Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Six Months Into the Darkness

Earlier this week, I made my first batch of chili for the season.  It's my concession to the end of warm summer days spent out at the grill making burgers, brats, steaks, chops, chicken and pretty much everything else every night.  Now it's on to the "winter diet" of heartier fare like chili, meatloaf and Chicago-style deep-dish pizza.

It's also time to start focusing on the things that help get us through the long, cold winters in Wisconsin.  During the summer, there is something to look forward to every day: golf after work, a weekend up at the lake, a live concert or having a few drinks on the patio.  For the next six months, however, it's nothing but going to work before the sun comes up and coming home after the sun has gone down.  You need those few special events or days just to give you something to look forward to.

I try to break up the winter monotony into as many short segments as possible.  Right now, I'm in "Cram in as much golf in as you can before the courses close" mode.  A precious few minutes on the driving range or the practice green during the workweek--followed by as many holes as you can fit in during the fading daylight on the weekend.  The goal is actually to become sick of playing golf by the time I can't play anymore.

Next comes "Just make it to Thanksgiving" mode.  Every once in a while I'll check culinary websites for new recipes for stuffing or gravy just to distract from having nothing else to do.  Then comes "Just make it through the Holidays/College Bowl season".  I know I'm not alone in this one.  Check out the increase in the number of obituaries on-line in the weeks following Christmas sometime.  It's almost like all of those grandparents just want one more day with the family before passing on.

Also this week, my wife and I booked our annual winter vacation--going to see my parents in Florida this year.  And that is about the only thing that gets me out of bed for the months of January and February--knowing that I am moving one day closer to sunshine and not having to dress like I'm about to climb Everest just to take out the garbage.  I put their winter haven in my weather app so the 75-degrees that they are enjoying sits next to the -15 that we are enduring up here.  My daily planner also gives me a countdown of the days until the Southwest flight lets us leave the snow and cold behind--even if it is for just a week.

After that trip, March Madness and the Masters helps to ease me into the middle of April--and perhaps the beginning of tolerable weather again.  Here's to making it through one more trip into the darkness.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Scheme Team

Since there was no NFL RedZone Channel to watch last night,  I actually got to see extended portions of the Packers-Chiefs game--and I must say that Head Coach Mike McCarthy has developed the perfect offensive scheme for the modern NFL game.  After a boring opening drive it appeared that Playcaller Tom Clement just flipped to random pages of the playbook and radioed them in to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  And for most of the game, the Chiefs defense seemed to have no answer for what was going on.

Nearly everything the Packers run is based on deception and misdirection.  They pass out of short yardage formations.  They run draw plays out of spread formations.  They will run the same receiver screen on back-to-back plays--just to opposite sides of the field.  The intent is to keep defenses so off balance that no specific coverages or blitz packages can be used in any down or distance situation.

And I can't remember an NFL team so adept as using defensive penalties as an integral part of their offense.  Third and inches?  Don't put in your Jumbo Package with three tight ends and a fullback--instead, hurry up to the line and snap the ball before the opposition can get their 12th man off the field.  Third and four with a blitz look from the defense?  Use the hard count to get them to jump offsides again and again and again for an easy first down.  And when the d-line does jump--everyone go deep because its a free play. 

Speaking of deep throws, those are less about stretching the defense or winning a sprint to the post and more about the increased probability of there being a pass interference call that gets a big gain without even having to complete the pass.  Add in Aaron Rodgers' mobility and he can keep a play alive long enough to get the inevitable Illegal Contact or Defensive Holding penalty that the NFL has made a point of emphasis now.  You factor in all of that and you can see why trying to play defense against Green Bay is so frustrating.

It is also that scheme that allows the Packers to deal so effectively with the rash of injuries that seem to beset every NFL team.  Nothing they do is based upon receivers needing to be super-fast to get open or running backs to make three guys miss and take it to the house.  In fact, being "average" means defenders will be in the vicinity of passes--and therefore more likely to get called for Illegal Contact or Pass Interference.

The word "unstoppable" was tossed around quite a bit by the Monday Night Football crew last night--and when the Packers offense is on the field that is nearly true.  But there is a very easy way to stop them--commit to running the football when your offense is on the field and owning the time of possession.  Despite all of his greatness, Aaron Rodgers still hasn't figured out a way to throw touchdown passes from the bench.  If only there was an NFL coach willing to play "good old-fashioned football"--instead of needing to "out-think" Mike McCarthy.

Monday, September 28, 2015

This Never Gets Old

Wisconsin sports fans seem to have an inferiority complex when it comes to their stars or coaches leaving their teams for greener pastures somewhere else.  Even Packers Legend Brett Favre was Public Enemy Number One in the state after demanding the trade to the New York Jets and eventually going to Minnesota following his second retirement (or was it his third retirement?).  Greg Jennings got the same treatment when he went to the Vikings as well.  The favorite targets for derision now are former Badgers Football Coaches Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen.

Twitter was once again on fire Saturday night as the Bielema-led Arkansas Razorbacks blew a late lead and lost to Texas A&M at home.  That would be the Hogs' third consecutive loss since Bielema took a shot at Ohio State by criticizing the weakness of the Buckeyes' schedule--and how that gives them an easy path to the playoffs.  Many of the tweets also featured the "#Karma" tag as well--a continuing "tribute" to Bielema's wife, Jen, and her own tweet after the Badgers lost on a blown call by Pac-12 officials at Arizona State in 2013.  As any Badgers' fan can tell you, Arkansas did not win a single game the rest of the year after the "#Karma" tweet--which both Bielemas were reminded of after every single loss.

Once the anti-Bielema venom subsided Saturday night, the anti-Andersen vile started flowing.  Andersen left Madison for Oregon State before last year's Outback Bowl, saying that Wisconsin's academic standards made it too hard to recruit quality athletes.  That was a point brought up several thousands times by the Twitterverse as Stanford--which has even more difficult academic standards than Madison--rolled over Andersen and the Beavers at home, 42-24. 

