Thursday, June 30, 2016

How the System Works

I know there are a lot of people disappointed that this week's trial involving the man accused of killing Berit Beck ended in a mistrial.  The jury was not able to reach a verdict in the case--and now prosecutors must decide whether to take the case before another jury--a process likely to take another couple of years--or to make the even harder decision to let the matter sit again until a stronger case can be built sometime in the future.

TV shows and movies give us a skewed view of our legal system.  In Hollywood, the detectives always find the key piece of evidence.  Witnesses have perfect memories.  Suspects give up confessions willingly.  And juries almost always come to same conclusion that we the viewer have.  But in reality, those kinds of cases are rare.

In the Berit Beck case 26-years have passed, and with them have gone all hopes of an "open and shut" investigation.  Pieces of evidence have been lost--not by police negligence--but by the simple act of moving boxes and storage sites over that many years.  Some witnesses and technical experts have died and cannot testify--and to have someone testify "on their behalf" is hearsay and is not admissible in court.  Yes, there was fingerprint evidence (and it was that which led to the filing of these charges) but jurors today are conditioned to expect DNA evidence along with that--and that does not exist in this case.  There is no surveillance camera footage of the crime scene, no cell phone pings off of towers that can be triangulated to estimate a suspect's location at the time of the murder and no eyewitnesses.  And the likelihood of any more evidence like that showing up is very, very slim.

Investigators did the best they could, prosecutors did the best they could do, the defense did what it is supposed to do: create reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors and those jurors did the best they could in considering the less-than-perfect case presented to them.  Those who want Berit Beck's killer to be brought to justice should be encouraged that the jury at least failed to come to any verdict--because finding this suspect "not guilty" would have meant no ability to try him again--should additional evidence come to light that would bolster the State's case.

In a perfect world, Berit Beck's killer would have been sitting in a cell for the last 26-years.  On an episode of Cold Case, dectecitves and prosecutors would have pieced together an air-tight case.  But the world is neither perfect nor written to wrap things up in just 60-minutes.  And so justice may have to wait longer.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Denying Them Their Identity

While White House claims that ISIS is being contained and their ability to strike against the West is diminished are followed by more ISIS attacks against the West, one tactic employed by the Obama Administration against Islamic terrorism is apparently working.  Islamic terrorists are getting frustrated by the President and his lackeys not calling Islamic terrorism "Islamic terrorism".

This week, Al Qaeda posted on their Arabian website that lone wolf attackers in American target only white people--so that the President and Federal officials can't call their attacks "hate crimes":

“avoid targeting places and crowds where minorities are generally found” because if gays or Latinos appear to be the targets, “the federal government will be the one taking full responsibility.”

The "advice" comes after the Orlando nightclub shooting took place at a gay bar packed for "Latin Night".  While the gunman called 911 from the club to let everyone know that he was acting on behalf of ISIS and several other Islamic terrorist groups, Attorney General Loretta Lynch publicly stated "we will never know his motives"--and then redacted any and all references to Islam and Islamic terrorism from the transcripts of those 911 calls--like no one was ever going to know the difference.  That followed the classification of the Fort Hood shootings as "workplace violence" and another "we will never know their motives" in the San Bernardino shootings. 

What also has to frustrate the Islamic terrorists is that after all of those incidents, the national debate wasn't over "how do we stop Islamic terrorists from striking the US?"--it was instead "When is Congress going to do something about gun control?"  If the President really wanted to get under the skin of the Islamic terror groups, he should start calling them "The NRA".  Of course, President Obama likes to lecture Islamic terrorists about how they "really aren't Islam"--even though they "self-identify" as Islamic--and he always tells the rest of us that we are bigots if we don't recognize "self-identification".

But who knows, maybe if we deny Islamic terrorists their own identities long enough, they will become so frustrated that they just give up.  It can't be any less effective of a strategy than what we are already employing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Value of Collective Wisdom

My favorite analysis of the British vote to leave the European Union last week is that the "Oldsters are 'screwing' the Youngsters".  It is the opinion of those on the Left that everyone who voted for the Brexit was a "fascist, racist old coot who is seeking to put up walls around the country".  Beyond employing the standard liberal tactic of attempting to discredit any opposing viewpoint with labels and marginalization, the "blame the old people" effort forgets the collective wisdom of those generations.

