Thursday, March 1, 2018

Mail Call #15: Wrong, and Racist!

Hello hello! A whole bunch of kids and teachers were murdered in their school recently, and the national conversation has once again turned to What Can We Do? I wrote about it. I fully expected to get some...interesting...responses, and boy did I.

Today, I'd like to focus on one in particular that feels fairly representative of a particular genre of political and social thought that is still all-too prevalent in America. It's based in false premises, racism, sexism, and a sort of peculiar fatalism inherent in so much of the unwillingness to really face the core issues that lead to things like mass shootings.

Anyway, here's the email, annotated!
It struck me that the terrified students prayed when in danger. Remember praying isn't allowed in public schools.
OK I'mma stop you right there: This is a lie. Anyone can still pray in public schools. It simply cannot be an organized/school-sanctioned event, because, you know, for now we still live in a country with separation of church and state, and there are kids from all different religious and non-religious backgrounds in these schools, so prioritizing one flavor of religion over another would be pretty shitty and exclusionary. Also, you don't know how those kids reacted. Some probably prayed, sure. But you don't get to make a blanket statement like that.
And there you have insight into the core cause of our social problems. The Democrats/politicians always want to solve every thing with legislation. That's fine do it. Hasn't stopped the drugs. Burn the NRA down. Fine wont stop the guns.
This is that fatalism I was talking about. Strange, coming from the folks who are usually so hardcore law-and-order, this "why do we bother passing laws at all they don't work" POV. Why anything, indeed?
Our problems are behavioral. Our society is now subject to mass shootings, massive drug usage, road rage, hit and runs, adultery, perversion, abortion, hate speech, scammers, homeless, rapists, bullying, weak soft kids (USA Olympic kids showed that) and more, at unprecedented levels we have ever seen and it's growing and will get worse.
OK now you're gonna shit on the young Olympic athletes? What the hell, man? Many of them kicked ass in their competitions, and I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that they've worked harder at this one thing than dear letter writer has at much of anything in his life. What a weird thing to harp on. The rest of his list is pretty standard, alas.
As we have tried to remove God from our culture, broken up the family, have kids who have grown up without even knowing who their father is, minimized responsibility, ignored marriage, shunned religion, and mongralized our cities, what are you going end up with. A society and culture of the above paragraph.
"Mongralized." Gee, what on Earth could he be dog whistling here, I wonder?
This has been a slow progression over many years. I am no sociologist
NO REALLY?! GET OUT. No, really, get out.
but take away the cornerstones of the family and everything that goes with it and the void will be filled by people who have lost their way. We have a very sick country right now, particularity high school kids who are under a lot of social pressure to be liked and fit in. I remember. We wanted progress, we wanted liberalization, at the expense of our core foundations, were getting it. Legislate away. Behavior is in the mind.
Ah, the old "when you're young, you're liberal - when you're older, you're conservative!" line my own aunt tried to use on me a few times. Dude, I'm sorry, but this just means you're getting more bitter and closed off in your old age. Doesn't happen to everyone, thank goodness.

Monday, January 29, 2018

A whole lotta me

Thanks to Craig Sauer for inviting me to be a guest on The Wisconsin Podcast! It's kind of rare that I get to be the one being interviewed, as opposed to the other way around, so it was great fun. You may also be unsurprised to find out that I can talk.

Topics covered ranged from my upbringing, coming out as queer, having a pastor father, writing weekly opinions for the MJS and dealing with online commentary/insults, the value and risk of social media, the hows and whys of Our Lives magazine and being an editor, roller derby, and the 2011 Wisconsin protests and state politics generally. SO MUCH STUFF.

Listen here:

And be sure to give his podcast the ol' subscribe!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Best of 2017 Music Mix Tape

All right, here it is! Finally winnowed down my picks for my annual mix tape to something that fits on an honest-to-goodness CD. But you can listen to it on Spotify RIGHT NOW if you want!

What a fucking year. Good music becomes all the more important in keeping us sane and focused and also allowed to sometimes check out from this too often cruel and ridiculous world. I take enormous comfort in the continued dedication of humankind in creating art, though, and all those day-to-day small acts of kindness that persist.

But seriously, 2017 can pretty much get fucked. This music, however, can definitely stay. Lots of amazing work coming out of all genres, despite what some of the naysayers like to claim (ahem Bono). Music is alive and thriving. A lot of it definitely reflects the current atmosphere, too, with deeply political messages.

Obviously, this is never meant to be a definitive "best songs of the year" list so much as a "some of my favorite songs that came out this year" so it is highly subjective and likely misses a whole bunch of real good stuff. (I even try to capture more in my main/longer list here)

Enjoy! And feel free to let me know in the comments what songs and artists you were digging on this year.

