Thursday, September 11, 2014

Blaska, taking one for the useless team

I'd say it's almost comforting to see perpetual Madison gadfly, David Blaska, still alive and at his usual lame antics, but at this point it's just tiresome and wasteful.

What's he up to now, you ask in morbid curiosity? Why, suing the Madison school district and MTI, of course!
A conservative legal group sued Madison’s school district, school board and teachers union Wednesday over what it calls illegal labor contracts the district continues to honor. 
The lawsuit was filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty on behalf of David Blaska, a well-known conservative blogger living in Madison, according to Dane County Circuit Court records. 
The suit alleges the district’s contracts with Madison Teachers Inc. for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 school years violate Act 10, Gov. Scott Walker’s signature 2011 legislation that all but eliminated collective bargaining rights for most public employees. Blaska requests a declaration that the contracts are illegal and void, and an injunction to prohibit the contracts from being enforced, according to a copy of the lawsuit provided by WILL. 
Thing is, the district and MTI negotiated their current contract before the state Supreme Court made its final ruling upholding Act 10 as constitutional (which is a whole other can of worms). So, it's pretty straightforward to say that the current contract is perfectly legal. Once it's up for renewal, then you'd have a legitimate fight on your hands.

But that would never stop political hacks like Blaska (and everyone's favorite conservative hack defender, Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of WILL) from staging wasteful theatrics like this.

It's almost like someone's paying him to take all the flak to make the big, bold conservative statements du jour so as to keep the more valuable politicos free from such public stain. It would be a familiar tactic, anyway (cough J.B. Van Hollen cough).

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review: Damsel Trash, "Soup for Sluts"

Woohoo! My new band, Damsel Trash, just released our debut album in August and this here is the first official review of said record (that I've seen, anyway). Many thanks to Project Famous and Sarah Whitt. We're glad you enjoy DT!

Damsel Trash quickly earned a reputation for their live shows, featuring eccentric outfits and food being flung from the stage (wedding cake, oatmeal crème pies), but more importantly, their reputation speaks of highly proficient musicianship and infectiously catchy songs. Mills reveals her chops as one of Madison’s best drummers, tackling complex beats while singing lyrical tirades, all at the pace demanded by the genre. Rose effortlessly alternates between guitar and bass, meeting the needs of each song. Whichever she plays, there is no loss for the other, using bass as effectively as guitar as a lead instrument. She takes turns on lead vocals with Mills, her screechy vocals a perfect complement to her distortion-filled instrumentation. 
Their live shows are full of their characteristic banter, belying the years of friendship and co-creation these women have shared. The elements that made their live shows famous translate to their recorded album, which is like having pocket-sized Damsel Trash with you everywhere you go.
Read the whole review here.

We played a fantastic show at a packed Crystal Corner Bar in Madison last night, alongside the German Art Students and Red Tape Diaries. It was a ridiculously good time, and folks seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves--which is, truth be told, the biggest reward for doing what we do.

I'm really looking forward to seeing where we can take this ridiculous little "side" project in the future, which is becoming less and less "side" each day.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

A tale as old as time

I'm just gonna go ahead and pseudo-quote Kanye here: "Scott Walker doesn't care about black people," which makes this latest little battle is especially rich (i.e. gross). Walker hasn't had one word to say about the damning Race to Equity report, did nothing good for extremely segregated Milwaukee County while its executive, and has passed a series of measures that have a disproportionately negative effect on minority communities--but yeah, now that it's campaign season, it sure is expedient to pretend you give a crap about the non-white, non-rich citizens of your state. It's a tale as old as time...

To wit:
Gov. Scott Walker took the campaign against Democratic opponent Mary Burke to her front door Wednesday, accusing the one-term Madison School Board member of not doing enough to improve black students’ graduation rates in Madison. Walker argued that the Madison School Board could have put more money toward raising graduation rates and academic achievement if it had taken advantage of his controversial 2011 measure known as Act 10, which effectively ended collective bargaining for most public workers, instead of choosing to negotiate a contract with its teachers union for the 2015-16 school year earlier this summer. 

Read more.

The truth is that the graduation rate of African American students statewide, but especially in Milwaukee and Madison, should be viewed as an inexcusable shame on us all. No one gets to pass the buck here, especially not Walker. But it's telling that the governor is beginning to lash out willy-nilly like this, now that his polling numbers aren't looking as hot and various scandals just keep nipping at his heels.

