Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Looking back at 2016

When I look back at 2016 at a personal level, I am truly thankful for everything I have and what I have been able to do. Sure, I fell short of almost every goal I set forth for myself earlier this year but in terms of the big picture, I as well as my family are truly better off.

We were able to take our first true family vacation in the form of a road trip to Montana and back through Wyoming and South Dakota where we made what are hopefully countless memories for our two kids. To make that a safer trip, we bought our first brand new vehicle a few weeks before leaving for the mountains of the west. Six months later it still has hints of that much-talked-about new car smell.

We also celebrated the missus beginning a new job. Still in a management role, she was able to find a job which sparked her interests without having to take a hit in the wage department. After a staggering 12 years as a restaurant manager with a stellar track record she moved on to become production manager at an up and coming  company in the same town she has worked for the majority of her career.

The boy began his educational journey ass he began preschool in September. Barely three years old, we rolled the dice and outside of a couple hiccups in the first few days of school, he is doing surprisingly well. He knows the names of almost everyone in his class and claims those that he knows as his friends. Not bad for a kid who h as never spent a day in a traditional daycare.

The girl began second grade this year and after a few notes from the teacher regarding her need to be constantly talking, she is hitting her stride. She is reading basically a full grade level above her classmates and is billed as the top reader in her class. She is also kicking ass in the area of spelling – even without really practicing spelling any of the words the is tested on.

All told, 2016 has been pretty damn good to us even though my onion crop went to hell after being hailed on in May. I am just hoping that 2017 is even better. After all, that is the American dream...

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

So Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States

I'll be honest that I don't have a lot invested in the 2016 presidential election. I've learned as I've aged that to distance yourself a comfortable amount from politics will help to preserve your sanity and lower your blood pressure. To say that Americans had a choice in yesterday's election between two similar shit sandwiches is extreme but neither did much to excite me or to spark my emotions.

Hillary Clinton has spent her life – at least since the 1980s – in the public eye by way of being married to Bill Clinton. Beginning as Governor of Arkansas, then President of the United States and Hillary's foray into her own political career as United States Senator from New York and on to her role as Secretary of State for Barack Obama. She is the stereotypical career politician. She can promise change and progress until she's blue in the face but when you've spent your entire life focused on advancing your career, you tend to become distanced from those you claim to represent.

On the flip side in Donald Trump. He made a name for himself as a real estate tycoon and businessman who parlayed that into a relatively long career as a reality television host. The fact that throughout his campaign he claimed to represent the average Joe and Jane while the opposition dug up tales of shafting contractors and shirking employee rights screamed of the perfect example of the pot calling the kettle black.

Neither truly rose above mediocre in my eyes. Curious, as election day neared, I took some survey which supposedly would align your values with those of one of the presidential candidates. My closest choice was Jill Stein. That was the first time I had hear of Jill Stein. I'll be honest in saying that when the momentum behind Bernie Sanders was still strong, he seemed like the best choice if the goal was to have a president who truly understood the struggles and needs of the American populace.

The only problem was that the American media deemed him unworthy to face down Donald Trump. That's how the Democrats arrived at nominating Hillary Clinton as their candidate to face down Donald Trump. The only problem being that the length of time she had spent in public office, while it can definitely be viewed as valuable experience into how government functions, became her downfall. She was the establishment even though she was the first female presidential nominee in the history of the United States.

The fact that Americans, in general, are constantly fed up with politics and politicians was her undoing. It wasn't emails on a private server. It wasn't skyrocketing health insurance premiums. It was the views of half of the voting public that they had had enough of career politicians leading this country.

We can view Donald Trump as running an extremely nasty and negative campaign but, like nearly every political before him, he unearthed the dirty little secrets on his opponent which resonated with those who supported him and that message amplified organically.

If Donald Trump's time in office – whether it is four or eight years – is anything like his campaign, we are in for 48 or 96 months of turmoil and further divisiveness. However, if he leads like he spoke during his almost vanilla acceptance speech early this morning, he will be at least a middle-of-the-road president who can at least keep America on track and remaining as the most powerful country in the world.