The oldest of the Oldsters actually fought against continental forces trying to bring Great Britain under central control.  Those a little bit younger recall being taken by their mothers into The Tube to escape the bombings and saw first-hand the damage caused by real fascists across the continent.  Nearly all of the Oldsters remember when an Iron Curtain divided Europe and literal walls divided not just countries but families for decades.  They also know what Socialism and Collectivism can do to the financial health of entire swaths of nations.  And all of the Oldsters can recall when Christians and Muslims alternately tried to exterminate each other in the Balkans.

But now the bitter "Remainers" are trying to say that the people who lived through all of that and fought to defeat fascism and who held firm to tear down the walls that divided Europe suddenly turned to vote for instituting that again?  Like they came to a realization that representative government was a "huge mistake"?

Of course, the Oldsters also remember having jobs too.  The kind of jobs where you made something--not sat around talking about concepts and calling that a "job".  And they enjoyed having those jobs more than they enjoyed being able to hop on the Chunnel Train to have lunch at cafes in Paris in the afternoon--or being able to get scholarships to study for a year in Copenhagen--which seem to be the main "losses" that the Youngsters are now complaining about.

And the liberal complaints on this side of the pond are just as farcical.  The same politicians and pundits saying Britons are idiots for giving up the "benefits of free trade in the EU" are the same ones attacking the "free trade" agreements the US has signed with his neighbors and trading partners.  You hear anyone on the campaign trail saying how great NAFTA is?  Anybody openly calling for passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement?  Where are the reassurances that jobs moving to Mexico or China are still good--because "we are all in this together"?

I know its passé in this "I know everything because I can look it up on the internet" time--but sometimes maybe we should listen to our elders.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Games People Won't Play

What if you held an Olympics and nobody came to play?  The roster of top-notch athletes who are choosing NOT to compete at Rio, Brazil this summer is growing.  Golfers Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen have all made very public announcements that they will not take part in the return of their sport to the Olympics for the first time since the 1920's.  LeBron James and Stephan Curry have announced they will not be part of Team USA Basketball--and a number of other big names are considering the same decision.

Some of those deciding not to go to Brazil cite concerns over the Zika virus.  You have to consider is a gold medal worth infecting your wife or causing severe birth defects in children you may or may not have even considered having yet?  And for female athletes themselves, that same question hits even closer to home--even for those not yet married or planning families.

Those high profile athletes are lucky, though.  Rory, LeBron and Steph have multiple opportunities to win prestigious championships--and cash in big time on their titles.  But for those in the "we only care about them every four years in the Olympics" sports, that decision is not so easy.  Yes, runners and gymnasts and team handball players and ping pongers have World Championships pretty much every year--but can you name the defending champions in any of them?  You don't get a place on a Wheaties box by winning a weekend tournament in Stuttgart that ESPN 2 shows on tape delay three months later.

So equestrian athletes have to take the risk of mosquito bites in their outdoor sport.  Sailors have to compete in a bay filled with raw sewage from the host city that made many of them sick when they came for an Olympic test event last year.  And even fans have to think about whether the cost, difficulty of travel and the overall hassle of attending such a huge event is worth risk to themselves as well. 

Of course, this is what happens when you decided to have the Olympics in what is still basically a third world country.  I doubt the sprawling slums of Rio will get much air time on NBC.  Little has been made of the city declaring a financial emergency, as the burden of building the venues and infrastructure necessary to host the games has overwhelmed them.  And let's not forget the country took a big hit from hosting the World Cup a couple of years ago and getting left with the financial bag there as well.

This would have been the Olympics that Chicago could have hosted had their bid been accepted.  You may recall that President Obama addressed the International Olympic Committee himself to tout his hometown (as did Oprah, Hillary Clinton and Morgan Freeman--who famously lost his place in his speech).  The IOC immediately showed how much respect they had for the "Most Popular American President Ever" by eliminating Chicago in the first round of voting.  Now that Rio is looking like a brewing disaster, maybe the President should give one of those "I told you so" speeches that he is so good at to the IOC and remind them that "elections have consequences".

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Brexit Strategy

Britons head to the polls today to decide if they want to remain a part of the floundering European Union.  Polls have shown the "remain" and "leave" camps running neck and neck for the past few weeks and both sides have taken to scare tactics to try and drive their support.

Those on the Left claim economic ruin will befall the British Isles if they leave the EU.  "No one will want to trade with us", "prices will skyrocket" and "what's left of British industry will collapse" are some of the arguments they have been making.  Those on the Right claim Britain "will be overrun with terrorists and Muslim immigrants looking to kill innocent people and to live on the dole".  Not to be confused with the millions of Britons who already get by almost exclusively on public programs.