While Wisconsin fans might feel better because Bielema and Andersen can't win away from us--we should all keep in mind that they weren't that much different in their coaching abilities here.  Let's not forget that Bielema had Russell Wilson, JJ Watt, Montee Ball and five NFL offensive lineman--and did not win a Rose Bowl with them.  Andersen lost 58-0 to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game last year.  You could say that we fans should be thanking--not deriding--those two for getting out of Dodge on their own--instead of acting like they have wasted the greatest opportunities of their lives because they rejected Wisconsin.

So yes, the #Karma and the #AcademicStandards tweets every Saturday in the fall are petty and make us all look rather immature.  But you have to admit, it really never gets old.


Friday, September 25, 2015

Speaking in Tongues

If somewhere down the line there is an effort to canonize Pope Francis as a saint, we can refer back to September 24th, 2015 as the date of one of his required miracles--as the Pope apparently "spoke in tongues" during an address to a joint session of Congress.  How else could you explain how 535 Representatives and Senators each heard only what they wanted to hear from that speech?

If you listen to the reactions of Democrats, Pope Francis whole-heartedly endorsed raising taxes on the rich, putting coal and oil production out of business, and allowing as many illegal immigrants into the country as possible.  Republicans meanwhile heard the Pope call for an end to abortion, allowing county clerks to not issue marriage license to same-sex couples and not forcing bakers to make cakes for gay weddings.

His speeches have Fox News hosts debating whether Francis is a socialist.  MSNBC guests no longer question why an unelected leader of a religion should be telling people in America how to live their lives.  He's even making Fiats and Jeep Wranglers the hottest vehicles on the planet by tooling around our major cities in them.  If you want a second miracle, making an archaic 21-hundred-year old religion seem cool to people with ten second attention spans may qualify.

Let's not forget that this is a sales trip for the Pontiff.  Catholicism is losing membership, men willing to serve as priests and money at an ever-increasing pace.  And rather than be like business of the past that refused to change what they offered to meet consumer tastes, Pope Francis is out chasing today's hottest trends.

For centuries the Church told the poor their riches await "in the next life".  But as we become a society based around instant gratification, "suffering now" doesn't seem so fun.  What better way to hang onto the underclass but to claim that you are on their side in a "battle against the rich"?  Of course, a good first step would be for the Church to sell off its vast real estate, art and investment holdings and give that money directly to its poor members. Or at the very least pay taxes on those holdings to fund the state programs that the Pope is now calling to be expanded.

For centuries the Church told people that God created and controlled all things--and that if something happened, that was His will.  But science has chipped away at that tenet--so now the message has to be Man must "save" what God has given him--and the only way to do that is to NOT use all of the resources available to us to power our factories, our homes and our transportation systems.  Of course, a good first step would be for the Pope to have flown on regularly-scheduled airline flights instead of via charter and on helicopters.  And he could have traveled by Pedal Cab or hoofed it to his various stops--instead of causing huge traffic jams that wasted more gas and carbon emissions in two major cities.

So as the Pope continues his American Sales Tour, I'd suggest paying very close attention to what he has to say.  EVERYTHING he has to say

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Those Sneaky Germans!

Let me preface this My Two Cents by saying that defrauding the government is never an acceptable practice and that any fines levied against Volkswagen are absolutely justified and warranted.

That being said, I still have to give the engineers at VW a sly "low five" for coming up with a way to "meet" arbitrary US emissions standards while not actually hampering the performance of their vehicles.  The designers realized that emissions are not tested while driving around--but rather when a vehicle is put on a dyno machine--where the front wheels spin, but the back wheels do not.  A simple software command told the engine and transmission that if the rear wheels aren't turning, enact the internal process to reduce diesel soot--since that is likely when the vehicle is being tested.  Nobody would notice sluggish performance or worse gas mileage while a stationary test is being conducted.  The rest of the time, regular emission levels would be released--and the vehicle would perform as normal.

The reason I give VW the wink and the nod is because it's practice has put so-called "green" drivers in a very awkward position.  There was likely a good percentage of "clean diesel" Volkswagen buyers who purchased those vehicles because it made them "feel like they were doing something good for the planet".  They drove around scoffing at the guys in the big SUV's while also laughing under their breaths at the smart cars struggling to reach highway speeds.  As it turns out, they were actually causing MORE pollution by driving their cars than those of us in our "gas guzzlers" were in our vehicles.  And boy is it tearing at them big time.

ABC World News last night featured one guy who is now suing Volkswagen--and is parking his otherwise perfectly-good car because he is no longer "saving the planet" and is wracked by guilt.  If I was VW, I would challenge the suit by pointing out that the buyers actually got a better vehicle than what was advertised--with improved horsepower and fuel economy--which I'm sure they did not complain about once before this scandal broke.  It would be like buying a bottle labeled as Budweiser and finding out they put Paulaner Hefeweissen in there instead.

I would also suggest that those looking to sue VW talk to the families of the hundreds that were killed by the GM ignition failure crashes, and the Toyota sudden acceleration crashes or those who were maimed by the Takata air bags to find out what real "personal injury" is about.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Skol Idiots!

If the Minnesota Vikings have a terrible season it won't be because Adrian Peterson is suspended for whipping his kids again, or because Teddy Bridgewater throws a bunch of interceptions or because their defense gets torched every week.  It will likely be because RAGNAR the Viking is not patrolling the sidelines of TCF Stadium on Sundays.  Or at least that is what the supporters of  Joe Juranitch was have you believe.

Juranitch is the bearded, skullet-wearing guy who dressed up in furs with a horned helmet, a sword and a shield to serve as RAGNAR--a "human mascot" for the Vikes.  He even had a purple motorcycle and a snowmobile that he would ride out of the tunnel ahead of the team.  For this the Vikings paid him $1500 a game, allow him to watch the game from the sidelines and probably give him a few bucks for making other public appearances on behalf of the team.  All in all, a pretty nice part time job that paid about $20,000.

