Category Archives: On Wisconsin

Nuance Is Dead

There have been many articles over the years proclaiming the death of irony. It turned out not to be so: what’s more ironic, in a sick way, than one of the world’s richest countries having 1/3 of the COVID-19 cases? I am, however, concerned about the plight of nuance. It appears to be knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door.

Nuance and I are old friends. While many see life in stark terms of black and white, I revel in the gray and ambiguous. While I’m still burning a candle for it, I’m afraid nuance is dead in our public life.

I usually detest bothsiderism but both the right and the left share the blame for nuance’s demise. Nuance was finally banished from the Republican party upon the nomination of the Impeached Insult Comedian. House GOPers such as Louie Gohmert Piles, Matt Gaetz, and Gym Jordan have trampled nuance to death with their antics. It’s unclear if they’re three of the horsemen of the apocalypse or the Three Stooges. Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk.

Nuance suffered major blows in the last week with the toppling of a statue honoring General/President Ulysses Grant as well as the Lady Forward statue in Madison, Wisconsin. The latter became a symbol of pride during the anti-Walker demonstrations in what seems like another lifetime. Its downfall certainly vexed Our Scout Prime:

I feel your pain, Scout.

An appreciation for, and an understanding of, nuance would have prevented the toppling of a statue honoring the man who did more to defeat the Confederacy than anyone else, General/President Grant. His father-in-law was a slave owner (as was Lincoln’s) who gave Ulysses and Julia a slave. Grant found the whole thing embarrassing and freed the poor bastard within a year. Many have credited that incident with beginning the process of Grant’s enlightenment on racial matters.

As president, Grant joined forces with the advocates of radical reconstruction and equal rights. The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was perhaps his greatest accomplishment as president. It was struck down by the Supremes in 1883, but it set the template for Civil Rights legislation in the next century. That’s right, Grant was the LBJ of the 19th Century; another historical figure nuance is needed to understand.

If you don’t believe me, here’s what the great Frederick Douglass had to say about Ulysses Grant:

“A man too broad for prejudice, too humane to despise the humblest, too great to be small at any point. In him the Negro found a protector, the Indian a friend, a vanquished foe a brother, an imperiled nation a savior…”

Grant’s historical reputation was the first casualty of the cult of the Lost Cause. In recent years, his star has been on the rise because of his record on Civil Rights while Woodrow Wilson’s has declined because he was a segregationist. Nuance requires that I point out that Wilson was instrumental in passing significant progressive legislation as president.

I dislike criticizing those I agree with and rarely do so. I’m down with removing monuments to Lee, Davis, Calhoun, and others. I’ve even stopped making nuanced arguments about Jackson Square in New Orleans. While I understand the thrill of toppling statues, I prefer a legal process, which has the benefit of being safer. The bronze statue of General/President Jackson is heavy and could hurt someone if hastily removed. I’ll have more about that and the renaming frenzy next week at the Bayou Brief.

Perhaps the post title is melodramatic. Nuance will live as long as people take the time to understand the complexities of our history. History is made by human beings and we’re flawed and, well, human.

A final thought: while we know who is buried in Grant’s Tomb, why is there a statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square? That’s too nuanced even for me.

The last word goes to Oscar Brand with an 1868 campaign song:

You Don’t Understand, or You Do, And in Either Case We’re All Dead

The Journal Sentinel’s editorial board: 

But it’s not the court’s fault that the governor and top lawmakers can’t work together for the common good. Nor is it the court’s job to set public health policy in Wisconsin. That’s the job of the governor and Legislature. So do your jobs, Gov. Tony Evers, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. Adopt clear rules for the state moving forward. Do so now, so the novel coronavirus is contained.

The governor issued rules and Republicans and the State Supreme Court blew them up. Yelling at them all to do their jobs assumes everyone didn’t. For decades Republicans have been detonating government without any kind of plan for what happens afterwards, and the answer is always this kind of scolding bullshit about how everyone needs to compromise, as if everyone is trying to, equally hard, and just needs a nudge.

Look, this isn’t a case where you can split the baby (AND THE FUCKING POINT OF THAT STORY IS THAT SOME COMPROMISES CAN’T BE MADE JESUS CHEESY FRIES CHRIST). The governor did something within his power to do, and Republicans didn’t like it and blew it up. Everybody technically DID do their jobs here. I don’t see how it’s always the Democrats’ fault when poop-flinging GOP monkeys fail to stop flinging poop and start playing the violin.

There’s no middle ground there. You’re either performing Vivaldi or you’re covered in shit.

Once and for all the marbles in the land, can anyone name me a single case of Republican acquiescence to a policy they don’t like? Can anyone name me a time in recent memory when the GOP was like, well, we’re not fond of that, but we’ll deal with it because you won an election. Democrats are out here bending over backwards and under and THROUGH in order to give Republicans something, anything, and Republicans are using their contorted bodies as roadblocks to prevent those of us without our heads up our asses from going anywhere.

Democrats voted for Republican judges and Republican tax cuts and Republican limits on abortion and Republican limits on spending and Republican limits on food stamps and Republicans’ staggeringly unlimited WARS. Democrats voted for the impeachment OF THEIR OWN GODDAMN PRESIDENT.

Democrats voted over and over and over to compromise, and we’re still hearing that “nobody” is doing their job, that “nobody” wants to compromise, that “nobody” can find any solutions.

Democrats have found solutions. They’ve found good ones and half-a-loaf ones and they’ve reduced them to a quarter of a loaf to try to get Republicans to vote for them, every time, they are like out here begging please, please compromise with us. And Republicans won’t, and the only reason you don’t see that, as a professional Knower and Explainer of Civic Life to Citizens, is that you don’t want to see it, and whichever one it is, it’s killing people.

We hear day after day after day about DEMOCRACY DYING IN DARKNESS as if there’s a fundamental difference between a dead newspaper and one that cedes its institutional voice to a fucking parrot that just flaps and screams BOTH SIDES BOTH SIDES regardless of what kind of seed’s in its bowl. This isn’t me being a Democrat, here. This is me looking at the way things are going, at what went down, and saying this isn’t true, it isn’t correct. It’s not just politically slanted or biased or influenced, it’s flat-out factually WRONG.

You all follow me on a bunch of platforms, I’m not exactly opposed to telling Democrats what to do (call me, guys), but in this case it’s like:



REPUBLICANS, STANDING AROUND PERIMETER: Water is communist. This is a giveaway. We’re not getting in.

DEMOCRATS: Guys, do you need more room? We can move over. Axelrod, get that inflatable duck out of the way.

REPUBLICANS: Nope. Not swimming today. Not doing it.

DEMOCRATS: But it’s so nice here. You’ll feel better after you cool off. Here, you can share our lounges and beer, too. Is the water too cold? Jimmy, is there any way to warm up the water? Look, we know Billy was being inappropriate, and we’ve told him he can’t come back if he can’t keep his hands off the lifeguards. Here’s a 20-page anti-lifeguard-harassment policy we wrote. Brad, hand out the binders. We even ordered you guys extra hot dogs!

REPUBLICANS: You’re all stupid and we’re not doing this.

JOURNAL SENTINEL EDITORIAL BOARD: *marches in wearing matching purple objectivity visors* EVERYBODY GET IN THE POOL!

REPUBLICANS: We will not get in the pool until they accede to our demands. This is tyranny.

DEMOCRATS: *looking around* Um, we’re already in the pool, and they won’t tell us what they want, so here’s what we offered them, and uh, they still won’t get in, so I’m not sure what we’re supposed to do here …


DEMOCRATS: Oh for fuck’s sake.


Swimming pools aren’t the problem. You could at least be honest, and tell Republicans they have to stick their toes in the water, and pretend to have a good time, it’s a party.


Shecky’s Bleak Week In Review: Not So Good Friday Edition

Greetings from Adrastos World Headquarters. There’s not a lot to report on the personal front. Dr. A has settled in to work at home with the occasional foray to the largely deserted Med School building. Not to worry, she essentially quarantines herself in her office. Paul Drake prefers the new status quo; he can photo bomb her Zoom meetings now. The boy is such a ham that his picture may be banned at Mosques and Synagogues worldwide…

Writing continues to be my therapy. The title, of course, refers to the religious holiday occurring today. As I said in Hell Of A Spell at the Bayou Brief:

I was raised Greek Orthodox but I’m not religious. I think of myself as an agnostic, not an atheist, because I can’t prove that there’s no God. But I’ve seen too much lunacy in the name of religion to be a believer. It’s a pity: faith would come in handy now. But blind faith is never a good idea.

That’s why the super group of that name only cut one record. I think it had more to do with the egos of Baker, Clapton, and Winwood; especially Ginger Baker whose picture is in the dictionary next to difficult.

Good Friday makes me think of my favorite cousin. She was so devout that her son went to seminary before changing paths. If he had persisted, he would have been the funniest Greek Orthodox priest in the country. Just call him Father Shecky. How’s that for an ecumenical reference?

This Sunday is what my favorite cousin always called American Easter. It’s Palm Sunday this weekend for Orthodox believers and nothing much for her unorthodox cousin. Don’t get me wrong: I understand why people believe in God; I just don’t happen to myself. Just don’t ask me to bathe in the blood of the lamb or vote for Trump and we’ll get along fine.

It’s time to dismount my soap box and slice this unwieldy post into segments.

Confessions Of A Lapsed News Junkie: I’m rationing my intake of news lately. I’m usually a media sponge but the mounting body count makes my normal level of consumption problematical to say the least.

Does this make me a bad pundit? Hell, no. I’ve just reduced my intake, not eliminated it.

I still know that the Wisconsin election was a farce just as planned by the Cheesehead state GOP. Voter suppression might as well be a plank in the National Republican platform. The only way President* Pennywise can be re-elected is by keeping people away from the polls. And that’s what could happen if pandemic related adjustments aren’t made.

It seems that some Republicans including Little Lindsey are nervous about the impression Trump’s briefings are leaving on the voters. Instead they should look in the mirror and ask themselves: “What have we done?’

Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the presidential race after under performing everywhere but Nevada. I tip my hat to the Senator for his graceful exit, stage left.

Quote Of The Day: Speaking of Greeks, the best thing I’ve seen said about the choice between Biden and Trump comes from my countryman, David Sedaris:

The only candidate who will give you Salmonella is the Impeached Insult Comedian. Vote for him or third party at your own risk.

Viewing Suggestions: I’ve spent a lot of time down a Law & Order rabbit hole via WE-TV who are having a marathon. It’s given me inexpressible joy to spend time with Jerry Orbach, Chris Noth, Jesse Martin, S Epatha Merkerson, Jill Hennessy, Michael Moriarty, Sam Waterston, Carey Lowell, Steven Hill, and my countrywoman, Angie Harmon. Our DVR is groaning with episodes.

