Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Blackboard Jungle

If you were shocked by the accusations made by a now former Green Bay schoolteacher about the abhorrent behavior of kids at Washington Middle School that led all the local newscasts last night, I encourage you to visit a school more often.  If you don't have time to visit a school, you could also request copies of local police call logs and match up the number of times the addresses of public schools are listed in them.  Or you could purchase a police scanner or download the multiple scanner apps on line to listen through your phone and keep track of the calls yourself.

Every day in our listening area there are reports of "student out of control", "students fighting", "student making threats" or "student walked away from the school" requiring law enforcement's attention.  And that doesn't cover the numbers of incidents where teachers break up altercations or are involved in subduing students.

Not all incidents are as extreme as what the Green Bay teacher described: boys grabbing the butts and breasts of female students and staff, boys exposing themselves to girls and staff, simulated sex on lunchroom tables, verbal abuse of staff by students, threats to attack the school and violent outbursts when cellphones are confiscated from students--plus the usual complaints about drug dealing and usage in the school itself.  Did I mention this was at a middle school--where kids are 12-15 years old?

I've mentioned here before that the rigid structure of schooling that those of us over the age of 35 experienced is long gone.  Today's classrooms and study areas are more like places to "hang out"--and teachers try to be students' friends--not lords of discipline.  Add to that the insistence of placing children with serious behavioral and mental issues in mainstream programs and opposition to having uniformed police present in schools because it "triggers certain student populations" and you have the perfect recipe for the inmates running the asylum.

The carefully crafted--and much delayed--response from the Green Bay School District was as weak as you might expect.  Here's what Superintendent Michelle Langenfeld (or more likely the district's attorney) had to say:

In early May, the Board of Education and administration became aware of the growing staff concerns similar to those shared by Ms. Westcott in June. Upon learning of these concerns, the Board of Education and District Administration took the concerns very seriously. In response, the following occurred:
• We held a meeting with staff.
• Mr. Hoh increased his time at Washington to provide daily on-site support.
• Two District office administrators were deployed daily to Washington Middle School until the end of the school year. Additional staff resources were also provided.
• A second meeting was held in June with Associate Superintendent John Magas, Director of Pupil Services Vicki Bayer and myself after Ms. Westcott’s address to the Board. The purpose of this second meeting was to listen to staff concerns following the infusion of the additional resources and to continue to strategize solutions. Staff reported concerns, but also reported improvements in behavior and reinforced their commitment to the students and families of Washington Middle School and to improving the environment at Washington

You see anything in there that says there was a crackdown on unruly behavior and stiff punishment for those offenders?  Were parents called in and confronted with the mis-deeds of the hellions they are sending to the school every day?  Is there a laundry list of expulsion hearings scheduled for the summer?  Nope.  Just meetings and discussions amongst themselves.

I'm not sure what good it would do to actually involve parents in this process anyway.  Children don't just pick up the actions described by the former teacher out of thin air.  Behavior that is tolerated at home becomes the norm when those kids head to school and the mall and wherever else they choose to hang out.  Perhaps the teacher's impassioned plea for help at Washington Middle School should be inserted into the next episode of The Bachelorette--or become the video you have to watch before you can go to the movie and shows you downloaded from Netflix.  Maybe that would get the attention of those that really need to know what is going on in their children's schools.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Taking the Bait

Tennis legend John McEnroe finds himself having to defend accurate statements about his sport again today.  McEnroe was on National Public Radio over the weekend to discuss his new memoir and the state of tennis as a whole.  The host of the show asked about Serena Williams--who is currently sidelined with a pregnancy--and McEnroe called her the "Greatest women's player ever"--to which the host wondered why McEnroe had to qualify Williams' status by mentioning her gender.

Now at this point, Johnny Mac has to realize that he is about to be used as a pawn in the host's agenda advancement plan.  His pat answer should be "I'm sorry, I should have said that she is the 'most-accomplished tennis player ever'".  With 23-singles Grand Slam titles, 14-doubles Grand Slam Titles and two mixed-doubles Grand Slam titles, this statement is as factually accurate as his initial comment--but doesn't come across as sounding like "male privilege".

But instead, McEnroe took the bait.  He countered that Serena would be "ranked 700 in the world if she played on the men's tour".  This might be a bit low.  I'm pretty sure Serena could have been in the top 150 in her prime years (she is 35-years old now) but everyone would agree that the career numbers listed before would be zeroes if Williams had played her entire career against men.

Serena herself has admitted this in the past.  Here is her direct quote from 2013 on this matter:

“For me, men’s tennis and women’s tennis are completely, almost, two separate sports,” Williams said. “If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6-0, 6-0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes. No, it’s true. It’s a completely different sport. The men are a lot faster and they serve harder, they hit harder, it’s just a different game. I love to play women’s tennis. I only want to play girls, because I don’t want to be embarrassed.”

The McEnroe controversy now has the national sports shows talking about mixed field tournaments to "prove him right" or to "give women a shot"--but that is just nonsense.  The same goes for a new "battle of the sexes" showdown--similar to the fixed match between 55-year old Bobby Riggs and Billie Jean King in her prime back in 1973 that is somehow believed to have "advanced women's rights". 

