Archive for January, 2011

Egypt and Moustafa’s Peace Sculpture…

Posted in Uncategorized on January 28, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

I’ve been glued to the screens of my computer and television today, watching the events in Egypt. I’m pretty much a maggot on this kind of stuff anyway, but it’s all the more compelling if you have some kind of personal connection; somebody you know who is a lot closer to the things that are happening.  And many people in Wausau do.

There was a student from Egypt at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau a couple of years ago who had an interesting experience here and left all of us with one, too. It took a lot of courage for him to come to the U.S. and mostly, he needed to get past a lot of warnings and fears that he had picked up about Americans. I suppose that most Egyptians know as much about us as most of us know about them, which isn’t all that much.

But Moustafa Saleh found the people of Wausau to be open and friendly. They wanted peace in the world, the same as the people in Egypt do. He was so moved by it all that he designed a sculpture dedicated to peace to be placed in Wausau. He hopes to have an exact replica to be placed in Egypt someday as a symbolic link between cultures. Think of it like the Statue of Liberty, only different and smaller.

It’s one thing to design a sculpture while you’re in a foreign country and it’s quite another to actually get it built. But with a lot of help from a lot of friends – and plenty that he made along the way toward his goal – Moustafa got it done before he had to head back home.

Once they heard about it, community leaders supported the idea, along with a few foundations, a couple of churches, some companies and hundreds of individuals. One local man donated more than 1,000 hours of engineering and design work to build a tabletop model of the sculpture so people would know what Moustafa was talking about. From that point forward, it was a big batch of stone soup.

After months of presentations and fundraising, NTC welding students constructed the steel base. A construction company donated their services in designing the foundation. An electrical contractor supplied lighting fixtures at cost and donated installation services. A printer provided design and print services at very modest costs. A custom steel company built the piece, discounting their services. A metal finishing company applied the finish. Retailers sold tee shirts that were silk-screened by volunteers.

There were many more and I’m deliberately not mentioning names because some person or organization would most certainly be left out. A lot of people had big and little pieces of this piece for peace that was dedicated in November 2009 before a crowd of around 150 that included representatives of the State Department and the Egyptian consulate.  

It will outlive us all and even today, the Peace Sculpture has almost 1,700 Facebook friends and you can be one, too:

http://www.facebook.com/#!/peace.sculpture

And so today, I can’t help but think of the Peace Sculpture and Moustafa Saleh, back in Egypt. And I wish him peace.

JR

SOTU Marinated Grilled Salmon Recipe

Posted in Uncategorized on January 26, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Doesn’t that sound Asian? But it’s just the acronym for “State of the Union” and now that President Obama has brought salmon into focus with last night’s address before a joint session of Congress, it’s time to see why it causes such a splash every time the President talks food:

“The Interior Department is charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they’re in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked.”
— President Barack Obama, January 25, 2011

 

Hey, you should see what happens to it before it can be legitimately labeled as Kosher! But with salmon destined to become the new arugula*, we have to provide you with a recipe.

(* “Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula? I mean, they’re charging a lot of money for this stuff.” – Sen. Barack Obama, Iowa, 2007)
 

 

Yup, and salmon, too. But it’s partly because it’s worth it – and also because it’s Whole Foods, which some of us call “whole paycheck.” Anyway, here you go:

Ingredients

  • 1 to 1.5 pounds salmon fillets
  • lemon pepper to taste
  • garlic powder to taste
  • salt to taste (be sparing)
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil

Okay, first I have to tell you that all salmon fillets are not created equal and you will see that when you price them. Personally, I like wild-caught, smaller fish. I’m looking for the firmest meat I can find and in this part of the world, that often means flash frozen sockeye with a nice, tight grain to it. It can be pricey, but you’re not buying that much and there is almost no waste. You might even get lucky and find it on sale, but don’t mess with anything that has telltale frost or might present any risk of freezer burn. There’s a reason they get $12 a pound or more for the good stuff.

Season the fillets with garlic powder, lemon pepper and salt.