Another recommendation is The Pale Horse on Amazon Prime. It’s another uncozy Agatha Christie story starring the great Rufus Sewell. It’s eerie, creepy, and has a helluva twist at the end. Forget I said that and just watch.

Here’s the trailer:

I give this two-part mini-series 3 1/2 stars and an Adrastos Grade of B+.

Finally, special thanks to our wonderful across the street neighbor, Alli. She keeps leaving all sorts of swell items on our porch; edible and otherwise.  She’s also one of PD’s favorite people. Last week, he stormed the door and started yowling when he heard Dr. A and his Aunt Alli talking across the street. He never yowls for me.

I made a Blind Faith joke earlier. Here’s one of their best-known and best-loved songs. It’s perfect for an American Good Friday:

The GOP, in Wisconsin and Elsewhere, is Anti-Democracy

This is by design: 

The bill includes plans to lower voter turnout by adding a third statewide election in the spring of 2020, even though it will cost taxpayers millions of additional dollars and local election officials have come out strongly against it. They want to make it harder to vote early, which will cost taxpayers millions more in legal costs. They want to take control of state economic development away from the governor’s office. They want to replace the elected attorney general with private attorneys hired by the legislative branch at additional expense to taxpayers.

Is this democracy at work?

I mean, technically, yeah, in that they only have the power they have because we gave it to them. Look, for the last two years we’ve had lots of conversations about norms versus laws, about what we really consider important in government versus what is actually required. Half the shit the Trump crime family does is not illegal (like ghost the sexist shitshow that is the White House Christmas decoration reveal party, Melania, that thing sounds like hell on earth) but we act like our imaginary expectations are supposed to carry weight.

We shouldn’t run a country based on everybody being sensible and having manners. That’s not how anything should function. If you tell me that I am required to do X and Y, and in your own head you expect me to do Z, you can’t throw me in jail for not doing Z if only X and Y are mandatory.

Republicans in Wisconsin CAN do this. Should they? Shit no. But we’re well past trusting motherfuckers not to fuck mothers. If we want them to keep their dicks to themselves we have to strap on political chastity belts.

This editorial starts strong and then gets real, real stupid:

Remember in 2015 when these same three politicians – Vos, Fitzgerald and Walker – tried to gut the state’s open records law before the Fourth of July holiday?  They sneaked it into a budget bill, hoping no one would notice on the holiday weekend.

Wait, you mean to tell us, newspaper that FUCKIN ENDORSED THOSE POLITICIANS, that they turned out to be scumsucking suckers of scum? You mean they did this before? Why, it’s almost like this is WHAT THEY DO. I do declare, Miss Scarlett. See also gambling, shocked, and this establishment.

The modern GOP is designed to pursue power and subvert voting. Especially in Wisconsin. I pay attention to this shit as my side hustle and I’ve noticed that it’s not some kind of weird accident that these people are authoritarian tailpipe tumors who keep pulling underhanded crap. How can people who make a living being knowledgeable knowers of knowledge not pick this up?

We haven’t mentioned political party because this isn’t about party platforms – that’s what elections should be about.

This is about keeping the citizens in charge of their government.

It doesn’t matter which party is coming in and going out of office — we would say the exact same thing. In fact, we would shout it — just as we are now.

ARGHGGHHHH I mean name for me please the equivalent Democratic subversion of power that has occurred, that would warrant this sort of imaginary both-siderism. “We haven’t mentioned political party” so definitely please don’t call us the enemy of the people or get mad at us! Pretty please!

I give up.


Go Tell That Midnight Rider

Don’t like the election results? Neuter them: 

The lame duck legislation would, for example, prevent Mr. Evers from fulfilling a campaign promise to take Wisconsin out of a multistate lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. It will also diminish the governor’s control over the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a scandal-ridden public-private agency created by Mr. Walker to foster job creation, by giving the legislature an equal number of appointees to the board as the governor and revoking the governor’s power to appoint the board’s chief executive.

In 2011 the country ignored what was happening in Wisconsin, as a gerrymandered minority-majority rode white resentment to power.

We all know what happened next.

Don’t look away this time.


If Jesus had been born in Wisconsin…

On this hallowed Christmas Eve, everyone in my house is pretty much asleep or trying to pretend to be in hopes of getting out of work in preparation for the Wigilla celebration tonight. As my wife and I kind of muttered our way awake, we ended up on a riff about traditions and food and Wisconsin and suddenly, we were into “What if Jesus were born here?” I did my best to document the answers (and augment with a few additional thoughts), so enjoy regardless of your faith, creed or lack thereof:

If Jesus had been born in Wisconsin:

  • He would have been swaddled in a green and gold blanket, cuddled in a Packer onesie and photographed wearing a cheesehead. Like this poor kid.


  • The three kings would have shown up last, having been stuck in construction on I-94 and finding out too late that the Illinois toll booths don’t take gold, frankincense and myrrh.


  • The little drummer boy would have been replaced by a kid with an accordion playing this little ditty. (“He’s really big in Sheboygan Falls,” my wife added.)


  • His middle name would have been “Bart,” “Brett,” “Aaron” or “Vince.”


  • Most of the gifts would have come from the Mars Cheese Castle. Curds. Lots and lots of curds.


  • Joseph would have been found two hours later at a local tavern, drinking really shitty beer with about a dozen of his new “best friends.” In other news, Blatz would have immediately made a comeback as “The official beer of the birth of our Lord and Savior.”


  • He would have been born in June so Christmas didn’t interfere with hunting season or the NFL playoffs.


  • He still would be born in a manger, as we have plenty of farmland, but only because the Motel 6 was overbooked.


  • Chicagoans would immediately start explaining how the 1985 Bears Superbowl team is somehow better than this.


  • Some drunk uncle would have tried to photograph him clutching a Miller Lite can.


  • Joseph’s mother would have immediately asked when they plan to have another one. Mary’s mother would have immediately tried to feed everyone who showed up.


  • Had he been born on a Friday, two words: Fish Fry. Also, kids would have started bitching, “Do we have to go to church TWICE this week?”



  • Only about one-fourth of the businesses that use “Packerland” or “Badgerland” to describe their moving companies or HVAC services would have changed to “Saviorland.”


  • Christmas Carols would all be polkas.


  • The shepherds would have missed the birth because nobody had plowed Highway 41 yet.


  • The manger would have been buried under three feet of snow, taking the family about three days to dig out at which point, some old codger would have shown up and said, “Snow? You call this snow? You should have been here for the blizzard of ’47…”


Have a great holiday season.


Graduation Day

“Scars are souvenirs you never lose. The past is never far.”
– Goo Goo Dolls, “Name”

“My parents’ basement.”

Those three words kept coming up this week as I met with student after student who planned to graduate Saturday.

The phrase has become a metaphor that indicates success or failure, with fear driving 20-somethings desperately away from it.

Am I going to find a job or will I have to live there?

Will this job pay me enough or will I have to stay there?

My dad keeps telling me I can’t move back in there, so I need to figure something out fast.

I visit my parents’ basement once a month, as Dad and I pack up our tubs for the monthly card show. I limbo my way under and over stacks of bobble heads, posters, cards, statues and other sports monstrosities that my mother would love to see us set on fire, as I help him pack our wares. My parents’ basement is full of nothing but good thoughts and wonderful vibes for me now.

Dad will often say, “You got a minute? C’mon down to the basement.” The rough translation of that statement is: “I bought some more shit we can sell at the show, but I had to hide it from your mother.”

However, half a lifetime ago (literally), that fucking basement terrified me.

Finishing school and looking for a job wasn’t easy. It was impossible.

EVERYONE else already had a job or had a line on one while I seeing rejections pile up in my mailbox every day.

EVERYONE else was coasting through some bullshit yoga class to complete their degree requirements while I was working at the student paper, working at the city paper and finishing up ridiculously difficult courses I managed to put off somehow.

EVERYONE else had a career path and a life plan. I had a job back at the garage whenever I wanted it and no real life to speak of.

My path seemed to lead to my parents’ basement.

No matter how old I get or how well I do or where I go in life, I will never forget that fear and how it eats away at everything around it. It’s why my door is always open this time of year and why I mentor students on everything from how to avoid looking like Mike from “Swingers” when they are pursuing a job to how to explain to their parents how the hiring process works.

It’s why I have a stash of napkins in a drawer behind me, so I can snag one and hand it to the sobbing kids who get rejection after rejection, as their friends celebrate what are seemingly perfect jobs that just dropped out of the sky on them.

It’s why I tell them the story of the guy who fell in the hole, even though I probably already told it to them once before and I’ve told it five times already that day.

It’s why I don’t understand the consternation of faculty who mutter about the “kids today” or the politicians who refuse to support either group because “when I was a kid…”

Every year, the gap in age between me and my students increases. The distance between us never does.

I never forget: My parents had a basement too.

“Is the view pretty good from the cheap seats, A.J.?”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Because it occurs to me that in 25 years, I’ve never ONCE seen your name on a ballot. Now why is that? Why are you always one step behind me?”
“Because if I wasn’t you’d be the most popular history professor at the University of Wisconsin.”
-The American President

If you ever felt the need to be murdered by a frenzying septuagenarian, just tell my mother, “You know, those who can’t do, teach.”

She spent 45 years in grades 3 through 8 teaching kids in a factory town. She taught poor kids, broken kids, kids nobody thought of. She taught literal generations of kids, with students becoming parents of her students and then becoming grandparents of students.

The kids who never left Cudahy.

She taught mostly reading and social studies, history and English. Math and science really weren’t her thing. She poured her time and energy into engaging projects, plays, musicals and more, just to give those kids a chance to love learning and take a bow.

The role of administration was never beyond her reach or ability. She had a wide array of talents that went beyond the classroom. She just never wanted to do any of them.

She knew what she was supposed to be doing: Teaching kids.

When I got the chance to teach a class of my own, I found that feeling. I was 22 years old and I was standing at the front of that room and I just felt it.

I was still working as a journalist, so I didn’t have to make a decision to leave the field at that point. I was just trying to pay tuition and rent. One job did one thing, the other did the other.

My first “grown-up job” was at Missouri, where I would work with students in the newsroom and teach in the classroom.

The next gig: advise a student newspaper, teach in the classroom.

Every job, I split the baby. Stay attached to the field in which I taught and yet teach students desperate to enter the field.

And yet I knew and I still know.

I’m a teacher, no matter what else I do.

“Gunny, I fucked up. I got Profile killed.”
“It was his time and when it’s your time I don’t give a damn how fast you run, your time is up.”
“I could have gotten them all killed.”
“But you didn’t, so just don’t make the same mistake twice.”
– Heartbreak Ridge

The kid showed up in the doorway of my office in a rush, his face still red from the cold outside. He had a look of fear and his physical anxiety manifested itself in what could charitably be called a “pee-pee dance.” The student who was in my office shooting the bull with me recognized the worried look and departed with a, “So, I’ll see you Saturday after graduation, right?”