Britain has always been only "half in" on the EU.  They abide by the trade and immigration policies set by the Continent--but they never got rid of their own currency and fully adopted the Euro.  And that has been key to their continued financial solvency--they were able to print more money when times got tough.  Of course, their national debt is now better than 90-percent of gross national product--but that pales in comparison to Greece--which adopted the Euro and had to beg its EU "friends" for more cash--and their 175% debt to GDP ratio.

As with all of the countries considering a departure from (or who are looking to join) the EU this is really just a question of "home rule".  Is expediency in trade and travel across borders worth giving up the level of control you may want (or need) on those same issues?  Who really decides what is right and best for those in the UK--elected representatives in London or bureaucrats in Brussels?

Considering that Europe really doesn't have the tradition of elected representation that we here in the US have (and their reliance on Big Government to "take care of you"), "stay" will likely eek out a narrow victory today and the New World Order will remain intact--until the next time somebody asks to determine their own fate.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Tail Wagging the Dog

If you started the university and college system that we have in America today, would you include a department that brings with it high-profile arrests for violent crimes?  Would you want a department that fosters binge drinking among the student population?  Would you start a department where those participating would be encouraged to take part in prostitution, videotaping sexual encounters and hiring strippers for entertainment purposes?  Would you hire employees for that department that would engage in workplace affairs, encourage students to cover up crimes on campus and that would actively recruit students who can't meet minimum standards for admission?  And would you pay those employees more than anyone else on campus--including the chancellor and the system president?  Would you encourage students to attend the minimum number of courses for just one semester--not attend any classes in the second semester--and then leave the school?

If your answer to any of those questions is "Heck no, that's not what colleges and universities are supposed to be about" then your school would not have an Athletic Department.  College sports continues to give higher education a black eye--and the punches to the face continue to come faster and more often.

The most recent case involves two starters for the University of Alabama football team--a perennial power that competes for the national championship almost every year.  Cam Robinson and Hootie Jones were recently stopped by police and found to have marijuana and a stolen gun in their possession.  It appeared that an All Southeast Conference lineman and a quality defensive back were about to face felony charges and suspensions--until football-loving District Attorney Jerry Jones (not the Dallas Cowboys owner) stepped in and decided that no charges were going to be filed at all.  And his explanation shows just how much the tail wags the dog now in college sports:

"I want to emphasize once again that the main reason I'm doing this is that I refuse to ruin the lives of two young men who have spent their adolescence and teenage years, working and sweating, while we were all in the air conditioning. ROLL TIDE!!"

OK, I may have added the "ROLL TIDE"--but you know that's what DA Jerry Jones was thinking while making that statement.  And where the judge that allowed a Stanford swimmer to get off with less than a year in jail for raping an unconscious woman--Jones will not face any blowback from his constituents because they are as big of Alabama Football fans as he is (well except for the Auburn fans--who will likely start a recall just so the players are charged and can't play in the Iron Bowl game against the Tigers).

This incident--and lack of institutional control--can be added to the Baylor Football sexual assault coverup that cost the University President Ken Starr and Coach Art Briles their jobs.  And the Baylor Basketball murder coverup more than a decade ago.  And the Minnesota Basketball sexual assaults and the Minnesota Basketball sex tape scandal.  And the Louisville Basketball prostitution parties for recruits.  And North Carolina Basketball and Football players having their coursework done for them--when they weren't enrolled in fake classes set up just for them.  And the false accusations made against Duke Lacrosse by a stripper hired to perform at their off-campus house.  And Rick Pitino being accused of raping a woman at a Louisville restaurant.  And Arkansas Football Coach Bobby Petrino getting in a motorcycle accident with the student assistant with whom he was having an affair.  And--well you get the picture.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

[Redacted] is Just [Redacted] With Us

There are times that I swear the main goal of President Obama's second term is to goad and aggravate Conservatives and the Republican Party.  I'm feeling that way again after the Department of Justice released the transcripts of the 911 calls placed by the Orlando nightclub shooter and redacted all references to Islam, ISIS, Allah and terrorist leaders.

There is a narrative that the Obama Administration (and Democrats in general) go out of their way to avoid terms like "Islamic Terrorism" or even "Islamic Extremism" when describing actions like the Orlando shooting, or the Paris attacks or the Brussels Airport bombing.  The President and his staff repeatedly tell us that the people who partake of such violence are not "of Islam".  That,in turn, becomes fodder for the talk radio hosts and Fox News Channel guests who put forth the argument that the Administration is refusing to identify the "real enemy" in the War on Terror.

