Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Keeping Things in Perspective

Based on TV coverage, you might think that the volcanic eruption on the Big Island of Hawaii is a major natural disaster.  Video of what looks like giant rivers of lava are destroying houses, swallowing up cars and meeting the ocean to produce clouds of toxic fumes.  It looks like hell on earth has been unleashed and that residents of the island are battling for their lives.

In reality, life on the Big Island has been relatively unaffected by the latest Kilauea eruption.  To put things in perspective, the area affected by the lava flows is just a couple of square miles in what was already a relatively-remote area.  The Puna district--site of the destroyed houses and the swallowed car--has just a couple hundred residents, since it wasn't that long ago (geologically speaking) that these same types of lava flows went through the area.

But what about the clouds of toxic fumes?  Don't those threaten the lives of everyone living in Hawaii?  Well, that has been greatly overstated as well.  The Big Island is divided by two of the largest mountains in the world.  Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa both rise more than 10,000 feet above the surface of the ocean--and they prevent wind currents from sweeping much of anything produced by Kilauea (which comes off the southern flank of Mauna Loa) into the populated areas of Hilo or Kailua-Kona.

The main threat to Hawaii from the eruption is that "doomsday" coverage by our friends in TV News will dissuade people from traveling to the islands.  It should be noted that the 2 main airports on the Big Island are still in full operation.  Aside from the couple of sub-divisions in Puna that I mentioned before, nobody has evacuated.  If you were sitting on the beach in Kona today you would have no idea that there was an eruption going on--because you wouldn't be able to see the plumes or smell the sulfur.  The only place you can't go is Volcanoes National Park--which is the biggest tourist draw on the island--and is certainly hurting the local economy.

No photo better illustrates what is really going on on the Big Island than that of golfers playing with a giant ash plume behind them last week:

Do these look like guys that are fearing for their lives?  And I would note those are Natives playing in the picture--not ignorant tourists who don't know any better.

So don't feel guilty about being mesmerized by the video of glowing hot lava flowing in all directions or the column of gray ash billowing into the sky.  It's not nearly as bad as it looks--or as reporters competing for air time for their stories are making it out to be.

Aloha and mahalo.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

What an Honor

What is the best way to honor a man who dedicated most of his adult life to ensuring equality for all Americans?  Who fought to break down barriers to quality education for all kids?  Who demanded that his government provide the assistance necessary to move out of generational poverty and gain economic security?  Well, for a group of parents and students in Appleton, that way is to keep kids out of school and spending more time playing video games.

That group is using an on-line petition to pressure the Appleton School District to make Martin Luther King, Junior Day a day off for students and staff every year.  It probably surprises some people that MLK Day isn't necessarily a scheduled off day in many area public schools.  Oshkosh did not have off of classes this year.  In fact, the next Monday had no classes--as the Friday after MLK was the last day of the Third Quarter--and the in-service day would allow teachers to finalize grades.

I understand why the parent and student group is pushing for the day off--a number of other Federal holidays are observed by the Appleton School District--so are a few Christian holidays.  So to not "recognize" Martin Luther King, Jr Day in the same way "diminishes his importance" and represents yet another example of "institutional racism".

But if they were to just get past the "same means equal" mentality, they would see that being in class better exemplifies what Dr King hoped to accomplish.  The Reverend certainly did not advocate for less education for African-Americans--so why would he want those kids out of the classroom on a Monday in the middle of January?  Especially after spending more than a week off just two weeks prior for the Christian holidays?

And what about the impact on low-income and single-parent families we hear about when kids are out of school for bad weather, bomb threats or just summer vacation?  Will parents that cannot afford to hire baby-sitters have to take time away from work that they also can't afford to watch their children?  There won't be the before-school programs or the after-school programs to provide what is essentially free day care. The school breakfasts and lunches won't be available to provide two meals that day for those kids.  The school nurse won't be there to dispense behavior-control drugs at the proper times and in the proper dosages.  And the structure provided by the class-day will be lost--so kids will have to come up with ways to entertain themselves--some of which likely will not be very positive for themselves or the community.