She knew I would and I also knew that I’d be seeing this nervous young man there as well. Even more, I had no idea why he had this look of a kid who got caught stealing a porn mag by his parish priest.

This guy had it made. His grades were good enough to sail through the final week with no worries. He had a job lined up to start after the first of the year doing news and sports on TV in one of the better broadcast markets in the state. He had been ready for this since his sophomore year where I taught him the difference between facts and opinion and why using the word “very” was just as useful as using the word “damned.”

“I really fucked up that last assignment for you and I need to know how not to let that happen again,” he said.

I pulled up the file and, sure enough, a robust grade of 45 percent sat at the bottom. The cause for most of the point loss? He misspelled two proper nouns in his story.

That grade didn’t matter to him in any meaningful way as far as the university, his degree or his GPA was concerned. It was that idea of failing something in a way that could REALLY cost him.

We talked at length about fucking up. I relayed a few of my own, including a doozy where I managed to make two fact errors in the first sentence of an “exclusive” story.

Fucking up happens, I told him. The point is to avoid fucking up when you could have easily avoided fucking up.

Don’t assume you know how to spell the name.

Don’t guess that it’s a street, not an avenue.

Don’t presume you know which of the guys robbed the bank and which one caught the robber.

Make sure the guy is actually dead before you write his obituary.

I could tell he was getting it, but then he asked another important question: Even if I do all that, I’m going to fuck up at some point. What then?

Learn from it.

Every time you fuck up, you pay a price. It might be physical, it might be mental, it might be financial, but it is a price you must pay. You get something in return for your payment, and that’s wisdom.

Thus, in perhaps the least wizening way I could, I explained to him the truth:

“You’re going to step on your dick from time to time. I’d rather you do it here, on an assignment than out there where you might get fired or worse. The reason I put such a high penalty on certain things is because I want those things to hurt so bad that you never do them again. The reason I spread your grades out in this class so widely is that when you do fuck up that badly, the fuck up won’t kill you. That’s how you learn.”

He smiled.

“You going to graduation on Saturday?”

“Yep. See you there.”

“Did Chris Columbus say he wanted to stay home? No! What if the Wright brothers thought only birds should fly?…”
“I’m not any of those guys! I’m a kid from a trailer park!”
“If that’s what you think, then that’s all you’ll ever be.”

The first time I heard someone called a “fig” or a “Figgie,” it was spat in such a way that I honestly thought the “I” was actually an “A” lost in dialect. The term was based on the “FG” notation next to students’ names in their enrollment and it stood for “first-generation.”

At that university, the idea was that you should come from a lineage of people that had all gone to college, particularly that college. If you at least had some semblance of educated parentage, well, OK, but figgies?

Fuck ‘em.

Had it not been for my mother’s passion for teaching and almost vengeful determinism to disprove her father’s statement she’d “never be anything more than a housewife,” I would have been a fig. Dad picked up an associate’s degree at some point, but my grandparents were factory workers, police officers, “steno gals” and homemakers. They came from immigrant homes where learning English was a massive accomplishment and feeding the off-spring was almost always a challenge.

Mom told stories of her grandmother sifting rat droppings out of the government flour she received during the Great Depression. Dad told stories of his grandfather picking mushrooms on the way to church and packing a postage-stamp-sized garden full of sustenance for the family.

My wife’s grandparents dropped out of school to work jobs, one of them doing so about the same age my daughter is now.

To be a fig in those days would have been bragging rights mixed with a pipe dream.

George Carlin once noted that he loved seeing a blade of grass that pushed its way through a crack in the sidewalk. It’s so fucking heroic, he noted. Against all odds, pushing against an immovable force, this little speck of life wove its way out from the ground beneath and refused to quit until it saw the sun on its face.

This is why I always tell the kids I teach that they need to walk at graduation. Sure, you can make the argument that it’s 20 seconds on a stage where someone mangles your name, someone else hands you an empty diploma case and a third someone shakes your hand, but misses the point.

You did it. You beat the odds. You worked for this.

It wasn’t a given or a birthright. It wasn’t an item you threw in your grocery cart: Eggs, milk, diploma.

Every blade of grass that gets through the concrete deserves at least a moment of sunlight.

“He was a small horse, barely 15 hands. He was hurting, too. There was a limp in his walk, a wheezing when he breathed. Smith didn’t pay attention to that. He was looking the horse in the eye.”
– Seabiscuit

Saturday morning, I’ll be sitting in my office overlooking the relatively paltry arena that serves almost all of our indoor sports teams. The parking lot will fill and people will wander toward various entries in the building.

Parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives.

They come from the various outposts of our state, places you don’t think about when you hear the name “Wisconsin.”

Crivitz and Cadott. Oconomowoc and Oconto Falls. Fall River and River Falls. The closest you get to “foreign students” around here are the kids who cross the Illinois or Minnesota border to play sports for the institution.

It’ll be the first time in nearly a decade that I’m not going to be at that ceremony. The doctor says my back is too bad from a recent injury to sit for three hours. So, I’ll watch them go in and wait.

I’ll grade papers, write book chapters and make sure to get up and stretch every half hour. Then, when one of the students who almost cried when I told him I couldn’t sit through the event texts me that things are wrapping up, I’ll don the ridiculous regalia I break out a couple times a year and trek across that parking lot.

I’ll shake hands with parents and grandparents, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. They’ll tell me about the times the graduate came home or called home and wouldn’t stop talking about me or something weird I did and we’ll all laugh.

The parents will worriedly look me in the eye and ask if I think their son or daughter will get a job or they’ll thank me for helping the kid find post-graduation employment.

They’ll marvel at the grandeur of the ceremony or the pomp and circumstance that surrounds them, never mind it’s far less than I’ve seen at most places and the whole place still smells like last night’s basketball game.

And they’ll ask me questions and tell me stories about this freshly minted college graduate we both know.

But before we part company, I’ll look them in the eye and I’ll tell them the truth.

It was an honor to teach their loved one.

An open letter to the Wisconsin JFC in support of counting professors’ hours and trimming waste

Dear Sen. Darling, Rep. Nygren and other members of the Joint Finance Committee,

News reports have indicated that your group has included in its most recent version of the state budget some “controversial language” that would “require the University of Wisconsin System to monitor the teaching workload of every professor and adjunct instructor on campuses.”

As a faculty member of one of these institutions, I can assure you that this is definitely an important measure and a valuable first step in eliminating governmental waste and employee sloth. As many of you know, having received degrees from some of these state institutions, the clear measure of faculty value is solely the amount of time spent in front of students in a classroom. This is the purpose of our educators and we need to hold them accountable.

Given that this laser-focused approach on educational employees is likely to yield impressive results, I would actively encourage you to take a serious look at other areas of governmental employee waste and bring to bear all of your influence on other public “servants” who are failing to pass muster.

For example, it is clear that firefighters throughout the state need to get their priorities straightened out. In analyzing some recent annual reports for municipalities that contain branches of UW System schools, what I found is likely to shock you. Consider this breakdown of the Oshkosh Fire Department’s activities in 2016:



The entire department, which consists of 108 members of its workforce, only extinguished 109 fires for the WHOLE YEAR! That’s only one per person for all of 2016! Given the job of firefighters is to fight fires (which is clearly spelled out right in the name of the job), this is clearly an unacceptable waste of resources.

A similar examination of Green Bay’s annual report is even more troubling:


The department only extinguished 237 fires last year. That’s down from 277 the year before and from 312 in 2012! This decrease in fires fought of nearly 24 percent over the past four years should have clearly been accompanied with a reduction of workforce, pay and hours, one would expect.  This was not the case, as an additional six fire fighters were hired in February of that year.

The police departments in some of these areas are even more problematic. As we all know, the purpose of police officers is to arrest criminals, so it may upset you as much as it upset me to find out how little they are doing in this regard. For example, the Stevens Point Police Department’s annual report states the department made only 862 adult arrests and 202 juvenile arrests during 2016. This is with a total sworn staff of 44 individuals. That gives us a total of 24 PER OFFICER that year, or an average of one arrest every 15 days. I ask you, is this a good use of taxpayer money?

My most upsetting discovery came in examining the Whitewater Police Department’s statistics. As you well know, State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is from this area and has spoken out against the lethargy and waste in our state’s education system. How outraged do you think he would be to find that his home town’s police department arrested only 27 people out of 162 incidents of criminal property damage?

One officer’s record in particular was troubling:


Officer “Boomer” provided no more than three arrests in any given month during 2015. Even worse, in two months he enacted NO ARRESTS AT ALL! If all this officer wishes to do all day is lick his crotch and bark at nothing, he can CLEARLY follow Steve Bannon’s example: Quit government life and do it on his own time.

Now, I guess you’re asking the same question I did, which is, “If the fire fighters aren’t fighting fires and police aren’t arresting people, what are they DOING with their time?” The answer is in front of you in black and white. Firefighters have consistently wasted time on false alarms, noxious fumes complaints and other equally pointless tasks. In addition, you’ll note heavy use of these firefighting resources on EMS calls, which is a massive waste of taxpayer money. Unless the patient is literally on fire, what purpose does it serve to send a firefighter out to see them? In addition, if the people are truly ill, that’s what hospitals are for. Call a cab and get your own ass out there.

Police have been equally thoughtless in their allocation of precious resources, wasting time on taking reports or “investigating” crimes. All of this preparation of documents and processing of crime scenes is taking them away from their primary task, namely the incarceration of criminals. Look at this data from Stevens Point!


As much as they talk a good game about going on “calls,” you will notice that they don’t talk a lot about arrests, which is why we’re paying them the big bucks. Even worse, you will notice that the department received a DECREASE in calls between 2015 and 2016 and yet not a single one of these officers has been fired as a result.

As you page through these reports, you will also see ridiculous claims about receiving additional “training” or “service to the community” like visits to schools and K-9 demonstrations. If kids really want to see how police procedures work, they should bring a stash of weed to school and attempt to sell it to an undercover officer. Otherwise, they shouldn’t be getting in the way of the officers’ sworn duty: to arrest criminals. The same is true for school visits from firefighters: Either shoot off a flare gun in your locker or get used to the idea you won’t be petting a Dalmatian.

I understand you are likely outraged, but you probably are getting ready to tell me, “Doc, we know how upsetting this is, but we don’t control the budgets of local municipalities. What can we do?” That thought has occurred to me too, but that hasn’t stopped you before when it came to education.

You provide somewhere around 16 percent of the annual funding to the UW System, but you somehow manage to write all the rules and do an awful lot of threatening. Something tells me you guys and gals can find a way to apply similar approach to dropping the hammer on these shiftless firefighters and police officers.

Hey, when has logic ever stood in the way of you becoming excised little rage monkeys and screaming up a blue streak about the U? Maybe if you’re lucky, a police department has offered a seminar on the “Problem of Whiteness.” That always seems to get you all in the right frame of mind.

