Thursday, December 30, 2010

The right mix for the USA
To Your               

A Cocktail Party
Progress Report 
The Cocktail Party platform committee is working diligently on a national health care position statement. So far, the members have been unable to reach a consensus. What’s new about that, when health care is the topic?

The committee, however, has announced one important bit of progress. It has adopted a slogan for the health plank:

“Of all things that won’t cure a cold, martinis are best.”

Here’s to you—Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Be Happy, Don’t Worry

‘Tis the season when many contemplate wondrous births and the mystery of death and what may happen then. So it seems appropriate to offer up a few thoughts.

Most people I know have no reason to fear death. If there is an afterlife and they are ushered into heaven, they’ll be pleasantly surprised. If there is no afterlife, it won’t matter.

The odds are different for the few who seem to have dedicated their lives to behaving badly. They might do well to worry a bit.

Whatever you believe about your inevitable departure, the geezer hopes you will put aside any concerns about it and enjoy a very Merry Christmas.

Monday, December 20, 2010

What Power (?)

Geez, just days after my post urging Congress to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gays in the military, Congress actually did that.

Unfortunately, no evidence indicates that any members of Congress read Cocktail Party opinions. One library board member does, though. Does that count?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Open the Closet Door

A Cocktail Party Position

Opponents of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward gay servicemen and women are trying to ram through repeal legislation during the dying days of this Congress. The Cocktail Party hopes they succeed.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” is bad policy. The American public recognizes that, as poll after poll shows a growing body of opinion that all our citizens deserve equal treatment under the law. Recent polls show most military personnel hold the same view, although some, primarily in the Army and Marines, disagree.

The policy was different, and more unfair, when the Cocktail Party chairman served in the U.S. Army in the late 1950s. At that time, any member, or potential member, of the military could be asked about their sexual orientation. An admission of homosexuality kept the individual from enlisting in the service or resulted in a speedy dishonorable discharge.

The 1950s policy apparently was effective in keeping “queers,” “homos,” or “dykes” (today’s “gays” sounds much more civil) out of the military, or deeply hidden within it. Your party chairman served nearly two years in a huge unit (850 enlisted men) in the Sergeant Major’s office, where just about everything was known about everyone. Not a single man was discharged for gay conduct or admitting to being gay. No one was even suspected of being gay.

A WAC battery right down the street was home to several hundred women. The old soldiers among the men claimed that most of the older enlisted women and many WAC officers were lesbians. Your chairman never saw or heard of any concrete evidence to back up those assertions. Certainly, there was plenty of evidence that a large number of the younger WACs were straight. Pregnancy discharges were fairly common, and intimate boy-girl conduct was commonplace.

No doubt gays have served in our armed forces throughout history, but they had to stay deep within the closet to continue their careers. The prospect of immediate discharge, or worse, must have been a constant nightmare for them. In the 1950s, a gay soldier would have been shunned by his comrades at best, and probably would have been subjected to physical violence in many units. Then, he would have been discharged.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” adopted during the Clinton administration years, made service by gays at least more possible and safer. But, this is 2010, not 1955 or 1995. It’s a good thing that attitudes and policy have changed on the side of justice, but now the policy needs to change once again to match current public attitudes and meet ethical standards.

The Cocktail Party firmly believes it is morally wrong and indefensible for any human being to be forced to lie, or worse, to live a lie, to have the opportunity to begin or continue any career, including military service

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Showing Your (?) Colors

Those with a sharp eye will recognize a Bucky Badger and University of Wisconsin “W” adorning son Lee’s apron pocket as he and fiancée Karen took a photo op break from preparing this year’s Thanksgiving dinner.

With Wisconsin on a football roll toward the Rose Bowl, the UW emblem was only fitting. What didn’t fit is that Lee is a University of Minnesota grad. I gave him the apron a few years back.

It was a retaliation gift. Lee had presented me with two Golden Gopher golf sweaters and a cap. The cap had a big Minnesota rhomboid emblem. I tried, not very successfully, to make the cap work to my advantage.

My golfing partners in Utah had no idea what the block “M” represented, and when they asked I informed them it stood for “Money,” and that’s what I intended to win during that day’s round. The theory was my brazen statement might rattle opponents and negatively affect their games. Of course, once they saw me play a few holes any edge I had acquired evaporated.

When Lee was a Minnesota student, Sandy and I would journey to the Twin Cities for U of M-UW football games. Lee visited Madison with us when the games were played there. He went one up in the family rivalry one year when he lulled me into trusting him to buy the Madison tickets. Our seats were right next to the Minnesota band. The proximity to the loud “Here’s to the U or M” guys had the desired effect of drowning out my feeble “U rah rahs” for Wisconsin.

Karen is a Purdue University grad. She’s not big on football rivalries, and thus takes a more adult approach by wearing an apron devoid of school colors. However, if she decides to pull some sort of sophomoric stunt on the geezer, she may qualify for her very own Bucky Badger apron, or perhaps a nice chef’s hat with a cardinal “W.”

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Economics vs. Common Sense

A Cocktail Party Analysis

One of the least publicized, but most onerous, provisions of the Obama-Republicans compromise on tax legislation is the item that would reduce social security tax withholding by two percent throughout 2011. This sounds like a winner for American workers. It’s a potentially huge loser.

The tax holiday was recommended by economists, according to news reports, as a very effective way to quickly pump money into our struggling economy, thus creating jobs. That could possibly be correct, although it would be easy to find a bevy of economists holding other views. The old adage usually holds true—“If you laid all the economists in the world end-to-end, each would point in a different direction.”

In this case, the Obama economists have only theory in their corner, as economists often do. They have no real proof that this kind of pump priming will create or preserve any jobs. In this case, if those who favor this tax holiday have a sound argument for their position, we have yet to hear it. It would be a quick injection of spending power into the economy, that’s all. It surely would create some profits for businesses. Anything else is conjecture.

What Obama’s advisors and he are ignoring is the bigger picture. They say the $120 billion or so cost of this gift to working people will be repaid to the social security trust fund from “other general revenues.” Truth is, we have no “other general revenues” available to pay much of anything back. Our public treasury is trillions of dollars in the red, and projected to be so for many years into the future.

The social security trust fund at the moment is in the black. It has large reserves invested in special U.S. Treasury bonds. But, the treasury must make good on those bonds not many years from now, when annual social security payments begin to exceed payroll taxes collected to support them. At that point, social security starts going broke, and many years from now would become able to provide only a fraction of today's benefits. That’s just what the guys who negotiated with Obama want. They want to kill social security.

Do you believe that a year from now there will be a rising groundswell of public opinion for the government to take money away from all working people by restoring social security payroll taxes to current levels? Damn right there won’t. It would be political suicide. Once this gift is made, it will be very difficult to take it back.

The fact is that Social Security financing would be much less solid, a welcome development for those who want to destroy the system. They would use that as an excuse to privatize the system; that eventually would kill it. Gambling in the stock market with funds that now go into the social security trust fund offers no safety, and social security was designed to be a safety net.

Common sense says the temporary “gift” to workers should be dropped from the tax settlement. It is bad public policy that would endanger the future of social security, a truly successful insurance program that allows millions of worthy American citizens to live out their lives with a measure of dignity.

The Cocktail Party strongly recommends that this smelly part of the tax compromise be poured down the drain.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Angels Among Us

Wealthy Americans for years have bestowed gifts of higher education on individuals and groups of students whose families’ modest means could not finance college attendance. I know of two such situations from my teen years in Tomahawk, Wisconsin. The work of financial angels in each case got similar results, but the details of how help was given were quite different.

Tom Higgins was a classmate and good friend who probably was the best basketball player in the history of our high school. In one game, against a school with three times the enrollment of ours, Higgins scored 46 points while the entire opposing team had 44. He was twice named to the all-conference team as a center, although he usually played guard or forward, which he could do equally well.

Higgins was slightly above average as a student. He worked hard in school, but academic scholarships would have been beyond his reach. Attendance out-of-state at an excellent university would have been well beyond the financial reach of his family.