But this summer, Juranitch told the Vikings he wanted $20,000 A GAME to dress up like RAGNAR.  In addition, he wanted a TEN YEAR GUARANTEED CONTRACT--meaning the value of the package would be TWO-MILLION DOLLARS!!  As you might expect, Vikings management told Juranitch to hit the bricks--they could live without RAGNAR (or find another 100-guys who look like they haven't shaved or showered for a couple of months and who would love to be on the sidelines for a game for FREE).

On Sunday, Jurantich posted a picture to the RAGNAR Facebook page of him in front of the Vikings game on TV in his home--dressed in character--in a pose and with an expression usually found on parents visiting the grave of a recently-deceased child.  He told his followers "This is not my decision"--like he was being treated unfairly by the Vikings because they don't want to pay him TWO-MILLION DOLLARS!

I can't help but think about Oshkosh's own "Gang Green"--Robert Wagner--who found himself booted from Lambeau Field for generally annoying all of the other fans (especially my family members) with his self-appointed cheerleading around the stadium--which was nothing more than blocking people's views and generally being belligerent.  Wagner has since been followed by "Saint Vince"--the guy who dresses up like the pope and even autographs pictures of himself in the parking lot before games, "The Packelope", "Frozen Tundra Guy" and "Packers Owner Cheesehead Guy".  Other teams also have so-called, self-appointed "Superfans" like "Darth Raider" in Oakland, "The Hoggettes" in Washington, and "The Big Dawg" in Cleveland.

A couple of appearances on camera during the game--or a shot or two in NFL Films productions--and these "Superfans" start to think that they are a pretty big deal.  They make "personal appearances" on their own, they refer to the team as "we" in all situations and they truly believe that their presence at the stadium provides the players on the field with some sort of motivation to do a little bit better.  In reality, these clowns just breed additional attention-hungry fools who try to top each other with more outrageous "personas" hoping to catch the camera's attention as well.  Pretty soon, you go from having a stadium full of fans to something that looks like the studio audience for Let's Make a Deal.

So please, RAGNAR and all of your other "Superfans"--just show up at the game in your favorite team shirt, sit in your seat and cheer appropriately for your boys--keeping in mind that the real reason the game is being played is not for you to get your fifteen minutes of glory but instead for everyone to win their fantasy football leagues.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Summer Wind

The summer wind came blowin' in from across the sea
It lingered there, to touch your hair and walk with me
All summer long we sang a song and then we strolled that golden sand
Two sweethearts and the summer wind
Like painted kites, those days and nights they went flyin' by
The world was new beneath a blue umbrella sky
Then softer than a piper man, one day it called to you
I lost you, I lost you to the summer wind
I can't help but think about these lyrics from Frank Sinatra when looking back on Scott Walker's ill-fated run for President.  Just 70-days from kicking off the campaign with so much optimism--and according to the polls, momentum--Walker dropped out Monday after a new national poll had him at less than 0.5%.  It's almost like those summer romances of old where you have fun for a few months and then go back to your "real lives".
So what happened?  If we are going to stick with the words of Old Blue Eyes, the Piper Man--or in this case Donald Trump--came in and literally blew away all of Walker's support.  Here was someone who was truly an "outsider" having never run for or been elected to political office--while Walker had pretty much spent his entire adult life running for office.  What's more, Trump is a loud, brash guy who understands how to appeal to a TV camera.  Scott Walker is kind of boring, his voice is nasally and he doesn't pronounce all of his vowels correctly.  And when there are 11-people involved in a televised debate you need to know how to keep the camera on you at all times--which was not something Walker knew how to do.
One thing that concerns me is that analysts don't cite the "wow factor" for Walker's flameout as much as they do "he got into the race too late".  Let's keep in mind that Scott Walker was technically running for President the day after he won a second term in November of 2014.  That would be a full two years before the election.  He became the GOP frontrunner in January of this year by giving a well-received speech in Iowa.  He was touring the country already in the spring and had formed an "exploratory committee" to raise money for his run.  The fact that the "official announcement" came in July had nothing to do with it--since The Donald got into the race even later than that.  How would an additional three or six months of campaigning for Walker have changed the way things played out?
If that really was the case, perhaps Governor Walker should have launched his 2020 Presidential campaign yesterday after putting his 2016 effort to bed.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Big, Scary Numbers

Lost in all of the "Who Donald Trump called ugly this week" hype was the panic a report in the Wall Street Journal set off in the camp of Bernie Sanders supporters with estimates on how much it would actually cost taxapyers to cover all of the "free" stuff the Socialist candidate is promising voters.  To produce the biggest, scariest number possible, the WSJ used an entire decade's worth of spending to come up with $18.6-TRILLION.  The vast majority of that--$15-TRILLION is for universal, single-payer healthcare--or as Sanders likes to call it "Medicare for all".

That started a furious spin cycle from the Far Left trying to discredit the numbers and lessen the shock value.  The most common explanation was "That's money we were already going to spend in the private sector"--followed by "People won't get as sick if they have comprehensive coverage" and finally "The cost of health care will go down significantly thanks to efficiencies of having the government run it."  What the "Medicare for all" supporters seem to forget is that a minority of people account for much of the cost of health care in the US--meaning those of us not using the system that often are not "already paying that cost".  Furthermore, how does having health insurance prevent serious accidents, palliative care at the end of life and things like birth defects and congenital illnesses--all of which are huge medical expenses?  And do we need to bring up the VA system when we talk about the "efficiencies" of government-run health care?

But one thing that no one seems to be disputing is the revenue equation that has also been put forward by the Sanders camp.  Remember, the free health care, the free college, the paid leave fund, the jobs for youth, expanded Social Security and free child care were all going to be paid for by new taxes on the 1% and evil corporations.  The same analysis of the plan shows all of those new taxes will amount to just over $8-TRILLION in the same ten year period--leaving a TRILLION DOLLARS a year deficit.  And yes, that does include a tax on every single transaction on Wall Street, 90% top tax rate for individuals, and closing all of the corporate tax loopholes (and is in addition to the revenue already collected by the IRS).

