Friday, May 26, 2017

No Contest

If Americans weren't so set in their ways, I would say this has been a transformational spring for two professional sports leagues.  For a third straight year in a row, the NBA Playoffs have been practically pre-ordained--as the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers have lost a combined one game in three series to win their conference championships.  Not only were the series blowouts, but nearly every game in those series were lopsided--as were many games in the other series as well.

That stands in stark contrast to what has been another compelling NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs--which has seen nearly 30-overtime games--and a number of other contests decided by late goals.  The Cup Final combatants, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators were not the top seeds in their conferences.  In fact, Nashville was the number 8 seed in the West (yes, Nashville is "west" in the world of hockey).  In the NBA, just one 8-seed has ever won a playoff series--and has never made it to the Finals.

Last night was a perfect microcosm of two sports heading in opposite directions.  Cleveland blew out a lethargic Boston Celtics team that looked like they did not expect to win and played like it from the opening tip.  Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, the Pens and the Ottawa Senators played with a desperation and intensity befitting an elimination game.  Go-ahead goals by Pittsburgh in the 2nd and 3rd periods were met with quick responses from the Sens--as neither team had a chance to relax with a lead for long.  And then, the game went to double overtime--before the Penguins punched their tickets to the Final with a sudden death goal.  It was a game that left you emotionally drained from all the near misses and wild scrambles in front of the goal.

Of course, ratings for the NBA Finals will crush those of the Stanley Cup Final.  What's left of NBA fans are getting what they want, the rubber match of the LeBron versus Steph Curry trilogy (although given the lack of competitive balance in the NBA, it may be the third of 5 or 6 consecutive matchups)--and given the number of ads those two are part of, casual fans will be sure to tune in as well.  Not wanting to end their playoffs too soon--Game One won't be until June 1st.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh and Nashville will likely decide possession of The Cup in relative anonymity.  Nashville is not exactly a city rich in hockey history--and is best known for having "Mr Carrie Underwood"--Mike Fisher--as its captain.  At least we will only have to wait until Monday for that series to start.  And because NBC has some new dance competition show this summer, a couple of the games will be pushed to the lesser-watched NBC Sports Network (check your local listings for channel numbers).

So over the next couple of weeks, don't be afraid to break out of your comfort zone and check out the hard-fought Stanley Cup Final--rather than seven NBA Finals games with serious competition in just the final few minutes each night.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Soaked To the Bone

As I stood on the 8th tee at Lakeshore Municipal Golf Course in the rain for the umpteenth round this spring I came to realize yesterday that this spring has pretty much sucked.  Sure, we had a great start to the season with mild temperatures in late February and early March, but it has been downhill and depressing every since. 

Sports get me outside a lot at this time of year.  I can think of just two or three high school softball games that I was able to umpire without a heavy jacket on the past two months.  Multiple golf rounds have been played with so many layers on, I could barely swing the club.  Under Armor cold gear topped with long sleeve shirts and pants, topped with an insulated jacket and then rain-proof pants with insulated gloves.  I've even had to don the stocking cap for a couple of rounds this spring.

And when it hasn't been cold and wet, it's been windy as hell.  At the US Open Media Preview Day last week, we had winds of 30-miles an hour on an exposed course with hardly any trees and six-inch deep fescue lining the fairways.  I shot an 87 and nearly injured my shoulder patting myself on the back for what I considered a pretty kick-ass round in those conditions.  Playing even farther back with that much wind, I don't think many of the pros next month will break 75.

You know what has actually enjoyed this spring?  My lawn.  Usually, I have to mow two or three times by now.  Before heading up north for the weekend, I'm probably going to have cut it for the sixth time already.  That will teach me to fertilize.  In some yards in my neighborhood, it's taken about two hours for dandelions to grow five inches.

The worst part of the past few weeks has been the lack of sunshine.  Gray day after gray day has made it feel more like November than May.  It's put a real damper on the usual anticipation and excitement of Memorial Day Weekend and making it to the "unofficial start to summer".  And of course, what's in the forecast for Sunday and Monday?  More rain and below average temperatures.

Perhaps Mother Nature has a dry, hot, glorious Summer in store for us to make up for this crappy Spring.  Although the long-range forecast doesn't look that much better.  I guess I'll hang up the drysuit and gloves to dry and get ready for the next round in the rain.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Incredible Shrinking American

While we hear a lot about the changing "face of America" in discussions about the increase in immigration and multi-culturalism, what we should be talking about is the changing "body of America".  Apparently, we are getting shorter as a people.

I found that out the hard way yesterday while trying to shop for new dress pants at a number of area retailers.  A 34 inch inseam is becoming more rare on the rack--as retailers stock more shorter sizes to meet demand from a shorter consumer base.  A clerk at one store told me they don't even stock 34-inch pants anymore--and that I would have to order on-line from their "big and tall" selection.

