Friday, April 28, 2017

Good Luck, Coach

It's not often that two high profile people in a community decide that they are going to step away from their roles on the same day.  Oshkosh Area United Way Executive Director Sue Panek was the first to say she was retiring on Thursday.  Then came the announcement later in the morning that Oshkosh North High School Boys Basketball Coach Frank Schade was leaving the bench.  Since Sue is going to remain in her position for another year and a half--and with the United Way even beyond that, we will save our accolades for her until then.

I joked yesterday that Coach Schade finally made good on his threat to make "this year the last year".  Forty-two years is a long time to do anything--and especially at as high a level as Frank did with the Spartans Basketball program.  And Coach Schade wasn't one of those "just roll out the ball and let's play" type of coaches.  He was a grinder--always working his kids (and the officials) from tipoff to the final horn--so every game night was stressful.

While the record may show that Frank retires as the fourth-winningest boys basketball coach in state history, his real measure of success should be the quality of young men that his program produced over the years.  In my dealings with Spartans players--both as a broadcaster and as a referee--I found them to almost always be very respectful of those they played against and everyone involved in the game.  And while winning gold balls and other trophies look nice in the display case at the school, it's what those kids do after they leave Oshkosh North that is a far greater legacy.

Now the challenge for North is to find the right person to carry on those traditions.  Many a powerhouse has faded away after the legendary coach moved on.  I would refer you to Manitowoc Lincoln Football, Clintonville Basketball and both football and basketball at Brillion.  Sometimes you have a coach that is somehow able to get more out of talent than everyone realizes until they aren't there anymore.

So good luck to Coach Schade as he spends more time playing golf (I saw him just a few days ago out at Lakeshore Municipal) and as he gets to spend some time during the winter in a place that is sunny and warm--instead of in a cold gym.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Downfall Continues

There is plenty of blame going around for why ESPN had to cut 100 reporting and anchoring jobs yesterday.  Cord-cutting millenials are easy targets.  As cable subscriptions decline, fewer people are bringing ESPN into their homes.  And as one of the most expensive networks for cable companies to carry, any losses equate to a big difference in revenue for the network.  Others blame the hiring of "left-wing" hosts for ESPN's decline--thinking that discussions about race, domestic violence and how much coverage women's sports deserves turned off the largely white, male audience.

I think the downfall of ESPN was due in large part to one show: Pardon The Interruption.  And ironically enough, the salvation of the network can be found in the very same show.

PTI was groundbreaking when it debuted in 2001.  Yes, ESPN had "sports debate" shows on before--most notably The Sports Reporters.  But that was a Sunday morning show with a niche audience.  PTI was a daily show, and the pace was much faster with timed segments to discuss each topic.  It immediately got great ratings and the suits at ESPN quickly moved to "embrace debate"--rather than longer format analysis and highlight shows that had been its staple for years.  Soon you had Around the Horn with four sports reporters arguing every day and then came First Take--with two hours of constant sports argument.  And those begat dozens of other "let's yell at each other" shows across all of their platforms.

The only problem with the "argue about sports all day every day format" was that many of those hired by ESPN had neither the background nor the perspective of PTI's Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon.  These are guys that have covered the greatest players and sporting events for decades as newspaper reporters--not as bloggers or talk show hosts or social media mavens.  They've done actual work to write their stories and gain their knowledge.  And when they would argue their points, they would do so with personal conviction, believing that they are right--rather than just taking contrarian viewpoints just for show.

And while the ESPN executives may have been loving the numbers that PTI produced in terms of ratings and revenue, they should have been paying closer attention to what the hosts were saying--as Kornheiser and Wilbon continuously mock what they (rightly) see as the network's greatest failings.  As a native Midwesterner, Wilbon points out that ESPN believes teams west of the Eastern Time Zone exist only to provide occasional opponents for teams on the East Coast.  Kornheiser openly admits that he knows nothing about western teams in any sport because their games start too late and he is already in bed.  For years, both have poked fun at ESPN's obsession with all things football, to the detriment of fans that do pay attention to baseball, the NBA and the NHL playoffs in the spring (instead of mock drafts). 

These are obviously points that continue to be lost on ESPN management.  Those let go yesterday were their most veteran reporters--the types more likely to use knowledge of the game to provide insight into the results--instead of spewing a bunch of hip-hop song lyrics and trying to appeal to twenty-somethings watching on their smartphones.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

NASCAR Is Done (At Least For Me)

I have been a fan of NASCAR since I was a kid.  Cale Yarborough was my favorite racer when I was young.  When he retired I became a fan of Dale Earnhardt.  That was right around the time that NASCAR started moving into mainstream popularity.  You'll recall that the "NASCAR Fans" were an actual political constituency that experts thought was going to decide a Presidential election one year (it was the one between Evangelicals deciding the winner and "Soccer Moms" being the desired demographic).  You would see people wearing pit crew jackets in public with all of the ridiculous logos for every product under the sun on them.  NASCAR was getting Sunday ratings approaching NFL games--and they were being referred to as the "Fourth Major Sport".

But then Dale Earnhardt died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500--and for many racing fans, so did NASCAR.  To put it into perspective, it would be like the Green Bay Packers stopped playing football right in the middle of an NFL season.  We're not talking about moving to Las Vegas--we're talking done forever.  I don't think many fans would be trading in their green and gold for some other team.

Some of us transferred our allegiance to his son--Dale Earnhardt, Jr--placing upon him the expectation to be as dominant as his father had been.  There were certainly some great highlights--winning the July 4th weekend race at Daytona five months after his dad was killed there was certainly one.  But Dale, Jr was in the impossible position of filling unfillable shoes.  And now, he has announced plans to leave racing at the end of this season--after missing much of last year due to a crash-related concussion.