I am yet to see any Sanders supporters explain where the rest of that money is coming from--although one article did predict that with all of the free stuff we would be a much more "productive" nation and perhaps that would lead to higher-than-expected tax revenues as well.  I know that when I don't have to pay for something I work even harder to get it.

As for Sanders himself, he says he will release his own sets of numbers to explain how he is going to pay for all of his promises--just as soon as he can find a way to suspend the laws of mathematics and economics.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Good Luck With That

When you watch their constant stream of commercials during the games, you would think that winning big bucks by playing in one week Fantasy Football leagues like FanDuel or Draft Kings is the easiest money you will ever make.  These sites have exploded as billions of dollars in investment capital have flowed into the companies running them--making them the hottest thing in "sports".

It's easy to see the appeal.  A lot of people play Fantasy Football in private leagues.  But it usually takes just a couple of weeks to realize that your team stinks--and that you are in a for long season of mockery by every other member of the league.  One week fantasy saves you from that humiliation.  Your stud quarterback blows out a knee in Week 2?  No problem, you get a guy just as good as him next week and start all over.  Add into that you don't have to wait 17-weeks to win your cash and you can see why one-week games appeal to our modern immediate gratification society.

FanDuel and Draft Kings have set up their operation like casinos--with small money games meant to draw you in.  "I can't lose that much if I just play for a dollar a week!".  Then you win cash back a couple of weeks and you start to think "Hey, I'm pretty good at this, I need to start playing for bigger bucks!"  Of course their are $50, $100 or even $1000 a week "leagues" that you can get into as well--just like the increased stakes tables or slot games at the casino.

And it is in those bigger money games that you run into the sharks who know how to work the system and take your money.  Those guys you see celebrating the "big check" in the commercials?  They have turned one-week fantasy into a full-time job.  Yes, the only thing they do all week is play fantasy sports.  And they are using what is called "Predictive Analytics" software to gain a huge edge over all those guys who log in to the game site after seeing the commercials (and entering the free code word) and picking a team based on their "gut feeling".  That Predictive Analytics can track the performance of every player and every team and spot trends that can help someone to determine the best values at each position for every game played that week.  These guys also scour the team injury reports and on-line stories by every beat reporter to see who missed practice and may not be 100% or who may be limited in playing time--along with which backup is going to fill his place.  Are you willing to put in that kind of work just to have a chance to get your money back?

Some may ask how these games are legal.  You can thank a US Supreme Court decision that found that Fantasy Football--where individual players are selected--is a game of skill and not of chance--which means it is not "gambling".  Whereas picking a number of teams to beat other teams by a certain amount every week is still considered a game of chance--even though the same on-the-field game determines both outcomes.  So go ahead and get in your entry for the one million or two million dollars that will be given away this week--just keep in mind you have no chance of winning.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Boring Our Children Into Intelligence

There is a new complaint about public education in America: School is too boring.  I know, children have been saying this for generations--but now it is parents who are complaining about their kids' class schedules being too focused on reading, writing and math.

The Washington Post recently had an article on a New Jersey father who was upset that his 8th grade son's inner city school (read as "full of poor kids of color") had his boy scheduled to take 12-hours of English Language Arts every week, 7-hours of Math and 7-hours of Science--leaving just 2-hours for Physical Education and one hour each for Art and Computers classes.  The father then points out that kids attending an adjoining suburban school district (read as "full of better-off white kids") spend just five hours a week on Math and English Language Arts--while getting daily doses of Band and Choir along with classes on "Google Hacks", "Sports Statistics" and "Ceramics".

The author of the article claims that these differences in schedules are an example of "unequal educational opportunity"--as the inner city school focuses mainly on the core concepts that are tested by the states--and likely determine funding levels--while the suburban district is "exposing children to a greater range of subjects" because their test scores are likely going to be higher anyway.  But who is really getting the better education?

I can honestly tell you that I have never met an employer who has complained that his or her employees write, read or add "too well".  And when was the last time you heard someone say "Can you believe that we are graduating kids that don't know how to make ceramics?!?"  If those kids from the "boring curriculum" school came out knowing how to write in present active tense and they understand the difference between "of and from" I would probably hire them on the spot to work in my department--because I've seen too many of the "suburban district" and college graduates who look at you like you are from another planet when you bring up those grammatical items.

And as for the classes like "Google Hacks" and "Sports Statistics", those are what I like to call "Infotainment".  Teachers use them as a cop out in saying that "if the kids don't find it fun, they aren't going to want to learn it".  So they teach addition and division by having kids figure out batting averages and ERA's for baseball players and shooting percentages for basketball players. 

And while kids in both of the school districts are learning the same things in their Math classes, the students in the "boring old urban school" are learning something else: the ability to deal with something that isn't "fun".  This is another thing I see all of the time.  Recent graduates all fired up about being on the radio.  They are going to talk to important people.  They are going to talk about sports.  They are going to be glib and funny and make people laugh.  And then they have to cover their first five-hour City Council budget workshop where numbers are flying around and you really need to pay attention to know what is going on.  Or they spent hours waiting for a police standoff to end--or for a jury to reach a verdict in a high-profile case--the kind of stuff that is the guts of what we do in broadcast news--and suddenly, they aren't so "excited" about the field anymore.  The next thing you know, they are off to work in Public Relations or Marketing--because those people "have fun".

So complain away, parents, about the "boring" content of your children's classes.  Heaven forbid we have generations of Americans that can communicate in complete sentences and figure out how many square feet of tile they need for a flooring project--but who don't know how to use Google Hacks.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Protect Me From Myself!!

Nature is cruel and unforgiving.  The planet is always looking for ways to kill us, whether is be tornadoes, flash floods, landslides or earthquakes.  Some natural killers are more subtle than that--like the quarry in the Village of Redgranite.  The water is deep and it is cold all the time.  There is nowhere to stand or rest away from the steep sides and if you get into trouble, it would be very difficult for anyone to help you.  And yet, hundreds--if not thousands--of people come to this natural formation every summer to test fate.

