Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Prodigal Son's Brother

You know who is my favorite Biblical character?  You might think it would be Jonathan--the son of King Saul who gives up his birthright and fights against his father to allow David to become the King of the Jews--but it's actually the Prodigal Son's brother.  He is the one who didn't demand his inheritance from his father early.  He's the one who stayed and worked on his father's estate to make it even more successful.  He is the one who didn't squander everything he was given.  And he is the one that after learning that his father had prepared a great feast to celebrate the return of the son who had squandered everything that he was given was offended and asked why his hard work and responsible actions were never celebrated in the same way.

Biblical scholars will tell you that the Prodigal Son's brother is meant to represent the Pharicees of the Jewish religion who believed that strict adherence to the hundreds of laws at the time was the only way to guarantee eternal salvation.  The father represented God and the Prodigal Son was the sinner--and the forgiveness of those transgressions was a main selling point for the authors of the Bible as they tried to recruit people tired of living under the control of the Pharicees and who might want to check out that new "Christianity thing".

In today's society, the Prodigal Son's brother has come to be seen as greedy and heartless--someone who is unwilling to share what he has accumulated with his own brother who is obviously down on his luck--due entirely to not following the same path as his sibling.  I've seen the Parable of the Prodigal Son used as the basis of arguments that "Jesus would be a Liberal" and that continuing to offer assistance to those who choose to act irresponsibly is the "Christian thing to do".  German Chancellor Angel Merkel has even been compared to the Prodigal Son's brother in her treatment of Greece and their debt crisis.

But those who see the parable in that way seemed to have missed a very important element.  In Luke 15:31, the father tells the elder heir "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours."  You see, the father does not take anything away from the son who stayed and worked on the estate to give to the son who wasted all he was given.  And there is no inference that to do so would be "fair" or "Christian" or "God's will". 

Fortunately for us, there are still a lot of "Prodigal Son's brothers" around "working the fields".  But the number of "Prodigals" are always increasing.  And the "fathers" who are willing to forgive--but not to enable--are becoming more and more scarce.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Appreciating Greatness While It's Still Around

Wimbledon begins its fortnight on the grass courts outside London today.  And that makes it a good time to turn some attention toward the greatest American female athlete of our time: Serena Williams.  Barring a major upset in the next two weeks, Serena is expected to win her sixth Ladies title at Wimbledon.  It would also give her the third leg of the single-season Grand Slam--having already won the Australian Open and the French Open this year.  And yet, you don't hear much buzz around Serena.

Consider that she has won 20 Grand Slam singles titles in her career--the third most of all time.  Add to that another 13 titles in doubles and two in mixed doubles and she has captured 35 Grand Slam championships--seventh all time for men and women.  In 2002 and 2003 she captured the "Serena Slam" winning four consecutive majors--just not in the same calendar year.  She has also won four Gold Medals in the Olympics.  Her career winnings of more than $70-million are the most of any female athlete in history.  And at 33-years old, she is the oldest number one ranked player in women's tennis history.

But still, you don't see as many Sarena Williams commercials on TV and in print as you do certain other, far-less accomplished female athletes.  She's not even the most glamorized player in her own sport--with Maria Sharapova getting the watch and shoe and jewelry ads.  Serena is left to do Citibank smartphone app commercials where she doesn't even have a line of dialogue.  Of course, Sharapova has actually won some Grand Slam tournaments.  Why Danica Patrick is in half the commercials during a NASCAR race still confuses me--seeing as how she has never won a race on that circuit and her only major racing victory came in a rain-shortened Indycar race in Japan.  But we love us some Danica.  Serena--not so much.

Maybe it's because Serena is a bit of a drama queen.  She is constantly "fighting through injury" or illness or fatigue.  But how is that different from the almost weekly drama that Brett Favre created for himself the second half of his career?  Serena painted an ugly portrait of herself threatening to choke a line judge who called her for a foot fault at the US Open a few years back.  But that's not far from what John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ilie Nastase were yelling at officials back in the day. 

We should also celebrate the fact that Serena Williams is the only American that is even competitive in international tennis now.  Can you name the last American male to win a Grand Slam tournament?  (It was Andy Roddick, who won the US Open in 2003.)  And even Serena's sister, Venus (who was supposed to be the better tennis player of the two) can't get out of the first round of most tournaments nowadays.

So hopefully, you will be take the chance to enjoy some Breakfast at Wimbledon the next couple of weeks, if for no other reason than to enjoy the greatest American female athlete in history while she is still competing.

Friday, June 26, 2015

O'er the Land of the Not-So-Free.....

You'll have to excuse the rest of the world if they snicker when they hear us Americans sing about being the "Land of the free" in our national anthem.  A new poll finds fewer and fewer countries believe the US Government respects the freedom of its citizens.  The most precipitous drop took place in Germany--where just 43-percent of people see the US as the "Land of the Free" anymore.  That's down from 81-percent just two years ago.

Those studying the results blame Edward Snowden for the change in perception.  He revealed how and where the United States was spying on its own people and those around the rest of the world.  And since Chancellor Angela Merkel was among those who had their cellphones tapped without their knowledge, you can understand the German's changing their mind about our government.  But it's possible that those elsewhere are picking up on the more subtle changes in our society.

I had the chance to travel to Europe as a teenager and to meet kids of a similar age to talk about the difference in our countries and cultures.  One of the things that teens and young adults in places like England, Ireland and France couldn't believe is that we had our own cars at the age of 16.  Not vehicles we had to borrow from our parents, but our own set of wheels that we could use at any time.  Most of them were stuck with the timetables of buses, trains or streetcars--usually with a walk on both ends of the trip if they wanted to go somewhere.  Or if they did drive, they had to deal with outrageous gas prices and narrow streets and roads not designed for personal transportation.