A prosperous Notre Dame alumnus made sure Higgins attended his school. The alum, coincidently, lived in Merrill. The Merrill High School team was the one Higgins single-handedly outscored. The alum paid all of Higgins’ school expenses not covered by his athletic scholarship. “All” meant every single thing, including costs of clothing and transportation from school to home during breaks. When Higgins thought he had met the girl of his dreams (as it turned out, she wasn't the one), the sponsor financed a beautiful diamond engagement ring.

The alum’s good work was far from anonymous. Before Higgins left to enroll at Notre Dame, his sponsor threw a party at his Merrill home for anyone the basketball star wanted to invite. I was among the invitees, but I couldn’t attend. Those who did said it was a big, grand, and probably very expensive party.

As a freshman, Higgins was the sixth man on the Notre Dame varsity basketball team playing guard. He was on the squad again during his sophomore year. But then, for reasons unknown to me, he dropped out of the basketball program. His angel, however, didn’t drop out. He continued his financial support until Higgins graduated. Higgins had a successful business career; he became a vice president of a firm operating in the Green Bay area.

Higgins died while a fairly young man, which is why I feel free to write about his personal situation. The other classmate I knew who had an educational angel is very much alive, and I think he might be embarrassed if I identified him. So I’ll call him Sam.

Sam was an above-average student who was serious about hitting the books. Sam’s family was no more prosperous that Higgins’ and Sam had no chance of any financial help with higher education expenses from relatives.

A Tomahawk businessman, who insisted on anonymity, paid most of the expenses, including out-of-state tuition, for Sam to attend a well-regarded university in a Midwestern state. Sam graduated in four years and enjoyed a long and successful career in a technical field.

The businessman had no direct connection to Sam or Sam’s family. He just learned of a deserving young man and stepped in to make sure Sam had an opportunity for advanced education. I know the identity of the angel, because my father was well-acquainted with him. Dad slipped once and told our little family about the educational sponsorship. None of us ever revealed the identity of the angel, and I won’t now.

The two angels from my youth did good things. I’m sure there have been many individuals like them in other places. But when we moved to southwestern Michigan, I learned how educational angels can accomplish incredible things when they decide to combine their efforts.

Their work is called The Kalamazoo Promise.

Five years ago, a group of anonymous donors, assisted by a local educator, launched a program that provides free tuition to any public college or university in Michigan for qualified graduates of Kalamazoo public schools.

To date, the unidentified angels have given $21 million dollars. Individual gifts can cover tuition for a full four years. They can range from a smaller percentage of total costs up to 100 percent, depending on how long the student’s family has resided within the school district. Students must perform satisfactorily to qualify, and if they do, they must maintain 2.0 grade point averages in college to continue in the program.

Results of the promises kept have been little short of amazing. Since 2006, the first school year for Promise students, some 1,900 high school grads have begun receiving advanced educations most would not have been unable to afford. Fifty-six have graduated with bachelor’s degrees.

The majority of tuition money has gone to the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Western Michigan University, but 15 schools are eligible, and Promise students now are attending 14 of them.

The students are graduates of Kalamazoo’s two public high schools and three alternative schools. Unlike many other school districts in Michigan, especially urban districts, enrollment in Kalamazoo schools is increasing. Educators report significant strengthening, year by year, of a college-going culture. Advanced Placement enrollment has increased by 71 percent in the past two years, and the rate is even higher for African-American and Hispanic students.

Observers say the Promise has changed the entire culture in the Kalamazoo public school system virtually overnight. Every student who performs satisfactorily has a chance to go on for higher education. Students are working for, and taking advantage of, the opportunity. Eighty-five percent of eligible white students have used the Promise. Eighty-four percent of eligible African-American students have.

No one claims the Promise is a cure-all for improvement in the public schools, but it brings hope. Children who never could have considered higher education now routinely make it their goal. That seems to be a cornerstone anchoring many other programs for positive change in the schools.

The Kalamazoo Promise structure (for details, go to is adaptable to other districts, and similar programs have begun to spring up around the U.S. Some are supported by tax dollars; some are financed by various combinations of individual and business donations. Some are public-private partnerships. All promise hope.

Great things can happen when angels flock together.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Look Out, Turkey

In Jerry Kramer’s Farewell to Football, the author describes a gridiron invention claimed by his fellow guard Fuzzy Thurston. The Green Bay Packers were thrashed by the Detroit Lions in a contest on Thanksgiving Day, 1962. One reason for the beating was a lack of effective pass blocking, especially by guards Kramer and Thurston.

The Lions sacked quarterback Bart Starr 11 times, a league record. After the debacle, Thurston joked that he and Kramer had invented the “lookout” block. He said throughout the game the guards would make unsuccessful attempts to block charging opponents, and then yell, “Look out, Bart.”

Well, maybe Thurston and Kramer launched the first lookout blocks in the National Football League, but they certainly were not the first players to use the term. A pair of high school gridders practiced a version of the “lookout” 10 years earlier.

In 1952, I played right guard and my pal Gordy Newborg was the right tackle for the Tomahawk Hatchets, a Wisconsin high school team somewhat less renowned than the Packers, and not nearly as fearsome as its name implies. Newborg intensely disliked one of our halfbacks. I wasn’t too fond of the guy, either. During most practice scrimmages, the back usually managed to infuriate Newborg and antagonize me in one way or another.

When that happened, Newborg nudged me as we broke the huddle after the halfback’s number was called. He whispered, “Let “em in.” We would fake blocks, turn, and yell, “Lookout.” The “play” usually resulted in two hefty defensemen bashing our mouthy halfback before he could get under way.

Hair-splitters may claim that the ineffective Klade-Newborg blocks were intentional, and therefore not the same as the Kramer-Thurston “lookouts.” That’s true. If the Packers had known of the Tomahawk play, perhaps they would have yelled, “Sorry, Bart; Lookout,” to better define their modification of our invention.

One thing’s for sure, they didn’t yell, “Happy Thanksgiving,” but that’s my shout to you today.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Grateful Memory

Sp. Shane Ahmed (U.S. Army), 31, Chesterfield Township, Michigan. Killed November 14 in Afghanistan. Buried today at Fort Custer National Cemetery.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Practice What You . . .

Only two restaurants within a five-mile radius of our home provide what we would consider fairly elegant dining. Establishments offering fast-food and down-home meals abound.

One of the latter, a “Big Boy,” is a favorite of the locals. It features hearty fare and generous portions at reasonable prices. We go there sometimes when I get an overwhelming urge to forsake my usual healthy morning stuff for a traditional bacon and eggs breakfast. The “Big Boy” crew excels at whipping up tasty breakfast dishes.

During our visits, we have noticed an unusually large number of mature adults among the clientele. Not all are there for breakfast; our observations of order deliveries indicate great variety in what the elder diners consume.

During our latest visit, Sandy reminded me of a recent post (Oct. 7, “Ya Gotta Know When to Play ‘Em) advising readers not to be bashful about requesting discounts. She asked if “Big Boy” offered any. I confessed I’d never asked, but said I was sure they did not. “Ask anyway,” Sandy advised me in one of those wifely tones that is not to be ignored.

When our waitress stopped by, I said, “I’ve noticed a lot of old people in here. Any chance you have senior discounts?”

That got a giggle as she appeared to quickly correlate her estimate of my age with my comment about older customers. It also got a surprise positive response. “You belong to the Big Boy Seniors Club, don’t you?”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, club members get a punch card. Every time you have a meal here we stamp your card. When the card is full after ten visits, the next meal is free.”

Assuming geezers last long enough to make it to ten meals, that sounded like a 10 per cent discount to me. Ten per cent reductions are among my favorites.

The restaurant manager was working the cash register that day. “What do I have to do to get a senior punch card?” I asked.

“Hold out your hand,” he said.

“Can each of us have one?”

He plopped Sandy’s card on top of the one he had placed in my palm. Both were stamped with the date.

It’s a good idea to ask about discounts—and it’s not a bad idea to practice what you preach.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In Grateful Memory

Pfc. Shane M. Reifert (U.S. Army), 23, Marine City, Michigan. Killed in an attack in Afghanistan, November 6, 2010.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Commander Salutes Some of Us

The national commander of the American Legion, Jimmie L. Foster, is:

a. An expert at flip-flopping.

b. A man with a very short memory.


c. A blatant liar.