At my last physical, I measured 6' 2.5"--down from the 6'3" that I was in my 20's and 30's--but I do not consider myself to be "big and tall".  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is "tall".  My friend Joe--who is 6' 8 and over 300-bills is "big and tall".  At 6' 2.5" I should still be able to buy clothes off the rack.  However, compared to our "newest Americans" I am a giant.

The average height of men in Mexico is 5-7.  Most of the rest of Central America is a couple inches shorter than that.  Average heights in Asian countries range from 5-4 to 5-7.  Syrians average 5-7 while Iraqis are just 5-5.  What I need are more Dutch men to immigrate to America.  They average six feet now.  Or maybe more Norwegians--coming in just a quarter inch shorter than that. 

There is likely some good news in the distant future.  As with immigrants of European descent, those coming from other continents and countries will have children that are taller than them.  Credit better nutrition and child health care here in the US for that.  After a couple of gerenations, they will be helping the national average height--and perhaps size 34 pants will return to the realm of "normal size clothing".

In the meantime, I guess I'll have to get used to being "big and tall"--just like I got used to "press one for instructions in English".

Monday, May 22, 2017


In 2001 HBO produced a great docu-drama entitled Conspiracy.  It detailed the infamous Wannsee Conference, where Nazi leaders and bureaucrats met to hammer out how they would efficiently exterminate Jews from Europe.  It was well researched, written and acted--and it won several awards.  If a local filmmaker is looking for a new project, might I suggest documenting the meeting where UW Oshkosh leaders hatched their plan to defraud the UW system, local banks and donors?

We don't know all of the intricate details about that meeting yet.  The lawsuit filed by the UW System against former Chancellor Richard Wells and former Vice Chancellor Tom Sonnleitner only detail the financial aspects of the scandal--but you know there had to be a meeting that set in motion the inappropriate borrowing for a number of projects--most notably the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center and the 2 biodigesters for which the System and taxpayers are now on the hook.

I'd bet that Chancellor Wells started off the meeting talking about "legacy" and doing things that are "for the good of the campus".  Foundation President Art Rathjen was probably very optimistic about being able to raise how ever much money Wells needed for his pet projects--but noted that the banks likely wouldn't share his optimism.  That's when Wells and Sonnleitner likely agreed to sign letters of understanding that the school would cover any loan payments the Foundation couldn't meet because "what is the likelihood of that ever happening? HA HA HA HA HA HA!!"

Actually, there may need to be another meeting detailed in our little local docu-drama--the one where Rathjen comes back a few years later and has to admit that he never came close to raising the money promised for the projects--and now the school somehow has to pony up the cash to keep the Foundation from defaulting.  This is probably where our film takes a dark turn as the parties involved look for ways to not only scrounge up the money (although audits show that isn't too hard to do in UW budgets) and then conceal those payments in a way that no one would discover.  Somehow they managed to do just that--to the tune of $11-MILLION.

But then our little conspiracy begins to fall apart.  Wells--perhaps sensing the house of cards was about to collapse--retires and leaves for Florida and a new Chancellor--not privy to the conspiracy already in place--comes in.  The Foundation fails to bring in the cash to cover the loans again, and we have a third meeting to add to our film (and the one that I would have loved to be in on the most)--where Rathjen goes to Chancellor Andrew Leavitt and tells him "I need to tell you about a little arrangement that we had in place before you got here".  It's too bad Danny Thomas is dead because he could make a cameo as Chancellor Leavitt doing his famous "spit take".

Hopefully the UW System lawsuit will go to trial so that everyone involved has to testify and provide us with all of the backroom details--from there we can add some dramatic lines of dialogue and get ready to begin shooting our movie.  Maybe we can book the Alumni Welcome and Conference Center for its big premier.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Take the Summer Off

Did you hear the big news this week?  Every kid in Oshkosh has enough money to go to college!  Well, we didn't exactly write it up that way, but that is the only assumption you can make when you hear that Ardy & Ed's Drive In can't find enough people to hire in order to stay open 7-days a week this summer.  Obviously, every teen and college kid in town has enough money and doesn't need to work.

Ok, I may be engaging in some hyperbole here.  Every kid in town doesn't have all they money they need to go to college.  But when they hear from presidential candidates, and a Wisconsin Senator and their teachers and celebrities that they have a "right to a free college education"--or that the Federal Government should just forgive student loans after they are borrowed--going out there and earning the money for school doesn't seem so appealing.  And when many of those same media darlings tell kids that they have a "right" to a $15 an hour "living wage" (even though they still live with Mom and Dad), they believe that slinging burgers and donning roller skates for anything less than that rate is "beneath them".

Of course, who has time to work during the summer when your life is already over-scheduled?  Kids in sports have summer leagues, traveling teams and weekend tournaments all over the state and the Midwest.  You have to take part in the "Million Shot Club" or attend "speed camp" or go to goalie school, or show up for off-season weight training--because if you don't, you won't get to play in the one sport you have decided to specialize in for your entire high school career.  For the creative kids, there is band camp, or a summer production, or piano and vocal lessons.  And let's not forget about the family vacation to Disney World or Hawaii--with money that could have gone into the college fund.  Or for those in college trying to "find themselves", there is that summer backpacking across Europe.