What the "day off" group should be advocating is for MLK Day to be a "day of action" instead.  Take kids to a traditionally-black church in their area and hear the words of Doctor King in the setting where he delivered many of them.  Take them to the Museum in the Castle to explore the history of minorities in their city--or to learn about the state's role in winning the Civil War.  Or perhaps the best way to "honor" Dr King is to provide them with the math, science, spelling, vocabulary and historical knowledge they need to be successful adults in our society--regardless of their ethnicity.  I'm pretty sure MLK would be "honored" by that.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The Monsters Among Us

Here's a bit of advice for parents: Instead of worrying that your children are about to be the next victims of a school shooter, worry that your children will be the next school shooter.

The question needs to be asked, "How did we raise a generation of homicidal maniacs?"  The styles of weapons made have not changed in decades--and their availability has only become more difficult--and yet more young people are killing their classmates in very public ways every year.  So why are today's kids so much more inclined to seek violent resolution to what they perceive to be personal slights?  And if your answer to that is "not enough gun control", "vaccines" or "toxic masculinity", then you are part of the problem and not the solution.

There is almost a "hold harmless" clause for the parents of school shooters.  Media outlets easily discover previous on-line postings of threats or neo-nazism interest, or videos of weapons use immediately after an incident--and yet no one ever asks if the parents were aware of that and if they just chose to ignore it?  Police investigators find journals filled with disturbing writings and graphic illustrations or additional weapons in the bedrooms of the shooters--but parents never noticed that stuff just laying around inside their own house?  Or were they "giving their teenager space to become their own person"--without the kind of guidance and oversight that parents had provided for nearly all generations of non-school shooters before?

And now it is time for parents to look at themselves and ask are they doing all they can to keep their child from becoming the next school shooter?  (And it isn't just the parents of boys that need to consider this, it's just a matter of time before a teenage girl decides she wants to be famous like the boys).  Do you know what your child is reading on-line?  Do you know with whom they are communicating--in all forms, both digital and in-person?  What do they have in their rooms?  Have you allowed them to experience failure, rejection, frustration and anger without immediately satiating them or allowing them to blame others for their problems?

And if you detect signs of trouble, are you prepared to take the steps necessary to keep everyone else safe?  Are you willing to seek professional help for a disturbed child?  Are you ready to take away internet access and cellphones, or to limit gaming time involving first-person shooting games?  Are you able to confront your child about dangerous habits, disturbing political interests and checking everything that they post on-line on all accounts?  Are your willing to remove all access to weapons in your home?

Abdication by parents of their duties to monitor their children and to teach them the skills needed to cope with everything that life will throw at them--especially the unpleasant and difficult stuff--is the underlying current that continues to feed the school violence threat.  And if you think the school districts that take kids as young as six months away from parents for much of the day to make sure they are "ready for school" are going to do that for you, you are now seeing the results of that belief. 

Parent your kids--and maybe they won't want to kill everyone else's kids.

Friday, May 18, 2018

I'd Rather Have the Social Experiment

Right after the Milwaukee Bucks were eliminated from the NBA Playoffs, fans were promised an "aggressive search" for a new head coach.  There is a belief among some observers that with the right coach--that can instill discipline, intensity, consistency of effort, better defense and a desire to rebound in a team lacking all of those things the past few years, that the Bucks could be a threat to win the weak Eastern Conference as early as next year.  And after that "aggressive search" what Milwaukee is ending up with is Mike Budenholzer.

I doubt that yesterday's confirmation of Budenhozer's hiring sent many fans down to the Bradley Center to sign up for season tickets.  I don't think it led to many high fives between fans or excited text message exchanges.  I would imagine the main reaction was "Who?"