Just in time for Veteran’s Day 2010, my local paper published a lengthy letter from Foster under the headline “American Legion Strives to Represent All Veterans.”

Headlines sometimes misrepresent stories they introduce; however, in the fifth paragraph of his letter, Foster said, “. . . from its inception, the Legion always has maintained that a veteran is a veteran.”


As the Geezer pointed out last Veteran’s Day (11/12/09 and 11/16/09 Posts), the Legion denies membership to several million honorably discharged veterans because they did not serve during the Legion’s definitions of “wartime.” I am one of those. My two years of honorable service (1958-1960) in the U.S. Army don’t mean a thing to the American Legion. Neither would 20 years of service by a Marine whose enlistment ended on Dec. 6, 1941. How ridiculous is that?

Was I not exposed to danger when men in my unit were returning from service as “advisors” in Laos and Cambodia, even though officially we were not at war in Southeast Asia? I could have been sent just as they were. One sergeant in my unit gave a speech at a class I attended in which he described how he directed artillery fire onto the Chinese mainland. When’s the last time we were at war with China? Was my hypothetical pre-World War II vet never at risk during two decades of service in which he pledged to serve his country however and wherever he was ordered to do so?

Perhaps Foster just forgot the facts for a moment. Two paragraphs later, he said, “If you honorably served our country during wartime (emphasis added), you have a home in the Legion, period.”

Hum, he must suddenly have remembered the Legion’s membership rules. Or, more likely, he knew them all along and just tossed in the corrected definition because the thrust of his message was not to reconcile with veterans like me who the Legion sees as “second class,” but to try to recruit women and minority “wartime” vets, whom the Legion tended to ignore for many years.

Foster could spearhead a drive to correct the injustice of the irrelevant dates of service restrictions. Because the Legion is suffering significant membership declines, such an effort by the organization’s leader would have a high chance of success. Don’t count on him doing that. Many Legionnaires, some of whom served much of their active duty time in the Officer’s Club, are not eager to have their heroic images sullied by allowing any second-class vets into their club now.

Foster concluded his letter with the final insult to what the Legion perceives to be second-class veterans:

“On this Veterans Day, let us thank God for the gift of freedom made possible by those who served our nation with honor, courage, and commitment in our armed forces during all wars (my emphasis; he uses the Legion’s definitions here, no doubt, again ignoring the Cold War period) that enabled so many of them to earn that coveted title of an ‘American veteran.’”

How nice of him to imply that we “peacetime” vets are not veterans at all and did not serve with honor, courage, or commitment. Whatever Foster is, a., b., c. or something else, I will not salute him today. But I will salute ALL my fellow veterans, regardless of gender, color, or dates of service.

Thank you for your honorable service, my comrades.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Who’s Team?

Claims by Dallas Cowboys’ fans supported by many television announcers that the Texas club is “America’s Team” long have rankled Green Bay Packers’ fans.

We think our 100,000 stockholders spread across the nation entitle us to that title. We also think many more people in many places without an ownership stake root for the Green and Gold week after week, seeing our heros as the classic small-town guys up against the big-city slickers.

The fact that the Cowboys have notched so many victories against the Packers rankles even more. It just didn’t seem fair that our hired guns were out maneuvered so often by theirs, and it happened more than once in recent years when playoff advancement was at stake.

Sandy and I have not been south of the border for some time, but we once were frequent visitors. Cowboys’ uniform replica shirts and t-shirts were everywhere. Mexican youths seldom were seen in clothing featuring Packers’ insignia. We never met a Packers’ stockholder in Mexico, except for fellow tourists.

It’s doubtful the situation has changed much, although there probably are some residual green and gold number 4’s still hanging around in Cabo, Cozumel, and points in between. Most Packers’ fans have disowned that guy, anyway, so shirts honoring Old No. 4 shouldn't count.

After Sunday night’s 45-7 thrashing in Green Bay of the boys from Texas is it fair to say “America’s Team” finally crushed “Mexico’s Team?”

How sweet it was.

Thursday, November 04, 2010


It was a clean sweep. Not a single Cocktail Party candidate prevailed in Tuesday’s elections. This was not the stunning setback some may think. The party did not back any candidates.

Never fear. The Cocktail Party (see 8/5/2010 Post, "Coffee, Tea, or . . . ) is merely saving its ammunition for the big one—Campaign 2012. The presidential race started about five minutes after the polls closed in most places and even earlier in some places.
We believe millions of those eligible voters who failed to exercise one of the great privileges of American citizenship and did not bother to cast a ballot in the midterm election include many closet Cocktail Partiers who heeded this wisdom from Kin Hubbard:

“We’d all like to vote for the best man, but he’s never a candidate.”

The Cocktail Party will rectify this situation as we plod toward November 2, 2012. We will develop a strong slate of candidates. Along the way, we will be staking out positions on important matters in words that cannot possibly be misunderstood.

We will create some unique proposals, but also borrow thoughts from others just as we lifted the Hubbard quotation for a website titled “Time Goes By.” We may or may not credit those we steal ideas from.

We expect to glean very few useful thoughts from current members of Congress or those who belong to other political parties.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Still Undefeated

The records of only two pseudo lawyers are known to me—mine and that of William Shatner, who portrayed the zany attorney Denny Crane in “Boston Legal” on network television.

My memoir, Days With The Dads, included a tale about my 2007 triumph in small claims court as a representative of our homeowners association. I won by uttering a couple of sentences after the defendant failed to show up. Nevertheless, I concluded that real attorneys earn their keep, and announced my retirement from matters legal with an unbeaten record—one for one.

Shatner was retired when the network cancelled “Boston Legal” after six seasons. We find few television programs worth watching once nowadays, and none except this one worth viewing twice. Currently, we are enjoying reruns of the comedy show.

Denny Crane famously enhances his legal legend at every opportunity by loudly intoning his own name. Through usually strange machinations, he claims to have won every case in his long career. After each victory, he proclaims:

“Denny Crane . . . Still Undefeated.”

I came out of retirement as a pseudo attorney two years ago when our first property tax bill showed an assessed value nearly $40,000 higher than what we paid for our new home in Michigan. Sandy and I appeared before the township tax review board to protest. We thought we had a great case, including photos and documents and a carefully rehearsed presentation. The board members listened politely and then curtly rejected our claim in their decision letter.

That sent me to the Michigan Tax Tribunal with an appeal of the board’s decision. Taking the action was a bit scary. Aren’t tribunal decisions known to be followed by firing squads? In this case, the frightening part turned out to be the paperwork and the length of the process. I had to send a brief of my argument with supporting documents, and then wait more than a year to gain a hearing.

During the wait, our township surprised just about everybody by announcing a 17 per cent reduction in 2010 assessments for most residential property, including ours. I fired off a copy of my letter from the assessor to the tribunal with an amended argument that this action constituted on admission by the township that the tax review board was dead wrong in denying my 2009 claim.

Minutes before my appointment to plead our case before the tax tribunal, our assessor called my name in the courthouse hallway. She was accompanied by a tribunal judge.

“I apologize,” the assessor said. “You shouldn’t have had to make the trip here. You were supposed to get a letter, but something when wrong. I reviewed your case, and you are right in all respects, especially in light of what happened with the general tax reduction. You’ll be getting a refund check after we calculate your corrected rates.”

The check will be nice, but once again, folks, legal work ain’t easy for those whose only encounters with the bar were to order refreshments. So I am officially retiring from the courtroom scene (including hallways) once again, but I do so with pride:

“Dick Klade . . . Still Undefeated.”

Thursday, October 21, 2010

In Grateful Memory

Spc. Joseph T. Prentler (U.S. Army), 20, Fenwick, Michigan. Killed by a terrorist bomb, Afghanistan, October 4, 2010.
The Fatty Factories

Agreement seems general that Americans are getting fatter, posing significant health problems that negatively impact the overly plump ones and our society in many ways. Perhaps most distressing are numbers for school-age youths.

We are told 10 million youngsters ages 6-19 are overweight, and a good many of them are obese. A recent study indicates the number of overweight kids in each class increases as the students grow older.

Recently, I had an opportunity to chat with the local superintendent of schools, and the talk turned to high school athletics. The superintendent said she was very pleased that week to have hired a well-qualified athletic director. I said I wondered why a high school needed a full-time athletic director.