Maybe I have mellowed, but one person does not change the course of history for better or worse. If you want to worry about something, let's realize the both the Senate and House of Representatives have a Republican majority. If there is an ultra-conservative agenda which looks to roll back the progress made in the 21st century, they'll have an extremely easy road in front of them even if Donald Trump ends up being a reasonable and decent leader. Trump may be the most powerful man in the world come January 2017 but the title of President is nothing more than a figurehead – the real power lies in congress.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Star Tribune's CJ vs. Jana Shortal

When I first caught wind of the Star Tribune's "gossip columnist" and her latest trivializing piece of lowbrow "writing", I thought it was par for the course. Then I re-read her blog entry on Jana Shortal's choice of wardrobe as Shortal reported the latest on the Jacob Wetterling case. That's when I got truly mad.

While Shortal marches to the beat of her own drum with her fashion choices, that fact does not effect how she reports stories for KARE-TV. She has been a Twin Cities television fixture for a dozen years and has done her job well in that time as evidenced by her longevity in the market. When Shortal reported Tuesday evening's update on the Wetterling case, she was dressed in what I deem to be a professional manner.



The Star Tribune blogger, likely looking for something to fill some space after a slow holiday weekend on the "gossip" scene in the Twin Cities obviously thought differently. Penning a take – a degrading one at that – on a true journalist's fashion choices has no place in what is supposedly a legitimate, large market newspaper.

Wednesday, after the brief publication of the blog piece on the Star Tribune's website, the shit truly hit the fan as social media blew up with the general take being that the blog entry was uncalled for and has no place in a legitimate newspaper – some (myself included) even going as far as calling for the blogger's resignation or her firing.

That, to me, is where things get sticky. A newspaper column is an opinion piece but rarely ventures into the attack category. To criticize a television journalist's fashion choices within the pages of a once-respected print media outlet is tacky. It screams of desperation. It shows a true lack of working one's sources to find a legitimate story. Maybe the blogger from the Star Tribune has a degree outside of journalism. Maybe she doesn't have a college degree at all. Either is fine but writing such a degrading and trivial piece of observational television watching is truly bottom of the barrel blogging.

Minnesota deserves better blogging than that which the Star Tribune pays that particular blogger for. The apology issued by the Star Tribune's editors is a cute little attempt at back-pedaling but the simple fact that an editor approved the blog entry in the first place shows a lapse in judgement or a lack of checks and balances.

I tweeted earlier that the Star Tribune blogger in question should be demoted or fired. Firing someone for an incident like this one may be extreme but I have seen reporters at my previous jobs fired for sending an inappropriate email to the wrong person. Hopefully this leaves a lasting impression on the blogger but given her track record, I doubt that she is even capable of apologizing.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Thoughts on the Jacob Wetterling case

I was only ten years old when the news of the Jacob Wetterling case broke. Like Jacob, I lived in a rural area of Minnesota near a fairly sizeable city. Even at the relatively young age of ten, I knew what abduction meant. To be frank, as I heard the somewhat sketchy details become public, the idea of a kid close to my age being abducted scared the shit out of me.

That's what child predators, child abusers, rapists and other cellar dwellers of society thrive on is fear. If you have confidence and feel safe, those who prey on other can catch you off guard. If you live in fear, the abusers, murderers and rapists win. It's truly a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario.

The basic idea of that scenario came to light for me a few years after the abduction of Jacob Wetterling. I remember that my parents, and probably every other parent across the country, became extra vigilant. Stranger danger was no joking matter. The eerie tale of an adult male abducting a nearly teenage boy in the very state I lived in struck fear in me. I was scared. Suddenly we were told in school to be on the lookout for strangers. Schools – those buildings where you were supposed to be  safe from the evils of the outside world – weren't even safe any longer.

As I aged, though, a good portion of that fear left me. Once I reached the final year of middle school I felt safer. The disheartening tale of the abduction in the fall of 1989 near St. Cloud, MN faded from my memory. But for the Wetterling family it never left. It became their mark on the world. They never forgot about the son they lost – and in recent years it came back into my world.

As I had children of my own, I recalled that sense of vigilance my own parents instilled in me as a ten year-old. The fact that one of the worst people on Earth has confessed to the abduction and murder of Jacob Wetterling closes a very dark chapter for the Wetterling family and likely for the entire generation who grew up in the aftermath of his abduction. What it has done, though, lives on forever.