While I applaud Junior for walking away from the sport on his own terms--and not like so many others for whom serious injury or death ended their careers--he leaves behind a sport that many of us who loved the way his father raced with few options for a new favorite driver.  NASCAR has become a face-less sport where all of the drivers and cars are basically the same.  Trevor Bayne is like Joey Lagano--who is like Denny Hamlin--who really isn't that different from Austin Dillon.  And template vehicles mean you have no way of knowing the difference between the Fords, Chevys and Toyotas that make up the field every week.  Most of the tracks are identical now--with one and a half mile circuits at Charlotte, Kansas, Texas, Chicago, Phoenix, California and Homestead making for some of the most boring racing on the planet.

What I hear now is more fans just disliking drivers than actually having a favorite--with Kyle Busch and Danica Patrick being the usual targets of scorn.  But that's really not the way to market a sport "Come boo the racers you hate this Sunday at Talledega!!"  With the end of Dale Earnhardt, Jr's career, I think we may be seeing the end of NASCAR's "glory days" of  popularity, exposure and revenue.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

That Will Really Make a Difference

They are taking down statues honoring those that fought for the Confederacy in New Orleans this year.  To give you some idea of how divisive this issue is in that city, construction crews are dressed in black jumpsuits with military helmets, bulletproof vests and scarves covering their faces.  The logos on the sides of their trucks and their license plates have been covered over so no one knows who they work for.  And police sharp shooters are stationed around the work area--with work being done only in the middle of the night.  Notice of this week's work was provided to the media--but further statue removal will be done covertly.

Those extreme measures show the depth of emotion that some people still have for the "lost cause" of the Confederacy--that they would threaten to kill anyone that would try to remove statues of Robert E Lee and Jefferson Davis.  But those who have pushed for the removal of those statues shouldn't be claiming any major victory either.  It's not like no longer having those monuments around is going to change what happened--or really influence what is going to happen going forward.

Having no public displays pertaining to the Confederacy or slavery in the South doesn't magically make that chapter in American History go away.  It's funny how when memorials are dedicated, the speakers always say it's so "we never forget".  But that apparently doesn't apply when the event or person being remembered is embarrassing or makes us feel uncomfortable--then it's better to take it down and hide it away in storage.

Removing the statues won't affect the high crime rates in minority neighborhoods in New Orleans--which featured the highest murder rate of a large American city in 2011.  It won't solve high rates of African-American incarceration--where one in 14 are currently behind bars--and one in seven have spent time in prison.  Not having memorials to the Confederacy won't raise test scores in New Orleans schools--where even charter schools get "F" grades in state report cards.  And no public references to the city's history in the Civil War won't cut down on the high rates of drug and alcohol addiction--nor the use of its port to smuggle in illicit drugs from around the world.

Taking down statues and removing flags are window dressing on social ills that arguably started at the time those public displays first went up.  All that's being done right now making some people feel good about themselves.  And it still doesn't require accountability from those who have gone without for generations.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Other Marches We Need

Now that we have had the "March For Science", can we hold a few more marches to address other things people should know?

We can start with the "March For Punctuation, Spelling and Grammar".  In this march, all protest signs will feature complete sentences--along with proper use of commas and apostrophes.  Our chants will explain the proper use of prepositions--including the differences between "of", "from", "with" and "to".  The march will end with people telling their personal stories of overcoming their habitual misuse of "two", "to" and "too" as well as "there" and their".

Next we could have the "March For Drivers' Education".  In this one we would demand that those who don't know how to navigate roundabouts be immediately removed from the road.  That anyone over the age of sixty be tested for driving ability on an annual basis--with those over eighty required to pass an on-the-road test every six months.  Of course, this it the march where we are most likely to be hit by someone driving around the barricades while drunk behind the wheel.

Then we need the "March For Economics".  Here we draw attention to the unsustainable practice of governments spending more than they raise in revenues.  We explain how making it harder and more expensive to produce items in your country leads to greater dependence on imported goods.  And we point out that taking on tens of thousands of dollars in debt for college degrees in fields that don't pay you enough to cover your basic costs of living and what you owe on the loans is financial suicide.  Maybe we'll have a big credit card cut up before we all go home as well.

And finally, we can hold the "March For Political Science".  In this one, basic tenets of the US Constitution and the electoral process take center stage.  Speakers can explain that there is no "Right to health care" or "freedom from fear" anywhere in the Constitution.  A Supreme Court Justice could point out to Bill Nye "The Science Guy" that a phrase in the patent protection clause of the Constitution does not mean the Government is required to pay for all science projects and the arts.  And of course, the march would not be complete without a recap of how the Electoral College works and why we use that to elect our President.

We've got a lot of marching to do--better get a pair of comfortable shoes.

Friday, April 21, 2017

We're Done Here

Anyone who purchased tickets for the US Open at Erin Hills here in Wisconsin thinking that they would get to see Tiger Woods' triumphant return to major golf are in for some major disappointment.  Through social media on Thursday, Tiger announced that he has undergone a fourth "successful" back surgery--and will not play for the rest of this golf season.  Given that Woods has undergone three previous "successful" back surgeries--none of which allowed him to play golf without debilitating pain--you have to wonder what the definition of "successful" really is.  It must mean it didn't leave him paralyzed from the waist down.

The announcement of the surgery came just two days after Tiger appeared at a press event in Missouri for a new public golf course that he is designing.  He hit a couple of balls (poorly) and then told the media that he was "progressing well" and "expected to return to golf soon".  Less than 48-hours later, he's had another surgery and is done for the year.

Or is it time to say that he is done for good?  Each surgery and procedure that Tiger undergoes is more invasive than the one before.  A doctor on Golf Channel last night talked about how surgeons would have had to move around a few internal organs to reach the part of the spine that was operated on this time.  What's more, it involved some spinal fusion--which all but guarantees some loss of motion and flexibility in the back.