Mix up the ingredients in a bowl and put the mixture into a gallon-size re-sealable plastic bag with the fillet. Marinating can be as short as an hour or as long as overnight. I like to cut up the fillets because it gives the marinade better access and it makes it easier to cook, but suit yourself.

The cooking itself is a no-brainer and you can either use a medium grill or oven-roast in a glass baking dish at 400 degrees. It doesn’t take long – maybe 8 minutes on a side on the grill or 20 minutes in the oven. But rather than give you a time, LOOK at it to see when it’s done. When you see the fat oozing out like you see in the picture above, it’s well done, without being burned. You should be able to lift the meat off the skin with your fork. Personally, I like my salmon cooked a little more thoroughly and a bit more firm than some people do, so use your own judgement on this.

(Remember that if you use your grill, it should be very clean and either oiled or sprayed with a non-stick product. Otherwise, just put a piece of foil underneath, since there’s nothing worse than trying to pry a piece of baked-on fish and disintegrating it on the grill, which tends to really spoil the presentation.)

And it’s great with an arugula salad. Bon appetit!

JR

Duffy brings it home with a good move

Posted in Uncategorized on January 23, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

Newly minted Congressman Sean Duffy did something different yesterday, which was to hold a ceremonial swearing-in at the UW-Marathon County in Wausau. Members of Congress were actually took their oaths of office January 3 in Washington D.C. When the brief announcement of the Wausau re-enactment appeared in the newspaper a couple of days prior, some anonymous online boo-birds took the opportunity to criticize the January 22 ceremony as a useless stunt. I disagree.

First, very few people around these parts ever have the opportunity to be a part of something like that. The oaths taken at the start of each term take place in the Nation’s Capitol and that’s that. It’s reason enough to try do something different. More importantly, in putting together a short program to commemorate the beginning of his new term back home to his district, Duffy was able to underline his election win in a non-campaign environment. That’s important, because everything that happened prior to November 3 was about Duffy as a candidate – not a congressman.

For somebody in Wausau, Sean Duffy is only the third person to take office as a freshman U.S. congressional representative in nearly six decades and for anyone under 42 years old, Dave Obey was the only 7th District congressman they’ve ever had. Melvin Laird of Marshfield served from 1953 until becoming Secretary of Defense in the Nixon Administration in 1969. Congressman Dave Obey served from 1969 until a few weeks ago. Duffy not only recognized the historic nature of the event, but he did something good with it.

It was fairly partisan crowd as anyone might expect. But Democratic Wisconsin 85th Assembly District Representative Donna Seidel was given a seat on the stage with other state legislators from the area and I give her credit for being there, just as she was for an appearance by GOP Governor Scott Walker earlier in the week at PDM Bridge. To be effective as citizens and as leaders, people have to be ready and willing to work with the people who are there. This event was about government – not the Republican government (as I told somebody who half-jokingly asked me what the heck I was doing there.)

While portions of the program and some of the speakers made no bones about core beliefs that you wouldn’t hear if it had been a gathering of mostly Democrats, it didn’t come off like a campaign rally. The whole thing took less than half an hour, from the VFW posting the colors in a procession with a bagpiper to six kids squirming through mercifully brief remarks from several speakers. Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Gableman set the tone by saying “I feel a little like the body at a traditional Irish wake: my presence may be necessary for the party, but nobody expects me to say too much.” An informal reception followed.

The closest thing I’ve seen to the whole thing was when Herb Kohl held a Packer party at the Whiting Inn following his election to the U.S. Senate in 1988. I had worked to elect Tony Earl in the primary, but felt plenty welcome there, too. Coalescing around a partisan candidate when the party takes the seat may not seem like much of a feat, but plenty of elections have been lost by the inability of partisans within a party to do that between September and November. There is plenty to be lost by failing to break away from the daily rancor of the campaign mode once leaders are selected and people need to be open to the possibility of some new ideas. Elected officials are often charged with being hyperpartisan and deservedly so, but people also need to examine if that isn’t more of a reflection of an electorate’s own narrow-minded, doctrinaire paralysis.