In the meantime, I’ll be back here at the U, counting up my hours of teaching, totally ignoring the hours of class preparation, student-group advising, student registration advising, faculty meetings, staff meetings, writing letters of recommendation for students, helping students get internships, helping students get jobs, helping students get into grad school, answering after-hours emails from students/colleagues, grading papers, reworking tests, calculating grades, keeping up on changes in my field, applying for grants, completing work for grants I received, reviewing scholarship for journals, reviewing textbooks for publishers, rewriting my own textbooks, doing peer evaluations for adjunct instructors, conducting faculty position searches, fundraising for the student media I advise, taking students to conferences and 100 other things I do in a week without giving them a second thought when I complete my tally.

After all, if I’m not standing in front of a group of kids all day, what the hell good am I?

Respectfully yours,


Rummage sales are life. The rest is just details.

The reason this post is late is because I spent the last hour and a half looking up everything I could find on Carry-Lite Duck Decoys manufactured in Milwaukee.

Am I a hunter? No.

Do I care about becoming a hunter? No.

What the hell is wrong with me? A lot, it turns out.

I picked up six of these decoys at a rummage sale today, so duck decoys have become my obsession of the moment. A friend in California is a hunter and mentioned how to locate interesting and valuable decoys at one point. A friend here noted that a neighbor of his sold some for a pretty high price once.

A woman about my grandmother’s age had dumped a dusty box full of these things at the end of her driveway just as I drove up. She said she had no idea what they were, but her husband used them a long time ago. A price of six for $20, made of paper mache with a “Patent 1941” stamp on the bottom seemed like too good a bargain to pass up.

I scoured the Internet looking for various types of duck decoys and places to find them. I have yet to find one stamped like mine, so I either have a rare find or a box of shit. Eventually, I found myself going crazy so I stopped to write this post (Side note: I’ve stopped writing this a few times to go back to Google with the hope that maybe THIS set of search terms would yield an answer about who made these and when.).

It was at this point that a realization hit me: Rummage sale season is officially upon us.

This is a sacred time of year in Wisconsin, due in large part (I suspect) to the fact we spend nine months of the year housebound by snow and ice, so anything that gets us outside in sunny weather is worth doing. Neighborhoods get together to host 30, 40 and 50-family sales, in hopes of drawing massive amounts of traffic to their neck of the woods. Subdivisions are packed with trucks, vans and SUVs creeping along the winding roads in search of the next sale on the map someone at the last sale handed out.

Certain cities and towns are “known” for having certain citywide sales during certain weekends. Winneconne was two weeks ago, Omro was last weekend… I still have yet to attend the infamous “Irish Road Rummage” which is a cross between an insane asylum and an endurance test.

Rummaging was pretty much tattooed onto my DNA as a child, long before the “American Pickers” crowd made it trendy. Each summer, Mom would have off from teaching and I’d have off from school, so off we’d go every day we could find a sale. Estate sales, rummage sales, moving sales… It didn’t matter. If we were looking for bargains, at least she wasn’t making me scrape and paint the storms and screens around the house.

I still remember one find she made in the basement of a house that smelled like mold and cat pee: A 1950s-style grocery cart with two detachable wire baskets. The asking price was something like $12, so she had me haul that thing out of the cobwebs and somehow stuff it into the backseat of our 1979 Ford Thunderbird.

When we got it home, my father saw it and bitched up a storm: “The hell do you need that for? What the hell did you pay for that? Where the hell do you think you’re going to put that?”

Mom had an answer: She was going to have me spray paint it a couple bright colors and she was going to use it to shuttle stuff around her classroom. I think I was 16 at the time we bought the cart and I was more than 40 when she finally retired. The grocery cart was an integral part of her classroom for the quarter century in between.

To be fair, Dad wasn’t anti-garage sale. He just had his own way of valuing things that came from the sales. If you want to watch a 73-year-old man outrun Usain Bolt, just put some sports shit at a rummage sale and mark it “FREE!” I can’t tell you how many times we bought something on a Saturday and sold it for a profit on a Sunday at the card show.

My first and favorite big score was when I was 11. I rode my bike to a sale a couple miles from our house. I found a really cool flag I wanted and when I picked it up, I noticed a bunch of paper placemats under it with the box scores from Milwaukee Braves games. I asked the lady how much for each placemat.

“Take them all for $2.” So I did.

I had no idea what they were worth, but it was something I could show my Dad, so I tucked them carefully into a sack and rode home. He’d never seen one, so he went to one of “his guys” who happened to run a sports card place on Lincoln Avenue.

“They’re not worth much,” Leroy told my dad. “Maybe $5-6 bucks each…”

The next show, we put four of them in the auction. I watched as two guys went after these things until they finally sold for $26. The next month, we did it again. Same result.

I was thrilled to be getting $26 a month, but Dad had a better angle. He found the guy who lost the auction and asked if he wanted to buy some. We took him out to the car where we had the rest of them and Dad negotiated a price. I walked away with another $185 and a hyper-inflated lust for rummaging.

Over the years, we’d found a few things like that: Dad would see something of value, he’d ask what it would cost for all of the stuff there and then we’d resell the stuff at a profit. Still, nothing will ever top the Saga of the Beer Cans.

It was the weekend of my wife’s baby shower and we had come up from Indiana to Milwaukee so all of our family could attend. My mother took my wife for a spa day, leaving Dad and I to our own devices.

We decided to “take a walk” which usually led to us walking past rummage sales. At one in particular, we started poking around when a woman asked, “Hey, do you guys wanna buy a beer can collection?”

To this day, neither Dad nor I can figure what it was about us that said, “Hey, ask us about your beer can collection,” but there we were, looking at hundreds of cans stacked up in a row.

As if we knew the difference, the woman tossed in this pot sweetener, “I’ve even got some cone tops in there.”

Neither Dad nor I would have known a cone top from a Conehead, but for some reason, Dad asked, “How much?”

“Fifty bucks.”


We started walking back home when I noticed we were both really quiet.

“Dad, I know you’re thinking about those cans,” I told him. “I can hear that gerbil on the treadmill in your head.”

“That’s only because I know you’re thinking about them too,” he told me.

We went home, looked up what the hell a “cone top” was and then decided to drive back. Just as we pulled up, a collector was there talking to the lady.

“No, no,” she said to the guy, as she pointed at us. “I promised these guys first.”

So, we essentially bought a beer can collection at that point, having no idea what we were going to do or how to sell it. Still, it seemed like we could make the money back even if we just scrapped the damned things, so we had that going for us. We had the entire SUV filled with several cases resting near Dad’s feet, when the lady said, “Don’t forget the ones on the side of the house.”

When we looked down the side of the house, we saw cardboard beer cases stacked four high as deep as the entire length of the house. It took us three trips to get all that stuff back to my parents’ house and it filled the whole garage stall.

Cutting to the end of the story, it took two trips with two SUVs to get all the stuff down to Indiana and we made more than $1,500 together from it.

Also, it was a miracle my wife didn’t murder me, even after I said, “I hope you get a lot of gift cards so we can take some of these cans home with us right away.”

Sorry, honey, but there are no “sacred cows” when it comes to rummaging.

I was once running late for church when I spotted a guy closing up a rummage sale. He had a lawn mower and a beer sign for sale, so I pulled a bootlegger turn in front of his house. He asked $3 for the beer sign and said the mower didn’t work. “Take the damned thing,” he pleaded. “Just get it out of here before my wife comes home.”

This led to me wrestling a push mower into the back of my SUV and spending an hour-long mass smelling like gasoline.

Mom and I will often be late for something but spot a sale and have to pull over. On Thursday, we were taking some furniture to a friend of hers when we noticed a sale. We almost tossed the stuff out of the truck on the lady’s lawn so we could get back there and look at the sale. I ended up with a liquor cabinet, a bench and a cuckoo clock. I also grabbed this gorgeous antique table that was about the size of dinner plate. It had an oval top with pressed flowers under a broken glass top. The top also flipped up so you could just display the art. I bought it for $12 and was thinking about how I could redo it and display it at our antique booth. As I was loading it into the car, Mom noted, “I want that. Can you refinish it for me?”

Again, no sacred cows. I wouldn’t be surprised if we ended up pulling out of a funeral procession at some point because Dad spotted some bobble heads for sale.

Still, it’s not all about making money when it comes to garage sales. I can’t tell you how many times I ended up with a piece of furniture or something else because Dad found it at a yard sale and proclaimed, “I couldn’t buy the WOOD to make it for that cost!” My Mom loves to pick up cross-stitched pillowcases because nobody does that stuff anymore and she loves the details. Dad finds golf stuff and other stuff he already has three of but just “couldn’t pass it up at that price.” Eventually, when he stockpiles enough of the “had to have it” bargains, we do our own sales.

Each year, we have two sales: One up at my house and one down by my folks. I usually have tons of refinished furniture, sports memorabilia and rebuilt lawnmowers for sale, most of which came to me in damaged format from other rummage sales. It’s a good gig if you get a nice weekend, as people tend to flock to us in droves when it’s sunny out. Rainy weekends kill you and make you wish you’d never thought about doing one of these things.

This weekend is what we call a “half and half” sale: Friday is gorgeous without a cloud in the sky, but Saturday is supposed to bring torrential downpours. This leads to a great amount of self-deceiving justification on the part of people like me. I was headed to work at around 8:30 when I saw a sign for a “60-house rummage” in a subdivision. I was planning to do some writing for a book I’m finishing, submit my annual report information to my department chairperson and write this post.

Yeah, but… See… Rummage!

Obviously, the best stuff is available earliest on the first day and it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so it’s clear I can’t go out tomorrow and it’s a beautiful day… Besides, I can do that shit later…

Thus, I spent the next four hours wandering through a subdivision, buying tons of stuff I might or might not need. A Blackhawks hoodie for my wife, a dresser to refinish for $10, a set of chairs for my buddy who has a buyer for a table we own if we could find chairs, a 1973 Bucky Badger Boxing decanter (sans booze), a couple tools and, of course, the ducks.

I had to have the furniture people hold the furniture for me after I paid them because I was driving Betsy and there was no way I’d get any of that stuff into her trunk. I was having an existential argument about buying a second dresser when someone else bought it first, so that ended up going that way.

Still, I eventually got the truck, got the furniture, got to work and got everything done, including this post, so no harm, no foul.

Speaking of fowl, time to figure out these ducks…


P.S. — Just for darrelplant

UW Budget Cuts: There’s always a reason…

Every two years, Wisconsin Republicans come home and see that the UW burned the roast.

Or left a mess in the kitchen…

Or didn’t buy more beer…

Or forgot to pick up the dry cleaning…

There’s always a reason that when the budget comes along, and the UW System leaders ask for money, Republicans decide instead to smack it around and then cut higher ed in the state.