1. "Blood in the Cut" - K.Flay
2. "Cut Connection" - Jesca Hoop
3. "Die Young" - Sylvan Esso
4. "Drew Barrymore" - SZA
5. "Disco Tits" - Tove Lo
6. "Woman" - Kesha
7. "Momentz (ft. De La Soul)" - Gorillaz
8. "Antifa" - Ministry
9. "Venus and Serena (ft. Taj Raiden & Q the Sun) - Lex Allen
10. "Uncle Usi Taught Me" - Brother Ali
11. "Atalanta" - Rina Mushonga
12. "Cold Little Heart" - Michael Kiwanuka
13. "Fool's Errand" - Fleet Foxes
14. "Back In Your Life" - TINA & HER PONY
15. "Fire" - Beth Ditto
16. "Strangers (ft. Lauren Jauregui)" - Halsey
17. "VRY BLK (ft. Noname)" - Jamila Woods
18. "Two Thousand and Seventeen" - Four Tet


1. K.Flay has had herself an interesting career in a short period of time, surfing the lines between genres and now seemingly settling into a really interesting spot that blends elements of roots country and electronica in a way that I decidedly do not hate.

2. I've loved Jesca Hoop since I saw her open, years ago, for either Ani DiFranco or the Ditty Bops (I honestly can't remember which). She has such a unique take on folk that I hesitate to even call it folk. Just good stuff, and doesn't really sound like anyone else. I think she may secretly exist on an entirely different plane.

3. Sylvan Esso stormed onto the scene with their debut record, and I adored the mix of quality lady vocals, poetic lyrics, and creative electronic underpinnings. Plus, the fella in the group is from Middleton, Wisconsin (right next door to Madison), so their tour stops here are always super packed and fun, with shoutouts to parents in the crowd.

4. SZA came to my attention thanks to a DJ friend of mine (mad thanks to Lolo) dropping her track, "Julia," in the middle of a set a little over a year ago. I've been hooked ever since, and thank goodness, because her newest album, Ctrl, is fantastic. Definitely check out the whole thing. Consider SZA part of the bleeding edge of the insanely good/evolving genre of alt. hip-hop/R&B/electronica. I don't even know what to call it, frankly.

5. I'm a little obsessed with Tove Lo. Turns out she's amazing live, too, with great production value and live band elements, plus costume changes! All on what must be a pretty tight budget, from what I can tell. I appreciate the hell out of her commitment to raw and honest tunes with dark techno underpinnings but superbly poppy hooks. And being unabashedly sexual. Also her videos are works of art, generally. If you haven't seen "Fairy Dust" yet, get on it.

6. KESHA, Hot damn, what a re-debut album this is. She came back from years of fighting with her old label for freedom from an abusive producer with full proof that she's an incredible artist. Fuck the haters. Also, tell true, this record is definitive proof that she'd been undervalued and underused by said old label and fuckwad producer, because her voice is legit, the lyrics are delightful, and the genre-bending (from country to dirty rock to electro-pop) is done with aplomb. I struggled between including "Woman" vs. "Old Flames" because the latter is a spectacular duet with the amazing Dolly Parton. But you can't really beat "I'm a motherfuckin' WOMAN" for a refrain, so. Anyway, point is, GOOD FOR YOU KESHA, GET IT ALL KESHA. And fuck rape culture.

7. It's been a long time since Gorillaz put out a record, and their strange and wonderful Humanz pretty much made up for the lapse. What can I say? It's strange as hell, but it just works. Bonus: De La Soul!

8. I'm always excited when an old industrial band puts out new shit that's actually good and relevant. Ministry pulled that off with "Antifa," from AmeriKKKant, which is obviously super duper political and timely. It's all the grungy guitars and stompy beats and biting commentary/quotes that I want and love in my angry tunes.

9. Lex Allen is from Milwaukee, and I've had the pleasure to both meet and see this incredibly dynamic and delightful human perform live on several occasions. The video for this track in particular is an awesome ode to body positivity and basically a big ol' queer celebration. What's not to love? Cat is going places.

10. Good Brother Ali always lays out the real shit with pointed but smooth lyricism, and this tale of travel woes and discrimination and the wisdom of our elders is no exception.

11. I stumbled randomly onto this Rina Mushonga track thanks to Spotify's wanderings and have been in love with it and her music generally ever since. Kind of a lovely cross between R&B, Caribbean rhythms, and some nameless soul of the city (with hints of Little Dragon). I look forward to hearing a lot more from her.

12. Michael Kiwanuka was also a random Spotify find, but I immediately dug his throwback Motown/TSOP-inspired sound. I think this track got some radio play, and rightly so. Great groove.