I think President Obama ordered the DOJ to take out all of those references just to further infuriate those people.  Sure, Attorney General Loretta Lynch did the Sunday morning news shows defending the decision--claiming that all of the references to Islamic terror groups were redacted so as "not to allow the shooter's propaganda to be spread further".  But it was Lynch's own FBI that had let everyone know that the shooter had claimed to be inspired by ISIS and that he was killing in their name.  So what additional "propaganda" was being "spread" by hearing what he actually had to say?

What if the Orlando shooter had been Crazy White Supremacist Guy--and his 911 diatribe had been espousing the values of the National Rifle Association?  Or that he was killing gays and Latinos because he was inspired by Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric?  Would that "propaganda" have been redacted for our "own protection"?

Now we are going to spend another week talking about deleted words from transcripts and what Islam is "really about"--instead of working to identify the next potential bomber or gunman.  You know, the real threats--not the "potential" ones we work so hard to "neutralize"--like the elderly woman with the replacement hip that keeps setting off the scanner at the airport and who needs to be "patted down" by TSA every time she tries to fly.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Fight Worth Watching

Sometimes there are policies or laws that need to go into effect if for no other reason than to create the most bizarre legal and political battles imaginable.  One of those laws would be to ban those on the FBI's terror watch list from purchasing handguns.  The belief is that having such a law would have prevented the Orlando nightclub shooter from purchasing his firearm because the Bureau had been looking into his activities in the past.  Of course, the FBI will neither confirm nor deny that the gunman was on their list because the list is secret--with no known ways to get on it--or on how to get off of it.

But let's say Congress finally "did something about mass shootings" and passed the gun ban for those on the terror watch list.  You know the first group to legally challenge such a law would be the National Rifle Association.  They would argue that getting on the terror watch list requires no due process on the part of the Government and that the list can result in people who share names with suspected terrorists being denied their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.  All they would have to do is call to the witness stand those who face a huge hassle trying to fly because a suspected terrorist has the same name--and that's not a constitutionally protected right.

But in taking up this legal fight, the NRA would have to also defend people exactly like the Orlando shooter--American citizens with constitutional rights but a strong desire to do harm to the country.  And for some reason, I doubt many of the people sharing the background of the nightclub gunman are card-carrying NRA members or are invited to go sport shooting with those who do belong.

Meanwhile, liberals could find themselves defending a position they too hate.  I doubt there are a whole lot of Christian Caucasians of European descent on that terrorist watch list.  And those on it--who can now find out if they are on it by trying to purchase a weapon--could certainly argue that the Federal Government is engaging in racial profiling.  The ACLU would never take up a gun rights case, but a racial discrimination case?  They would be all over that in a heartbeat--even if the legal remedy would ultimately allow someone like the Orlando shooter to buy a gun.

So what do you say we add a little spice to the "national conversation" by giving this terror watch list gun ban a try--and then sit back and watch heads explode on both sides of the political aisle.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Golfing Sadists

The US Open gets underway today at the ultimate venue for what is generally considered the "toughest test in golf": Oakmont Country Club just outside of Pittsburgh.  Oakmont is regarded as the most difficult golf course in the United States--and when the wind isn't blowing at Carnoustie in Scotland--it's probably the most difficult golf course in the world.  And that is why so many of us golf fans love when the Open is played at Oakmont.

One of the things that most non-golf fans don't understand about the game is why those of us that love the sport take such great joy in its difficulty.  From the standpoint of the US Open at Oakmont, we like to watch the best players in the world struggle with the same shots that us single-handicappers and hackers struggle.  This week, someone with more than $10-million in career earnings won't be able to hit a ball more than ten yards out of the four-inch rough along one of the fairways following an errant drive.  We non-pros do that all the time.  Somebody with multiple major victories to the their credit will three putt from two feet on Oakmont's glass-like greens--or better yet, putt a ball completely off the green.

The running gag this week has been that the USGA actually has to slow down the greens for the US Open--as they are even firmer and faster for regular member play.  And that leads to another question from non-golf fans: Why would anyone not getting paid to play actually pay to play a course that is so difficult?  Well to quote John F Kennedy, "we choose to do those things not because they are easy--but because they are hard."

