Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Conditioned For Isolation

We hear all the time about how our technology has led to "isolation" in our society.  We ignore each other while sharing rooms or dinner tables--staring at our phones and tablets.  We head off to separate rooms to watch different television shows every night.  We play video game versions of sports and other activities rather than get out and physically exert ourselves.  We get everything delivered to our homes, so we don't have to go out to eat or shop.  But the technology that really causes us to isolate ourselves from each other--especially at this time of year--is air conditioning.

For centuries, Americans escaped the heat by getting our of our houses.  That is why so many of the oldest homes have big covered porches and huge, old trees in the front yard.  People would spend their evenings on the porch or in the shade enjoying the cooler temperature and maybe a breeze.  And because houses were close enough, neighbors could talk to each other from porch to porch.  Or they would share a cool drink and conversation about the day.  Now, we go from our air conditioned offices with windows that don't open into our air conditioned cars with the windows rolled up and pull into the garage of our air conditioned home with every door and window closed because Dad "isn't paying to cool the entire neighborhood".  And there we sit, because it's "too hot to go outside".

And speaking of vehicles, whatever happened to convertibles?  I was at a small car show a couple of weeks ago and was reminded that back in the 1950's and '60's it wasn't just exotic sports cars you could get with a drop-top, it was the family vehicles like Bel-Airs and Impalas that came in convertible options.  And for kids, there was no greater thrill than when the Old Man would drop teh top on a road trip.

When I had my Jeep CJ's and Wranglers, the top was never up at this time of year--except when it was raining (and a couple of times when I had left the hardtop back at home--not even then).  Now I see all of these Jeeps and the handful of other convertible vehicles with the top up on the most beautiful of days--and all the doors on and the windows rolled up tight while the AC blasts inside.  What the heck did you buy the vehicle for if you aren't going to enjoy its greatest feature?

And when you have the top down and you roll up on another convertible at a stop light, you can't help but look over and acknowledge the people next to you.  Being "exposed" if you will, makes you more outgoing like "Hey, check us out driving around so everyone can see us".  And since I'm usually rolling with great oldies cranking on the stereo, it puts a smile on your face too.

So the next time a heat wave rolls through, instead of barricading yourself in your personal meat locker, try mixing up a pitcher of Arnold Palmers and enjoying the shade in your yard or on your porch--and actually talk to the people in your neighborhood.  You'll probably find yourself not sticking all of the other "isolating" technology in your face either.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Red Herrings

The Winnebago County Board will be voting tonight to clutter up the November ballot with non-binding referenda meant to increase Democratic turnout in a very contentious election year.  Two questions, one dealing with creating a non-partisan commission in Wisconsin to draw up legislative maps, the other to decriminalize and tax marijuana could go before voters this fall.  That is in addition to a question approved earlier asking if people think the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling should be overturned via an amendment to the US Constitution.

Keep in mind that the results of the referenda mean absolutely nothing.  100% of the voters could say "overturn Citizens United, let me smoke pot, and challenge a group of un-elected people to come up with "fair districts" in Madison and Milwaukee" and not a single thing will change the day after the election, the year after the election and likely a decade after the election.  But that is not the way the referenda will be marketed.  "Vote 'Yes' on question three and make marijuana legal!", "Vote 'Yes' on question two and make sure that your vote counts!" and "Vote to end corporate control of politics" will be the misleading statements supporters of the measures will use to fool low-information voters into thinking they are participating in something other than a glorified survey.  And that push to vote in the referenda will be accompanied by the reminder to "vote for the Democratic slate of candidates while you are there!"

This is not to say that Republicans haven't used this same tactic to increase their turnout--but when they've done it, the stakes have been for keeps.  Constitutional amendments barring the state from recognizing same-sex marriages and ensuring the "right to hunt and fish" were ballot measures sure to draw GOP support in very important election years.  The difference there was, those votes had actual consequences--creating new law--not just "gauging public opinion".

It's also why supporters of these measures--and the Democratic Party--are using the County Board route to get those questions on the ballot.  They could circulate petitions and get a statewide referendum on any of these issues--but that requires a lot of work.  Instead, you can get a handful of supervisors in each county to vote to put a question on the ballot and save yourself the hassle.  Then you add up the results from the individual referenda and you can claim that "56% of Wisconsinites want legalized pot!!"

