Friday, November 30, 2007

Third time's the charm!

After two years of trying and failing, I have finally, as of this hour, completed the National Novel Writing Month challenge of writing 50,000 words. And it only made me a little bit sick in the process (I am currently cocooned in a blanket on my couch, fighting off some early winter ailment or another).

Somewhere around 30,000 words in, I thought for sure I was done for, failed again, fallen off the ol' writing wagon. But somehow, some way, my crappy little novel took shape and pulled through to the end. And now, just as soon as the glow of victory wears off, I'll start the arduous task of editing the damn thing.

This does, however, mean I can get back to concentrating on my other writing habits, the ones that actually sometimes pay and that will likely have more effect on my career than this. But boy was it fun, and I won't lie, I feel pretty damn good for having done it.

For more info on NaNoWriMo, as those of us in the know call it, and about their efforts to raise money for the Young Writers Progam, go to their website and have a look around.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Blogs Speak: Ziegler and Shoebat

My what an opinionated bunch we are (I guess that's why we blog):

Paul Soglin has a take on the UW-M/Walid Shoebat affair that's interesting and very reasoned. I do agree that they have every right to bring Shoebat in to speak, but I also still think Shoebat is an extremist who pays a lot of lip-service to being pro-Israel but is then prone to making statements like these:

Your third offense is your sheer stupidity, a thing the Jewish people cannot afford for their survival. It was sheer stupidity that cost so many Jewish lives. Many Jews tend to trust the wrong people, but when the right people come along they doubt. Jews trusted in Oslo and were sold, Jews trusted in Germany and were killed, Jews trusted their Arab employees and where slaughtered....

When will Jews ever trust the right people? Better then this question is this - why should rightous gentiles stand with the Jewish people, risk everything to get stung by so many Jews who doubt them?

Again, I'm trying to find his love and respect for the Jewish people, but it's hard to sort it out through the thick clouds of condescension.

Rick Esenberg weighs in on the Judge Ziegler conflict of interest debate and, despite his many typos (seriously, these things do have a spell check function), makes some valid points.

Now, while everyone else is wailing and gnashing their teeth over not being able to watch the Packers-Cowboys game tonight (well, everyone except those who live in the designated "home viewing areas" of Green Bay and Milwaukee and those with satellite), I'll be desperately trying to get my novel up to the 50k mark before midnight Friday, which will include a marathon writing session tonight. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Mysterious Mr. Shoebat

Full disclosure: I'd never even heard of this guy until today when, during my pained perusal of various right-wing blogs, I came across several references to a one Mr. Walid Shoebat. A darling of the religious right and super pro-Israel organizations, Shoebat claims to be a former Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) "terrorist," having committed any number of violent acts against Jews and Israel, who has since seen the light, converted to Christianity, and now travels the country praising Israel and denouncing Islam. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is hosting a talk by him on Dec. 4th, an event that the campus' Muslim Student Association is protesting against.

It's all a little confusing. There appears to be very little official documentation on the guy to help back up his claims of PLO pedigree (though I don't suppose the PLO keeps very precise records of its membership), and his extremist views about Islam, humorously opposite but still similar to his old views about Judaism, are certainly cause for alarm.

It has been pointing out that Shoebat, though claiming to have once beat an Israeli officer into a "bloody gore," among other offenses, doesn't seem to have ever been investigated by the US. Palestinians (and Muslims in general) with far lesser black marks on their report cards have been deported, but this man was allowed to become a naturalized citizen and to move freely about the country. That seems odd to me. He should absolutely be allowed to be here, to travel freely, to give talks, etc. What I'm suspicious about is the stark contrast between his treatment and the treatment of other men with similar (or allegedly similar) backgrounds.

See, the thing is, Shoebat's fundamentalist Christian faith holds that Jewish domination of Israel-Palestine will lead to Armageddon (the Rapture), a time when those people/countries who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved and everyone else gets to roast in hell for all eternity, including (ho! ho!), those poor Jews he now professes to love so much. How is that not antisemitic?

Charlie Sykes, Jessica McBride, and others of their ilk are up in arms that anyone would have a problem with this guy, tossing accusations of antisemitism and racism around like hot cakes. I don't necessarily agree with the MSA's contention that this man shouldn't be allowed to speak on campus. Fair is fair. But if someone takes issue with his message and his credentials, they have just as much right to criticize and call him on his shit as he does to get up and talk.

Walid Shoebat seems to simply have gone from one extremist point of view to another. This isn't growth, it's a lateral slide where nothing is really learned. Calling for an end to antisemitism is good, but following up that call by claiming that all Muslims are evil is wrong. It should be simple. Anything less is hypocrisy.

Some folks on the far-right like to act all surprised and hurt when "those nasty liberals" call foul on their favorite mouthpieces and figureheads. Oftentimes, the tactic employed to silence the critics is to accuse them of the same kind of bigotry and bias that they, the accusers, are guilty of. It's a tried and true method, but extremely detrimental to the quality of the greater debate and just downright shitty. Both sides need to rise above such petty mud slinging and get to the real issues: working to promote understanding and unbiased education for and between rival groups, dispelling stereotypes and myths, and helping the next generation achieve some kind of meaningful coexistence.

It would help if some of them stopped pushing so hard for the Rapture, too.

No one religion should get to keep Jerusalem all to themselves. The land belongs to no man, and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can make with the peace. All sides--Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, whatever--need to ante up and do their part to make it happen. No one is completely without blame. No one bears the full brunt of responsibility. We all share it, and it will take us all to make things better.

Ziegler's many conflicts of interest

She's at it again!

Ziegler to hear case funded by election supporter.

I'm not sure why the attorney general hasn't asked her to recuse herself yet. Doesn't $2 million in donations from the company that's partially funding the defendent in this case count as a big, fat, super obvious conflict of interest? If not, what does count as a conflict of interest in this state?

I was ticked off that voters put Ziegler into her current position in the first place, what with all of the major conflict of interest issues that came up during the election. Heck, even she admitted to a violation of the state's judicial code, and all she gets is a slap on the wrist in the form of a reprimand. Have we given up entirely on holding public officials accountable? Because that's the message I'm receiving, and I don't like it one bit.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cable bill not so hot. No, really?

Seriously, I wouldn't have guessed it. Really. Never saw it coming.

The good, the bad, the ugly deniers

I'm reading about Fort Atkinson's very cool Heart of the City program, a voluntary "diet" that has citizens cutting their energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions. It sounds like a great idea, and seems to have led to some serious savings, both in terms of energy and money, for the town.

But then, upon reaching the bottom of the article, I come across that chronic buzzkiller, the Global Warming Denier. It seems as though the WSJ Forums have picked up one of their own, as this forumite has been popping up in the comments section of many articles that, in one way or another, touch on the issue of global warming.

I understand that there is still debate in the scientific community over the severity and exact causation of the problem. The great thing about modern science, though, is that through use of the scientific method, we're able to sift and winnow our way closer to more and more truth every day. Still, there are those who would prefer to stick their heads in the sands (y'know, the sand that used to be fertile ground but that was ruined by human overuse and such?). They deny the very thought that humanity's actions may be interfering with the delicate balance of the Earth.

How they continue to live in such an anti-reality zone is beyond me, especially considering the wealth of research from all corners of the scientific spectrum to support the theory that yes, we are in fact changing our world, and not so much for the better.

Have some facts:

Average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880, much of this in recent decades, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

• The rate of warming is increasing. The 20th century's last two decades were the hottest in 400 years and possibly the warmest for several millennia, according to a number of climate studies. And the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that 11 of the past 12 years are among the dozen warmest since 1850.

• The Arctic is feeling the effects the most. Average temperatures in Alaska, western Canada, and eastern Russia have risen at twice the global average, according to the multinational Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report compiled between 2000 and 2004.

• Arctic ice is rapidly disappearing, and the region may have its first completely ice-free summer by 2040 or earlier. Polar bears and indigenous cultures are already suffering from the sea-ice loss.