The talking heads all agreed that if Woods is not able to come back at a physical level where he can win--not just make cuts and get a few top ten finishes, he wasn't coming back at all.  Tiger had just one stated career goal: to break Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major victories in a career.  When he reached 14 nine years ago by winning the US Open on a broken leg, it seemed to many to be a foregone conclusion.  But then came the incident with his wife and a series of career-threatening injuries that have all but snuffed out the likelihood of Woods even winning one more major--much less four or five.

And what this also means is that Tiger--and his fans--won't have those final moments of glory that only golf can provide.  There will be no shocking Masters win at the age of 46 like Nicklaus scored in 1986.  There will be no final walks up 18 at Augusta National, no posing on the Swilcan Bridge at Saint Andrews in a final British Open.  There won't even be appearances on the Champions Tour at Steve Stricker's event.  Tiger's career will have come to an end more like a fiery car crash than a slow ride into the sunset.

Of course, Tiger won't be the first athlete to go out that way.  Gayle Sayers, Sandy Koufax and Bobby Orr all saw transcendent careers cut short at relatively young ages by injury--leaving fans to always wonder "What if...."  Those three would also tell you that it was incredibly difficult to reach that decision to quit--something I think Tiger Woods is finding out right now.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Yesterday, I mocked the concert lineup at the Resch Center in Green Bay that featured '80's Hair Metal acts Def Leppard, Poison and Tesla.  I used the term "MulletFest" to describe not only the music--but the fans that would be in attendance.  Sadly, there were pictures on my Facebook feed posted by friends that may have cut off the mullets they had in the late 1980's of people at the show who refused to give up on the "business in the front, party in the back" look.

Rather than bring back the bad memories of high school, the pictures and videos of the aged rockers trying to relive their glory days actually took me back to September 29th, 1991.  That is the day that Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" premiered on MTV's 120 Minutes.  For us Generation X'ers, this was our "Beatles on Ed Sullivan" moment.  I remember a bunch of us that always watched 120 in our dorm lounge at UW Madison looking at each other like "Who are these guys, and where can I get this album?"  (Remember, this was before ITunes, digital downloads and videos streaming on YouTube).  Several of us were at the Exclusive Company on State Street the next day to get Nevermind on cassette so we could listen to all of it over and over and over again.

But the best part of that day was that it marked the beginning of the end for lame Hair Metal.  Suddenly, bands full of guys wearing leopard print spandex tights, scarves, silk shirts with the sleeves cut off, eye liner, blush and long, tousled hair became ridiculous.  Stage shows with constant fireworks and a drum kit that levitated above the crowd and that could be played upside down were seen as clownish.  Songs were no longer just about having sex, how good you are at having sex, and what kind of woman you would like to have sex with.  Videos weren't filled with scantily-clad, large-breasted blonde women.

Nirvana slaying the hair bands was really inevitable.  Much like Elvis supplanted the crooners, the Beatles knocked off the manufactured teen idols of the early '60's and the Sex Pistols and the Ramones mercifully brought an end to the Disco Era.  The music had just become so terrible that something great and new just had to bubble up and save the art form.  As for those who had built the hair metal industry, many of them moved over to country music--laying the groundwork for today's Bro Country movement--which has about as much to do with Country music as Hair Metal did with Rock.

So I hope those that fired up the Camaros and El Caminos and headed out to the Resch Center last night enjoyed their step back in time.  I made sure to put on some Chuck Taylors and a flannel shirt while listening to Nirvana, Social Distortion and Pearl Jam to relive the real glory days of our generation.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Chicken City

Round Three of the Great Appleton Chicken Fight is on tap tonight.  The City Council will vote for a third time on allowing people to raise a select number of hens in their backyards.  It's the latest in a trend that is seeing the city look more like "the country"--while the "the country" is made to be more like the city.

Those pushing for urban chicken keeping are the same folks vehemently opposed to large scale agricultural operations.  Better to have coops in every backyard in Appleton than to have one facility isolated from most all other people raising chickens and harvesting eggs.  That type of operation is "cruel" and "environmentally insensitive"--even though it keeps the price of eggs (and most of our processed food products) incredibly low.  And it allows millions more people to eat those foods than the 'sustainable' urban chicken keeper ever could.

These are also the same folks who want "community gardens" in urban neighborhoods so people can grow their own vegetables and fruits--while protesting the well permits for rural farms that grow billions of potatoes, beans and bushels of corn that feed not just Americans--but those living around the world.  They are also the ones that when they move to rural areas, want dairy farms shut down because they "stink".  Or they crusade against large-scale operations that produce more milk and dairy products than the entire "family farm" system could have ever hoped to--again, keeping food prices down and allowing billions more people around the world to eat.

And these are the people that want urban beekeeping to pollinate their flowers and community gardens--but who oppose development of new strains of plants that are drought and disease resistant, that produce higher yields and can grow in areas that were considered untillable in the past.  Not to mention, genetically modified crops can be developed to combat weeds and pests--meaning less use of chemicals that may be killing off their beloved bees.  But they would rather we return to a time when blight and pestilence were constant threats to our food supplies.

 There is a reason why cities had bans on chickens and bees and ducks in your yard.  It wasn't like city council members of the past woke up one day and said "I don't like having farm animals in the city--let's ban them".  But that was so long ago, that we have forgotten why they were banned in the first place--and why we don't have farms in the middle of cities. 