It turned out I was a dinosaur on the subject. The local school district and the one in my hometown are roughly the same size. When I was a student (1949-53) the entire sports program in the Tomahawk, Wisconsin, district consisted of high school boys’ football, basketball, and baseball, plus small intramural basketball programs for boys and girls. The Plainwell, Michigan, schools superintendent said her district sponsors 72 team sports! She was right; Plainwell needs an athletic director.

Assuming this dramatic increase in the number of organized sports activities over a half-century reflects national trends, something doesn’t add up. Why the dramatic increase in the number of fat kids at the same time?

It is possible that junk food diets, more prevalent today than when I was growing up, contribute more to the national overweight problem than does a lack of exercise. However, health professionals are in agreement that both good diet and exercise practices are needed to develop and maintain healthy lifestyles.

One factor may be a decline in physical education training. A 2008 study by the Center for Education Policy found many schools cutting back on physical education because of financial pressures or curriculum priorities for other types of instruction.

Another study, reported in 2007 by the Centers for Disease Control, found 22 percent of schools had no physical education courses at all. Only 3.8 percent of U.S. elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools, and 2.1 percent of high schools offered daily physical education classes for the entire school year.

If school boards are serious about doing their part to help slim students down, they might get serious about slimming down the number of team sport offerings.

Many team sports allow only a few students to participate. The cost savings of eliminating some of them could finance physical education programs for all students. Information on good eating habits ought to be included in the instruction.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Easily Identifiable

The University of Wisconsin colors are cardinal and white. Ohio State University’s colors are red and gray. Thus it was no surprise when announcers for Saturday’s nationally televised football game between the two rivals several times described the scene at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison as a “sea of red.”

Old fraternity pal Thor Thorsen was among the 81,000 spectators. He phoned fellow Sigma Nu Bob Hirsch just before the game started.

Thor said, "You won't have any trouble spotting me at the game if you're watching on TV. I'm wearing a red shirt."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Sorry, Martyrs

I’ve just seen some rather startling statistics showing increasing sexual activity world-wide among teenagers and even pre-teens.

If present trends continue, soon one powerful motivation no longer will be available to recruit Muslim terrorists.

It won’t be possible to find 70 virgins in heaven.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

In Grateful Memory

Sgt. Anthony D. Matteoni (USMC), 22, Union City, Michigan. Killed in combat, Afghanistan, October 1, 2010.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Ya Gotta Know When to Play 'Em

In an entertaining post, blogger Joared (her site is “Along the Way”) told of a twinge of embarrassment when she played the age card to get her air conditioner fixed promptly during a southern California heat wave. I once was reluctant about asking for senior and other favors. Not any more.

Some 20 years ago, I snorted in disbelief when told a friend had joined the oldsters at the Golden Hours Senior Center in Ogden, Utah, the day after she turned 50. Our friend’s husband was a retired Marine Corps colonel, who was collecting a hefty stipend every month courtesy of Uncle Sam. In addition, he had collected an even heftier sum a few years earlier as the sole beneficiary of his wealthy mother’s will.

Our pal was resolute. She said she saw no reason not to take advantage of free lunches (a $2.00 donation was suggested, but not required) and numerous other perks available at or through the Senior Center. “After all,” she said, “I’m now officially a senior, and I deserve what I can get.”

Our friend was right. We’re not regulars at senior centers, but we have learned not to hold back when playing the age card or other special cards we hold will produce a winner. Discounts and freebies are all around us, and there’s no reason not to take advantage of them.

Although chains often aren’t the finest eateries, we many years ago became fond of several menu items and the atmosphere in Applebee’s restaurants. Last year, I was amazed to hear an elderly lady at an adjacent table ask for the senior discount. The waitress said, “Sure,” and knocked 10 percent off the tab. Applebee’s had provided a 10 percent senior discount for all the years we’d eaten there, but they never advertised it. You had to ask for it. Now that we’re in the know, I ask every time.

Lowe’s offers a 10 percent discount on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day to all veterans, and at all times to active service people. Home Depot matches the perk. But, again, vets must request the discount and they may have to show some evidence of their service. We’re remodeling our home and improving the landscaping. We’ve saved hundreds of dollars with those discounts.

If a little junk food is in order, Wendy’s is one place to get it. You can go there and pay the regular prices, which most do, or, at least here in Michigan, you can first visit a web site ( and get coupons that will cut your burger tab in half. And, if you’re a senior and ask for it, you can get a drink for pennies and get a free refill as often as you go back.

If you have a personal hang up about asking for a discount, try a little humor to put yourself at ease. My favorite tactic is: “I know you find it hard to believe I’m a senior. But I am. Do you have a senior discount?” That almost always brings on a smile, and occasionally nets a discount I wasn’t expecting. The world can use more smiles, and we can use more discounts.

It pays to be alert and do a little detective work. My local newspaper published a story on utility costs. Buried near the end was a brief description of a Senior Citizen Electric Credit of $3.00 per month if the household head is over age 65. I checked out the company’s web page and learned to my surprise that no income levels were involved, and I was eligible. It took 10 minutes to make a phone call and sign up.

The bad news is I missed $63 in credits that could have been mine had I been on the ball and checked out utility perks when we moved here. However, figuring we will gain $36 over the next year, I took Sandy to lunch in celebration—at Applebees using a senior discount, of course.

“Ask and it shall be given you. Seek and ye shall find.”

Good biblical advice. And on a more secular note, when you’re dealt a handful of aces—play them!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Cocktail Party is Tolerant

A misguided Salt Lake Tribune reporter recently suggested to a local representative of the liberal Coffee Party that the organization might do better in the Beehive State if it changed its name to “The Postum Party” or something similar. The Coffee Partier acknowledged his small group had caved in to local pressure when it provided mostly fruit punch and water at its first meeting.

Although coffee is served almost everywhere in Utah, sipping the stimulating beverage is contrary to the “Word of Wisdom,” and therefore strongly discouraged by the Mormon Church. The usual Cocktail Party refreshments fall into the same category. We cannot expect a surge in Cocktail Party membership in Utah.

On this issue, the Cocktail Party stance is clear and firm. We will not consider name changes that detract from the essence of our mission statement: “To serve the people of the United States by creating an excellent blend of good government and personal freedom.” We assert that “Cocktail Party” strongly reinforces the “blend” concept, and therefore is entirely appropriate for us. We refuse to pander to other viewpoints merely to recruit a few members.

The Cocktail Party, however, is tolerant of all. When attending meetings, you may bring your own bottle, or bottles, of anything you choose. We provide hot water as well as hot air, so you can whip up a nice cup of hot chocolate or an exotic tea if you like. Or, you can mix a hot toddy. It’s your choice entirely.

Cocktail Partiers value individual freedom. We think what people drink is irrelevant to what is in their heads and hearts, unless, of course, they fuzzy up their mental and physical processes with too much of the good stuff.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sideline Humor

In 1964, I assumed much good humor was to be found in sports.

When my publisher at the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune decreed I would write a weekly column on subjects of my choice, I decided to end each offering with a sports joke. Some national stories were available from a news service we subscribed to. I was sure I could find enough humor in and around local sporting events to fill in any blanks and end my column with a rib-tickler every Wednesday.

I was overly optimistic. Despite efforts by many comics and writers, there really weren’t all that many good sports jokes around. After a couple of months, I dropped the “leave ‘em laughing every Wednesday” strategy for want of material. That dearth of sports witticisms hasn’t changed much in the ensuing 45 years. But on Sunday morning, I think I “heard a good one lately.”

I was telling a dedicated Detroit Lions fan of my intent to root hard for the local favorites that day, for two reasons: (1) my beloved Packers were idle, and (2) the Lions were playing the Vikings. Minnesota would be led by an aged quarterback named Favre, who readers of this blog may know is not one of my favorite guys.

“Didn’t you hear the news this morning?” the Lions’ booster asked. “They’ve renamed the team. From now on, the Lions will be known as the Detroit Possums. It makes sense. They play dead at home, and get killed on the road.”

He said it; I didn’t. The “Possums” played true to form that afternoon. They suffered their 22nd consecutive loss on the road, which ran their record to 40 losses against just 3 wins since the midpoint of the 2007 season.