• Glaciers and mountain snows are rapidly melting—for example, Montana's Glacier National Park now has only 27 glaciers, versus 150 in 1910. In the Northern Hemisphere, thaws also come a week earlier in spring and freezes begin a week later.

• Coral reefs, which are highly sensitive to small changes in water temperature, suffered the worst bleaching—or die-off in response to stress—ever recorded in 1998, with some areas seeing bleach rates of 70 percent. Experts expect these sorts of events to increase in frequency and intensity in the next 50 years as sea temperatures rise.

• An upsurge in the amount of extreme weather events, such as wildfires, heat waves, and strong tropical storms, is also attributed in part to climate change by some experts.

• Industrialization, deforestation, and pollution have greatly increased atmospheric concentrations of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, all greenhouse gases that help trap heat near Earth's surface. (See an interactive feature on how global warming works.)

• Humans are pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere much faster than plants and oceans can absorb it.

• These gases persist in the atmosphere for years, meaning that even if such emissions were eliminated today, it would not immediately stop global warming.

• Some experts point out that natural cycles in Earth's orbit can alter the planet's exposure to sunlight, which may explain the current trend. Earth has indeed experienced warming and cooling cycles roughly every hundred thousand years due to these orbital shifts, but such changes have occurred over the span of several centuries. Today's changes have taken place over the past hundred years or less.

Please refer to the IPCC's 2007 Report on climate change for more in-depth details and research.

You can deny until you're blue in the face, but it ain't gonna make the problem go away.

And hey, curious to calculate your household's emissions and waste? There's a very decent personal calculator available over at the Environmental Protection Agency. Looks like my house came in under the national average, which makes me feel good, but then I have to think about the bigger picture and the fact that, if everyone on Earth lived like I do, we'd run out of resources pretty much immediately. Yikes. Still, every little bit counts, especially if those little bits end up leading to bigger things.

More progress on power plant clean up

A reassuring article in the WSJ today, detailing the further ramifications of the Sierra Club's successful lawsuit against the UW's Charter Street coal fired power plant:

The state of Wisconsin has agreed not only to clean up UW-Madison's coal-fired Charter Street power plant but also to review and possibly improve the operation of 13 other coal-burning plants it manages throughout the state, according to a settlement of a Sierra Club lawsuit announced Monday.


That decision led to Monday's broad settlement, which averted a federal court trial on remedies that was set to start Monday. The state agreed not only to immediately reduce coal use by 15 percent at the Charter Street plant but also to review its operation and if needed, clean up emissions at 13 coal-burning plants elsewhere, including Capitol Heat and Power on Madison's Isthmus.
I can tell you right now that it is needed, but I'm glad to see that the state is starting to take this seriously. It's a real shame that it look a serious lawsuit for them to start cleaning up their act, but better late than never, I suppose.

With all the lip service the Doyle administration has been paying to cleaner air and lower emissions, it's going to take some serious effort to make the action match the rhetoric. This looks to be a huge step in the right direction.

Of course, one need only to look to the bottom of the article at the first comment, where some poor soul posts the following deluded message: "Thank you, Sierra Club. Once again we get MUCH HIGHER energy prices in the name of the Great Global Warming Hoax," to be reminded that we've a long way to go when it comes to educating the public about the issues.

I'm torn between laughing and crying, really, there's so much that's wrong with that statement. The Great Global Warming Hoax? That thing that the vast majority of the world's qualified scientists agree is happening? Yeah, aside from that, we're talking about simply making the air we breathe far less toxic, something that tends to benefit poorer communities first, as they're usually the ones with the big ol' smoke belching power plants built at their centers.

Alternative fuels are proving to be viable and affordable sources of energy. With the appropriate amount of willpower and funding, they will only continue to increase in efficiency and affordability. A head-in-the-sand attitude like the poster's is what got us into this mess in the first place, and it's what will help lead us to disaster if it continues.

Anyway, I intend to keep a close eye on how this power plant clean-up progresses, and hopefully more influential people than I will do the same, so we make sure they get it right this time, instead of slacking off and waiting for next year like they've done so many times before.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Who says bumper stickers are meaningless?

Remember that ridiculous post about liberal bumper stickers that came courtesy of Atomic Trousers? The one that then inspired an even more ridiculous alteration of the "Coexist" sticker by Tom McMahon (and my response)? Well, it keeps getting more and more interesting/ridiculous as the days pass.

Right-wing radio host Charlie Sykes featured the bumper sticker post on his own site, calling it "brilliant" and letting the self-congratulatory back-patting from the right side of the blogosphere roll on in. But then the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee chimed in, and Sykes didn't like the sound of what they were saying.

Here's his response to their letter (with the original letter included at the bottom of the post).

Plaisted has a very decent response to all of this, calling Sykes and his ilk on the hypocrisy inherent in them playing the role of victim on the one hand and preaching about the perils of false victimhood on the other.

I don't know if McMahon replaced the Star of David with the Nazi swastika with the intention of comparing Judaism to Nazism. I really doubt it. Still, the fact remains that it was a wildly insensitive thing to do, and warrants, at the very least, an apology. They can leave the altered bumper sticker up if they so desire because it is their right to do so. But for heaven's sake, take some responsibility for your actions and mistakes once in a while, will you? There's a difference between censorship and thoughtfulness that these folks seem to be missing outright.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Man likes his donuts

I by no means condone theft or engaging police in high speed chases for any reason whatsoever. However, I can understand the impulse to make off with an entire truck full of donuts, should the opportunity present itself. Of course, I exercise some control over my id, something this fellow doesn't seem to understand:

A delivery driver reported that his Krispy Kreme truck was stolen from the Open Pantry as he was making a delivery inside. A UWPD officer located the truck and got into a pursuit with it. During the pursuit the truck stopped and the driver backed the truck into the squad before taking off again. Another UW officer continued the pursuit for a short period before the pursuit was terminated. An MPD officer was in the area and observed the vehicle drive past him. The officer then attempted to stop the vehicle and a second pursuit ensued outbound on University Avenue. The suspect driver at one point drove against traffic where speeds reached over 80mph. The driver then crossed over the median and turned into the Village of Shorewood behind the strip mall area where the driver then surrendered in the parking lot of Copps in the 3600 block of University Avenue and was taken into custody.
The Madison police blotter can be downright fascinating at times (and quite depressing at others).

There's probably also a stupid joke somewhere in here about police chasing a donut truck, but I'm going to rise about and leave it to your capable imaginations.

Christmas Craftacular

I wandered over to the High Noon Saloon to catch the first day of Glitter Workshop's "Christmas Craftacular," a fair full of goods for sale by local/area artists. I love this stuff. I love finding awesome little goodies to give as gifts for the holidays in lieu of mass-marketed stuff that may or may not be useful to the person.

Anyway, definitely consider checking out the event, which runs through tomorrow (Sunday) at 4pm. It doesn't cost a thing to go in and browse, but you might find something to buy once inside. Items run the gambit from magnets and coasters made from recycled bottlecaps, maps, and scenes from children's books that my generation for sure would recognize (think Where the Wild Things Are, Curious George and the like), hand screen printed and regular clothing for adults and the fashionable infant, hand made cards and blank books, decorative items, super cool ties, etc.

I picked up a few odds and ends (which I wasn't expecting to do) and enjoyed the scene. There seemed to be a good turn out, with people shopping, drinking and chatting all over the spacious club. I've been extremely happy to see that Cathy has made a point of renting out the space to non-music events during the day (and sometimes evening) on a regular basis. Smart business, and great for the community.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Buy Nothing (or buy local!)

I hope everyone's Thanksgiving holiday was safe, fun, and filling, and that you're all avoiding the malls on today, Black Friday.

It's also officially Buy Nothing Day, a "holiday" of sorts started by those crazy culture jammers as a way to remind people that there's more to the season than the consumption of mass quantities.

If you simply cannot restrain yourself from purchasing something today, though, consider keeping it local. Heck, if you live in the Madison area, you have very little excuse not to. There are several "buy local" craft and gift fairs coming up, should you prefer a one-stop shopping experience.

