Club on Monday.  In a race where it appears only two such forums are going to be held, the format did nothing to actually advance the public's understanding of the positions held by the two candidates (listed in alphabetical order) State Senator Glenn Grothman and Winnebago County Executive Mark Harris.

Before I get into the debate itself, let me tell you about the controversy that preceded it. Our friend Emily Matesic of Action Two News arrived with her videographer to film the debate for use in a story later that day.  She was told--in no uncertain terms--that no cameras were allowed in the room (except for some podcasting that a Fond du Lac radio station was doing) at the request of one of the candidates.  (Given that there is one candidate in this race that is desperate for all of the media attention he can get to make up for lack of fundraising to buy advertising--I'll leave it up to you to determine which candidate may not have wanted the TV crews to show up).  It was only after a couple of Milwaukee TV stations and Wisconsin Public Television showed up that the Rotary President aquiesced and allowed them to record the debate.  Chalk up another win for the First Amendment!!

Now to the debate itself.  It was my absolute least-favorite format: Three minute "opening statements", take turns answering questions with a two minute time limit, no rebuttal and then three minute closing statements.  In that format all you end up with is "I'll say my main talking points--you say your main talking points and then we will move on to the next question".  It's a style of "debate" that doesn't actually feature any "debating".  You may as well have had two Rotary members themselves reading prepared statements from each of the candidates and it would have been just as enlightening.

I realize that the art of inter-personal communication is dying and someday such debates will be held via text messages on some smartphone and tablet app--but at least force the candidates to defend their positions and provide some insight into the thought process and rationale for holding those beliefs!  I know the fear of forum hosts is that if you have a real "open debate" that it might allow one candidate to speak for three-minutes and 28-seconds more than the other and that will lead to the "less spoken" candidate's supporters to claim bias and favortism--but clear, concise arguments are usually more effective than hogging all of the mic time anyway.

But how can we expect to break out of the cycle of low-information voters if we refuse to give them more information with which to make their decision?

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Rush After Judgement

Remember this spring when that Federal Judge struck down the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriages?  Do you recall how some county clerks immediately started to issue marriage licenses to gay couples?  And remember how there were all of these marriage ceremonies in courthouse hallways and on street corners because everyone was afraid that another court was going to come down at any second and put the kibosh on same-sex marraige again?  And you may recall that some clerks didn't issue those licenses right away saying no one had told them what the process was supposed to be?  And then remember all of the counties started issuing the licenses?  And remember how Republicans were criticizing the clerks for issuing the licenses because they had not been ordered to do so yet?  And then the same judge who lifted the ban put a stay on her own ruling--meaning that there would be no more licenses issued?  And remember how nobody knows now if those same-sex marriages are valid or not?

Hopefully you were able to recall all of that--because we could be facing the same thing again this fall with the lifting of an injunction blocking Wisconsin's Voter Identification Law.  Except in this case, most of the people who were critical of county clerks for jumping the gun and issuing the same-sex marriage licenses are calling for those same clerks to immediately train their poll workers on recognizing acceptable forms of state and federal ID.  That, of course, is to make sure that the ID law is enforced for the all-important gubernatorial election coming up on November 4th.

The only potential problem here is that the same Federal court that lifted the injunction stopping Voter ID last week could easily issue its actual ruling on the appeal brought by the State at any time before November 4th.  And it is entirely possible that it could rule against the state--meaning the injunction goes back into place--and all of the training of poll workers and the research done into people who say they can't afford to buy another birth certificate but want an ID will have been a complete waste of time and taxpayer money.  And more importantly, people will be confused.  And as the rollout of the Affordable Care Act proved, people have little patience or respect for anything government does that they find confusing.

So just like I recommended when the county clerks started issuing the same-sex marriage licenses--when State laws had not been put into place yet to deal with issues related to a practice that had previously been banned, and when another potential court ruling threatened to make the entire practice moot--let's all just wait until this whole legal process plays out before we start putting all of this effort into enforcing such tenuous laws.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Retail Punishment

On Sunday I will not be watching NFL RedZone Channel for my usual 7 uninterrupted hours.  I won't be getting in a late-season round at one of the 7 courses I haven't played yet on this year's Cumulus Golf Card.  I won't even be spending four hours here in the Newsroom getting Monday's newscasts ready.  Instead, I will be at IKEA with my wife.  For her, this is a HUGE event.  For me, it will be like the Bataan Death March--minus the beatings, the shootings, the blistering hot sun and dysentery.