Part of it is machismo--"I'm a member at the toughest golf course in the world!".  But golfers are also a sadistic lot.  Those who get to play courses like Oakmont will always relay the story of their worst experience of the day--"I lost three balls in the rough on number two--ended up taking a 14 on that one" or "Had a six-incher for par on 13 and ended up four-putting"--before they will about the highlights of their day.  And after shooting the worst score of their lives, the only thing they will be able to think about is how badly they want to play there again.

Juxtapose the US Open at Oakmont to the NBA Championship Series which is now entering its third week.  The NBA doesn't raise the rim to 14-feet for the Finals to make it harder for LeBron James to dunk.  The 3-point line isn't moved out to 45-feet so that Steph Curry has to struggle to score.  But in golf, we make it damn near impossible to be successful in the biggest tournament of the year--and we love it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

When a Record is not a Record

It's not often that I agree with Pete Rose on anything, but I do have to back him in a debate over his status as baseball's "All Time Hit King".  Some are taking Major League Baseball to task for not promoting the fact that Ichiro Suzuki of the Florida Marlins is just one base hit shy of tying Rose's record of 4,256 in a career--that is if you count the 12-hundred plus hits that Ichiro got in the Japanese Baseball League before he came to the US to play. 

As you might expect, Rose is downplaying the stats Ichiro accumulated in his home country--saying they came against inferior talent to all of the hits he accumulated in Major League Baseball.  He even jokes that "they're going to start counting his high school hits too".

While is may sound jingoistic, Pete Rose is right in thinking that stats from outside of the US leagues shouldn't count toward "All Time" records.  You need not look any farther than the case of Sadahara Oh--who hit more than 800 home runs in the Japanese League--but no one ever calls him "Baseball's All Time Home Run King".  Hank Aaron's five home runs as a member of the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League were never counted in his pursuit of Babe Ruth's record.  If that had been the case, he would have set the record in the fall of 1973--and not the spring of 1974.

And it's not just baseball that does this.  Warren Moon would have been football's "All Time Passing Leader" at more than 70-thousand yards--if you included the 30-thousand-plus yards he threw for in the Canadian Football League before joining the NFL.  The National Hockey League does not recognize the 150 or so goals that Gordie Howe scored as a member of the World Hockey Association in the 1970's.  He would still be the "All Time Regular Season Goal Scorer" if those were added to his 810 from NHL play--since Wayne Gretzky didn't quite reach that combined mark (and he too had WHA goals with Indianapolis and Edmonton that aren't counted toward his NHL record).

Pete Rose is a cheater and a fraud.  But he accumulated his 4,256 hits against the best collection of baseball talent in the world.  Let's allow him to at least keep this one thing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Must See TV

If you missed the first installment of the ESPN Films documentary OJ: Made in America on Saturday night, you are in luck--the network is replaying it at 6:00 tonight.  That will be followed by the second installment of the five-part series at 8:00.  I would consider both of those shows to be must-watch television.

The first episode was riveting.  We learned the backstory of OJ Simpson's childhood in San Francisco, his rise to stardom at the University of Southern California, his early struggles in the NFL and then the incredible 2000 yard season in 1973.  We also found out that OJ's father was a closeted gay man and that OJ started dating an 18-year old Nicole Brown just days after she graduated from high school and he was married with two young children.

One of the things that has been all but forgotten about OJ is that he was one of the greatest running backs in the history of football.  The old college and NFL footage showed him faking out defenders, breaking tackles and outrunning secondaries for huge gains.  You also forget that during the 70's OJ was everywhere.  He was running through the airport to the Hertz rental counter.  He was drinking RC cola.  He was starring in movies and doing sports broadcasting for ABC.  America loved the Juice--and the Juice loved the attention of America.

The overarching theme of OJ: Made in America is that we also need to see his life through the prism of race in America.  We were reminded time and time again that OJ didn't "see himself as black".  And many Americans didn't see him that way either.  There is one incredibly uncomfortable scene where one of the ad executives talks about how OJ "didn't even have black features"--and that is why they were comfortable hiring him as their spokesman.

But what I found most interesting is that the OJ story also shows what it was (and still is) like to be Black in America.  The filmmakers place side-by-side interviews with African-American fans who recall how inspiring it was to see OJ--a black man--in TV commercials for products that most people would consider to be "white".  And then right after that, we hear from 60's and 70's activists like Harry Edwards ripping OJ for not using the platform his fame gave him to demand "social justice" and accusing him of "selling out his people" for cozying up to whites for his own personal gain.  The contrasts the film draws between OJ and Muhammad Ali during that period were particularly poignant given the Champ's recent death.

