Thursday, April 29, 2010

Headline Fail

When I read this article in the dead-tree version of the Wisconsin State Journal today, the headline was something like "Fireworks off thanks to host's opinion" (I read the paper at work, so I don't have it handy to check now).  That infuriated me, because if you read the article, it seems that a far more appropriate headline would have been "Fireworks off thanks to sponsor's thin skin."

I'm not thrilled that Woodman's dropped their mental health coverage. However, that was a business decision motivated by a fear of rising costs due to the State's new mental health parity mandate, and it is a matter that is between Woodman's and their employees. Many employers never provided mental health coverage in the first place.

Now, however, the Woodman family is trying to dictate public discourse about their company by greenmailing Mid-West Family Broadcasting.

"I'm not going to work with a company that is going to slander our business," [company vice president Clint] Woodman said. "The whole point is that they allowed Sly to talk badly about someone they do business with."

It is ironic that Woodman's has turned what was a nice PR move by the company -- their traditional sponsorship of the Elver Park fireworks -- into a potential public black eye.  I am so angry by their blatant attempt to stifle free speech that I'm ready to boycott Woodman's.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Public Service Announcement About Coupons

The tough economy has led a lot of people who have never used coupons in the past to begin using them now. The media have touched on this trend (just as newspaper cartoonists during the Great Depression loved to depict former bankers selling apples on street corners).

I do feel compassion for people who find themselves in financial difficulty. I have been there at more than one time in my life, and I do not consider poverty, whether long-term or sudden and unexpected, to be a reflection on someone's character or a reason for embarrassment. 

I feel less compassion, however, for people who are rude and demanding and unwilling to play by the rules.  So, in an effort to reduce future incidents of checkout-line rage, here is a primer about coupons.

1. Coupons are not the same as sales.  Sales apply to everyone in the store.  Coupons are a form of price discrimination, allowing producers or retailers to charge different prices to different people and thus maximize their profit.  People who are not willing to jump through the hoops that the coupons require do not qualify for the discount.

2. If the coupon says "Save $1.00 on two" that doesn't mean you get 50 cents off of one.  Buying two is the hoop required by the coupon.  Similarly, if it says "Save $1.00 on a 12-ounce package" that doesn't mean you get 50 cents off of the 6-ounce package.

3. If you print off the coupon from the Target website, and it has a Target logo printed on it, do not expect to use it at a different store, unless that store specifically advertises that they accept their competitors' coupons.  If the cashier at another store declines to honor the Target coupon, throwing a tantrum and demanding to talk to a manager while several people wait in line behind you will earn you another year in Purgatory (if you are Catholic) or reincarnation as an ant (if you are Buddhist or Hindu).

4. The coupon will not necessarily save you money if it causes you to buy a brand name instead of a store brand substitute (compare the ultimate selling price for the same amount of product).  Of course, if you dislike the store brand substitute and would not have bought it anyway, the coupon is probably a good deal (assuming you planned to buy the product anyway).

5. The coupon will not save you money if it causes you to buy a size larger than you can use before it spoils (or more frozen dinners than you have room for in your freezer).

6. Find out when if/when your favorite grocery store holds double coupon days.  Don't drive 20 miles out of your way to double a few $1.00 coupons, however, because the extra gas and wear & tear on your car will negate the extra savings.

7. If you find yourself tempted to buy a chest freezer so you can take full advantage of good coupons (or sales), get yourself to an exorcist.  You may have been possessed by the ghost of my grandfather.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Facebook giving Google a run for its money

Facebook has recently announced some new features that will allow you to share your web-surfing habits with all of your friends.  It seems like Facebook and Google are in competition to become the most intrusive, Orwellian entity on the Internet.

As is standard operating procedure for Facebook, users were not told ahead of time about the new features, and opting out is cumbersome. 

Some of the features seem benign.  The "like" button will now appear on many other websites when you visit them while logged into Facebook. You can let your friends know that you like these sites (or recommend an article), and those results will be seen by your friends when they visit those sites while logged into Facebook.  Of course, that means that Facebook keeps track of the other websites you are visiting while logged in.

