Monday, September 28, 2009

A Moment to Remember?

At 3:56 p.m. on Sunday, September 27, 2009, I was standing in front of a flat-screen TV alongside a bartender and waiter in Joe’s Pizza and Sports Bar in Plainwell, Michigan, when the Detroit Lions won a game. We were cheering. Where were you at that historic moment? Does it matter? It mattered in Michigan.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

No Bang for Your Bucks

There was a time, not all that long ago, when we could go to the “Five and Dime Store” and actually buy things for a nickel or a dime.

A flyer arrived recently from a local farm supply store. It proudly and prominently announced great savings during a whole week of “Dollar Days.” Two items, bird suet cakes and canned dog food, were on sale for less than a dollar. Prices of the other 28 advertised items, all for human consumption or use, ranged from $2.50 to $30.

Soon, we may be able to patronize the "Twenty Dollar Store." Obviously, dollars aren’t worth what they once were, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying to use them sensibly.

People who understand and practice personal fiscal responsibility know there are two basic ways to conserve their dollars. The obvious is to refrain from unnecessary big-item spending. Often overlooked, but often just as important in the long run, is to pare or eliminate small recurring expenses.

Apparently, this knowledge does not extend to some economists whose “thinking” influences national debates and policy making. One wrote recently that cutting an over-inflated item by 10 percent would only save $26 billion dollars, and therefore was not worth doing. He called the $26 billion savings a “drop in the bucket.”

That economist needs an infusion of common sense. He could start by pondering the famous statement attributed to the late Everett Dirksen of Illinois, long-time Senate Republican leader:

“A billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wofford? Woeful

In a contest Fox News described as a “laugher,” the Wisconsin Badgers eked out a 44-14 football win yesterday over the Wofford College Terriers. Shame, Wisconsin. Shame, Wofford.

Yes, I know Big Ten teams traditionally warm up with a couple of opening games against patsies. Yes, I know the patsies occasionally rise up and embarrass one of the biggies with an upset. But, Wofford?

It’s somewhat surprising the Terriers can field a team. The student body on the Spartanburg, South Carolina, campus numbers a whopping 1,400. Wisconsin only has some 40,000 bodies to select its semi-pro players from. It’s amazing a few Terriers didn’t get killed in the game at Madison. Certainly, at least some of the visiting student-athletes suffered psychological damage from the beating they took. That is not what collegiate football should be about.

Greed motivates both parties in this kind of horrendous scheduling. The overpaid Wisconsin athletic director and coach want an easy win to pad the season record. The goal is a post-season bowl invitation. That brings millions of extra dollars directly to the school, and indirectly to them. Their needier counterparts at Wofford take home a tidy visitor's share of the gate from a game before more than 70,000 at Camp Randall. The extra cash will run a big part of their athletic program this year.

When I was a student at Madison, it worked exactly that way every fall. Marquette, known as the Hilltoppers when I first attended a game in Milwaukee, visited Camp Randall for the season opener year after year. Wisconsin always won, Marquette always started the year with a good payday. The students had some fun. The Marquette crew offered up a disparaging song starting with “Marquette was on the hilltop when Wisconsin was a pup. . .” Badgers countered with their version of the Marquette fight song, which ended spelling the school’s name as “M-A-R-K-E-T.”

But comparing Marquette and Wofford is ridiculous. Marquette had nearly 10,000 students at the time; Wisconsin about 15,000. Marquette had a proud football tradition, including major bowl appearances in the past. Marquette played nationally known teams as part of its regular schedule. Marquette lost one of the openers at Wisconsin during my student days by a slender margin, and the Badgers had a very good team that year featuring all-America fullback Alan Ameche.

The kind of greed displayed by Wisconsin and Wofford in scheduling their game is just plain disgusting. The college and university administrators who sanction these sorts of travesties are the same men and women we trust to educate the future leaders of our nation. That is just plain frightening.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Avoiding Hits at Work

Women made the first serious challenges to the dominance of men in the American workplace in the early 1970s and they continue to advance toward equality in the business, education, and government establishments. When men ruled the employment roost, athletic achievement and sports talk played a part in maintaining “good old boy” structures. That has changed in several respects.

For years, many former jocks were appointed to well-paid corporate posts when their glory days on the gridiron, diamond, or court were over. Often, their resumes included few, if any, qualifications to perform the tasks assigned to them. Participation in athletics on any level was considered a big plus by those who hired and fired. It thus was not surprising that sports analogies were prominent in workplace conversations.

“Take one for the team, that’s a winner, don’t cry foul, this is our lineup,” and many similar phrases flowed from the mouths of managers and workers. Today, we hear less of those sorts of specific references to athletic competitions, but perhaps more general palaver about the “management team,” the “leadership team,” or all sorts of other “teams.”