13. I've yet to be disappointed with a Fleet Foxes record. They have such a distinctive sound that it would be easy for it to become repetitive, but somehow they infuse each new album with fresh energy, and frankly the sound is so lovely that I don't mind some amount of familiarity between efforts. Their music makes me want to wander in the woods and go barefoot in streams.

14. TINA AND HER PONY were introduced to me by a family member who is a huge folk and roots fan, and saw them perform a criminally under-attended show here in Madison. He's since made it his mission to tell more people about them, and hopefully bring them back to town to a better response. I think they're worth it.

15. Holy shit was this solo Beth Ditto record everything I could have hoped for. I'd always enjoyed her work with Gossip, but it always felt like one final element was always lacking to keep their music from feeling complete. Hard to put my finger on. Whatever it was, though, got added to this solo endeavor--it feels full. Fantastic grooves, and that big, beautiful voice to tie it all together.

16. I'm supposed to like Halsey because she's an out bisexual (solidarity!) but I'm a little hit and miss with her work. I really, really like this song, however, and good Lord if I am not a sucker after all for a duet between two women, who sing openly about a relationship between two women. All in a lush, wistful pop tune? Count me in.

17. I came to Jamila Woods' song via recently discovering the work of Noname, who joins her on this playful but serious song about identity, racism, and solidarity. All good stuff, check them both out.

18. It felt appropriate to end the mix with this gorgeous song by instrumental electronic outfit Four Tet, from their newest record, New Energy. I honestly just enjoy everything they do so much, but this track in particular feels extra special. Good way to ring out the old year, refresh, and get ready to do better in the new. Plus, I'm always a sucker for hammer dulcimer.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Mail Call #14: Churlishly Yours

I write about economics and immediately my age and maturity are called into question. Though, hey, given that my photo appears with all of my columns, I suppose I should take it as a compliment of my youthful glow that this guy thinks I'm in my mid-20s (I'm 35, btw):

I'm astonished by your attempt to discredit such tremendous economic news, but I immediately recognize it as a reflection of your hatred for "Walker" and President Trump. You should recuse yourself from writing about either until you're willing to accept that both are capable of doing some very good things. 

I think in a few years, maybe by the time you're 30, you'll be able give even your most hated political villains, credit where due and not write such churlish immature nonsense.
This is a theme that continues throughout much of the hatred of my columns - that all of my criticism of Walker and/or Trump stems from me being a sore loser, and just hating any and all politicians with an (R) after their name.

That may be a pleasant enough fantasy, and a way to easily write off anything I may have to say regardless of its actual merits, but it ain't true. Then again, I'm just a churl, so what do I know?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Mail Call #13: Dr. Jerry Zelm has a lot of time on his hands

One of my most frequent letter writers is a fella by the name of Dr. Jerry Zelm. He really, really dislikes me and my writing, and is unafraid to let me know. Frequently. Mostly I don't respond, because I don't hate myself and have better things to do with my time. But I think it's about time I gave the good doctor an ol' fashioned call-out.

Here's the latest:

Ms Mills: Like most of the liberal press you have once again lost all credibility. We finally have a non-political president who is trying to make significant improvements in this country with decisive action. Yet you and the rest of your angry and rabid friends use every occasion to obstruct. Example: Hillary whined that Comey and Russia were responsible for her losing the election. But soon as Trump does the right thing and removes him, Hillary and the rest of the liberals cry foul. Please list one single thing that you have given Pres Trump credit for ... you can't do it because your total intent is to obstruct. Emily girl, you lost ... get used to it. There's a new Sheriff in town and he's going to continue to do the right thing for those who elected him. That means a daily "butt kicking" for libs like you! Keep writing, your articles are often quite amusing!
He's available for (paid) speaking engagements, if you find this sort of thing appealing. Seems like a well-adjusted, knowledgeable guy, yeah?

Drop him a line with your thoughts. He seems really into communication.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Mail Call #12: Actually no, it's not my job

In lieu of responding to this email sender directly, I figured I'd put this out to the world in an effort to educate folks about how opinion writing can sometimes work.

I wrote you a week ago and am still waiting for an answer. Isn't it part of your job to answer reader email or only those that pander to the liberal viewpoint?

Paul from Menomonee Falls
Thanks for asking, Paul! To answer: No, it is not part of my job to answer any or all reader emails. I am a freelance writer, therefor not employed by the Journal Sentinel. I get paid a fixed amount to write a weekly column and that's it. The time I spend responding to reader emails is all pro bono/off the clock. I don't get paid for it. I still do it, though, when people send me thoughtful questions or stories or responses - yes, even those people who disagree with me, so long as it's in a coherent way that doesn't just spend a lot of time insulting my person.

Paul's first email, it should be noted, did not fall into that category.

