Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Paying More For Less

On our way to out to Hawaii last month, my wife and I spent a day and a half in San Francisco.  The City By the Bay is one of those that has a voter-approved, higher-than-the-national minimum wage--currently $11.05 an hour.  That will increase every year until it reaches $15 an hour by 2018.  Please keep that little factoid in mind as I share our story.

We decided to end one of our nights in San Fran by grabbing some dessert at a well-known chocolatier.  Being a Friday night--and beautiful weather by Northern California standards--the place was very busy.  After placing our order at the counter (which featured a sign saying the price of the treats included a 4% surcharge for "San Francisco Health Initiatives"--more on that later) we tried to find a table in the dining area.  After a few minutes, a group left a table and my wife and I moved over there to claim it.

The group left quite the mess--with melted ice cream on the table and soiled menus as well.  After a few awkward minutes of standing by the dirty table the busboy finally came along to clear the dishes.  He set his tray on the table and then grabbed one glass and slowly placed it on the tray.  Then he grabbed one spoon and slowly placed that on the tray.  Then he grabbed one dirty napkin and slowly placed that on the tray.  Then he grabbed another dirty glass and slowly placed that on the tray.  At the pace he was going, we would have finished our sundae and been out the door before he finished clearing the dishes from the previous customers.

After finally getting all of the dishes off the table, our busboy walked off--leaving us with an ice cream and fudge-covered table top--which prevented us from touching the surface without becoming a gooey mess ourselves.  After a few more minutes, the same busboy returned with a wet rag and slowly began to push the slop around the tabletop--causing some to drip over the side.  The almost 15-minute cleanup process was completed just in time for our much-smaller-than-expected $10 hot fudge sundae to arrive at the table.

Now I'm going on the assumption that our less-than-expedient busser was making that minimum wage of $11.05 an hour--meaning that he was getting about 40% better pay than the busboys who work quicker and better at say, Two Brothers here in Oshkosh.  And without having to work any faster or to do a better job of cleaning his assigned tables, that same guy is looking at a raise next year, and in 2017 and in 2018 as well--until he is making double what those better same skillset workers are making here in Wisconsin.

And is Slow Busboy "earning" those pay increases?  Is the famous chocolatier saying "Wow, you are really busting your hump out there--you deserve a raise"?  No.  His "economic value" is increasing only because a bunch of voters (many of whom are NOT going anywhere near said chocolatier anytime soon) decided at the ballot box that he "deserves" more money--even if he isn't doing any more (or better) work.

And as for the 4% surcharge for "San Francisco Health Initiatives" that was added on to our sundae?  I can only guess that money is used to purchase the "medicinal" marijuana that every panhandler was smoking or reeked of having smoked near every bus stop and tourist attraction we stopped at during our visit to America's "Most Progressive" city.

I think we will skip what will likely be the $15 sundae the next time we visit.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Oh How We Have Missed the Clintons

Monday will not go down as a banner day for the power couple of Bill and Hillary Clinton.  First, the Former President's official portrait was unveiled to the public and the artist admitted to the media that the shadow that appears to fall upon the mantle is in fact that of a "blue dress".  I likely would have to explain what that means to our younger listeners--since Common Core History assuredly teaches that the impeachment of President Clinton was strictly a "Republican Witch Hunt to destroy the credibility of one of America's most popular Democratic Presidents" and not about lying under oath during a sexual harassment lawsuit deposition.

Nevertheless, the inclusion of the "dress shadow" is really a low blow.  If I was Bill Clinton, I'd call a press conference to put my foot through the portrait and then tell the painter "That's what I think about your 'artistic statement', jerk."  (As an aside, we've had photography for more than 150-years now--why do we still need "official portraits" of Presidents?)

Former First Lady/Senator/Secretary of State/Democratic Candidate for President Hillary Clinton found herself under greater scrutiny last night after the New York Times reported that while serving as Secretary of State, Clinton never established a government email account to do her business while in that office.  What's more, her private email transmissions were never saved to any government servers--meaning that all business Clinton transacted while Secretary could remain off-limits to the prying eyes of the press, other branches of Government and the rest of the public--unless of course, we want to take her to court to find out.