But young Americans today are being told they don't need their own vehicle.  Cities across the country are scrambling to set up new public modes of transportation--like streetcars and light rail systems.  Liberals like Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett insist that young professionals don't want to drive anywhere anymore--they want the government to provide that service--even if they have to adapt to the government's pre-chosen routes and pickup times.  Just another little bit of personal freedom taken away.

With our ever-growing Nanny State--conveniently married to Big Brother--I expect Americans to continue to give up the personal freedoms that our ancestors once enjoyed.  It's a little bit like the frog that is placed into the pot on the stove.  He doesn't notice that he is being boiled alive because the change in temperature is so gradual.  It takes a little outside perspective to realize what is really going on.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Waving the Loser Flag

One of the best responses to the Confederate Flag controversy this week was posted by one of the comedians I follow on Twitter.  He expressed his hope that the flag would never be banned because "It's the easiest way to identify the biggest idiots in our society."  And he is right.  I doubt that those flying the Stars and Bars over their campsites at Country USA this week are neurosurgeons taking a week off from the operating room.  You don't see Confederate Flag back window stickers on many Mercedes or BMW's either.

While those who choose to defend public display of the Confederate Flag claim it's "honoring Southern heritage" or it somehow stands for "states' right", it is first and foremost the symbol of a losing cause.  You are flying the flag of a bunch of losers.  We fought the bloodiest war in our history to decide that the virtues and principals embodied by the Stars and Stripes were going to the be ones by which all 50 states are going to abide.  And I think that it turned out pretty good.

The Charleston shootings have also led to call to flat out ban public display of the Confederate Flag.  Supporters point out that in Germany, the display of the swastika and all other Nazi symbols is illegal--even the extended arm salute.  But keep in mind that Germans don't have the First Amendment protections provided to us Americans (and guaranteed by the Union victory).  Besides, it's important that we not try to run from our history and try to whitewash it be removing everything that people of today might find offensive.

So keep on flying your Conferderate Flags there, "Mr Rebel".  And keep installing the horn that plays "Dixie" in your car.  And don't be afraid to wear the Stars and Bars handkerchief on top of your head to keep your Skullett from burning.  It just helps us to more easily identify you idiots and losers.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Charlie Liar

Are we finally done with the whole "Put Pete Rose in the Baseball Hall of Fame" thing now?  Ever since Rose voluntarily accepted a lifetime ban from baseball by Commissioner Bart Giamatti we have heard ad nauseum from Rose apologists who say he should be inducted because the Hall is only about what a person does on the field--and Pete only gambled on baseball when he was a manager.  Well that defense was blown out of the water this week by a report from ESPN that a newly-discovered notebook shows Rose was betting on games as a player as well.

This new revelation should come as no surprise to anyone.  The Pete Rose Saga has been a continuous cycle of accusation, denial, discovery of evidence and eventual admission.  The reason Rose volunteered to take the lifetime ban is because the agreement would allow him to continue to deny ever betting on baseball.  And Rose kept up that fa├žade for several years--until finally admitting to betting on the sport--but never on Reds games--in a "tell all book". 

The "I never bet on the Reds" garbage went on for a few years until Rose thought their might be a glimmer of hope for re-instatement--at which time he went on the TV interview circuit to "finally come clean" and to admit that he did in fact bet on Reds games--but only on them to win.  (Which logic would tell you that if he did not bet on them on certain days--usually when he bullpen was spent--that he was heading to the ballpark with the expectation of losing that day, or else he would have put some money on his own team, wouldn't he?)

Since then, we've put up with the "he never gambled while playing" narrative for several years.  And MLB was going to allow Rose to take part in All-Star Game festivities in Cincinnati next month.  Many saw it as yet another opening for Pete to get in the good graces of the baseball world and to build support for his latest re-instatement push.  And right on cue, more of his lies are exposed to the world.  It wouldn't surprise me if Pete uses All-Star weekend to "finally come clean" (again) and "really put all of this behind him".

Somehow, there will be some sycophants who STILL insist on putting Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame.  "Just put him on the ballot and let the writers decide" they will implore.  But we all know what will happen if that does take place.  One of the scumbag bookies that took Rose's bets--or one of the "collectors" of those bets--will come out with accusations that Pete offered to throw games in order settle his debts.  And the cycle of denial will start all over again--until Rose figures out a way to make a few bucks on "finally, finally telling the whole story".

Or we can just keep Pete Rose where he belongs--as far away from baseball and the Hall of Fame--until the punishment he willingly accepted: a LIFETIME ban runs its entire course.  And then we can consider his eligibility without having to put up with all of the lies.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Grecian Formula (for Economic Disaster)

If you are investing for your retirement you may have noticed your nest egg has been performing rather sluggishly lately.  Part of that is due to continued weakness in the economic recovery--but a major cause is concern about the future of the Eurozone.  Specifically, investors are worried about Greece possibly leaving the economic union and defaulting on billions of euros worth of debt owed to other members. 

The Greek issue centers upon the country's generous pension program--their version of Social Security.  Until recently, a Greek resident could retire at 57 and collect a federal pension as high as 75% of their salary in the five years before they left the workforce.  It was a benefit Greeks had basically voted themselves--electing left-leaning Socialist governments promising more and more things for "free" for decades.

But then, the enemies of Socialism--Math and Economic Reality--struck.  The European real estate bubble burst around the same time as the US housing market tanked--and Greece's economy (based largely on tourism and service industries) was left in ruins.  The Greek pension system represents a whopping 17% of the country's gross domestic product--and was projected to increase to 25% in the next 20-years.  By comparison, Social Security represents just 5% of the United States GDP.  The "evil" Germans (the only country in the Eurozone with any money) offered to bail out the Greeks--but only if they scaled back their retirement benefits--just like Chancellor Angela Merkel had successfully done to ease the financial crisis in her country.

