Category Archives: 2011

TSA To The Rescue

I think I had my first airplane flight when I was in 10th grade.  It was great, and I loved everything about it, except for the rapid descent into Atlanta as we dodged a thunderhead.

One thing I don’t remember anything about is any security there may have been.  If memory serves, the main type of airline terror back then involved people wanting to get to Cuba, for which there was no commercial flight schedule available.  So, now and then, somebody with a gun would hijack a plane and demand that it be flown to Cuba.  I’m guessing that once in Cuba these folks had second thoughts about the whole thing, but that’s another matter.

Over the years airport security improved, and not only did we have to go through magnetometers to make sure we weren’t made of, or carrying metal, but our stuff started to get x-rayed as well.  It wasn’t a perfect system, as we found out on September 11th, 2001.  Box cutters either weren’t spotted by the

Since then, the Transportation Security Administration was formed, and the sluggish, low-performing individuals who previously had been contracted for by the airports were replaced by sluggish, low-performing individuals who are now Federal employees.

That’s actually funny, but not a fair characterization.  On average, the new TSA agents do seem to be more professional, better trained, and interested in doing a good job.  Of course there are exceptions, such as the agents who have stolen things, groped people, and just generally behaved in an irritating fashion.

As I went through the lines in Madison on Tuesday I noticed something.  The activities being performed by these well-compensated federal employees range from very high skilled to menial.  Reviewing the validity of driver licenses and passports, or analyzing the video display of the x-ray machine are important jobs which need a lot of training.  Moving the empty trays from the end of the conveyer back to the beginning strikes me as something even I could do.

So, on the morning in question, instead of 30 or so government employees dealing with potential passengers at one of the two security stations at the Madison airport, there could, perhaps, have been 10, with another 10 or 20 people doing the less-skilled jobs.

I realize this is lunacy, of course, but it did occur to me. 

For what it’s worth, I would say that a high majority of the TSA people I’ve encountered when I fly have been doing a very good job – more so than the pre-9-11 days of private security services.  It could be that the same improvement could have resulted from increasing government oversight of those companies and setting higher standards, but I’ve always thought, why fix a problem when you can start a new government agency? 


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Goodbye 2011

A lot of things happened in 2011, and I wouldn’t pretend to do a year in review type column, because frankly, it would take a lot of work to do it well.  I’m more comfortable picking and choosing a topic here and there.

For starters, two weeks ago I ended up on an elevator at the Seattle airport with Danny Glover.  It was an odd experience for several reasons.  First, it took me a minute to figure out who he was.  Second, he looked as wiped out from his flight as I was from mine.  Third, he was wearing these silly shoes with all the toes in different colors.

I think he’s a good actor, and while I disagree with much of what he’s said and done over the years (saying the Haiti earthquake was caused by global warming), I think he is a true humanitarian who works very hard for the causes that are important to him.

We got a granddaughter this year.  Not Mr. Glover and I, just to be clear.  That was a new experience, and so far a very nice one, though she isn’t yet old enough to try to borrow money, so maybe these are the easy times.

Around the world some bad guys were killed, died, or removed from power.  Only time will tell whether who and what replaces them will be better or worse, but even though it feels wrong to be happy about someone’s death, we can be happy that they won’t hurt anyone anymore.

My appendix gave out in 2011.  I don’t miss it much, though I think I’ve grown closer to my gall bladder, since it’s my only useless organ left.  I also had some atypical moles removed – not the kind that burrow into the ground – and some plumbing done on some veins in one leg.  Aging is just one exciting adventure after another!

Wall Street was occupied by some people who believed very strongly in something, but didn’t provide a statement as to exactly what it was until the second day of the occupation.  A wonderful photo which appeared to show a man pooping on a police car made two parents very proud indeed.

A number of people were electrocuted this year while attempting to steal copper wire from various buildings and streetlights.  At least they weren’t charged with anything.  Oh wait… I guess they WERE charged.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management learned that it had sent $120 million in benefits to dead retired employees last year, and for each of the five years previous.  One son of a deceased employee kept cashing checks for 37 years, and was only discovered when he died.

It was surprising that the Packers made it to the Super Bowl in 2011, and terrific that they won!  This year they seem like a shoe-in, so I guess they probably won’t make it.  Life is ironic like that sometimes.