There’s a huge difference between campaigning and governing. I don’t have another 42 years to wait for things to break my way and I need some things to work between now and the time that they do, whenever that may be. Having an event to mark the transition that doesn’t force people to contribute to the former while acknowledging the latter — and which emphasizes a desire to represent the entire constituency, in spite of the inevitable disagreements that will occur along the way — was a smart and welcome move.

JR

Starbucks rolls out the “Trenta”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 18, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

So Starbucks, where I hold a well-used and registered card, is rolling out the new 31-oz. Trenta. It’s exclusively served as an iced beverage and that’s a good thing because it means I’ll be able to avoid it completely. I’ve learned my lesson on these things and I’ll get to that in a minute, but first, why does Starbucks shun such simple terms as small-medium-large-jumbo in favor of essentially meaningless names for their sizes. Really, a “tall” is one of the shortest drinks they serve. Then we have “grande” and “Venti” and now, “Trenta.” (Just in case you’re curious, our crack research team informs us that Trenta is a comune in the province of Cosenza, Italy. They’ve probably never thought much about 31-oz. iced drinks from Starbucks there, but it doesn’t really matter. I mean, General Tso’s chicken is served on all the Chinese buffets in these parts and it’s essentially unheard of in China. It’s believed to have been invented in New York City in the 1970s.)

Seriously, I don’t pretend to tell people who have moved as much coffee as Starbucks — and at the princely sums that they do — how to pursue their business. I love the place and we even made a pilgrimage to the original Starbucks in Seattle just to say we did it.

Besides, there is a lot to naming things. If you want to get $4-plus for a cup of coffee from people, you have to convince them that it’s something different than the swill they can drink on a complimentary basis in various daily settings or for very cheap at home. Think about this: if Frank Zamboni’s name had been Bob Smith, do you think his company would have owned the term for the machine that resurfaces the hockey rink between periods? Absolutely not. It would be an ice resurfacer or something equally boring and generic. John Deere, International Harvester, Ford, Arctic Cat and everyone else would have entered the market. But it’s a ZAMBONI! Everything else is just an imitation. Zamboni!

Anyway, a number of years back when Mike Kasper had Something’s Brewing in the location now occupied by Allister Deacon’s in downtown Wausau, Mike was telling me about a coffee drink that he called a “buzzer.” You could get it with four or six shots of espresso. Like everything else Mike told me, I listened carefully while trying not to act too interested. So the next day, I went back to the coffee shop when Mike wasn’t there and confidently told the tall, trim, blonde barista that I wanted a six-shot buzzer (half-wondering if it was something Mike thought up himself, but wasn’t really something that the rest of the staff would even recognize.)

The impressive barista sized me up for a second or two and then responded. “You can’t have one. I’ll give you a 4-shot and that’s it.” Since she was obviously in control and taller than me anyway, I consented and left with the best she had to offer me, although I found the whole exchange a little strange, in an interesting sort of way. A few days later I came back and there was a different barista. I gave it another shot and in minutes, I was leaving with my six-shot buzzer. It was nice dealing with someone who had no moral qualms about such things.

Well, about 45 minutes later, I was three-quarters of the way through my drink and my fingers began to shake. I could feel my heart racing. Beads of cold sweat were spontaneously appearing on my forehead. This six-shot buzzer was becoming a problem and I dumped the rest of it out, retiring to my office to learn whether I could come down from this caffeine overload unaided or if I would need some kind of medical attention. Happily, I survived without blowing a gasket and I NEVER ordered anything with more than three shots after that. And as for the Trenta, they can call it anything they want. I’m not getting one anyway. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a buzzer.

JR

About that New Year’s Resolution…

Posted in Uncategorized on January 10, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

A few weeks back, Rob Mentzer from the Wausau Daily Herald got in touch to ask if I had any ideas about New Year’s resolutions for 2011. I don’t usually make them, but since he asked, here’s what I said, which ended up in the January 2 edition – one week ago today, as I write this:

“If I were offering a New Year’s resolution, it would probably be that we should resolve to employ a more civil and reasoned tone to our public dialogue. I think it would go a long way toward resolving some very difficult issues with public policy that we will be facing at all levels in the year ahead.”