Isthmus Daily Page has a good run-down of three upcoming fairs:
Or, if you prefer to do your local shopping on your own terms, check out the list of "buy local" businesses in the area at

Or, instead of shopping, head outside to enjoy the sunny (if chilly) weather or hit up the Annex tonight for the My Life With Thrill Kill Kult show. Nothing says "holiday spirit" like industrial disco music!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving thanks

I'll likely be taking a short break from this blogging business to enjoy a proper Thanksgiving holiday (and to catch up on my NaNoWriMo attempt), so I just wanted to get one last post in before the relaxing begins.

First off, I hope everyone has a happy, safe, and belly-filling Thanksgiving. Don't let the retailers make you forget about this holiday in order to get you prematurely psyched up about giving them all your money for Christmas. And hey, don't forget to give a little back:

Thanksgiving donations were hard to come by this year, according to community organizers.Marlene Storms organizes the Goodman Atwood Community Center's annual Thanksgiving food basket campaign.Every year for more than 20 years, the center has given boxes full of all the Thanksgiving trimmings to 1,000 families across Dane County.But this year the center came close to not having enough to hand out.
Those of us who can afford to put a meal on the table, especially with any kind of regularity, should be counting our blessings. We should also be doing what we can to spread the wealth, and giving to food banks and other such programs is a good way to do that.

In a bit of good news (and something else to be thankful for), an amendment added to the recently passed city operating budget added much-needed funding for the Rape Crisis Center:

Per Brenda Konkel's account, the amendment:
Provide(s) additional funding to the Rape Crisis Center for compensation for the training of new police officers in Sexual Assault counseling tactics, along with the continued knowledge provided to the force already in service. Funds would also be used to maintain or improve current levels of education, sexual violence prevention advocacy, and emergency counseling services for college-aged students in the City of Madison.
The RCC does a lot of really good, extremely important work. Until we can stop rape and sexual assault outright (sadly, I'm not holding my breath), we'll need organizations like RCC to be there to help educate and support the population. Especially since shit like this still goes down:

A Dane County man was found guilty Friday of abducting and raping two female University of Wisconsin students in late 2006.


Victims told Madison police Pope abducted them at knifepoint and threatened to kill them if they turned to look at his face. He then took the victims to his car, bound their hands and drove them to his Fitchburg apartment and assaulted them. He then returned the victims to the area where he originally abducted them.
Apparently this worthless piece of crap claimed he had "no memory" of the events, blaming it on having been high on ecstasy on the time. I'm glad it looks as though the court isn't having any of that nonsense and will hopefully put him away for life. Look, I know a lot of drugs are bad and make people do stupid shit, but something this heinous is never the result of drugs alone. The person responsible has to be pretty messed up in the first place. And besides, ecstasy makes people touchy-feely, but not violent and horrible.

I'm thankful they at least caught the prick, and will keep him from ever committing those crimes again.

Now, time to cool down, eat your entree of choice (I'm a dirty vegetarian, so no turkey for me), spend time with people you care about, and give thanks for those things in life that ain't so bad.

P.S. Holy cow, this blog received 92 hits yesterday--my highest single-day hit count ever. Many thanks for that!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

More Video Competition follow-up

Are you sick of this yet? Yeah, yeah, but hey, what can I say, the shit just goes so deep.

From the "Comment Rescue" post on dane101 concerning my original article taking Sen. Decker to task for his inconsistent statements, we get this comment:

Before the bill passed the Senate, I sent an email to a number of senators. Here's a quote from Sen. Luther Olsen of the 14th: "Over 1000 of my constituents contacted me on this legislation, with over 98% of them supporting it."

He's counting all the contacts he received via TV4US, the AT&T lobbyist that blatantly lied by claiming that people supported this specific legislation when they'd only returned a postcard saying they wanted to watch Packer games.

I visited my legislator to see the binders that TV4US supplied. One name per page, to make the binder look big. I found duplicate names. I found three names of people I knew, so I called them. One knew he'd returned the football postcard, months before even the Assembly bill had been introduced. Two had no idea how their names were there.

This very interesting tidbit comes from John of (a hilarious and very familiar looking parody of It's good to see that some people are doing their due diligence on this, though it'd be a heck of a lot nicer if it were our actual representatives.

Someone listened

Now here's an (not entirely novel) idea:

A legislative proposal would suspend pay for state lawmakers if the next budget is late.The idea is a provision in a reform package being promoted in the state Assembly. If it passes, it would subject lawmakers to other penalties. The budget was 115 days late this year.Two northeastern Wisconsin lawmakers, Gordon Hintz and Tom Nelson, are offering the reforms.Nelson said that members of the Conference Committee should be required to meet for 40 hours a week during negotiations.The Kaukauna Democrat also wants a moratorium on fundraising during the budget-writing process. The proposal is expected to be introduced at the end of the month.
It's nice to know that at least a few of our state legislator's were paying attention to the general hew and cry that went up during the drawn out budget fiasco. All that remains is for the Assembly to actually pass the measure. Here's hoping.

Monday, November 19, 2007

In response: Bask in (conservative) bumper stick wisdom

I stumbled across this little gem from Atomic Trousers the other day. Apparently that post saw the site's highest hit count, as it was spread far and wide across the conservative blogosphere.

Now, I'm no fan of jingoistic bumper stickers. I'd rather someone actually did something about the problems they see in the world than just slap a sticker on their car and feel good about themselves. I'll even admit that I have been guilty of this in the past, but no more.

Regardless, the reasons given for hating the stickers in the AT post are what really disturb me. There's enough self-congratulatory back-patting in the comments section to make a thoughtful person start to believe that the world is full of selfish pricks with no sense of compassion for their fellow human beings.

Anyway, because I believe in turnabout being fair play, I've decided to list a series of jingoistic conservative bumper stickers that I have, amazingly, seen around Madison (and beyond).

1) "Don't believe the media, conservatives are the good guys!"
Yikes. Way to paint the world in black and white there, buddy. There's so much wrong with this one that it's hard to know where to begin. First off, the "media" isn't any one thing, conservative or liberal. There are networks and organizations that fall on all sections of the political spectrum, and to continue with this pained battle cry that conservatives are somehow largely discriminated against in this country is disingenuous at best and disgustingly self-centered at worst.

2) "Allah know of Islam, I learned on 9/11."
Holy mother of yikes, this one about made me swerve off the road when I saw it. How ignorant can one person be? Has this person ever met a Muslim? Been friends with one? Bothered to even just read a non-biased account of Islam? This sort of attitude makes me think the answer is a resounding "no," because otherwise how could a person still come to the deluded conclusion that all Muslims hate us and want us dead? Yikes, it's people like this that help us end up in religious wars without end.

3) "Nuke Iran Before Iran Nukes US!"
Ah yes, the time honored tradition of thinking nuclear war will solve all of our problems. Point some of those missiles at you and your family, then tell me how gung-ho you are for a nuclear holocaust.

4) "Anti-War = Pro-Terrorism"
Here we have another shining example of blanket stereotyping and complete fallacy. Didn't we learn this back in, like, 5th grade? Y'know, that whole "all eagles are birds but not all birds are eagles" thing? Of course, that barely even applies in this instance, because equating "anti-war" with "pro-terrorism" is so absurd as to render it completely moot.

5) "Abortion Clinics: Keeping Choice From America's Parents Every Day"
This one is just so what-the-fuck. So these abortion clinics, they're going out and forcing people to have abortions? Where are they getting this shite? The clinics that offer this service do so because it's legal, it's important that people have a place to go to have it done safely, and they provide counseling before and after to help people make informed decisions as to whether or not the procedure is right for them and then how to cope with what is, without a doubt, a deeply unpleasant experience. No one likes abortion. Sometimes it's just necessary, and the decision should always be left up to the pregnant women, not the government, not some conservative who knows nothing about the individual's situation. Get over yourselves.

I could go on, because there are just as many wacky right-wing bumper stickers as there are wacky left-wing bumper stickers. It's just that, for me, most of the right-wing jingoisms make me want to vomit, so in the interest of not blowing chunks all over my computer, I'm going to stop the list here.