And because three people failed that test this summer, there is now a great outcry for the local government to "do something" to keep people from drowning in the quarry.  Keep in mind, this is not a municipal swimming pool or a waterpark.  Nobody at the Village Hall said "Let's make a 250-foot deep swimming hole and fill it with ice cold water and invite everyone over for unsupervised swimming!"  And yet, there were dozens of people at last night's Village Board meeting demanding that the quarry be made "safe".

Actually, the Village made it's first mistake by making the quarry a park.  That was compounded by putting up signs telling everyone they were swimming at their own risk--and then passing ordinances banning drinking at the site.  Those signs give people the impression that the government is somehow in "control" of what goes on out there--and therefore a false sense of security.  And when tragedy strikes, nobody thinks it was the victim's fault for literally getting in over their heads--it's the government's fault because they didn't do enough to protect the person engaging in risky behavior.

People think I'm joking when I say Hawaii is the most dangerous place on earth.  But when you look at the numbers, it really is.  There are more drownings per captia there than anywhere else in the US.  While we were there the last time, two Swedish women drove off a cliff along a narrow one-lane road on Maui that is listed among the most dangerous in the world and people get swept out to sea or fall off cliffs there all the time because they had to hike out to the "really cool" lava formation described in a popular travel guide series.

And all of those stories are followed by on-line comments about how "The government should do something about that so nobody does it again!"  One would think that reading or hearing about the misfortune of others would be enough to convince everyone else not to do the same thing.  And yet there I was in February, traveling along that same one-lane road that the Swedish woman drove off because the view is absolutely unbelievable.  But if I too had gone over the edge--and survived like they did--this Two Cents would be no different in tone--because there is no way government can be expected to protect us from ourselves all of the time.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The New Dark Ages

Historians used to refer to the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the Reformation as the "Dark Ages".  It was a time of little scientific, economic or social advancement in Europe.  The main reason for that was the power vacuum created by the retreat of Roman soldiers from most of the continent was filled by the Roman Catholic Church.  Biblical doctrine was treated as the law--and any idea or belief that challenged those tenets was punishable by death--despite the clear scientific proof that the Holy Book was flat out wrong.

A bill up for consideration in the state Assembly this month harkens back to those days of the Dark Ages--as Republicans want to ban the use of tissue from aborted fetuses for scientific research.  Nevermind that some of the biggest medical and genetic science breakthroughs have come from the use of fetal tissue over the past forty years.  Forget that treatements for cancer and Alzheimer's Disease are likely going to come from that research as well.  Because some people believe abortion is a sin, we need to stop science in the name of religion.

What supporters seem not to understand is that the ban will not stop any women from going into a Planned Parenthood clinic to terminate a pregnancy.  They aren't going to think "Oh, those cells can't be used for scientific research?  Well then I'll just keep the baby!"  So those aborted fetuses will end up in the garbage--like a candy bar wrapper or the scraps from a microwave lunch--instead of possibly allowing one, or a dozen or a million people to live a better life someday in the future.

Were the Planned Parenthood undercover videos purporting to show fetus shopping offensive? Yes.  Were they likely edited to make the clinic workers look as bad as possible?  Yes.  Is what was depicted in them common practice in Wisconsin?  Likely not.  So why think you should "punish" cutting edge researchers at UW Madison or the Medical College of Wisconsin by cutting off access to fetal tissue that holds so much promise for ALL of humanity?  It was that kind of thinking that kept Europe in misery, disease and poverty for centuries in the past and threatens to do it again.

The next thing you know, we'll be going to war with the Muslim world for control of the Middle East.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Still Not Good Enough

The preseason injury to Jordy Nelson has curtailed some of the Packers Super Bowl talk, but optimism is still high for the Green and Gold this year.  Let's break down the schedule with predictions you can take to the house.

Week 1 at Chicago--The Bears have a whole new look on defense--but they still have Jay Cutler at quarterback.  The Packers snap their three game season opener losing streak Sunday with a 30-13 win at Soldier Field.

Week 2 vs Seattle--Oh have the fans had this one circled on the calendar since the schedule was announced.  "This is where we get our revenge", they say.  Only problem is, this Seahawks team has the Packers number--especially defensively.  Russell Wilson gets the last laugh again 23-20.

Week 3 vs Kansas City--The Chiefs are going to be sneaky-good this year.  They come to Lambeau and shock the Pack 27-17.

Week 4 at San Francisco--After answering a week's worth of "Why do you always get off to slow starts?" questions, the Packers head west and route a decimated Niners squad 38-7.

Week 5 vs St Louis--An easy home win for Green Bay over the Rams--31-8

Week 6 vs San Diego--Another home game against a weak opponent.  Packers 29, Chargers 14

Week 8 at Denver--After a bye week, the refreshed Packers head into Mile High and beat an aging Broncos team 43-29.

Week 9 at Carolina--The middle portion of the Packers schedule sets up for a nice long winning streak.  They beat the Panthers here 26-24.

Week 10 vs Detroit--I'm sure the Lions will come into this one talking big--and head home with their tails between their legs--losing 28-20.

Week 11 at Minnesota--By this time the Pack will have a six game winning streak going and will likely be number one in the NFL Power Poll.  That means they are ripe for an upset loss on their road 31-27 to the Vikings.

Week 12 vs Chicago on Thanksgiving Night.  Let's see.  Thanksgiving game, Brett Favre number retirement ceremony, Bart Starr returns to Lambeau after the debilitating strokes and you're playing the Bears.  It wouldn't surprise me if Aaron Rodgers broke one of Favre's passing records in a 56-11 thrashing.

Week 13 at Detroit.  With a few extra days to rest, the Pack beats the Lions again 30-19.

Week 14 vs Dallas.  Remember back in the 1990's when the Packers always had to go to Dallas--and they always found a way to lose.  The roles have been reversed here in the 2010's--and it's the Cowboys who can't find ways to beat the Packers.  27-24.

Week 15 at Oakland.  The Raiders will have packed it in by this time.  Green Bay wins 31-14.

Week 16 at Arizona.  The Cardinals may be the best team in the NFC this year and they get a confidence boosting win over the Packers in a wild one, 40-37.