Actually, men often used sports as an excuse to keep women in subordinate jobs. They claimed, and I even believed it for a while, that women would not be effective leaders because they had not grown up participating in team sports, and therefore wouldn’t know how to interact effectively with fellow workers or perform well as managers. I stopped believing any of that when three outstanding female members of the Forest Service staff I supervised for years advanced to become three very effective managers.

Those who had the “team player” attitude ignored the achievements of such successful female leaders as Catherine the Great and Queen Victoria in government, and Claire Booth Luce in business. Presumably these powerful ladies had not participated in rugby matches, stickball contests, relays or any other team sports that might have been popular among males in their times. Was Margaret Thatcher a cricket player?

Nowadays, soccer Moms and Dads deliver girls as well as boys to the playing fields and everywhere else team sports are played. So no longer is there a shred of logic to back up the theory that men are predestined to rule the American workplace because of sports activity as youths. As the new breed of female athletes matures, “sports speak” may rise again to a more prominent position in board and conference room conversations. That can be a fun thing.

Some of the old sports analogies were rather clever. A member of the Public Information staff in a western Forest Service Region described his immediate supervisor’s work ethic this way:

“He doesn’t block or tackle. He never carries the ball. But he sure is quick with the handoffs.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Regulate Us, Please

All the hubbub about appropriate levels of government control of financial institutions and fear of “socialized medicine” reminds me that it isn’t about those things at all. As usual, it’s all about the money.

My first lesson on that score came in a somewhat unusual way in 1955. As part of a news reporting class at the University of Wisconsin, we students were encouraged to volunteer for an assignment as an assistant to a real-world reporter. I went to the Wisconsin State Journal and was taken under the wing of a political reporter who was busy covering a session of the state legislature.

My assignment was to cover a hearing on a bill that would have required chiropractors to have state licenses. The committee killed the bill.

When I turned my story in, I asked my mentor about several things that puzzled me. Representatives of the chiropractors had strongly supported the licensing bill. Representatives of the American Medical Association had just as vigorously opposed it.

“Isn’t it strange that a group enjoying total freedom would want government controls put on them?” I asked. “And why wouldn’t doctors want chiropractors regulated?”

“It’s not strange when you understand a few things,” the veteran reporter said. “That bill has come up for the past three years, and it will again. All doctors, and most common folks, consider chiropractors to be quacks. If the chiropractors can get the state to license them, it will do a lot to legitimatize them as professionals. That will get them more patients. It also will set some standards to keep people with no training or experience from setting up shop. Those two things will increase their stature and their incomes. The MDs don’t want chiropractors hanging up certificates saying they are registered 'doctors of chiropractic.' The MDs want people taking their aches and pains and treatment fees to them, not somebody else.”

The bill did come up again. Eventually, it passed. Chiropractors gained prestige and fatter bank accounts.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Maybe Socialists Are OK

Today, because it was controversial, I listened to the entire speech delivered by the President of the United States to children going back to school. He told the kids they should accept responsibility for their actions, study hard, never give up, realize their potential, and not let their parents, teachers, and country down.

Some parents refused to let their children hear that message. Makes one wonder what they tell their children. I never liked socialists. If what I heard today is socialism, maybe I should be more receptive to it?

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Customer Was Wrong

The man in front of me at the supermarket checkout was a big guy wearing a cap displaying a Marine Corps emblem. He was a mature adult – probably in his late sixties. He had two carts filled to the brim with purchases. And he was complaining loudly about all sorts of things.

A quiet middle-aged checkout was trying hard to move him along as she patiently listened to his ranting. Finally, the guy announced he just might have to go back into the Marines to get everybody straightened out. He then held up his very long itemized receipt and said, “And I suppose this will waste another tree you people could have saved.”

The little lady bristled. “Sir,” she said, “now that is just plain wrong. Pulpwood trees are planted to be harvested as crops. I grew up in the U. P., and I know all about that. Now we live on a farm near here. We sell Christmas trees. If nobody buys them, we won’t plant them -- same thing as with pulp trees. You’re not saving any trees by saving that piece of paper.”

The ex-Marine seemed startled. He said, “Oh,” and quietly wheeled his two carts away,

I knew who was right, and it wasn’t him. However, recycling is a good thing to do. It conserves space in landfills and that is important. About 40 percent of household trash is paper or various types of paperboard, so reusing or recycling products made from pulpwood has a positive impact on a real problem. Sandy and I reuse and recycle everything we can, including paper, but not for the wrong reasons.

Recycling promoters just can’t make saving trash space sound as glamorous as “saving” a tree. But does the end justify the means? Must we lie to do good? I think we could make progress, although perhaps more slowly, in improving our environment without misrepresenting the situation.