I HATE IKEA.  And in talking with other people of my gender--that seems to be the sentiment of every American male of certain persuasions.  And let me tell you why.

1--The Layout Of The Store.  I always compare going to IKEA to a cross between a casino and Dante's 9 Circles of Hell.  Once you are in the building, there is no way to get back out.  You go through the revolving door and your only option is to go up the escalator for five stories and then wander through every display to find the escalator to take you down just one more level--where the process is repeated again.  Does anyone ever say "I'm just going to run into IKEA real quick to pick up one thing and then I'll be right back out"?  No, because there is no way to immediately go to the item you want to buy and take it right to the register--you know, the way men usually shop.  Which brings me to Point of Hatred #2.....

2--The Pickup Policy.  Once you do find an item you like, if it's a piece of furniture you can't just grab the stuff and go.  Instead, you need to jot down the product number and then the bin and shelf numbers--because actually getting stuff at IKEA is done in the basement.  So you complete the Death March, bring your "grocery list" to the rows and rows of stacked boxes and load up as many as five packages (all awkwardly-sized) onto your flat cart--hoping you didn't miss a box because that will leave you with an incomplete piece of furniture.  Then you wait to get a parking spot in the loading zone where people who obviously never played Tetris in their lives try to fit all of the pieces for a new bedroom set into a Kia Optima.

3--The Instructions.  The "fun" doesn't end at the store, because once you get your items home, you still have to put them together.  And because IKEA is an "international" retailer, there are no instructions in English.  Instead, you get a little stick-figure man and poorly-drawn illustrations to show you the general idea of how the stuff is supposed to go together.  At some steps you almost wish that you had the English-to Chinese--and then back to grammatically-awful English instructions of most other products.

4--It Is The Most Pretentious Store In The World.  Nothing has a "normal" name at IKEA.  Your average bookshelf is a "space-saving personal media display and storage unit".  And the brand names for all the products are these made-up, unpronounceable Scandanavian words--so you hear people asking "Which do you like better--the Svensgaarden or the Mo'almo?"  They think there are fooling us into believing that this is actually made in Sweden--when we all know they are using the same child labor at sweatshops in China that Ashley Home Furniture used state tax credits to relocate all of their work--allegedly.  And they don't let you forget that they are "Eco-Friendly" as well--as all the furniture is made from trees that were terminally ill and chose to voluntarily end their lives to make way for new saplings.

So wish me luck on surviving my ordeal on Sunday.  And on figuring out how our new office set goes together.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mr Leinies

I believe in celebrating the things in life that bring you happiness--and for me, one of those things is Leinenkugels' beers.  That's why I want to give a big "thank you" to Jake Leinenkugel--who announced this week that he is retiring at the brewer's president.

I started drinking Leinies in college, when the three options offered by them were "regular", Lite (available only in the Chippewa Falls area) and Red.  Then came HoneyWeisse (yes, I pronounce the "w" like a "v" just like all Germans should) and BerryWeiss--which led to custom mix called a "Jake's Pour"--which was half-Honey, Half-Berry.  I even have a divided pitcher in my basement Leinenkugels Shrine that holds a couple bottles of each brew and makes a Jake's pour much easier.

Around that time, Jake and the family sold the operations to Miller Brewing.  There was much concern that Leinies was going to become the same type of swill offered by its new parent company--but in one of the few smart decisions by the Milwaukee folks, Jake was promoted to president and oversaw operations independently from MillerCoors.  Joining the major with its nationwide distribution systems came at a perfect time, because the American beer consumer was ready to try a lot of new things.

That was followed by an explosion of new craft beers from Leinies--like Sunset Wheat (which made its un-official debut at EAA Hops and Props here in Oshkosh, where Jake was on-hand serving out of unmarked bottles this "new elixer").  Then came new porters, apple ales, Russian stouts, amber bocks and eventually Summer Shandy.

I'm sure that when Jake and the brewers pitched the idea to Miller of selling a beer that is mixed with lemonade, it raised a few eyebrows.  But Summer Shandy now accounts for 60% of all Leinies sales.  It is offered long before summer starts and well into the fall to maximize that sale period.  And it is the only Leinies product available in all 48-states.  Oh, and every other major brewer jumped on the shandy bandwagon as well--but none seem to get it quite right.

