Thursday, October 27, 2016

You Can't Forget What You Never Knew

In what little spare time I have, I like watching shows and reading about history.  Of particular interest to me are the wars involving the United States over the years and the strategies that were employed--both successful and those that were failures.  Documentarians and historians have had plenty of material to work with in chronicling the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the two World
Wars, Korea and Vietnam.  The brevity of the first Gulf War provides a little less to work with.  But 15-years of fighting the War On Terror and we still have very little information to know about it.

Americans followed along with the movement of troops in the Revolution, the Civil War and World War I through newspapers.  World War II and Korea brought radio reports and newsreel footage.  The television coverage of Vietnam may have actually turned America against that war--as Harry Reasoner and Tom Jarrel brought the horrors of battle into people's living rooms for the first time.  The first Gulf War literally played out live in prime time on CNN--as did the invasion of Iraq.  But how much TV footage do you see every night from Iraq and Afghanistan?

Those with soldiers in the fight--and those working to help the US win--knew the names of the towns were battles were fought.  And they knew the generals conducting the strategy: Washington, Grant, Lee, Pershing, Eisenhower, Patton, MacArthur, Nimitz, Westmoreland and Schwartzkopf.  But who is the commander of American operations in Iraq right now?  What is the main site of the fighting in Afghanistan this month?  You could probably stump everyone you know with those two questions--because news coverage of this war has become nearly non-existent. (By the way, the US commander in Iraq is Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend)

Yes, Mosul is in the headlines right now.  But how far into a newscast did you have to watch before there was any mention of it?  And how far down did you have to scroll on your smartphone news app to find a link to a brief story with generalizations about "senior officials" saying the operation is a success and that ISIS is on the run.  We are holding a Presidential election and there has been little to no discussion about strategies to actually bring an end to these wars.  Could you imagine if Roosevelt didn't have to answer a single question about operations in Europe or the Pacific during the 1944 election?

I know Korean vets like to call theirs the "Forgotten War"--but that is because World War II was so prodigious before it--and Vietnam was so controversial after it.  But we've got a war that has been completely forgotten already--and it's still going on.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

So Who Has to be Tolerant Here?

It was a Twitter headline that I just had to tap: "Neighbors Complain Madison BBQ Joint Smells Like Meat".  It led me to a Capitol Times article detailing a battle between people living in the Williamson Street neighborhood and a restaurant that serves "real" barbecue.

For those who aren't familiar with what the locals call "Willy Street", it is probably the most liberal part of the most liberal city in the state.  It's the kind of neighborhood where you don't even put out a garbage bin every week--because your waste is either recyclable or it is composting in the back yard--and putting out a campaign sign for a Republican candidate is considered "hate speech".  It's also the kind of neighborhood where the people preach "tolerance for others"--but in true liberal fashion--don't actually practice it.

So these folks are upset with That BBQ Joint and the aroma of smoked meat that eminates from it.  (I've checked on-line reviews of the place and they are generally positive--pointing out that you need to get there early or the most popular meats may be sold out--which tells me this is not a "fake" BBQ place that amazingly prepares a rack of ribs for you in just 15-minutes).  As an aspiring BBQ Pitmaster myself, I would be more than happy to have that place as a neighbor--as much for the good eats nearby, as for the beautiful smell of pork shoulder or brisket slow-cooking over wood.

But Willy Street has vegans living there--and they can't "tolerate" the smell of meat.  So they are demanding that the restaurant install incredibly expensive 'scrubbers" to remove the "offensive odor" coming from the BBQ pits.  Environmentalists are also concerned about the "carcinogens" produced by burning wood as well.

In a city like Madison, you would think that opposition from these two groups would spell doom for That BBQ Joint--but the owners are playing the race card.  One of them is of mixed racial heritage--and he claims that opposition to his restaurant is "white privilege"--saying "These complaints are the way people harass minority-owned businesses" (and when you think about it, most people do complain about "the smell" of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani and Mexican restaurants--but not the steakhouse or fish fry place right across the street).  What's more, the Joint owners point out that they also serve a largely minority clientele (which has led to complaints about noise coming from the business as well).

This is a situation that bears watching--because as we increasingly become a nation of "persecuted minorities" and "victims of institutional discrimination" it becomes more and more difficult to determine who has to be "tolerant" by "being offended"--and who gets their way.

Now if we were still a nation of laws and not "feelings", this situation could be fixed with two simple questions: "Is the property zoned Commercial for use as a restaurant?"--yes--and "Do the emissions coming from the restaurant meet EPA standards for particulate matter and composition?"--yes, again.  There you go, That BBQ Joint stays.  That was easy.

Monday, October 24, 2016

It Will Never Be the Same

The Chicago Cubs are poised to end the longest championship drought in major US sports history this week.  After capturing their first National League pennant since 1945 (when most quality major leaguers were off fighting World War II) the Cubs will try to win their first World Series since 1908 (when the legendary, Tinkers to Evers to Chance was an actual double play combination--and not a musty old poem).  However, Cubs fans themselves may want to consider very carefully if they actually want that to happen.

