Monday, September 21, 2009

The Mighty Mudhens of Milwaukee

The Mighty Mudhens of Milwaukee lost to the Astros in the second round of the playoffs of the Milwaukee Men's Senior Baseball League (47+ division) this past weekend.  The game was tied going into the bottom of the 8th, when the Astros scratched across the winning run on a two-out bloop single with a man on 3rd. 

The tough 9-8 loss left the Mudhens with a season record of 10-5 in a break-out season.  The Mudhens formed three seasons ago, a motley collection of middle-agers, most of whom hadn't played real hardball since high school -- if then.  I saw a story about the MMSBL in the Journal Sentinel in September 2006, visited the website, made a phone call and ended up playing in a pick-up game in Sheridan Park the next weekend.   I played baseball all of one year in high school, and not very well; pitching badly and hitting even worse.  I thought I might have learned something from 5 years of Little League coaching -- what if I did what I was teaching the kids to do? -- and gave it a try.

The Hens evolved out of those pick-up games somehow, and we started play as an expansion team the next spring.  We had a couple of informal meetings, picked our team name (in honor of Corporal Klinger's home team) and invested, as the middle-aged with Field of Dreams asperations will, in the kind of mahvelous uniforms we always wanted as kids.  Most of us were strangers, some from far-flung parts of this corner of Wisconsin.  In the dead of winter, we practiced in a converted aluminum warehouse in West Bend, just long and wide enough for a couple of mesh batting cages.

We were a joyously miserable team that first year -- revelling in the joys of dirt, grass, and leather; the snap of the ball hitting the glove; and getting used to the metal chink of ball on aluminum bat.   Although we held our own most innings, we always had that one or two innings a game that produced 6 or 7 runs for the opposing team.  We didn't win a game that first year, but most of us believed that a bad baseball game was better than most anything else we could be doing (kids, grandkids and spousal units notwithstanding).  In the second year, we brought in some fresh blood and improved a bit, winning two games and keeping a lot more closer.

When I showed up at my first spring practice this year, though, I knew our fortunes were about to change.  As I stepped in for batting practice, a tall stranger was throwing like no one I'd seen in the entire league.  I blamed it on the late evening shadows, but I never saw any of the ten fastballs he threw me and flailed helplessly at the curveball that dropped out of nowhere.  His name was Dave Boinski, a star pitcher back in the day at Pulaski High School, and he gave the Mudhens instant credibility.  In the first few games of the year, as I stood playing 1st base, the 1st base coach from the other team would try to get some information.  "Where'd you get that guy?"  I just smiled and shrugged.  I didn't really know, and didn't much care.  We were now in every game. 

Dave's pitching was great, but what really let us take advantage of it was good hitting.  We scored 10 or more runs in 6 of our 10 victories.  And, as with most of the 47+ teams, the key was the top of the order. Original Hen and lead-off hitter Craig Kennedy hit an outrageous .636 and stole 17 bases.  Rookie co-All-Star Steve Andrasic covered a lot of ground in center field and hit a timely .490.  Dave Boinski batted third (.561, and our only 3 HRs), gaining a lot of respect from opposing teams with 10 walks, many of them intentional. Second-year catcher Al Gramlow not only proved a great battery mate for Dave, but also provided left-handed power in the clean-up slot.  And yours truly, batting fifth, managed to bat .412 for the year after a horrible slump early in the season was solved by the revelation of an open batting stance.

Jeez, now I started mentioning names -- don't want to leave anyone out.  Suffice it to say Coach Dave North (out for most of the year with a shoulder injury, batting .533 in the last five games) got the best out of us and everyone up and down the order had their moments during the year, which is one of the great things about baseball. It was a year of old-man maladies -- everything from bad shoulders, knees and ribs to blood clots and prostate cancer.  We couldn't beat the two perennial top teams in the league (who look like they do nothing but play baseball, but I know that's not possible at our it?), but we played every game with heart.  I reconnected with an old friend who I hadn't seen for 20 years and suddenly popped up on the team (finishing the year with crucial emergency work behind the plate in the playoffs).

In the late innings of the Mudhen's first-ever playoff victory, Dave Boinski launched what must have been the longest home run in MMSBL history, blasting a ball completely over a 50-foot tree located just over the left field fence at the Wisconsin Ave. field.  It was an incredible thing watch and something we take with us into next year.  Thanks, Mudhens, for a great season.  See you next year.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Plaisted Plays -- Tonight at Y-Not III

Friday Night at Y-NOT III, 1854 E. Kenilworth, Milwaukee.