Just walk away, guys.  This fight just isn't worth it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

No Message

The relationship between the Trump Administration and the media reached a ridiculous new low last week when TV cameras were banned from the daily White House briefing.  CNN actually brought in a sketch artist to capture Press Secretary Sean Spicer's image during the conference--like it was some Federal court hearing or a Renaissance-era drawing of a king and his court.  Apparently, President Trump is adopting the attitude that if it didn't happen on TV, you can't prove it happened at all.

The camera ban and limited media availability for the President himself is part of a plan to "control the message".  Trump believes that important Presidential statements can made through Twitter posts--his personal one, not the @POTUS government account--where follow up is impossible--and anything proven to be factually incorrect or considered inappropriate can just be deleted (although a billion people will have screen shots of it).

Of course, when the message is as wildly inconsistent as it has been during this administration, the format of its release really doesn't matter.  How many times has the President sent out his Cabinet members, press folks or other subordinates to provide some talking points to the press only to have Trump himself completely contradict them in a speech, a tweet or an interview with Fox News? 

And the President is doing an excellent job of contradicting himself on an almost daily basis.  The best example of that so far has been his claim that there might be tapes of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, only to deny that he has ever recorded anything in the Oval Office.  The President can't blame the media for "misquoting" him or "taking statements out of context" as Trump was pretty clear in what he said both times.

Perhaps President Trump should be brushing up on the history of his office--and pay particularly close attention to the term of Calvin Coolidge.  Coolidge was known as "Silent Cal" for the few things he had to say about anything even while in the Oval Office.  the most famous example of that was when he was seated next to a woman at a state dinner and she wanted to make a bet that she could get him to say more than three words.  His reply: "You lose". 

Friday, June 23, 2017

An Unwelcome Addition

The WIAA Board of Control has decided to add a shot clock to high school basketball in Wisconsin starting in 2019.  As an official, a broadcaster and a fan of high school hoops, I am vehemently opposed to this measure.

From the standpoint of an official, this is one more thing that can lead to errors and controversy in a game.  Timing issues are the biggest headache that we deal with in high school games right now.  Scoring table personnel failing to start the clock properly or not stopping it quickly enough is common.  Now another timer will be added to the table to run the shot clock--and that person will have to make dozens of split-second decisions every game, determining if a shot struck the rim and resetting the clock.  And, that is more buzzer-beaters that those of us on the floor need call.  Remember, we don't have the advantage of instant replay like college hoops or the NBA to review if a shot was off a shooter's fingertips as the shot clock expired or if a ball may have just nicked the rim to cause a reset.

From the standpoint of a broadcaster, the shot clock negates the opportunity for a team with lesser talent to limit possessions in a game.  That means fewer competitive contests and not as many upsets.  Plus, delays to determine if the shot clock was reset properly--or malfunctions of the shot clock--make for a very choppy broadcast.

And finally as a fan, I don't see the need for a shot clock at the high school level.  Stalling is not that big a problem anymore.  And if a team decides to hold the ball, then its opponent should come out and defend them in the entire half-court.  There is a five-second closely-guarded rule, make the other team run some semblance of an offense--or don't complain about a stall.  Add to that the increase in the number of rushed shots just to beat a made up deadline and you get even less offensive efficiency in a game where "work the ball until you get a good shot" has been replaced with "take the first open three you can get".

One other element to consider is that this adds more expense to the operation of high school sports.  Football has a play clock, but schools are not required to have it displayed on the field.  The Back Judge keeps the time, and uses arm motions to alert the offense when it has five seconds left to snap the ball.  In basketball, the shot clock will have in sight of the players.  That means the purchase of two more electronic displays and a system to run them.  Plus, not all basket supports are standardized in high school--meaning those clocks may not all fit above the backboard.  Do they go on the wall?  On the floor behind the end line?  Next to the main scoreboards?

Adding a shot clock to high school basketball is a solution in search of a problem--and it creates more problems than it could ever hope to fix.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Maintaining Separation

I wasn't able to tune into much news yesterday so I missed the excuses Democrats had for losing another special election for Congress.  Was it Russian hacking that cost Jon Ossoff the race in the sixth district?  Or was it gerrymandering this time?  Was voter ID requirements the reason so few Democratic voters turned out?  Did the county clerks refuse to hold early voting office hours on Sundays?  I bet the FBI director said something suspicious about Ossoff a week before the election and that swung public sentiment against him.

The sixth congressional race was the latest in a series of "referenda on Donald Trump" that Democrats swore was going to prove that the nation had turned against Republicans--and that a "wave election" is coming in 2018--where they would retake control of Congress.  And yet, in four special elections to fill seats vacated by Trump administration appointees, Republicans won them all.

Granted, the margins of victory in some of them were smaller than those seen by the President in those same districts just last fall.  But in Georgia, Trump won the district by a scant one-percentage point.  Karen Handel--who had lost a number of statewide races in the past--tripled that margin in her win Tuesday.  That proved Republicans dis-satisfied with their choice for President in 2016 still are not willing to jump ship to a Democrat in any other race.