Four years ago, it was the allegation that the UW had stockpiled more than $1 billion in its coffers without telling anyone.

(Of course, that wasn’t true, but it was more than enough to create fake outrage and cut nearly a quarter of a billion from the System.)

Two years ago, it was the idea of an “autonomy for cuts” trade: We cut you to the tune of 13 percent and we then let you get away from us and live your lives.

(Of course, that was never going to happen. After making the cuts, the Republicans came up with the “what’s the point of giving you freedom if you won’t do what we want you to do with it?” argument that still makes my head spin.)

This time, I honestly thought it was going to be a Canadian hip-hop artist/UW-Madison professor who would be our sacrificial lamb. Damon Sajnani wrote a course called “The Problem of Whiteness” and Republican Dave Murphy lost his mind over it and threatened the U with budget cuts if this shit wasn’t stopped. Never mind Murphy is basically Exhibits A and B for what’s wrong with Whiteness…

In the end, Scott Fitzgerald realized he couldn’t fuck over the system of his alma mater just because of one class, so he needed a better reason.

And of course he found it.

Thanks in large part to some financial shell games at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, in which a former chancellor co-mingled state money and private foundation money to burnish his legacy and make his cock swell, all of the universities in the system are now being investigated.

Never let it be said Fitzgerald missed an opportunity to do his best Scrooge impression:


Fitzgerald stopped short of saying the university foundations issue would affect state funding for the UW System in the next budget. “When it comes to the state budget, members and finance committee members in particular, have a straight-forward process. How much is being set aside, how much is available.”

That said, “it’s human nature when you hear about something like this… ” Fitzgerald added.


Actually, Scott, it’s not. It’s sub-human nature to find flaws with everything in hopes of being able to make something suffer for your own pleasure. It’s the same approach kids take when they get a magnifying glass and discover they can use it to immolate ants. It’s power and dominion over those who lack the means and the recourse to fight back.

The state contributes 17 percent of the funding the UW System gets each year and yet you get to write all the rules. Every two years, you and your ilk get all fake outraged over some perceived slight, some perceived error in judgment or some stupid issue that allows you to whip people into a frenzy before you slash education.

The reason this works is because A) the universities suck at explaining anything to people who aren’t academics (and I say this as being an academic who watches the overly academic people fall all over themselves fucking this up every single time) and B) it’s so much easier to channel rage and anger than it is to marshal common sense.

I’m quite certain the cuts will come and the U will bleed and more quality faculty will flee this state like rats of the Titanic. We will then see a period of normalization until it comes time again for Ray “Oliver Twist” Cross to approach you with his bowl in hand and meekly request:

“Please, sir… more.”

Wingnut Mailbag: On Wisconsin Edition


For some reason, I’m on Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke’s email list. I’m not quite sure why. It shouldn’t have anything to do with my making fun of Clarke last fall, but it might. All publicity is good publicity to the likes of Clarke. Trumpers love to be trumpeted.

I’m getting a perverse thrill at poaching on Scout, Doc, and A’s turf but I suspect they don’t mind. I’d rather not be getting wingnut email from the Clarkites but I am. So it goes.

Sheriff Clarke is looking to 2018. He could run for re-election but his approval rating is even lower than Trump’s: an abysmal 31%. Milwaukee County is a Democratic stronghold, which is why he’s nominally a Democrat. Clarke is even less popular among Democrats at home: only 13% of Dems want him re-elected. That’s why he’s likely to change parties and challenge Senator Tammy Baldwin.

The aforementioned  fundraising emails combine homophobia, sexism, and wingnut lunacy. On January 30th, Team Clarke sent an email entitled Arrest Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Hey, at least they used her title. Here’s a sample of the ravings therein:

Liberal lesbian Tammy Baldwin is aiding and abetting ISIS. She is working to stop President Donald Trump’s ban on terrorist refugees. Tammy Baldwin is more concerned about protecting the safety of ISIS members than she is about the security of the United States. It is clear that Tammy Baldwin doesn’t care that many of the refugees have plans to attack America. Tammy Baldwin belongs in prison! She is a traitor to our country!

Fun fact: a group called Restore American Liberty sent the email. It’s located in Denver, Colorado. Clarke might call it federalism, I call it carpetbaggery.

The ironically named Restore American Liberty has sent me the same email three days in a row. You’d think they’d get tired of repeating themselves, but wingnuts are simple people. Here’s another passage:

Sheriff David Clarke can win! He can defeat leftist lesbian Tammy Baldwin in the Wisconsin U.S. Senate race! If elected, he will work to secure the borders and ban Muslim immigration. Unlike Tammy Baldwin, Sheriff David Clarke supports balancing the budget, protecting the Second Amendment, and defending the right to life. 

Liberal lesbian Tammy Baldwin needs to be defeated! She is a radical pro-abortion, open borders Democrat. She supports higher taxes, gun control, and expanding ObamaCare. America needs Sheriff David Clarke to defeat her!

Wealthly LGBT donors from Hollywood, San Francisco, and New York are going to spend millions in support of Tammy Baldwin. It is crucial that grassroots conservatives fight back!

Wealthly? Don’t these bozos spell check? Of course, their target audience is knuckledraggers who read about as much as the Insult Comedian. Trump, of course, would say that Sheriff Clarke is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice. If you think I’m obsessed with that gobsmacker of a sentence, check out N Todd’s joint, Dohiyi Mir.

My unsolicited advice to Wisconsinites: get over the Packers loss and go to work supporting “leftist liberal lesbian” Tammy Baldwin. The helots are coming for her. If it’s not David Clarke, they’ll find another challenger. It’s an example of why our voters need to turn out for EVERY ELECTION. The country you save may be your own.

The Problem of Whiteness meets the Problem with the Witless

It seems that Rep. David Murphy, who chairs the state’s committee on colleges and universities despite never having graduated from one, came out swinging against a course titled “The Problem of Whiteness.” This class is taught at UW-Madison, is an elective and is taught by professor Damon Sajnani, who has a Ph.D. in African-American studies from Northwestern. Murphy found the class – an elective, mind you – to be so disturbing he called for the entire UW System’s funding request to be yanked unless the class was cancelled:

 Murphy, who is chairman of the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities, said he and his staff looked at “The Problem of Whiteness” course description for the spring semester, as well as the background of its teacher, Assistant Professor Damon Sajnani. He concluded: “We are adding to the polarization of the races in our state.”




Murphy said he had been “trying to talk up” to fellow lawmakers increased funding for the UW System in the next state budget but was now having doubts.

“If UW-Madison stands with this professor,” Murphy wrote, “I don’t know how the university can expect the taxpayers to stand with UW-Madison.”


This is the textbook definition of bullying and a shakedown. The university system contains 26 campuses, 180,000 students, 40,000 faculty and contributes nearly $6 billion annually to the state and Murphy wants to hold it hostage over ONE COURSE. He has also demanded that Sajnani be “dismissed.” Keep in mind, he never took the course, never read the texts associated with the course and never received a complaint about the course. He just basically decided to screw with the university because he can. We’re about a millimeter away from Murphy saying, “Nice budget you gots here… Shame if somethin’ were to happen to it…”


Murphy didn’t stop with just this one course, however, noting that he was going to have his staff check into ALL classes at UW-Madison to make sure “they’re legit.”

Asked what he and his staff would be looking for in courses, Murphy said they would not need to look at disciplines like chemistry or business, but “we’ll be looking at the humanities. I realize college is a place to discuss ideas that aren’t necessarily everybody’s idea of how things ought to be, but I want to make sure there’s legitimate education going on.”


This would be hysterical if it Murphy didn’t have actual power over state resources. Let’s review a few things:

  1. Murphy never graduated from college. He couldn’t even finish a degree at UW-Fox Valley, a two-year school in the system. He spent his life in agri-business and as a real estate guy. How, exactly, would he know if the courses were “legit” or not? What level of expertise does he bring to the table that would indicate his life and educational experience will allow him to sniff out all these potentially illegitimate courses? That would be like me walking around the surgical wing at the Mayo Clinic and checking up on all those brain surgeries to make sure they’re being done right.
  2. The professor he attacked at this point is an international scholar. Sajnani hails from Canada, where he not only received a bachelor’s and master’s degree, but he also is an accomplished member of the hip-hop community. For all the shit legislators give people about not getting “real world” experience in an area of interest, this guy has walked the walk in various aspects of life. His Ph.D. comes from Northwestern and he’s been a fellow at Harvard based on his research. So exactly how would he be unqualified a) teach this course and b) contribute to this university?
  3. Does Murphy realize he just backed the state into a corner with his stupidity? Let’s say for the sake of argument, the state wants to fund some, but not all of this UW System request. Anyone with a good PR person (read: anyone but Murphy) would immediately pounce on this and say, “Look, we got cut because Dave Murphy is trying to undermine academic freedom at our flagship university!” Regardless of how often he denies it, the case can be made that he threatened the budget if the course wasn’t cut, the U has not (and will not) cut the course and now the budget got cut.


This isn’t the first time the state has threatened the system’s budget. A few years back it was Steve Nass, who holds two degrees from UW-Whitewater and somehow thinks he made it in life despite that, took on the system over courses. He and several other Republicans killed a budget request when it created an overblown shit fit about an alleged $1 billion systemwide surplus.

Usually what happens is, the regents ask for money for faculty raises or improved facilities and the Republicans find something to get outraged about. It’s not a case of actual outrage, but they do a good job of making people really upset about these greedy, liberal (probably all gay drug using) professors in their ivory towers who don’t understand reality. Thus, they cut the budget, hold it out as a pride point and continue to divide the state between the “haves” and “have nots,” all as they do very little for either group.

Promises, Promises

My dad held very few points of pride when it came to things he did or didn’t do. He never smoked at all, he doesn’t “owe anyone anything” when it comes to financial concerns and he didn’t make a promise he didn’t think he could keep.

“If I said we’re going to do something, we did it,” he always told me. “If I said ‘No,’ I meant ‘No.” If it was ‘Maybe,’ anything could happen. But if I said we’re doing it, we did it unless something really changed the situation.”

He wasn’t kidding. I asked to go to my first baseball game when I was about 8 years old. He promised we’d go that Friday, not knowing it was “Bat Day” in the middle of a pennant race. The traffic was insane, the tickets were hard to get and it was just chaos at old County Stadium. Dad disliked all of those things, but we went and he never complained.

Promises were an important part of my life and I kept that same attitude for my kid. If I said we were going for ice cream, we went. If I said we weren’t doing something, begging only strengthened my resolve. I get the importance of promises, especially when people are relying on you.

That said, the kinds of promises we made as fathers were the kind that led to positive outcomes. They also occasionally were broken when circumstances intervened on us. Occasionally a promised trip had to be postponed due to a funeral or an illness. Sometimes, it became insane to persist in the promise.