Welcome to shitty politics 101.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Best Music of 2013 Mix

Lo and behold, here we are again at the close of another year. Time, then, for my annual "best of" mix--basically an excuse for me to look back at my favorite releases from the past year and make a mix CD to give out to friends. What can I say, I'm old fashioned like that.

2013 has been a pretty great year for music! In fact, after agonizing over what all to include on this mix, I think I may put together a couple of extra lists (online only, because CD-Rs get expensive!) to compile my favorite local music of the last year, as well as some stuff that didn't quite fit the flow of the main mix. We'll see how motivated I'm feeling.

Anyway, on to the mix! As always, this is by no means meant to be comprehensive. There is just too much great music being made for me to keep up with it all--but I like to think this is a pretty good look at a few genres, at least. And a fun listen. If I do say so myself. Feel free to let me know what some of your favorites from the year have been in the comments!

"Post Millennial Creep" - Em's Best of 2013 Mix

1. "The Mother We Share" - Chvrches, The Bones of What You Believe
I've been loving the modern synth pop trend, and Chvrches debut album is an absolutely perfect example of just how good this genre can be. There's no denying the heavy influences from '80s new wave pioneers, but bands like Chvrches are great because they don't attempt to bury said influences. They revel in them, and bring some 21st century mood to the mix. I love everything about this track.

2. "I'm Not Your Hero" - Tegan and Sara, Heartthrob
I included the first single from Tegan and Sara's near-perfect Heartthrob record on last year's mix ("Closer" was released in 2012, after all) and have zero shame about including another track from that album (fully released in 2013) on this year's compilation. I haven't stopped listening to this heartfelt and joyous masterwork of synth pop all year.

3. "We Are Explorers" - Cut Copy, Free Your Mind
Cut Copy knocks another one out of the park. Highly danceable, catchy as hell, and let's be real - pretty queer. How can you not love these guys?

4. "Painful Like" - Austra, Olympia
There must be something in the water in Toronto. Austra was a "Lost Girl" soundtrack discovery for me, along with list-mate Lindi Ortega, Adaline, and Lioness (all bands I also recommend). Throw Diamond Rings into that mix as well (discovered when I was randomly asked to be his opening DJ for a show here in Madison) and I reiterate: Toronto is where it's at. I love Austra for the strange and beguiling nature of their lyrics and lead singer Katie Stelmanis' fascinating voice.

5. "I Want You" - Lindi Ortega, Tin Star
Toronto native but now Nashville-based Lindi Ortega's new record is pretty much just one dusty road foot-stomper after another, and that's just how I like it. This track ain't particularly complicated, but boy does it pack a wallop. I mean, who among us hasn't felt that plaintive "I want you to want me" refrain deep in our bones? Sing along, let it all out.

6. "Ain't Fair" - Deap Vally, Sisteronix
One of my favorite new bands (if not winner of that title outright) of the year, Deap Vally is a powerhouse rock n' roll duo that I desperately want my band, Damsel Trash, to open for some day. Drums, guitar, vocals. Sometimes that's all you need to make your point.

7. "Health Plan" - Pissed Jeans, Honeys
I have to give my friend Matt Fanale (aka Caustic) the nod for turning me onto these cats. Dirty punk rock with a slyly progressive soul. The whole record is just a rip-roarin' good time, and this track is especially timely. THANKS, OBAMA.

8. "Werkin' Girls" - Angel Haze, Reservation
Another new favorite artist for the year, Angel Haze came charging out of the backfield with this track that seems to have caught some mainstream attention as well (it was featured in the movie "The Heat," for instance). The subject matter of many of her tracks is deeply personal, and just fuck-you in-your-face real. An emcee with serious flow and, from the sounds of it, no fear. MORE PLEASE.

9. "Batches and Cookies" - Lizzo, LIZZOBANGERS
Lizzo was a last-minute entry to my list, and I'm ashamed that I hadn't caught wind of her before. Minneapolis based emcee with serious talent and this track is both awesome and adorable.

10. "Get Lucky" - Daft Punk, Random Access Memories
I usually try to avoid including songs that were quite so ubiquitous, but dammit if this Pharrell featuring track isn't just...well, really good. It's a "song of the summer" that I can actually get behind, without wanting to throat punch the singer (that's right, Robin Thicke, I'm looking at you).

