Thursday, December 24, 2015

"Concussion" Hits Home

Although, it may be a holiday spoiler for many people, the Hollywood film "Concussion" is proving to be a box officer winner in the U.S. this season.  It is the sad story of football hero Mike Webster, and the doctor who was thwarted by the National Football League as he tried to expose truths about the dangers of head injuries in the sport that has become our national pastime.

Mike Webster was born near my hometown of Tomahawk, Wisconsin, in 1957. He starred as a center on the football team in nearby Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and later at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
Webster as a Pittsburgh Steeler.
and with the professional Pittsburgh Steelers. Webster is considered by many to have been the finest center ever to play football. The high school field in Rhinelander is named for him. He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame years ago.

Despite earning great fame and fortune, Webster died at age 50, after years as a demented drug addict who often lived out of the back of his pickup truck. His family provided his brain to a medical center that became a leader in documenting the causes and effects of concussions. Lately, pressure from those aware of the center's findings has forced the NFL to take a few safety measures that may spare current players the fate Webster suffered.

The film has been getting good reviews. Yet, despite the hometown connection, I'm not sure I'll go to see it. And knowing what I now know about concussions and football, I'm far from sure I would advise a son or grandson to try the sport.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

May the Holidays Treat You Well

We'll have a few surprise packages to open, but one thing never changes at our place this time of year. Assorted treats will be provided at all times for all comers between full-scale banquet meals.

We alternate holiday events between our home and Lee's house, which is only a healthy walk away from us. Last year, Lee and his fiancée Karen hosted Christmas dinner. This year, we'll be taking on that responsibility. Due to a marked lack of culinary skills on my part, that means most of the work will fall to beautiful wife Sandy. I, however, am a fair hand in the drink pouring department.

Karen and Lee's dog, Pearl, is a major treat recipient no matter where we hold the main meal events. You can be sure she won't miss a chance to successfully beg for a tidbit of ham, sweet potato, or other delicacy.

We wish you health, happiness, and some special treats this holiday season.

Pearl on full alert for a treat during a  holiday cooking session.




Monday, December 07, 2015

Sagging Will Happen Soon Enough

As I prepared to sit down for lunch, a clean-cut young man at the next table noticed my Packers cap and struck up a conversation. He was a well-informed fan, and we had a pleasant exchange about the recent "Miracle in Motown" in which our favorites pulled off an unlikely victory over the Detroit Lions after time had expired.
Not a Pleasant Sight

When my new acquaintance departed with a "nice to talk to you" comment, I couldn't help but notice his low-slung jeans. They weren't quite as extreme as some (his were similar to the photo at the left), however another inch or two and the obnoxious "butt crack" display would have ruined his appearance. His display wasn't ruinous, but it certainly detracted considerably from the good impression he initially made on me.

As I got up and hitched up my trousers for the tenth or eleventh time that day, I wanted to stop the youngster and provide some senior advice. I didn't, knowing advice from elders rarely is appreciated, much less accepted.

Had I chosen to offer my wisdom, it would have been something like this: Back in the day I had a 32-inch waist, rounded hips, and a pretty solid butt. Any old belt easily held my pants up to the level of my navel or nearly so, and nobody ever accused me of being a slob.

Now, my hips and butt are disappearing rapidly and a lot of what was once youthful muscle seems to have migrated from various places to a protruding belly. When that happens, and it happens to many fully mature men, no matter how tightly a belt is cinched, trousers will slip and sag. It is not a pleasant place to be. When you are older, you perhaps will have enough trouble walking briskly without your pants hanging around your thighs or knees. Near-constant attention, or suspenders, becomes a necessity.

Young men should realize pants problems probably are in their futures. They don't need to practice the sagging jeans bit that offends some casual viewers and might cause them to blow an important job interview or other contact where neatness still counts. Wise up guys, and keep 'em up while you can.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thankfully, All's Well For Us

Where were you when Paris was terrorized? That may well join others on the list of famous "where were you" questions--when JFK was assassinated, when man first walked on the moon, when the World Trade Center was destroyed.

I was at home, and more than a little nervous. Beautiful wife Sandy, son Lee, and Lee's fiancé Karen were in Europe to visit family in Germany, tour favorite places in Austria, and attend a special birthday party for Karen's mother, Ilse. Fortunately, nothing on their agenda took them to Paris. Nevertheless, as reports continued to appear of threats and discoveries of new terrorist plots my concerns deepened.

As things turned out, I had nothing to worry about. All the travelers said they had a great time renewing acquaintances with favorite people and places while fueled by liberal doses of schnapps and pretzels. Sandy had an unusual fall on an escalator in the Munich airport, but she somewhat miraculously emerged with only bruises and no pains. The only other problems were minor frustrations with needs to modify parts of the travel plan to avoid delays at borders caused by refugees.

Some of the hosts expressed worry about how I was faring as a solo act back home in Michigan. They should have known all was well. One of my responsibilities was caring for Pearl, who emerged
Pearl resting from guard dog duties.
as a fearless sentinel after years as a mere lap dog. When someone or something got too close to our house one night, Pearl routed the intruder with a chorus of strident barking. That may have been a first. Previously, she was known to emit various grunts, snorts, and snores, but never a real bark.

An event in the latter part of the travel scenario caught my attention. Shortly before the travelers started their journey home the U.S. State Department declared a world-wide travel alert. I was relieved when Lee phoned to tell me their 10,000 mile trip was going to end at our front door in about an hour.

Our reunion didn't quite happen on schedule.When the travelers arrived an hour and a half after his call, Lee appeared somewhat shaken. "What happened?'

"I hit a deer out on the highway," he said. The site of the collision was less than a mile from our home.

Years ago, I was a passenger in a sedan that hit a deer. The front end of the car was seriously damaged. A wrecker hauled it away for major repairs. A conservation officer hauled the deer carcass away the next day. There is nothing unusual about seeing dead deer on the sides our highways in southwestern Michigan, especially this time of year when the hunting season is under way and the animals are moving around during the  rut.

I expected really bad news. However, Lee took some evasive actions and the collision was a glancing blow. The deer limped away. The car showed no signs of significant damage.

Although some horrific things have happened in other places, our little family has much to be thankful for this year. We'll be celebrating Thanksgiving tomorrow. . . right on schedule. Best holiday wishes to you and yours.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Bad Approach to Our Potholes

After several years of wrangling and the decisive defeat of a referendum, our Michigan legislators enacted a program designed to fix our deteriorating highways, roads, and bridges. Everyone agrees the infrastructure needs work. No one seems to agree the new program is a good answer to the problems.

The financing is far from what our accountant governor sought. Big tax collections for repairs are deferred for years into the future. Despite some smoke and mirrors, the program includes substantial tax increases, to the dismay of many of our Republican legislators. Democrats are expressing general dislike for a major part of the plan that will cut other important programs in the future should the economy fail to grow to unlikely levels.

Yet I've not heard a lot of complaints about one feature of the plan that I find worthy of scorn. The good guys among Michigan vehicle owners are going to be penalized for their efforts.