 So clear three hours of your time tonight to catch the first installment of OJ: Made in America and then episode 2 as well.  You won't regret it.

Monday, June 13, 2016

One Step Closer to Less Freedom

Someday several decades--maybe even a couple of centuries--after all of us are dead and gone historians will look back at the United States and marvel at the personal freedoms and individual rights that it once granted to its citizens.  And then they will look at how those rights and freedoms were whittled away over time. 

Those historians will find that those rights and freedoms weren't taken away by a tyrannical government or an invading foreign power--as was feared by those who endowed those rights upon Americans at the founding of the country.  Instead, those rights were voluntarily abridged by the citizens themselves--often in reaction to the actions of a very few.

Take for instance the Fourth Amendment right to freedom from search without a warrant.  That was freely given up after 19-religious zealots hijacked four aircraft and crashed them into buildings.  Or the First Amendment right to freedom of expression and practice of religion.  Those were abdicated to prevent a select few from having their feelings hurt or to be able to buy wedding cakes from any bakery in the country.  And then there was the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.  That was eventually stripped away because of the actions of criminals, the mentally ill and more religious zealots.

Our future historians will likely conclude that Americans decided that they were more willing to accept control and perceived security than they were guaranteed freedom and uncertainty.  As people who never enjoyed those rights, they may wonder what the big deal was about having them--why so many people fought so hard to preserve them for so long--and probably why they were even considered in the first place.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Kang and Kodos for President

Much has been made about how The Simpsons "predicted the future" by portraying a "President Donald Trump" in one of its episodes 16-years ago.  But the writers of the cartoon series were prescient even before that, predicting the situation we find ourselves in right now back in 1996 with a parody of the Bob Dole-Bill Clinton election--where the candidates are kidnapped and replaced by the space aliens Kang and Kodos--who are seeking global domination:

I can't help but think about all of the people who cried for years about how they wanted someone who "doesn't talk like a politician", who doesn't need to "conduct polls before taking a stand on policies", who "isn't beholden to special interests and their campaign contributions" and who "doesn't toe the political party line".  Well, let me introduce you to the candidate of your dreams then: Donald Trump (playing the role of Kang very well I might add).

And now that the complainers have what they wanted, they are running in sheer panic away from him.  And who is there to greet them with open arms?  None other than Hillary Clinton (obviously Kodos), the ultimate political insider--who is more than willing to change her position with the winds of public sentiment, who parses every word and phrase in her speeches, who hasn't met a political donation she hasn't liked and who wants government controlling every aspect of your life.

The only thing The Simpsons writers missed on 20-years ago is that we don't need Homer to pull the masks off the monsters we have left in the race.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Inequality of Summer

I hope the kids about to be set free from school this week enjoy these two and a half months of summer bliss--because that extended time off may be going away. 

I'll admit that I have been a proponent of year-round school for some time.  The modern school calendar is still rooted in the agrarian schedule of the 19th and early 20th centuries--when large farm families that filled public schools were needed to help at home during the summer.  But how many kids are needed to help on today's mechanized, automated and corporate farms?  Here is Wisconsin, we've altered start dates in order to appease the tourism industry as well.

Summer vacation means teachers have to cram in a bunch of information and concepts before the end of the school year--and then to spend several weeks in the fall recapping what kids learned in the previous grade--but never used over the summer.  Continuous schooling reduces the need to offset "summer brain drain" and also teaches kids at an early age a work ethic of "be here every day".  But academics will not be the reason that public schools drop summer break.  Instead, year-round school will be instituted to ensure "social and economic equality".

The Sunday New York Times included a feature on the families that "cannot afford" to have their children anywhere but in school all year.  It details the single-parent and low-income households with no babysitters or daycare options who must now provide two more meals a day for their kids as well.  This is contrasted with the well-to-do families that can afford to have a parent stay at home with kids during the summer--or send them off to an arts, robotics or athletics camp for the summer--enriching their education as a time when poor kids are probably just wasting time watching TV or walking the streets.  And that is angle that will bring about year-round school in the US--it's required for "social justice". 