11. "We Were Rock n' Roll" - Janelle Monae, The Electric Lady
Someone explain to me how Janelle Monae isn't just, like, Prince levels of popular and world-dominating yet? This woman has more talent in her android-loving pinky that half of the current crop of pop starts combined. Expertly crafted soul-funk-R&B hybrid amazingness, super fly dance moves, dapper as fuck personal fashion, and an absolutely beautiful voice.

12. "Man" - Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, the Harder I Fight, the Harder I Fight, the More I Love You
Another album I've been listening to on repeat since its release, this particular track is a wonderfully bold, brash, gender bending, and strangely moving ode to masculinity. If you're not yet familiar with Neko Case's work in general, please do yourself an enormous favor and get on it now. This album is a good place to start. Then pick up Fox Confessor Brings the Flood. Then, everything else.

13. "Don't Let Me Die In Florida" - Patty Griffin, American Kid
Patty Griffin has been at this music business for decades now and hasn't lost a step. If anything, I'd say she just gets better with time (if that's possible? because she was always so damn good). This record is full of fantastic Americana, storytelling, and Griffin's signature golden voice. This song in particular is a tribute to her father, who made the title plea after a visit to the Sunshine State. I can relate.

14. "Copy of A" - Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks
The first reviews I heard of the new NIN were that it was "too poppy" but fuck, have you listened to old/original NIN lately? That shit was basically industrial pop. And I LOVED it. Just like I love this track, and the album is pretty darn good in general. It's fun to watch and listen to an artist progress and try new things, especially when it works out so well.

15. "Candy Tongue" - Trentemoller, Lost
I continue to be pleasantly surprised by every new Trentemoller release. He knows how to make great use of his various guest vocalists (I'm always a sucker for good female vocals in electronica), and how to turn the electronic genre on its head in new and interesting ways.

16. "All I Know" - Washed Out, Paracosm
A fitting way to end a mix, I think - Washed Out is fast becoming the king of lovely chill out music. His last record has been my go-to relaxation soundtrack whenever I have to fly, and I suspect this album will fast join it in rotation. Beautiful.

(Listen to this playlist on Spotify)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hizzoner is not a diplomat

Hoo boy, this is going to start some fires. As if this issue wasn't contentious enough. Email today direct from Mayor Soglin himself, regarding the ongoing debate over the presence of homeless people at the City County Building downtown (and how the city treats homeless folks in general):

Last night about 5:20 when I returned to the City-County Building from the Board of Estimates meeting a heated dispute was taking place at the chairs adjacent to the entrance to the Park Division office. 
Sitting on the left was Man A. He was talking on his cell phone at the time and continued to do so during the entire incident. Sitting in the center was Woman B. Wearing a gray hat she refused to move. Sitting next to her and closest to the door to the Parks Division office was Woman C. She was yelling at Woman B and telling her to get up and leave. Standing over Woman B was Man D who was yelling in a threatening manner at Woman B ordering her to move. 
I stopped to watch the incident and when it became clear the matter was escalating, called 911. Before the officers arrived, woman B got up from the chair, staggered over to Woman C and continued to yell at her. Man D took the center seat and asserted his claim that the chair was his. Man A continued with his phone call. I could hear him saying that the background noise was because of an argument. 
Woman B, Woman C and Man D continued to argue. As the police officers arrived Woman C threw a punch at Woman B. 
We can build and spend money on more libraries, day shelters, night shelters, restroom facilities and none of these behaviors are going to change. The people of Madison deserve better. Therapy, treatment, and counseling, with constant supervision are needed for a significant number of people who hang out in this building and the surrounding area. No number of shelters or amount of money is going to address their needs unless it is focused on treatment for mental health and substance abuse matters. Frankly I see no sense in spending public money for buildings, shelter, day centers, or housing for individuals who will either refuse to use them or will be banned from them for behavior reasons. 
Someone has some explaining to do. Why is there no treatment, voluntary or compulsory? 
If the individuals in question had not been fighting and arrested they could have gone up to the third floor where the City-County Liaison Committee was meeting and joined in the testimony that a security guard was not needed in the lobby. It appears that at least one of these individuals was involved in a fight on Friday. 
Paul R. Soglin - Mayor City of Madison 
He's right that a lot more money and focus needs to go toward mental health and substance abuse treatment, I absolutely agree. But throwing shelter facilities and other resources for the homeless under the bus in the process is incredibly wrongheaded and short-sighted. Not all homeless people are mentally unwell and/or addicts. And even those that are will need resources for seeking out services and then being able to access those services on a regular, reliable basis.