You cannot help but wonder what the impetus was for that decision?  Perhaps it was something as innocuous as the aging Former First Lady fearing she wouldn't be able to remember those outrageous government email addresses:  Or maybe she wasn't allowed to make "bluedress95" her password--since there's no way she would ever forget that one.

The more likely scenario is that Mrs. Clinton wanted to make sure that nobody would ever know who else was being provided the information contained in top secret correspondences from State Department Officials, the White House and other world leaders.  What Former President might have been blind carbon copied on negotiations, official statements and internal discussions?  And what think tanks may have provided "politically prudent" recommendations to Secretary Clinton to give her the appearance of being "qualified on foreign affairs when the time came to make the official announcement of her 2016 run for the White House?  Without those emails being in the public record, we may never know.  Unless Hillary and Bill leave the White House "flat broke" again--and need something juicy for the next ten-million dollar book advance.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sure It's Paradise, But................

Against our better judgements, my wife and I have returned from our two week trip to Hawaii to the dark cold of Wisconsin.  I could regale you this morning with stories of spending time on tropical beaches, or the rounds of golf I played in the warm sunshine or getting about ten feet away from humpback whales during our sunset cruise off of Maui.  But to make you feel better I will tell you about the few things that aren't quite perfect about "paradise".

  • Milk and dairy products are insanely expensive.  There is nothing cheap anywhere in Hawaii (even locally grown produce) but the grocery store where we shopped in Koloa Town on Kauai was selling whole milk for $10.57 A GALLON!!  That was more than three times the price of gas on the island!  Needless to say, I bought my milk at Costco the rest of the trip--and even that was over $5.50 a gallon for 2%.  It was also difficult to find a decent selection of cheese slices in most grocery stores over there. 
  • They now have roundabouts over there too.  On our way to Costco on Kauai we traveled a brand-new stretch of highway featuring a brand-new roundabout--the first on the island.  A quick conversation with a local found that they hate them as much over there as we do over here.  Fortunately, it's just a single-lane roundabout--and not a two or three-lane--so the learning curve should be slightly shorter for those drivers.  Of course with mostly tourists--it will likely still be a disaster.
  • Everybody is a tourist.  One of the neat things about traveling to "exotic" locales is the chance to mingle with people of a different culture and background.  Unfortunately, that is almost impossible to find in Hawaii anymore--as every place you go is filled with people from another state--or who just moved there from another state.  It's hard to find "local flavor" anywhere anymore.  In addition, the businesses are important the vast majority of their employees now--with most from the Philippines, China or Southeast Asia.  Of course that may be a good thing because......
  • The locals aren't all that friendly.  "The Spirit of Aloha" is a popular catchphrase in Hawaii.  Tour buses are driven with it.  Stores sell it.  Airlines deliver it as soon as you board the plane.  But if you decide to leave the beaten path and explore the "real Hawaii"--don't expect much "Aloha".  Walking back to our Jeep from a North Shore beach on Oahu, a beat up pickup truck drove within inches of us and the locals inside shouted something we couldn't understand before speeding off.  They also enjoy leaving you as little room as possible when driving on rural roads in Kauai and Maui.  And we witnessed another beat up old truck revving its engine for 15-seconds while tailgating within inches of a rental car in downtown Lahaina--because the tourist was going a few miles under the speed limit.  I don't think the native people are so enamored with the big bucks the millions of visitors are bringing to their state.
So hopefully, that makes you all feel a little bit better about braving the dangerous wind chills while Michele and I were trying our best to deal with the elements in paradise.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why We Travel

With all of the advances in modern technology, it's much easier to "experience" the many wonders of the world without ever having to leave the comfort of your home.  High definition screens and cameras capture the beautiful, vibrant colors of coral reefs and tropical fishes, the deep greens of rain forests and the bright blues of the crystal clear ocean.  Tiny action cameras give you the feeling of soaring over deep waterfall-filled canyons, zip-lining over rushing streams or careening down a steep hill on a bike.  Surround sound systems make it feel like you are right in the middle of garden full of singing birds or the wind is whipping past you atop a hill overlooking a beautiful city.  Digital photo editing allow for the perfect shot in the perfect light taken at the perfect time almost every time.