Point is, if you want to make a difference in the world, have real, constructive debate with people of all political and social stripes, etc., then stupid slogans are not the way to go. This applies to everyone. Drop the stereotypes, open your friggen mind a little bit, and for heaven's sake, get out a little more. It'll do you good.

Arguing Progressive Dane

Forward Our Motto has an interesting debunking of "common myths about Progressive Dane" over at their blog. Like I've said, I don't know a ton about PD or the current state of local politics. I only know what I read from the people involved and various news sources, so until I get my butt in gear and go out to some meetings or something, I'm far from being anything more than a speculative observer. So it's nice when people with a bit more experience take the time to lay things out in a reasoned and clear fashion and with minimal (but not entirely absent, to be fair) snark.

Now if only Dave Blaska would hold himself to similar standards.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Do you love mountains?

When I was living in Illinois, many years ago, the highest topographical feature in my entire county was a landfill. It wasn't particularly majestic, and after a hard rain, if the sun came out, it made the whole town smell pretty rank. I wouldn't have been opposed to someone blowing it up and removing it altogether.

I can't say the same thing for actual mountains, though. They're supposed to be there. They serve many important purposes and blowing them up leads to all manner of nasty consequences and repercussions. That's why you should head right on over to and check out their "Virtual Memorial" feature. Then you should look to see whether or not your congressional representative has signed on as a co-sponsor of HR 2169, the Clean Water Protection Act. If they have, be sure to send them a thank-you note. If they haven't, be sure to send them a note urging them to change that and sign on right away.

As of my writing this, the only Wisconsin representative signed on as a co-sponsor is the dependably awesome Tammy Baldwin. But that means that the other, 7 state reps need a good solid nudge from their constituents to get their butt's into gear.

That'd be:

Paul Ryan, 1st district
Ron Kind, 3rd district
Gwen Moore, 4th district
James Sensenbrenner, 5th district
Thomas Petri, 6th district
David Obey, 7th district
Steve Kagen, 8th district

So get on the horn, the wire, or the pen and let these folks know how important the Clean Water Protection Act is, and that we need to go back to enforcing the original intent of the bill:

In 1977, The Clean Water Act was enacted by Congress to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,” and prohibited the dumping of material into waterways for the purpose of waste disposal. In 2002, the current Administration made a rule change which redefined “fill material” in order to include mining waste. Since debris from mountaintop removal is now acceptable “fill material”, coal companies are dumping millions of tons of mine waste into nearby streams using a streamlined permitting process. As its designers intended, this has greatly facilitated the practice of mountaintop removal.

Representatives Frank Pallone and Christopher Shays introduced a bill that reestablishes the original intent of the Clean Water Act: to protect our waterways, not give industry permission to pollute and bury them.

I've never lived near anything taller than a bluff, but I have visited the mountains many times. The Appalachians, when they're not being sawed off at the top, blown up, and dug through, are an absolutely stunning sight. The people who live with them deserve so much better than they're currently being given by the mining companies, and by an administration that allowed for the "fill material" loophole that's polluting the crap out of the land and water.

Let's get out there and do our part to stop it!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Daily Show withdrawal

I fully support the WGA's ongoing strike to receive fair compensation for their work. But damn do miss new episodes of the Daily Show.

The methadone will have to cut it for now:

Also, don't forget that this Saturday is the citywide electronics recycling drop-off day. Safely dispose of your Amigas, Coleco Visions, and 486's (without obsessed collectors trying to get them from you) by bringing them to the City of Madison's Transfer Station just off Olin Ave. near the Goodman Pool. E-Waste is a huge and growing problem for our environment--be part of the solution!

Midwest emissions pact - and what about those old coal plants?

Good news: "Six Midwestern governors and the premier of Manitoba will sign an accord in Milwaukee today that will commit those states to working together to slash emissions linked to global warming over the coming decades."

Sort of good, sort of not, news: "There is no specific target yet identified for how much emissions would be cut, but many states in the region are developing plans that aim to cut emissions by 60% to 80% by 2050."

Troubling news: "All new coal-fired power plants built after 2020 would be required to capture carbon dioxide and ship it to an underground storage site." There is no mention, however, of forcing the older coal-powered plants to clean up their act. Like I mentioned before, these grandfathered-in super polluting plants are one of the biggest sources of toxics in the state, and leaving out any strategies for improving that is no solution at all.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Toot toot!

That's the sound of my own horn:

Russ Decker's fumbling attempts to get his priorities straight.

This may or may not go anywhere, but I thought it was worth mentioning. Thoughts? Comments? Oh yeah, you know you want to.

About those power plants....

The recent ruling against the UW's Charter St. coal-fired power plant got me to thinking about the state of power plants in Wisconsin in general. It also set me to wondering why it is that older power plants are allowed to continue belching out huge amounts of toxics so long as they don't "make any significant repairs or upgrades." That's just plain stupid.

So I started digging around. What I've found is pretty disheartening, and goes to show that we've still a long, long way to go as a state if we're really serious about cleaning up our act.

First I found this report from 2000, which found Wisconsin to be #3 in the nation for dioxin emissions levels. Hooray! That report led me to a more up-to-date site with a really handy interactive map of the country that shows pollution levels in each state and specific statistics on their various power plants. Wisconsin, it should be noted, can boast the following fun stats:

SO2 191,000 Tons in 2002
NOx 88,900 Tons in 2002
CO2 48,655,200 Tons in 2002
Mercury 2,200 Pounds in 2002

Health Statistics
Deaths 474 per Year
Heart Attacks 879 per Year
Lung Cancer Deaths 50 per Year
Asthma Attacks 11,949 per Year
Hospital Admissions 492 per Year
Chronic Bronchitis 353 per Year
Asthma ER Visits 668 per Year

The worst offenders are typically our coal-fired plants, all of which could be outfitted with modern pollution controls that would cut emissions by 90%. Why hasn't this been done? Expense? Are they putting a price tag on the value of human (not to mention flora and fauna) life? Screw that. We need to put some serious pressure on both legislators and power companies to update the plants as soon as possible. There's simply no good excuse to let these plants go on spewing out so much shit, especially when the technology exists to stop it.

If you're morbidly curious, the EPA also makes available the 2006 data from the Toxics Release Inventory Database.

So we done good with the Charter St. plant--though we should probably remain vigilant to make sure that the changes ordered by the judge are implemented in a timely fashion. Clearly, however, there's a lot of work left to be done for our lovely state. Getting rid of the exceptions allowed for older plants not to update their pollution controls is one step. Making sure every plant then follows through with the updates is the next. Eventually finding cleaner energy sources is the final step.

I have no desire to breathe toxic air and eat mercury-laden fish, do you?



Hey, I've been really out of the loop here, why is there so much bad blood between the DCDP and Progressive Dane? Both parties have their pluses and minuses, but generally, I mean, isn't this like a feud between people who like their toast butter side up and people who like their toast butter side up with a dash of jelly?

Ye Olde Blogosphere has been exploding in the last few days with debate over who should win the DCDP chairmanship, incumbent Wayne Bigelow or challenger Russell Wallace. Honestly, I didn't know a lick about this before a few days ago, so my opinion on the matter is pretty malleable.

But I do have a bit of an opinion about how the debate has been carried out. Poorly. Which is a shame, because most of the people involved have similar, progressive goals and just want to be on the winning side of an election for once (2006 being a notable but rare exception, but only in terms of people, not policy). If we're this divisive and divided for a simple party chair election, imagine what we'll be like when the big one roles around next year?

Here are a few of the choicer comments from area blogs:

The Critical Badger is feeling pretty critical of Wallace.
A source has informed me that Russell Wallace dropped off over 40 new memberships ($10/piece) to the Dane County Democratic Party last night, just before the deadline to ensure he will have a healthy majority in the race against Wayne Bigelow. A typical PDesque way to ensure victory. Unfortunately, it’s widely predicted that Wallace will win.
I've been gathering that PD makes it somewhat of a habit to employ these kinds of methods come party elections, and they seem shady to me, but that's the extent of my opinion. Someone would have to help lay out any other past alleged transgressions by PD members for me to get a better idea as to whether such criticism is warranted or not. Also, it should be noted that apparently, Wallace isn't even a member of PD. Huh.