It's not like the State of Wisconsin or the United States as a whole doesn't have plenty of places where you can raise chickens and bees or have ducks as "emotional support animals".  Zoning laws in townships just a few miles away are set up specifically for such a way of living.  Yes, they don't have walking trails, bike paths or public transportation out there--but you can't always get everything you want.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Just Keep Hammering Us

No generation of Americans has had a more detrimental impact on our nation as the Baby Boomers.  They are the reason school districts like Oshkosh have too many school buildings--with so many being built to handle their burgeoning numbers in the 50's and '60's.  They started American families on the path to so much student debt today by first enrolling in large numbers in the '60's and '70's--fueling the growth of campuses, programs and faculty across the country--and then failing to save for their own children's higher education--causing a boom in student loan borrowing in the '90's and 2000's.

The Boomers opened the door to America's drug problem--doing any and all drugs they could get their hands on in the '60's and '70's--then demanding that the Government do something about drugs when gangs got involved in the trade and turned violent in the '90's, with junkies committing crimes to get their next fix--creating the "mass incarceration crisis".  And then they contributed to the latest heroin epidemic by demanding that they never be in pain--so doctors freely prescribed highly-addictive painkillers to everyone.

And speaking of medicine, Baby Boomers are the main driving force behind the skyrocketing cost of health care with their demands to have every malady and discomfort treated with the latest medicine--from chronic dry eye to low testosterone to toenail fungus.  And don't forget the "elective surgeries", multiple diagnostic tests "just to make sure" and rehab programs that added to the cost as well.

Now the Baby Boomers--who enjoyed the most robust American economy ever for their entire lives--want the younger generations to take care of all their needs in retirement as well.  AARP is out promoting what they call the "Senior Dividend".  "If you would just pay more for programs that provide seniors aid in staying in their homes instead of going to nursing facilities now, you will save money in the long run".  If this were true--and I believe that long-term care costs for Baby Boomers will crush the Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security systems before those of us in Generation X can even consider retirement--it would be the first time that Baby Boomers have saved America any money.

What is ironic is that the Boomers were more than happy to put their parents--The Greatest Generation--into nursing homes.  There was an explosion of such facilities in the 90's and early 2000's--because Boomers were too busy with yoga and vacations and taking the boat out on the lake to take care of their parents in their own homes.  But now that it is their time to struggle to live alone--suddenly it's "society's responsibility" to pick up the tab. 

So AARP can try to sell us all the "Silver Dividends" they want--it won't come close to covering the "Baby Boomer Bills" that have been paid by other generations for seventy years.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Tardy to the Party

My biggest pet peeve is being late.  I hate when something happens that makes me late for something.  I hate when other people show up late for appointments or events.  And I really detest people who don't care that they are late--as to me, it is the ultimate show of disrespect.  Obviously, they think your time has no value.  So that is why the recent crackdown on tardiness at Oshkosh West High School catches my attention.

Kids are finding themselves locked out of rooms if they try to come in after the bell.  And those who are habitually tardy are being issued citations.  Those of us out here in the "real world" who have to deal with the future graduates of West--and all schools--are likely nodding our heads in agreement with the crackdown and thinking "They need to learn a valuable life lesson.  Show up late for work every day and you get fired".

But the problem with tardiness is more an indication of the general decline in what most of us would consider to be "professionalism" in schools.  I haven't been inside West High during the school day for awhile, but I was in Neenah High School just last week--and for anyone beyond their 20-year class reunion, you probably wouldn't recognize what is going on.

In one classroom, you had no desks.  The kids were sitting in a circle with the teacher leading the discussion while sitting amongst the students.  In the neighboring classroom, the kids were sitting at tables arranged in a square around the room--with the only light coming from a table lamp on the teacher's desk in the corner.  A study area looked like a coffee bar with high top tables and chairs.  In the library, there were beanbag chairs and (I'm hoping) faux leather armchairs.  Just off the library was the "Lit Lounge" with (again) mood lighting, kids drinking coffee or soda and everyone with earbuds in listening to music.

The teachers that accompanied the students to the presentation with the Governor looked like they had just come from Saturday morning grocery shopping.  One had on a college hoodie sweatshirt and jeans.  Another had a thin t-shirt emblazoned with "DUDE, be nice to people" in big red letters.  Some of the kids were wearing flip-flops.  And this was to meet the Governor.

If this is the atmosphere that we provide for our kids in schools now, how can we be surprised that they show up late-- a lot of the time.  Yes, some kids "don't learn well in a highly structured environment"--but does that mean you throw out all structure for all kids?  And how does this "casual cool" atmosphere prepare kids for the "buttoned up, on-time" professional world they will be entering a few years from now? 

Maybe us "old farts" should just get ready to pull up a beanbag chair and enjoy the dim lighting when we meet our young, new investment advisor--or doctor.  When he or she decides to show up 15-minutes late.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Next Lambeau Experience

If increasing ticket prices every year, raising parking rates, inflated concession prices, a share of the largest TV rights package on the planet, licensing of the name and logo, renting property to brewpubs, upscale hotels and sporting goods stores, and operating the most-successful team owned pro shop in the league isn't enough to "keep the Green Bay Packers financially competitive in the NFL" I have a potential new revenue source for them--and it comes from, of all places, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

For the first time in more than a decade the Edmonton Oilers have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Demand for tickets to the potential four first-round home games was so great that they sold out immediately.  That's when team officials got the brilliant idea to sell "Concourse Passes"--which would get several thousand more fans in the arena. 

Don't confuse a "concourse pass" with a "Standing Room Only" ticket.  With SRO, you actually get into the seating bowl and are allowed to stand behind the last row of seats in some sections, or maybe in an obstructed viewing area.  But with a "concourse pass" all you get to do is wander around the concourse outside the seating bowl--watching the game on tv screens set up every fifty feet or so--and drinking beer from the concession stands.  You are not allowed to stand in the walkways to the seating bowl (that's a safety hazard) where you might actually see the ice.

And amazingly, the Oilers sold several hundred of these "concourse passes" for the unbelievable price of $80 Canadian (about $60 US).  Again, these people could not see the game--except on the TV's.  Of course, When you live on the Canadian Plains in Edmonton, you are probably willing to do anything just to get out of the cold during the winter and early spring.