Even a joke at the Lions’ expense eases the pro football pain around here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

In Grateful Memory

Senior Airman James Hansen, Athens, Michigan. Killed in an explosion, Iraq, September 15, 2010

Thursday, September 23, 2010

On a Clear Day

Mike Hathaway, who I worked with in the Forest Service’s Eastern Regional Office before he became Supervisor of the Nicolet National Forest in Wisconsin, recently sent along an entertaining list of fun phrases. The statements were created for Lexophiles, people who are lovers of words. Lexophiles favor wordplay when they try to create a bit of humor.

The phrase that tickled me most was the first one on the list:

“I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.”

Another item on the list, although a bit more of a groaner, reminded me of a story:

“When the smog lifts in Los Angeles, U.C.L.A.”

Smog obscures the landscape in several other places out West. I lived in one (Ogden, Utah) and occasionally traveled to another (Missoula, Montana) on Forest Service business.

Missoula was one of my favorite cities to visit. I liked the friendly people who lived there and the generally easy-going ambiance of the small city. However, temperature inversions often could blanket Missoula with thick fog mixed with air pollutants, creating dense soup very much like the more-famous L.A. smog. It happened fairly often.

Jim Blaisdell, an Assistant Station Director when I worked at the Intermountain Research Station, was in considerable demand as a master of ceremonies for special occasions. He had a dry wit and a talent for using it inventively. Blaisdell had worked in Missoula early in his career.

A visitor from Montana to Station Headquarters learned of Blaisdell’s earlier assignment and asked how he had liked living in Missoula. Blaisdell said, “Well, we lived there almost six years. One morning the fog lifted and we found out it was a pretty nice place."

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Instant Legality

About four years ago, the genealogy bug bit. My modest response to the itch was to google around a little on the Internet to see if any Klades would turn up in Germany or thereabouts. One did—a resident of Bremerhaven, a principal port city.

That was especially interesting, because family lore held that Grandma and Grandpa Klade both sailed from Bremerhaven to America in the mid-1800s. They did not emigrate together, however. They met and married in Wisconsin.

My German e-mail contact’s husband was a Klade who grew up in Austria. That also was interesting, because no American Klades I knew ever mentioned any Austrian Klades. The wife wrote to me because her husband was not fluent in English. She did very well with the language, and we exchanged many messages before the cyberlink was broken. Her address stopped functioning; I never learned why or was able to reestablish the contact.

We failed to establish any links between the American Klades I knew about and the Central European variety. Toward the end of that exploration, I asked about access to documents in Bremerhaven that might provide some details about the early days of my grandfather and grandmother. “Are you sure you want to do that?” my pen pal asked.

She said the local Prince who reigned over the area that now includes Bremerhaven decided to empty as many of his prison cells as possible to save money. He turned robbers, rapists, murderers, and other unsavory characters loose if they would agree to sail to America and never come back. To smooth the way, the Prince provided phony birth certificates and other documents. Many young German men, who violated laws by avoiding military service, joined the jail birds. Often, they used fake identities to get out of Prussia, Bavaria, or other Germanic countries and into the U.S.

“A lot of German-Americans were criminals,” my contact said. “There’s no assurance your relatives weren’t among them.”

We are a nation of all types of immigrants. Slave ships delivered many. Indentured servants stayed once they worked off the costs of their passage. Many fled political or religious persecution or economic deprivation. And, the official stamp on questionable documents at Ellis Island instantly converted many of our ancestors from illegal to legal arrivals.

Perhaps a dash of humility would be in order to temper some of the current intemperate rantings about illegals.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

No Words Came

It was the ninth anniversary of 9/11. I was not feeling well. I was late getting out in the rain to properly display my flag to honor 3,000 innocent people killed by a gang of thugs.

I spent some time standing in the drizzle looking at Old Glory dripping raindrops like tears.

I tried to write some memorable words to say how I felt. Nothing came.

I took a photo as the rain let up. It will have to do.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Total Jerk

Terry Jones is pastor of a 30-member, off-beat Christian church in Florida who intends to burn copies of the Koran on Saturday in remembrance of the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. Jones, who has been called a “dangerous fanatic” by members of a church he founded earlier in Europe, certainly is that. He also is a total jerk.

Of course, our Constitution allows Jones to burn Korans as long as he does it within the context of applicable laws and regulations. Jones has ignored the procedural part of the free-speech freedom. He intends to proceed despite the fact that local authorities rejected his request for a burning permit.

The list of those who have urged Jones to back off is impressive. Sarah Palin called his plan “an unnecessary provocation.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deplored the idea, and a member of her department called it “un-American.” General David Petraeus said the book-burning could “endanger our troops and the entire operation in Afghanistan.” The Pope condemned the plan from the Vatican. Other Christian and Jewish religious leaders world-wide have implored Jones to cancel the Koran burning.

Jones, at least at the moment, says he will go ahead anyway. One reason he gives for burning a book 1.5 billion people consider holy is to “honor the souls” of 9/11 victims. Does he include the souls of 59 innocent Muslims killed in the attacks by the jihadists?

Jones says he fully supports our troops, and is distressed that his action may endanger them, although he will go ahead anyway. Do those he supports include the 15,000 Muslims currently serving their country in the U.S. Armed Forces? It seems unlikely this poor excuse for a Christian will find a way to honor and insult those brave men and women at the same time.

Cocktail Party Explodes

Just a month ago, the Great American Cocktail Party was launched right here (“Coffee, Tea, or . . . “ posted 8/5). Membership has quadrupled in the few weeks since the organization unfurled its banner.

And there, folks, you have two examples of what to expect lots of in the weeks ahead as we move toward Election Day in November. Many think we can’t get there fast enough.

The headline is designed to get your attention and compel you to read what promises to be an interesting item. The problem is, it has little to do with the actual story. This sort of sensationalism has been raised to a fine art by reprehensible rags like the National Enquirer, a “junk journalism” publication many of today’s internet authors and radio and television script readers seem to have adopted as their model.

Cocktail Party membership indeed has quadrupled. The deception here is one of omission. Membership was on the low side to begin with.

With a little practice, one could become expert at phony headlining and statistical manipulation. That could earn a lucrative job as a talk show host. And, if the editorial black arts were practiced adroitly with charts and graphs accompanied by raving and ranting, the perpetrator could become a famous television commentator.

Although the body politic may have been under whelmed by formation of the Cocktail Party, a few individuals were whelmed to some extent. Bill Hamilton, who retired as national head of publishing in the U.S. Forest Service, signed on and even suggested a motto for the fledgling party:

“A politician should have a pimp for a brother, so he’d have someone to look up to.”

Hamilton, a stickler for accuracy, was quick to point out that this statement originally chastised editors, not politicians. It appeared in "The Portable Curmudgeon," by Jon Winokur, 1987.

As an ex-editor, I winced upon learning that. However, considering the number of “editors” who love to conjure up sensational headlines and story lines and let all sorts of phony statistical usage and analyses get into print and on the airways, perhaps the slap was deserved.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

They Also Suggested

The recent (7/22) post, “Let Me Suggest,” an uncomplimentary review of the Geezer’s experiences with suggestion systems, brought a flurry of reports from retired U.S. Forest Service folks about their unsatisfying encounters with the organization’s system.

Malcolm Furniss, entomologist and Project Leader, Intermountain Research Station, said he remembered the system as “Mickey Mouse.” He recalled receiving three $25 suggestion awards over a lengthy career, but said the ideas were so insignificant he can’t remember what they were. Furniss also recalled an associate getting an award for suggesting that employees should save paper clips.

Al Groncki, State and Private Forestry in the California Region, said he devised a form to make it easy for those considering retirement to analyze their financial situation. The calculations could be complex. His suggestion was adopted for national use. Why are we not surprised to learn the award was for $25? Groncki said he doubts today the form or references to it could be found within the Forest Service. Years ago, Groncki used the form to help out in an important personnel matter, so he thinks the government got its $25 worth.

At higher levels, sound suggestions could be ignored. Larry Lassen, who served as Station Director at the Southern and Intermountain Research Stations, said in his latter years with the Forest Service he frequently suggested that national meetings of Regional Foresters and Station and State and Private Forestry Area Directors (RF&Ds) should be less frequent, could have substantially shorter agendas, and ought to involve fewer individuals.