And working for the summer always puts a crimp in your social life.  There are dozens of graduation parties to attend, concerts all over the region, really cool beer gardens to check out every night, sunny days at the beach or the water park--not to mention festivals with midways and cute members of the opposite sex (or the same sex) just hanging out looking to meet people.  You wouldn't want to miss any of that would you just for some "boring old job".

When I went back to school in the Twin Cities, here was my schedule:

Classes Monday thru Friday 8-Noon
Packing orders and loading trucks at a dental supply company Monday thru Thursday 1-11 pm
Sports Production Assistant at KSTP TV Friday nights, Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons
Attendant at the Arlington and Rice Sports Dome Saturday mornings and Sunday nights

And that was every week for more than a year.  So if I see any Oshkosh kids posting on any social media about how "boring" their summer has been, I'm driving over there and taking them to Ardy & Ed's myself so they can find "something to do".

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Failing Upward

In the world of business there is a term called "failing upward".  It's usually applied to someone who had a disastrous tenure at one company getting hired by another firm at a position even higher up in the command chain.  It's also used in regards to start up venturists who bring in millions in capital investment--go belly up--and manage to bring in even more cash for their next "big idea". 

Failing upward usually leaves people scratching their heads wondering, "Why would anyone hire that moron?" or "Who would give that person more cash to blow on a stupid idea?"  And yet you see people advancing in the world without really accomplishing anything.

The latest "upward failure" is Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.  The bombastic lawman--who in many ways has become a caricature of the old-school tough-talking sheriff--all the way down to the cowboy hat he wears indoors at public functions--is leaving his elected position for what he claims is an appointment to the Department of Homeland Security.  (It should be noted that Clarke is the only person saying he has been hired by DHS--as the department itself says no appointment has been made yet.)

While 71 other Wisconsin Sheriffs were in their offices overseeing their departments, or responding to scenes of emergencies and disasters, or working with other county departments to improve service to residents, Sheriff Clarke was interested only in self-promotion and stardom.  His appearances on Fox News Channel became so frequent that the network labeled him "America's Sheriff"--especially after the original "America's Sheriff", Joe Arpaio of Arizona lost in his last election.  And like "Sheriff Joe", Clarke may have been promoting himself right out of a job.  He was most likely going to face his stiffest challengers in years in the Democratic primary next year--and they would have had plenty of ammunition to attack him with.

Milwaukee County Jail deaths--including one involving an inmate that was not allowed access water to his cell for a week before his death--continued criticism of Black Lives Matter and basically never showing up for the job that the people elected him to do resulted in a drop in public confidence in Clarke borne out by a number of polls.

So what does Clarke do?  Does he step away from the national spotlight to focus on actual law enforcement?  Nope.  He takes (allegedly) a Federal job that lists "acting as a liason between Homeland Security and local agencies" as its main duties.  Sounds like a position that requires even less actual work--and more time to show up on Fox News as a "Homeland Security Expert". 

This also proves another business adage: "It's not what you know, it's who you know".

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A Terrible Juror

I received notice last week that I am in the pool for jury duty in Winnebago County this year.  In my 27-years of eligibility, this is the first notice that I have ever received.  While I dutifully filled out the on-line questionnaire, I probably could have written "don't even bother calling me, no attorney is ever going to let me sit on a jury" and saved everyone a lot of time.

Personally, I think that I would make a great juror.  You would think that we would want people who are well-informed to sit in judgement of others.  Thanks to my job, I am very familiar with the tactics of police investigation.  I know quite a bit about how the State Crime Lab operates, how the State Fire Marshall works and what is and isn't admissible in a court of law.  A jury box full of people like me would actually save a lot of time, as those things wouldn't have to be explained to us--and the "expertise" of witnesses wouldn't have to be established every time they get on the stand.

But defense attorneys and prosecutors don't want people like me on juries.  For starters, I see a lot of police and arrest reports along with criminal complaints.  I might bring some knowledge of a case that may not even be presented at a trial.  I might know about statements that the defendant made to investigators before being read his Miranda rights--or about allegations that may not have been fully corroborated by evidence.  Even District Attorneys wouldn't want me in there because I might question the actions of an officer or an investigator that seem out of the norm.  Or I might wonder why testing procedures weren't followed to the letter--even if a defense attorney may not raise an objection on his own.

Plus, I'm sure both sides worry that if other jurors found out what I may know, they would look at me as having some greater influence within the jury room.  Better to have 12 people with the same level of knowledge try to figure it out than to have one person that could sway the other 11 with their own suppositions.

I guess I could always end up on a jury for a contested divorce or a lawsuit between two former business partners that doesn't rise to the level of being newsworthy.  But even then, the lawyers may not be comfortable having someone on the panel who has spent as much time in courtrooms watching the process work as I have.  I'd love to do my civic duty, but I doubt I will actually be given the chance.