Caffeinated Politics doesn't much care for Wallace, either.

Wayne Bigelow understands that driving the car off a cliff does not encourage others to be passengers. He cares about the county party and deserves to be elected again.

Russell Wallace is smart and energized, but the wrong choice for Democrats who wish for more than a litmus test on political purity.

OK, so that's a bit more reasonable of a response. But what about Bigelow? Is there anyone out there who doesn't think he's the bees knees? Apparently so.

This comes from TDP forums, courtesy Vicky Selkowe:

It would indeed be nice to have a DCDP Chair who is actually focused on building a stronger local Dem party and who does more than continually foam at the mouth about Progressive Dane.

Yet another example of Wayne's blinders-on obsession with PD can be found in his response to an email I sent him and others on the Dane Dems E-Board titled "New Member Outreach," in which I asked Wayne what was being done to reach out to and engage all of the people who had recently joined the party as a result of the spring elections. A snippet of his response is below, am happy to share the full email exchange with anyone who's interested.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Wayne Bigelow
Date: Apr 22, 2007 5:17 PM
Subject: Re: New Member Outreach
To: Vicky Selkowe [and others]

Let's cut to the chase up front: It's about PD members flooding our meeting to take over endorsements and now you want them them to take over more. I'm not sympathetic. What PD can never achieve on its own you want to take over and run for yourself -- even though it was achieved by the endless labors of Democrats. Success you could never achieve on PD's own.
It strikes me as supremely silly that such a rift exists between PD members are Bigelow/the DCDP. I'm glad there are two distinct parties, because having more than a 2-party system generally makes for a healthier political climate. But I'd rather they be fighting over major differences in policy than in personality. Neither one of these guys comes off looking particularly clean. Then, you also have to consider that anyone who so actively seeks a position of power in the first place may not be someone you'd really want to see in that position at all. But that's a debate for another day, I suppose.

In the end, I'm left feeling more confused than ever. I'll be curious to see how the vote goes tonight, but I'm not a member of the DCDP (or PD) so I have no say in this anyway. As to why I'm not a member? Because of petty rivalries like this taking up more time than the actual important issues of our day. Because a lot of the "leaders" we've been getting are more interested in their own egos than they are in seriously unifying like-minded folks who want to work for a better city, county, state and country.

I think that's why, when I look at my friends (in their early twenties to mid-forties), very few of them are officially affiliated with any one party. They're politically and socially active, but they (wisely, I think) don't pledge allegiance to any one group. Heck, I'm about as liberal as can be, and I've voted for a few Republicans (gasp!) in my day.

So here's what I wish: I wish that the DCDP and the PD would both get over themselves and learn to work co-operatively when it was possible, and to disagree constructively when necessary. I wish that whoever wins tonight's vote really does work to solidify the party and point it in a progressive, smart-minded, daring, Greater Good direction free of petty in-fighting and finger pointing. And most of all, I wish upon a freakin' star that people would stop leaving ridiculous anonymous comments like this one. Yeesh.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Heads in the oily sand

It's both fascinating and frightening to watch as the economy does a (so far) slow-dive into what experts agree more and more is likely to be a recession. The two key "shock" factors causing this decline, they say, are the credit crisis and, surprise surprise, oil prices.

So basically what they're saying is that greed and shortsightedness are causing problems. Who woulda thunk it?

More intelligent minds than I, that's who: analysts have been predicting peak oil for years now, decades even, warning that, contrary to what the big oil companies would have us believe, crude is not a renewable energy source and will run out.

In our rush to keep the oil companies happy, we've neglected our duty to research and develop efficient, affordable alternative sources of energy. The first people to pay the price of this failure will be those who are most vulnerable to economic downturns: those in developing countries, and those at the lower end of the income spectrum. So at first, it's easy for the lawmakers to ignore the problem, because hey, if it doesn't effect them, why should they really care? I'm not speaking for all lawmakers, of course, because there are a few delightful exceptions--but they are the exceptions, and sadly not the rule.

The greed and predatory practices of the companies involved in the sub-prime loan debacle also effect those people on the lower levels of the totem pole, but it's creeping up into the middle-income folks, too, which is probably why it got so much attention so quickly once things blew up. But it did still take things blowing up before we took notice and corrective measures began to be put into place.

We simply cannot afford to wait for the proverbial bomb to go off before we try to fix things. It may have worked to some degree in the past, but we're reaching critical mass now, when we must work to solve problems before they blow up in our face. If they do, we're at the point when we won't be able to afford the damage.

I'm not as doom and gloom about all this as I might sound. I do believe there are economically viable ways to solve our biggest problems, because smart people have been working on them regardless of what the people with money want. Wind farms. Biomass. Energy neutral buildings. Sound credit counseling for people with lower incomes. Community organizations. Youth job and school programs. The list goes on and on.

There are so many individuals and groups out there in the world and right here in our own community who are selflessly working to make things better. It's an uphill, sometimes thankless battle when there are also so many people--politicians, executives, regular joes--who, for one reason or another, are working against them.

Many excuses are bandied about as to why we can't do this or why we can't do that: it's too expensive, it will hurt the economy (because apparently super high oil prices and crappy loans won't?), it's not reliable, etc. But really, when you do the research, almost all of the arguments become pretty flimsy. If the same funding levels and drive were applied to the development of many of these clean technologies and effective social programs, their costs would come down as they grew more efficient and their efficacy improved. And if we must appeal to enlightened self-interest, the economy would be helped by creating new areas for job growth, new and more sustainable businesses, higher profits for those leading the charge, etc.

Once again, it comes down to willpower. Do we want to make the world a better place? Do we care about the well-being of our neighbors? Or are we too lazy, too caught up in ourselves and our big cars, big houses, and big bellies to notice that our world is falling to pieces? Man, I really, really hope not.

Monday, November 12, 2007

AT&T needs Wisconsin like a fish needs a bicycle

Man, those scrappy underdogs over at AT&T sure do have it tough in Wisconsin. They can barely scrape together enough money to buy themselves a sammich. Just check out their earnings and properties as compared to other media corporations. It's just pathetic, really. $66 billion and an 8% share of News Corp.? How on Earth do they put food on their family's tables at night?

It sure is a good thing our state politicians are giving them carte blanche to serve select areas of our state when they want and how they want, without having to pony up any obnoxious little fees to support public access television channels (who says the airwaves are public property?).

And what did those selfless folks at AT&T do to show their appreciation? Why, they contributed generously to those politicians who voted in favor of the legislation. That's just good manners.

(It's Monday, and I blame my sarcasm on that fact)

Putting it into perspective

I don't normally like to post a link all by itself, but in this case, the following post over at TDK doesn't need much in the way of extra commentary: Alternative energy funding in this country is in shitty, shitty shape.

But hey, it's comforting to know that reporters and Republicans are paying more attention to the tipping habits of presidential candidates than they are to oh, I don't know, their policies on war? oil prices? health care? torture policy? the environment? Yeah, you remember, that thing that enables us to go on breathing.

At least the waitress got it right. Think she'd like to run for office?

Overdue Milestone

I remembered to check the little application that tracks visits to this here blog just now, and was very happy to see that we've far exceeded 1,000 visits. There are millions of blogs out there, and I recognize that my little slice of the 'sphere is pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things. But it's cool to know that a few people have taken the time to stop by for a visit, so thanks very much for that.

My grandest, most egotistical hopes for this blog are just that I'm adding something small of merit to the public discourse. The really important stuff, thankfully, still happens out there in the real world.

Also of note is that today is the start of Transgender Awareness Week right here in town on the UW Campus. The LGBT Campus Center is hosting a series of events all week, both educational and recreational, to highlight the issue. If you're well-aware of the issues or totally in the dark, be sure to check out at least one or two of the events.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Show your support!