Our state has above-average rates of health problems, such as asthma, associated with air pollution. Sensible people would think our political leaders would be doing everything possible to clean up what we breath. Not so, it seems.

Vehicle registration fees will increase 20 percent starting in 2017 under the new plan to bring in additional revenue for infrastructure work. No problem there, BUT owners of electric or hybrid vehicles with pay $30 to $200 more than owners of comparable gas guzzlers. The tab for those who prove their concern for air quality by what they buy and drive will total about $216 million of the $400 million provided by registration taxes.

Supposedly, this unequal registration taxation is to level the field because the electrics and hybrids obviously use less gasoline and therefore pay a smaller part of the taxes collected at the pump than do other vehicle owners. That is true, BUT shouldn't the goal be to discourage gas usage, thus conserving a nonrenewable resource (oil) while helping to reduce air pollution? Of course it should.

In California, a state long concerned about poor air quality primarily due to motor vehicles, a better approach to registration fees is in place. Owners of electric vehicles pay about 6.5 percent less than owners of other vehicles, or about $20 less per year for a modestly priced new car. This is the right way to go; our Michigan legislators have chosen the wrong way.

(Disclosure: The Geezer's vehicle is an elderly Pontiac that runs on gasoline.)

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Will Detroit Lions Fans Fire the Owner?

In a National Football League season that began with optimism, loyal Detroit Lions fans once again have descended deeply into doom and gloom.

Avid team backers have a standard answer when questioned about their favorites: "Same old Lions." The "same old" Lions franchise goes way back. Its last NFL title was won in 1957. Since then, the team has won only a single playoff game. Fans have been treated to just one winning season in the past 14 years.

Halfway through the current campaign, the Lions have lost seven games and won one. In effect, their season is over. Only a highly unlikely miracle would get them into the playoffs.

Ford family members (yes, the auto guys) have owned the club since 1963. They have long been accused of having too much patience with inept team management. Response to the current losing season, however, has been anything but patient. Family actions are bordering on firing everybody. And a Lions fan, probably with tongue in cheek, has launched a movement to fire the Fords.

When the Lions record hit 1-6, Head Coach Jim Caldwell fired three top assistants. After a disastrous seventh loss in the league's annual game staged in London, England, Martha Firestone Ford fired the team president and the general manager. Caldwell has been spared, perhaps because he is a new guy in the organization or because there aren't many folks left to fill in as head coach should he be sacked.

Fan Jeff Tarnowski last month announced it was time to can the Fords. He started a Go Fund Me campaign to raise $1.4 billion to buy the Lions. CBS Sports reported initial enthusiasm was high, but initial contributions didn't measure up. Early donations totaled $930. Tarnowski says he will give the money to charity if a purchase fails to materialize.

Tarnowski has a way to go. Michigan's population is about 9 million. One amateur accountant calculated it would take a donation of $150 for every man, woman, and child in the state to raise enough cash to make a serious offer for the Lions.

Would the Ford family accept a serious offer? Not a chance. Martha Firestone (yes, the tire guys) Ford is 90 years old, but she is said to be very energetic and dedicated to changing the Lions losing ways. Forbes magazine says she is worth  $1.38 billion, so a shortage of personal cash is not a problem. Mrs. Ford's four children are vice chairmen of the team, and one is being groomed to assume the owner role.

William Clay Ford bought the Lions for $4.5 million 52 years ago. The club may have lost games, but it undoubtedly made big money over the years. The team has produced a tidy return on Mr. Ford's investment. Win or lose, Lions ownership will continue to be a family affair. The team will be playing at Ford Field for a long time to come.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Deflated and Rejuvenated

This week's annual medical exam, paid for by Medicare thanks to a provision of Obamacare, had a new twist. The nurse asked if I minded having a trainee participate with our regular family doc.

"Not at all," said I, and that was a good call. A pleasant, efficient, and obviously competent woman training to be a nurse practitioner arrived and did a fine job of  poking, jabbing, inspecting and questioning before the doc arrived to analyze things. I could find only a tiny flaw in her performance. As we were discussing the possible need for a colonoscopy, she observed, "You've reached your life expectancy, you know."

I chuckled at that lapse in exam-side manner, and suggested it only meant I was likely to live a little longer. But later in the day the full import of the statement hit me, and I felt a bit depressed by once again being reminded that it is no longer wise to make a lot of long-range plans.

This morning another pleasant woman lifted me from any lingering sadness. I headed for the local favorite breakfast restaurant to take care of hunger pangs caused by fasting before some routine blood tests ordered by my medical examiners. Two attractive waitresses called me Honey, Sweetie, and Darling in the span of about 10 minutes.

Of course, many geezers no doubt are addressed that way. But I'm going to hang around a while longer to confirm that.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

A Pope of Hope

Pope Francis has come to these shores and gone. The evening news can return to over-emphasizing other stories. What did the papal visit mean to Catholics and others in the U.S.? That was the topic of a lively discussion this weekend by a dozen friends.

Our group included one person who grew up as a Catholic, has left the church, and is unlikely to return. Another was once married to a Catholic and has many Catholic friends, although she is an Atheist. The rest of us had various religious backgrounds that did not include Catholicism; most now are Unitarian-Universalists.

Very few negative words were spoken about Pope Francis or his visit. What's not to like about a charming man who champions causes dedicated to helping the poor, reversing economic inequality trends, and living in harmony with our natural environment? And this Pope practices much of what he preaches, living modestly unlike some of his predecessors who favored regal splendor for themselves while telling others to sacrifice.

Now the question is what, if any, lasting positive effects will the papal words have. Our discussion group members advanced several ideas.

One with considerable expertise on environmental matters thought the Pope's statements that global warming is a fact and human activities are a principal cause would help move reluctant members of the U.S. Congress to see the light. Another said any advances toward more humanitarian and less dogmatic characteristics in the Catholic Church were welcome, and Pope Francis is steering the church in that direction.

I thought the most insightful comment was that Francis' appearance at this time in America was a masterful stroke of public relations. The church as been hard-hit by membership and financial losses in the wake of revelations of priestly misconduct. Exposure to a new leader who exhibits personal warmth, tolerance, and a gentle spirit was a positive thing for an organization very much in need of some warm fuzzies.

I agree that Pope Francis, with only a few minor exceptions, rather expertly delivered the right messages at opportune times. There is hope that some of his words will promote lasting changes.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

A Government of Laws, Not Clerks

When Kim Davis, clerk of Rowan County in Kentucky, was released from jail a few days ago, hundreds showed up to greet her with cheers. Davis had refused to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples, despite a Supreme Court decision that such unions are legal. Supreme Court decisions are the law of the land in the U.S.

Davis claims "God's authority" not only allowed but required her to deny the marriage applications. She deserves a round of boos, not cheers, for that stance. Davis is entitled to her religious beliefs. What she is not entitled to do is choose what authority governs her job.


It is quite clear that the job of county clerks is to follow the laws of their state government and the federal government. Those laws require them to issue marriage licenses to qualified individuals, and the licenses must be provided immediately upon application or after only a brief waiting period.