At first, the Greek government complied.  The retirement age was raised and the benefits packages were reduced--and it looked like the crisis was averted.  But the Greek voters didn't like giving up the "free stuff" that they thought they "deserved"--so they voted the politicians who agreed to the bailout terms out of office and elected even more hard-core Socialists who promised to tell the Germans to stick austerity where the sun don't shine.  But wouldn't you know, our old friends Math and Economic Reality were going to triumph over the Big Government Nanny State again--as the Leftists realized that dropping out of the EU and going it alone with their Drachmas would be akin to national suicide.  And so they are back at the table this week--hats in hands--offering to honor the bailout agreement with a few adjustments.

It's just unfortunate that Joe and Jane Sixpack here in the US will have to work a few more weeks or months before taking our privately-funded retirements due to the bear market just so Nikos and Athena can take a couple of years off of their government-funded Golden Years.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Hope It Was Worth It

One of my favorite things on a day or night with a Packers home game is to follow the Twitter feed of Green Bay Press Gazette report Doug Schneider.  He sits by the police scanner and tweets about all of the police and emergency medical calls in and around Lambeau Field--using the hashtag "#scannersquawk".  Saturday was an early summer bonus as the Jason Aldean/Kenny Chesney concert brought 50-thousand fans to Lambeau--many of whom were in the mood to drink heavily and act foolishly.

The parking lot to Lambeau opened a full three hours before the concert started--at 1:00--and it sounded like many took advantage (at a cost of $40 per vehicle, I might add--just to park).  We had early reports of fights outside the stadium (leading some to wonder if perhaps fans of other country music stars had shown up and were trash talking Kenny Chesney fans).  Several of those fights involved women fighting other women--which I'm sure involved whose Daisy Dukes were showing the most behind.

Another couple of calls involved people who were passed out just outside of the entrance gates to the stadium.  Here you had folks that dropped somewhere between $257 to sit in the "Sand Bar" to $41 (plus "convenience fees") for tickets and they somehow weren't even able to stay sober enough to get into the building.  It also makes me wonder, where are the people they came with?  Were they inside Lambeau saying "Hey, where's Mike?" "I think he passed out in the ticket line!" "Wow, sucks to be him!"

And once the show started, the show really started.  "Highly intoxicated male/female" was by far the number one call.  They were finding them passed out in the stands, on the concourse and next to the toilets and urinals in the bathrooms.  Some weren't so lucky as to make it to the Little Boys or Girls rooms.  There were a couple of calls for people who had "wet themselves" and one for a guy that decided to "drop a deuce in his trousers".  You really have to love country music to be unable to leave your seat for the few minutes required to take a dump.  And speaking of bathrooms, one couple was caught "sharing a stall" in one of the ladies rooms--doing what couples do when you combine copious amounts of alcohol and the romantic setting of a concrete stadium restroom ("So why did you name your daughter Lambeau")

The fights continued inside the stadium as well (stupid Brad Paisley fans thinking they are gonna root for their guy in Lambeau Field!).  You also had the guy who snuck in a "large amount" of small liquor bottles--and when people around him ratted him out to security, he spent the rest of the show berating them and threatening to beat them up.  Just another night of good, clean, family fun at the ballpark.

Hopefully those fans were able to sleep off the hangovers on Sunday, because Country USA in Oshkosh starts on Tuesday night--and that's FIVE STRAIGHT DAYS of uh, great music to enjoy--or not even remember attending.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Stumbling and Bumbling

One of the cruelties of sports is that often times the sad decline of an athlete's abilities and skills are captured on film or video.  I can still remember the NFL Films footage of Johnny Unitas playing out the string with the San Diego Chargers around 1974 getting barely tapped by a Pittsburgh Steelers player and stumbling backwards before ending up heels over head on the ground.  There is also the film of forty-something Willie Mays falling down while trying to field a routine fly ball for the New York Mets.  You also have the dramatized scene from Pride of the Yankees where Gary Cooper portraying Lou Gehrig can't believe that his teammates are congratulating him for making a routine play at first base and realizing that the disease that will eventually kill him has taken a major toll on his skills and that it might be time to sit out a game.

Last night, watching Tiger Woods stumble his way around Chambers Bay golf course en route to a career-worst 80 in the first round of the US Open I flashed back to all of those scenes.  Fifteen years to the day that Tiger beat the rest of the field by 15-strokes at the US Open at Pebble Beach, he finished three shots worse than a 15-year old boy that qualified for the tournament as well.  And because he is TIGER WOODS, THE ONLY GOLFER CASUAL FANS CARE ABOUT, all 80 of those shots were shown on Fox Television--many of them in primetime.

Tiger's Unitas, Mays or Gehrig "moment" came on the 18th hole when he cold-topped a 3-wood from the fairway (one of the few fairways he hit the entire day) and hit a ground ball that ended up in an 8-foot deep bunker that everyone before the tournament stated that no professional would ever hit it in because of it's location.  And sure enough, the only pro to hit it there yesterday was Tiger Woods.  But as the ball was rolling into the bunker I heard something that I had never heard before when it comes to Tiger (perhaps because it sounded like Fox gave every patron with their own microphone): the fans were laughing at him.  And it was not the "Tiger is laughing at making another unbelievably great shot and we are laughing with him" deal.  This was a "Holy crap this guy is terrible" kind of laugh.

