Saturday, April 30, 2016

Elevator Ups and Downs (Sometimes)

Two recent news stories brought elevator incidents to mind. In the first, a group of football heroes grossly exceeded a load limit and spent considerable time in limbo before help arrived. In the other, a group of police officers got stuck, only to be rescued by firemen who had lots of fun maximizing the cops' embarrassment by taking selfies that made it onto the internet.

Years ago, beautiful wife Sandy and I were in an elevator at the Salt Lake City airport when it stalled between floors. It's an eerie feeling. We were in close quarters in total darkness. Everyone except one man stayed calm until maintenance people got the elevator moving. That man lost it to the extent of screaming and thrashing around in the confined space. However, when we got out, he appeared to revert quickly to normal behavior.

I didn't know that!

My other elevator incident happened a few years later. I was sent to Albuquerque on Forest Service business. My neighbor's son had just built a new home there. He invited me to an early evening golf game, and his wife tacked on a dinner invitation. I brought my putter along with an eye to having at least one familiar club to buoy my confidence on a strange course.

My friend planned to pick me up at the hotel where our meeting was held and I was staying. He urged me to be prompt. We would try to get in 9 holes at University Course-North. Tricky winds were known to come up there in late daylight hours, so we would have to start play promptly to finish our game in calm conditions.

Unfortunately, my meeting dragged on beyond the appointed closing time. When we finally adjourned, I rushed through the lobby waving to my friend, zipped up to my 12th floor room in the elevator, changed shirts, grabbed my putter, and ran back to re-board the elevator. I was fairly close to being on schedule.

But at the first stop, a hotel maintenance lady got on. She squirted the control panel with cleaner and wiped it vigorously with a large cloth. The result was an immaculate button panel, but we stopped at each remaining floor--all 10 of them. I thought about getting off and running down the stairs, but that wasn't appealing following so closely on my frantic efforts to get up to my room.

We were just finishing the third hole on the North Course when a gust of wind blew my ball off the green. Further play was impossible.

Had I known about the advice with the control panel illustration shown here, I could have enjoyed a complete golf game. Oh well, the dinner was both complete and enjoyable.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

In Non-appreciation of Jimmy John's

A page 13 article in my Kalamazoo Gazette invited readers to "Get ready for a freaky cool deal at Jimmy John's. $1 subs for everyone!" The story went on to describe what sandwiches were included, for whom, and when.

Seemed strange to me that a daily paper would run a pr piece for a fast-food restaurant as a news item. When I got to page 18, the motive was revealed. Profit had overcome good journalism, something becoming common nowadays. Jimmy John's had paid the Gazette for a full-page color ad proudly announcing "Customer Appreciation Day Today Only!" The news item was a little kickback.

The ad said a customer could buy one of seven types of subs for $1 at a participating store today only from 11 a.m. to 2 p..m. (emphasis added).

Just happens beautiful wife Sandy and I planned to be shopping close to a Jimmy John's around noon and would be doing lunch in that area. Jimmy John's opened a new outlet near us this year, and we've found their sandwiches to be first-rate. What a deal! A nice lunch discount had dropped in our laps.

Except that it hadn't. Our newspaper never is delivered before 3 p.m. on a weekday. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Gazette subscribers have similar delivery times. Sure enough, 2 p.m. was long past today when I received the generous offer.

One might ask Jimmy John's advertising department: "What took you so long to understand you've antagonized customers instead of pleasing them with the worst possible timing of an appreciation day ad?"  The Gazette advertising department might well consider the same question.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Careful What You Wish For, Senators

Today, President Obama is speaking at the University of Chicago, where he taught constitutional law for 12 years early in his career. It's a sure bet the thrust of his remarks will be pointed criticism of Republicans who have refused to consider his nomination of Merrick Garland for the current Supreme Court vacancy.