I refuse to vote on non-binding referendum questions.  Yes, that may skew the results in favor of those who think they are "sending a message" with the vote--but like I have said, it's not going to make a lick of difference in the grand scheme of things.  I save my precious vote for candidates that actually have their own stances on issues and don't need a taxpayer-funded survey to determine how they should vote on things.  It's why we live in a Representative Democracy--and not a "true Democracy" where the mob rules.

Monday, June 18, 2018

When Your Heroes Let You Down

I've noted here before that Phil Mickelson is my favorite golfer.  His go-for-broke style on the course and the time that he makes for fans off the course endears him to millions of other golfers.  I've defended him in arguments that he is a phony and is just as snobbish as Tiger Woods--but that he puts on a public persona that has made him as popular as Tiger--without the same amount of success.  He even skated on an insider trading allegation that sent one of his best friends to Federal Prison.  But Phil's actions over the weekend at the US Open make me question his integrity as not only a player, but also as a person.

In case you missed it, Phil was having a horrible third round in brutal conditions at Shinnecock Hills when he struck a putt on the 13th hole too hard.  When it became clear that the putt was going to roll off the green and back down the fairway, Phil ran after the ball and hit it while it was in motion back toward the hole.  It was the kind of thing that you see a four year old do at the mini-golf place with the waterfall and the windmill--not in the middle of a major championship.

Social media immediately went insane--demanding that Mickelson be disqualified from the tournament--and once again questioning his integrity.  Phil made things worse in his post-round interviews by playing off the incident as some kind of joke, claiming he had thought about doing it in the past and knowing that it would only cost him 2-strokes--instead of the three or four he faced having to chip back onto the green from a very difficult angle.  He smiled and called it "taking advantage of the rules"--rather than the egregious breaking of the rules that it really was.

The United State Golf Association--the so-called "Keepers of the Game" that develop and enforce the rules of the sport--added fuel to the fire by assessing Phil just the two-stroke penalty and not disqualifying him.  Those officials twisted their interpretations of the rules in a way that made it clear they were not going to DQ one of the most popular players in the history of the game--even though he clearly deserved it.  That decision just compounded an ugly situation that started earlier in the day with multiple player complaints about the near impossibility of the course due to the USGA setup.

When I got up on Sunday morning, I expected to hear that the USGA had changed it mind and had disqualified Phil.  I also thought that Phil would issue his own statement, saying that after further consideration, he realized that his actions were a serious breach of the rules, hurt the sport and embarrassed his fellow pros--and that he was withdrawing from the tournament on his own.  But, none of those statements were ever issued.

Golf is a sport that prides itself on being a game of honor.  Players are expected to police themselves, calling penalties on themselves for rules violations that perhaps no one else saw.  The USGA has promoted that in some of its promotional videos and commercials.  We have lauded pros like JP Hayes of Appleton that DQ'ed himself from PGA Tour qualifying a few years ago because he used a prototype ball that had not yet been approved for play by the USGA--costing himself his career.

But Phil Mickelson's actions--and the USGA's gutless decision not to send him home immediately--have sullied the sport's reputation.  And it has proved yet again that all of our idols have feet of clay.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Please Stop "Innovating"

Fox Sports like to be "innovative" in its presentation of games and events.  They are the ones that created the "Fox Box", the graphic that started out in one of the corners of the screen that always showed the score and the time remaining for football, or the inning for baseball.  That score bug was then expanded to include the down and distance.  Eventually dots were added to represent how many timeouts were left in football--or where runners were positioned in baseball.  Then the box could be switched to show team stats, or player stats or pitch counts or the last pitch speed.  It has evolved in such a way that you don't have to pay attention to the game at all--and just glance at the "Fox Box" and you can get all the info you need.

Then came the "yellow line" for football.  Thinking that fans had no idea where the first down was, Fox decide it was going to overlay a bright yellow line on the field.  Just in case the down and distance in the Fox Box, the chains on the side line, the orange flag that is placed on the sideline at the first down yardage and the announcer saying "They need to make it to the 39 to get a first down" didn't clarify the "line to gain".  That led to imposing a "field goal line"--letting us know how far downfield the team needs to get for their kicker to attempt a career-long field goal.