Another classic sports shot I'll always remember came from a late December Monday Night Football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Chicago Bears where the camera found the gray-haired Brett Favre sitting on the bench bundled up in a parka and a stocking cap looking like a man who wanted to be anywhere but on an NFL football field on a freezing cold night.  And after that grounder into the bunker on 18 I saw that same look on the face of Tiger Woods--he wanted to be anywhere but on a golf course yesterday.  And for a man who for more than a decade was nearly unbeatable on that stage to reach that point, you have to wonder how much more he has (or is willing to) give.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Those We Choose To Honor

I've always found it a bit odd that we Americans choose to honor a man who hated the banking system, who sent thousands of Native Americans to their deaths by taking their land by force and who introduced the system of pork barrel spending and patronage to our political system with a spot on some of our currency.  I'm talking about President Andrew Jackson--who has been on the $20 bill since 1928.  There had been a groundswell of support for removing Jackson from the 20 due in large part to his policies--and those of his handpicked successors in the Democratic Party--that not only sent Indians on the Trail of Tears but also solidified the hold of slavery in the South, and pretty much set the US on an irreversible course toward the Civil War.

So that is why is makes perfect sense for the Obama Administration to announce yesterday that Alexander Hamilton will be removed from the $10 bill--and replaced with an as-yet-unannounced woman.  Hamilton is considered the father of the American finance system.  He was also a Founding Father, helping to draft the Constitution and he wrote the majority of the Federalist Papers--an invaluable source of background into the thinking the framers of the Constitution used to develop it.  As a "Constitutional scholar" I can see why President Obama chose to dump Hamilton from his spot on the currency.  The President firmly believes that the Founding Fathers "got a few things wrong" and it has been up to him to "fix them and to make things fair".  Add to that, that Hamilton was a fiscal conservative and has become something of a pre-Republican Republican and you knew that his days of glory were numbered.

Now the real fun begins, as we the people will be asked to decide which woman should be selected for the new ten.  I'm guessing that every activist group will be tying themselves in knots trying to come up with the perfect candidate that "represents" every single "identity" of modern society.  Eleanor Roosevelt is one suggestion--but she is white and came from a rich, privileged background.  Susan B Anthony was another nominee--but she was a vocal opponent of abortion.  Rosa Parks certainly had a role in our history--but what was her stance on same-sex marriages?  If only our historical figures had done a better job of "self-identifying" themselves, this would be so much easier.

In the meantime, Madison schools that ban the wearing of Chicago Blackhawks jerseys and t-shirts because of the "traumatic effect" they have on Native American students will keep handing those same kids $20 bills with the old "Indian fighter" himself Andrew Jackson as change in the lunch line for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Send in the Clown

One of William Shakespeare's greatest contributions to literature and performance art was the idea of "Comic Relief"--a character who is sort of clownish or not so serious to help cut the tension of dramatic moments in his plays.  William Shakespeare, meet Donald Trump.

After decades of threatening to do it, "The Donald" launched an official campaign for President on Tuesday--and it was everything you would expect it to be from America's Celebrity Billionaire.  Rather than roll out a carefully crafted and well-practiced campaign message, Trump appeared to be talking off the cuff--with a rambling list of "goals" for his administration including the construction of a giant wall along the southern US border and then sending Mexico the bill for it.  He called everyone else in the race "idiots" and raised the possibility of making Oprah Winfrey his running mate for Vice President.  In short, it was like every other public appearance Trump has ever made with TV cameras present.

And TV is going to eat this up.  They know that Trump is a quote machine--usually praising his own "greatness".  There will be video of the insular billionaire pretending to care what a farm wife in Iowa has to say while actually looking right over the top of her at the attractive, blonde reporter from some TV station.  And the continuous stream of "gaffes" will make Joe Biden look like Abraham Lincoln--and fill up the late night talk show monologues for months.

But we actually NEED Donald Trump in this race at this time.  We are still SEVEN AND A HALF MONTHS away from anyone actually casting a ballot (or standing in a certain corner at the caucus) in this race.  It is way too early to actually be serious about "Decision 2016"--so why not let the clowns entertain us and we'll get to the important part of this process much farther down the road.

Now, we shouldn't dismiss the Trump candidacy out of hand.  We are after all a celebrity-obsessed culture (see our current President for proof) and The Donald has done very well in getting his name in front of nearly everybody in America as some point in the past few years.  And he will likely run as a "non-politician"--which could be an advantage in a race where about 90% of voters hate everyone currently involved in government.

Clowns have won big races before.  I was living in the Twin Cities when Jesse "The Body" Ventura won the race for Governor of Minnesota as a member of the Reform Party.  He didn't run as "Mr Serious Politician"--he ran as Jesse "The Body" with big, bold "wrassler talk" and cheap ads featuring his old action figure beating up stuff-shirt politician dolls that were immensely popular with young voters.  A few catchy ads, some politically incorrect stump speeches and Donald may be able to tap into that same sort of populist backlash and make it Trump White House.

In the meantime, grab your popcorn and let the clown take over this circus for awhile.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Why She Did It

"Why did she do it?"  It's a question that Liberals continue to try and wrap their minds around as they consider the Rachel Dolezal situation.  The now-former head of the Spokane NAACP chapter spend years pretending to be a black woman, when in fact she was white.  Much was written over the weekend on sites like Salon.com and other left-leaning sites about Dolezal and how her story should be "handled"--and if the Left should now champion the cause of "trans-racial people".  But no one could come up with a good answer because they were all framing the debate with "Why would someone give up all of the 'advantages' that come with being white to live life as a 'disadvantaged' black woman?"

I see three reasons why Rachel Dolezal was able to falsely claim African-American status and find so much success doing it:

1--She is a pathological liar and she is delusional.  It is clear that Dolezal is in need of some serious mental health treatment.  She was not raised in a Montana teepee.  She did not use a bow and arrow to hunt for her food as a child.  She was not whipped by her parents while living in South Africa.  Her adopted brother is not her son.  The random black guy who took a picture with her at one of her events is not her father.  The threatening notes sent to her NAACP office did not come from "white supremacy groups in the area".  The woman has become so wrapped up in her fantasy world of lies that she no longer knows were reality begins and ends.