As it is now, Cubs fans hold a special place in sports fandom.  (And I'm talking here about the long-time-I-remember-Ron-Santo-and-Ernie-Banks Cubs fans--not the marketing reps that moved to Chicago three years ago and realized the bleachers at Wrigley are the place to be and be seen.)  They are "long-suffering" or "loveable losers".  People feel sympathy for them and will likely root for Chicago in the Series for no other reason than "I want those fans to be happy".

But a Cubs win this week and their fans become just like the rest of us.  They will be no different than Giants fans or Mets fans or any other franchise that has won a world title since the invention of television.  America used to feel the same way about Boston Red Sox fans as they tried to reverse the "Curse of the Bambino"--then the Red Sox won a couple of titles and "Sawks Fans" became reviled and insufferable.  That same fate belies our "loveable Cubby fans" if 1908 is erased from the record books.

And I can tell you from personal experience, Cubs baseball will never be as special to you as it is right now.  I myself am a fan of two franchises that had lengthy title droughts.  The San Francisco Giants had not won a World Series since they were in New York back in 1954.  They had close calls in 1989 (when an earthquake interrupted the series) and in 2002 (when they blew a lead late in Game 6 to the Anaheim Angels before losing Game 7 the next night).  Finally, in 2010 they beat Texas for the World Series title and we could all celebrate. 

My beloved Boston Bruins had never won a Stanley Cup in my lifetime either--last capturing the title in May of 1972--while I was born in July of that year.  They had made the Cup Final several times since then--losing to the juggernaut Edmonton Oilers with Wayne Gretzky a couple of times and to inferior Montreal Canadiens teams in several playoffs as well.  But in a glorious comeback from down 3-2 in 2011 they topped Vancouver to finally hoist the Cup.

While the celebrations after those titles were fantastic--I noticed that playoff runs weren't as exciting after that.  When the Giants won another World Series in 2012, I didn't even stay up to watch the clinching game in Detroit.  And when the Bruins lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Cup Final two years later, my reaction was "Meh".  Gone is that intoxicating mix of excitement, anticipation, desperation and dread that had made pre-championship playoff runs so much more fun.  You had that title "in the bank" and getting another didn't seem as important anymore.

And that is what awaits you, Cubs fans if your team doesn't find a way to blow it this week.  Remember, it will never mean as much to you as it does right now.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Rout Night

Tonight is the first night of the WIAA High School Football Playoffs.  It is also the worst night of High School Football of the year.  There will be more blowouts, routs and running clocks in the second half than in any other week of the year.  You know why?  Because about 3/4's of the WIAA playoff field should be at home getting ready for the next sports season.

224 teams make the WIAA Football Playoff field--32 teams in seven divisions based on enrollment.  In each of those divisions, at most 5 or 6 schools have a legitimate chance at winning a state title.  The "reward" of making the post-season requires nothing more than a .500 record in conference play.  That is why every year, there are teams with overall losing records that make the playoffs--because there aren't 224 teams that finish with good enough regular season performances.

And those teams that scrape in with the barely-good-enough records get to meet teams like Kimberly, Brookfield Central, Arrowhead, Homestead and St Mary's Springs in the first round--and get blown off the field.  A few get lucky and match up against equally-mediocre squads in games that aren't particularly well-played--but at least are somewhat competitive.

Supporters of the "Playoffs for nearly everyone" status-quo can point to Winneconne's Cinderella run to a state title a few years ago and say "See, that proves teams with losing records can still go all the way!"  But that is one team--who played smaller schools than they had all regular season--in the 45-year history of the WIAA Playoffs.  Unlike basketball where a team with lesser talent can scheme its way past better, deeper opponents, skill, depth and especially strength differences in football are nearly impossible to overcome.  The play clock and the need to continue to make first downs guarantees that.

Trimming the playoff field considerably would also show that the WIAA is serious about the "protecting the kids" philosophy it espouses in public service announcements you can hear on this very radio station.  The teams that have legit shots at state titles have to play five more games to get the gold ball.  That is more than half the games they play in the regular season--and five more nights of helmet-to-helmet contact that doctors say is cumulative in effect.

So to the 190 or so "also rans", I say congratulations on making the playoffs.  Now enjoy the butt-whippings coming your way.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Vote Now! Before You Lose All Hope

Later today, I will be heading down to Oshkosh City Hall to cast an in-person absentee ballot.  When you work in the media, Election Day is incredibly long and hectic--so spending up to an hour in line to vote can be almost next to impossible.  Voting early eases some of the stress of that day.

Another reason I will be voting today is that I feel the need to cast my ballot before this election process gets me to the point where I don't even want to vote anymore.  As I listened to last night's debate here on WOSH, I was overcome with this feeling that we are going to be in for another long, hard four years--and that the fallout from those four years is likely going to linger for the majority of the rest of my life.

Maybe it was the naivete of youth, but I really used to look forward to voting every election cycle.  But as the years have gone by, that enthusiasm has waned.  The first problem is that we are in a never-ending election cycle now.  People roll their eyes and groan when I says the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE 2020 starts the Wednesday after the election day.  (I'll put an hour's pay on Fox News Channel having poll results moments after the race is called showing which Republican is the "early frontrunner" four years out.)  After a while, you just need a break.

