Thursday, May 28, 2015

Let's Take Our Balls and Go Home

I think the time has come for the United States to get out of the international sports arena.  The arrests this week of top ranking soccer officials both in FIFA--the sport's global governing body--and CONCACAF--which oversees soccer here in North America--shows there is no legitimacy to the international competitions anymore.  So let's just sit out a few World Cups and Olympics until the rest of the world decides to clean up its act.

Anyone surprised by the FIFA arrests is either profoundly stupid--or is a FIFA executive (which is redundant, I guess).  The bribing of those responsible for deciding where to play World Cups and which corporations get to be "exclusive partners and sponsors" of said World Cups was an open secret for at least 25 years.  What is the only reason that people were arrested now?  Some of the bribery and plotting took place on US soil--that's why.  And because soccer really isn't that big a deal over here, our government doesn't live in fear of FIFA reprisals for decades to come.  Team USA is going to have a bunch of phantom calls go against it in World Cup qualifiying?  Big deal, NFL OTA's started last week, man--that's all I care about.

And the International Olympic Committee is no better.  We have seen executives of that body sent to prisons around the world for taking bribes as well.  And how much do you think everybody at the IOC made off the books by giving Vladimir Putin his Winter Olympics in Sochi--that somehow ended up costing FIVE TIMES as much to build all the venues and infrastructure than first estimated.
Personally, I wouldn't miss any of the international "World Championships" in all of the sports.  The NHL can put on the Canada Cup every four years like it used to determine the best hockey country in the world.  The NBA can invite champions from other country's leagues over to take on its champ to determine the best team on the planet.  And all four of the sports networks can televise Ice Capades to give everyone their figure skating fix--all without the nagging fear that the judges have already fixed the results.

Perhaps if the US drops out of the international sports arena, our companies that provide the billions of dollars fueling the greed at places like FIFA and the IOC will step back as well.  You could argue that the destruction of the Olympic "amateur ideal" came after Peter Ueberroth made a boatload of money for everybody at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles by sponsoring everything under the sun.  A new "business model" was born--allowing those running the organizations to line their pockets.  Then maybe countries wouldn't have to change their laws to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages at sporting events--not because Brazilians knew that Germans and Brits would be coming thirsty to the World Cup--but rather because Budweiser is the "Official Beer" of the World Cup and FIFA made it a condition of getting the tournament that it would be served in all stadiums.  And how lucrative would it be to work for the IOC if NBC wasn't forking over a billion dollars by itself to put the Olympics on 15 networks for two weeks every four years in order to promote the 12th version of SVU?

One nice thing about the corruption of international sports is that it makes our American sports controversies look rather pale in comparison.  Nobody is going to arrest Tom Brady for deflating footballs.  And 12-hundred people in Qatar aren't going to die because Ryan Braun took steroids.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Who Should Be In the Cages?

I'm certainly not an "animal rights" activist--but the killing of a wolf at the Menominee Park Zoo over the weekend really gets my goat.  (I don't use the term "euthanization" because that really means to put down a suffering animal as an act of mercy.  The wolf killed was not suffering.)  It became the innocent victim of the irresponsibility of humans.

Oshkosh officials have provided us with few details, so all we know so far is that a child of an undisclosed age accessed an off-limits area around the wolf enclosure at the zoo last Friday--stuck his or her fingers through the fence and had them bitten by the wolf.  How the child got into the area we don't know, but I have a hunch that his or her parents didn't take the child back there on their own.  Which raises the question: why was a child running around unsupervised at the zoo?  I understand that you cannot keep an eye on your child 24/7 but in a setting such as a zoo--with restricted areas that are obviously a bit dangerous--I would think that would be one time you'd want to keep the little ones close by.

Or maybe the parents actually did bring the kid back there.  They probably thought the "KEEP OUT" or "EMPLOYEES ONLY" sign didn't pertain to them.  Or maybe they thought they "deserved" a special "close encounter" with the wolves and that their child should be allowed to "pet" the animals.  There have been hundreds of incidents in just the past few years of people jumping into moats or climbing over fences to get into animal enclosures because they wanted to "play with the beautiful creatures".  And before you go blaming the wolf for this, keep in mind that while he lived in a pen, he was still a wild animal.  He didn't see humans as "friends".  And when he had something that smelled like fresh meat shoved in front of his face, he did what a wolf does--he bites it.