2--She has a victim complex.  Believe it or not, some people actually revel in being perceived as a victim of some injustice or unfair break.  It's why we have the stories of people pretending to have terminal cancer to scam donors and charitable groups.  Rachel Dolezal was a "victim" her whole life.  I already mentioned the fake parental abuse story.  Now the Smoking Gun website has discovered that she sued Howard University while attending classes there claiming to be the victim of "white discrimination"--along with bias based on gender, pregnancy and "family responsibility".  All she needed to do was claim to be a lesbian and she would have hit the "victim grand slam".  She has claimed to have been date raped by a mentor "whose wealth made it impossible to accuse him" and abused by her ex-husband (who was never criminally charged either).  The claims of finding a noose in her yard and the fake threatening letters only added to the pattern of "victimization" that made Dolezal a "sympathetic figure" in her community.

And finally number 3--and the issue that Liberals don't want to confront head on--Rachel Dolezal merely took advantage of the system that is now in place.  Let's start with that Masters Degree from Howard--what used to be called a "traditional black college".  Would her "Africana Art" been considered as "stunning" if she was a white woman studying at the University of Montana?  (There are now insinuations that she "plagiarized" that as well.)  Her career track certainly benefitted too.  Eastern Washington University and North Idaho College are no doubt both under tremendous pressure to "increase the diversity" of their faculty.  So to have an "acclaimed African American artist" willing to teach at their schools was no doubt seen as a "Godsend" for them.  Would a white person with the same "expertise" in the field been accepted for the position?  The same goes for the NAACP--who was likely starved for members and leaders in that part of the country.  Spokane officials admit, Dolezal was on their Citizens Police Review Commission strictly because she applied as a "person of color".

So why did she do it?  Because she could--and so many people were willing to "help" her along the way.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Real Skills Gap

There are two types of people in the world: Those who can back up a trailer, and those who cannot.  Thanks to several summers working for the Village of Howard Parks and Recreation Department hauling all types of equipment on trailers varying from single to triple axles, I am proudly in that first group.  So is my Father who spent a couple of years as an over-the-road trucker who had to drop off loads along the tight streets of cities in the eastern US.  Others are not able to back up trailers--like my wife and my Mother.

But along comes the Ford Motor Company to do away with this evolutionary advantage--as they have developed a computer-controlled, trailer backup assist system for the F-150 pickup.  Just pull up to the boat launch, point the back of the boat in the general direction of the landing, and use a dial on the dashboard to guide the trailer into the water.  The truck uses a series of cameras and sensors to control the steering by itself:

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Ford came up with this--I mean they already had cars that parallel park themselves (another source of endless amusement when watching someone who is incapable of doing it try on a busy street).  But it represents another move toward becoming the Society That Can't Do Anything Themselves.

It's just a matter of time before all of the car companies adopt the same Trailer Backup System--and videos of #boatlaunchfails becomes a quaint antiquity.  And if all automakers go to self-parking systems, it won't be long before that requirement is dropped from the driver's test for teenagers.  And then we will be just that more reliant on our machines and computers to do things that for generations were considered rights of passage.

Sort of like doing math in your head.  Even though it would take me less time to figure out that 713x28=19,964 than it would for you to call up the calculator function on your cellphone and punch in the numbers--that is the only way someone under the age of 35 would be able to get the answer.  It is also why we have Tip Calculator apps--and why restaurants print what a 15%, 18% or 20% tip would be on the bottom of your receipt--to spare you the embarrassment of trying to do it on your own.  It's why Kohls has to put up little signs under their 60% OFF banners telling shoppers what the price would be this weekend on an item that was originally $29.99.  They probably got tired of "Are you sure that's the sale price?  I thought it would be cheaper than that."  And just wait until speak-to-write becomes the norm on all computer operating systems--and we eventually lose the ability to type.

So, go ahead and add Trailer Backup Assist to the ever-growing list of "standard" features on the Cars of Tomorrow--along with Parallel Park Assist, GPS Systems so you never have to know how to read a map, and automatic transmissions so you never have to learn how to drive a stick.  You will just be adding to the real Skills Gap of the future.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Self-Identification Conundrum

In today's edition of "Opening Pandora's Box" we consider the curious case of Eastern Washington University adjunct professor and Spokane, Washington NAACP President Rachel Dolezal.  Dolezal claims African-American heritage--saying that she is the daughter of a bi-racial couple.  She teaches Black Studies at a couple of colleges, and often uses the term "we" in describing the "struggle of African-Americans". 

Dolezal recently claimed to be the victim of a hate crime, saying that she received threatening, racist letters containing pictures of lynchings.  Police investigated the matter and as you might expect, the case got a lot of publicity.  But then things got complicated when police found out that Dolezal is not in any way, shape or form African-American.  In fact, her parents are going to the national media to let everyone know that they are not black and have no African-American lineage.

This has led to all sorts of embarrassment for Ms Dolezal--who claimed not to know what a reporter meant when he asked her about being African-American:

Now this is not the first time that Dolezal has claimed to be the target of racism for being "black".  In 2010 she quit a job saying she was the victim of workplace discrimination and in 2009, she claimed to have found a noose in her front yard.  Police investigated that matter and couldn't connect the rope to anyone in particular.  In fact, there are plenty of questions about Dolezal's latest hate crime claims as one of the letters wasn't even postmarked--and the other was wrapped in a plastic bag "so as not to produce any fingerprints".