Now if Oilers fans are willing to shell out good money just to be inside Rogers Arena for a game,  think of how many Packers fans would willingly fork over big bucks "just to be part of the Lambeau Field Gameday Experience"!  You already have people that will line up for an hour every Sunday to be one of the first in the parking lot--paying a jacked up price--just to tailgate....and they don't even have tickets to the game.  They watch the game on a tv by their car and just keep eating and drinking.

The Packers could run cool commercials telling fans they can stand in the same spot where their grandparents stood to get out of the wind at halftime and not freeze to death at the Ice Bowl.  Or you could share the experience your uncle had when he started heading back to the car to beat the traffic and Brett Favre threw his first TD pass to Kitrick Taylor to beat the Bengals at the last second--and he missed it.  Heck, the Packers wouldn't even put the game on any screens in the concourse--you are there just to experience the "Lambeau Mystique".

Considering that Lambeau is twice the size as Rogers Arena, the Pack could easily sell four times as many "concourse passes" as Edmonton.  And $60 for no view of the game sounds like the kind of cash Packers fans would be willing to pay.  Like Terrance Mann told Ray Kinsela in Field of Dreams "They will pass over the money without even thinking about it". 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Function Over Form

Pop quiz: What does the Congress Avenue bridge in Oshkosh look like?  I don't mean the four lanes of pavement you drive on, I mean the structure underneath.  What does it look like?  How about the Main Street bridge or the Wisconsin Avenue bridge.  What color are they?

Unless you are a boater, you probably wouldn't know, because everyone else only drives on top of the bridges.  You may notice that one has different street light designs or that the width of the sidewalks may be more narrow or wider than the other.  But for the most part, our view of the bridges is four lanes of concrete with a drawbridge deck in the middle.

Now, the Oshkosh Common Council is grappling with what the proposed new Jackson/Oregon Street bridge should look like.  Their first determination is whether or not there should be an entirely new bridge, or just replacement of old parts of the current bridge.  If a new bridge is built, it will then fall upon the City to maintain it for the rest of its life (a cost-savings measure for the state DOT).  But if the old bridge is just rehabbed, the State will continue to foot the bill for its future upkeep.

If the Council goes with the entirely new bridge--taking on all future maintenance costs--the next decision is whether to build another new drawbridge or a "flyover" bridge that would be high enough over the water to no longer necessitate opening the bridge for boat traffic underneath.  While that may sound awesome, it is also more expensive--as the approaches on both ends would also have to be rebuilt and raised as well--making access to some businesses on the north end of the bridge more difficult.

And then, the Council will have to decide how "nice" to make the bridge look.  Mayor Steve Cummings warned that if the DOT is allowed to design the bridge we will get a "Plain Jane, functional bridge"--but any amenities that the Council might want to add--like room for the Riverwalk underneath, decorative lighting and special paint colors and such--would be done at a cost exclusively to Oshkosh taxpayers.

So we, those taxpayers, should also be thinking about what that bridge should "look like".  Me, I don't mind "Plain Jane and functional"--since the main use of the Jackson/Oregon Street bridge is to get my vehicle from one side of the river to the other--not to impress me with "architectural lines" or how it "plays against the water".  And since I would be the one paying for the "amenities" that I would hardly ever see, it's not really worth the cost.  Sort of like the "fish paintings" under the new Butte des Morts Causeway that you can only see from a boat.

And if you think "I'll just leave it up to the Council to decide", keep in mind, several of the current members wanted to paint the new railroad trestle bridge (at city taxpayer cost) because they thought it was "ugly"--even though painting it would have decreased its rust-inhibiting properties and shortened the life of the span.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Show Me a Sign

For those of you who are fans of the diamond sports--baseball and softball--I hate to tell you that another traditional part of the game is going away.  Joining wood bats, stirups, pine tar, and everybody that plays a position bats on the scrap heap of history will soon be signs. 

There is a new trend in the lower levels of the games where coaches no longer flash signs to runners and the catcher no longer uses his or her fingers to signal the next pitch.  Baseball and softball are now adopting the football method of putting everything on a wristband.  The third base coach--usually the manager--consults his chart and calls out a series of numbers.  The batter and the runners look at their wrist bands and see if those numbers correspond to a hit and run, a steal, a bunt, a take or swing away.

Meanwhile, the other coach in the dugout calls out numbers telling the pitcher and catcher what pitch to throw and what location they should aim for.  If runners are on base, another set of numbers tells the fielders who should cover in case of a steal--or what base they should be throwing to.  Gone are the days of having to remember the "indicator sign" flashed by the third base coach.  And it has been years since catchers were allowed to call their own games--even at the Major League level--as every aspect of every sport now has to be micro-managed by the coach on the bench.

There was always a belief that catchers make the best managers, because from an early age they are involved in nearly every aspect of strategy--calling pitches, sequencing signs so that runners on second don't pick up what the next pitch is going to be and setting defenses.  Now, their only function is to make sure that every pitch doesn't go to the backstop.  They may as well be the kid in right field picking dandelions and watching birds.

Now I hate to tell coaches that rely on the numbers and wristbands method that because I often work home plate as an umpire, it takes me about four hitters before I figure out what their sequence is and I know what pitch is coming.  If batters were paying attention--instead of looking at their own wristbands--they would probably pick up on that as well--since it is being announced for everyone at the park to hear.