Everyone deserves a fair shake.

Sign the fan petition to show your support for the Writer's Guild of America.

(For humorous and insightful updates of the strike, check out, too)

A Greener Wal-Mart?

There's been a lot of talk recently about the newly opened Wal-Mart Supercenter out in Monona. Much lip service has been paid to the more "environmentally friendly" tack the store is taking, all part of Wal-Mart CEO Scott Lee's plan to turn his company green.

It's a noble goal, and one that I support wholeheartedly, even though I don't shop at Wal-Mart and generally despise their business practices.

But like any good Wal-Mart skeptic, all the talk of sustainability made me wonder just how much work was being done to meet that goal. I hoped, because I'm an optimist at heart, that what Wal-Mart was claiming was true: that they were in fact cleaning up their act, making a serious effort at becoming a sustainable, eco-friendly business. Is that really possible for such a behemoth, though? Can a company that requires the sheer numbers of goods and services that Wal-Mart requires make good on its word?

An article in the Capital Times laid out what the new Monona Supercenter is boasting:

The new Wal-Mart is a little different from most, since it was built on an old torn-down retail area with little room for acres of surface parking. Shoppers can park in a 499-stall parking garage under the store, taking escalators to and fro, with a special escalator designed to hold shopping carts.

Rooftop skylights allow sunlight to pour into the building, saving electricity. Refrigeration system water is recirculated to help heat the building. Lights in freezer cases turn on when someone walks up and turn off when no one's there.

That all sounds pretty good to me. But then I found the following report, a critique of Wal-Mart's sustainability efforts put together by a coalition of interested organizations. Their conclusions don't lend well to the Wal-Mart PR machine's picture of the company. The following are just a few of the more interesting findings of the study:

Organics: Although the company announced plans to expand organic products, the Cornucopia Institute has documented incidents of Wal-Mart misrepresenting conventional food products as organics and charges that the company has attempted to drive down organic prices by using factory farm products of questionable quality, including some from China and other countries where regulations are weak.

Illegal Logging: Wal-Mart claims that it will remove illegal wood products from its supply chain. But the Environmental Investigation Agency charges that the company has failed to monitor its suppliers adequately. Moreover, Wal-Mart’s constant demand of decreased prices from its suppliers drives illegal logging, and some 47 percent of Wal-Mart’s wood-containing products are manufactured in China, which sources from countries known to have major problems with illegal logging.

Cypress Mulch: Wal-Mart is fueling the destruction of cypress forests, the Gulf Coast’s best natural storm and fl ooding protection, by distributing cypress mulch throughout the country. Wal-Mart was proud of their relief work after Hurricane Katrina, but now the company is endangering coastal communities and important wildlife along the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf Restoration Network and the Save Our Cypress Coalition are working to convince Wal-Mart to drop this unsustainable product.

Global Warming: Wal-Mart’s goals for reducing global warming pollution leave many sources of greenhouse gases off the table. According to the Institute for Policy Studies and Friends of the Earth, the company’s supply chain creates more than 40 times the emissions the firm says it is aiming to eliminate. Combined with emissions from its retail operations, Wal-Mart’s greenhouse gases are the equivalent of about half the amount produced annually by France. Wal-Mart’s “cheap” imports are not cheap if you consider the estimated 2 million tons of annual
carbon emissions associated with shipping from China to U.S. ports, pollution from inefficient non-U.S. trucking fl eets, and the health impacts of port pollution on local communities. Wal-Mart’s contribution to sprawl has increased shopping travel to the point where traffic associated with its stores produces more carbon dioxide than all of its other U.S. greenhouse gas emissions combined.
And the report just goes on and on. While I acknowledge that the timbre of the report is pretty obviously biased against Wal-Mart, their findings have considerable merit and are worth further review.

I understand why people shop at big box retailers like Wal-Mart: often it's what you can afford, it's extremely convenient, and sometimes it's the only option a person has for certain goods in smaller towns. It's hard to begrudge someone the right to shop at Wal-Mart when there's no other place to go, or when their income dictates having to seek out the cheapest products.

People who can boycott the store should, but we also shouldn't turn our noses up at those who keep going. There should be a sustainable, affordable option for buying your essentials. Time and time again, though, Wal-Mart has shown that it is more interested in its huge bottom line than it is in the welfare of the people who shop (and work) there and their planet.

A few cosmetic improvements to make themselves look better in the eyes of the communities they come to, like the token efforts at greening the store in Monona (which are a step in the right direction, but only a step), are not enough to undo the years of damage they've already done, and will continue to do, until they are finally held truly accountable and made to take drastic, long-term measures to improve the way they do business.

This goes for all of the big box retailers, the number of which has grown considerably in recent years, mostly on the far east and west side of the city. Wal-Mart is easier to pick on because they are so ubiquitous, and because their violations are many and varied. But the trend toward giant stores is a bad one in general, helping to create sprawl, increase the use of automobiles, degrade the land they're on, and more.

There's a better way to meet the needs of a community, ways that are sustainable in more ways than one. In-fill, the idea of building a city up rather than out, is one good idea. Holding the bigger businesses to higher standards is another. Limiting the size of big box stores, or indeed banning them outright, is another option. The possibilities are out there, researched, proven. Like anything, it just lacks the community willpower to get it done, and that, perhaps above all else, is what we need to work to change.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Someone explain to me why it wasn't already a felony to force a person into slavery. Because apparently, Wisconsin is working on passing legislation that would "officially make trafficking human beings for sex or cheap labor illegal," defining it as "recruiting, enticing, harboring or transporting an individual without consent for labor, services or commercial sex acts through harming the person, stealing their identification, extortion or debt bondage."

Correct me if I'm wrong, here, but didn't we officially make slavery illegal in the United States back in 1863? How is it that it's now 2007 and no such law is yet on the books?

In any case, if anyone votes against this, I will lift my objections to the use of tarring and feathering just for them.

Puff puff, pass it on to everyone

I moved to Madison just over seven years ago to attend school and because, after one visit months prior, I had fallen in love with the city. I had come in to see a couple of friends who were attending the UW. They rolled out quite the welcome (really, they would have made great ambassadors): I was picked up at the airport by one friend and her employer, a member of the Onion's AV Club. I'd been reading the Onion for years prior--it had been one of my lifelines while spending my final two years of high school in the middle of Oklahoma--so meeting the people who wrote it was quite the thrill. Our first stop was State St., and the former Onion offices there. After about five minutes of walking around, I was hooked. I had to come to Madison.

Over the years I've come to love the people, the (mostly) progressive politics, the bike paths, the music and theatre scenes, the seasons, and a whole slew of other things that would take too long to enumerate. There are plenty of things to get angry about here, too, don't get me wrong. During my time as a driver for the now defunct Women's Transit Authority, I saw a side of the city that even some of the most well-intentioned politicians simply don't want Isthmus-dwellers to know about.

Still, this is the first city I've ever lived in that really felt like home, like a place worth working to improve.

There has been, however, one big glaring feature on the Madison landscape that I could never quite wrap my head around: the Charter Street Coal-Fired Power Plant. The plant, with its heaps of coal piled along the street, just seemed so incongruous in this city of bikes and trees and environmentalists. A coal plant right in the middle of campus, in the middle of a residential neighborhood? That couldn't be good.

Turns out my hunch was right: the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the UW for the plant, alleging that it failed to meet the standards of the Clean Air Act. Well, lo and behold, a federal judge ruled in their favor and revealed that the plant had failed to meet those standards for at least that past 5 years. He ordered that pollution controls be installed on the plant, which the university claims it will do.

The university will move to improve the plant's environmental performance, increase efficiency in heating and cooling the campus and use more alternative fuels, said Alan Fish, the associate vice chancellor of UW-Madison. But those changes could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.

How is it that the UW, one of the top research university's in the country and part of a city and state that prides itself on environmental stewardship, allowed such an egregious violation to go unaddressed for so long? It shouldn't have taken a lawsuit to kick them into action. This should have been a top priority ever since newer, more effective means of cleaning up coal-fired plants became available.