During Lassen’s career, the RF&D group numbered 20. Various others were invited to give presentations or just sit in for a while. I was drafted to help provide support for one RF&D meeting in Salt Lake City. Four of us devoted nearly two full days to routine support, and the number of individuals in the meeting room was 30 or more most of the time.

Of his frequent suggestions during critiques that the meetings be scaled down, Lassen says, “Alas, it seemed that the number of meetings increased and the number of non-RF&Ds increased.”

Tom Harlan, long-time Public Affairs Officer who retired as an Assistant Director in the national office, gets my vote for the best story. Harlan began by offering the opinion that employee suggestion awards “have to be in the most dysfunctional category of the public sector.”

Harlan recalled an incident from his early days in the 1960s at the Rogue River National Forest in Oregon:

"An employee got tired of having mops and brooms and other cleaning equipment thrown all over the broom closet. So he filed an employee suggestion that hooks be installed on the wall so the implements could be hung from them (he got a cash award for the idea).

"About a year later, the same employee made a suggestion that the hooks be removed from the walls because people kept gouging their heads on them. So the hooks were removed, and the employee received another cash award."

“How’s that for a great system?” Harlan asks.

How, indeed?

My blog post ventured into the private sector with some criticism of suggestion arrangements at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo. The result was a prompt phone call from a gentleman in Customer Service at the hospital who had read the post. He apologized for the original failure of hospital staff to call me, and solicited my ideas about the suggestion system.

The phone call was a very nice response to my complaint. I was especially pleased that no mention of $25 was made.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Two Dumbs Don’t Make a Smart

Just because you can open your mouth doesn’t mean you should. Often, that's not smart. Just because you can erect a building where a whole lot of people don’t want it doesn’t mean you should. Usually, that's not smart.

Our President is an excellent speaker, but once in a while it appears his mouth starts working before the idea is fully developed. Such was the case that added fuel to The Great Mosque Controversy.

Barack Obama could have stayed out of the whole matter, which would have been smart. Instead, he uttered a basic truth one day—that we have religious freedom in the United States and we should defend it—and qualified the statement the next day—he was not going to make a value judgment about whether or not religious freedom should be exercised by building a mosque in downtown New York City near the 9/11 attack site.

Taken out of context as I’ve just done, the two statements seem harmless. But the context is that a significant number (20 percent or so) of Americans believe two falsehoods about Obama. They think he was not born in the U.S. (he was born in the State of Hawaii) and that he is a Muslim (he was baptized by a United Church of Christ minister more than 20 years ago, and regularly reads the Bible). Despite the truth of the matters, anything Obama says or does to reinforce either of those unfounded beliefs damages him and his political associates.

The rest of the context is that a very large number of Americans are suspicious about Muslim beliefs and intentions. After all, that was not a group of Seventh Day Adventists who launched attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Those are not roving bands of Baptists killing our young men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan.

American Muslims could best counteract the distrust by assuming activist roles in the fight against terrorists and speaking out against them at every opportunity. That would demonstrate their good intentions to their fellow Americans. Building a mosque near the 9/11 site would have the opposite effect. The intent certainly is not to exacerbate Judeo-Christian ill will. The reality is it would do just that, and the mere idea already has done so.

It seems fair to say American Muslims can expect more sympathy and tolerance from a government controlled by Democrats than one dominated by Republicans. The New York Muslim group shot themselves in the foot with the mosque proposal. They handed the right wingers in the GOP in issue they will use to their advantage in November election campaigns. The mosque issue will help energize GOP activists, and give party candidates some votes from independents they might otherwise not have received.

Although he was morally and ethically correct with his first statement and sensible with the second, Obama hurt his party’s chances in the Congressional elections by elevating the discussion to center stage when he chose to make presidential comments about the issue in the manner he did.

Dumb and dumb.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Record Run

We’ve reached the “dog days of summer,” which is bad enough in itself, but for thousands of young male bodies this is a horrible time. Boys (and a few girls) across the land who fancy themselves as football players are about at the midpoint of preseason practices.

Just the thought of this late-summer punishment nearly six decades after my last gut-wrenching pushup on a hot, humid August day is sufficient to take most of the fun out of one of my current better days. An old (very) song advised “You Gotta Be a Football Hero” to “get along with the beautiful girls.” Well folks. the goal is worthwhile, but the price is too high.

I went out for the football team at Tomahawk High School as a freshman because it was the thing to do. For me, it probably wasn’t the thing to do. I liked the games, but I hated those practice drills.

Facilities at our small northern Wisconsin school hardly matched student enthusiasm for athletics. Our tiny, overcrowded locker room was upstairs from the school boiler room. When a lot of sweat from a lot of over-worked bodies and steam from the even smaller communal shower permeated the locker room, the boiler room might have been the better place. Football practices and games were conducted at Pride Park, six long blocks from where we suited up in front of our lockers.

Pride Park was named for a person, not as an endorsement of the quality of the facilities. When we went there for summer football practices, the restrooms were locked. Relieving a full kidney, throbbing bowel, or unsettled stomach required a run to the woods behind the decrepit baseball grandstand. When you got to Pride Park in football regalia, you were six long blocks from civilization.

In my freshman year, a benevolent coach, Ed Kidde, let us walk those six blocks to and from practices. Unfortunately for the slackers among us, Otis Mehlberg, a fitness fanatic, took over a year later. He required us to run the six blocks. Upon arriving at the practice field, we ran a couple of laps around the perimeter of the field, did a couple of hundred yards of wind sprints, had a calisthenics session, and then started practice. It was brutal.

A few over-enthusiastic team leaders actually sprinted for most of the six blocks in a macho contest. The rest of us dogged it as much as we could. We hid behind trees to avoid coaches’ eyes. Or, we jogged when we spotted the coaches nearby (they drove in Mehlberg’s personal car, yelling at any slackers they spotted), and then lapsed into a brisk walk, or a slow one if we could get away with it.

The sprinters posted some impressive times, but a plodder set the standard for the six-block trip. A big tackle, Bill (Gunny) Sachs, covered the distance in record time. Sachs was a good athlete, who also was a very nice guy. He got the high school-practice field sprint title in a way he didn’t deserve.

Our manager, Jack (Doc Swab) Hanson, dispensed few medications, but he was known to occasionally rub on some Atomic Balm (also known as red hot) to loosen taut, aching muscles. On the day Gunny Sachs set the speed record, someone rubbed a bit of balm into his jock strap before he put it on.

We noticed Sachs twitching around and performing strange gyrations when the team assembled at the practice field before starting the usual lap runs. He finally went over to Mehlberg, urgently whispered something into the coach’s ear, and tore out of the practice area in the direction of the high school. With the shower room as the goal, we were sure Sachs covered that six blocks faster than any runner before or since.

We blamed the prank on Gene Schreiber, not necessarily because he was the culprit. We automatically blamed anything like that on Schreiber. Usually, he was guilty. Schreiber once showed up in the boys’ locker room wearing a pair of girl’s gym shorts he somehow liberated from the locker room next door.

Were I to counsel teenage males nowadays on how to “get along with the beautiful girls,” I would tell them to forget about striving to be a football hero. A better idea would be to buy a guitar and try to make it as a rock star.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sorry, Brent

Darn, he proved me wrong. Brett Farve showed up in Minnesota yesterday, and today threw a pass in practice. Thus, he kept more faith with his Vikings teammates than I thought he would. He showed up two weeks before I said he would. I apologize for my error in judgment.

Fave said this will be his last season, maybe. The prima donna of football ought to apologize for his unending, childish waffling.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A New Brand?

His own agent recently called old number 4, Brett Favre, a “Drama Queen.” Wonder if they’ll put it on the back of his jersey when he shows up just in time to suit up for the Vikings’ opener against the New Orleans Saints on September 9?

One teammate said it would be “fair” to the alternate quarterback and other members of the squad if Favre would declare his intentions to play or not play this season at least a few weeks before the first game. Wanta bet he’ll do that?