State laws vary somewhat, but most require the clerk to consider only that applicants meet an age requirement (usually 18), are not attempting to marry a close relative, have the mental capacity to understand their actions, and are not already married. A few states require blood tests. In no state are clerks authorized to interpret laws or follow only those they happen to agree with.

Davis is free to select any authority she wants to guide her personal beliefs. However, only properly constituted authorities are empowered to define what she must do in her public service job. That's how government works in this country, and if Davis wants to continue as a public official she needs to follow the rules.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Gamrat Dishonors Our Community

Plainwell, a small city (pop. 3,900) in southwestern Michigan, has a new claim to fame. News of a sex scandal involving the area's representative in the state legislature has spread to the major television networks, been mocked on late-night comedy shows, and circulated to all manner of  media by the Associated Press. Reuters is carrying the story, so it may even have reached foreign shores.

I was much more content when Plainwell's claims to fame were servings of great treats at the Plainwell Ice Cream Company and a history of papermaking at a giant mill now mostly decomposing in the center of town after shutting down about 15 years ago.

My inclination has been to let the scandal play out without comment here. Several investigations are under way to determine if laws as well as moral principles have been violated. However, a few folks have poked fun in my direction because of the situation. A couple of  things need clarification.

It is true that Cindy Gamrat, the female partner in the sordid affair, is a neighbor. News stories correctly identify her as "R-Plainwell," and we both have Plainwell mailing addresses. We actually live about 5 miles east of town in a community of some 450 families. Although Gamrat resides on the edge of my neighborhood, we have never met.

My silence regarding the now infamous representative should not be construed as support. Usually, I consider voting a very private matter, but I'll make a small exception in this case. I have never
Courser and Gamrat need to resign.
voted for Cindy Gamrat. One area GOP leader said two "sensible Republicans" were in the four-person primary field that included Gamrat. I voted for one of them. Gamrat also didn't get my vote in the general election, but that mattered not, because this district is very conservative, and the Republican nominee always wins local elections.

Gamrat moved to our neighborhood from Indiana about four years ago. She became the founder and leader of the Plainwell Patriots Tea Party. She and another first-term legislator, Todd Courser, upon arriving in Lansing took the unusual step of  sharing office space and staffs. They now admit to sharing a lot more.

So what?  Sexual transgressions involving politicians, some of them prominent (Bill Clinton comes to mind), seem so routine that news of another one usually gets ho-hum reactions.

One respected local newspaper columnist addressed the question by producing statistics indicating affairs involving female legislators are much less common than those of males. The counter argument that there are many more men than women holding office doesn't hold up. Correcting for that, it appears to be a fact that far fewer women politicos than men go astray, or at least fewer get caught.. That truth helps make the Gamrat-Courser affair unusual, and that makes it newsy.

More unusual is Courser's bizarre attempt to create a cover story. One of his staff recorded Courser discussing the whole thing. The tape was given to the Detroit Free Press, which broke the story. Courser arranged to have an e-mail sent to  Republican leaders in Lansing stating that he was an habitual drug user who had been caught having sex with a male prostitute. That was supposed to create such a sensation that revelations about the  Gamrat-Courser affair would be dismissed or discounted.

Another major factor in turning a minor Michigan affair into national news is that the participants are outspoken social conservatives who do not hesitate to bring up their dedication to "family values" and hurl God bombs around at will. Both are married. Gamrat has three children (she home schooled them), Courser has four children. Courser has said he won't resign because God hasn't told him to do so.

There are many other strange quirks to this story, including Gamrat being thrown out of the Republican caucus for breaking its rules. If you like to delve into political-sexual intrigue, do a computer search and you'll find all sorts of interesting stuff.

If you study the matter, you probably won't wind up feeling sorry for Gamrat or Courser, only their families. They clearly have not been star-crossed lovers caring intensely only for each other. In one of his cover-up statements, Courser called Gamrat "a tramp." Gamrat stood beside her husband while making a tearful public confession about the affair, and never mentioned Courser by name.

Six of seven top Republican leaders in our county have called for Gamrat's resignation. Michigan Tea Party leaders have demanded that both Gamrat and Courser resign. The Mayor of Plainwell said Gamrat has made a mockery of her role in government, and "needs to go away." I agree.

(On Sept. 10, Courser resigned from the Michigan House of representatives while votes were being taken on expelling him. A short time later, the House voted to expel Gamrat. Both decided to run in Nov. 3 special elections to fill their seats, stating "let the voters decide." The voters did. Gamrat finished third with less that 10 percent of the vote; Courser did even worse finishing behind a bevy of opponents with about 3 percent of the vote )

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Dubious Distinction

Our town featured a different kind of summer diversion this year. The Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibit "The Way We Worked" had a place of honor for several weeks in a renovated area of the historic Plainwell Paper Mill.

Our local arts council and district library were principal sponsors of the exhibit, and they created
some related activities using the work theme.  Among them, the library hosted an essay contest. Several categories for authors of different ages all revolved around employment experiences. Why not enter? I thought. I extracted some material published  in lengthy articles elsewhere and assembled it into an essay about my first job as a shoe shine boy.

Several days after the exhibit left town, a cheerful librarian called with the news my essay was a winner and prizes would be forthcoming.  It was great news, but got a little less great when she laughed and said there were six prize packages for the five authors who entered the competition, so everybody got a prize.  I felt a bit as some youngsters might when everybody who races around the track gets a blue ribbon because "we all are winners."

My ego got a small boost when the librarian said she thought my essay was the best. But when I  stopped in to get my prizes and read the other four entries on display, I realized there were some pretty darn good stories in the "contest." Did that pleasant lady tell everyone their essay was the best?

The prize packet included a nice "Essay Contest Winner" certificate and a Barnes and Noble gift card. The third item was a $25 share of stock in the Michigan Paper Company of Plainwell. Wow, those were issued many years ago. Could be very valuable. Not really--the Plainwell Paper Mill ceased operations 15 years ago. The buildings are  being demolished or, in a few cases, remodeled for other uses.

Incidentally, the Smithsonian exhibit is an outstanding audio-visual presentation. If it comes your way, take the opportunity to see it. And, if the locals sponsor an essay contest, give that a go. Chances of winning are very good. If nothing else, you might ask about that sixth prize package the Plainwell folks couldn't find a winner for. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Unladylike Luck

Members of my family shared a belief that unexpectedly finding money made the discovery date "your lucky day." Thus, I was pleased to spot a penny in the parking lot of my dentist's office when I opened the car door.

Why not, I thought. I was there merely to have a final cap placed over what had been a troublesome
Not all pennies are lucky.
tooth. No problems were expected. I'd paid for the procedure in advance, so not even financial unpleasantness was in sight.

The new dental assistant told me what to expect. "I'll pop off the temporary crown, clean up the old adhesive, fit the final, and take an x-ray so the doctor can be sure all is well. Then he will cement the final crown in and you'll be good to go."

That worked for a couple of minutes. The assistant failed twice with the x-ray. She called in another assistant. Two more attempts failed. An assistant who had worked there for several years was summoned. Zip. Done. "Would you look at this, please?" the original assistant asked.