Obama's appearance will be just another salvo in the attacks on Republican obstructionism that are part of the Democratic Party election campaign strategy. What the GOP leadership is doing is perfectly legal, but criticism about stalling by Congress does resonate with many voters. Nevertheless, we can be sure that the president's message today will have no influence on Republican legislators.
The GOP stall might not be smart

What would strike terror into GOP hearts would be a surprise hint by Obama that he might have some interest in Supreme Court service. After all, he is an expert on constitutional law as his Chicago Law School appearance reminds us. If Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, which appears the most likely scenario at the moment, what's to stop her from withdrawing the Garland nomination and appointing Barack Obama?

Were I a GOP senator, I might be pushing hard for a quick opening of hearings on the Garland candidacy. He seems likely to be much more conservative than at least one of the alternatives.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Keep on Smiling

After an anchor tooth for a bridge ruptured and associated problems indicated the future of my remaining upper teeth was bleak, my dentist and I decided the best way to go was to do some extractions and equip me with a full upper plate of false choppers.

My plastic teeth are performing rather well only three weeks into our get-acquainted period, but one bit of advice has not worked at all for me. Dental assistants, various internet sites, and product pamphlets all emphasize that the inconveniences of having to rely on false teeth are far outweighed by a big positive--users will bask in the glory of their beautiful new smile!
If I only could.

How wonderful is that? Probably very for many, but it's just a tooth fairy tale for me. I've spent more than 50 years compensating for somewhat crooked teeth stained by excess tobacco and coffee use. The situation was compounded by several dentists years ago who were not skilled with color matches when they installed crowns on a couple of front teeth.

I compensated by training myself always to smile with my mouth closed. Now with a set of perfectly proportioned and color-matched uppers to show off, I find I am unable to change. My acquaintances will just have to continue to settle for a little grin and a twinkle in my eye.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Now Real Turkeys are Going Postal

It's hard these days to avoid hearing about a disgusting politician "going postal" with a vicious attack on a sometimes fairly benign opponent. But an attack by a bird that is one of our beloved symbols of peace and thanksgiving?

Well, it's happened. Recently a flock of more than a dozen wild turkeys ambushed a mailman in Hillsdale, New Jersey, apparently without provocation. More than a dozen of the big birds trapped the postal worker inside his delivery truck until he was able to call for help and his supervisor summoned two policemen to shoo the turkeys away.

The supervisor's call was recorded: "You're not going to believe this, but I have a carrier that's being attacked by wild turkeys--won't let him deliver the mail. It's crazy. They were actually attacking, biting. They chase trucks."

Police said the turkeys eventually returned to a nearby wooded area.
A belligerent bird in New Jersey. (Keith Sra photo)

Sixty years ago, it would have been a rarity to find any turkeys, much less a dozen, in a wooded area east of the Mississippi. Once-large populations of wild turkeys were so decimated by over-hunting at the start of the 20th century that remaining birds had to be protected by strict game laws. The birds were virtually extinct in many eastern states.

Thanks to great restoration work by hunters, especially members of the Wild Turkey Federation, and state and federal wildlife managers, wild turkeys have made a remarkable comeback. We see individual birds and flocks often on routine drives on rural roads in our southwest Michigan area. Regular hunting seasons are routine, and estimates of Michigan populations have run about 200,000 in recent years. Wisconsin, where wild turkeys were considered extinct statewide in the 1880s, now has population estimates in the half million range.

It took years, however, to reach this happy state of turkey affairs. Initial restoration efforts failed when managers tried to transplant tame birds into the wild. Success came only after strategy changed to transplanting only with wild birds. But there were few wild birds available, so the process was lengthy.

Wisconsin's first major successful turkey reintroduction was made between 1954 and 1957 at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, south of Wisconsin Rapids. Enough birds were available by April 1966 for the first controlled hunt in that area in decades.

Local hunters were excited. I was sports editor at The Daily Tribune in Wisconsin Rapids at the time. A section in my book, Days with the Dads: Recollections of a Small-Time Journalist, describes the events this way:

      A self-styled expert arrived in our office a few weeks before the hunt. He wore
      a full camouflage outfit and startled our reporters and editors by producing a
      few loud turkey calls. We got a photo, and I wrote a story quoting him on exactly how
      a hunter should go about bagging a wild turkey.