Budenholzer may be vaguely familiar to Bucks' fans.  He was head coach of the Atlanta Hawks for five seasons--but how many fans could name the current head coach of the Atlanta Hawks?  During that stint, Budenholzer won the Coach of the Year award his second season--getting the Hawks to the Eastern Conference finals with such stars as Joe Johnson and well, I really can't name any other players on that team.  Of course, they were swept by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Which is the same thing that happened to the Hawks the next season under Budenholzer--except this time, the sweep was in the Conference Semi-finals.  So his playoff record against LeBron is 0-8.  The good news for the Bucks is that LeBron may be taking his talents to a Western Conference team next year--so that record can't go to 0-12.

My main beef with hiring Mike Budenholzer is that he is a "Triangle Offense" guy.  The Triangle was made famous by Phil Jackson (really his assistant Tex Winter) who won 11 NBA Championships running it.  Of course, it should be noted that six of those titles were won with Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen and the other five with Kobe Bryant who teamed with Shaquille O'Neal on three of those championships in Los Angeles.  But other than that, the Triangle hasn't really won a whole lot.  The two best coaches in the NBA right now--Steve Kerr of Golden State and Brad Stevens of Boston--run motion offenses with a lot of ball movement--not a two-man game on one side of the floor.  But that is what the Bucks are about to become--with one very good player: Giannis Antentekoumpo and a bunch of guys that can't shoot worth a darn.

Since no effort was even made to talk to highly-successful college coaches like Jay Wright of Villanova, Shaka Smart at Texas or Mark Few at Gonzaga, I have to question how "aggressive" the search really was.  I'd almost prefer that Milwaukee had gone in the direction Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel writer Gary D'Amato called a "social experiment" and hired Spurs' assistant Becky Hammon.  At least that would be more interesting to talk about than Giannis and Khris Middleton playing catch on one side of the floor while everyone else on the team just looks at them--and the team slogs along to a barely-above-.500 record to lose in the first or second round of the playoffs every year.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Coverage It Deserves

Despite being up early this Saturday to get work done here at the Radio Ranch, I had no plans to watch a single second of Royal Wedding coverage--until I found out that HBO will feature Cord Hosenbeck and Tish Cattigan hosting their live broadcast.  In case you missed it, Cord and Tish won great accolades for their coverage of the Rose Parade last New Year's Day--giving it exactly the amount of respect it deserved.
For those of you unaware, Cord Hosenbeck is actually Will Ferrell and Tish Cattigan is Molly Shannon--both alums of Saturday Night Live--and their "coverage" of the Rose Parade was a project of Funny or Die and Amazon Prime.  What made it all the better is that thousands of people didn't realize that and contributed comments during the on-line coverage that demanded the duo be taken off the air because they were so stupid.

And that is exactly why Cord and Tish are pefect for Saturday's royal nuptials--as it is almost impossible to take the amount of time, money and attention being paid to it seriously.  My sincerest hope is that they are able to land someone like John Cleese or Eddie Izzard to be their "Senior Royal Expert" to rip into Monarchy as an institution--and then maybe have Rowan Atkinson as a bumbling "on the ground reporter".  Although, Kevin Kline could reprise his role as Otto from a Fish Called Wanda to provide the best insight:

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

When Paying More Requires Paying Even More

The Seattle City Council is learning a very hard lesson about how free market economics works.  Seattle is one of those cities that instituted a $15 an hour minimum wage based on the argument that it would be a "living wage that would eliminate poverty in the community".  The only thing that the higher wage has created is an explosion of homelessness in the city. 

Low-skill workers hoping to capitalize on artificially high compensation are flocking to Seattle in hopes of landing one of those "living wage" jobs--but are finding that there is no demand for their limited services--as companies looking to manage expenses are getting by with the fewest employees necessary.

The homelessness is then exacerbated by more people making more money who can then afford to rent in the city--tying up more of the housing stock.  And today's millennial worker is supplementing their income by offering up spare bedrooms on sites like AirBNB--allowing them to rent places that have more space than they need--but provide them with a nice source of income.  Big companies like Amazon and Starbucks have brought more people to the city who are looking for that "urban lifestyle" leading developers to replace what had been low-income housing stock with fancy new places on bus routes and near their jobs in a process that used to be called "urban renewal" but is now known as "gentrification".