When I was 10, Dad promised to take me to opening day. He got the tickets, pulled me out of school and we went to the stadium. In typical early-April fashion, it was about 40 degree, so we were all bundled up. It was also raining, so we did our best to stay dry.

The game was postponed for almost two hours and we were both freezing and soaked. Finally, Dad asked if I wanted to stay and I said, “Let’s go home.” Eventually the game started (we caught the first pitch on the radio in the car on the way home) but it was stupid to stay there and die in the frigid weather to prove a point.

When it comes to promises, Scott Walker and his ilk need to better understand the difference between the inconveniences of Bat Day and the stupidity of not coming in from the rain.

Walker unveiled his latest plan to close a $1 billion gap in the transportation gap by delaying some projects, shuffling money to local municipalities and cutting the department’s budget in other ways. The purpose of making these changes? To keep his promise of not raising taxes:


“Governor Walker has kept his word by proposing a reasonable transportation budget that sets the right priorities and doesn’t increase taxes or the registration fee,” said a statement from Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater).

Walker campaigned in 2010 for governor by criticizing Democrats like his predecessor Gov. Jim Doyle for failing to execute work on the Zoo Interchange. But Thursday Walker said it wouldn’t be fair to criticize him in turn for proposing delays to the north leg of the Zoo, saying that it was in better shape than the interchange’s aging core that is on track to be replaced.

“I make promises and I keep promises, and my promise to the taxpayers was I’m not going to raise taxes and fees,” Walker said.


Like many Republicans, Walker treats “tax” like it is a four-letter word. Then again, given his educational standing, he might think it is one.

The larger point is that this was a stupid promise. When we lack for revenue and need to get things done, we have to get more revenue. Things in the real world do, in fact, cost money. To that end, we can’t just say “delay this” or “delay that” to make it seem financially responsible. That’s like the guy who knows his brakes are going on his car, but to replace the pads will cost $200. Instead, he keeps riding the brakes for months and months until he literally can’t stop. At that point, he’s warped the rotors and irreparably harmed the calipers, so the job now costs $1500. Sure, he stuck to his guns that he wasn’t going to get them fixed, but at what cost?

Walker can’t back out of his pledge to not raise taxes because his lizard brain can only see the attack ads for his next campaign about how he raised taxes. Him worrying about that is like the captain of the Titanic worry about how all this water is going to tarnish the brass railings on the ship. Trust me, pal, you have bigger concerns.

Speaking of promises, what about that whole 250,000 job promise? What about that whole “Open for Business” pledge? Yeah, not so much on either of them and those are the important ones if you want to get revenue hopping in this state. No one with half a brain or a sense of proportion would have expected him to hit the 250K mark or that just posting “open” signs would have businesses pouring into the state. That said, had he made a stronger effort with better logic to make those things happen, it is far more likely that he could have made good on this third pledge to keep tax rates down.

I don’t like taxes any more than any other person out there, but I can tell you that I do vote for them locally. In a small town like the one in which I live, I can see where my tax money goes: The city well gets fixed. The trash pickup is awesome. My street gets plowed quickly. Same thing with schools: New computers, improved facilities, more engaged kids all come from me checking the box that says, “Take another $10 out of what I make each year to improve stuff.”

I hope people who drive the I-94 corridor that will be delayed or the area near the zoo that’s a total shitbox will also be able to see what happens when we make stupid promises and forgo our responsibility to improving society. Sure, it’s hard to see how things like teacher pay or university subsidies pan out for individuals, but when the potholes are knocking the fillings out of their teeth, I hope they feel the tax break was worth it.

Fitzgerald to MPS: Bitch, don’t make me hit you

I spent the last week watching the 30 for 30 documentary series “OJ: Made in America.” I have to admit it was intriguing, if not way, way, way too long. It’s been more than 20 years since the first O.J. trial and a time in which people like Marcia Clark, Kato Kaelin and Lance Ito all became nationally known names. For me, it was a bit like opening a box of stuff I found in the attic: It brought back memories, but didn’t provide me with a lot more than that on the whole.

The one thing that it did provide me, however, was a look into the life of Nicole Brown and the constant cycle of abuse she endured at the hands of O.J. At the time of the trial, we didn’t really have the Internet as we know it now, nor did we have a ton of talking-head journalism, so we really got only one real stream of content. Granted, we got it non-stop, but we didn’t get a more diverse set of understandings when it came to all the angles of this situation. Furthermore, domestic violence was still on the fringes of society. Much like everything else that made us feel uncomfortable back then, we marginalized it or ignored it.

The sheer volume of calls to the Simpson house and the 9-1-1 calls and the Polaroids of a bruised and battered Nicole brought to bear a sense of how horrible he had been to her. At the time of the trial, most of that got lost in the discussion of “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” and Mark Fuhrman’s “N-word-palooza and framing shop.” The escalation of abuse clearly showed she lived in constant fear for her life and that any reasonable person in today’s day and age would not have difficulty seeing that murder could be a logical denouement.

For O.J., however, it was always just a “situation” that “happened” because she was doing something wrong.

A cycle of abuse is easy to see only when you’re not the abuser, something our beloved legislators should consider. Over the past half-decade, the abuse the Republican majority has heaped upon the educational system in this state has shown little regard for the men and women who work there. Legislators like Scott Fitzgerald see nothing of the sort when they talk about education. Instead, they paint the “situation” more plainly: If you just did what you were supposed to do, we wouldn’t have to hit you so hard.

Case in point: In the wake of troubles with the Milwaukee Public Schools, Fitzgerald issued the following “Bitch, don’t make me hit you” statement:


Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said Republicans were so frustrated with MPS they may push for dramatic changes to how the state’s largest school district operates.

“Unfortunately, I think the only hammer is, ‘Listen, if you’re not going to participate, if you’re going to try to work around the law and we’re going to end up in court over this thing, then you’re probably going to see some significant reduction in revenue for MPS schools related to the opportunity schools.’ And I hope it doesn’t come to that, but I can see already that it’s kind of being teed up that way,” Fitzgerald said Thursday in an interview on “UpFront with Mike Gousha” on WISN-TV.


Some people may feel the comparative between domestic violence and the legislature is a bridge too far or that it demeans one or the other of the situations. I understand that, but before you dismiss this out of hand, unpack that statement carefully:

  • He uses the phrase “the only hammer.” The idea of a hammer is just hit them harder until they submit. It’s a blunt tool and it doesn’t lend itself to nuance. The old line of “If at first you don’t succeed, hit it with a bigger hammer” comes into play here.
  • The approach: “Listen, if you’re not going to participate…” The “listen” notion conveys power imbalance. The “if/then” moment conveys threat.
  • The “don’t you dare call the cops” moment: “…if you’re going to try to work around the law and we’re going to end up in court over this thing, then you’re probably going to see some significant reduction in revenue for MPS schools related to the opportunity schools…” In other words, if you attempt to do something other than what I want or avail yourself of another option (courts), you are going to get hit hard.
  • The power dynamic: The schools rely on the state for money. They can’t get it anywhere else. They can’t leave, they can’t fight (thanks to Act 10) and they can’t afford to do what the state wants. Fitzgerald knows this. So do the schools.
  • The conciliatory conclusion: “I hope it doesn’t come to that” is a statement of false hope. It’s the one that has people in abusive situations thinking, “Maybe if I don’t burn the roast next time, he won’t hit me” or “Maybe I did look at that man when I shouldn’t have.”


I have not personally experienced the violence of an abuser, but I have studied it as a scholar and from an outsider’s point of view, the elements aren’t all that dissimilar. Even more, this is the latest in a long line of public beatings educators and the state’s educational system has taken. When I read this, I cringed the same way I did when I watched that film series. It was the same way I cringed when I read the cycles of abuse and destruction on the “Art Is Survival” site. It’s the same way I cringe when I see people at the store that I KNOW are in bad situations and the man says or does something like this and the rest of the family just freezes.

It all comes back to that one common thread:

“Please don’t hit me.”


Fun with statistics: Scott Walker Edition

The old adage goes that there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. In the wake of yet another “no confidence” vote against Gov. Scott Walker’s handpicked board of cronies regents and his “please don’t hit me, I won’t burn the roast again” system president, Ray Cross, Ol’ Deadeyes came out swinging this week.

In advance of the UW-Milwaukee vote on a no-confidence measure, Walker issued a press release that was packed with numbers and data to show that faculty are out-of-touch crybabies who lack a sense of reality. He then peppered it with a couple great quotes:

“The facts speak for themselves,” Governor Walker said.  “The bottom line is UW System funding stands at an all-time high, spending per student at UW-M is up more than 40 percent since 2002-03, and faculty is spending less time in the classroom.   We want to preserve the world-renowned quality of the UW System while protecting students and taxpayers.”


“Some faculty bodies, including faculty at UW-M today, appear more interested in protecting outdated ‘job for life’ tenure than about helping students get the best education possible,” said Governor Walker.  “The University should not be about protecting the interests of the faculty, but about delivering value and excellence to Wisconsin.”

Walker has two problems here: 1) The numbers only work out in his favor in a few key situations, including places where he cherry picks data, doesn’t reveal where he got his data or generally oversimplifies things and 2) While painting this as a systemwide situation in general, he’s only looking at UWM numbers specifically, thus leading people to the erroneous conclusion that the whole system is exactly like Milwaukee.

Since data is kind of my thing and since I wanted to have a meaty post this week (because, hey, who wants to grade finals when you’re already being told you’re a lazy, useless asshole), let’s unpack the majority of these Walker-isms one at a time.

Student enrollment has dropped nearly four times more than faculty from 2010 to 2014. 

It’s unclear exactly what he was measuring here, whether it was overall headcount or FTE (full-time equivalency), but let’s go with “students enrolled” given his statement. First, how does something drop “nearly” four times? It either drops or it doesn’t. The magnitude of the drop is probably more important than what you’re getting in terms of a drop. Let’s look at the numbers:

2010: 182,090

2011:  181,269

2012:  180,969

2013:  179,828

2014:  180,979


In short, this “enrollment drop” a) has stopped and b) comes out to a 0.6 percent decrease in overall enrollment in the UW System. Here’s a look at FTE numbers:

2010: 156,039

2011:  155,163

2012:  154,843

2013:  153,252

2014:  152,773

Bigger drop. Nearly 2.1 percent over four years.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, a four-year span is a pretty weak sample to examine, for a number of reasons Governor Deadeyes would have figured out if he stuck around long enough to pass statistics. The larger the sample size, the less likely any one item is to lead to an anomaly. The governor used larger spans to help make other points, so let’s pick out those years and do the math here to see how the latest year stacks up against them:

Year           Headcount     % Change      FTE                 % Change

1994:              155,197         +16.6              127,494         +19.8

2000:              160,567         +12.7              135,205         +13

2002:              165,055         +9.6                140,000         +9.1

2004:              166,245         +8.9                142,209         +7.4

If you want to see a real trend, look at these charts, which go back to the 1970s. You’ll learn two important things:




  • Enrollment is still on an overall incline. In fact, the overall UW enrollment number for the 2014 year is the third-highest enrollment year since 1973. If you only count FTE, it’s the sixth-largest over that time.
  • The highest year on record was 2010, the somehow crucial year that Scott Walker chose as a point of comparison.