So the next time you drive by a ball diamond and everyone is looking at their arms, don't think we are trying to figure out how long we have before reaching time limit for the diamond.  This is just the new, dumb way to play the game.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Modern Way to Handle Things

Well United airlines has really stepped in the dog doo this time.  The world of social media has been on fire the past 24-hours after video surfaced of a doctor being beaten by airport security and dragged from a United flight because he refused to give up his seat on an overbooked flight.  The incident comes just a few weeks after United ordered two teenage girls flying on employee passes to change out of leggings and into real pants before they could board their flight.  Now in the end of that "incident", United was found to be justified in their actions--and the celebrities and liberals that immediately took to social media to condemn the airline as "sexist" were exposed as the reactionary, ill-informed troublemakers that they are.

It's entirely possible that United could be justified in the overbooking, "re-accommodation" incident of this past weekend as well.  Private business reserves the right to refuse service to whomever they want--unless that customer identifies themselves with some sort of "minority group", hires an ACLU lawyer, and sues claiming discrimination.  Of course, it didn't help yesterday when United said the passenger was given the boot so that members of another flight crew could board.

The video adds fuel to the fire, showing the doctor sitting peacefully in his aisle seat, reading a magazine when armed security "thugs" accost him.  He starts to scream as passengers yell for the guards to stop.  We see the man thrown from the seat--striking his head on another seat--gashing his face and knocking him out.  There is the woman choosing to become "the voice of the others" screaming at the guards "STOP!! LOOK WHAT YOU'VE DONE TO HIM!!"--which incites more people to shout as security drags the man down the aisle.

You know, there was a way for the flight crew to handle this situation that would have not only not resulted in physical violence--but would have also made United look like the sympathetic character--not just in the eyes of those on the plane, but with the general public as well.  They just needed to employ our most successful political tactic today: scapegoating.

Here's what should have happened.  All of the passengers should have been allowed on the plane.  The four people who needed to be bumped should have been announced and when Dr So-and-So refused to leave the next announcement should have been, "Ladies and gentlemen, this plane will not be going anywhere until Dr So-and-So gives up his seat as he has been ordered to do.  If you miss your connecting flight, or you have to wait even longer to get home to your family, you can thank Dr So-and-So sitting in seat 13C.

After that, cellphone video would have shown the passengers (who in the actual video are yelling to keep Dr So-and-So on the plane--would be yelling for him to "get the (expletive) off so we can go home".  Voice of the Plane Woman would be demanding that security come on-board to remove Dr So-and-So by force if they had to.  And if the guards came in, they would have been cheered by the passengers--even if they had to knock out Dr So-and-So and drag him off.

Monday would have seen Twitter and Facebook filled with posts by celebrities and liberals "Who does this rich doctor think he is refusing to get off the plane when ordered like he is 'too good to be bumped'"  We'd be hearing from the passengers on the flights that needed the crewmembers that bumped the passengers off the original flight thanking United for getting their flight out on time--despite the "selfishness" of Dr So-and-So.  And the network news stories this week wouldn't be about "Airlines abusing the rights of their passengers".  The headlines instead would be "Ill-behaved passengers are ruining the 'friendly skies'"

There are lines from the movie Gladiator that "The mob is Rome" and "The mob is fickle".  United--and all other companies--may want to consider adopting "mob mentalities" to stay in the positive graces of modern American society.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The TV Time Machine

Do you know who may be the most powerful and shrewd people in the world of sports?  The men who serve on the Masters Television Committee.  Somehow, these guys convince TV networks to broadcast their event is a way that has become unprecedented in the world of sports and media.  There is nothing left that looks, sounds or feels like a broadcast from Augusta National.  It's like taking a step into a time machine when what was on the TV mattered more than what could be promoted by the TV.

Take for instance the 57-minutes of golf you get per hour--with just three minutes of commercials.  Augusta National brings its own TV sponsors to CBS.  CBS doesn't go out shopping the Masters to potential advertisers.  AT&T, IBM and Mercedes-Benz are promised one minute ads every hour.  That's it.  And how nice is it to have ads that don't try to cure your erectile dysfuntion, fix that bloating and gassy feeling, or use political correctness to make you think drinking a soda will fix all of our social ills.  There are no local ads with guys yelling about used cars either.

And during those 57-minutes without commercials, you only see golfers and the Augusta National course.  They are the stars of this show.  There are no cutaways to fans in goofy hats.  Women with low-cut shirts don't get on camera.  The stars of the new CBS Thursday night comedy don't "amazingly" have chairs set up along the ropes on 18 like they are huge golf fans.  Verne Lundquist doesn't tell us about this week's plot on "NCIS".  CBS doesn't even promote any of its other shows or even next week's golf tournament at Hilton Head.

Jim Nantz doesn't go to the "Verizon Scoreboard" to check on the leaders.  We don't toss it to Greg Gumbel for "AT&T At the Turn" with five analysts trying to talk over the top of each other.  Peter Kostis doesn't break down anyone's swing with the Konica Minolta BizHub Swingvision Camera.  There is no Shot Tracer to track drives, nor any AimLine or flowing arrows telling us how the putt is going to break.  We don't get updates on scores from other sports at the Franklin-Templeton Sports Desk.  In fact, CBS doesn't show scores from any other sports across the bottom of the screen in a constant "crawl".  About once an hour you get a full field run down there--but that is it. 

And how do the folks at Augusta National get CBS and ESPN to get rid of all the distractions, the dog and pony stuff and sponsors name on everything?  They offer just one year contracts to broadcast the event.  When you give a network a five or a ten year deal to televise your event and something happens in year one that you don't like, you are likely to forget about that when it comes negotiation time years down the road.  But when you can threaten to take away broadcast rights to a highly-rated event like the Masters at any time, you tend to get things done the way you want them done--every year. 

I would never expect the NFL, Major League Baseball or the NBA to go to a Masters-style broadcast deal.  Those folks are in the business of making money--while Augusta National is in the business of maintaining public perception that it is the most-perfect place in the world.  But it's nice to have those four days every year when we fans can tune in to watch sports--and actually get to watch just sports.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Who's Next?