      Some 30 gunners drew a chance to participate in the hunt at Necedah. I drove down
      to cover the historic event. There's not much a reporter can observe about hunting,
      except what he hears, unless he is one of the hunters. I didn't win out in the drawing,
      so my story was about the noises that day at the refuge. My story unfortunately
      ruffled feathers of quite a few of the neophyte turkey hunters.

      I said the air was filled with the sounds of many calls that sounded nothing like a
      turkey, the noise of random shotgun blasts, a whole lot of profanity, and some real
      gobbling that could have been a form of turkey laughter. My recollection is that the
      enthusiastic, but inexperienced, Wisconsin hunters bagged a total of six birds.

      Later, the hunters got wiser and turkey populations boomed . . .Experienced sports-
      men say it is fairly easy to call a turkey into the open. In 1966 they simply didn't
      quite know how to do it at Necedah.

Who would have guessed the same type of birds that hid out from humans at Necedah would become confident and numerous enough to launch attacks on members of a major federal organization? Let's hope the wild turkey assault in New Jersey is not a sign of something bigger to come.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Another Reason to Dump Trump

There's no need here to list the myriad reasons not to back Donald Trump as a presidential nominee. Others are taking care of that--he's a racist, blowhard, liar, male supremist, etc., etc., etc. However, in a list of little-known facts about The Donald, one characteristic appeared that the geezer had not heard of.

Trump claims he has never had a drink of an alcoholic beverage in any form.

This to some is a damning indictment, one which perhaps helped sink Mitt Romney in his unsuccessful 2012 campaign.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Robotic Robbery

If you've eaten out lately at a casual restaurant such as Applebee's or Olive Garden, an electronic gadget probably was a guest at your table. Language on its small screen cheerfully invites you to play a game, order extra items, or speedily pay your bill.

At first we thought the machines might be a tricky way for management to replace waiters and waitresses. But no, they don't allow you to order your main course, just add-ons. And at Applebee's, the server arrives at your table to slide your credit or gift card at bill paying time.

That automatic bill printer may deliver unwelcome surprises

We've learned that the little machines actually are kin to the infamous "one-armed bandits" familiar to casino patrons who enter with high hopes and leave with lighter pocketbooks. Our first hint was when we accepted the invitation to play a computer game on the device. It was fun, but our bill came with a surprise $1.99 charge included for the game. We don't do the games anymore.

We usually tip 15 percent at restaurants, and go to 20 for extra-good service. When an image of your bill pops up at Applebee's as your server stands at your table, it automatically shows a 20 percent tip. The server then points to the total and advises you may push buttons to increase or decrease the amount. It's hard to imagine a customer mean enough to go for a decrease with the server watching you make the adjustment. Although tempted once, I've been unable to bring myself to retreat to my 15 percent comfort level.

The advent of robotic service at some of our favorite places so far has been only slightly annoying. We must remember that progress has its price. Let's hope this is not the start of bigger cost increases as technology advances.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Time to Analyze the Situation and Fix Blame

With Republican and Democratic Party candidates for president of the U.S. filling the news with exaggerations, pie-in-the-sky proposals, insults to just about everybody, and downright lies, it seems time to take a more objective view of important trends and place blame for the situations that are making America "ungreat."

* Latest data show unemployment has dropped to 4.9 percent, lowest in eight years, while average pay increased modestly.

* Some 30 million Americans whose lives would have been ruined by a major illness a few years ago now have insurance that allows them to live without fear of being unable to pay for a health disaster.

* Over the past six years, American military deaths in Mideast conflicts have fallen from several a day to several a year.

* Violent crime rates continue to decline in the U.S., a trend that began about 40 years ago.

* Expert observers tell us more illegal residents left the country than entered it in the past few years.

* The geezer just filled up the family sedan with gas at $1.35 per gallon, half the price paid just a couple of years ago. Most predictions are that prices will remain stable or go lower at least through next year.