But when was the last time you had a dream about watching something beautiful on TV?  Or the last time you found your mind wandering to an occasion when it "felt like" your body was in motion--when you were actually sitting in a chair?  Or you ever felt anticipation for opening up a picture book or clicking on photos saved on a hard drive?

For all of the 3-D, fully-immersive, sensory-overload electronic system we develop, they will never, never replace the human experience.  Our bodies are full of receptors that no electronic device can ever trigger with video motion, digital sound or ultra-high resolution.  It's the subtle difference between "watching" and "seeing".  Watching means it comes to your eyes after being filtered through a secondary source.  Seeing means everything that is happening is directly processed by your brain--producing much more vibrant memories.  What's more, all five of your senses are stimulated at the same time.  In addition to seeing the tropical fish, you feel the warm water against your skin, you smell and taste the saltiness of the ocean and you hear the rustle of the wind or that "clicking" noise that is apparently made by shrimp marking their territory.  It's a real experience that technology still can't come close to replicating.

And it is why we as humans still travel.  It's why we leave the comforts of our own homes and venture out to places that we have never been--or have been to already but want to experience again.  I could look at 10,000 pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco from Battery Spencer Park on the internet.  But which of them is going to be the equal of standing on that same hill and "seeing" that same view?  There are dozens of hi-def videos of the doors-off helicopter tour that we are taking on Kauai next week on Youtube--each with scenes that make you think some sort of editing was done to put that many waterfalls in one place--but am I going to recall in exact detail what is in those as opposed to being in that chopper myself?  And every January I watch the Hyundai Tournament of Champions from Kapalua Plantation Course and watch the pros bomb it over 400-yards from the 18th tee.  But it will never compare to when I did the same thing myself ten years ago--and hope to do again this year (c'mon 25 mile an hour trade winds!!).

So the time has finally come--after two years of careful planning--for my wife and I to go and have those experiences that no video, picture or audio track can ever replicate.  It's time to not just watch the world--but to live it.

Mahalo and Aloha!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

To Unplug, Or Not To Unplug

In two days, my wife and I will be jetting off on our grand 10th Anniversary vacation to Hawaii.  Two weeks of fun activities, beautiful scenery and warm temperatures.  It's the perfect place and opportunity to get away from it all and just relax.  That is if I am willing--and able--to actually unplug.

The first time we went to Hawaii, I had a very "non-smart" cell phone.  It was one of those where you still had to use the number pad to text--hitting some keys three or four times to produce the letter your wanted.  It could not receive email, I could not call up the internet.  It was pretty easy to just leave in my backpack if we were hiking on the volcano or lounging on the beach.  Plus, cell coverage was spotty on the islands in those days.

But now, I have a smart phone that is plugged into pretty much everything I do.  All of my work-related and personal email is sent to it.  I get text alerts on breaking news and weather alerts.  I can access my computer here at work from it.  And of course I have all of the social media apps as well.  It is really a miniature office and radio studio all in one--as I have record features and an app that connects me to the station directly.  And based on the coverage maps provided by Verizon, it looks like the island we are going to are nearly covered by 4G cellular service--meaning the internet is just a touch away.

As you can imagine, I spend a lot of time on my smartphone--for both work and entertainment purposes.  I "always need to be in touch"--just in case all Hell breaks loose in Oshkosh and WOSH News has to be on the scene--or in case Frank Kaminsky breaks his foot in practice and is lost for the rest of the year for the Badgers.  So it will be very difficult to "disconnect" from all of that--especially for two weeks.

Add to that grave concern among the muckety-mucks here at the Radio Ranch caused by the staffing cuts that make it nearly impossible for the station to function with one person taking such an extended period of time off.  You can imagine how this trip to paradise may not be as relaxing as I had hoped.

Recently I saw a picture on social media of a guy typing away on his smartphone while sitting on a boat--as a Humpback whale is breaching right next to him.  He is totally oblivious to the wonderful natural scene unfolding before him--as he sends an email to Steve in Accounting about the TPS reports that were filed last week.

I REALLY don't want to be that guy.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

It's What You Expect

I will be the first to admit that we do a lot of "boring news" here on WOSH.  City Council and School Board meetings, court cases, special events going on around the area are our bread and butter.  Occasionally we have something "exciting" like a fire, a big crash on Highway 41 or an elected official breaking the law to "spice things up"--but those are thankfully rare.