There are more than a few beer snobs who turn their noses up at Leinenkugel products because they are not a "real microbrew"--but part of the enjoyment of your favorite beer is actually being able to drink it wherever you may be--and under Jake Leinenkugel, some of my favorites went from back corner of the liquor department items to promoted specials in bars and stores around the country.  All thanks to the vision and expertise of Jake Leinenkugel.

Prost, Jake!

Monday, September 8, 2014

They Are Who We Thought They Were

When former Arizona Cardinals Head Coach Dennis Green uttered those famous words, he was referring to the 2006 Chicago Bears--but that infamous line could just as easily describe the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers--whose late season slide has taken them out of first place and, as of this morning, out of the wild card lead as well.

While panic has set in at Miller Park , I would think that if you had surveyed fans where they thought the Crew would be with three weeks left to go, they would have been more than happy with five games over .500 and a half-game out in the National League Wild Card chase.  Because coming into the season, expectations for this squad were mediocre at best.  It's just the way the team over-achieved early in the season that now has the state they are in this fall looking like a total catastrophe.

This month-long slump is nothing more than the law of averages catching up to a team that was playing way over its collective heads.  The beauty of baseball is that the length of the season and sheer number of games played limits the possibility of fluke teams catching fire for a short period of time and riding that into the post-season, excellence over the long haul is almost always rewarded in the end.

The Brewers have glaring weaknesses and this past month they have all been on display for the world to see.  They are incredibly poor situational hitters--meaning they fail to drive in runners from third with fewer than two outs--and they fail to advance runners into scoring position while making outs.  They are below-average defensively and they are easily the worst baserunning team in baseball--often costing themselves outs and runs on the basepaths.  Their pitchers don't throw enough strikes and they lack power arms to get themselves out of jams with strikeouts.

While the calls are growing to fire Manager Ron Roenicke, the real person who should shoulder the blame for this mediocre mess is General Manager Doug Melvin.  Melvin is an "Old School Baseball Guy" who eschews the new strategy of Analytics in putting together a team.  I'm sure he sees basing roster development on career statistics and trends of both hitters and pitchers to be a "passing fad"--and that sitting around waiting for your poor-contact power hitters to club a bunch of three-run homers is going to return teams to glory any day now.  In the meantime, franchises directed by those who grew up on SABRmetrics will continue to dominate: St Louis, San Francisco, Oakland, the New York Yankees and Boston--pretty much every team that has won a World Series in the past decade.

In the meantime, Brewers fans shouldn't get so worked about about their teams late season swoon.  They just are who we thought they were.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Maybe If We Don't Say the Name, It Will Just Go Away

I was among the thousands of journalists to get an email this week from the Oneida Tribe and the National Congress of American Indians asking our radio station to no longer use the term "Redskins" in reference to the Washington NFL football team.  The Tribe and the Congress maintain that there is "no objectivity" in the use of the name--because any mention serves as an "endorsement" of the term.

I have used this forum in the past to voice my own disdain for the Redskins name and mascot.  Unlike "Chiefs", "Braves", "Warriors", "Indians" and tribal names like "Blackhawks" and "Sioux", "Redskins" has no non-racist connotations and is certainly not a part of our normal vernacular.  I also think that team owner Dan Snyder is a bozo who deserves all of the criticism that comes his way.  But to pretend like the name doesn't exist--or to use "replacement terms" like "The Washington Football Team"--does nothing to change the fact that the team mascot is "Redskins".

Some TV announcers have publicly stated that they will not use the name during their broadcasts.  But the Indianhead logo will still be on all the helmets and at midfield.  The word "Redskins" will be painted in both of the endzones and plastered on walls surrounding the field.  After every score the crowd will still be heard singing "Hail to the Redskins".  So unless you plan to digitally blur all of the visual reminders--and mute the non-broadcaster sound coming from the stadium, viewers are still going to be reminded that it's the Redskins.

What I find most interesting is that during a broadcast of Pardon the Interruption on ESPN this week, Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon--two men who will never be hosting their own shows on Fox News Network--continuously referred to the team as "The Redskins".  These are two very liberal men--who live and work right in Washington DC--who referenced the name nine times in four minutes.  Why? Because they are also reporters--and the fact of the matter is: that is the team name--whether they like it or not.

This isn't the first time the "Language Police" have tried to circumvent facts with "creative language".  The Associated Press StyleBook--the "go-to guide" for word usage and spellings of everything appearing in the media--issued the ultimatum that "illegal immigrant" is to no longer be used to describe those who sneak into the country.  That might make those folks and those who wish to aid their lawbreaking feel good, but it still doesn't change the FACTS that they are not originally from this country--making them "immigrants"--and that they did not follow proper immigration policy and procedure--meaning they are here "illegally". 