And that is the delicate balancing act that Republicans at all levels of politics have to continue to maintain for the next three-and-a-half years.  How to stay true to the party's core values--while the tweeting madman in the White House tries to carry the banner for the same party while veering from one extreme to the next.  So far, voters are seeing that effort being made.

The Ossoff loss also points to Democrats' biggest internal challenge to winning back control on some level of government.  Party members' decision to concentrate themselves in urban areas leaves them with few viable candidates to compete in other districts.  Jon Ossoff didn't even live in the sixth district before running for that seat.  He couldn't vote for himself in the "jungle primary" back in April.  Add to that the fact that he is only 30-years old and you can see why voters may have questioned his qualifications for Congress.

The catchphrase for protesters taking part in anti-Trump rallies, protests blocking speakers on college campuses, demanding justice in police-related shootings and at campaign stops for the Democratic challengers in the four special elections so far this year has been "This is what democracy looks like".  But when it comes to winning elections--the actual "democracy" part of democracy--the Democrats still have a long way to go.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Bro Country USA

Country USA kicks off in Oshkosh today.  There will be no shortage of cowboy boots, inappropriately short jean shorts, cowboy hats, backwards trucker hats, beer, Confederate flag images, giant mugs filled with double-strength mixed drinks and, of course, mud.  But one thing that will be in very short supply is female artists.

A cursory look at the lineup for the five nights of Country USA shows just three female acts for the entire week--and they are all early in the lineup on those night.  There are no female headliners.  It is clear that "Bro Country" is the theme at Ford Festival Park this year.  And with that comes a certain "culture" as well.

Listeners will sometimes ask me around this time why every song we play as a lead-in to our stories about country music concerts in the area are about drinking.  The answer to that is quite simple: that's what almost all "Bro Country" songs are about.  A check of the music database from our country sister station shows a litany of titles involving beer, cold ones, party, whiskey, drinkin' and moonshine.  I guess I could go for a change of pace and select from the songs about pickup trucks or sexy women.

Which brings us back to the testosterone-soaked lineup at Country USA.  It looks like there isn't much of a market anymore for the female perspective in country music.  Who wants to hear songs about heartbreak when you are 10-beers into the night and you are trying to hook up with the cutie in the bikini top, Daisy Dukes and cowboy boots? 

The State Patrol has certainly noticed what is on-tap for this year.  They will have extra troopers around the grounds looking for underage drinking and drunk driving.  I bet they are plenty busy the next five nights.

And let's also take a look at the difference between the Billy Joel concert last weekend at Lambeau Field and the country concerts that preceded it.  Just three people were ejected from the stadium last Saturday--and no one was arrested.  The Kenny Chesney-Jason Aldean concert two years earlier resulted in 25-arrests and more than 300-ejections (police were so overwhelmed they stopped counting)--not to mention national attention to the rowdy behavior at the show and damage to the football field.

For decades country music marketed itself as the "wholesome alternative" to hip hop, pop and hard rock.  But it appears that is out the window--and the "Bros" are just getting this party started.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Not Big Enough

In the lead up to the 117th US Open at Erin Hills the key word was "big".  It's a big course with big fairways, big greens, big bunkers, big crowds, big wind, big fescue areas, etc, etc.  Only the big hitters would have a chance there.  The scores would be big and it would be a big hit in the end.  But as it turned out, Erin Hills wasn't big enough.

Outside of the ropes, the US Open at Erin Hills was good.  The blimp crash wasn't the fault of anyone associated with the tournament.  The E Coli contaminated water was replaced quickly and there were no reports of any outbreak of stomach ailments.  The death of a spectator actually turned out to be quite a heartwarming story.  Transporting fans from parking lots 20-minutes away went well and the sheer size of the property kept crowding on most holes to a minimum.  The few complaints I heard were about concession stands running out of popular food items and fans being kept farther away from the action due to the width of the fairways and hazards.

But ultimately, the "success" of a tournament lies in what happens inside the ropes--and unfortunately this weekend was more Greater Milwaukee Open than US Open.  In the space of four days, we saw new tournament records for lowest first round score, lowest score in any round, lowest winning score relative to par, the most players double digits under par and the most players overall under par for a US Open.  The players proved that you could have the longest course in the history of the event--but if you give them a country mile in which to land their drives, they are still going to eat the place up.

There were factors in play that the USGA could not control.  The winds didn't blow nearly hard enough to affect play until Sunday--and even then, winner Brooks Keopka shot five-under.  Rain throughout the week made the greens soft--allowing players to shoot right at the pins and get their balls to stick--instead of bouncing and rolling through like they do in most US Opens.  And we realized an unfortunate reality, there is no such thing as a course long enough to challenge today's players anymore.  The second longest hole in US Open history--the 672-yard par 5 18th--was the easiest hole in terms of scoring average on Sunday. 

Many of the biggest names in golf--including the great Jack Nicklaus--had expressed their displeasure with the USGA bringing the Open to a new, wide-open course like Erin Hills.  They predicted scores that would be too low and just not enough of a challenge for modern Tour players.  And in the end, those critics were proven right.  Hopefully the fans enjoyed seeing this Open, because I doubt it will be coming back.