We teach our own children to be aware of strangers – to not talk to them or get in a vehicle with them or even leave a "safe area" with a stranger. Our neighborhood is safe – at least in our eyes – and the parents know each other. Our children roam from home to home in the summer months and play with each other but even when the children aren't within our range of vision, I still wander closer and listen for their giggles and playful screams. I pay attention to vehicles which drive through our area of town and pay attention to that vehicle which is going too slowly or paying too much attention to one thing or another.

I guess that those lessons instilled in all of us after the abduction of Jacob Wetterling have stuck with us. Maybe fear didn't win out after all. Maybe the Wetterling family can finally have some closure after that terrible tragedy in 1989 that made every neighborhood seem less safe. Maybe justice will finally be served. Maybe.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Big 12 Expansion Saga Never Ends

The Big 12 college conference has always stunk of instability. Created in the 1990s with the merger of the Big 8 conference and the four strongest members of the scandal-ridden all-Texas Southwest Conference, the Big 12 ushered in an era where two 12-team conferences (the SEC being the other) dominated the college football landscape with sprawling 12 team line-ups.

The only problem with the Big 12 is that the Big 8 teams and their relatively scandal-free reputation conceded the majority of the power to the Texas schools – going as far as allowing the conference's headquarters to be in Texas. With the majority of power residing in Texas, the Texas schools virtually dictated the direction of the conference. This became painfully obvious to anyone paying attention to college sports in the late 2000s when conference realignment became front page news.

With Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri all leaving for greener pastures, the conference recruited yet another Texas school Texas Christian (TCU) and eastern outlier West Virginia (WVU) to shore up the Big 12 ranks for a total of ten teams. But rather than even try to get back to 12 schools, the Big 12 conference stood firm with ten schools and the majority of power still squarely residing in Texas. The likelihood of stability was further lessened when ESPN partnered with the University of Texas and gave the school its very own cable sports channel, The Longhorn Network. That move by Texas only served to further alienate the former Big 8 / non-Texas schools. It became obvious the the Big 12 conference was merely the University of Texas, a handful of other lesser Texas schools and some former Big 8 schools with limited options for new conference homes.

The turmoil in the conference came to a head more than once in the past half decade. The Pac 10 nearly became the Pac 16 by plucking off the best of the Big 12 conference but this move was apparently squashed at the last minute because the University of Texas wanted to bring along a few of its Texas school cousins.

Other schools in the conference have still been mentioned at attractive expansion candidates by other conferences. The B1G (Big Ten) has been tossed about at a potential home for the University of Kansas and the University of Oklahoma. The complication lies with both of these school supposedly being tied to their in-state brethren (Kansas State University and Oklahoma State University). The SEC has as well as the Pac 12 has also been tossed in as potential homes of the University of Oklahoma.

But then the talk of expansion came up. The Big 12 looked like it was just days away from getting back to a total of 12 schools in its geographically sensible conference. The University of Cincinatti and Brigham Young University were mentioned as frontrunners. Of course there were others such as the University of Memphis, Colorado State University, University of Houston, University of Connecticut, University of Central Florida and University of Southern Florida who were brought up.

There was a divide, though, It seemed like the University of Oklahoma and the remainder of the former Big 8 schools as well as WVU were in favor expansion while the University of Texas and its Texas bloc of schools were against expansion. Again, the University of Texas looked to be wielding its power and standing in the way of expansion. No expansion meant no possible chance for an increase in television rights fees and definitely no lucrative Big 12 cable sports channel – especially with the University of Texas and their Longhorn Network standing in the way.

Now, though, expansion talk has cooled. In fact, many are speculating that the Big 12 has come to a consensus that ten schools is the perfect fit for the foreseeable future. Well, for the future until 2025 when the conference's Grant of Rights agreement as well as current television agreement comes to an end. If you were one for conspiracy theories, you could speculate that this stability is only leading to one final upheaval in 2025 where the conference wither finally dissolves to be swallowed by the Big Ten, Pac 12 and SEC or flexes its might and swallows at least a portion of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and the Power Five conferences (Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Pac 12, Big 12) shrinks to the Power Four conferences and finally makes sense for an expanded college football playoff.

Either way, any significant upheaval seems to have been pushed down the road around nine years. In 2025, though, all bets are off and that's when I'll be back to update you on this hot topic.