Of course, if we don't call them that anymore, will that make them go away too?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bet the House Payments

I'm already 1-0 on my Wisconsin Badger picks, so I may as well give you all the winners for the Packers schedule as well,

Week 1 at Seattle: The Seahawks just plain don't lose at home.  So I will take them here--but the score will be completely dependent on how the referees call the game.  If it's like the flag-fests we saw in the pre-season where looking at a receiver draws a pass interference penalty, then the final score will be 77-70 as the teams take turns throwing bombs to draw flags.  If it's called like defenses are allowed to be on the field, then the Hawks win 23-17.

Week 2 vs the New York Jets:  The Jets can't decide between Geno Smith and Michael Vick at quarterback.  The Packers dominate 34-10.

Week 3 at Detroit: Everyone seems to be jumping on the Lions bandwagon as a possible challenger to the Pack in the NFC North.  It's still the same group of stupid players--with a less-stupid coach.  The Packers still win 31-27.

Week 4 at Chicago: Does Jay Cutler still play quarterback for the Bears? Packers win 27-21.

Week 5 vs Minnesota: Adrian Peterson rushes for 200-yards in this Thursday nighter at Lambeau, but Aaron Rodgers throws for over 400 and Green Bay wins 33-27.

Week 6 at Miami:  Miami will be an improved team this year--and it will likely be about 90 degrees for this Noon kickoff--but the Packers handle the heat and win 26-20.

Week 7 vs Carolina:  There is no more overrated player in the NFL than Cam Newton.  That fact is exposed in this one as the Pack makes it six in a row 23-14.

Week 8 at New Orleans:  They had better make sure that all the lights on the scoreboard at the SuperDome work for this one as Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers throw for 450+--but the Saints get the ball last and kick a game-winning field goal to send the Packers into their bye week with a 44-41 loss.

Week 10 vs Chicago:  Jay Cutler still healthy and playing in this one?  He throws a game-losing Pick Six in the 4th, Packers win the Sunday nighter 34-27.

Week 11 vs Philadelphia:  I doubt Scott Tolzien or Seneca Wallace will be playing QB for the Green Bay in this one.  Packers win again 28-20.

Week 12 at Minnesota: Remember, still no dome for the Vikings so it could be a bit chilly.  Eddie Lacy outgains AP on the ground and the Packers grind out a 20-16 win.

Week 13 vs New England:  CBS will be hyping this as a POTENTIAL SUPER BOWL PREVIEW!!!!  If that is the case, Tom Brady is getting his fourth ring.  Pats win 38-31.

Week 14 vs Atlanta:  Atlanta stunk last year--but mainly because all of their skill position guys got hurt.  I think they catch the Pack in a letdown from the previous loss to New England and steal one at Lambeau 28-27.

Week 15 at Buffalo:  I predict an absolute blizzard coming off of Lake Ontario December 14th and the NFL sees its first 0-0 tie since 1943.  Yes, I am predicting a tie.

Week 16 at Tampa:  Wow, what a difference a week makes.  Green Bay goes from a foot of snow to 80-degrees and sun--and whips up on the Buccaneers 38-10.

Week 17 vs Detroit: The Lions may have a chance to catch Green Bay for the NFC North title in this one.  That is why they will choke like the gutless dogs they are. Packers 41-14.

Green Bay wins the Division with an 11-4-1 record--but get the #3 Seed behind Seattle and New Orleans.  That means they play at home in the WildCard round beating Atlanta in game marred by the return of the Polar Vortex and dangerous wind chills on a Saturday night at Lambeau 17-6.

The Packers hit the road in the Divisional Round to face New Orleans again and this time Aaron Rodgers sets up the game-winning FG by going over 500-yards passing.  Packers 47-44.

And then it's back to Seattle for Green Bay in the NFC Championship.  Former Badger Russell Wilson stickes it to Wisconsin fans again--running in the game-winning TD late.  Seahawks return to the Super Bowl with a 37-34 win.

In Arizona, Seattle's hopes for a repeat are dashed as Peyton Manning exacts his revenge.  Broncos are Super Bowl champs this time, 34-17.

So there you go.  Start planning your earlier retirement with all of the cash I just made for you.