"Hum," said the veteran. "Where is that image from?"

"It's one we took from the wrong angle before you got here."

I heard a muffled conversation in the hallway, and the dentist appeared. He clicked the computer monitor back and forth several times, studying the screen intently. "Well," he said, "there's good news and not so good news. Your crown work is perfect, but the tooth next to it is in serious trouble. You need a root canal. We'll set it up."

"How much?" I asked.

"Only about $700."

I later figured my net good luck for the day could be valued at around minus $699.99. Old family beliefs aren't always reliable.

Friday, July 17, 2015

How Terrible: Oil May Get Cheaper

The headline in USA Today shouted: "Iran deal boosts fears of global oil glut."

Of course, I had to read the story to see who was afraid and how serious this whole glut business could be. Surprise! The fearful are those who devote their lives to gambling on Wall Street, and apparently their concern relates only to the possibility the mega-oil companies of the world may see their profits, and thus their stock values, fall a bit.

Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow
Michael Cohen, an energy analyst at Barclays, was among the  fearful. According to Barron's, he said, "Iran's efforts to raise oil exports could not have come at a worse time, given the market's lingering oversupply."  He promptly was contradicted by other experts who pointed out that Iran is not in a position to immediately dump a billion gallons of oil on the world market.  It will take six months or more to gear up production, although some reserves have accumulated and could be released sooner.

Hey guys. Do any of you care about the effects on the folks who use oil products? I can't think of anything those of us who are forced to fill the gas tanks of our vehicles to survive in this modern world have to fear from stable or lower  prices.  I can think of several reasons for us to celebrate.

1. Lower oil prices may hurt economies of producers such as Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia, but they help net oil importers, including the U.S.  Lower oil prices make our companies more competitive. More important, they put extra dollars in the hands of consumers, and consumer spending drives most of our economy.

2. U.S. oil producers have been on a drilling and pumping spree since fracking technology made increased production possible. If world prices drop, some of that activity will stop or decline as it becomes too expensive. Problem? Heck no. Fracking can have very serious environmental effects.  If we need less of it, that is all to the good.

3. Unless our politicians are willing to accept continued deterioration of our roads and bridges, they must raise taxes, and the most convenient way is to increase existing per gallon taxes at the pump. Here in Michigan, even with a decidedly anti-tax legislature, our pols are flirting with a deal that would increase our tax by 34 cents per gallon by 1217.

The federal government so far has shown little interest in a tax increase, but it cannot support that position forever. The highway trust fund is unsustainable.

Of course, tax increases will reduce or eliminate the positive effect of lower oil prices on consumers, but at least they will not cut into our present spending power much, if at all. And we'll have a better and safer transportation infrastructure.

If benefits such as these promote fear, I would like to be terrified.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Another Blogaversary


Today is the ninth anniversary of the birth of this blog. This small-time journalist created the first post in 2006 after checking out a blog by big-time journalist Mort Reichek titled "Octogenarian."

Mr. Reichek was 81 at the time his work encouraged me to start blogging. He continued posting well-crafted stories until he suffered serious injuries from a fall. He died at 87 about a year after the accident.

So far, I've posted some 500 items. As my own octogenarian years rapidly approach,  I find story ideas flowing as freely as ever, but the energy needed to do the hard work of expressing them clearly
and concisely is beginning to fade. However, although my entries probably will become fewer and fewer, I hope to keep going at least as long as Mr. Reichek did.

My biggest pleasure has been new insights gained from fellow bloggers whose posts I read regularly and who visit here to view my offerings and make comments. Also important to me have been those who choose not to make comments on the blog itself, but express their opinions about my writings personally. As every writer knows, appreciation, and even disagreement, by readers is what keeps us going. It tells us somebody out there cares.

I've come to value many of the people who go to the trouble of commenting on my work as new friends, even though I've not met some of them face-to-face. If you are thinking about starting a blog, think about that. Go ahead--it's worthwhile.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

How About a Civility Bomb?

I've been watching a few newer movies lately and, against my better judgment, reading some comments on web page items. It's disgusting how many F. . . bombs are being tossed at us. None of the F's added a thing to the movie plots. And certainly none enhanced the reputations of commentators who insist on leading off their opinions with them.

One that really disgusts me is the title of a very good site: "I F . . . . . . Love Science." Does that F-bomb serve any useful purpose?  For me, it spoils a visit to a place that has some great information.

Just now, I saw a comment by a more civil individual. She started with: "WTH." For those turned off by even the mild "hell," a totally acceptable "heck" might be imagined here. I like it. Even better, couldn't we stand to touch one more key and  respond to ridiculous stuff with, "Huh?"

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Confederacy's Place in History

      (I've been trying  to craft a post that would cut through, with a rational statement, the controversy related to display of the Confederate battle flag at the South Carolina state capitol and elsewhere.  So many conflicting opinions, interpretations of Civil War history, and downright nonsensical statements have appeared that sorting things out proved to be a daunting task.  Yesterday, a fellow blogger did the job for me. "Morning Fog," a site whose proprietor had a career with the U.S. State Department, displayed just what I was feeling, but struggling to put into words. His post follows.)

In recent days, and for many years before, governments, politicians, and others in the U.S. South have sought to justify the continued widespread public display, sale, and reverence for the flag of the Confederacy as a matter of history.  "It's our history," they may say, or perhaps they say they are honoring the valor of those who fought for what they believed in.

I'm very much against any efforts to deny, or to whitewash, U.S. history.  The Civil War (or if you prefer, the War Between the States), is part of what we are as Americans, imbued in our psyches, even for our most recent immigrants, because its effects and its many remaining manifestations are still a part of our everyday lives.  So historians will continue to attempt to analyze and explain it, and museums will continue to offer glimpses of it.

But symbols aren't history, when raised to the top of flagpoles around the country, or splashed across automobile bumpers.  Despite claims to the contrary, they are rallying points that serve only to keep sick
Not something to honor.
ideas alive.  In this country, we teach school children to honor and even "pledge allegiance" to the flag - a kind of a dumb idea in my opinion (a FLAG? Really?), but if we blow away the smokescreen, we have to understand that the "Stars and Bars" is also a claim of allegiance.

Allegiance to what, though?  Is it history, even if Americans generally have very little regard for history?  Is it pride in relatives who served loyally for a cause, although there are lots of people in this country today who are descended from the Tories of the Revolutionary War period, who weren't evil and believed in their cause, yet I'm not aware of any state in the union today that flies the Union Jack  Causes are embraced only when someone wishes they weren't lost.

And what is that cause?  Some would have us believe that it has to do with legal issues (the right to secede), or even economic ones (concerns about destroying the economic base of the South).  And it did, in part, at that time.  That's history.  But it also had to do with a principle, or as Vice President of the Confederate States of America Alexander Stephens put it shortly after several states officially seceded, the new CSA government's cornerstone:

...rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. 