But in this post-Caitlyn Jenner society, why should it matter if Dolezal is black or 100% Caucasian?  We have heard time and again this year that anatomy, biology and genetics do not matter--it is what a person "believes themselves to be" that everybody else should accept and accommodate.  So if Rachel Dolezal says she is black and demands the status of being in a protected class, I guess we have no right to stop her from doing that.

So keep fighting the good fight, Sistah.  We shall overcome.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

To Kill a Classic

Next month, Harper Lee will release her second novel.  Until now, Lee was arguably the greatest "one-hit wonder" in American literary history, as her previous To Kill a Mockingbird is hailed as one of the greatest books of the 20th Century.  Mockingbird used to be a fixture on reading lists for children as a lesson on racial inequality and injustice.  (I say "used to be" as I'm not sure schools require it anymore, given that white people in the book say the "N-word" repeatedly and children should only hear that type of language from hip-hop artists and black actors.  Plus, it was written from the vantage point of "while privilege" and there are plenty of other books on racial inequality and injustice written by African-Americans that kids should read instead.)

But I wonder what the reception to the book would be if Harper Lee had published To Kill a Mockingbird today--instead of in the "less enlightened" days of the 1960's.  Would it still be considered a "must read classic"?  Especially when you consider that the seminal action in the book involves a false accusation of rape.

There wouldn't be much of a plot line if Mayella Ewell didn't accuse Tom Robinson of forcing her to have sex with him.  However, as we are told today, the mere mention of the possibility that a rape accusation may be false attacks the credibility of ALL women.  And to portray such an act in a public venue as a bestselling novel will only "make it harder for victims to come forward".

What's more, Atticus Finch is hailed as one of the most "moral and just characters in fictional history" for his legal defense of Robinson.  Many lawyers say it was Finch in Mockingbird that inspired them to consider a legal career and to fight for justice.  Yet, Atticus Finch builds that defense around tearing down the accusations made by Mayella Ewell with dramatic courtroom questioning.  He even insinuates that Mayella led Robinson on--a practice described today as "slut shaming".

Instead of glorious reviews, Harper Lee today would be assailed by women's groups as "hurting the cause".  Discussions of the book on college campuses would have to include "safe rooms" for those too upset by the subject matter to continue listening.  And Lee herself would likely be banned from most universities as well.  The New York Times and Salon.com would feature long opinion pieces wondering why Lee could not have "sanitized" the novel by just having Tom Robinson falsely accused of killing Mayella Ewell instead.  That's a fight for justice we could all believe in.

If To Kill a Mockingbird was published in today's culture, Harper Lee wouldn't consider writing another book--even after another 55-years.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Death of Humor

When did we become the Society That Can't Laugh At Itself?  I ask as Republicans are demanding an apology from Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan for a spoof of the GOP field of Presidential candidates at last weekend's Democratic state convention in Milwaukee:

Republicans claim that Pocan's bit was "racist", "sexist" and that it "engaged in fat-shaming".  And you know what, it probably was--but that doesn't change the fact that it was also funny.  I'm sure that if Paul Ryan had done the same thing with Rebel Wilson as Hillary Clinton, Waldorf from the Muppet Show as Bernie Sanders and Harvey Fierstein as Mark Pocan--everyone at the Republican Party convention would have laughed as well.

As our children learn in their modern history books, there is no such thing as "reverse racism" or "reverse sexism" because it is straight, white men that hold all of the power--therefore, they are the only ones that can be targets of satire and humor in our society.  Anyone else is being "stereotyped" or "repressed" by attempts at humor.

The Pocan "controversy" comes at the same time comedy legend Jerry Seinfeld says that he and most other comedians are staying away from doing college shows anymore due to the "Politically Correct culture" on campus.  In fact, he predicts PC will be the "death of comedy"--as we completely lose the ability to laugh at ourselves--instead having to feign insult and indignation that someone other than a person who "understands our struggle" has dared to comment on a situation.

So I would suggest to the Republican Party that rather than pretend to be offended by Mark Pocan's attempt at humor that you instead join in the chuckles--because you aren't allowed to laugh at anyone else anymore.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Ben & Jerry's Rocky Road

If there is any place that "health care reform" is going to work it would be the state of Vermont.  The Liberal haven that is giving us Bernie Sanders as a Presidential candidate has a small, homogeneous population that tends to be generally healthy, well-educated and well-paid.  The state was actually ahead of the Affordable Care Act curve by already requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and they had some of the highest income limits for Medicaid and Medicare programs.  And yet, if you were to ask Vermonters their opinion of the ACA, you would find the approval ratings are among the lowest in the country.

For starters, the State-run health insurance exchange has been a complete disaster.  $200-MILLION is yet to yield a system that can handle registration or allow people to change their policies based on life events.  That by the way is $200-MILLION spent in a state with a population of just 626-thousand residents to achieve zero results.  (That would be $319 spent per man, woman and child in Vermont--for those of you who learned "Ten is your friend" Common Core math skills).  In fact, they are on their second IT provider in trying to fix the mess--and there is fear that when Federal funding to run the exchanges ends soon--Vermont will likely have to use the Federal exchanges (just like Oregon, Nevada and Hawaii--who also blew more than $200-MILLION each on their own failed exchanges.)

To add insult to injury, Vermont has also been forced to admit defeat in its quest to become the first state to go to a "single-payer" Government-run health care system.  The state expected to have all medical bills paid for by its own insurance plan by 2017--that is until our old friends Math and Economic Reality stepped in.  It turned out that to pay for just its 626-thousand residents, Vermont would have to increase tax revenues by $2.5-BILLION a year--when it currently collects only $2,7-BILLION.  Yes, tiny Vermont would have to nearly DOUBLE the size of its state government to pay for universal health care.  That would have meant an 11.5% payroll tax (on top of a 1% payroll tax the Governor also proposed to make up for Medicaid funding shortfalls from Washington)--and a 9.5% income tax increase on all residents (on top of the existing 3.5 to 6.8% tax rates already in place).  Even the most liberal lawmakers in one of our most liberal states admitted there was no chance of that ever being approved.  And let's keep in mind that these expenses are for a state ranked SECOND HEALTHIEST IN THE NATION!!