But, before you can know about the Super Bowl, you have to survive New Year’s Eve, so party prudently!  I need all the readers I can get!

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December 15

It’s funny how certain dates stick in a person’s mind.  Birthdays and holidays are among those dates, though I am ashamed to say I could only estimate when my sisters’ birthdays fall.

We don’t so much celebrate the days people pass away.  We don’t call them “deathdays” as a counter to “birthdays.”  Those days are just regular days with perhaps some quiet moments of reflection.  Some people visit gravesites, and while I understand the sentiment of doing so, it’s not something I think to do.

My dad died on December 15th, 1990.  It was a surreal day for all of us, as my family had to make the decision to turn off the machines that were keeping him going.  He never regained consciousness after heroic surgery to save him wasn’t successful.

It’s hard not to think about that day, but it’s more important to consider all that came before it.  To focus on the end of someone’s life is like staring at the period at the end of a sentence at the end of a book.

So, thanks for understanding when I again share a few thoughts about my dad.

He was a big guy at 6’3,” but he never thought of himself as an imposing figure.  He was a staunch conservative when Ronald Reagan was still just an actor, but he was also what we now call an environmentalist.  His biggest love was planting trees in the 160 acres of woodland he bought.

He was also what we now call a social conservative, and yet he welcomed a black son-in-law, a Catholic daughter-in-law, and a super-liberal, long-haired son-in-law who openly despised him early on.

My dad was rooted in tradition and the status quo, and yet he was among the first in his university department to embrace computers in education.  His first personal computer came so early in the evolution of home computing that there is one just like it in the Smithsonian.

He believed strongly in individual responsibility and personal liberty.  He wasn’t a libertarian, but had leanings in that direction.  For example, he was against the mandate for seatbelts in cars because he thought manufacturers would provide them for intelligent drivers who demanded them without the federal government stepping in.

He was incurably friendly to people.  He was a member of the Optimists Club, and was truly an optimist.  He took the long view on things, and believed that people are basically good, and that the marketplace would eventually weed out the companies who didn’t act in good faith.

If my dad wasn’t working in his woods, chances are he was reading or writing.  He produced a small magazine of political and philosophical writing six times a year or so.  He produced it on a hand cranked mimeograph machine, so every eight weeks or so he had black ink stains on his hands.  He had hundreds of subscribers, and I guess it’s accurate to say that he was a blogger 40 years or more before blogging was invented.

Mostly, though, I remember that he was a really good guy.  Every kid’s parents can be embarrassing, and he probably more than most.  But, his default attitude was kindness, and despite his deep intellect, he was not even a little snobbish.

My girls’ best memories of him were when he took them fishing, and when he read kids’ books to them.  Come to think of it, I remember when he read books to us when we were kids.

So, happy December 15th.  It’s not a day that will live in infamy, but it is a day that will live on in my memory as the punctuation at the end of a good life of a good guy.

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Surprise! (Arizona)

While in Arizona last week on business I spent one night in a hotel in Surprise.  Surprise, Arizona is in the northwest corner of suburban Phoenix.  I guess I wanted to stay there because I wanted to know what made it surprising.

You may be surprised to know that Surprise is only 50 years old.  It feels odd to be older than a city.  Of course, before it was a city people lived there, going back to the pre-historic (to us, not to them) Hohokam Indians.

A lot of cotton was grown in the Surprise area at one time.  Now houses and strip malls sprout out of the desert sand, along with an amazing baseball complex (spring training home to the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals).  Even though it was 50 degrees and windy, the deep green grass of the numerous ball fields made me want to grab my glove and field some grounders – that is, if I could actually bend enough to reach the ground.

What I liked most about Surprise was the element of surprise as I drove down the streets.  For example, try to get your head around the concept of Surprise Urgent Care.  I picture someone grabbing me unexpectedly to give me stitches.  There is a Surprise Funeral Home.  I guess that’s what happens if the Surprise Urgent Care doesn’t work.

The Surprise Fire Department apparently shows up at any time for no reason.  The Surprise Water Utility likes to create geysers in your kitchen sink.  I sure wouldn’t buy mixed nuts at the Surprise Grocery Store, since there’s likely to be one of those spring-loaded snakes in it.