In terms of UWM, the data does show the drops from 2010 to 2014 again, but the data still holds to the pattern outlined above: The long view shows we’re getting more kids now than years past when the state actually was putting in a much more sizeable chunk of cash. (If you want to have fun, feel free to play with this graph toy to look at all the campuses. If not, you probably have a better life than I do.)


The number of students per faculty member has dropped slightly from 2000 to 2014


Again, relying only on what the governor said, this doesn’t make sense. If we pull the number of faculty (not instructional staff or anyone else) from the same site he did for the two years and the students for those years throughout the system, you get this:


Year                Faculty                        Students                     Ratio

2000               6,103                          160,567                     26.3 to 1


2014               6,384                          180,979                     28.3 to 1



Even if you want to do it FTE, it still doesn’t make sense:

Year                Faculty                        Students                     Ratio

2000               6,103                          135,205                     22.1 to 1


2014               6,384                          152,773                     23.9 to 1



The only way this works is if he’s only talking about UWM, where the ratio went from 35.2 to 1 in 2000 to 34.4 to 1 in 2014. Even so, that’s a ridiculously high ratio of students to faculty when compared with the overall system. So even if their ratio “dropped slightly,” it was from “Unbearably Large” to “Slightly Less Unbearably Large.” UWM’s own self-serving numbers puts this at 18-1 while the AAUP puts it in the 20-something range. It’s unclear where those numbers came from or how he did this, but sufficient to say, not every number points to Walker’s talking point about fewer kids and more bloat in faculty.


Spending per student increased more than 40 percent from 2002-03 to 2015-16.


Right! But not the way Walker wants you to think. This idea makes it sound like the state keeps dumping money on students across the board. However this isn’t what the STATE spent on STUDENTS, but rather what STUDENTS spent ON COLLEGE. In short, look at this nifty graph:






That’s right. Almost EVERYTHING went up in terms of spending and funding, from scholarships to tuition to donation money and more. State spending, on the other hand, took a nose dive ever since… wait for it… right about the time SCOTT WALKER TOOK OFFICE.



Faculty average student group contact hours, hours spent in classroom instruction, have dropped 20 percent from 2000 to 2013.


The UWM numbers bear this out, but the AAUP response makes a good point: The university shifted to a Research I institution, which requires far more research from the professors and thus less classroom time. RIs are more prestigious and often come with a 2/2 load. Places that are purely teaching based can go upwards of a 4/4 or 5/5 load, depending on needs. Thus the drop from 7.9 hours on average to 6.1 totally makes sense.


To have a better sense of things, it’s more instructive to look at the numbers for the cluster of comprehensives (the majority of your UW schools that turn out four-year degrees) to see what happened there.


2000:              11.9

2013:              11.6


There’s virtually no change in that, even though more of the universities have been pushed to be in the “research added” category, where more scholarship is expected of them.


Perhaps an even more important thing is that we HAVE TO get people past this idea that the only thing you measure is time spent in the classroom. That would be akin to saying, “Firefighters don’t deserve to get paid what they do because they’re only fighting fires a couple hours per week.” Or “Police don’t deserve their money because they didn’t solve a murder today.” (I’m not equating danger of job here to faculty.) Add in the prep time, the grading, the individual meetings, the student group advising, the student course advising, the research, the meetings, the course building, the accreditation crap and everything else and you start to get a better idea of what we do in a day/week/month. There’s always an email to answer, a paper to grade, a kid to help, a situation to fix and a colleague to assist. I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t working or thinking about work. I also have no memory of any day where I went in, taught a course and left, doing nothing else work-related that whole day.


Focusing only on the time spent in classrooms is disingenuous at best and a purposeful con at worst.


Full professor salaries averaged $101,700 in 2013-14 school year. Average annual pay for all workers in Milwaukee County was $49,539 in 2014.


Again, we have no idea where exactly these numbers came from and Walker hasn’t been forthcoming about that either. It’s always easiest to spin a narrative that contains numbers when other people can’t see how you ended up with those numbers. Walker pulled a similar trick when he first started killing unions in the state with his claim of “thousands” of emails pouring in that supported his moves during the Act 10 fiasco. When the AP and State Journal sued to get them released, it turned out his numbers were total bullshit.


Also, we even GRANT him that these numbers are accurate, keep in mind this is only full professors, or people with the highest rank on campus. It’s, again, unclear if he’s going after UWM or the whole system, but consider this: At the four next-largest campuses (after UWM), here are the number of full professors who supposedly make AT LEAST that amount that Walker touts as an average:


24 at UWO

7 at UWGB

29 at UWL

24 at UWW


And in case you were wondering, almost all of those are in business or nursing, two fields that are in the highest demand for faculty.


Let’s look at a few other fields and specialties:


The highest paid full history professor at Whitewater makes $75,386.

The highest one at Oshkosh? $71,606


The top of the mark at UW-LaCrosse’s English department’s full professors gets $74,192. The best-paid professor in Theater at UW-Green Bay makes $71,611.


No professor of journalism at UWO makes even 90 percent of that alleged average. Same thing at UW-Eau Claire.


When it comes to associate and assistant professors, things are less rosy, with many of them being hired at around that Milwaukee County Average he’s touting. (Our previous two hires were brought in with doctorates and received less than $50K each.) It’s also kind of unclear who counted in his “Milwaukee County Workers” argument. It’s unclear if the kid cutting grass in the park for the summer is lumped in here or if it’s office staff, garbage collectors or what.


And for what it’s worth, Scott Walker makes $147,328, which doesn’t account for his free housing, free vehicles, free bodyguards and more. All that without ever having graduated college.


Pretty good work if you can get it.

Saturday Odds & Sods: All The Things You Are


Spectators by Jim Flora.

We’re knee-deep in the El Nino season of 2015-16. I have a love-hate relationship with it: I love El Nino during hurricane season and hate it during the winter. The New Orleans metro area had a hellacious storm front last Tuesday. The city wasn’t impacted directly but there were nine confirmed tornadoes in the area that wreaked havoc in the outlying communities of Convent and LaPlace. It was like being an Okie for the day only without Jim Inhofe as your Senator. Of course, I have a whore monger and an empty suit as my Senators. so who am I to judge?

Before being uprooted for six weeks in 2005, the weather wasn’t a frequent topic of conversation in my house. For obvious reasons, I am now obsessed with the weather; so much so that I had twinges of PSTD when the wind was howling outside my door. Unlike Della and Oscar, I can’t hide under the bed when the weather sucks. I wouldn’t fit. Time for a brief meteorological musical interlude from the Brothers Finn:

I don’t really have a dog in the hunt in this year’s Oscar races. I suspect that wearing a beard and looking dirty and smelly will win Leonardo Decaprio his first Oscar. Handsome leading men have to ugly themselves up to be taken seriously viz George Clooney in Syriana. It’s a pity that Leo’s star turns in The Great Gatsby or The Aviator weren’t Oscarworthy but his duel with a bear in Revenant is. Of course, tangling with a bear did wonders for Daniel Boone’s career. Oh well, Jimmy Stewart, Henry Fonda, and Paul Newman won their Oscars for the wrong movies too. It’s a funny old world, y’all.

This week’s theme song, All The Things You Are, was composed in 1939 by Jerome Kern and features lyrics by his Show Boat writing partner, Oscar Hammerstein. It was long a favorite of Jazz musicians because of its melodic and harmonic complexity. Here are four distinctive takes on the song from some Jazz greats:

Now that I’ve provided you with a Kernel of substance, it’s time for the break after which I plan to Hammerstein it up some more.

Continue reading

Let Them Eat Cake: Student-Loan Edition

Yeah, this is totally what students need to save them from debt:

Gov. Scott Walker announced a legislative package on college affordability Monday that would eliminate the cap on student loan interest that borrowers can deduct from their state income tax, putting an average $165 extra in taxpayers’ pockets.

The package of bills drawn up by Republican lawmakers also provides students with additional information about their student loans so they can make smart financial decisions, emergency assistance so they can stay in school and internship opportunities to connect students with Wisconsin employers.


First, this is pretty much like trying to kill an elephant with a spitball. The state ranks third in the country in terms of student loan debt, with 70 percent of the class of 2014 reporting an average debt burden of nearly $29,000. That $165 bucks per year isn’t going to scratch the surface of what these kids will be paying back.

Second, and this may be unclear to our “let them eat cake” legislators, but students don’t take out massive loans due to a lack of education. It’s not as though they sit back and think, “Loans? Those are the free-money things, right? Gimme a bunch of those.” The cost of college continues to rise, even with this alleged “tuition freeze” Walker keeps touting. Fees continue to increase and compound, books cost a ridiculous amount of money and it’s not getting any cheaper to live on or off campus.

Students don’t want to take out loans any more than other people want to live off their credit cards or use those Kwik Kash places. They do it because they are desperate and they lack options.

This is the true cost of people who rage about their taxes going up by pennies and the state turning the higher education system into a political punching bag. By cutting state funding to state colleges and universities, you continue to saddle students with more and more debt. This makes it cost-prohibitive for them to enter certain fields, make certain purchases and become productive members of society.

All of which, of course, gets then blamed on overpaid professors and all those damned philosophy and women’s studies majors.

If the state really wants to have an impact on the cost of higher education, it needs to provide a sizable portion of aid to its colleges and universities. Nearly 40 years ago, the state provided about 44 percent of the system’s budget. This year, it’s down to 17 percent. One organization notes that if this continues on its current pace, by 2040 the state will contribute nothing.

It’s doubtful that will happen, as the state has a vested interest in contributing as little as possible to the system while still being able to lord over it. I imagine it will level out at about 4 percent in 20 years and hold steady.

At which point, legislators will once again cluck their tongues at those irresponsible kids who continue to take out bigger and bigger loans with no thought to how that debt will impact their futures.

The More We See, The Less We Know

Digital technology was supposed to make life easier for us and in many ways it has. Letters used to take days to arrive. Now, emails and texts bounce back and forth in seconds.

Phones used to be anchored to walls. Now, we carry them everywhere.

Typing used to require multiple carefully reworked drafts, as white-out and typos looked ugly. I rewrote that sentence three times in the time it would have taken for me to reinsert a piece of paper into my old IBM Selectric.

And yet, when it comes to video, it’s almost made our lives worse, especially when it comes to our judgment of others.

