Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Internet vacation

For the handful of people who graciously read my blog on a regular occasion, just a heads up that I'll be spending much of the rest of the week moving, which means only sporadic internet access (at best). That also means I probably won't be posting much, if anything, until Monday.

It also also means I'll probably start twitching and having night sweats by, say, Wednesday?

Anyhoo, until then, behave yourselves and stay classy!

Public access to public access matters

I'm not renewing my subscription to Charter's cable services when I move into my new apartment this week. After years of rate hikes, deceptive sign-on specials, and their push for the terrible so-called "Video Competition Act", I've decided to just give up. I don't want to deal with them anymore.

Still, it really pissed me off when I read about Charter's plans to move public access channels up into their digital tier of service.
Without a contract between Charter and Madison, the cable company was no longer required to keep the City Channel on channel 12 and chose to move it into a new "Public Affairs Neighborhood" that would include Wisconsin Eye and C-SPAN. As part of Charter's digital service, the City Channel will still be available to basic and expanded cable customers, but a cable digital converter box from Charter is required. Charter will provide the device for free for six months, after which a $2 monthly charge might apply.
Great, so now in addition to stripping PEG funding, they're going to move all those pesky public channels up into the deep, dark recesses of their digital access tier.

The act was supposed to allow for greater competition and lower prices, but a new study released shows that that's not really the case. In fact, the opposite is often true, and people are having to pay more for a service that, more and more, doesn't include their public access channels.

This is ridiculous. The airwaves were established as belonging to the public, with cable companies and stations leasing them out with the understanding that they must devote part of their programming and service to the public well-being. Public access channels bring valuable coverage of local politics, news, and culture--things that are otherwise poorly represented on other stations. Like good local newspapers, local stations are part of the essential framework of an open and informed society, providing a non-corporate, cheap/free means of dispensing information to citizens.

Speak up and let Charter know that this move, and its various other offenses, will not be tolerated: contact the state's Consumer Protection at 1-800-422-7128 or online.

h/t: Caffeinated Politics.

Monday, July 28, 2008

And I'm spent


Really, that's about all that needs to be said. But I'll go on anyway: what an amazing weekend. I am so, so grateful to so many people, I don't quite know where to begin. 422 of 'em paid money and came to see the show, and from the incredibly loud and enthusiastic sounds they were making, I suspect that they all enjoyed themselves. Which fills me with so much joy.

We managed to run a pretty smooth tech beforehand, which, as someone who has done theatre for some years, I recognize as a bit of an anomaly. We even had time for dinner before the doors opened. All of the performers were amazing, the emcee seriously rocked the house, I actually managed to be in one of the acts and then just sit back and enjoy the rest of the show, and we turned a profit. Holy shit, right?!

My heartfelt thanks to the Madison community and everyone who came out to support these talented performers and the performing arts scene in general. It was a resounding success, and I'm still not entirely sure how I managed to pull it off. I had help, of course, and should I ever do this sort of thing again, I will make sure to have even more help. But still, wow.

Expect photos and possibly some video of the whole shindig in the future, but for now, I'll just point you to a few fine shots taken by one of our performers, the lovely Olive Talique of Cherry Pop Burlesque.

And on a completely unrelated note, should you feel so compelled to do so, you can vote for my silly little blog in the Blogger's Choice Awards, which are linked in my sidebar. I'd be much obliged (I don't have any illusions of winning, but it's fun, nonetheless).

Photo by Timothy Hughes.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The one-man-band is overrated

I suppose "one-woman-band" would be more accurate in my case, but anyway...

This is the last time I will plug my show, I promise: Saturday, July 26th at 8:00PM, get your butts out to the Majestic Theatre in downtown Madison for the rrrreally big sheeew - "Hot Mess! the best in Midwest drag kings and burlesque." It's just $10, anyone 18 years of age and older can get in, and I guarantee you won't be disappointed.

To say that organizing, producing and promoting a show of this size pretty much all on your own is a bit exhausting is, well, the understatement of the year. I honestly didn't know what I was getting myself into when I decided to undertake this little project. I'm kind of glad I was clueless, though, because then I likely wouldn't have gone through with it.