Week 17 vs Minnesota.  With the division title already wrapped up the Pack plays just hard enough to finish with a 20-13 win.

After a week off, the Packers get the game everyone wanted again--but this time Seattle has to come to Lambeau.  Aaron Rodgers finally gets the monkey off of his back and beats the Seahawks on a last-minute drive 33-30.

Then it's off to Arizona again to take on the Cardinals.  In an overtime thriller, Mason Crosby misses three field goals and the Cardinals head to Super Bowl 50 with a 41-38 win.  They eventually lose to New England (who remains motivated by the DeflateGate tainting of last year's Super Bowl win) for the back to back championships.

As always, these predictions go out the window if Aaron Rodgers gets hurt and Scott Tolzien takes over.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Incompetent Like a Fox

I used to think that Bud Selig would never be challenged for the title of 2nd Worst Commissioner in the History of Sports.  (John Ziegler, the NHL President who took the league off of network television and basic cable and signed an exclusive TV deal with regional SportsChannel--thereby stunting the growth of the sport for a full decade--and who allowed the entire Players Pension Fund to be embezzled--and who mandated helmet use is far and away the Worst Commissioner Ever and will likely take the crown with him to the grave and beyond.)  Steroid use, the game turning into Home Run Derby for a decade or so, his hands up in the air at the All Star Game in Milwaukee when the game ended in a tie because both teams ran out of pitchers, then having the All Star Game decide home field advantage in the World Series and cheapening the regular season by adding not one but two wild card teams to the Playoffs will be Bud's legacy.

But now, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is making a solid run for the title of 2nd Worst Ever.  Covering up concussions, SpyGate, under-punishing Ray Rice, flip-flopping on Adrian Peterson, over-punishing Tom Brady and the Patriots for DeflateGate, and then getting trounced by the aforementioned players in high-profile court rulings paint Goodell as a bumbling fool with no control over his league.  There has been serious discussion among talking heads in both the sports and news arenas that Goodell may be fired from his $44-MILLION dollar position.

And then comes an article in the Wall Street Journal  today that every NFL team got a little bonus at the end of the last fiscal year: $226-MILLION.  That is on top of the revenues teams generated from ticket sales, concessions, local TV and radio rights, pro shop sales and advertising.  That was $40-MILLION more per team than the year before.  And that was generated in a year that many would say was the worst "off-field" for the league due to the domestic violence, the concussion lawsuits and various other arrests of players.  Multiply that $226-MILLION by 32-teams and you realize that the NFL made a profit of $7.2-BILLION last year.

Thanks to the DeflateGate debacle, tonight's season opener between the aggrieved defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots and the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers will likely set a new ratings record for a Thursday night network game.  And all of those sponsor who let everyone know that they were dropping their affiliation with the NFL likely quietly came back in the off-season--or were quickly replaced by other companies more then willing to spend big bucks to get themselves in front of the NFL's huge audience.

So I guess we can say that Roger Goodell is incompetent--but he is apparently incompetent like a fox.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

The Uber Economy

While you were ordering your music right from your Ipod, your books right from your Kindle and almost every other item you need for your home from Amazon, a new economy was spring up around you: the Sharing Economy.  The Sharing Economy is led by smartphone apps Uber, Lyft and AirBnB.

AirBnB is the most established here in the Fox Valley, as people have been renting out rooms in their homes and apartments--or their entire houses and units--to visitors from out of town.  The appeal of AirBnB is that prices are lower or the accomodations are more personalized to what they need while they are in town.  Uber and Lyft are on-demand ride services.  You enter where you are and where you need to go and the app finds a registered driver in the area who would be willing to pick you up.  Pricing is often based on time of day and demand--meaning it could be cheaper than calling a cab--and certainly more convenient than riding the bus.

The sharing economy is coming under attack however--not from the forces of the "old economy" like hotel chains or taxi companies who see it as a threat to their profits--but rather from governments, who see it as a threat to their sources of income.  In the case of AirBnB, those that rent out their rooms or houses to tourists and visitors aren't paying any hotel room taxes.  Hotels and motels are easy to spot and auditing their books and receipts are no big deal.  But when Larry in the 400-block of Main Street allows Harry from Chicago to crash on his couch for three nights and $75, it's far more difficult for City Hall to know about that.

When it comes to Uber, cities miss out on licensing fees for taxi drivers and inspection fees for vehicles used as taxis.  Here again, Larry may just pick up two or three people a week in one of his two cars.  He doesn't track his mileage and for one trip he may charge $10--while the same route a couple of days later might be $25--paid in cash both times.

The umbrella companies themselves are running afoul of bigger governmental entities as well.  Uber is being sued in several states for categorizing all of the people who drive for them as "independent contractors".  That means they do not have to provide any benefits--especially health insurance--to all of those drivers.  That has state and federal officials upset, because Uber basically circumvents the Affordable Care Act by being a huge operation--yet having almost no "employees".  This is going to lead to some interesting legal arguments in the near future as to what it means to be an "employee".  Especially when you consider that Uber and Lyft drivers pay the company for the information coming in from the app--while not having any assigned work hours and setting their own pay rates.

It seems that the Sharing Economy is popular with everyone but those who think they aren't getting their "fair share".

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Animal Farm

I am appalled by the reaction to the newest residents in our area.  The actions being taken against Round Gobies are obviously rooted in hate and ignorance.  It is obvious that nobody would be this upset if they looked and acted like the rest of the fish we already have in Lake Winnebago.

First off, let's address the terming of Gobies as an "invasive species".  That name (while factually correct) carries with it a negative connotation and only marginalizes and criminalizes the Gobies.  The Associated Press should immediately remove "invasive species" from its Stylebook and replace it with something more "humanizing" like "non-native fishes".  That should make the Gobies feel much better about themselves.

And who does the DNR think it is by closing the Menasha Lock to prevent the Gobies from coming to Lake Winnebago?  You think putting up a wall is going keep them out?  And how do you plan to patrol this barrier?  Do you know how deep the water is there?  Are you going to have divers in there 24-hours a day, seven days a week, 365-days a year?  And good luck thinking you can catch all of the Gobies to remove them from the area.