But those at the upper levels of the media can't have such "boring" newscasts.  People don't tune in to hear about Congress passing such-and-such bill or a certain world leader coming to Washington to talk about free trade.  In today's everyone has a video camera on their phone, I need to see the footage of everything and all events are a "disaster" or a "crisis" news cycle, you need to have something sensational or shocking for the viewers every minute of the day or you are going to have no ratings.

And that is how Brian Williams finds himself likely out of a job as anchor of the NBC Nightly News.  Williams is under fire for lying about being under fire while flying with Marines in Iraq during an "assignment" about seven years ago.  Debate continues as to whether it was another chopper in the same convoy that was fired upon or if Williams just made up the whole thing in a dream as he slept on the helicopter--but pretty much everyone agrees that his original and subsequent versions of the story are not accurate.

And for Williams that put him in a very difficult spot.  Here he is in the field and "unfortunately" nothing happened--which likely was the norm and not the exception for the military personnel involved.  But NBC didn't need a "Brian Williams is flying around doing nothing in Iraq" story for the Nightly News that evening.  They needed a "Brian Williams dodges bullets and rocket propelled grenades to bring you this story from Iraq" story--probably because ABC or Fox News had an embedded reporter "lucky enough" to have come under actual fire that day or the day before and NBC was in danger of falling behind in the "crisis coverage race".  So Williams figured that if one of the choppers in the sortie did come under fire that day--he would just "transfer" himself to that unit and suddenly you have a top of the newscast "brush with death story" that the guys actually there with him weren't going to see anyway to call him out on.

That still doesn't excuse what Brian Williams did--or the embarrassing way that both he and NBC are trying to explain it away now.  But if we were willing to accept a little more "boring news"--which actually has a much greater impact on our day-to-day lives anyway--we wouldn't have so many of our "trusted reporters" having to apologize for violating that trust.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Following Up

I thought I would follow up on a few topics covered in recent My Two Cents.

On the day I talked about Tiger Woods perhaps facing a crossroads in his golfing career (Staring Into the Abyss) he walked off the course after completing just 11 holes in the opening round of the Farmers Insurance Open.  In classic Tiger style, he blamed back spasms caused by his glutted "failing to engage" putting more strain on his lower back.  Amazingly, the Golf Channel was able to find two fitness and conditioning "experts" to come on the air and defend Tiger's excuse and break-down this latest break-down.  Meanwhile, the calls for the end of the "Tiger Era" in golf grow louder.

Shortly after I shared my outrage with President Obama's plan to tax distributions from 529 Educational Savings accounts (The Sharks Are Circling) the White House dropped that proposal.  Even the most hard-core tax and spend liberals like Nancy Pelosi came out in opposition to the plan--pointing out that the vast majority of 529 investors are middle-class Americans who vote.  But don't think this idea--or my fear that Roth IRA's will be the next "tax free" tax target--is going away anytime soon.  Remember "Hillarycare" was the trial balloon that later became "Romneycare" in Massachussetts and then "Obamacare" nationwide. 

It looked like a foregone conclusion that my prediction of a Seattle Seahawks comeback victory in the Super Bowl (Super Thoughts) was going to come to fruition.  And then, the team that ran the ball more than any other in the NFL this season decided to get swept up in the "modern approach" to the game and go spread/empty backfield on a 2nd down and goal from the 1-yard line.  It was poetic justice that the pass was intercepted--one of the two out of three bad things that can happen every time you throw.  I felt bad for Russell Wilson--but I doubt that will send his career into a tailspin.

And finally, I took my wife to task at the end of last year talking about the outrageous amount of stuff we took to Hawaii ten years ago (First World Problems).  After about six "practice packs", I am proud to report that we shall be traveling back to Hawaii with two fewer bags later this week.  It's amazing what airline bag fees will do to your need to bring along a few extra shirts, sweatshirts and jackets "just in case" Hawaii sees its first Polar Vortex in history.  We are still bringing more electronics than can be plugged into our new 7-port USB Charger--but I guess that's the price you pay for "modern convenience".