You see, this whole idea got started late last year after I had the great pleasure of attending and performing at the International Drag King Extravaganza in Vancouver, Canada. I'd never actually done any drag king performance prior to that, but through my sister and a group of her friends in Chicago, I was asked to take part. I'm so glad I did, too. I'd always wanted to visit Vancouver anyway, and though it was to be a whirlwind weekend tour, I didn't want to miss out on my chance. Plus, the wildly diverse and creative bunch of people at the event were amazing and friendly. The acts were spectacular--there was so much talent on display, and it came in all shapes, colors, and sizes.

Basically, the whole thing inspired the hell out of me. I wanted to bring our own act back to the Midwest. I started kicking the idea around, and in the process I met the Mad Kings, Madison's own drag king troupe. They'd been stuck out at a dimly lit club venue for their performances, and I began to think of combining some of their acts with our own into a fun, small show--finding a better venue to showcase their stuff in the process. But then I went to Milwaukee for Kingstock, and I saw the Miltown Kings perform. "They should be part of my show, too!" went my fevered brain.

And it was at that critical mass that my plans started growing like crazy. If we had people from Chicago and Milwaukee coming, Madison needed more representation! I'd seen and enjoyed Cherry Pop Burlesque before, and happened to have a passing acquaintance with one of its stars, Olive Talique (aka the lovely Angela Richardson). I went ahead and popped the question, and a few of them agreed to participate in my hairbrained scheme. After that, I added Foxy Veronica's Peach Pies, another local burlesque style group, and my dear friends Irma & DeeDee to the line-up as well. Now we just needed a good venue.

My first thought was of the Majestic Theatre. Recently rennovated into a really classy space with good lighting and good sound, I thought it might just be the exact right fit for what we needed. I worked up my sales pitch and went in. Amazingly, possibly improbably, they agreed to let me, a relatively unknown quantity, rent the space for a Saturday evening. After my initial wave of joy had passed, I realized that I now had the somewhat daunting task of filling up a 600 capacity theatre.


But this was important. I had a fantastic line-up of incredibly talented performers ready to come out and strut their best stuff. I wanted to make sure they got the audience they deserved. But a good PR campaign ain't easy, especially when you're working out of your own small pockets. So I called in favors, made my dollars spread out as far as they'd go, and worked my networks as hard as I could. I was a PR machine. I'm really hoping that all of that work pays off tomorrow night, but regardless, it has certainly been quite the learning experience.

The biggest lesson in all of this, though? Delegate. Doing nearly everything on my own was not, perhaps, the best course of action. My health and mental well-being have both suffered noticably. I think the only thing that saved me from complete meltdown was assistance from a few good friends, who graciously agreed to design our posters for free, house some of the out-of-town performers, and serve as lines of contact with others. God bless them, every one.

Now I've done pretty much everything that can be done prior to the day of the show. Tomorrow we run a dry tech, cross our fingers, and then rock. Come Sunday afternoon, I expect to be curled up in a ball somewhere, nursing a bottle of rum, and thinking of nothing but sweet, blissful sleep (if only--I have to move apartments next week).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dey took er jerbs!

Through a series of Wikipedia-like random link clicks, I managed to land over at Widgerson Library & Pub, where I read a post by Deb Jordahl addressing Madison's recent fall from Money Magazine's "Top Places to Live" good graces.

We're still in the top 100, which is good, but we've fallen from our #1 slot in 1996 to #53 two years ago, and now, all the way to #89. Certainly, there are some interesting statistics cited by the magazine that point to problems in the city: lower math and reading tests scores than the national average, higher property taxes, and an increase in personal and property crime. These are all troubling statistics, and things of which I think/hope most Madisonians are aware.

As pointed out in the Wisconsin State Journal's op-ed about the ranking, though, it's important to be willing to take a hard look at our city and its various problems. It's also important, as they go on to note, not to place too much stock in the ever-changing qualifications for the rankings in the magazine. Madison may have dropped from its lofty heights on the list, but it's still in the top 100 out of tens of thousands of cities in the country.