What's that you say? Round Gobies eat the eggs of other "native fish" and spawn several times a year to expand their numbers quickly?  Who are you, Donald Trump that you need to bring up those stereotypes?  Name me a species that doesn't have a few bad actors.  You don't have to paint them all with a broad brush like that.  You are just afraid that if they spawn here they will have "anchor babies" to make them "native fish"--aren't you?

Perhaps the "native" fish have forgotten that their ancestors are not "native" to Lake Winnebago--they all came from somewhere else too.  Just because they have been here longer doesn't give them any special rights.  Besides, why should Sturgeon have all the habitat they want?  Who really needs to be over six-feet long and weight over 200-pounds?  It sounds like they can afford to give up more than a little habitat and food to the Gobies.

Let's not forget that Round Gobies do the work that other Lake Winnebago fish refuse to do.  And if enough of them get into the lake they can vote the Muskies into power and marginalize the Walleyes for decades to come--even if it comes at the expense of other minority fish already in the lake.

Besides, we have found just four Round Gobies so far in the Fox River.  There are many people who wouldn't think they are a threat if there were 11-million of them swimming around out there.  So let's literally open the floodgates and allow our new visitors to come in whatever numbers they please--with no fear of being caught.  #gobieshaverightstoo

Friday, September 4, 2015

Lowered Expectations

The Friday before Labor Day brings my annual predictions for the Wisconsin Badger's upcoming season.  With a new coach, the loss of one of the best running backs the program has ever produced and four new starters on the offensive line, there is plenty of uncertainty about this team--and so I am lowering my expectations.

Week 1 vs Alabama in Dallas--The Crimson Tide is fast, physical and deep on both sides of the ball.  I'm hoping this one doesn't turn ugly early--but it will be a rude awakening for Badgers as they lose on Saturday 38-20.

Week 2 vs Miami (Ohio)--I think the Badgers are able to hold off the Red Hawks at Camp Randall as Corey Clement establishes himself as Wisconsin's next premier running back--34-20.

Week 3 vs Troy--The Trojans are one of those teams that always seem to be playing in a post-New Year's Day bowl game in some Podunk city--but they aren't that good.  Corey Clement has another nice day running the ball and the Badgers win 38-13.

Week 4--vs Hawaii--It would be awesome if this game was in Honolulu instead of Madison and I was able to get the Radio Ranch to cover the cost of covering it in person--plus an entire week beforehand and another week after for "research".  Anyways, Badgers win a close one over the Warriors, 27-24.

Week 5--vs Iowa--Now the games actually mean something as the Badgers open Big Ten play against the Hawkeyes.  Iowa is still down in terms of talent and Wisconsin uses the home field advantage to grind out a 24-20 win.

Week 6--at Nebraska.  Now would be a great time to remind everyone that Melvin Gordon ran for an NCAA record 408-yards against the Cornhuskers last year.  Unfortunately, he is in San Diego now.  Nebraska gets a measure of revenge with a 31-27 win.

Week 7 vs Purdue.  The Boilermakers have no talent, Bucky gets back on the winning track 41-26.

Week 8 at Illinois--The Illini fired their coach a week before the season started.  They should be in full-on dumpster fire mode by this point in the season.  The Badgers get their first road win of the year--36-17.

Week 9 vs Rutgers--The Scarlet Knights have no reason to be in the Big Ten (well besides money).  Wisconsin rolls 44-20.

Week 10--at Maryland--The Terrapins have no reason to be in the Big Ten (well besides money).  Wisconsin squeaks this one out 20-17.

Week 11 vs Northwestern--The last three Badgers head coaches have struggled to figure out how to beat the Wildcats.  But home field (and hopefully cold winter weather will derail the spread offense).  Bucky wins again 48-44.

Week 12 at Minnesota--This is where I remind everyone that the Badgers have won the last ELEVEN GAMES IN A ROW AGAINST THE GOPHERS.  Allow me to repeat that, THE LAST ELEVEN GAMES IN A ROW.  I know this domination can't continue forever and that the Gophs have to win Paul Bunyan's Axe at least once every two decades, but I'm going to hope for one more choke job by Goldy and a 28-27 Badgers win.

Thanks to the lack of any really good teams in the Big Ten West, the Badgers make the Conference Championship game again in December--where they meet Number 1 and undefeated Ohio State.  remember this same match up last year?  Well I don't see any reason this game won't be pretty much the same.  Badgers lose 49-10.

That sends Wisconsin to the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando on New Year's Day--in a rematch against Alabama.  It may be four months later--but the result will be the same, The Tide rolls 38-20.

On Wisconsin!!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Who's Living In the Past?

Conservatives are often ridiculed for their disdain for change.  We're told that we are "living in the past".  That "society has moved on"--and that we are "dinosaurs roaming the earth".  But Progressives can be just as bull-headed about change--especially when it threatens their vision of "social utopia".

A case in point in Madison Mayor Paul Soglin.  This week, Soglin berated the Madison City Council for approving a beer and wine license for a Belgian French Fries restaurant along State Street.  Soglin opposed the license because the restaurant replaced yet another former retail shop along Madison's most famous avenue.  Mayor Soglin believes that the government should be doing everything in its power to keep more of the "eclectic shops" along State--and not have so many "beer gardens".  It's the State Street that many of you probably remember from your college days--where you could buy a  Grateful Dead bootleg tape in a used record shop, a dusty copy of Beatnik poetry in a used book store, packs of incense in head shop and a t-shirt featuring Bucky Badger doing something wholly inappropriate in another store.  All while street performers and protesters kept you entertained along the sidewalk.