I happened to be in Surprise on the day they were setting up for their annual “Surprise Party,” which looked a lot like a county fair without the farm animals.  The poster shows Santa, a hot air balloon, and elephant rides.  Interesting trio of attractions.

One thing about Surprise, Arizona is how unsurprising life must be there.  It’s really flat, doesn’t get snowstorms (or hardly ever), and everything is neat and clean.  I’m sure a lot of people like to retire to a place with no surprises.  The things that make life interesting at 25 can be pretty scary at 85, I guess.

I like town names that evoke images or stories.  Embarrass, Minnesota or Truth or Consequences, New Mexico or Hell, Michigan.  There’s also Larry Bird’s famous hometown of French Lick, Indiana, along with Sweet Lips, Tennessee, and Fanny, West Virginia.  There are others not suitable for a family newspaper.

In addition to Surprise, Arizona also has a town called “Carefree.”  Gordon Lightfoot wrote a song called, “Carefree Highway” about the road that goes from Interstate 17 to the town of Carefree.  Of course, Arizona also has a town called “Tombstone.”  I think of the two I’d pick Carefree, but ultimately, I guess we all end up in Tombstone.

That is, if we first visit the Surprise Funeral Home.

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Scandals Everywhere

It seems like there is a new scandal to wrestle our attention from other pressing issues almost every day.  Penn State’s athletic program seems to be in shambles, and now Syracuse has their own sex crime alleged in their basketball program.  Schools like Ohio State and USC are probably thankful that they were only found guilty of cheating, and not sexually charged scandals.

Then Monday morning I heard that a Green Bay Packer linebacker spent some time in the hooskow for some sort of physical assault.  Various Badger football and hockey players have been accused in the past, and I honestly didn’t follow those cases to their conclusions to see what was true and what was simply accusations.

Back during the years when the Packers weren’t winning championships, both James Lofton and Eddie Lee Ivory were accused of sexual assault.  Lofton is doing television for some network now, and I think he’s in the hall of fame.  Marv Albert, a famous sports announcer, got caught in his own sexual scandal years ago, but he’s still on the air.

We hear the news on these things, but not always the end of the story.  Scandals are usually on page one, but charges being dropped end up on page 24, if they’re printed at all.  That’s part of the problem with these things.  Did Justin Bieber father a child, or did someone accuse him of it for financial benefit?  How will we know?  And, is it any of our business?

Sadly, some scandals, true or not, take on a life of their own.  The infamous story of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich asking his wife for a divorce on her death bed sounds pretty heartless.  But, in reality Mrs. Gingrich asked for the meeting to discuss their relationship, and not only that, she hasn’t been in her deathbed yet, since she has recovered from that sickness and is still alive and kicking.

Herman Cain has been the target of many accusations recently, and some or all of them may be real.  But what if they aren’t?  Black conservatives have pretty consistently been the subject of such accusations.  John Edwards, on the other hand, was given a pass on his indiscretion until after the primary was over.  And his wife really was dying.  Jessie Jackson not only had a child from an affair, but was paying off the woman with funds raised under the guise of helping those less fortunate.  Likewise Arnold Schwartzenager, who is off to star in movies now that he’s not governor any more, impregnated his housekeeper, and bought her her own little house.

President Clinton lied under oath about one of his scandals, but was given a pass on the others including an accusation of rape which many believe to be true to this day.  And yet we view him as a charming elder statesman now.  Justice Thomas was accused of transgressions that he denied, and 20 years later he still carries the burden with him.  Teddy and Jack Kennedy were both serial womanizers throughout their marriages, but they are revered.

I guess the truth of the matter is that nobody is perfect, and people who have the makeup to excel at sports or politics or business at a high level sometimes have the unsavory characteristics that lead them to scandalous behavior.

But in addition to that, people who are in the public eye might as well wear bulls eyes on their backs, because charges – true of false – can do a lot to slow down someone’s career.  A radio commentator once said that guilt or innocence are less important to some people than the seriousness of the charge.  And, there’s little risk to making those charges against a public figure, which is why I think I’ll live the rest of my life as a very non-public figure.