Plaisted sets at 10:30 and Midnight. Theme: KICKIN' IT OLD SCHOOL!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Journal Sentinel: Taking Credit Where Credit Is Due – Or Not

One of the strategies the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has employed during its present death-spiral as a daily newspaper is the constant patting of itself on the back for a job so enormously well done. For a couple of months earlier this year, the paper used Page 2 on Sundays for a series of often-embarrassing essays by various editors about how great this or that area of its coverage is. It was the worst kind of self-serving pap, substituting real reporting for glossy reviews of past reporting, written for those who, damn you, just did not appreciate the company's product enough.

The Behind the Headlines series has ended for the most part – when last seen in August, managing editor George Stanley made a lame attempt to pretend everything was just fine after the latest staff purge that ripped the heart out of the fine arts staff and other parts of the paper. But the cheerleading for itself continues in Journal Sentinel news articles that celebrate the real and imagined impact of the paper’s various tabloid-type sensationalist campaigns against BPA, drunk driving, child care providers and whatever other hysterical button Stanley decides to push for the benefit of anxious legislators and right-wing radio hosts.

Usually, a story about a couple of city residents getting indicted for bankruptcy fraud would barely make the back page of the Business Journal, if that. But, unfortunately for them, Willie and Pamela Kohlheim were two of several subjects of the Journal Sentinel’s campaign against inner-city child care providers who were gathering just too darn much money from the state’s Wisconsin Shares program. So, not only were the financial details about their lucrative business in the story three months ago in apparent conflict with their bankruptcy filing; their resulting federal criminal case was blazoned across the front page of the Saturday paper.

What’s the big deal? Oh yeah – here it is in paragraph 3: "The charges, revealed Friday, come three months after the Journal Sentinel published a story exposing how the Kohlheims received nearly $1.3 million from the troubled Wisconsin Shares program..." Thus does the small news become big – not because it has any special significance, but because it makes the newspaper look better (if you think things like campaigns against child care providers "makes the newspaper look better").

This sort of self-congratulation in your own newspaper can, however, get so contagious it spreads to places it doesn’t belong. On the same Saturday front page, there is a fairly hilarious story about some roadway roundabouts planned for the area near Lambeau Field. It seems a Green Bay legislator wrote to the Department of Transportation pointing out that, er, some people coming out of Lambeau may not be quite, er, capable to negotiate the intricacies of roundabout yield signs. One could imagine the impaired Chucky Cheesehead circling endlessly in the roundabout until dawn as he tries to find his way back home.

Failing to find the humor in the situation, the Journal Sentinel took the occasion to act shocked – shocked! – that anyone would suggest that Packer fans might not need unnecessary directional challenges after three hours of tailgating and three more hours of high-priced stadium beer (and, last night, anyway, an exciting victory). In case you might wonder why the paper is waxing sanctimonious about an entirely reasonable request to avoid confusion on the road, the J-S takes extraordinary credit for the entire anti-drunk-driving that has been going on nationwide for at least the past 20 years; again in paragraph 3: "The issue of drunken driving has taken on a new prominence after the Journal Sentinel's ‘Wasted in Wisconsin’ series and other news reports about the toll of drunken driving in the state."

Well, no. The Journal Sentinel’s anti-drunk campaign has nothing to do with exaggerated concerns about tailgating roundabouters in Green Bay. But their attempt to claim credit for the concern does lead to some interesting possibilities for the paper to take credit for all kinds of things they have nothing to do with.

  • Flights out of Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee have become 20% cheaper this year. Full page ads for Air Tran in the Journal Sentinel contributed to the awareness of the new fares throughout the Greater Milwaukee Area.
  • Five Taliban leaders were reported killed in Afghanistan. The Journal Sentinel took a strong stand in 2001 in favor of the killing of Taliban leaders.
  • President Barack Obama’s plans for effective health care reform took a significant hit in Congress as senators continued to step away from including a public option in their plan. A Journal Sentinel columnist, Republican WMC board member John Torinus, has advocated against effective health care reform in the pages of the newspaper for years.
  • Gov. Jim Doyle proposed a new plan to fund regional transit in the Milwaukee area. The Journal Sentinel editorial board has consistently offered lukewarm support for rational regional transit plans, while allowing right-wing former copy editor Patrick McIlheran to write three columns a week spouting wing-nut talking-points against it. The newspaper therefore will later claim credit if the proposal is adopted and if it is defeated.
  • The Milwaukee Brewers announced today that rookie Casey McGhee will be starting at third base in place of veteran Craig Counsel. Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Haudricourt suggested in a column last week that the Brewers should spend the September of their lost season playing the young guys to see what they can do.