George W. Bush has been out of office for more than six years, so it no longer is reasonable or fashionable to blame these tragedies on him. There's only one thing to do. We should follow the example of our less-enlightened candidates for president and blame it all on Barack Obama's poor leadership.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Good Strategy Routs Militia Loonies

Yesterday was a good day for the good guys in the West--the men and women who care for our public lands and the many users of the lands who follow the rules and support good management.  Federal and Oregon State law enforcement officers arrested the leaders of a motley group of anti-government loonies who seized the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge on Jan. 2.

Brothers Ammon and Ryan Bundy, both occupation ringleaders, and a handful of supporters were taken into custody as they traveled outside the refuge. Reports say Ryan Bundy and LaVoy Finicum resisted arrest and gunfire ensued. Bundy was injured and Finicum was killed.

It is unfortunate any violence occurred. Law enforcement personnel went out of their way to avoid bloodshed. They set up headquarters some 30 miles from the refuge, communicated often with the occupiers, and allowed free movement into and out of the compound for more than three weeks. In fact, the lack of a frontal assault or even  a show of force caused considerable criticism, including scathing comments by the Governor of Oregon about what was seen as a failure of federal agents to take immediate aggressive action against the occupiers.

The Bundys got no sympathy in Portland (Britt Anderson photo/ The Oregonian).
I admit to some concern that the feds were going to let the criminals get away with their actions as the days passed, but with positive results appearing it seems fair to say the law enforcement strategy has been excellent. I reached that conclusion after spending some time reading about the history of anti-government groups in the U.S., especially the various "militias," and reviewing a few cases of previous standoffs in the West.

Our nation began with revolt against what was perceived as government tyranny, although that belief was far from universal within the colonies. From the early days, Americans have prized individual liberty and personal and property rights. Criticism of government officials and actions is a cherished and legally protected right. It thus is not surprising that various anti-government groups sprang up. Some were tax protesters, some sought to impose their religion on others, some professed a need for self protection with arms. Most have come to be referred to under the umbrella term "militias."

Government responses to the militias have ranged from ignoring them to attacking their strongholds with brute force. In the 1990s, two incidents caused rising public sentiment that the forceful approach had gone too far.

In 1991 at Ruby Ridge in northern Idaho federal officials surrounded the family of Randy Weaver, a white supremist. The agents attacked and when the firing stopped a deputy U.S. marshal, and Weaver's wife and son were dead. A task force investigated the police actions, and its report called for reforms in federal law enforcement.

A year later a band of religious extremists accused of weapons violations was surrounded at the Branch Dividian Compound near Waco, Texas. Four federal officers and 82 civilians were killed when agents stormed the compound and fires in the buildings followed a gun battle. The events caused considerable public outrage over what was seen as a heavy-handed government response to a rather non-threatening situation.

It appears anti-government feelings about the two incidents combined to motivate two terrorists to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City two years later. The death toll was 168 and nearly 700 others were injured in the tragedy. If the linkage between the three events is valid, changes in the federal approach to militia criminality obviously were needed.

Militia membership, primarily in the Midwest and West, increased after Ruby Ridge and Waco. But federal and state law enforcers avoided actions against groups of malcontents. Instead, they identified and arrested many individual militia leaders and members when they could prove criminal charges. Militia membership and activity went into a steady decline.

In the West, "Sagebrush Rebellion" leaders advocated views similar to the Bundys'--turn over ownership and management of public lands to local or state authorities with little or no regulation of grazing, mining, or timber cutting. In the extreme, the idea was to put the lands in private ownership.

When I was the Public Information Officer for the Boise National Forest in the 1970s, the "rebellion" was picking up steam.  Later, there were many documented cases of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employees, and sometimes their families, being harassed. Those favoring disposal of the public lands made increasing noise, but no changes in ownership resulted.

I left the West for four years, and when I returned to the Intermountain Region in 1981 there was little enthusiasm for the "rebellion." But the seeds of it remained, and it flowered last year when rancher Cliven Bundy invited militia members from across the land to help him resist efforts by the Bureau of Land Management to force him to honor provisions of his grazing permit. Hundreds of armed militia members and sympathizers showed up to back Bundy, and federal agents backed down and left the area.