When the US battled fascism in World War II we had to take that fight to a lot of countries all around the world.  Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Italy, France, Holland, Belgium, Austria, Germany, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Burma, French Indochina, China, Japan and hundreds of small islands scattered throughout the South Pacific Ocean.  Our allies fought in additional countries like Finland, Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Korea, Thailand and Laos.  Once the fighting started, it seemed like it would never stop spreading.

Now that the US is battling militant Islam and Islamic terrorism, where do we expect that fight to end?  That fight has taken us to Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, the Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Kuwait and now Syria.  I'll grant you, many of those countries have made it very easy to justify our actions.  Iraq invaded Kuwait.  Iran took Americans hostage.  The Taliban running Afghanistan harbored Al Qaeda in the planning of the 9/11 attacks.  The leader of Al Qaeda--Osama Bin Laden--was able to hide out in Pakistan, Muammar Gadaffi of Libya backed terrorists that bombed commercial airliners and Syria's Bashar al-Assad gassed his own people.

As if the fight that has engaged us for more than 25-years now wasn't straining enough, Syria presents an incredibly complicated situation where not only are we fighting the dictator running the county, but ISIS (the second "S" stands for "Syria") is also fighting and killing people there--and we have no idea what are the affiliations of the third militant group known simply as "the rebels".  It will likely be a three-way fight with no one really on our side.

But then who will be next?  If we were to sweep into this new battlefield and wipe out everyone, the "next ISIS" is waiting to spring up in another country.  Does anyone even know if Al Qaeda is still operating somewhere?  Remember when "wiping them out" was going to assure world peace? 

And we aren't even fighting the biggest Islamic countries yet.  Indonesia--which has seen plenty of terrorism over the past couple of decades--has 209-million people.  Pakistan's population is on pace for 273-million by the year 2050.  And India is actually on its way to being the most-populous Muslim country by that same year--with 310-million--some of whom likely aren't keen on being ruled by Hindus--and who would find plenty of support from their Muslim neighbors, Pakistan--who's already been fighting India for decades.

The pace that we are on, the War on Terror may become the Hundred Years War before we realize it.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

It's Never Enough

On Tuesday, voters in the Howard-Suamico School District rejected a referendum that would have given the school board an additional $4-MILLION a year over the state-mandated revenue cap FOREVER to cover recurring costs.  As a graduate of Bay Port High School I kept an interested eye on those results this week.  I have a couple of former classmates who are now teachers at the high school and they took to social media to express their disappointment in the 70% NO vote.

"I thought our community valued education--but apparently I was naive" was "liked" by a number of other teachers--many of whom lashed out against voters on their own pages in the wake of the loss.  I guess that Howard-Suamico residents (my parents included) failed to "value education" in approving construction of what I like to call The Taj Mahal of Wisconsin High Schools.  When I tell people that I went to Bay Port they "ooh and ah"--but I quickly add that it was the "Old Bay Port"--not the one with the Performing Arts Center, the five-court Fieldhouse, the sprawling campus, the Fieldturf football field and the Solarium.

Those voters apparently didn't "value education" when they approved another $13.4-MILLION referendum in 2014 for building upgrades, security improvements and restoration of a pool.  Because they wouldn't approve an open-ended, unlimited cost measure, those folks "no longer cared about kids".

Meanwhile in Milwaukee County, voters rejected a $60 a vehicle wheel tax in a referendum on Tuesday.  (Oshkosh Mayor Steve Cummings may want to note that Milwaukee County called it what it really is a wheel tax--not an "additional vehicle registration fee")  That wheel tax was not earmarked for additional road repairs or to increase street maintenance programs.  Instead, all of that money would have gone to Milwaukee County Transit.

After Tuesday's loss, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said "Now we will have to look at fare increases".  Excuse me, but shouldn't that have been the FIRST place you looked for additional revenue?  It seems to me that those using the service would be the first to help cover costs.  But that is not how "progressives" think.  They want the low-cost buses and streetcars along with "free" bike lanes on every street--all of which use public resources--but don't generate anywhere near the revenue to cover their costs.  Those who DON'T use those things are the ones they think should pay for them--almost as a "punishment" for continuing to drive cars.  The Milwaukee County proposal wasn't so much a wheel tax as it was a "you don't ride the bus fee".  Consider how much fares would have to be if everyone decided they were going to take the bus, the streetcar or their bikes everywhere they went from now on--and there wasn't all of that revenue from drivers pouring into the system.

While some think there is never enough in taxes--in at least a couple of places this week, some voters decided they have had enough.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Kicking the Cobblestoners to the Curb

I think it's safe to say that the era of the "Cobblestoner" in Oshkosh is over. I can't remember who exactly coined that term for those on the Common Council and the School Board that were opposed to increased spending every year.  I know one of their opponents commented they would be happy if "we still had cobblestone streets"--and the term was born.  And the "Cobblestoners" wore that name with pride.

But within just the 17-years that I have lived and worked in Oshkosh, the city has undergone a political transformation.  Like many urban areas in Wisconsin--and around the country--liberals are concentrating themselves within the city limits.  And they are electing local government representatives that are willing to tax more and spend more.  They have even voted directly to increase their taxes, approving school referenda for new buildings and recurring expenses--after a long losing streak at the polls.

Last night's election was the coup de grace for the "Cobblestone coalition" as a Mayor and a slate of Common Council candidates that had approved higher taxes and more restrictions on businesses in the city were not only winners--but easy winners--in races that garnered plenty of media exposure the past few months.  Plus, you didn't even have challengers to the School Board candidates that were seeking re-election.  And this comes after a Republican didn't even run against State Representative Gordon Hintz in the 54th Assembly district race last fall. 