And so on. Really, why not make every story in the paper about the wonderfullness of the Journal Sentinel? Real news generated by real societal currents is so tedious. The message is the messenger, however battered, wilting and irrelevant. The Lords of State Street will apparently be convinced of their own genius up to and through the last day of publication.

Will the last failed editor pretending to save the Journal Sentinel please turn out the lights.

Friday, September 11, 2009

"You Lie," He Lied

My model for legislative/executive interaction is the British Parliment's question time. There, the Prime Minister has to appear before the House of Commons once a week to face questions put to him or her by a politely unruly chamber of lawmakers. It is frequently great entertainment as the politicians get into it on matters greats and small, often obscure to us. And it looks like something is getting done, understandings are reached, concensus formed, not from opposite ends of an avenue, but in the same room.

I especially like the harrahs, harumphs, hoots and other noises emanating from the gallery as the Prime Minister tries to explain himself to supporters and opponents. Tony Blair was particularly good at this sort of thing, his impish grin and snappy comebacks as he jumped up and down from his chair making great theater as the reactions yea and nay echoed through the chamber. I always thought this kind of weekly grilling by the loyal opposition should be mandatory here. Tightly-scripted clueless boobs like Ronald Reagan and Junior Bush would have been exposed for the frauds that they were in about ten minutes.

But there are limits to the reactions of the opposition during question time, and I'm sure none of them have to be enumerated for the proper English to follow the appropriate protocol. The low dull roar of even the most adamant disapproval is not anything close to a boo or hiss. Any clown shouting out "You lie!" at the Prime Minister would be dragged out by his own party members, stripped of his credentials and kicked out of office.

The American experience with Congress in joint session with the President is much less interactive and spontaneous. The main method of expressing approval or disapproval is standing and applauding or sitting on your hands. It has the effect of a lopsided wave at a baseball game where those in the diamond seats refuse to participate. There is also a smattering of sighs, chuckling and booing, the appearance of which produces even louder noises by those admonishing the noisemakers. Generally, a President of whatever persuasion is allowed to come in, do his thing, and get out so the lawmakers can start adopting, mangling or murdering his proposals the following day.

Enter the now-infamous back-bencher from South Carolina, Rep. Joe Wilson. My favorite explanation offered for his historically-unprecedented behavior is that he was too surprised by Obama's speech because a text was not handed out to Congress beforehand. You can see him now, blood boiling and redneck reddening, as he sat in his seat while the President unexpectedly (who does he think he is?) challenged the deliberate campaign of disinformation fomented by the GOP. "No death panels! No coverage for illegal immigrants!" says the illegitimate upstart. Wilson's face flushes red, a trickle of venom streaks down his chin, his body shakes.... "You lie!" He faces forward but feels the eyes in the back of his head -- where is everyone? Why isn't anyone else jumping up and cheering my clever retort? Why is everyone else willing to let that guy get away with it?? His collegues slink down in their chairs. Wilson - they think - what a dick.

"That guy". I mentioned in my last post that "that guy" is the way President Obama is referred to on right-wing radio more than in any other way. It is a way to diminish, to delegitimize the President. Joe Wilson shouted out against the President because he doesn't think he is or should be the president. To the white congressman from South Carolina, he is just another n-word, cutting across his lawn and ruining his day. Like most Republicans, he does not respect the democratic process and does not accept the fact that Barack Obama is President of the United States. Wilson didn't see anything wrong with shouting at the President in Congress because, to him, he's not the President.

And, of course, Wilson was lying about Obama lying about providing health care insurance for the undocumented. You can't get much more clear than the title of H.R. 3200, Sec 246: NO FEDERAL PAYMENT FOR UNDOCUMENTED ALIENS. Perhaps Wilson is so dense, he doesn't even know that (unfortunately) the undocumented won't be covered, that there would be no death panels, no rationing, no "government-run" health care (again, unfortunately), no socialism.