So the bite incident happens and unfortunately doctors need to know if the wolf has rabies in order to determine what treatment the child will require.  That leaves zoo officials no choice but to kill an otherwise healthy animal for testing.  Killing the wolf didn't "send a message" to the other wolves in the exhibit not to bite the hand of children who are where they are not supposed to be.  It was a waste of not just the animal, but the work and money put into the exhibit by the Zoological Society and the City to purchase these wolves to replace the original pack that all died off a few years ago.

The cherry on top of all of this would be if the family of the child now sued the city for its "negligence".  I'm sure they can find hundreds of lawyers willing to take the case--seeing as how nobody has deeper pockets than municipal governments and taxpayers.  The attorneys will argue that the zoo "failed to properly secure their off-limit areas".  A sign saying KEEP OUT is not sufficient--the door or gate should have been triple-locked.  They will also claim that the designers of the exhibit should have known that people would go where they weren't supposed to go and not allow trespassers to get so close to the animals.  I'd even bet there will be an argument that the holes in the fence should have been too small for any person--regardless of size--to stick even a single finger into the enclosure.  By the time that trial is over, the jury will believe the Menominee Park Zoo is a death trap and that visitors are at risk of being attacked at all times.

Of course, we could always put the visitors in cages at the zoo, in order to protect the animals from their stupidity.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

You Reap What You Sow

Madison School District officials are patting themselves on the back for a sharp reduction in the number of out-of-school suspensions and in-school punishments for African-American students this school year.  They credit a new Behavior Education Plan that took the easiest possible route to reduce such punishments--they all but stopped handing out such discipline.  Under the new policy, counselors take disruptive students outside to "have a talk" and to "determine the real cause of their misbehavior" rather than subject kids to actual disciplinary action like detention.  It's the new "progressive approach" to school punishment--meant to make things "fair" for students or all ethnicities.

The only problem is, the new policy isn't actually improving student behavior in the classroom.  In fact, one eighth grade math teacher is quitting her job because she no longer feels safe at school.  Stephanie Bush is leading a group of teachers who say the new discipline policy is making things worse in the classroom instead of better. 

“I’m seeing behaviors on a regular basis that I haven’t seen in 20 years of teaching,” Bush said. Some of this alarming conduct included students swearing at teachers, kicking trash cans, walking out of class, and kids wandering the hallways and in and out of classrooms, she said in an article in the Cap Times newspaper. 

A fifth grade teacher--Margaret Stumpf--says: What’s more, a small group of disruptive students is exacerbating the misbehavior of others, Stumpf said. Still other students are frightened, she said, recounting the daily plea of “Miss Stumpf, I’m scared,” from one boy. Other students try to flee the classroom with bathroom excuses or visits to the nurse.

An internal poll finds 18-percent of Madison teachers as a whole--and just ten percent of middle school teachers say the new Behavior Education Plan is resulting in better student behavior.  But don't tell that to Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham: “I visit schools two or three times a week and in large part they are very joyful environments for students. I don’t want anyone to get the perception that our schools are out of control,” she said.  And of course, she want's more money to hire more counselors to deal with the increasing number of classroom disruptors.

The most important thing for Ms Cheatham and her other "progressive educators" is that her discipline numbers don't look "unfair".  Madison schools aren't being "intolerant" of cultural differences in behavior and discipline anymore.  And if that means a reduced educational experience for all of the other kids in those classes then at least everyone is "equal".

Friday, May 22, 2015

Who Needs To Know That Stuff?

As you might expect, educators are up in arms over a requirement up for consideration in the State Legislature that kids pass a citizenship test before they are allowed to graduate high school in Wisconsin.  The test would mirror that given to immigrant seeking citizenship and would feature 100 questions--of which 60 would have to be answered correctly to " pass".  (That by the way is another example of the dumbing down of America when 60% is considered to be "passing".)