Just imagine that.  It’s not the first time I talked about it here and it’s something a lot of people have been talking about.  Maybe now, a few more people are listening:

https://jimrosenberg.wordpress.com/2010/10/26/civility-tour-its-got-my-vote/ 

After some time has passed, we will all have a better picture of the facts that were in play leading up to yesterday’s tragedy in Tucson, Arizona in which a half dozen people were killed and a member of Congress was left critically wounded, along with a number of others. In the meantime, I’ll stick with the same resolution.  

You may say I’m a dreamer, (but I’m not the only one.)  

JR

UPDATE:  January 12 —

“The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives – to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let’s remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.”

— President Obama at memorial service in Tucson this evening

My lawyers will be in touch (whoever they are…)

Posted in Uncategorized on January 7, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg

I picked up three pounds of shrimp at Frostman’s yesterday. They were on special for $10 a pound and the best part was that I got one pound of them essentially for free, because I had an extra $10 from a class action settlement. I’d tell you what it was for, except I can’t remember. But it gives me a chance to recycle something about class action settlements that never made it to this site, so it’s win-win (since it’s time to post something anyway and it’s been a quiet week for me.)

Class action lawsuits are more fun than coupon clipping. I received another notification recently that informed me that I’m a member of a yet another aggrieved class. I’d tell you more about it, but I can’t remember what that one was about either. I’ll just wait to see what shows up in the mail in a few years because the lawyers will take care of everything. Most of the time, it’s a pittance, like the $10 I put toward my shrimp – but you just never know. Sometimes you have to actually file a claim, but it’s a lot easier than it used to be because you can do it online.

Up until 2009, my all-time record amount for my personal share of a settlement was $60. It had to do with the way utilities were calculated in an apartment complex that we lived in for several years in Indiana. As it turned out, the developer had thousands of apartments all over the country, so it was well worth it for the lawyers to assemble the class. They made millions and I got $60, but that’s the way the best class action suits go. You get a huge number of people, each of whom has a relatively small, but perfectly legitimate stake. (If they each had a substantial amount of money involved, then they would just get their own lawyers and sue for themselves.)

There was one for baby formula and another for CDs. I remember one where an insurance company was incorrectly rounding monthly payment amounts so that they ended making an extra dime a year per customer over the premiums they quoted or something like that. Well, you take millions of policies and stretch it out over a few years and you’ve got enough to put some lawyers in Bentlys for awhile. (Policyholders probably got $1.50 credit each or something. I don’t remember.)

Anyway, my best ever was a check for $126.63 from the LiPuma vs. American Express suit. It had to do with the manner in which American Express failed to disclose its foreign exchange fees and it was a long and treacherous journey through the courts. The suit was originally filed in 2003 and at the time, “our” lawyers felt that the settlement could end up being as high as $800 million. I’m happy that it wasn’t because I would have come out with a lot less. The reason is because they would have paid off everybody and we’re talking about many millions of people. As it was, it ended up being a few hundred thousand of us and everyone didn’t get the same thing. (I monitored things on a travel site where people were reporting what they received. The low is $13.47 and the high was around $1,500.)

Some people like to dash off e-mails to all their friends when they hear about a class action lawsuit with a link to the claim form. While I certainly appreciate it, I never do that myself. When it’s time to divvy up the money, how many more people do you really want in there competing for a share? (So just send me an e-mail and it will be our little secret, okay?)

At $75 million in the LiPuma case, (with $11 million of that going for attorney fees), the lawyers for American Express more than earned their money by establishing smaller parameters for the settlement class and the total amount. Instead of simply crediting everybody with foreign exchange transactions on their accounts during the period with a share of the settlement on their respective American Express bills, people had to file a claim to share in the pot.

Of course, this was appealed by another group of lawyers looking for some justice — (and perhaps a piece of the action, I suppose) — but thankfully, they lost. Sure, it cut down the total amount. But more importantly, it cut down the number of people who would get anything at all. I have no problem with them shaking loose more than 90 percent of the potential claimants, so long as I happen to be one those left standing and the reduction to the pot is less than impact of splitting it with the massive crowd that got thrown under the bus. I’d rather split a $20 bill with you than $1,000 with 200 other people, you know?