Creeped out yet?  Do you typically stay logged into Facebook while doing other web surfing?  Feel confident that your friends will only know about those websites if you click the "like" button?  That's how it works now, but what's to stop Facebook from changing that in the future?  After all, there is advertising money to be made by encouraging viewers' Facebook friends to visit that site.

And that brings me to another new FB feature, Instant Personalization, which is being offered by Yelp, Pandora and Microsoft's site.  Unless you opt out (see this article for helpful instructions on doing so), visiting those sites while logged into Facebook allows them to view your publically available profile information, as well as that of your Facebook friends.  Even if you have opted out, if your friends have not, Yelp and Pandora can still mine your profile information when your friends visit their sites, unless you go through the added step of specifically blocking each individual website offering instant personalization (currently only those three, but soon to be many more).

Maybe I'm just paranoid, but I don't think it's any of my friends' business what trashy novels I've purchased from Amazon or what medical conditions I've researched.  And I would really rather not know which of my friends belong to an adult diaper support group.  While it is still easy to avoid that sort of oversharing, will that still be the case a year from now?

Walker's Brown Bag Campaign

The Recess Supervisor posted a game last weekend whereby the denizens of the cheddarsphere can help Scott Walker with his "brown bag" campaign. You can visit his blog or Blogging Blue to download a canvas for your own creation.

Here's mine. I hereby grant permission to either the Barrett or Neumann campaigns to use it:

Friday, April 16, 2010

Tea Party or Whiskey Rebellion?

As the Tea Party movement continues to grow all over the nation, I can't help but wonder if they've named themselves for the right historical event.

The original Boston Tea Party was not a protest against the Tea Act and the tax it imposed. It was a protest of the British East India Company being given an exception to the Act, so that it could sell its excess inventory duty-free. You see, many of Boston's enterprising businessmen made some money on the side by smuggling in Dutch tea to escape the tax. The British East India Company was able to undercut the local smugglers. The ship had already been turned away from Philadelphia and New York by irate local entrepreneurs.

Imagine if Wal-Mart obtained a special exemption to Wisconsin's minimum mark-up law for prescription drug sales. Now imagine that a bunch of irate employees of independent pharmacies put on blackface makeup, stormed a Wal-Mart pharmacy, stole its inventory of drugs and dumped them down the storm sewer. That's what the Boston Tea Party was like.

On the other hand, the early history of our nation contained a much more inspiring movement for our modern anti-tax and pro-Second-Amendment activists. In the early days of the United States, the federal government was still struggling to pay the debt from the Revolutionary War. There was no income tax in those days, only consumption taxes (including import tariffs). To raise more revenue, a new tax was levied on the sale of whiskey.

This had a disproportionate effect on poor farmers, particularly on the frontier. Start-up costs for a new farmstead were high (there was all that deforestation to do and the first year's seed to buy). There was also the cost of transporting the grain to market. The only way to turn a profit right away (and make it possible to start a successful farm on the frontier) was to turn your crop into whiskey. The new tax destroyed that profit.

So a bunch of disgruntled farmers took up arms against their new government (in the persons of the tax collectors and mail carriers in the western counties). Washington (the President, not the city) put down the rebellion (which argues against the notion that the Second Amendment, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, gives citizens the right to overthrow the government).

It's really too bad that the teaching of American history has been so dumbed down in recent decades, or maybe Whiskey would be more popular (and populist) than Tea.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Blast from the Past

I came across an article in an online travel magazine recently that mentioned a product called Oscar Blandi Dry Shampoo, which comes in a convenient small pump spray bottle.

It made me think of a product from my childhood, called Psssssst! It came in an aerosol can (like hairspray) and was heavily advertised in the 1970s, before Americans made a habit of showering and shampooing every day (we can probably thank Madison Avenue and Vidal Sassoon for the modern American hygiene norm).

On a whim, I perused Walgreen's haircare aisle for the newfangled dry shampoo. Camping season is coming up, and I thought it might be worth a try. Much to my surprise, I found, not Oscar Blandi, but Psssssst!.

I was shocked to find they still made a product that I thought had disappeared 30 years ago. However, it seems that it has not been lingering unnoticed on shelves for decades; the product was recently re-introduced.

Still, it just goes to show that some of the best new ideas are really old ideas.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Latter Day Luther?