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Olde Tyme TV

When I was a kid, my family got cable TV. Thinking back, it’s kind of hard to believe. We weren’t poor, but we sure weren’t rich, and it seems like the kind of frivolous expense my parents wouldn’t have allowed. It seems odd that we would watch cable TV on a black and white TV, but that’s just what we did.

Cable back then was not what it is now. Living in Oshkosh we gained the Milwaukee channels, WGN out of Chicago and a few other channels. No Weather Channel or CNN or C-Span were available then.

One channel I watched a lot was channel 18 from Milwaukee. They played a lot of old situation comedies like “I Love Lucy,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” and “Dragnet.” Even better, they played really old sitcoms like “Our Miss Brooks” with Eve Arden and the teen-aged Richard Crenna, “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” and “The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show.”

Those old programs were great, partly because most of them originated on radio, where writing and character development were essential qualities of a good show. “Our Miss Brooks” was very funny, very dry, and sometimes very sexy, in a subtle way. Miss Brooks was an underpaid high school teacher who tried very hard to become romantic with a fellow teacher named Mr. Boynton, who was too thick-headed to comprehend her desires. Along with them, the squeaky-voiced student played by Richard Crenna, Walter, and principal Gale Gordon, who later starred with Lucille Ball, were also thorns in her side.

Many of those old programs had this in common: a person could really relax and enjoy the travails of the characters, knowing that nothing offensive would happen, including overt references to genitals, and that at the end of each show, everything would turn out okay. Whatever impending disaster the episode had in store was averted, and life went on.

Another odd thing about those programs is that many of them had traditional nuclear families. While there’s surely nothing wrong with non-traditional families, the mother/father/son/daughter families have been an endangered species on television for many years.

We don’t have cable at our house, or satellite. Thanks to digital TV, we have more channels than before, including a few that play old programs. Many evenings I choose to watch “M.A.S.H.,” or “Bob Newhart,” or “Taxi” instead of “Dancing With The Surviving Idol Losers,” or “Miami CSI, NCIS, SVU.” That way, I don’t have to watch anybody get killed or autopsied, and the only people who get humiliated are actors playing characters.

I don’t think modern television is bad. Some of it is pretty well written, and many of the characters portrayed are very entertaining. I guess there’s enough worrisome and offensive news these days that I like to enjoy some shows that are neither worrisome nor offensive.

I guess my process of turning into an old geezer is well under way.

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Right to Remain Silent

Ron White is one of the guys who toured as part of the Blue Collar Comedy group, and performed in their very popular concert videos.  He always seems to have a drink in his hand, and smokes like a chimney.  So, he’s not exactly a role model for America’s youth, but despite his bad language and joyous political incorrectness, I think he’s a funny guy.

One of his more endearing stories revolves around him being physically thrown out of a bar in New York City.  In this story, he is in the process of being arrested, and he says, “I had the right to remain silent… but not the ability.”

Boy!  How many times has that happened to you?  Not the being arrested part, but the inability to keep quiet about something when it makes much more sense to do so.

I think I suffer from that affliction more than most people.  My mouth has gotten me into trouble many times over the years, and the funny thing is I realize my mistake before I’ve even finished the sentence.  The classic error, which every man makes once in his life, is asking a woman who appears to be pregnant when she’s due.  If she’s not pregnant, that’s a mistake from which you cannot recover.

Lately I’ve been much better about keeping quiet about things.  Many people who are “friends” of mine on Facebook have not been as reticent about expressing their views in very clear and insistent terms.  Part of the reason is that our world and our state are both experiencing traumatic changes, and people are very emotional about what’s going on.  That emotion translates to strong language, which can be insulting to people who might disagree with the point of view expressed.

I’ve always believed that there can be disagreement without attacking people who see things differently than I do, or wishing them harm.  Civil discourse is occasionally held up as an essential virtue, but then those same people launch into an attack if their interests are challenged.

The thing is, I don’t want to communicate only with people who agree with me, because a person doesn’t grow that way.  And yet, intemperate comments that insult my intelligence just make me disrespect the people who make them.  And, it doesn’t help my normally cheerful demeanor.

This paragraph should say something like, “Let’s all be kind to each other,” but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.  Instead, maybe people could think for a moment between writing their emails or Tweets or Facebook posts and sending them.  A couple of seconds to ponder might result in better communication in the long run.

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