When I was a kid, Summer School was for kids that failed subjects and were falling behind their peers.  Then schools started charging for "enrichment courses" like art and foreign languages during the summer.  Eventually schools became summer soup kitchens--offering "feeding programs" where kids could still come to get two meals a day.  "Many of these kids are still dependent upon their school during the summer for basic services, so we may as well continue to teach them while they are here" will be the argument of administrators and teachers unions (who will of course expect higher wages for doing "more work").  You could just provide a reduced schedule of services for those low-income and underperforming students during the summer months--but that would create a "stigma" and possibly traumatize a child--therefore, ALL students will have to go ALL year.

It won't be long before kids in the high school production of Grease get to part where Sandy and Danny sing about "Summer Nights" and wonder "What the heck are they talking about?"

Monday, June 6, 2016

When Giants Walked the Earth

Today's edition of "Things Were Better When I Was Your Age" is brought to you by the weekend death of Muhammad Ali.  His passing gave me reason to check out his classic fights on YouTube and it got me thinking that somehow we are "de-volving" when it comes to sports.  While track athletes are setting new records and high-tech swimsuits and pool design are speeding up swimmers, many of today's athletes just aren't "better" than their predecessors.

Consider that Ali last held the heavyweight title in 1979.  Jack Nicklaus won his last major in 1986.  Hank Aaron hit his last home run in 1976.  Willie Mays caught his last fly ball in 1973.  Ted Williams homered in his final at-bat in 1960.  Michael Jordan's last game was in 2003.  The final Magic Johnson-Larry Bird matchup in the NBA Finals was in 1987.  Wayne Gretzky scored his final goal in 1999.  Jerry Rice caught his final reception in 2004.  Jim Brown's last carry was 1965.  Lawrence Taylor's last quarterback sack was in 1993.  Johnny Unitas' final pass was completed in 1973.  Dale Earnhardt died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

We have gone an entire generation since we could honestly call someone "The Greatest" in any of the major sports.  Barry Bonds broke records--but cheated to do it.  Brett Favre and Peyton Manning broke records--but did they come to define how the modern quarterback position is played?  And did they call all their own plays?  Are we really going to argue that Kobe Bryant or LeBron James is a greater player than Jordan, Magic or Bird?

Facing real boxers revealed the Mike Tyson had neither the skills nor the personal fortitude to be considered an all-time great.  Muhammad Ali fought four of the greatest boxing matches in the history of the sport--three against Joe Frazier and one against George Foreman.  You watch those fights and compare them to what passes for boxing today--or any Rhonda Rousey "fight" and you tell me which is better.

Of course, this reality doesn't stop the modern hype machine from trying to prop up today's athletes as legitimate contenders for "greatest ever".  Unfortunately, as those of us who watched Ali, Nicklaus, Bird, Gretzky and Brown play get older and leave the conversation--the more likely those who were truly "The Greatest" will be replaced by the "Really Good With Great Marketing" in the pantheon of sports.  Just remember, higher, faster, farther doesn't always mean "better".

Friday, June 3, 2016

All the Wrong Answers

I have a bone to pick with the folks at  Their latest commercial actually had me yelling at the TV the other day with its sheer stupidity and ignorance.  If you haven't seen it, it features Jeff Goldblum as the host of a game show pitting renters--who appear to be of Millennial age--against an older looking group of homeowners:

Obviously I wouldn't expect to try and sell houses, but way to appeal to the least financially literate generation of all time.  The only thing missing from the long-winded answer provided by that one renter with garbage about "like-mindedness" and "societal fragmentation" is "conveniently located on a street car line!" 

Two of the three answers provided by the "owners" happen only to people who do not know how to manage their money.  Those who do know that actually keeping track of your spending and making a monthly budget will keep you out of "crushing debt" and "foreclosure".  It's doubtful that the entire generation embodied by the "renter team" understands anything about "equity"--since they probably grew up in a house that was purchased with a "no money down, 100% financed, adjustable rate" mortgage when anyone who could show up in a bank or a lender's office was guaranteed to get a loan (thanks in large part to Barney Frank and Chris Dodd).  And let me tell you it is the best feeling in the world when you don't have any mortgage payments at all--and you know there is nothing that could force you out of your home.

Let's not forget about privacy--unless you like sharing your underwear with everyone else in your building at the communal laundry facility.  And we are just far enough away from our neighbors to blast The Beatles during Saturday morning chores and not garner any banging on the wall and shouts to turn it down.  Plus, there is the security of knowing that there isn't some pot head that left his candles burning too close to the curtains--leading to a fire that destroys everything that you owned (and likely didn't have insured).