More likely, he knew exactly what the truth was and was overcome with emotion because Obama was exposing the lie, right there in his face. [UPDATE: Indeed, it appears Wilson is a health insurance industry stooge.] Because, without the lies, the Republicans have nothing. Their "plan" (copies of which some of them waved around at the speech) is a joke. It is basically a weak restatement of the status quo, calling for limits on malpractice lawsuit (both Drs. Death and Dismemberment have a friend in the GOP); allowing the creation of nationwide health insurance behemoths and monopolies (sure worked swell for the banks, didn't it?); requiring more publishing of the cost of procedures (let's see, should I go with the $5,000 fix for my broken leg or the $4,999 special at St. Mary's? Hmmm...); and some worthless tax credits (for those who don't have the money to front now, what good is a tax credit later?).

If I were Obama, I would have run through the GOP proposals, exposed them to the national audience, and knocked them down one-by-one. Then you would have really seen Joe Wilson's head explode.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

WISN Newsman Compares Obama to Child Molester

I’ve written before about the practice of right-wing radio station WISN letting one of their news readers, Nick Reed, fill in when its third-rate wing-nuts Jay Weber and Vicki McKenna are not available to push the usual poison bullshit on their morning shows. I guess, along with the destruction of the news-and-information industry by firings and attrition, we have to accept that many of those left are conflicted political whores who are willing to sell out their reporter credentials for a couple of hours of overheated GOP talking-point dissemination. To paraphrase Lily Tomlin’s Ernestine the Operator, they don’t care, they don’t have to – they’re Clear Channel.

This morning, Reed was cheerily wearing his wing-nut hat while "discussing" President Obama’s talk with school children around the country on what was for most the first day of school. What is it about this president, the temporarily not-newsman wondered aloud, that makes people so distrustful of him that he can’t even make a speech to school children without parents getting concerned?

This is like Al Capone walking into the garage on St. Valentine’s Day and wondering, hey, what’s with all the dead bodies? Reed and his fellow radio clowns know very well why anyone thought twice about Obama in the schools – they created the false hysteria in the first place. As soon as the White House announced the planned speech, the national and local wing-nut choir was screeching in perfect harmony about socialist indoctrination, how Mao Tse Tung and Kim Jong-Il did/do the same thing, how no president has ever tried to broadcast to school children (that lie is what they said the first day). Mainstream radio’s dutiful listeners responded in predictable, sheep-like fashion, a screechy minority putting pressure on school districts to not dare put "that guy" (the right-wing’s favorite way to refer to and diminish the president) on their school monitors, or, keeping their kids out of school for the day, no doubt part of their campaign to make sure their kids stay stupid for another generation.

But, in Reed’s imaginary world, hysterical reactions and staged stunts like disrupted town-hall meetings happen spontaneously, in a vacuum, without any help from the 24/7 right-wing campaign to delegitimize President Obama. Feigning surprise and concern about something he very much encouraged and played a very small part in creating, the newsman in the wing-nut tin-foil hat "reported" as follows (in full context, which is more than he will ever do for you):

"This administration has created such a massive distrust amongst the American people that just the idea of the president giving a speech to kids sends a significant portion of the American population into a tizzy. Now, a lot of liberals like to point out the fact, you know, well, Reagan did it and Bush did it, and there wasn’t a huge uproar about it. Well, that ought to tell you – that’s not really an argument in your favor, or in Obama’s favor. What that shows is that Americans, while they may not have necessarily cared for some Reagan, and some not caring for Bush, they didn’t have this fervent distrust that they just, did not even want their children, without them being – It’s almost like having your friends go on a field trip with a convicted child molester, is how people are acting about this. And I’m not arguing that people shouldn’t have acted this way about it, but you have to admit that the liberals are right when they point out, well, Americans didn’t act this way about Reagan and Bush when they did it. Well, what’s that tell you? I mean, that ought to make you wonder."