A devil's advocate might suggest that allowing the symbols of Confederate principles to be widely on display would give relatively harmless vent to regressive thinking that might otherwise go underground and turn to violence.    That has not proved to be the case.  It's time to recognize claims on "history" for what they are:  a sham.

Monday, June 22, 2015

It's Time to Toss the Symbols of Hatred



While we mourn our brothers and sisters who were murdered in Charleston, we also need to stand up and declare it is time for bigots who continue to inspire racial violence with outdated symbols to discard their battle flags.




Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Buying a Bargain Burger

Can you get a first-class burger (with fries) in a nicely maintained restaurant with good service for a third off the menu price? Yes you can. But you need the right qualifications and a proper alignment of incentives to pull it off.

A nearby Applebee's is our dining spot of choice when we want to enjoy a reasonably priced meal in a pleasant place. Our food selection normally is something a little more elegant than one of the seven
How America gets fat (but yuummm)
varieties of hamburgers on the menu. But recently everything aligned so amazingly well, I just had to go for one.

I chose the "American Standard," otherwise less grandly known as a cheeseburger, priced on the menu at $9.99. However, our dine out date happened to be a Monday, and while we were planning it along came an Applebee's ad proclaiming every Monday evening "$5.99 Burger Night."

I asked the waitress if that included the burger I wanted. "Oh yes," she said. "It's all of them."

Every Monday at Applebee's has been "Veteran's Day" for some time. All vets, and I am one, get a 30 percent discount on all food items all day long. I assumed two simultaneous big discounts weren't going to apply, but asked anyway just for fun. "Yes," she said, "you get the Vet discount too." So my $9.99 burger magically became a $4.19 item before it even was plopped on the grill.

But that's not all. I paid the bill with a gift card purchased at a 20 percent discount using a credit card that gave me a 1 percent cash back bonus. So my $9.99 goodie cost me a net $3.31. With a deal like that, I might have to become a Monday night fixture at Applebee's. Of course, after a month or two on a burger regime I might not fit through the door.

Really, I'm not quite as cheap as all this sounds. I did tip that helpful server on the regular $9.99 amount plus drink and tax.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

A Ford in Your Past?

To the delight of many Michiganders, Ford Motor Company sold a quarter-million vehicles in May. It was another in what has become a long string of positive performances since the U.S. economy started to emerge from the depths of the "Great Recession."

Ford's revival has been a do-it-yourself affair. The company declined to accept government financial assistance to weather the economic storm, while rivals General Motors and Chrysler dipped deeply into the federal till to stay in business. Ford management anticipated the crisis and, unlike the others, got its house in order before banking disasters struck.

Perhaps it's fitting that Ford led the way. It often did so in the history of American automotive companies. Henry Ford, a farm boy with little formal education, had a remarkable ability to introduce or develop novel ideas in building a manufacturing empire. His first product was the Model T, and his factories ultimately produced more than 15 million of them. The video celebrating the Model T has, I think, some fascinating scenes of the vehicles being produced and driven.



Ford did not invent mass production, but he was the first to develop the idea in a big way. He made large capital investments to build giant factories that housed assembly lines. Some believe he created the first workable private auto, but Karl Benz of Mercedes-Benz renown did that two decades before the first Model T Ford rolled off the line in 1909. Likewise, Ford did not invent mass media advertising, but he was one of the first to use it effectively.

Ford Motor Company produced print ads in color when color printing was a rarity. "There's a Ford in your Future" became perhaps the best-known advertising slogan in the 1940's, and various versions of the phrase popped up on the American scene for many years after the company adopted new tag lines.

Henry Ford gained some of his fame by paying assembly line workers $5 per day, an unheard of sum in the early 1900's. His motivation probably was not entirely altruistic.  Skilled workers flocked to Detroit for good paychecks, and Ford managers could take their pick from many candidates for every job that became available.

Whether or not there's a Ford in your future, there probably was one in your past. American families (and many in other countries) either owned a Ford at one time or another, or owned other mass-produced vehicles whose development mirrored the Ford example. The video claim that the Model T was the "great-great-grandparent of most every car on the road" has some truth to it. Sometimes the connection is close in unlikely places. On a trip to Europe, a German family member loaned us their car for a lengthy road trip--it was a Ford SUV!

My family didn't own a car during most of my years at home. Dad bought a 1927 Model T in 1945. It was one of the stranger of the many "T" models--a convertible pickup truck. Dad used it to carry materials to a lake lot about five miles from our home where he was helping build a cottage for an uncle. The tough old truck did the job well for about a year.

Dad (age 53), me (age 9), and our Model T (age 18).

One statement in the video probably is over-exuberant hype. There is no way our Model T ever was started with a "half-turn" of the crank. Dad was a strong guy, and he did a whole lot of cranking to get that four-banger engine going on many occasions when I was responsible for adjusting "the spark" at just the right time.

The last Model T's were produced in 1928; I bought one of the first successors, a 1929 Model A, in 1952 for $50. I drove it for about a year and sold it for $55. Wouldn't it be grand if today's cars held their value like that?


Monday, May 18, 2015

Will Polite Enforcement Work?

An ancient axiom holds there is some good in every situation. Indeed, there are indications that police forces in many parts of the U.S. are examining their practices and policies and making positive changes as a result of  a rash of documented brutality in dealings with the public they should be safeguarding, especially the reprehensible shootings of black men without sound justification. Justice may yet be served properly.


However, one might ask if the pendulum could swing too far the other way, a characteristic of American political life and social change seen often in the past.

The new sign pictured here popped up recently on a route we travel often between a home improvement store and our favorite supermarket. I am certain that the old sign it replaced said, "VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED."

Saying less forcefully they "may be" prosecuted, it seems to me, opens a loophole for miscreants who might be willing to play the odds and take a chance they will be among those who escape punishment. There also could be an administrative problem. Who decides which dumpers will be prosecuted? Based on what? The volume of junk they drop off? The esthetics of the stuff? The nastiness of any odors?

Could it be this type of more sensitive warning could go so far that tellers with their hands raised might say, "Please don't rob our bank. You may be prosecuted." I'm sure the bandits would pay a lot of attention to that sort of notice--right after they entertained the hostages with a round of  LOL.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Not a Packers Fan

With pro football's draft day looming, it appears da Bears, Green Bay's arch-rivals, are once again trying to pull off some sort of trickery. According to a Chicago radio station report (probably a plant), local authorities have called in the FBI to search for a man who allegedly robbed a Chase Bank branch in Chi Town's Woodlawn neighborhood while wearing a Packers cap.

Surveillance camera footage supposedly taken inside the bank shows a robber with a
Definitely not one of ours.
Packers logo on the front of his headgear. Suspicion is mounting in Green Bay that the image has been altered.

Odds are about as long as those favoring the Bears to win the Super Bowl that this man is a Green Bay Packers fan. We are not above stealing the Bears' signals or some of their better players (Julius Peppers comes to mind), but we have no need for Chicago money.

Cash is not a Packers problem. Again this year, the corporation's 100,000 or so stockholders will get no dividend despite multimillion dollar profits.