So there you have it, friends: Not all opinion/column writers are employed by the papers that run their work. Actually, I'd venture to guess we're freelance more often than not, these days. And we don't get paid to spend time responding to all of the vitriol that finds it's way into our inboxes. You wanna throw me a few bucks to do it, though? Feel free.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Mail Call #11: Through the Rabbit Hole

Boy howdy, the things people say in light of my ongoing criticism of president-elect Trump. Some people act like they ain't got no relations, I swear.

Here's a greatest hits list again, for your reading (dis)pleasure:

Why don't you just hold your breath, then? All your articles are left wing bullshit. You are obviously a lesbian liberal. Just wait and see what Donald Trump will do. It's about time that the swamp is drained. You are just a poor looser. I suppose you are also crying about young women unable to get birth control. why don't they just close their legs?
I'm bisexual, actually, but thanks. This letter was also apparently sent by another woman, which is extra depressing.

Your party has been in charge the last 8 years. Your party has been in charge of the cities forever. How is all this "racism" possible? I know it is fashionable in your circles to look down on working people who get their hands dirty, your party even wrote them off in 2011. These are the people that pay the bills and they are weary of self appointed "elites" making horrible decisions in the name of globalism and diversity.

I suggest you put on your big girl pants and go out and do an honest days work for once, if you're capable of it. Maybe you would be able to gain a little perspective, or is that beneath you ? Take a look in the mirror and stop projecting your hate on to others. Stop being a crybully. Help us to make America great again!
Ooo, "crybully" is a new one.

I asked this guy why he voted for trump. This was one of the reasons he gave:
I'm concerned about the culture of the United States. It has been kind of a Dinty Moore stew with all the different races and nationalities. I would like to keep this recipe (it tastes good) as it is which means immigrations should approximate the groups that are already here. I know you probably think I am a racist regarding Mexicans but I'm not. However ... I don't want so many in this country that it becomes a Latino dominate culture. I refuse to apologize for liking my own culture and wanting to keep it.
Frankly, I wouldn't mind living in a "Latino dominate" culture but agree to (racistly) disagree, I guess.
Face it, Emily, Donald Trump could create lasting world peace, reverse “global warming”, end all wars, do away with nukes, personally create a renewable energy fuel and cure cancer, all before he even takes office and you liberals would still hate him.

Rather than take out your vitriol against the man, why don’t you get a real job (not writing for a dying newspaper) and become part of the solution instead of bashing everything he tries. How are we ever going to move forward as a country if you snowflake liberals can’t get over the fact that America did not want a old white woman who can not tell truth if she had to. Get over it.
Dude, if Trump did all of the things listed in the first paragraph I would be STOKED. Also, you might be amazed how many people seem to honestly think that my only job is writing this column. I wish it paid enough to get by on but, um, no. Just no.

Thank God not a lot of voters think like you. if you feel so depraved living here try moving to another country see how you like it.

take ur own advice get out of ur town (Madison) from time to time see how life really is. time for u to grow up act like a responsible adult

I went to school in Madison. it is truly a fucked up community. is it bc of your generation. prolly.

I'm honestly not sure if "Blood" is this person's signature or just a vaguely threatening closing note. Regardless, I don't feel terribly "depraved" living here but I'm also going to guess that this person would look at a lot of what I choose to do with my life and disagree (if they figured out the difference between "depraved" and "deprived" anyway). C'est la vie.

The "grow up" mantra is definitely a favorite go-to of my detractors, by the way. Along with the "you stupid little girl" and "you look like a man," etc. these are all pretty clear cases of ceding the argument. If you have a valid debate point, make it. You don't need to attack someone's person to do that, so when you do, it just tells me you ain't got nothing else.
Oh Emily Emily Emily. Still spewing the same old bullcrap. Example: UNARMED black people being shot by police in disproportionate numbers. Funny, why didn't you mention about armed and unarmed black people being killed by blacks?

Why don't you mention there are more whites killed by police then black. Why don't you mention that most of these black people that are shot by police would still be living if they knew how to listen to orders. I have a lot of great examples to disclaim the bullshit you spewed, but i refuse to waste any more time trying to get you to open your eyes and see what a lot of the American people feel, but you refuse to see. DEMOCRAP POLICYS dont work, THE PEOPLE HAVE SPOKEN! Every big city with all these killings, robbery s, rapes, car chases, and every other crime you can think of are all lead by DEMOCRAP mayors, every single 1 of them! Now you just hide in your little liberal hometown of MADISON, and stay away from Milwaukee because you know better! Why though? So repulsed by you idiots failure to admit, YOUR ALL FUCKED UP! People have spoken Emily! Milwaukee journal has lost so many subscribers because of liberal media like your self. WAKE THE F--K UP EMILY!!!!
You guys I think this person knows my name.

The Lost Albatross