There’s no fair in Favre.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Internet Garbage

Cal Samra is a former Associated Press reporter and a reporter and columnist for the Ann Arbor News. For the past 25 years, he and his wife have published The Joyful Noiseletter, a delightful compilation of humor and wisdom used in sermons and church bulletins by Christian leaders of all denominations.

Samra is not a fan of internet “news.” In a speech at a recent conference on “Newspapers in Crisis,” he deplored “the explosion of misinformation and slander on the Internet and the ‘hit-man mentality’ of so many journalists and bloggers.” He said, “The Internet is a haven for hatemongers, fearmongers, and rumormongers whose pronouncements are equivalent to road rage.”

Geez, I hope he wasn’t including this humble blogger among the miscreants. But I can comment on his commentary with one word—Amen. As in real life, a few strong dashes of common sense and common courtesy applied to what is written and sent over the Internet would make cyberspace a better place to visit.

I resolve in the future to challenge every falsehood forwarded to our e-mailbox (most are of the political variety). If that costs me a few friends, so be it.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Coffee, Tea, or . . .

The right mix for the U.S.A.
Extremists want their position, and only theirs, to prevail on political issues. If the often-expressed definition of politics as “the art of compromise” is correct, they have no chance of being satisfied with any government action, or lack thereof, based on laws enacted by our elected representatives. Frustration is inevitable.

Lately, the frustration seems more intense than usual. We have a motley collection of right-wing nuts in the Tea Party and other fringe groups getting a lot of media attention. We have an equally motley group of left-wing nuts mucking about with something called the Coffee Party.

What’s new? Our present radical parties both claim they are not parties at all. The Tea Party crowd steadfastly refuses to propose its own candidates or develop a coherent platform. It seeks to exercise clout by vehemently opposing anyone who is “not conservative enough,” whatever that is, or who supports “big government,” whatever that means.

Tea Party adherents have spewed hate, waved obscene signs, and even advocated violence in a few cases, at rallies across the land. Not everyone has engaged in this sort of reprehensible conduct, but many did. The trouble with right-wing extremists is that too many of them are mean and selfish people. Many are woefully uninformed concerning the things they keep howling about.

Unhappy with what they viewed as excessive media coverage of Tea Party activities, two radical liberals formed the opposition Coffee Party in January. It quickly ballooned into more than 200,000 Facebook members by the end of April, and millions visit its web pages. Adherents have held one round of local meetings and are planning a national convention.

Coffee Party leaders say one of their goals is to restore civility in political discourse. That’s a laudable, but tall, order. America seldom has experienced a lot of civil political discourse, although most agree there has been even less civility than usual lately. Some practice runs may be needed. At an early Coffee Party meeting, several attendees hissed and booed various statements that mentioned conservatives. Surely, this was not a demonstration of civility.

True to the common perception of way-out liberals, the Coffee Party intends to employ a vague process of “collective deliberation” to arrive at a decision (they don’t say what problems are being addressed!), and then implement the decision, whatever that means. Vague nonsense such as this is why left-wing extremists are such a small minority in our country. The trouble with left-wing extremists is that too many of them are wildly impractical, and often the upper-crust among them exudes an abrasive arrogance. They are as out of tune with mainstream Americans as the arch-conservatives on the other end of the spectrum.

It is interesting that the Coffee Partiers banded together because the Tea Partiers were getting too much ink and air time. That remains true. One hardly hears or sees much about the Coffee Party and their ideas, or lack thereof, in the media. We hear a lot about the Tea Party. Whatever happened to the “liberal media” invented by and complained about by far-right wingers for years?

What does the advent of the radical “parties” tell us? It appears a fair number of Americans are dissatisfied with the performance of both traditional political parties. The role of political parties is to define positions and produce slates of worthy candidates who will support the positions. A lot of people believe Republicans and Democrats have done a poor job of that lately. So, what should we do?

We should form a new party that better reflects core American values and fearlessly uses analytical approaches to solving our many problems. I propose we do that without delay. The American Cocktail Party’s goal will be to “serve the people of the United States by creating an excellent blend of good government and personal freedom.”

I would volunteer to be the party’s first presidential candidate, but I’m wary of taking on such heavy responsibility. I wouldn’t vote for myself. As a fully mature adult, I might need to take a nap when the red phone rang, and that would not be good. I will, however, respond to what is expected to be a huge groundswell of interest by serving as party chairman.

Unlike me, the Cocktail Party will be constantly on the alert. After all, it always is meeting time somewhere. Unlike the Tea and Coffee parties, the Cocktail Party will not be automatically against anything, and we will shoot straight arrows rather than warm fuzzies at problems.

The party will encourage grass-roots participation up to a point. The problems are obvious, so Cocktail partiers will save a lot of time by leaving it up to the chairman (me) to describe the issues. Anyone may propose problem solutions; however, the party platform will be developed by a small committee. The planks will be specific, not a bunch of generalities. The Cocktail Party will back candidates who sign statements pledging support for at least 90 percent of the actions recommended by the party. Voters will actually know what they are voting for!

Leaders of the American Cocktail Party will consider all ideas, but scant attention will be paid to gutter-sniping from the extreme left or right. Instead, Cocktail partiers will march straight down the middle, advancing Old Glory as the standard of a nation steadily moving forward. We may stagger slightly at times, but we shall never fall or retreat.

What do you think? Want to sign up? The party starts at 5 p.m. everywhere.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Profile, Please

It would be pretty easy to avoid racial profiling, a big concern with the controversial Arizona immigration law, which was mostly put on hold yesterday by a federal judge.

Local cops simply could ask everyone who is stopped on suspicion of a law violation if he or she is in the U.S. legally.

Asking a single question shouldn’t be much of an impact on the officers’ time. It would be sort of like asking to see a driver’s license during a traffic stop.

Unfortunately, because few Americans carry proof of legal residency, this nondiscriminatory policy could result in the arrest of most of the population. That, of course, would have an impact on the gendarmes’ time. Because most of our workforce would be in jail, we would have to invite a whole lot of guest workers to cross our borders and build and staff a huge number of holding cells.

And where would those who were convicted be deported to? And, as many do now, would the new wave of guest workers become illegal by staying in the country after their legal work time expired?

These are important questions all should ponder.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Let Me Suggest

I made my first employee suggestion in 1977 at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) in Madison, Wisconsin. The unsatisfactory outcome of that experience kept me from making another during my next ten years with the U.S. Forest Service. Last month, as a customer not an employee, I offered up a minor improvement idea at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo.

If my experiences are any indication, little has changed in the management of suggestion systems over the past 33 years. It was inept to a ridiculous extent in all three of my experiences.

At FPL, a photographer, Jim Brooks, and I became good friends. Most of Brooks’ work was running the photo lab. I marveled at the volume of page-size glossy prints of charts and graphs churned out daily for review copies of research reports and other documents. I asked Jim why the research divisions and the publishing section didn’t simply make those copies on the Xerox machine FPL had installed several years earlier. He said that had been brought up a time or two, but nothing ever came of the idea.

One day, everything came together to get me working on my first employee suggestion. The FPL newsletter published a glowing report on the suggestion system, including several examples of substantial cash awards made for the better ideas. As a fairly new, fairly naïve, employee, I was enthused. I asked Brooks if he could come up with numbers for a full year on how many prints the photo lab processed. He could; actually he tallied several years’ production. Within a day or so, a report was circulated showing costs per page of running copies on the Xerox machine. That study was made because FPL was considering installing a half dozen more units, one on each floor of the two main buildings.

I gathered up the info and filled in the necessary form, with Brooks and me as co-suggestors. We showed beyond a doubt that FPL would save at least $2,000 annually making the change, and quality with paper copies was just fine for the purpose. An organizational savings of $2,000 a year, for the foreseeable future, was a fairly hefty sum in an era when my annual salary, about in the middle for those working at FPL, was $9,000.

Within days, we got phone calls from the Director’s Office telling us our suggestion was accepted. The next week Brooks and I were summoned to a meeting spot were all employees in our unit were assembled. FPL Director Herb Fleischer arrived with two checks in hand. Each was for $12.50.

“Well,” I told a disappointed wife Sandy, “Every little bit helps.” I was so ticked off I couldn’t think of anything original to say.