The amount of the refund was based on how much time you spent outside of the U.S. between a couple of dates and there was a special premium for people who had gone to Turkey during the period, which I had. I guess Ed LiPuma got a chance to file for $10,000 from the court. (I don’t know if he got it or not, but I’m guessing he probably got a Christmas card or two from our legal team.)

So, you might be wondering if all of this meant that American Express — (along with Visa and MasterCard, who had similar suits brought against them for the same thing) – ever stopped fleecing their customers on their foreign exchange transactions. The answer is no. They still rake off the same fees that got them into trouble in the first place and maybe they’ve even increased them, for all I know. But they DO disclose the charges and it’s somewhere in the fine print of your cardholder agreement now. You feel better knowing that, right? Case closed. Time for a shrimp sandwich.

JR

Fighting Bob might not have wanted to be there, either…

Posted in Uncategorized on January 1, 2011 by Jim Rosenberg
 
A poorly-kept rumor for the past several weeks is that Scott Walker would be sworn in as governor in the North Gallery of the Capitol rotunda instead of the traditional East Gallery. The reasoning was because Walker didn’t want to share the photos of the event with a bust of Fighting Bob La Follette as part of the backdrop. I didn’t think I had quite enough to say much about it, but it was good enough to snap a picture of the La Follette bust for potential use and yesterday, the Wisconsin State Journal reported on it:
 
* * *
Wisconsin governors are typically sworn into office near the East Gallery, where a prominent bust of La Follette gazes out under the Capitol dome with the governor’s office behind him.

But not this year. Incoming Republican Gov. Scott Walker will be sworn into office near the North Gallery, meaning many in the audience will be sitting with their backs, or sides, to Fighting Bob.
  
A Walker spokesman confirmed the swearing in would be in the North Gallery, but didn’t immediately have an explanation for the location choice. But who knows? Maybe a bust of Ronald Reagan would have at least had a fighting chance of getting a photo opportunity with the conservative new governor.
  
* * * 
 This from the Wisconsin Historical Society:
 
Robert La Follette developed his fierce opposition to corporate power and political corruption as a young man. Affiliated with the Republican Party for almost his entire career, La Follette embarked on a political path that would take him to Congress, the governorship of Wisconsin, and the U.S. Senate. His support for progressive reforms, rousing oratory and frequent clashes with party leaders earned him the nickname “Fighting Bob.”
  
* * *

 

A 1982 survey of historians asking them to rank the “ten greatest Senators in the nation’s history” based on “accomplishments in office” and “long range impact on American history,” placed La Follette first, tied with Henry Clay. That’s not too bad. (Of course, it may not be the kind of thing that stops a train, but still…)

 

Here’s an excerpt from a speech by Robert M. La Follette and you can compare it to the kind of message you’ll be hearing Monday in the Rotunda, along with the special session of the legislature to follow and from the new leaders of the state’s regulatory and administrative agencies:

* * *

“Since the birth of the Republic, indeed almost within the last generation, a new and powerful factor has taken its place in our business, financial and political world and is there exercising a tremendous influence.
The existence of the corporation, as we have it with us today, was never dreamed of by the fathers…
 
Corporations exacting large sums from the people of this state in profits, upon business transacted within its limits, either wholly escape taxation, or pay insignificantly in comparison with the average citizen in Wisconsin. . .
Owning two thirds of the personal property of the country, evading payment of taxes wherever possible, the corporations throw almost the whole burden up on the land, upon the little homes, and the personal property of the farms. This is a most serious matter, especially in the pinching times the people have suffered for the last few years . . .

 

* * * 

Fighting Bob died in the middle of the Roaring 20s and the Great Depression followed soon after, lending prescience to his words. You can decide for yourself after the first session of the legislature, the cabinet selections, the rhetoric and everything else, whether Fighting Bob La Follette would have wanted to be part of the inauguration. I’m guessing Bob wouldn’t feel too slighted and may even prefer to be looking the other way. I’d be happy to be wrong about that, but I just think that instead, folks are going to find out why Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce is so happy about the outcome last November and why Fighting Bob would not have been quite so giddy.
 
 
JR