I'm guessing that the ad is actually going to be a big hit with its target audience of Millennials.  They are the generation that has been told to accept less in life--so the government can have more.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Huckster In Chief

It is going to be a fun summer as we watch the layers of the onion that is Donald Trump slowly peeled away.  Right now, The Donald is trying to deal with the release of documents related to multiple lawsuits filed against him for his now-defunct (an adjective we can use to describe many of Trump's business ventures) "Trump University".

Those documents include the "sales playbook" those working for the fictitious college were encouraged to use in order to get people to fork over the 35-thousand dollars to "enroll" in the "college".  That playbook included outrageous claims of financial profit for those who "graduate" and downplaying all of the risks involved with what Trump would be "teaching" them: Mainly to borrow a bunch of money to purchase distressed properties and then try to flip them for profit as soon as possible.

If that "curriculum" sounds familiar, that's because its the same "get rich quick" scheme that all of the TV infomercial "real estate experts" tout.  And that is quite fitting--as Trump himself is treating this Presidential election like his own informercial--except the TV networks are giving him all of the air time for free--where the "flippers" need to buy their ad time.

And just like the other "real estate experts willing to share their secrets with you" Trump used "reality" TV to first build a persona of someone who knows what they are doing.  I seem to remember my wife watching TLC show featuring many of the same people now "coming to your town" to reveal the "keys to becoming your own boss and make money fast".  Trump was smarter than those folks though.  He just filmed segments encouraging people to literally mortgage their futures and paid other people to sell it--rather than going around the country to peddle his snake oil himself.  And he charged people about ten-times as much as the small-time hucksters as well.

The next layer of the onion will likely be Trump's tax returns--which many people with the same level of claimed self-worth say will likely reveal that the "billionaire" may be a few zeroes short of that title.  And that through creative use of business and other investment losses--will have paid shockingly little in personal income taxes.  As a "salesman" you know that if the 1040's showed that Donald Trump was actually making big bucks--and paying huge amounts of taxes--he'd be flashing those forms in front of every camera he could.

I'm sure the Donald Trump onion will be peeled down to its smelly, rotten core by Election Day--but his supporters will choose to continue to ignore their nose--even though the rest of us thought something stunk from day one.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Or You Could Try Showing Better Movies

I see the Cineplex here in Oshkosh is undergoing a major re-branding.  A shiny flier in the mail tells me about the comfy new recliners in their "auditoriums" (apparently they aren't "theaters" anymore) and the new restaurant style dining available there--even if you aren't seeing a movie.  I had to laugh when I saw that "carryout is available".  Can you imagine asking the wife "Hey, want to get carryout from the movie theater tonight?"  Hopefully their menu prices aren't based off the same skewed philosophy that $12.50 for a tub of popcorn and a soda is a "value".  And because this is Wisconsin, you can now get a beer or a glass of wine and take it with you back to your seat.

I know why theaters are making major changes like this.  The "home theater experience" gets better every day--with 4K Ultra High Definition screens, surround sound stereo systems, your own comfy recliners and the ability to make your own popcorn and crack open your own soda for $1.25.  Plus, you can watch almost any movie you want at any time you want through the myriad of streaming services available by subscription.  But there is still a way for theaters to draw more customers--without pretending to be restaurants and brewpubs: Show better movies.

For years now, I have segregated Hollywood offerings into four categories: 1--Movies definitely worth seeing in the theater as soon as possible. 2--Movies I would consider watching on demand at home. 3--Movies I might watch on one of the cable channels and 4--Movies I would only watch if forced to after being abducted by ISIS terrorists.

An ever increasing percentage of new releases are falling into category 4.  The flier sent to promote the "all new" theater includes a list of "blockbusters" I wouldn't pay a cent to watch--like Angry Birds, Neighbors 2 Sorority Rising, X-men Apocalypse and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.  Honestly, you could be serving the best Southern BBQ and beer made by Trappist Monks in the lobby and you still wouldn't get me to set foot through the door for that dreck.

And theaters are also hamstrung by studios completely turning their backs on people who actually have more money to spend on entertainment and "fine dining"--Baby Boomers.  Which of those movies listed above would you expect someone over the age of 55 to pay money to see?  Heck, who over the age of 35 would want to watch any of those? 

It would not surprise me if we saw the death of the multi-screen Cineplex in my lifetime.  The shared, communal experience of watching, laughing and crying together is no longer desired by younger people.  They would rather "live tweet" the movie about giant fighting robots and superheroes while watching on their smartphone with the 3-D virtual reality glasses.