And who can forget Fox's "glowing puck" innovation?  The National Hockey League was forced to use special pucks that produced a glowing effect on the TV broadcast--ostensibly to make it easy for viewers to see.  When the puck was passed or shot it would leave a fake red streak across the screen, like an asteroid entering earth's atmosphere.  Unfortunately, if the puck came along the near side boards, it would look like it was glowing in the stands.

Now that Fox has broadcast rights to the US Open golf tournament, they have brought us another "innovation": microphones in the cups.  I thought the sound effect was fake, like Fox thought maybe viewers didn't know the ball disappeared because it went into the cup.  But analyst Brad Faxon insisted in Twitter exchanges with frustrated golf fans last night that it really is the sound of the ball going in.  He claims the special "cup mikes" are supposed to pick up conversations between players and caddies as they read the greens.

But I was thinking what it would have been like if the stupid sound effect had been used by other networks during some of the greatest made putts in history.  Like when Jack Nicklaus drained a birdie on 17 during his miraculous win in the 1986 Masters, with Verne Lundquist's iconic call:

"Maybe......(clink, clink, clink) YES SIR!!!"

Or Gary Koch's famous call of Tiger Woods' double breaking long putt on the island green 17th hole in the Players Championship:

"That's better than most........better than most......(clink, clink, clink) BETTER THAN MOST!!!"

Every once in a while, you get to see a classic sports broadcast of an historic game and the screen is wonderfully clear of graphics, score crawls, floating strike zones and far less piped-in noises.  It's refreshing--almost like watching the game in person--even it it's not in 4k hi-definition.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

We Choose Not To Do These Things Because They Are Hard

It's real easy to be "outraged" about politics today.  It's easy to post a scathing tweet or a Facebook update.  It's easy to retweet a link to a Salon.com article or to troll the social media account of the NRA or Fox News Channel or a lawmaker.  It's easy to grab an Uber with your friends and go down to a protest--standing on a corner holding a sign that was printed for you and yelling chants.  It's easy to talk about your beliefs in a group of people that all agree with you and cheer for your every statement.  It's even easy to do a TV interview with sympathetic reporters about how you were "inspired by the injustice of our society to be 'part of the change'".  It's easy to do all of those things and yell "This is what democracy looks like!!!".

You know what's hard?  Actually becoming part of the democratic process.  It's hard to approach total strangers and ask them to sign a nomination petition.  It's hard to cold call people that you don't know and ask them for campaign contributions.  It's hard to give up your evenings and your weekends for six months to walk through neighborhoods and knock on doors.  It's hard to spend nights researching budgets and existing laws so you can answer questions about more than just the one or two things that interest you.  It's hard to have people challenge your beliefs face-to-face--outside of "safe spaces".  It's hard to debate someone on a range of issues in front of an audience judging your every response.  And it's hard to accept that what you believe to be the right thing for your community and country can be rejected by the majority of your neighbors.

That is a lesson that erstwhile Assembly candidate Charisse Daniels learned this month.  Daniels gained some national notoriety when she was featured in a CNN report on female candidates "inspired" to run for political office by President Trump's victory in 2016.  Like others in the story Daniels claimed that she "woke up" the next morning to find herself in a country that didn't "share her values".  She was perfect for that storyline: a young, African-American woman living in a solid red district in the state that effectively put Donald Trump over the top in the Electoral College.  CNN likely planned follow up coverage of her race against incumbent Republican John Jagler--and they likely hoped--a major upset in November representing the "major shift" in American politics.

But then came all of those "hard things" that I mentioned before.  Actually, just the first "hard thing": getting a minimum of 200 nomination signatures to appear on the ballot.  Daniels apparently wasn't willing to put in the work to get that done--so she took an illegal shortcut, she just forged and made up signatures.  The fact that neither she nor her attorney chose to testify before the State Elections Commission this week--and that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin isn't claiming racism in the challenging of her petitions--leads me to believe that everyone knew that no effort was made to do things the right way--and Daniels just happened to get caught.