It would be nice if the discussion about these issues could be had without needlessly inflammatory sniping (the Mayor is not the only guilty party here). Too many people's actual lives and well-being are on the line.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Church of Roller Derby

I was raised in the Presbyterian Church. My father was and is a minister, and my mother was heavily involved in everything from directing the children's choir to bake sales and other organizational duties.

Every Sunday morning I had to wake up early to attend services, usually grumbling about being made to sacrifice one of just two precious chances to sleep in each week. When I was very young, I remember that my mom would wisely resort to scratching my back during dad's sermons as a way to basically pacify me, keep me from squirming or causing trouble during these longer periods of inactivity and introspection.

I never hated church. There are aspects of church life and community that I really enjoyed, in fact--mostly the potlucks, the holiday pageants (or the weirdly ambitious stagings of musicals like Godspell), the bake sales, and later the youth group outings to do service work restoring homes for elderly folks or bringing gift baskets to the residents of a mental health institute.

Still, as soon as I left home for college, I stopped going. Partially this was because I moved to a new state and wasn't familiar with any of the church communities in my new city, but mostly because I had decided that I no longer felt comfortable calling myself a Christian.

I had, and have, too many serious objections to the overall bent of the Church--too focused on outmoded beliefs about women and queer people (both groups to which I belong), too guilty of misdeeds against the very people the church is supposed to exist to help: the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed, the minorities.

I saw too much lip service to serving God and too little actual service.

There has been much written about the worldwide decline in people who identify themselves as religious and/or who attend church on a regular basis, especially among younger generations. It is, most certainly, a time of major transition and transformation. Splits. Schisms.

I see that as a good thing. The Powers That Be need a stark wake-up call from the rest of the world--among all the religions and communities--that they've strayed too far from the path that I think the majority of us know in our hearts is the righteous one: to help those less fortunate, to strive for a better world, to be open and inclusive.

You don't need to believe in God to believe in that.

So where does roller derby enter into all of this, you might be asking at this point?

I've been a member of my local roller derby community for just over a year now. In that time, I've frequently joked that the sport and its community have become my new church. It often involves getting up for 8 a.m. practices on Sunday mornings, after all. And I do it gladly!

But I've been thinking. It's a whole lot more than that. And there's really something to the joke:

Roller derby is an amazing sport that requires an enormous amount of time, dedication, hard work, mental and physical discipline (don't believe me? watch the championship match between Gotham and Texas from this past weekend).

Roller derby is also an amazing community of people from diverse backgrounds and with differing abilities and talents, one that places a big emphasis on community outreach and charitable giving. The Mad Rollin' Dolls, my home league, has raised tens of thousands of dollars for local non-profits over the years. They've spent countless hours doing service work, too: packing Thanksgiving baskets for those in need, building homes for farm animal sanctuaries, serving up food at community events, being part of Make-A-Wish days, and a whole lot more.

They also band together when one of their own is in need. Right now, for instance, there's a massive fundraising drive for a Milwaukee skater who was shot during a mugging. I've seen derby folk from other countries jump in to help out with medical bills, housing needs, and more whenever called upon. We get each others' backs.

Roller derby is also, by and large, an incredibly inclusive community. We were founded by the outcasts and queers who wanted a sport of their own in a world that typically shunned them. We've built this thing from the ground up, mostly through the blood, sweat and tears of volunteer work. We have our troubles, our fights, like any family--but we stick together and find solutions. We take all-comers, so long as you're willing to give back in a positive way. Black, white, queer, straight, trans, religious, atheist--it's an open door policy.

This is my church. This is my home. This is the world I want to live in and want to help build for everyone. Whether or not you're interested in strapping on a pair of skates and ramming yourself into other human beings doesn't matter (I just happen to really enjoy that). The point is, we should apply this same ethic of service, inclusion, and community to all aspects of our lives.

You want butts back in seats at your house of worship but aren't willing to make real changes? I'd rather put on skates and roll into something better. But if you're serious, the examples of how to do more, to grow and evolve and bring people on board--they're right here, at the Church of Roller Derby.
The Lost Albatross