That perhaps emboldened Bundy's sons to attempt the Malheur seizure of federal property. They appealed widely for public support and got very little. This time law enforcement people were prepared. Their leniency in allowing the occupiers to travel freely set up an opportune time to arrest the leaders. A few hours later, the entrances and exits to the refuge were blocked, and remaining occupiers were asked to surrender. They did not comply immediately, but now they can have lots of time alone to think about it. And if they refuse, the feds can merely arrest them one-at-a-time as the opportunity arises.

The public lands belong to all of us and preservation and use should be directed by law and science-based regulation. Our law enforcement people have done a good job responding to the latest group of criminal loonies who think otherwise.

Let's hope Cliven Bundy is having unpleasant days looking over his shoulder whenever he travels away from his ranch. His next stop might be a jail cell. And it should be.

Monday, January 11, 2016

We're Being Bowled Over

College football teams are playing tonight for the "national championship," and this old football fan couldn't care less.

Back when I did care, the college season ended on New Years Day. There were a half dozen or fewer bowl games. The "majors" included the Rose, Cotton, Orange, and Sugar Bowls. This year, a record 41 post-season games cluttered up sports pages and TV. The debacle started Dec. 10 and ends tonight.

I should be contented with results so far. My Wisconsin Badgers scored a bowl win. However, television producers thought so little of their contest that it aired at 10:30 at night. I thought so little of the timing that I taped it and watched a day later. Local favorite Western Michigan also won a bowl encounter, the first one in its history. So much holiday activity was going on at the time, however, I neglected to watch the contest. Son Lee's Minnesota Gophers also were victorious in a bowl, but they only won five regular season games to qualify, an indication of the reduction in quality when 6 bowls become 41. Neither of us watched the UM game.

Time to put a stop to bowl expansion.
We are being subjected to football overkill, and it just may end up killing the sport. Plenty of empty seats were in evidence when cameras gave us a glimpse of the "crowds" at some of the games. We also are being subjected to some nonsensical rhetoric by those who profit from the bowls--the overpaid coaches and athletic directors.

In most cases, the schools aren't among the financial winners. Consider the Western Michigan situation. The Broncos played in Popeyes Bahamas Bowl in Christmas Eve. If that name sounds ridiculous, it seems a step up in class from last year's appearance in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

According to the Kalamazoo Gazette, the Potato Bowl trip cost the school $913,542. It was rewarded with a payback of $475,000. This year, the Western athletic director didn't provide details, but claimed the loss would be less. One reason is the Bahamas Bowl doesn't require participants to bring their marching band, nor does it demand the school pay for a specific number of tickets in advance. Nevertheless, there will be a loss when all the numbers are in.

The athletic director shrugs that off with one of the most ridiculous comments being repeated in sports interviews. AD Kathy Beauregard said, "I don't look at it like a loss. I look at the fact that we're going to be on ESPN at noon on Dec. 24 worldwide. So, you're going to be able to watch Western Michigan University for three-and-a-half hours on primetime television across the world. That's invaluable promotion for our great university."

Kathy, that really is a load of pure horse manure.

Find me a promising student who decides to attend Western because the football team played in Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, and I'll show you a nitwit that won't last six weeks at any reputable college. The only students who attend colleges because of the football program are the football players, and perhaps those intending to try out for cheerleading.

I'm pretty sure MIT has no football team, but last I heard students were fighting to get in. Ditto, Cal Poly. The University of Chicago, after years as a national power in the sport, dropped major-conference football in 1939. Enrollment and financial backing from alumni declined slightly for a time, but then rebounded and Chicago went on to become one of the premiere universities in the U.S. When's the last time Yale or Harvard played football in a bowl? When's the last time those schools didn't have a huge list of students seeking to enroll?

Instead of preaching a lot of nonsense to us, athletic directors might better spend their time thinking of ways to rekindle interest in college football. Nationally, attendance dropped 1 percent last year, following a 4 percent decline the year before. I'm betting 2015 numbers also will show a decline. Too much of anything is not a good thing.