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.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Goals for 2016

Normally people pontificate on the upcoming year towards the end of the prior year. With everyone and their little dog, too, having already done that; I opted to wait a handful of week into the current year to set some goals for myself.

I feel like I spun my wheels for the most part in 2015. For better or worse I settled into a groove, or rut, depending on how you look at it. Things need to change this year.

After some unfortunate developments in 2015, I was thrust into a number of new roles within the company where I work. For 2016 I need to get better at those roles because those roles drive revenue and with a radically new ownership structure on the horizon, ever dollar will be scrutinized and that is something we are entirely unfamiliar with. What was previously a free-wheeling company with virtually no revenue expectations is now expected to be a money-making machine. Being responsible for approximately 15% of that revenue (if not more), I need to step things up.

Secondly, I need to be better about distancing myself from work. There will always be that need for taking care of problems minutes after they arise – that's the nature of a small 24/7 business. The key is knowing when to prioritize things. I have been careful in how I approached things, letting other know that I put work second but still being able to fix problems when they need to be fixed. I stay in my corner of the work world and let others fight their battles because I control my own destiny and people repeatedly state that they notice how much work I do and are impressed with how I exceed their expectations.

The third area is self-improvement. I am used to working my ass off. It comes from growing up on a farm where manual labor and long hours were the norm. I need to get back to that. I intend to step up to bat in the area of helping my parents who are no longer young. I also intend to pitch in whenever I can to help my in-laws whose health is beginning to fade. One would think that with eight children that there would always be help around when it is needed but that simply isn't the case. I enjoy helping them out and I look at it as returning the favor for them letting me have garden space at their farm.

The fourth area is my health in general. Item three will go a long way in improving my health but I also need to make smarter choices about what I eat and drink. Now don't go crazy thinking that I'm cutting out beer, wine or alcohol in general because I'm not. I actually consume those rather infrequently. I do need to completely eliminate soda from my diet and find ways to improve my overall fitness. Maybe that means more bike rides with my kids or running with them as they ride their bikes. Whatever the case, I intend to lose ten pounds this year and gain back the muscle tone which has become a bit soft in recent years.

Wait and see if I meet these goals in eleven months.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Buffer strips on Minnesota waterways = overkill

There, maybe I got your attention. In no way am I saying that buffer strips aren't needed. They are needed. The one size fits all approach that Governor Mark Dayton has shoved down the throats of Minnesotans, though, is simply wrong. Dictating that open rural drainage ditches are subject to a 50 foot wide buffer strip (on both banks) is simply wasteful.

What the public and even Mark Dayton fails to understand is that when drainage ditches are initially dug and cleaned periodically, the soil removed is placed fairly close to the banks to create what is essentially a berm alongside the ditch. This berm acts as a barrier, preventing surface water from entering the ditch directly. Instead, the surface water must make its way through the soil to tile a few feet below the surface or through grass seeded waterways which also filter sediment, chemicals and any excess nutrients from the water before it enters the waterway.

In the case of the family farm where I grew up, there is a combination of grass waterways, tile, catch basins and berms to prevent runoff and water pollution. Oh, and buffer strips measuring some twenty feet wide.

Farmers, contrary to popular belief, do care about water quality and pollution. After all, they depend on that clean water just as much as their non-farming friends and neighbors.

Just this year, though, my family farm has been strictly told that in no way can they improve the water flow in their drainage ditch which stretches nearly a mile through the farm. Instead, it seems like various governmental agencies whom apparently control the rights of a privately-owned drainage ditch would rather have this ditch slowly fill with sediment which enters the drainage ditch through open road ditches and un-bermed naturally flowing areas of this particular drainage system. In the long run, such a scenario will lead to overland flooding which will push even more sediment, organic matter, chemicals and fertilizers into the very waterways the government has stated that they want to protect.

In an era where government increasingly doubts that the stewards of the land can actually do the right thing, the government themselves are the ones who will do longterm harm.

If Governor Mark Dayton and the various legislators who support the implementation of 50 foot buffer strips would look at the true source of erosion and pollution in our waterways, they would see that closer attention needs to be paid to the state's larger natural waterways.

Efforts to protect shorelines and banks of many areas along the Minnesota River should be one of the top priorities. Anyone who has witnessed the aftermath of a flood will tell you that a stable shoreline will at least begin to decrease the mass erosion events I have seen first hand along the Minnesota River. When a river bank collapses, that soil ends up in the river. Those are the scenarios where, at least during normal rainfall events, a berm and buffer strip combination would be beneficial. Without a berm, though, any amount of rainfall will take soil, chemicals, fertilizers and pollutants to streams and rivers rather quickly.

While agricultural practices have come a long way in the past twenty years, there is still room for improvement. I know that the voice of one person who has seen the value of a berm/sensible buffer strip combination will never change the minds of a politician who rarely ventures outside of the 494/694 loop. Maybe, though, common sense will prevail before a 200 acre farm loses an additional 17 acres due to the forced implementation of 50 foot wide buffer strips.