From an excellent article at WisPolitics:

The Charter Street Power Plant is one of Dane County’s largest sources of soot, smog, mercury, arsenic, and global warming pollution. The specific violations uncovered by the Sierra Club occurred over the last five years and include major repairs and modifications at the facility without notifying the DNR, without obtaining a permit, and without installing modern pollution controls that cut pollution levels by 90%.

This piqued my curiosity, so I started digging around online for any national statistics about the nation's dirtiest power plants. What I found was extremely interesting, even though it didn't involve the Charter St. plant in particular. Wisconsin Electric Power Co. (now known as We Energies) was the recipient of the Governor's Award for Excellence in Environmental Performance back in 2002. Funny this is, though, that WEPC plants show up numerous times on the Environmental Integrity Project's 2007 list of dirtiest plants in the country. Their Pleasant Prairie plant is consistently ranked as one of the worst in the country by this organization's study (the EIP, it should be noted, is a non-partisan, non-profit group made up of former attorneys and officials from the Environmental Protection Agency).

How does that work? All this lip service being paid to environmental protection in the state and so little substance to back it up. It's extremely disheartening and more than a little bit infuriating.

We're long overdue for a serious clean-up. Hopefully this ruling will bring a much-needed spotlight to the issue and prompt more regular citizens and feet-dragging politicians to take the serious and sustained action needed to address the problem. We owe it to ourselves, to our children, and to all generations yet to come. There's no excuse. The technology exists. All that remains to be harnessed is the willpower.

(photo credit:

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

That whole writer's strike thing

Yeah, you been hearing about that? The Writer's Guild of America went on strike the other day in protest against the producers and corporations who don't seem to want to give them a fair slice of the pie they basically baked.


Why do I care? I don't make a whole ton of money for the writing I do, and I certainly don't write for any major entertainment outlets (nor am I a WGA member...yet). But I do believe that every worker, in every field, deserves a fair shake. Both in terms of money (in this case, residuals) and in terms of benefits. By golly, it's the American way!

And since I have no other way to support the WGA, I've decided to turn off my television until they get their demands met. It's a small thing, I know, but hey, nothing good will be on and at least this will mean less distraction while I attempt to actually finish a round of NaNoWriMo. 8,000 words and counting!

Give it some consideration, and if you support the WGA, keep the boob tube quiet for awhile. Hey, there's always DVDs. Oh wait....

Yes and no

Veteran's Day is this Sunday. Did you know that? I hope so, but if not, now would be the time to educate yourself (for instance, it lands on the anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended World War I). It's important for us as a nation to remember those men and women who have done their civic duty through military service, especially those unfortunate enough to be called during a time of war. It's important that we remember and support them all year round, but I'm also glad that we have a specific holiday set aside for them as well.

It's not often that I find myself commending the actions of the College Republicans, but I was pleased to read an article in The Badger Herald that mentioned their efforts to raise money for the Madison Veteran's Center. Too often, politicians and other public figures pay a lot of lip service to taking care of our vets, only to fall woefully short when it comes to actually taking action. President Bush is guilty of this, but the guilt spans the partisan and professional gap, too.

Just recently, charges of embezzlement were filed against the spokesman for Wisconsin's largest nursing home for veterans. Stealing in general is bad form, but stealing from retired veterans especially is pretty damn low.

In any case, good on the College Republicans for making sure attention is brought to the holiday and for taking positive action to help (though I'm a little confused about the direction the BH article then takes, as it talks about them hosting a talk by a local global warming critic--why can't you let me have my little moment of respect for the CR's, Badger Herald, why??).

For a list of Veteran's Day events taking place in the area, click here.

(photo credit: State Historical Society of Wisconsin)

The State Journal hearts military recruitment

Surprise, surprise: The Wisconsin State Journal thinks the school board should ignore protesters and allow military ads in gyms and stadiums.

They add this caveat: "Access should include the ability to buy ads in school sports stadiums and gymnasiums, as long as the ads comply with school district standards." But here's the thing, those ads don't comply with district standards, which state that all military recruiting materials must be placed in guidance offices. You can argue 'til you're blue in the face that the ads aren't "recruiting materials," but the fact remains that, by dint of offering a phone number to a recruiting office, they violate school policy.

I suppose I should have seen the opinion coming, but I can't help but be optimistic that people will more thoughtful and intelligent than that. It'll probably be my undoing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Draft 'em all and let the Neo-Cons sort 'em out

Yikes kites! Don't read the comments section under today's WSJ article about people speaking out against military ads at public high schools if you're not prepared to be nauseated. Just to get you up-to-date, the issue at hand is whether or not it's right (and indeed, whether it goes against school policy) to have US Army ads posted next to the scoreboards in public high school gyms and stadiums.

I already explained how I feel about the matter, but I think it bears further study and thought.

I'll start with the more inflammatory side of the pro-ad party. Here are a few gems from the comments section:

"Wow - how progressive of these people to protest the very organization that gives them the freedom to protest." (isn't that one of the essential ingredients of a healthy democracy?)

"If the protesters truly belived[sic] in doing right by children, they would focus their efforts on raising awareness for adoption and reducing abortion in the US instead of protesting to thwart the efforts of people braver then they are who fight to give them the right to spew idiotic rhetoric."

"If it weren't for the military, we would corresponding in German or Japanese right now, if we had the right to express our opinion at all. I really wonder how 'Peace Activists' hope to achieve peace, without strength."

"As a military-member, it scares me to think that one of those bleeding-heart liberals might end up in the foxhole next to me...
we don't need any cowards or pansies to be drafted into our ranks."

All that vitriol loaded with fallacy makes my brain and my heart hurt. Is it even worth it to dignify these sorts of empty rhetoric-filled arguments with a response? Heck, I guess I'm a glutton for punishment, so I'll give it a go.

First off, stop comparing the current war with World War II. They are in no way analogous, and to bring up the whole "we'd be speaking German or Japanese right now" argument is pure ridiculousness. WWII was what it was--a necessary horror (because the best a war can ever be is a necessary horror) to rid the world of some of the greatest evil it had ever known. How on Earth are you going to compare it to the Iraq War? We knew Hitler and the Emperor were up to no good and we had solid proof: millions killed or displaced, invasions of sovereign countries, genocidal policies, etc. etc. We worked hand-in-hand with a serious and dedicated bunch of countries and the Allies were, in fact, greeted as liberators pretty much everywhere they went.

Iraq? We had a vague notion that Saddam might be in possession of WMDs (completely debunked by an official government report, no less), a notion based on extremely faulty intelligence that experts in the intelligence community even knew was bogus, and we had a president with some cowboy grudge against the man who tried to kill his daddy. We had a population that was grateful for the initial ouster of a terrible dictator, but that we then thoroughly screwed over by handing the rebuilding process over to corrupt contractors and greedy politicians. And yes, by underestimating the military size and strength that would be needed to properly contain the threat. It was a poorly planned, poorly executed debacle that has cost us the lives of thousands of good American men and women, not to mention countless numbers of Iraqi civilians.

THEY JUST DON'T COMPARE. So cut it out, already, because your argument does nothing to further your point and only serves to muddy the already murky waters surrounding the issue. The same goes for throwing abortion into the debate. What the hell does abortion have to do with military ads at public high schools? Cripes almighty people, stay focused!

And then we have the final comment, the "Liberals are all cowards and pansies and I don't want one of 'em next to me in a foxhole, damnit" thing. There's so much wrong with that statement that I'm not even sure where to begin. There's the blatant homophobia implicit in the use of the word "pansies," and the idea that anyone who identifies as a liberal is automatically a coward and anti-military. Someone skipped out on the their Logic 101 classes back in school.

Look, school district guidelines state that "
all military information be posted in school guidance offices." A gym or stadium scoreboard is not a guidance office. Of course, the argument goes that these ads are not recruitment materials, but what do you call a slogan and a phone number for the local recruiting office? Let me spell that out again: r-e-c-r-u-i-t-i-n-g office.