No one knows for sure what da Bears are up to with this robbery story, but now that we're on the alert the plot is destined for failure--like a Jay Cutler pass in a key situation

Monday, April 20, 2015

Modern Media Work Magic

Critics lamenting the vast changes in American news media continue to mutter throughout the land, and my voice has been among them for some time. The main concern is the disappearance of investigative reporters as newspapers continue to decline and die.

We oldsters reason that without ethical media watchdogs to create awareness of government, corporate, or ideological excesses democracy cannot flourish, or perhaps even exist. But recent events bring hope. Perhaps the old dogs simply are being replaced by a whole new breed that may prove capable of doing a better job of guarding the public interest.

Recent events in Indiana show that internet media can expose unsavory political actions and force change. And they can do it with remarkable speed and effectiveness.

On March 26, Governor Mike Pence expressed pleasure as he signed into law a "religious freedom" bill that supposedly had the benign purpose of defining  rights generally protected by the U.S. Constitution. The measure had overwhelming support in the legislature. Laws in one-party states, such as Indiana, enacted by wide margins and enthusiastically supported by the governor usually are impossible to overturn or modify without major electoral upheaval or campaigns that can take years to develop.

Justice was served remarkably quickly.
Yet the Indiana law bit the dust in a matter of weeks. The opposition said the law clearly would allow discrimination against a minority, in this case LGBT people, and that was intolerable. A huge storm of protest erupted within days. Statements by individuals on blogs and in social media led the way. Facebook and Yelp participants played major roles in the outcry. Businesses and organizations took action to penalize Indiana economically by canceling meetings, postponing investments, or threatening to pull operations out of the state.

Gov. Pence quickly went on television to explain that the law really did not promote discrimination. He failed miserably to make the case. As criticism and punitive actions mounted, he surrendered and backed a change in the law to make it clear it will not permit discrimination because of sexual orientation.

The fallout from the protests was dramatic. Pence's approval rating within Indiana plummeted. He went almost instantly from consideration as a presidential candidate to a man fighting for his political life.

I doubt any such change would have happened in the past when newspapers, radio stations, two press associations, and three television networks constituted our media.The Indiana law signing might have rated a couple of paragraphs in the Indianapolis Star. The Associated Press might have condensed that to a few sentences if its editors decided to circulate the news at all. Chances of the item drawing any national media attention would have been extremely low.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which keeps an eagle eye out for injustices, perhaps would have launched a protest. And probably few people would have paid any attention to it. It is doubtful the law would have become any sort of factor in Indiana or national politics.

Our traditional media developed over many years. Internet media still are the new kids on the block. The newcomers just proved they can work magic in righting a wrong that the institutions being replaced could not match.

Many questions of responsibility and ethics surround the internet as a news purveyor. But there always were similar issues with traditional media. Perhaps we critics of media change should relax a bit and just watch the new kids grow up and see if they mature into solid citizens.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Not Your Father's Badgers

Thanks to regional television connections that cover just about everything that moves on the Big Ten sports scene, I've watched more than 30 University of Wisconsin basketball games this season. The Badgers have a 31-3 record at the moment.

Seven-footer Frank Kaminsky is hard to stop.
The UW team is an interesting group in many ways. It features a seven-footer who handles the ball like an athletic little guy and swishes long three-point shots with ease, a Ho-Chunk Indian lad who went from sub to brilliant team leader, and a fifth-year senior nicknamed "Captain America" who is said to top the league in floor burns caused by diving recklessly for loose balls. These guys are fun to watch.

I was a student at Madison for four years in the 1950s. I attended one basketball game. Wisconsin basketball was not fun to watch.

Wisconsin won its only NCAA championship in 1941 under coach Bud Foster. Six years later the Badgers made their way to the national tournament, but were quickly eliminated. They didn't qualify again for a postseason tourney for 42 years!

Coach Foster hung around for 25 years, continuing to teach the same, old pattern game that was a winner in 1941. His strategy was producing perennial losers by the 50s. Most students responded by skipping basketball games altogether, even though an athletic ticket book cost $8.50, as I recall, and several basketball passes were included.

Curiosity got the better of me in 1955 when the Indiana Hoosiers arrived for a game. Indiana was a basketball powerhouse. They won the Big Ten and NCAA titles the year before, and were well on the way to another conference championship. Wisconsin, in 1955, was to finish with 16 losses. The Badgers tied for eighth in the Big Ten, and those were the days when the conference really had ten members.

I carried a very thick history book to the Fieldhouse. The plan was to do some required reading during timeouts and at halftime.

The superb play of the Hoosiers held my full attention for the first few minutes of the game. The inept work by the Badgers more than compensated. Using the history book for a head rest, I stretched out across several seats (there were plenty of empty spaces). I dozed off and stayed oblivious to events on the court until a fellow student shook me awake after the final buzzer. I actually only saw part of one basketball game during my college days.

Coach Bo Ryan arrived in Madison in 2001 with new ideas and a record of success. The Badgers have been winners since, and nobody is snoozing as the "Grateful Red" fans celebrate win after win. The Badgers may not be able to get past undefeated Kentucky and several other high-powered teams to once again become NCAA champs, but it will be fun watching them try. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Bibi Deserves Boot

Indications are that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Bibi to his friends and some others) will be retained in office after Israel's elections next week. That's too bad. Netanyahu's recent actions, and some past actions, ought to earn him political retirement, not a continuation in power.

Netanyahu doesn't lack gall. He recently insulted the President of the United States, and then proceeded to insult the thinking part of the American public, while carrying his reelection campaign to Washington, DC. His address to the U.S. Congress was featured on television and radio in Israel. Because of that, some believe the whole episode was a contrivance to enhance his chances of reelection. It probably did that; recent polls show the parliamentary coalition backing him gained some ground after his appearance.
A two-faced, worrisome creature.

Netanyahu improperly accepted an improper invitation to address Congress. The Israeli had appeared before Congress before, and he followed the accepted procedure to get there. Protocol dictates that foreign heads of state  get White House blessing before invitations are issued to address Congress. House Speaker John Boehner knew full well he was seriously out of line when he didn't bother seeking administration approval before issuing an invitation to Netanyahu, and so did Netanyahu when he accepted it.

Boehner of late has excelled at insulting President Obama, so the invitation came as no surprise. Netanyahu tried to mask his insult in accepting it by once again demonstrating his less desirable characteristics. In an amazing show of two-faced rhetoric he opening his statement by detailing at great length all the fine things the American president has done to support Israel. He then made a frontal assault on Obama's competence and the cornerstone of American foreign policy pursued by the president for the past six years--a preference for negotiation and formation of coalitions to deal with problems, taking military action tailored to the situation only after careful analysis shows it is necessary.

Netanyahu labeled negotiations over nuclear development between Iran and a five-nation coalition Obama played a lead role in forming "a bad deal," ignoring the fact that no proposal had yet been finalized. Key to Netanyahu's argument was his assertion that the Iranians can't be trusted. He has some expertise in that area. He once agreed to stop allowing Israeli settlements in the West Bank, then continued to allow them, and later said they would be encouraged.