I wonder how those in Vermont will react to President Obama when he touts the "success of the Affordable Care Act" later today in his thinly-veiled message to the Supreme Court as it considers the Constitutionality of Federal health insurance subsidies.  After all, they are experiencing that 'success" first-hand.

Monday, June 8, 2015

It's Cheaper to Keep 'Em!!

While "Fear the Deer!" may be cuter and easier to put on t-shirts and ballcaps, the Milwaukee Bucks should consider "It's Cheaper to Keep Us" as their new rallying cry.  That was the main "selling point" that Governor Scott Walker, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett used last Thursday to justify taxpayer funding for a new downtown arena.  The argument being that the state would lose more tax revenue if the Bucks move to Seattle or Las Vegas in a couple of years than the state will kick in to keep them here.

"It's Cheaper to Keep Us" also perfectly captures the ambivalence most Wisconsin residents have toward the Bucks as well.  When the Green Bay Packers came to lawmakers asking for taxpayer funds to renovate and expand Lambeau Field, nearly everyone in Madison fought to be first in line to offer that assistance--and Brown County voters overwhelmingly approved a half-percent sales tax to "help their team"--even though there was absolutely no chance of them moving to another city.  The Packers merely had to claim that the renovations would "make them more competitive in the NFL" and Super Bowl-starved fans couldn't get out their wallets fast enough--even paying for personal seat licenses that are basically meaningless (just like the millions of shares of Packers stock that have also been sold to "help keep the team competitive").

The Brewers tried the same power play as the Bucks are now (we might move to Saint Petersburg!) and met far more resistance--even though they claimed having a new stadium would make them more competitive too.  Governor Tommy Thompson famously told lawmakers from out-state Wisconsin to "stick it to them" by instituting a five-county sales tax to build Miller Park--and even then it came down to a last-minute, one-vote margin of victory for that funding plan.  And the lawmaker that cast that deciding vote--State Senator George Petak--was recalled from office nine months later as voters in Racine County took their revenge for being included in the sales tax area.

It was Petak's experience that guaranteed there would be no special regional sales tax for the new Milwaukee Arena.  That meant the parties involved in this fight would have to use creative accounting like "certifying delinquent taxes" and a "jock tax" to appear like "new revenue" to cover the costs--and far more cash from Bucks ownership than was expected from either the Packers or Bud Selig.  And despite all of the assurances that taxpayers are not going to be on the hook for any of the cost of the new facility--support remains tepid at best.  Assembly Speaker Robin Vos admits he will have a tough time selling it to his caucus--and even though Republicans enjoy a huge majority in the Assembly, it will likely take support from non-Milwaukee Democrats in that house to pass the plan.

So look for Governor Walker, Speaker Vos and Mayor Barrett to grab their pom-poms and try to rally support for the Bucks and the arena plan over the next few weeks.  I just hope they don't expect us all to join in a rousing chant of "It's Cheaper to Keep 'Em!"

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Our Major Loss

Oshkosh is a little less great of a place to live today.  On Wednesday, officials confirmed what many of us knew Tuesday night--that Sonex CEO Jeremy Monnett and mechanic Mike Clark were the victims of the company's plane crash at Wittman Regional Airport.  Jeremy was one of the bright lights in our community--a man who cared as much about his neighbors as he did for his own tight-knit family.

Jeremy was a leader in aviation--showing an unwavering passion for flight.  Every year that we would talk at the EAA Airventure he would be this close to convincing me to get a pilot's license and to buy one of their kit planes.  He had moved the aviation company founded by his father, John, to the cutting edge of sport aviation--developing an electric aircraft (and putting up with our endless jokes about needing a really long extension cord) and a jet aircraft as well.  The EAA recognized that leadership as well--often featuring Sonex aircraft in their "Innovations Pavilion" and having Jeremy speak to members about the limitless possibilities for private flight.

Jeremy was also a leading in the greater Oshkosh business community.  He was a tireless champion for Wittman Airport, believing that the "Home of Sport Aviation" could also be the "Home of Sport Aviation Construction and Development".  I always enjoyed him chiding Winnebago County Board members from Neenah, Menasha and elsewhere on the "North End" who refused to put a single penny into improvements at Wittman because "that's the Oshkosh airport"--like nobody else outside the city limits would benefit from the facility.  Jeremy also pushed for the City-County partnership that brought about the development of the Oshkosh Aviation Business Park adjacent to the airport--where smaller companies like Sonex can locate to build and test their products.

And Jeremy was also leader in making Oshkosh a better place for ALL residents.  I would run into him at a number of charity fundraisers (even those involving golf, which I don't think was one of his strengths) benefitting low-income children, domestic violence victims, youth sports programs and the local arts.  That work will leave a lasting imprint on Oshkosh that goes far beyond what many others have accomplished in much longer lifetimes.

I would like to make a suggestion for our other civic and community leaders.  Please consider naming the new Aviation Business Park in honor of Jeremy Monnett.  It would be a fitting tribute to a man who led in so many ways. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Economic Impactifier

There are a growing number of "political tracker" websites out there gearing up for the 2016 Presidential election season.  You've got sites that project delegate counts in the primaries, electoral votes in the general election and what seats each party will hold in the new Congress.  You can also get "truth-meter" ratings on claims by candidates and "Pinocchio ratings" with growing noses for those caught lying.  But what we really need is a site that will track the promises and proposals from the candidates and then apply them to actual economic models.  I like to call it the Economic Impactifier.