It's a good thing that the "Greatest Generation" was in charge of things in the 1960's when we put a man on the moon--because President Kennedy's challenge "We choose to do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard" would fall upon deaf ears today.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Controlling the End

Just a warning, this My Two Cents is probably going to result in the greatest outrage of any I've ever done because it takes a non-emotional look at a very emotional issue: suicide.

We are being told that we need to have another "national conversation"--this time about suicide.  A couple of celebrity deaths last week and a report that suicides are up 30-percent in the last couple of years have everyone using the term "epidemic" for yet another issued.

I find it interesting that while traditional Judeo-Christian stances on all other types of social issues have been torn down--like homosexuality and divorce--our views on suicide remain deeply rooted to beliefs developed 3000 years ago.  After creating the idea of Heaven, early religious leaders must have realized they had also developed a conundrum: now that you have promised people idyllic eternal life, how do you keep them from wanting to go there immediately?  Therefore it was decided that suicide would have to be a grave sin--for which you would lose the opportunity to go to Heaven--leaving your soul to spend eternity in Purgatory or Limbo instead of paradise.  And so ending one's life became taboo--and all efforts were made to keep people from doing it.  

It was finally in the 1980's that the idea that people should be allowed to control their lives--and how they would like them to end--finally gained some momentum.  It took an unknown former physician in Michigan--Jack Kevorkian, jokingly called "Doctor Death"--to bring physician-assisted suicide into the mainstream.  And while Kevorkian went to prison, a couple of decades later states started legalizing the practice.  And what do those who know people that choose that route always say?  "I'm glad they didn't have to suffer anymore".

But that desire not to see someone suffer does not extend to those with emotional or psychological turmoil.  Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain "had so much to live for".  We are certain that all they needed was the right mind-altering drug or the right counseling program or to "think about everyone they would leave behind" instead of thinking about themselves and they would still be here living perfectly happy lives.

Maybe its my Libertarian streak or my atheistic beliefs, but I am not going to wring my hands or demand widespread interventions over this "crisis".  For me, it will be their choice--and I will choose to respect it.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Leaving No Doubt

The old adage (often mis-attributed to Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain--it's actually from the Bible) holds that "Tis better to remain quiet and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt".  Someone at the White House needs to hang a poster with those words in the Oval Office as a reminder to President Trump to not only think--but verify--before he speaks.

There were a couple of incidents last week that proved the President gives absolutely no forethought to what he says.  The first was his claim that he is considering a pardon for the late boxer Muhammed Ali--just like he pardoned another boxer this month--Jack Johnson.  The only problem is that the 1971 Supreme Court ruling that found Ali had a Constitutional right to claim conscientious objector status to avoid the draft during Vietnam overturned his conviction.  Therefore, there is nothing for the President to "pardon".

That statement leads me to believe that the President had not discussed his pardon plans with anyone in his administration.  And if he did, then someone failed miserably in the research department or they would have told him "Sir, Ali is not a convicted felon anymore."  I tend to think the President came up with that idea just minutes before his impromptu press conference.

The second statement--and certainly the scarier of the two--was the President's claim that he was not going to take part in any preparation for the summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.  Instead, he would use his "experience as a negotiator" to broker a de-nuclearization deal with the rogue nation.  One would think that you would want the President to be well-versed in what North Korea has in terms of nuclear technology and a weapons arsenal so that you could craft a deal that doesn't allow them to "hide" a few things from inspectors somewhere down the line.  The President would later add that he would "know in the first minute" if Un is "serious" about negotiation.  This raises the possibility of the shortest world leader summit in the history of civilization.

I realize that much of President Trump's appeal to his supporters is that he does not have a polished political persona that results in non-descript, pre-approved by consultants answers to all questions.  But off-the-cuff, misinformed answers are acutally worse--as they undermine public trust in the institution and lead more and more people to wonder if the President has any idea what is going on. 

Another suggestion: replace the portrait of Andrew Jackson--the racist, anti-government Democrat--that the President ordered hung in the Oval Office with one of Calvin Coolidge--the Republican known as "Silent Cal"--who knew enough to keep his mouth shut.