Three weeks later draft reports crossing my desk for editorial signoff still included glossy photo prints of charts and graphs. I cautiously approached my boss, Chief Editor Max Davidson. One of his assistants placed all orders for photo prints and page copies. I asked if there was a time lag between official acceptance of an employee suggestion and putting it into practice.

Davidson, who had attended our little check awarding ceremony, said he never had liked the Xerox copy idea, so he wasn’t going to make any changes.

In 1987, I was working in the Forest Service Regional Office in Milwaukee. The director of administrative services, Roger Thomas, had developed in intense dislike for me, based on reports reaching his ears that I thought several of the people in his staff group ought to take more frequent breaks from their usual activities to do a little work. Unfortunately, the second (and last) employee suggestion during my career involved the administrative services staff.

My interest in paper recycling was high, as it is today, after two years doing information work for the recycling research project at FPL. Our Milwaukee office had collection points for used paper in every staff area. Administrative services people made the rounds at intervals to pick the waste paper up and get it ready for a recycling firm to haul away and process.

As in every Forest Service office I’d been in, employees used and discarded lots of blue-lined writing paper. My suggestion was that clean, unwrinkled, used paper be separated from the other stuff. During slack times in the duplicating section operated by administrative services, blue lines could be printed on the back of the sheets, the sheets padded, and the pads stocked for reuse. In total, the office spent several thousand dollars annually for this type of paper, so annual savings obviously would be half that amount.

My suggestion landed back on my desk pretty quickly. Written across it in large letters was: “REJECTED. Ridiculous! There is no slack time in our duplicating section.”

Sometime later, a small voice on my phone said, “Mr. Klade, I really need to talk to you.” It was a nice young lady who ran an offset press in the duplicating section.

The caller said she had put in a suggestion to print blue lines on the back of selected waste paper for reuse within the office. Printing and padding would be done during slack periods in her section. Her suggestion has been accepted, and she was to get a $500 award for the idea. She had just heard I made the same suggestion about two weeks earlier, and it was rejected.

“I just don’t feel right about this,” she said. “I think we should split the money.”

That was a very honorable proposal by someone who was in one of the lowest pay grades in the organization. “You keep the money,” I said. “I’m just glad we’re going to get a recycling improvement around here.” I also commented that she should be proud of herself for making the phone call.

I worked for the U.S. Forest Service for another decade. In all that time, I never considered for a moment wasting ten minutes writing another employee suggestion.

At Borgess Medical Center, patients can use several communications systems to get help when they need it and to stay in touch with the outside world. Telephones are a must for several needs.

During my stay as a patient, telephone use could have been smoother, saving time and embarrassment for me, and time for busy hospital staffers. The space where most handsets show one’s phone number was blank on mine. Probably no need to put the number there was apparent, because each patient had a bulletin board on the wall directly across from the foot of their bed with a bottom line showing their phone number and room number.

The trouble was, only patients with supernatural powers ala Superman, or those who thought to bring binoculars for their hospital stay, could read the phone number when they were in bed. My long-range vision is excellent, and I couldn’t read that number. In the first day or so of my stay, whenever anyone asked for my phone number I had to do something special and keep them waiting until I could answer that simple question. After that, I wised up and wrote the number on a tissue box kept with all the clutter on my bedside tray. Once in a while, I could fumble around and find the number there.

The solution to the irritating small problem seemed simple and almost without cost: Remove the paper strips inadequately displaying room and phone numbers on each patient’s bulletin board and replace them with strips printed with legible type. There was plenty of room on the boards for larger strips.

Mindful of my poor record in the suggestion rewards arena, I asked one of the RNs who was in charge of me if she could get a cash award, or at least a complimentary letter in her file, for submitting an improvement idea to Borgess. She didn’t know! Much literature exists on suggestion systems. A cardinal rule is to be sure all employees know about the system, how it works and who is in charge of it.

The nurse thought my idea had merit. She dialed a number. “Do you handle employee suggestions?” she asked. After several minutes of reply, she said, “OK, I’ll call her.” That call also had no immediate positive result. Maybe, my little thought ultimately will translate into an improvement at Borgess for patients and staff alike, but I doubt it.

The Borgess “Patient Guide” asks, “How are we doing? Where can we improve? Would you like a staff member to follow up with you about your comments?”

I dutifully sent a comment (not about the phone number suggestion) to the Customer Relations Department and asked to be contacted about it. That was six weeks ago. I’m still awaiting the response.

In seems reasonable that big organizations would make special efforts to tap the brainpower of experts who use their services. Hospitals get all sorts of professionals as guests. Why don’t they make a little extra effort to identify them and solicit their ideas?

At present, they seem content to just fall into a good idea once in a while. A recent news story reported how acclaimed designer Michael Graves, best known for his work for Target, came up with the ideas for a whole new suite of attractive and functional hospital furniture after a rare disease landed him in a hospital. Graves was said to have observed, “I don’t want to die in here because it’s too ugly.”

Graves took his ideas to Stryker, a leading manufacturer of medical equipment in Portage, Michigan, not far from my home. The result was shown in June at a prestigious furniture show at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. The furniture was displayed as the Stryker Patient Room Suite. We may assume Graves was rewarded handsomely for his ideas.

Guess you have to think big. One line of type a patient actually could read and other thoughts from a small-time communicator must be just too, well, small-time, to consider, even when the suggestions are freebies.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Just Trust Him

If there were a contest for the least trustworthy people on earth, Afghans would be front-runners for the trophy. They’ve been picking the pockets of visitors to their land for centuries, from assessing outrageous fees on merchant caravans to today’s sophisticated raids on the U.S. Treasury.

President Hamid Karzai, that pillar of integrity, appears to have his eye on a special place in the history of Afghan duplicity. He currently is devoting some of his American-backed energy to one of the great con jobs of all time in his part of the world.

On June 14, someone (Karzai or associates?) motivated General David Petraeus into making major media comments about the “discovery” of $1 trillion in valuable mineral deposits in Afghanistan. Petraeus said the find has “stunning potential.”

A lot of Americans, including me, consider General Petraeus trustworthy. He is viewed by many as a military hero for conceiving and carrying out the troop surge in Iraq. Many believe his leadership was a major force in improving the situation there.

But Petraeus doesn’t wear a geology service ribbon. He got conned. Minerals experts have known for years that valuable deposits are present under Afghan soil. Remoteness, difficult terrain, poor transportation networks, and constant warfare are what prevent their extraction, not a lack of knowledge that they are there. And much has been known about precise locations for a very long time.

Within days of the “discovery’ announcement, Karzai popped up in Tokyo. He told Japanese government officials they would get priority in developing a huge Afghan mineral extraction and processing industry. The reason? Japan has been second only to the U.S. in pumping dollars into Afghanistan—about $5 billion so far. He didn’t say anything about an American priority. The Japanese haven’t contributed lives as we and others have, which tells us something about Karzai’s values.

What message does Karzai’s Tokyo statement send to capitals around the globe? Send cash, or increase your contribution to what already is being extorted, and you’ll move up on the mineral rewards list.

The best Afghanistan position for America to be in is out of there.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Way to Go, Congress

Without all the yowling that accompanied recent changes in our insurance-regulated health care system, which actually don’t qualify as major reform, Congress is well on the way to passing a major reform bill that will have long-lasting beneficial effects for all of us.

Legislation to put controls on Wall Street shenanigans and the high-handed robbery practiced by credit card issuers hardly drew a ripple of interest in the media compared to the hue and cry about health care adjustments. Yet the financial reform measure is much more significant. It undoes a whole lot of ill-advised deregulation dating back to the Reagan years and rampant throughout Clinton’s time in office and both Bush administrations.

Could any members of those administrations actually have believed that bankers and brokers would regulate financial dealings in the interests of our citizens? Ridiculous. It is a government function to establish a financial system and to control it. Period. That’s not socialism, or fascism, or any other kind of ism. It’s just plain common sense.

The financial giants rolled out their big guns and bankrolls and lobbied hard against any return to controls that history showed work, plus a few more to counter creative (read crooked) dealings they thought up in recent years. For once, Congress listened to the American people, not the lobbyists.

I’ve laid some harsh criticism on our Representatives and Senators of late, but this time they deserve a round of applause. They proved that our system of government can work to serve us.