But don't worry, the Seattle City Council has come up with a grand scheme to fix all of these problems--they are instituting a "head tax" on workers.  Not all workers, mind you--just those who work for the largest corporations in the city: the aforementioned Amazon and Starbucks.  For every employee that they have, those companies will have to pay the city 275-dollars a year--with the revenue ostensibly to be used to "address homelessness".  Amazon and Starbucks will not be allowed to take this extra tax out of employees' checks--instead it must come from net profits.

Seattle officials sprung this head tax after Amazon had committed to expanding their corporate operations in the city.  It will be interesting to see if owner Jeff Bezos--a known liberal who is always demanding that government "do more"--goes through with those plans now that he is the one footing the bill for government "doing something, or if he decides to take his billions of dollars of business (and thousands of employees) somewhere else.  If he did, the Seattle City Council will have addressed their homelessness issue--not just the way they expected--as the young professionals leave, urban renewal dies and those looking for an easy ride move onto the next city with Democratic leaders that require employers to pay $20 an hour or mandate health care coverage or allow legal public urination, drug use and sanctuary city status.

It's simple supply and demand.  Not that today's "New Socialists" would understand that.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Wanna Bet?

There were no doubt plenty of guys ready to plunk down bets on last night's Golden State-Houston NBA playoff game or the Brewers-Diamondbacks game after hearing that the US Supreme Court had struck down the Federal ban on sports gambling (except in Nevada).  However, sports betting remains illegal here in Wisconsin thanks to provisions in the State Constitution.  All yesterday's decision did was allow individual states to decide it they want to allow sports gambling--a process that in some cases (like New Jersey) will take a couple of weeks--while others (likely Wisconsin) could take years.

Before you imagine all of the current tribal casinos adding sports books or five different betting houses opening up within walking distance of Lambeau Field, consider how expanded sports gambling will actually be done.  The major casinos in Las Vegas opposed this possible nationwide expansion--but they wisely were preparing for it at the same time.  Most of those betting houses will have smartphone apps ready for download on all platforms--not to mention easy to use websites for those that still prefer desktop computers.  Bettors will create accounts linked to credit cards and no hard cash will ever change hands.  There will be more (legal) gambling--but it really won't feel like there is more gambling.

Some of the sports leagues themselves are pushing this agenda.  NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has long said he would welcome betting on all of his games--because he knows it will boost interest in the sport (not to mention TV ratings).  The only reason that the NFL has enjoyed unprecedented growth in ratings and revenues over the past thirty years was the rise of "semi-legal" fantasy football and daily fantasy sports--not to mention numbers pools and illicit betting on spreads.  Americans don't love football--they love gambling on football.  Now, every other sport can enjoy that added draw.

Expect detractors to sound the alarm that nationwide gambling will lead to game-fixing, points-shaving and other assaults on the integrity of the game.  Much of that concern is based upon the Black Sox Scandal of 1919--when White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey was underpaying his players, giving gamblers an opportunity to rope in players that felt they weren't getting their "fair share" to throw the World Series.  But now, professional athletes in all sports make millions of dollars a year.  What could gamblers possibly offer in payouts that would entice someone like Mike Trout or Kevin Durant to throw games like Shoeless Joe Jackson was wrongfully accused of doing?  Elevated coaching salaries should also limit the possibility of another Pete Rose situation where gametime decisions would be influenced by what managers and coaches have riding on contests.

The one area that would concern me is college sports--where such scandals have been most common.  With players being told they deserve to get paid for their efforts, many would feel entitled to a kickback from gamblers to make sure a win wasn't by too many points--or a meaningless non-conference game results in a "minor upset".  But if Las Vegas casinos and major on-line gambling operations control nationwide sports betting, those transgressions will likely get caught.  There is not a Federal regulatory body as vigilant in catching cheaters as casinos are--because they actually care about losing money.

It's unlikely that come September you will be able to put a couple hundred bucks on the Packers beating the Bears by at least 6 1/2 points.  But you can bet that it will happen eventually.  I didn't even mention the additional tax revenue the State would allowed to collect on your legal winnings.