The Rev. James J. Scahill, parish priest in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, gave a Sunday sermon a couple days ago in which he stated that Pope Benedict should resign if he is not up to dealing with the problem of clergy sexual abuse.

The sermon was well-received. According to the Boston Globe:

Scahill’s parish has flourished. Connor said people flock to the church from surrounding communities to hear Scahill preach, and he received standing ovations for his sermon on Sunday.

For several years, Scahill has been an advocate for abuse victims and an outspoken critic of chuch policies that helped abusers to escape justice.

Instead of nailing his theses on the church door, however, Scahill is busy giving television interviews. In this modern age of rapid information dispersal, I wonder how long it will be before Scahill is excommunicated.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What Is Dick Leinenkugel Thinking?

I'm not talking about listing his state phone number on his campaign website (clearly he was not thinking at all in that case). I'm talking about running for the Senate in 2010.

I have no doubt that Leinenkugel will win the Republican primary against the gentleman pumpkin farmer and the Jeff Foxworthy character (say it with me: "If you are running for public office, and you wear blaze orange to all of your campaign appearances, you just might be a redneck.").

However, will the tea partiers really come out in the general election to vote for a member of Doyle's cabinet? I suppose they'll come to the voting booth to vote against Tom Barrett, but I suspect there may be some blank Senate sections on ballots.

Leinenkugel would have a much better shot in 2012, when Herb Kohl is widely expected to retire. Maybe 2010 is just a practice run.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

R.I.P., Malcolm McLaren

As a musician, you were a pretty good fashion designer.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Oktoberfest Surprise?

Wisconsin Department of Commerce Secretary Dick Leinenkugel announced today that he is resigning at the end of the week to "pursue a new opportunity."

Could the new opportunity be a gubenatorial run?  Tom Barrett isn't polling very well.  If nothing else, a primary challenger might fire up Barrett to actually launch a real campaign.  He seemed reluctant to run in the first place.

Think how cool it would be to have a Governor Leinenkugel.  We could call the mansion in Maple Bluff the "Leinie Lodge" and watch the old-money neighbors blow a gasket.  There could be a beer tent on the lawn during the annual Rhythm & Booms display at nearby Warner Park.  It would be awesome.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Must-Read About the Edgewater Project

Marc Eisen's opinion piece in Isthmus last week, Mayor Dave is leading the wrong way on the library and the Edgewater (h/t Brenda Konkel), is remarkable not only for its command of the facts, but for the quality of its comments.  Not only are they free of the kind of rhetorical poo-flinging one finds on, but they are well-written, well-supported and help illuminate the issue.

Perhaps Isthmus' draconian registration policy has some advantages after all.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sam Kennedy, Loser of the Week

The media mentioned today that more than 30 States' Governors (including Wisconsin's own Jim Doyle) received letters calling on them to resign within three days or they would be removed. The letters came from a "group" calling itself the "Guardians of the Free Republics."  The letters were not directly threatening violence, but there was some concern that they might incite violence.  Mostly, they were considered crank letters, although security was somewhat tightened around the nation's statehouses.

When I first read the story, I assumed the letters were a hoax perpetrated by the kind of geek who creates chain e-mails warning of phony computer viruses.  The name "Guardians of the Free Republics" has a vaguely sci-fi/fantasy air about it.  I figured that the geek in question wanted to finally create a hoax that his grandparents would hear about.

However, the letters are now being connected to Texas radio host Sam Kennedy.  The manager of  Republic Broadcasting Network, John Stadtmiller, is not amused.

On Friday afternoon, Mr. Stadtmiller, reached by phone, said, "I talked to Kennedy a half-hour ago and ... I told him I'm getting a lot of heat, that you stirred the pot here, and that your plan for how to deal with the media and let them know what is going on has failed miserably."
Congratulations, Mr. Kennedy.  In a week that saw the arrests of several Midwestern militia wing-nuts plotting to murder police officers in order to spark violent insurrection, you've managed to make right-wing insurrectionists look ridiculous and incompetent again rather than dangerous and scary. 

You know, your letters might have been taken a little more seriously if you hadn't sent them so close to April Fools' Day.  I'm just sayin'.