The questions would include things like "How many justices sit on the US Supreme Court?" and "Who vetoes a bill?"  Not necessarily the most complex political and governmental issues--but stuff you kind of need to know to get along in this country.  (Although, many Americans who have lived here their entire lives would probably struggle to get 60% right--based on some sampling I have done in the past few days.)  And it seems like the kind of information that children are provided with starting in grade school in all of their Social Studies courses.

But teachers and administrators say it is just another "test they have to teach to" and that what the kids would be asked is nothing more than "trivia questions" and don't really determine what a student has "really learned" in their classes.  Perhaps they would be more amenable to the test if the questions were phrased to match what is actually being taught in Social Studies and History courses today.  Instead of "How many justices sit on the US Supreme Court?" the question could be "The Conservative majority of which branch of government has forever tilted political power to the 1% by allowing corporations to make political donations to Republican candidates?"  "Who vetoes a bill?" could be re-worded to read "President Obama is forced to use what power to kill bills approved by the Republican Congress that seek to further create income inequality and reward their 1% political donors?"  I bet today's public school students would have no problem answering those questions.

The only problem there is that the Constitutional section of the test might get a bit awkward.  For example: "The right to a 'living wage' is spelled out in which Amendment to the Constitution? A--The First, B--The Fourteenth, C--It's not in the Constitution but that doesn't matter because making $15 an hour is a basic Human Right that doesn't need to be codified in our laws."  Another tricky one would be "Which Constitutional Amendments really shouldn't be enforced in today's 'more enlightened society'? A--The First when free speech or the practice of religion pertains to something that doesn't fully support people of color, non-male gender, non-heterosexual orientation, non-Christian beliefs or makes anyone feel bad because no one should have to feel bad about anything.  B--The Second because nobody needs to have a gun--especially police officers trying to arrest young African-American men who are attacking them.  C--Both of the above."

Personally, I've grown tired of all the tests that kids have to pass to graduate now.  Don't we have a "right to be ignorant"?  I'm pretty sure it's in one of those Amendment things.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

But These Are the Schools We Wanted!!

If I was a resident of the Milwaukee School District, I would be pretty ticked off right now.  This week, the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee approved a provision that would allow an independent commissioner to take control of failing schools in the Milwaukee District.  That commissioner could fire administrators and teachers and restructure the schools as charter or voucher schools.  That authority would apply to three of the 55 failing schools in Milwaukee for the first couple of years--and then five a year after that.

What should get Milwaukee residents upset is that this process usurps the authority of the democratically-elected School Board that they have put into place. (A school board, by the way, that features seven of nine members who are current or former public sector employees.)  Those are the people that Milwaukee voters have chosen to lead their failing district.  They are the Board that hired the superintendent that hired the Administrators who hired the teachers in those 55 failing schools.  These are the leaders Milwaukee voters have gone to the polls and repeatedly returned to office--and to circumvent their authority with some non-elected commissioner is a slap in the face of self-governance and self-determination.  These are the schools that Milwaukee residents want.

What's more, the County Executive is given the power to appoint this new Failing School Commissioner--not the Mayor that Milwaukeeans alone elected.  Not the Mayor who believes a streetcar running from upscale residential developments to corporate offices and upscale entertainment districts will solve the problems of urban blight in the majority of his neighborhoods.  Not the Mayor who gives Milwaukee residents the city they want.  I'm actually surprised Joint Finance didn't give that oversight power to the Milwaukee County Sheriff who once famously suggested that the parents of truant students be arrested--like it's their responsibility to make sure their kids are in schools every day.  C'mon man!

So Milwaukee residents should join the chorus of Democrats in the Legislature and the liberal education groups that oppose this "Draconian measure" and insist upon local control of their school district.  I mean, how can you argue with the results so far?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

From the Home Office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin........