And then, the quality of choices at nearly every level of government has gone downhill as well.  The only person I can think of that espouses the same values and beliefs that I have that's been on the ballot in the past decade has actually been myself.  (It wasn't like you could just vote for Paul Ryan in 2012--and drawing an arrow putting him at the top of the ticket and Mitt Romney under him would have just messed up the voting machine.)

Unfortunately, making me not want to vote is a campaign goal for both of the political parties now.  When you have lukewarm support for your candidate within your own party, convincing more of the other party's members--and especially those who consider themselves "independent"--to stay home and not cast a ballot becomes all the more important.  Well, I refuse to be manipulated in that way.  They still have write-in slots--and I can still vote for my principles and not have to "compromise" by selecting the "lesser of two evils".

If you still plan to vote on Election Day itself, I wish you strength and resolve to make it there.  You're going to need it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Next Nixon

Sometimes I have to remind myself that this isn't 1968--since it appears that we are electing the Next Richard Nixon.  If you think that I am talking about Hillary Clinton--you would be correct.  And if you think that I am referring to Donald Trump--you too would be correct.

For those of you who took revisionist American History, I'm going to have to provide some background.  1960 was supposed to be "Nixon's time" to ascend to the Presidency.  But he lost a close race to a younger, hipper candidate who promised his legion of young voters "hope and change".  It looked like Nixon's political career may be over.  But in 1968, it really was "Nixon's time".  However, his Presidential win was not so much about passionate support from a broad base--but rather from the complete collapse of the opposing party into chaos and division during the election process.

By all accounts, Nixon was calculating, cold, manipulative and vindictive.  When presented with information on the Watergate break-in (which he had no previous knowledge of and did not take part in any of the planning) his first instinct was not to come clean with the American public and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.  Instead, Nixon authorized a coverup--and then used the resources of the Federal Government to obstruct investigations into Watergate and to intimidate those who tried to get to the bottom of the matter.  He even obstructed Congress by refusing to turn over records and recordings.  And when the Supreme Court finally ordered him to turn over his Oval Office recordings, 18-minutes of that audio suddenly "disappeared".  (Nixon claimed his secretary "accidentally" did that while transcribing them).

Does any of that sound familiar?

What also sounds familiar is the crude, profane and offensive way that Nixon spoke on those secret tapes--which shocked Americans when they first heard them.  "No President should be so foul" they said. 

Nixon and his supporters long claimed that he was the victim of a "media conspiracy to destroy him".  He and members of his administration threatened newspapers that published information on Watergate--and reporters from "offending institutions" were frozen out of the White House loop.

And when Nixon finally resigned in 1974 and boarded Marine One to leave the White House, it appeared that he had done irreparable harm to the Republican Party.  They were now the party of corruption and anyone who had supported Nixon was "toxic by association".  An "entire generation" of voters was never going to support a Republican candidate for President ever again.  And yet, six years later Ronald Reagan won the first of his two landslide victories--and the GOP controlled the White House in 22 of the 34-years after Nixon's resignation.

While many of us may weep for the future of the country this year, we can find some solace in knowing it has been this bad before.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Effect of Dangerous Rhetoric

Rhetoric is a staple of political campaigning.  Convincing people that you stand for something that you don't actually believe yourself is an art form.  But this year's election cycle features more dangerous rhetoric than I can ever remember--and the effect of all of that dangerous rhetoric is starting to come home to roost.

In just the last couple of days the FBI arrested three men in the Kansas City area who were plotting an attack on Muslims in that area.  The men were part of a "militia" that professes to believe in "sovereign citizens" and is "anti-immigrant".  Now where would these men have been hearing that message the last year or so?

And then over the weekend, a Republican party field office in North Carolina was fire-bombed.  Photos from the scene show the phrase "Nazi Republicans Leave Town" was spray painted on the side of the building.  Now who has been using those types of phrases lately?

Add to that a story about how CNN and NBC are providing private security for their reporters covering Donald Trump campaign rallies.  The move comes as attendees yell threats and throw things at the media areas during every campaign stop.  Now why would those people be doing that?

And then you have Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke encouraging people to "take up pitchforks and torches" if Donald Trump doesn't win the election.  I can't help but think of the end of Frankenstein as bloodthirsty mobs take to the streets intent upon "destroying the monster".  Now when have we as a country ever reacted to an election like that before?

Plus, you've got election officials across the country having to defend the security and accuracy of the process--because a growing percentage of the population believes the vote is "rigged"--or that Russian hackers are going to be able to change the results without anyone noticing.  Now why would people suddenly doubt this previously-trusted process?

For years, we have collectively decried the deterioration of political discourse in this country.  But that was based on attack ads that painted each candidate in every race as the "Worst Human On The Face Of The Earth--so vote for the other person".  But the rhetoric in this election has become so vitriolic--and has spread far beyond targeting individual candidates that it threatens public safety and innocent lives. 

I would hope that eventually "cooler heads will prevail"--but in this election, that appears highly unlikely