President Obama, who shows admirable restraint after experiencing unwarranted attacks for all sorts of things, gave a measured response to Netanyahu's speech. He said he had no intention of  agreeing to anything that did not include rigid controls on Iran's nuclear program, and that the Israeli prime minister offered nothing new in his talk.

There is little doubt Obama was miffed by the whole scenario. But he's a big guy, and he'll get over it. Although Netanyahu's attitudes and actions have been extremely irritating, there is no reason to believe they will cause a reversal of U.S. support of Israel. I have endorsed American support of Israel as long as I can remember, and that's not going to change. However, Netanyahu's antics certainly added unnecessary strain to U.S.-Israeli relations, and I believe some formerly staunch supporters of Israel may reevaluate their positions.

My feathers were ruffled by an element of a "beggar wanting to be chooser" arrogance in Netanyahu's speech. The U.S. has given Israel about $3 billion a year for many years--the current appropriation is nearly $3.4 billion. In addition we are giving Egypt more than $1.5 billion in aid (mostly military) and funding Jordan at about $1 billion (about one-third military) per year. I consider the Egypt and Jordan subsidies as bribes to keep those countries at least fairly neutral in their positions regarding Israel

A prime minister whose country gets that kind of support from a country that has budget problems of its own has no business sneaking in the back door to lecture the donor nation's leader about his policies. And we don't need visitors from foreign lands promoting scare tactics and saber rattling. We have enough fools of  our own doing that. 

Monday, March 02, 2015

Let It Snow, Let It . . . Argh!

Among the presents under the tree on my ninth Christmas morn was a shiny new snow shovel with my name on it. The shovel was a little smaller than the giant scoop Dad used, but it obviously was intended for serious work, not as a plaything.

I became intimately familiar with the duties of an only son in northern Wisconsin. Calls for "snow relocation" seemed endless during the long, cold winter seasons. I was expected to answer. Our house was on a corner lot bordered by concrete sidewalks. There was no need to go to the gym for exercise.

Much later, we lived for 16 years in a townhouse within a homeowners association in Utah. Monthly association fees covered snow removal. I never tired of cheering on the workers as they removed the white stuff from our driveway and sidewalk. Having long ago mastered the art of battling snow drifts, I was pleased to leave the job to others.

Nearly seven years ago we moved to southwest Michigan. We had visited the neighborhood of choice several times--never in winter. I noted with a degree of satisfaction the absence of sidewalks in the rural community. Responses to questions about winter weather generally took the tone of "not too bad." I thought clearing a driveway once in a while would be good exercise.

Snowfalls indeed were "not too bad" our first several years in Michigan. They gradually worsened. Last winter they were awful; this season has been worse, reminding us that weather runs in cycles. We may be in for a long and unpleasant series of winters featuring large and frequent "lake effect" snows.
 
Reaching the end of our driveway on a snow removal day is cause for celebration (or soaking in a tub and a nap).
It turns out I perhaps should have worried more about driveways than sidewalks when searching for a new home. Our driveway is long and about three times as wide as the sidewalks that surrounded my boyhood home. Rough measurements indicate a big net gain in concrete area from the days of my youth when shoveling was tiresome. Now it just plain wears me out.

I compensate by hiring trusty neighbor Chad to remove the heaviest stuff  (as much as eight or ten inches several times this winter) with his snow blower. When accumulations are only an inch or two, son Lee, beautiful wife Sandy, or I take care of things by hand.

So far this year, Chad has cleared the driveway ten times. The "Klade shovelers" have done the job eight times. It has not been a lot of fun. The last time I pushed a light, one-inch accumulation out of the way the temperature was 9 degrees F. What's forecast for tomorrow?  Most of the weather gurus think we'll get up to three inches of new snow followed by ice showers and then freezing rain. Should be wonderful.

In Idaho they're planting gardens. In Utah they're playing golf. In Michigan. . . Argh! 

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Wizardly Oz

Who is the leading celebrity quack in the U.S.? It's none other than the charismatic Dr. Mehmet Oz. Watch and listen to him at your peril. (But watching and listening to John Oliver take on bad guys and groups on HBO television can be both enlightening and entertaining.)






Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Journalist, or Just Another Pretty Face?

After considerable study, I remain puzzled about one important aspect of the Brian Williams case, but have made up my mind on the bottom line. Williams until very recently was managing editor and anchor for the NBC Nightly News. He now is suspended for six months without pay for making false claims that he was in a helicopter fired on by enemy forces in Iraq.

Some say the penalty is too harsh; others believe Williams should be fired right now. A few facts have emerged from the discussions:

1. Williams initially (in 2003) correctly reported the helicopter incident in a Nightly News segment.

2. Williams later changed his story during various public appearances, and he lied as he embellished the tale. The false versions make him somewhat of an heroic figure, or at least part of the story rather than merely an observer as a good reporter should be.

3. There is evidence of several other instances in which Williams strayed from the facts in reporting important stories.

4. Williams' employer had no doubt he deserved punishment. NBC Universal CEO Steve Burke called Williams' actions "inexcusable" and said the suspension was "severe and appropriate."

5. Several sociologists and psychologists pointed out that humans tend to have problems with the accuracy of long-term memory and that people who participated in military actions often inflate the importance of their participation. Those views seem credible, but I doubt they are good fits in Williams' situation. It is hard to believe a news reporter with years of experience would fail to clearly recall being shot at in wartime or any other time.

I have grappled with two major questions:

Good journalist, bad journalist?
1. What might motivate a person who has risen to the top of his profession to believe it necessary to twist facts to enhance his image? Williams gained his position at NBC Nightly News, the most watched American television news program, ten years ago. A few months ago he signed a new contract for about $10 million a year. Surely, he had reached the pinnacle of his profession, and had no need for more material gain.

2. Is it proper to classify Williams as a journalist, or is he more properly an entertainer who uses the public's thirst for news as a self-serving platform to produce large financial gain for himself and his employer?

I can't come up with any good answer to question 1. Only Williams knows his motivation, and he is unlikely to share that knowledge. Question 2 leads to another fundamental consideration: What is a journalist? I propose that a person becomes a journalist in one of three ways:

1. Earning a degree in journalism from an accredited college or university.

2. Working up through the ranks without benefit of formal journalism training, but sometimes aided by advanced education in related fields such as English or political science.

3. Simply claiming to be one. There is no powerful body, such as the American Medical Association or the American Bar Association, that determines who is, or is not, a journalist. In the U.S., the constitution prohibits government from making any such determination.

Williams flunks item 1. Following brief enrollments at two universities, he dropped out after completing a total of 18 credits of course work (a little more than one semester's typical achievement).  It is unlikely that he completed many, if any, journalism courses that would have included ethics in their material. His biographies I could find omitted any descriptions of exactly what he studied in his brief venture into higher education.

Williams and his employer frequently said he was a journalist, so he makes the grade in item 3. He also qualifies by virtue of item 2 activities. Williams started as a local news broadcaster and steadily worked his way up to the big time and finally the top position at NBC News. So he can claim to be a journalist on the basis of his advancement in news broadcasting over many years.