Another piece of my youth comes to an end tonight, as David Letterman hosts his final episode of the Late Show.  I've been a Dave fan since the early days of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC in the early 1980's.  Back then, WLUK Channel 11 didn't even show Dave's show immediately after the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  Instead, they aired a couple of episodes of MASH or The Mary Tyler Moore Show before showing Late Night at 12:30 am--so you really had to be a fan to stay up that late.
For me, NBC Dave will always be the best.  It seemed like everyone associated with the show decided they were going to see just how much they could get away with on network television before they shut the whole thing down.  Thus you had the night that Dave put on a suit of Alka-Seltzer tablets and lowered himself into a giant tube of water--almost asphyxiating himself from the fumes:

And then there was the night that Dave sent Larry "Bud" Melmen to Grand Central Station to welcome people to New York City--except Larry "Bud" didn't seem to understand how the microphone worked:

And Dave used to feature the "underground" bands that all of us loved back in the day.  REM, The Replacement, The Ramones and Husker Du all got play and get national exposure that College Radio was never going to get them.
And then there was Dave's attitude.  He never hid his contempt for airheaded starlets whom he "had" to have on the show to promote their latest movie or TV show.  And who can ever forget when Crispin Glover came out one night and tried to karate kick Dave in the head:
But nothing will ever beat when Dave made NBC and its parent company General Electric the butt of the joke.  Like when Dave almost got roughed up by a GE security guard while trying to deliver a fruit basket to his new corporate overlords:
Or when Dave interrupted a live edition of the Today Show outside of 30-Rock with a bullhorn from his office:

I still remember that the pompous Bryant Gumbel demanded that Dave be fired or he wouldn't do Today anymore.

Unfortunately, working at 3:00 in the morning has meant far less watching of Dave for me over the past 15-years.  Plus, the show really lost its edge when it moved to the earlier time slot on CBS.  In fact, I probably won't even watch the finale tonight (and who schedules their final show on a Wednesday night anyway?) 

But anyway, thanks Dave for the Top Ten Lists, Larry "Bud" Melman, the Guy Who Lives Under the Stairs, Stupid Human Tricks and all of the other laughs over the years.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Making Less In America

Monday provided an excellent example of what life is going to be like in the "New, New, New Economy" here in the US.  In the morning, we spoke with one of the UW-Oshkosh graduates who won the America's Pitch Tank competition last week--a Shark Tank-style contest that saw business leaders select what they think could be the "next big thing" and to provide some cash for start-up costs, development or marketing.  The winning entry was a smartphone app that tells you what bars or parties in town are the best to go to on a Friday or Saturday night. 

A couple of hours later, we heard from Con-Agra Foods that they are shutting down one of their two Ripon cookie factories--leaving 320-people without jobs.  The two events showed the contrast between what used to be an economy where we Americans made things and sold them to each other--and the future economy where no one is going to be making anything.

The bar and party app sounds like a lot of fun and I'm sure that there is a segment of the population under the age of 30 that will find it incredibly handy--but is the developer of that app ever going to employ 320-people in a place like Ripon, Wisconsin?  And will that app be around for 70-years--employing generations of families?  Likely not.  It's a disposable, digital item that takes just a handful of people to create and operate--while computers take care of the rest.  In fact, none of the finalists for the Pitch Tank contest last week had any ideas that would lead to mass employment or product production.  "Too much overhead and start-up expense" the business "experts" would have told the would-be entrepreneurs.

Of course, businesses can only provide us with what we want.  When was the last time you bought a package of Rippin' Good Cookies?  I bet you probably grabbed the Keebler or Nabisco product right next to them because they were 15-cents cheaper, or the kids saw the commercial for them on Nickelodeon and that is what they want to eat.  Or maybe you don't buy cookies at all anymore.  You only eat "artisan" food--prepared by small bakeries using hand-ground flour and chocolate made by Swiss chocolatiers.  Or you are a socially-conscious shopper--buying food that is "certified organic", with "no genetically modified organisms", grown using "sustainable farming practices", with "fair trade chocolate" and "living wages for all workers" sold at your food co-op.  Or you are on one of the multiple fad diets featuring no carbs, no sugar or no gluten.  Or maybe you are taking Michelle Obama's advice and just eating food you can grow yourself.

Perhaps the folks at the Rippin Good Cookie factory can develop apps that "make cookies" that you have to put into certain orders to win gold coins on your smartphone--and that allows you to send requests for "more cookies" to your social media friends every day.  And the factory itself can be retooled to make "unlimited voice, text and data" or "rollover minutes" to sell to those glued to their smartphones and tablets 18-hours a day.  That seems to be the "business model of the future".