Unfortunately for Mayor Sogliln (and other hippie burnouts like him) our old friend Economic Reality is at work along State Street. Those little shops and boutiques can no longer compete in the modern retail world.  All of the Dead bootlegs, books of '60's prose, t-shirts and "smoking accessories" can now be ordered using your computer, tablet, smartphone and even your watch.  And those items can be delivered--for free--in just a couple of days to the 50-thousand students in their dorms, or rental houses, or frats or apartments literally just blocks away from State Street--and to the faculty members in their historic homes around the arboretum and the zoo--and to the McMansions owned by the long-time State employees outside the beltway in Verona.  And all of it likely at a lower price and with less hassle than fighting the traffic and trying to park to shop on State Street.

What also irks Mayor Soglin is that the city spent millions to upgrade State Street--widening the sidewalks and adding benches and planters on every block.  Now, the restaurants, bars and coffee shops that he hates are using that space for cafĂ© style seating--allowing their customers to enjoy beautiful days outside while eating and drinking.  That is not what the Mayor envisioned.  He wants that space used for the "discussion of ideas" and for the "discontent to have a platform" to air their grievances.  But here again, modern society has moved on from Soglin's vision.  All of those "social activists" are now on the blogosphere and social media--and handing out poorly-copied pamphlets to everyone that walks by has been replaced by hashtag activism.

Sounding like the Socialist that he is, Soglin told the Council that allowing the bars and restaurants to use the improved State Street "“soaks the rest of these people to create that wealth in private hands. There is a larger commitment to the larger community and you are failing it.”  His solution to the "problem" is to offer taxpayer-funded rent credits to retailers along State Street--but not restaurants, bars or liquor stores (a little something we like to call "crony socialism")--so they can stay open, even if they have no customers. 

I understand that Mayor Soglin and his Progressive supporters love what State Street used to be about--and they have a tough time letting go of that fantasy.  But they should now let it be a mile long stretch of reality inside of 77-square miles surrounded by reality.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Reefer Madness

Facing mounting debt (because neither they nor their parents bothered to save anything for their educations), reduced job opportunities (because their parents and even grandparents didn't bother to save anything for retirement and need to work into their 60's) and the prospect of much lower career earnings (due to a glut of degree holders in what used to be high-wage fields) being a college student sure is stressful.  And now a growing number of them are deciding to smoke away their cares by lighting up a joint.

A new study find marijuana use on college campuses is approaching all-time highs (pun intended).  More than a third of students admit to toking up occasionally.  The number of kids hitting the bong on a daily basis is now up to 6%--one in 17 people on college campuses is getting high every day.  It's a good thing that marijuana isn't addictive like supporters of legalization say it is (and as its users prove by having no problem laying off the Chronic when they know they need to pass a drug test to get or keep their jobs) or else this would be something to really worry about.

As a follower of the Dave Ramsey plan, my first question is "Where are these students getting the money for marijuana?"  We hear endless stories of the kids who can't afford tuition, can't afford room and board, can't afford to eat on campus and can't afford their books and that is why they have to borrow so much in student loans.  Yet, it sounds like the pot dealers around campus aren't having any problem moving their product.  I have to admit that I passed on "doing research" on the cost of a bag of weed here in the Oshkosh area--since undercover police informants likely wouldn't understand.  Maybe it's free like liberals think college itself should be.

And if you needed more good news about what's going on in the dorms, ecstasy, cocaine and heroin use are all up on campuses as well--just not as much marijuana.  Meanwhile, alcohol usage--and binge drinking rates--are on the decline--so I guess those police raids on house parties and bans on all-you-can-drink specials are paying off somewhat.

Those who continue to push for legalization of drug use here in America have to be encouraged by these numbers.  Today's daily pot user is tomorrow's statewide de-criminalization referendum voter.  But those young adults are also the future workers of this county.  They will be the nursing home workers that take care of us when we are old--and do we want them to be having a hit or two during the day while dispensing our medicines?  Do we want our financial planners to be "taking the edge off" before thinking about which mutual funds into which to place our nest egg?  And are you okay with your mechanic "just having a puff" before he works on your brakes?

Maybe we should all just "chill" and join our young people in not worrying about stuff like that--and just "self-medicate".  I mean Bernie Sanders is going to build a government that will just take care of everything for us, man.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Beggars Can Be Choosers

A couple of weeks ago, a photo posted on Facebook showing the Half Priced Books in Grand Chute throwing out hundreds of books in a dumpster behind their store generated a lot of public outcry and even some media attention.  The poster--along with hundreds of commenters--believed the company was being a "bad neighbor" by not taking all of those books and donating them to libraries or schools (even though the store already donates a substantial amount of materials to those same organizations).  Well here is another social media posting that should be getting everybody worked up.

An Oshkosh resident posted this on Monday:

The resident says the bag of food was pulled from a garbage can outside of the Taco Bell at Jackson and Murdock.  But the food wasn't dumped there by the restaurant staff.  Instead, it was thrown in there by the beggar who frequents the nearby Pick n Save driveway:

I do not give to any of the growing number of beggars in Oshkosh, or Appleton or Green Bay.  One reason is that they are often standing less than 100-feet away from businesses with signs that say "NOW HIRING".  Another reason is that despite what they write on their cardboard signs, these people are drug users and alcoholics looking for you to subsidize their addiction.  I've talked before about our recent trip to San Francisco that featured countless panhandlers everywhere we went who couldn't afford food or a place to stay--but still were able to score some pot--which they smoked right there on the sidewalk.

The Pick n Save beggar sets up shop less than half a mile from the food pantry at St Vincent de Paul on Jackson street.  He could take the first two dollars he gets from one of the suckers leaving the parking lot that pays him to ride the bus to the pantry and get far more to eat there than he will receive (and apparently throw out) at the supermarket driveway.  But those who are "moved" to help him don't think about that--and their "generosity" ends up in the garbage"

I know that some of you who base all of your decisions on emotions rather than logic really "feel" like you are helping these people by giving them money and food.  You probably also "strongly believe" that the Government should be doing more to help these people who have "obviously fallen through the social safety net".  But you are not an "angel" or "a good Christian" or even a "social justice activist".  You are an enabler.  And as long as you are willing to throw away your hard-earned cash or perfectly good food to them--they will just stay out there.  And their numbers will just continue to grow.