Now we shouldn't throw dirt on Conservatism in Oshkosh and declared it dead forever just yet.  All things in politics are cyclical.  Today's "I want to live in an apartment by the river and use bike lanes and raise bees and chickens within the city" generation will eventually be replaced by the "I want my own house with my own space and neighbors that don't think they live on Green Acres and my taxes are too damn high" generation that will wonder why the City is spending so much on stuff they don't use or need.

Or they will join the millions of others who have left the cities to find more freedom and less expense in the suburbs and rural areas of the state--leaving behind a greater concentration of urban dwellers with demand for services--and less ability to pay for them.  While the streets of Oshkosh may not be paved with gold--they certainly won't have cobblestones for awhile either.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Where Have All the Problems Gone?

It's another election day in Wisconsin--and you know what that means.  Get ready to be inundated with stories of fraud at the polling places, disenfranchisement of the populace and deligitimization of the process.

It's time for another round of stories about the little old lady in a nursing home who doesn't have a birth certificate because the county courthouse burned down in 1919 and all of the records were lost and therefore can't get a photo ID.  That will be countered by accusations that large numbers of illegal aliens were allowed to vote.  And then there will be the accusations that poll observers attempted to intimidate minorities as they registered to vote.

Tonight we will hear rumors of polling places that denied ballots to people that were in line at closing time--and polling places that continued to allow people to come in to vote after closing time.  There will be people who used electronic voting machines that swear their vote changed right after they hit "confirm".  And someone will say that they saw machines with pre-programmed vote totals already on the screen.  Rumors will also surface of "bags of ballots" going uncounted.  And let's not forget the "studies" on how easy it would be to hack into voting machines that aren't even hooked up to the internet.

Today's elections will be followed by accusations of systematic fraud.  Losers will blame "gerrymandering" for concentrating their opponent's support.  Shadowy "outside influences" will be credited with meddling in the elections.  And who knows, someone finishing a distant third or fourth in a race will demand a recount to "restore faith in the process".  Losers will refuse to accept the validity of the results.  Those opposed to the winners will deny their "legitimacy" throughout their ensuing terms.  And we in the media will immediately turn our attention to who is "leading the field" in candidates for the next election.

Oh wait, I forgot this is a NON-PARTISAN election--where somehow everyone who wants to vote is able to get a photo ID.  Where illegal aliens apparently stay home and don't try to vote.  Where minorities don't feel intimidated at the polls.  Where election machines don't have any problems that affect results.  Where nobody questions the voting process or the counting process.  Where district lines aren't unfair to one candidate or the other.  Where results are considered legitimate.  And where recounts are conducted only if someone loses by a couple of votes.  (We have had the "uncounted bags of ballots"--most famously in Waukesha County--which completely flipped the winner of a State Supreme Court race--and here in Winnebago County where a seat on the Oshkosh School Board was changed overnight).

Isn't it amazing that when political parties, their operatives and big-money third-party groups aren't involved in an election, the system seems to work just about perfectly?  We all might want to keep that in mind when the partisans return in the 2018 election cycle.

Monday, April 3, 2017

IBM Presents You Make The Call!!

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to officiate a major sporting event?  To be the one who decides rules violations--perhaps even influencing the outcome of the game?  You might think that to do so would require years of working lower-level contests, passing multitudes of rules tests and being graded amongst the best of your peers.  In nearly all sports, that is true.  But in one sport, you--with no certification or experience--can officiate the best in the game--and that is golf.

The Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour held its first major of the season this weekend--The ANA Inspiration.  On the 12th hole in Sunday's final round, Lexi Thompson held a two shot lead on the field when she was informed that she was going to be assessed two, two-stroke penalties for incorrectly replacing her ball after marking its location on the 17th green during Saturday's third round.

The LPGA was alerted to this rules infraction not by another player, a rules official or even a volunteer marshall on that hole.  It wasn't even someone at the tournament itself.  Instead, a TV viewer at home (reportedly--but not confirmed--a rules official from another professional tour) had been watching the previous day's action on the DVR and thought that Thompson had failed to put her ball back in the same spot it had been before.  He then sent an email to the Tour--which asked the Golf Channel for the video footage of the hole.  A blown-up look at the marker and the ball showed that the viewer was right.  Thompson was then assessed a retroactive two stroke penalty for playing a ball from a wrong location--and then a second two stroke penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard on Saturday--even though there is no way she could have known that she was being assessed the first two stroke penalty at that time.

Needless to say, sports social media immediately exploded, with fellow golfers, reporters and commentators all going off on the LPGA for 1--listening to a TV viewer about a rules violation and 2--waiting more than 24-hours to assess a penalty to the woman leading the tournament.  Unfortunately, precedent for this sort of thing was set years ago (Craig Stadler on the PGA Tour lost a tournament back in the early 1980's after he knelt on a towel to play a shot under a tree so his pants didn't get dirty, and a CBS TV viewer called the Tour to claim that "The Walrus" had "built a stance").  Believe it or not, had it not been for a rule change this year, Thompson would have been disqualified in the middle of Sunday's round for signing for the wrong score--instead of getting hit with the second two-stroke penalty. 

Amazingly, Lexi actually battled back from that two stroke deficit to force a playoff--with fans chanting her name as she came down the 18th fairway in support of a player wronged by the system.  Unfortunately, she lost that playoff--yet somehow still found the poise to conduct a post-round interview with the Golf Channel and sign autographs for kids on the way to the locker room.

So this week if when you are watching The Masters in 4k Ultra High Definition, make sure to have your copy of the Rules of Golf beside you and look for ever mis-marked ball, any potential shift in a ball's position after a player addresses it or drop that may not have been done in quite the right spot and be ready to call, text or email your "alert" to Augusta National Golf Club, CBS or the PGA Tour.  Who knows, you might decide who puts on the green jacket--and never have to leave your couch to do it.