Why is the journalist question important in Williams' case? Were he merely a talking head reading news actual reporters wrote and editors processed he would not be expected to meet high ethical standards. Most of the beautiful people we see on television news programs have questionable claims to being journalists. They are good at smiling and reading words from teleprompters while striking masculine poses or displaying lots of cleavage and tanned thighs. Williams, of course, did that (the masculine part) on the Nightly News. If that was all he did, I think he could be forgiven for embellishing his war story.

But Williams was more than a pleasant, handsome man serving as news anchor. He also was the show's managing editor. That made him a key decision maker in determining what stories would appear, how they would be presented, and what importance would be assigned to them. That, beyond question, is a journalistic function. That made him a very important person in a position to influence millions in a democracy where success or failure ultimately depends on an informed citizenry. Television is a poor medium for informing people in depth, yet that is where the majority of Americans have been getting their news in recent years.

Granting that Williams can legitimately claim to be a journalist by two measures, we get to the really important question. Was Williams a good journalist?

"Good journalists" voluntarily subscribe to a code of ethics developed by the Society of Professional Journalists, or a similar one adopted by Sigma Delta Chi, a journalism fraternity which I and many of my fellow students joined while in college. However, just as "quacks" attach "M.D." to their names and "shyster" lawyers extract maximum dollars from sometimes unsuspecting clients while producing few benefits in return, some so-called journalists merely give lip service to the tenets of their profession. Unfortunately, the number of disreputable "journalists" seems to be on the rise.

The professional journalist's code is only one page long, but it includes 37 specific items in four categories defining how journalists should conduct themselves in their work. The code outlines a difficult path to follow, but thousands of men and women working in radio, television, and print media have accepted the guidance of the code and many consider it a sacred trust. How did Williams measure up?

The first code category is: "Seek the truth and report it. Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information."

The first specific guidance in that category is: "Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible."

As a 19-year-old intern at a small newspaper, I deviated from the code--once. My violation was a fairly minor one; it did not involve dishonesty. Nevertheless, my employer, a journalist respected by all who knew him, told me bluntly and forcefully that if I did not improve my conduct  I should pursue a different profession. He later forgave me, and provided financial and moral support as I tried to become an honorable reporter and editor.

I was grateful for the forgiveness and attempted for more than a half century to adhere to the code of ethics of professional journalism. There were numerous temptations to stray, but I think I measured up. Almost all the journalists I worked with or observed in action measured up. NBC now has a bit less than six months to decide whether Williams deserves forgiveness. He is not a teenaged trainee. He had to know what he was doing, and that it was wrong. In my opinion, he clearly does not consider being a professional journalist a sacred trust.

With what we know at the moment about Williams' conduct, he doesn't measure up as a journalist who deserves respect. Many reporters are continuing to delve into details of his performance. That's not surprising. In the accountability section of journalism's code of conduct we find: "Journalists should expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media."

Unless the current media investigations and NBC's analysis turn up some compelling new positive information, Williams' suspension should be made permanent.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Geekdom Disabled

We're not very high-tech folks, so when computer glitches or complex updates baffle us it's nice to be able to let experts deal with the problems. We buy a Geek Squad service package for that purpose, and it has served us well.

The Geek Squad has an outpost about 20 miles from our home in a Best Buy store.  We journeyed there yesterday with a desk-top puter that had developed several small, but irritating, problems. We also wanted professional installation of a new program similar to one that had been difficult to get running properly in the past.

Help available electronically only.
The resident geek eyeballed us, the tower I had carried in, and a brief want list we handed to him. "Sorry," he said, "our system is down and we can't log in any work. Looks like you have a virus, for one thing. You can call our 800 number and someone will talk you through fixing that."

"But we come here for service because we don't like doing walk-through fixes on the phone. Can't we just leave it here as usual?"

"You can't leave it, we can't sign in any new work until our system is up."

Amazed, I asked if I was failing to understand something. The geek assured me I was not.

Apparently geeks are now so high-tech they are unable to write on a piece of (oh, horrors) paper, the name of a customer, the date puter hardware was left for service, and what was needed. In our case, we even provided the piece of paper with the "what's needed" part already written. A duplicating machine nearby was working perfectly, so an old-fashioned  writer would have been able to hand a copy of a note to us in a matter of seconds.

I've noticed some young clerks have great difficulty doing basic arithmetic when no machine is available to make calculations for them. But this was my first encounter with an apparently fully functional adult who couldn't or wouldn't create a simple hand-written note. How ridiculous is our supposedly sophisticated cyber world becoming?


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Failed Hope

Sometimes it's interesting to look back at statements of our hopes to see if dreams came true. A small commentary and remembrance about journalism appeared nearly seven years ago in a book I authored, "Days With The Dads." Obviously, my wish that the "yellow journalism" experiencing a resurgence in the electronic media would turn out to be only a temporary phase did not come to pass.

News reporting in the U.S. has become steadily worse, and there are no indications it will get better. With only minor changes, my 2008 item follows.

                                                      * * * * * * * * * *

Yellowish Journalism

By the time I became public relations coordinator at the McCoy Job Corps Center in 1967, "yellow journalism" was almost a thing of the past in the U.S. The practice flourished in the 1890s and early 1900s, when powerful publishers emphasized sensationalism, bias, and phony images in their newspapers to boost circulation. 

Although yellow journalism gradually yielded to objectivity in news reporting, some of the bias in images and presentation stayed around a long time.  At the extremes in my lifetime were the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Manchester Union-Leader in New Hampshire.  The Cap Times stood ready to flail any available Republican; the Union-Leader displayed similar antagonism toward Democrats.

The McCoy Job Corps Center was about an equal distance between the communities of Sparta and Tomah in Wisconsin.  News media in Sparta treated us with respect, and often gave welcome support.  Not so in Tomah.  The radio station, especially, seemed to delight in whacking us below the belt at every opportunity.

Sparta businessmen and other community leaders hosted a farewell luncheon for our staff members in 1968 shortly after the announcement that the McCoy Center was being closed. (It was one of 16 centers closed by the federal government for "economy reasons").  My boss, the manager of public and community relations, was away job hunting, so I inherited the task of speaking on behalf of our organization.

I spent several hours preparing my remarks.  Three sentences that brought considerable applause were: "I came here after working for the biggest corporation in this State.  Our center managers sometimes grappled with more problems in the first few hours of a day than the corporate executives had to deal with in a typical week.  But our people faced the challenges, solved every one of the problems, and made the McCoy center a success."

A reporter from the Tomah radio station was taping the proceedings.  Starting that afternoon and lasting throughout the next day, the station played my comments as part of its news reports.  However, the last of the three sentences was omitted.

Unfortunately, the yellow journalism practiced by the Tomah radio station made a comeback in  21st century electronic news media.  Fox News obviously slanted its television presentations and images to support archconservative political views.  MSNBC was accused of doing the same thing on the liberal side. Various talk show hosts were even worse.  Let us hope this is a passing fad and not a trend back to what would be an undesirable norm once again.

                                                       * * * * * * * * * *