There is that “obvious” fumble that Cris Collinsworth shows us over and over and over again, his nasally whine berating the guy who got six-tenths of a second to make the call on the field. There are the umpires with Princess Leia Earmuff Headsets talking to New York if something was or wasn’t a home run (Jeffrey Maier be damned…). I’ve heard “Secaucus, New Jersey” so often on NBA broadcasts, I think I want to move there.

The ability to capture a moment allows us to see and analyze every instant of a moment and pass judgment. And yet the more we see, the less we really know.

Two things happened this week that had me pondering this issue and why it is we seem to be getting worse as we become more informed.

The first was, obviously, the “Making a Murderer” series on NetFlix, which follows the trials of Steven Avery. He was first convicted of rape, spent 18 years in prison and then was exonerated based on DNA evidence. He maintained his innocence throughout the process and even the old news coverage shows the police and sheriff’s officials were sketchy in their work at that point.

After being exonerated, Avery sued for more than $30 million. In the middle of the depositions, he was accused of murdering Teresa Halbach, a photographer who went to Avery’s home the day she disappeared. He was tried and convicted, with Avery, again, pleading his innocence.

I’m not going to re-litigate the case or post my thoughts about the issue here, if only because it would take away from the primary point I’m trying to make. However, I will say that based on what I saw of the documentary, I just pray to God that my life is never in the hands of the criminal justice system. I don’t think “clusterfuck” is a strong enough word to describe what happened throughout the process.

The documentary has come under fire, as it portrays Avery in a sympathetic light, according to some, and because it “left things out,” according to others. Ken Kratz, the Cyril Figgis of the DA’s office, slammed the documentary for missing out on all sorts of important things that would have clearly shown Avery was guilty. Of course, he a) declined to take part in the film during the TEN YEARS the producers were making it and b) declined to explain how some of the most basic things the documentary revealed didn’t sink his case (as in why the victim’s DNA wasn’t on her own car key, an item only recovered after the eighth search of Avery’s home and only after the Manitowoc cops were alone in his trailer, something even they admit they shouldn’t have been allowed to do).

In watching this series, I found myself learning about this case (I was too young to remember his original conviction and I was out of state when he was on trial for the murder), so I didn’t have a stake in the game. Interestingly enough, the kids around here all seem to have some connection to the area or have friends who do and it’s become kind of a rage-fest between those who want “justice” (I put that in quotes because it means a lot of different things to the array of people here.) and those who want it to go away. I understand why the Halbach family wants it to go away. I wouldn’t like to have to relive the worst moments of my life and have everyone talking about them. I understand why the cops want it to go away. It was a high-profile case and they got put through the wringer (in some cases, justifiably so; in others, probably not so much).

However, what struck me the most was that the more I watched, the less I knew. I’m watching actual video of a confession that Brendan Dassey (Avery’s nephew) gave regarding the role police said he played in the murder. It’s clear to me this kid has a serious mental defect, and I mean that in a clinical way.

The press conference that Kratz gave when the cops broke Dassey outlines this passionate confession of rape, murder, blood, death, fire and mayhem, as if this kid poured out a George R.R. Martin novel worth of detail.

The video? The kid can’t string together three words without prompting. He changes his story and he’s pretty clearly just guessing at what the cops want to know.

His main concern about confessing to murder? He wants to make it back for his 1:30 class because he has a project due.

His main concern about being in prison for the rest of his life? Wrestlemania is showing on Wednesday and he doesn’t have a TV.

Still, the jury convicted the kid of murder and defiling a corpse. The other jury? It found Avery guilty of murder, but not defiling a corpse even though it was supposedly Avery’s murder and fire.

I keep thinking, “Am I missing something? Or are we just stupid on the whole and the juries’ main concerns were about getting a lunch break?” Comedians for years said they wouldn’t want to be judged by 12 people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty. I sat in a couple jury rooms and there were times I think I might have outpointed the collective IQs of the people in there with me.

Or by seeing so much of this, did I overestimate my own sense of what I really knew?

The other thing that had me pondering this question was the revelation that more than 100 faculty members on the University of Missouri campus have signed a letter, calling for the school to retain professor Melissa Click. You may remember Click as the assistant professor of communication who called for “some muscle” when a reporter attempted to enter the Carnahan Quad during the #ConcernedStudent1950 protests back in November. She was captured on video pushing a journalist, threatening a journalist with an erroneous statement regarding his rights, calling for people to physically “muscle” him off the Quad and then mocking him as he asserted his First Amendment rights.

The letter calls Click’s actions “at most a regrettable mistake” and argues that “the university should defend her first amendment rights of protest and her freedom to act as a private citizen.”

I’ve watched that video more than a dozen times. I’m bordering on Zapruder status in my intent to analyze it and my reading of other stories about Click and this protest. I’m also someone who works with students in classes that deal with exactly the kinds of First-Amendment (someone should tell the letter-folk to capitalize stuff) issues at play in this situation.

I argued that it was interesting that only two journalism faculty signed on for this letter and that there were clearly some issues here that would lead to dismissal. A good friend who is a First-Amendment scholar and the owner of both a journalism Ph.D. and a law degree argued the opposite. His point was that her words didn’t create an imminent threat and that there are differences between direct threats (“I’m going to shoot you”) and indirect ones (“Someone ought to shoot you.”). He also noted that she had a right under the First Amendment to protest.

Again, I keep watching this thing and trying to imagine myself in that spot. If I’m that kid and I’m in the minority (journalists vs. protesters), I’m already on edge. When someone calls for “muscle” I don’t think it’s so that we can arm wrestle to see who should get interviewed first.

If I’m there, I’m scared. I’m also thinking that in this day and age of stand-your-ground, right-to-carry and the general “Fuck You Nation,” it’s a miracle of modern man that no one pulled a gun in this whole thing. If that happens, you’re talking Kent State times 100.

As a professor, I find myself ALWAYS imagining the headline of the story before I do anything that might be viewed as suspect. For example, “Journalism Professor Pees in Dorm Parking Lot” is not how I want to see myself in the public eye. Sure, I like to think of myself as a private citizen, but if I pull off a public act that casts me and my school in bad light (and that borders on illegal and potentially violent), I know I’m going to be job hunting soon.

And yet, maybe I’m only seeing this as a detached journalist? Maybe I’m missing something?

Or maybe Melissa Click’s right to free expression have to stop at the other guy’s nose. Supporting someone who took advantage of mob-sized leverage and then mocked someone else’s rights probably shouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt.

Beyond that, the phrase “at most a regrettable mistake” bugs the crap out of me. As a journalism blog covering this issue noted, it’s unclear if she regrets the actions or if she regrets being caught. It’s also unclear if she really regrets either. Or understands what made this such a shit show.

The phrase, “You weren’t there” is one that people often use to excuse away the actions of themselves and others. To be fair, that concept is a double-edged sword. By being “there” (wherever “there” is), you have access to the raw events as the occur. However, you also have but a singular, momentary frame of reference.

I’m sure when she hears the word “thug,” Click doesn’t think of herself in that context. However, through a longer and wider lens, her actions were “thuggish.” She could have loosed even more violent opportunism as she wielded the power of an angry mob against an agent of the press. (A press, by the way, that she and others openly courted throughout the protests.)

I’m sure that people who lived around the Avery clan saw him not as this bearded, dwarflike man who could never catch a break. The documentary makes it clear that the family has been branded as “The Averys,” a clear local euphemism that transcends this group. Every town or area has a “oh… it’s THOSE PEOPLE,” euphemism. Back home, the Edgerton Apartments were where lower-class, lower-income people lived. People who were said to be dirty, redneck trailer trash were said to be “One of the Edgertons.”

The sense that these people were a few fries short of a Happy Meal and shit-box poor assholes comes through in so much of this series. It’s like they basically had it coming when something bad happened to them. Besides, why would the cops go through all the work of framing a guy with the IQ of a salad bar?

However, when you watch this series all at once, you have to ask, “What the hell is wrong with ALL of Manitowoc County?” Between the strange, backwoods coupling that seems to be going on all over the place in terms of marriages and families and the dickhead cops who browbeat a 16-year-old kid, it’s hard to see this as justice, regardless of if he’s innocent or guilty.

An officer of the court told a reporter, that it made no sense to frame Avery. It would be easier to kill him if they just wanted him gone.

A DNA expert tainted a sample with her own DNA and then broke protocol so she could declare the DNA on a bullet a match to the victim’s.

Despite tons of references to blood, blood, blood and more blood, they couldn’t seem to find any of it anywhere other than in the victim’s car.

I kept watching and waiting for someone, ANYONE to explain how that was possible. I read everything I could to find out how all this worked.

I got nothing.

At the end of the day, Avery’s in prison, Click’s probably going to teach again and we’ll all go back to doing whatever it was we did before knew about either of them. However, I can’t help but hang onto that idea that I’m essentially trying to grab a fistful of Jell-O when it comes to situations like this: The harder I squeeze and try to hold on, the more it just seems to squirt away.

Maybe we were all better off when we didn’t see as much.

Bring Out the Dead

We can’t let the corpses lie quiet when there are strip malls need building, you know: 

Madison— Landowners could excavate and possibly develop some of the surviving Indian mounds of Wisconsin — many dating back more than a millennium — under legislation by two lawmakers.

The bill from Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) and Rep. Robert Brooks (R-Saukville) would shift the balance of state law more toward private property rights and away from the preservation of one of the state’s unusual features.

The earthen burial mounds, shaped like bears, deer, panthers, birds and people, can stretch hundreds of feet in length or width and are one of the most enduring forms of art in the state. It’s been estimated that 80% were plowed under or otherwise destroyed to make way for farms and buildings, and those remaining sites that are cataloged are protected from disturbance by state law.


Under the draft measure, the Wisconsin Historical Society would be required to give property owners a permit allowing them to investigate at their own expense whether their mounds contain burial remains, either through an archaeological dig or through ground-penetrating radar. If the mounds contained no remains, landowners could use their property however they wished.

There’s really nothing bad that has ever come from disturbing a graveyard. That never goes wrong for anyone.

At this point Wisconsin Republicans are not satisfied with harrying the living and have begun bothering the dead. It’s not enough to pick on university professors, union workers, minorities, women, and children who are going hungry. Now they’ve got to screw with THE DECEASED.

Once they’re done with the burial mounds, maybe they can start bulldozing some cemeteries. There are acres of useful land there, just being taken up by lazy dead people leeching off the taxpayers!


Wisconsin State Legislators (I Mean Their Photos) For Sale

Today in unintendedly hilarious things newspapers do on the Internet:

The Wisconsin State Journal, like many newspapers, offers its photos for sale, for people who want prints of what appears in the paper. But they’ve done this by adding a “BUY NOW” link under every photo. Every. Photo.

Including shots of elected officials.


Inadvertent fail in attempt to make some quick cash or subtle statement on political corruption? We report, you decide.

Hat tip: Mr. A.