Again, I'm pretty sure it's a bad idea to place advertisements of any kind in our public schools, let alone ones for the military. Keep recruitment materials in the guidance office, where students can learn all the details about a potential military career with the help of a qualified counselor. Keep all of the insidious advertisements, military or otherwise, off school grounds.

Our public schools need better funding, and this is just one (very clear) example of why we need to do better by them. They shouldn't be tempted to accept advertising dollars so they can meet their budgetary needs, the state should be covering them. The right to a good, public education is one of the things that makes our country great, and we're failing ourselves and our fellow citizens by allowing things to deteriorate as they have. And judging by the comments from the WSJ article, I'd say we're in desperate need of better education all around.

Monday, November 5, 2007

We want YOU to put down that book and pick up this rifle

Yeah, OK, so that's an inflammatory title, but I can't help myself, I'm a blogger.

According to, a "group opposing military recruiting in schools plans a protest at the Madison Metropolitan School District's Board of Education meeting on Monday night." They're angry about ads for the US Army that have been placed on scoreboards in stadiums and gyms. (see a more in-depth article about it here)

I can see both sides of this. On the one hand, our schools are strapped for cash and, in order to raise funds, have begun to allow limited advertising at sporting events. Policies have been developed by the school board to "govern" the ads, and they say these meet with those standards.

In a perfect world, our public schools would be well-funded enough that they'd never even have to consider bringing in outside advertisements. I don't believe advertising of any kind has a place in public schools. Students have enough to think about during school and enough ads to deal with in the outside world without having to be bombarded with more while they're supposedly trying to learn. Sadly, that's too often the case, and sadly, our schools are underfunded.

I don't believe the military should have any special priveledges when it comes to being able to advertise or recruit on campus. If the school holds a job fair, then they should have access to a booth just like anyone. But it always bugged me that the local recruiter was free to glad hand with students during lunch at my high school (this was in Oklahoma, though I suspect lots of places have similar arrangements). We need to offer our students full disclosure, make sure they know all of their options and the full story behind each one. A recruiter is going to paint a rosy picture about military life that isn't necessarily the whole truth. Kids, especially those in tougher social and economic straits, should be aware of alternative options (making sure those options are available to them in the first place is a whole other can o' worms).

Back to those ads, though. Again it comes down to whether or not you believe grade schoolers should be exposed to advertisements on school grounds. I think it's a breach of our commitment to educate them in a safe, open environment.

I'm not anti-military. It is absolutely the right choice for some people to make and they provide an invaluable service to our country. Still, I think public schools are the wrong venue for spreading their message.

And a happy Guy Fawkes Night to you

Every year, on the evening of 5 November, the good citizens of the United Kingdom, New Zealand and the Canadian provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador celebrate what is known as Guy Fawkes Night (also Bonfire Night).

Celebrated to commemorate the failure of a plot by English Catholics to assassinate King James I, the tradition is to light bonfires and burn effigies of Guy Fawkes, one of the plots central conspirators. If you've seen or read "V for Vendetta," you may already be somewhat familiar with this little slice of history. It may be of interest to note that the use of the word "guy" to mean any ol' bloke comes from this tradition, having first been the name of the person, then the name of the oddly dressed effigies, and finally a way of referring to any man.

I'm somewhat amused that this continues to be a celebrated holiday, seeing as the thing happened back in 1605 and, I'd like to think, relations between Protestants and Catholics in the UK have improved somewhat since then. Still, I'm all for any excuse to light (safe, contained) bonfires and celebrate.

Fried cheese!On an unrelated note, I made a point to head down to the square this last Saturday to partake of the final outdoor farmer's market of the year. The fall colors were in full bloom, the sky was a beautiful shade of hard blue, and the smell of late autumn was in the air. I snapped a few pictures to commemorate the occasion, bought some of the delicious fried cheese ("juusto") from Brunkow's and did my best to enjoy what was likely one of the final fair-weather days of the year.

This weekend sees the return of the Madison Pop Festival, which Pitchfork was kind enough to write up on their website:

Andrew W.K. kicks off the festival on November 8 at UW's Great Hall. Then, November 9 brings showings of Daft Punk's Electroma and The Hip Hop Project as well as performances by Baby Teeth, Pale Young Gentlemen, Billy Harvey, La Bruja, Vid Libert, and Kazi. And finally, the November 10 events include a showing of Sigur Rós' Heima and performances by Bon Iver, Malajube, Murder by Death, the Selfish Gene, Common Loon, and Them, Roaringtwenties.
The festival is free, but even if it weren't it would still be worth checking out. I'll be there with bells on for some of it at least.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Keep your balls to yourself

OK, this just isn't cool. Drive-by paintballings? Seriously? Oh yeah, hilarious. Especially since, as anyone who's ever been paintballing will tell you, those things fucking hurt! And, when hit in a sensitive spot, they can be downright dangerous. Like the incident report mentions, a few inches lower on that girl's face and she could have literally lost an eye. Yeesh.

To the drive-by paintball guys: keep 'em to yourself. I know you think you're hot shit and all, but there is a time and a place for that, and it ain't in the wee hours of the morning from the backseat of your friend's fly ride. I hope all your toys are confiscated. It's just silly. We have enough real crime to deal with these days anyway. Now go, find a paintball facility and get your wannabe machismo rocks off there by getting owned by a bunch of kids out for their friends bar-mitzvah.

Griping aside, don't forget that tomorrow is the last outdoor market of the year! It makes me a little misty eyed. I can't believe it's already November. It seems like just yesterday I was peddling my butt off, up and down hills, through long hot stretches of cornfields and sleeping on gym floors. But here we are, Halloween passed and staring down the barrel of winter. Gotta enjoy the milder weather while it lasts! I'll see you tomorrow morning on the square....

(photo credit:

Compassion, but only sometimes

I'm very pleased to see that the Assembly moved two bills forward recently, both dealing with care for victims of sexual assault. The first bill apparently enjoys broad bipartisan support and will likely pass without much issue. That one deals with the forensic exams administered after an assault to collect DNA and other evidence against the assailant. It would take the burden of paying for them off of the victims and provide full state funding. I'm not sure how it was that we went so long without realizing that forcing the victim to pay for this essential service was a bad idea, but I'm extremely relieved to see it being rectified now, and with great support.

The second, more uncertain bill would "mandate that rape victims receive information about emergency contraception in all Wisconsin emergency rooms and have access to EC upon request."

Right on cue, however, social conservatives have their panties in a twist over that one, claiming that the bill would trample the rights of religious institutions (think St. Mary's).

AB 377 was referred to the Assembly Judiciary and Ethics Committee after the Senate vote, where an amendment was added in Sept. that would allow hospitals to refuse to comply with the law if it violated their religious or moral beliefs.

Pocan said in a statement that the amendment “nullifies” the bill, though amendment supporters have stated that it protects hospitals’ religious freedoms. State Rep. Frederick Kessler, D-Milwaukee, who co-sponsored AB377, said he was still hopeful the bill would pass the Assembly.

Ultimately, if any amendment were going to be added to this bill, I would suggest something a little less broad, but also something that allows places that oppose the use of contraception (like St. Mary's) a way out. For example, word it like this: "Any health care institution with religious or moral objections to the use of emergency contraceptives shall be required to provide information to victims of sexual assault about alternative places where EC can be procured, and provide transportation to said alternative at the patient's request."

Ultimately, I wish everyone would just get over themselves about the contraception issue. It's not abortion. There is no new life involved. Contraception and things like Plan B stop conception before it ever happens. No harm, no foul.

But I also realize that this issue won't resolve itself like that for a long while yet. While that frustrates me and many other pro-choice advocates to no end, we also need to be willing to make strong compromises along the way. The bill is a good one, and if we need to add an amendment that gets religious hospitals off the hook to get it passed, then so be it. The wording, however, needs to be precise and clear in that the option for EC must still be available to those in need and that your responsibility as a health care provider is to make sure they have easy access, even if that means driving them to the next hospital down the road (say, Meriter).
The Lost Albatross