Well, it does make me wonder, but not in the way he thinks. It makes me wonder how a guy from the news department can compare any president with a child molester and come to work the next day, still employed. It makes me wonder how far wing-nuts are willing to go before the bounds of human decency are reached for the supposedly upstanding corporate citizens at Clear Channel. It makes me wonder how a supposed newsman like Nick Reed can gain press credentials to anything now that he is exposed as a name-calling, greed-sucking language-twister who has no more business being behind a microphone labeled "news" than Mark Belling or Sean Hannity. "I’m Nick Reed and here’s the news," he will say again someday soon, or maybe even this afternoon. Only the foolish will take anything he says seriously. On the other hand, the national affiliate is Fox News, so, you know, it’s all a big joke to Clear Channel anyway.

President Obama gave a great and valuable speech to school children today. He is someone who can reach them more and better than any old white guy named Bush or Reagan (who pathetically used the word "Negro" when he made a stab at chatting with children late in his failed presidency). His fatherless, diverse background makes him a valuable resource in reaching today’s kids. Because of who he is and what he stands for, he is very popular with school kids. And. no doubt, he reached many today.

The right-wing could have decided to praise or at least ignore Obama in this admirable effort. Instead, they poisoned the moment as only they can, telling lies, casting aspersions on his intentions and using it as another opportunity to delegitimize and dehumanize a president that they cannot defeat on the merits of any issue. They are a bunch of sick bastards with no morals or interest in the future of the country. They would burn it down, if they could, rather than accept any Democrat as president.

As it happens, one of those sick bastards, Nick Reed, is -- still -- a newsman at WISN.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Sensenbrenner: Free Propaganda Denied

Charlie Sykes was in his usual high smug dungeon last week about the "fact" that my very own slug Congressman, Jim Sensenbrenner, was being "censored" by a secret cabal of House Democrats on the ominously-titled "Franking Commission". As usual, professional propagandist Sykes knew better about the legitimate work of the Commission, but feigned outrage about the attempt to shut Sensenbrenner’s fat trap. He knew that the filthy rich Sensenbrenner – paradoxically, one of the biggest freeloaders in the House – was trying to get around the non-partisan rules of the franking privilege to get the poison Republican message out for free. But Sykes, the oh-so-full-of-himself smartest man on the radio, is always willing to play dumb when there is a straw man to be made.

Sykes was playing off of an embarrassingly amateurish You-Tube video by pretend-journalist Rebecca Kleefisch, which featured Sensenbrenner’s chief of staff whining about how the dastardly Commission refused to let his boss use the phrases "government-run health care", "cap and tax", "failed stimulus" and other such twisted wing-nut word-play in a communication to his constituents. Kleefisch – apparently late of Channel 12 and now a self-styled "conservative correspondent" – showed up in the studio with Sykes to discuss her precious production, in which she dutifully establishes the basics of her Big Lie, and then goes to an apparently right wing tailgate under a tent outside a Brewer game to get some willing clowns to agree with her.

It’s all a delightful fantasy set-piece for those inclined to believe Obama wants to Kill Grandma and more of the worst about Democrats. Sykes took a step beyond even the insipid video to suggest that the "censorship" was the result of the overreaching of Democratic leadership . Never mind that the Commission itself is and always has been evenly divided, with three Democrats and three Republicans. Or that the Franking Commission is designed to enforce some hitherto uncontroversial rules about the content of the FREE mailings congressmen are allowed to send out. It's simple enough: "Comments critical of policy or legislation should not be partisan, politicized or personalized." But, again, for Republicans, rules are for suckers.

When Sensenbrenner or anyone else tries to use the FREE franking privilege to spout Republican talking-points and incorporate deliberately deceptive phrases like "government-run health care" (which, unfortunately, is not nearly what Obama’s health care reform is about), someone should tell him to shut the hell up. Get out your check book and send out whatever nutty crap you want under your campaign committee or otherwise on your own goddamn dime. Stop trying to get the rest of us to pay for your bullshit. The taxpayers and various no-doubt grateful corporations are spending enough on your wealthy ass so you can take your wife on your annual vacation in Europe. Try spending your own money for a change.

Sensenbrenner is not the only Republican to pretend to chafe under the requirements of the Franking Commission. It appears to be yet another of those tiresome memes dreamed up by the GOP message machine to distract and undercut the hard work of the Democrats, who are actually trying to put the pieces of this Bush-whacked country back together

As for Sensenbrenner, I have lived in his district for four years now and haven’t heard a peep – in franked mail or otherwise – from my personal congressional embarrassment. Maybe they don’t even bother to send mail in here to Shorewood, lest we be reminded how horribly represented we really are.