I'll admit, this would be a herculean task, to develop a working model of the American economy that also allows for variables to applied to it--but there is probably a 16-year old app developer out there who can figure it out in a couple of days.  Anyways, each candidate would have a dedicated page, and when that candidate unveils a new economic plan, tax proposal or government program, the information would be put in to the model and then the results projected out one, four and eight years into the future.  It would be a valuable tool for voters to see where the country would be is said candidates fulfilled their promises.

For example, if Republican Candidate X said he would cut capital gains taxes in half to "stimulate investment in the US economy", the Economic Impactifier would project how much revenue that would remove from Washington and how much would actually go into the private sector.  Corresponding changes would be reflected in the future models and a voter could see both how viable and how sustainable such a proposal really is.  What's more, ALL of a candidates policies and proposals would run simultaneously in the models--so we can understand the total impact of what he or she is telling the American public.  This will come in especially handy when dealing with Liberal candidates, who like to spend the same money over and over again on the campaign trail. So if Democratic Candidate X says something like "if we closed corporate tax loopholes, we could send every child to college for free" to a group of union teachers one day--they can't get away with saying "if we closed corporate tax loopholes, we could pay for everyone's healthcare" the next day to union government employees that would be needed to staff such a monstrous bureaucracy--at least without running an even larger Federal deficit.

There is a fly in the ointment here.  You see, candidates go out of their way to be as vague as possible in their campaign promises.  Republicans say "I will cut middle class taxes"--not "I will cut middle class taxes by 15%".  Democrats say "I will make the rich pay their fair share"--not "I will raise the top tax bracket to 90%".  And this lack of specificity dooms the Economic Impactifier--since sound mathematical and scientific study relies on accurate data.  You can't just type in "Make it seem fair to people" and get reliable projections back out.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Are the Terrorists Winning Now?

It has been just over 24 hours since key portions of the Patriot Act expired and the National Security Agency is no longer able to collect all of our metadata without probable cause and a warrant.  There is no doubt that those who wish to destroy America from within gave up using carrier pigeons, letters written in invisible ink and coded landline telephone calls to plot their attacks and switched immediately to cellphones and email.  Does that make you feel less safe today?  Will you be checking your Twitter feed constantly to see if more planes are crashing into buildings or if car bombs are going off in every major US city now that this "vital component of our national security" has been taken away from our domestic spies?

Supporters of the practice claim it has helped thwart some plots--yet they never seem to site specific arrests, chargings or convictions.  Those idiots who are trying to join ISIS to fight American troops, they are all being arrested in Turkey or Europe--not in their homes as they hatch their plot on their smartphone or tablet.  Show me the specific cases where collecting my information helped you capture an "enemy combatant" and I'll be more than happy to let you continue to monitor my activities without a warrant.

There is a very simple reason why everyone's data has to be collected en masse rather than focusing on a few targets: because if we did it that way we would be accused of "profiling".  Remember, that was the buzzword in the pre-Obama Administration days when those most likely to be involved in Militant Islamic activities were complaining that it was unfair that they were considered to be a higher risk for taking part in Militant Islamic activities.  So that is why the 75-year old woman from Warroad, Minnesota, the Japanese tourist and 42-year old businessman traveling to Kansas City all have to be pulled out of the TSA line at the airport for "additional screening".  Or the 10-year old kids have to go through the body scanners.  Not that all of the extra airport "security" was doing us any good--since 95% of banned items placed in test luggage made it through the checkpoints without detection.  It's a good thing we took off our shoes and our belts--or they probably would have missed that other 5% too.

So let the NSA and the FBI and whatever other law enforcement and security agencies that need metadata from terrorist suspects go back to their secret courts to obtain their secret warrants against those who are actually likely to perpetrate another 9/11 on American soil--and to stop treating all of us like potential terrorists.

Monday, June 1, 2015

You Can't Have It All

When parents choose to take their children out of public schools for private schools, charter schools or home-schooling they usually see some benefit in it.  That benefit could be incorporation of religious beliefs into the curriculum, or not have to learn "Ten is Your Friend!" math skills, or not having to take Common Core standardized testing, or being able to learn at one's own pace (especially if that pace is accelerated).  However, that choice also comes with some drawbacks.  Private schools are not bound by laws requiring acceptance of children with special needs.  They are not required to provide alternative education for students who are expelled.  And they may not provide all of the interscholastic sports available at larger public schools.

But the State Legislature is now trying to force WIAA members to take kids who don't even attend their schools for interscholastic sports teams.  The K-thru-12 funding bill up for consideration this spring includes a provision that would basically open up middle and high schools sports to any child in the district--regardless of which school they attend--even home-schooled and virtual school students.

The WIAA is vehemently opposed to this measure--and while I don't always agree with their policies--I do side with them on this one.  Teams should be made up of students from only the school they play for.  This allows for equal enforcement of attendance, code of conduct and academic eligibility standards.  The public school kid who is failing or who skipped a day of classes doesn't get to play--but the virtual school child who is slacking off has no such restrictions.  The home-schooled kid that gets caught with a beer or drugs by their "instructor" (their parents) doesn't get a sports suspension like the public school kid caught by school security or a teacher.  Yes, there are co-op teams that include public and private schools--but they agree to standards for eligibility that are common to all institutions and students involved--and the private school provides some of the funding for the coaches, facilities and travel.  This bill would not require the parents of "non-traditional" students or the charter and virtual schools to contribute anything beyond the standard student athletics fee.

Parents have every right to take their kids out of public schools and educate them in whatever way they see fit.  But if interscholastic sports opportunities are that important to you and your child--then you should weigh that against all of the other aspects of private, home or virtual schooling--instead of just trying to cherry-pick the few things you like about public schools.