Over at the Library & Pub, however, a much more dire picture is being painted, one where Madison is slipping into a dark abyss. The blame for this perceived state of affairs is placed squarely on the shoulders of "liberal policies" and "illegal immigrants," which is nothing particularly new. What's interesting is that this line of reasoning remains so persistent, even though 1) Madison still made the top 100, 2) the causes of slips in testing scores, employment opportunities, crime levels, and property taxes are many, varied and complex, and 3) there are pretty much no solid statistics or studies to back up their claims.

Do some immigrants sometimes commit crimes? Yes. Do some citizens also sometimes commit crimes? Yes. Will blanket anti-immigrant policies solve the crime problem? No, and they would likely just create a climate of fear and xenophobic nationalism, which is about as un-American as you can get.

The fact is that Madison has grown substantially in population and area over the last ten years, and coupled with the current national economic downturn, that's logically going to bring growing pains. We can't afford to ignore the problems, but we also can't afford to give knee-jerk responses to them. Pointing accusatory fingers at immigrants or liberals (or conservatives) isn't going to solve much of anything. We need to work together, and especially with those communities and populations most effected by the changes, to come up with comprehensive strategies that address not only the symptoms, but, more importantly, the root causes of the problems.

A larger gap between the wealthy and the working and middle classes, higher food and fuel costs, larger populations straining educational systems, less funding for school and community programs, and even pollution can all contribute to the things listed in the rankings. We need creative, compassionate, intelligent, and no-nonsense approaches to dealing with these various factors--not name calling, entitlement, resentment, selfishness or feelings of superiority.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Hot Mess on the radio and on the stage

Crash and Justin, two members of Madison's drag king troupe (the Mad Kings), joined me to record an interview with the always affable Lee Rayburn over at the Mic (92.1FM) early this morning. You can tune in and listen to the interview tomorrow morning at about 7:30AM, or check in at their website later in the day to download the podcast.

Learn all about drag king culture, performance, the thorough queering of gender, and the big show this Saturday! And then be sure to come check it out--seriously, it's going to be tons of fun, and possibly educational, too.

I've been eating, sleeping and breathing this thing for the past few months, turning myself into a one-woman show organizer, producer, and promoter. I don't recommend it. I'm going to need some serious downtime when this is all said and done, but I'd definitely say it's been worth it. A learning experience, to be sure.

Why the "clever" name calling needs to stop

Not that I suspect this plea will fall on anything but deaf ears, but I have to say, I'm sick and tired of reading all of the various oh-so clever names that bloggers and such like to use to express their distaste for someone or something.

For example:
  • Madistan - wow, Madison is totally like a country in the Middle East! And all countries in the Middle East are totally awful!
  • Repuglican/Rethuglican - as frustrated as I get with many people who associate themselves with the Republican party, I recognize that they're not all terrible people, and that calling them names like this isn't exactly going to make them more sympathetic to me or my arguments.
  • Democrat Party - It's called the Democratic Party, folks, much as you may dislike it. This is not clever, it's just dumb.
  • Barack Hussein Obama - First off, do the folks who insist on spelling out his full name every damn time also do the same for every other famous person they mention? No? What a surprise! Don't try to argue with me that you're not doing it to be offensive, or because you don't think simply having the middle name Hussein makes you just like Sadam. Hussein, as far as I'm aware, is about equivelent to the name John in the Middle East in how common it is.
  • The Chimp - I am by no means any kind of fan of George W. Bush, but referring to him with stupid nicknames like this doesn't do anyone any good, and makes you look like a preschooler. There are many, many valid points to be made about his policies and actions that don't involve name-calling.
There are more, of course, and I seem to come across a new one every day. I'm tired of them. I may be guilty of having fallen into this trap in the past, but I've long since been making a concerted effort to leave the ad hominem attacks and blatant jingoism out of my vocabulary. I don't care which side of the debate you're on--stupid nickname's and other such insults only hurt your arguments. Ultimately, aren't we all trying to find a better way? To convince those we disagree with that maybe our ideas would work better? And to remain open to new approaches to things, so that we don't necessarily get mired down in our own, stubborn ideaology?

Perhaps that's a bit too idealistic of me. There are certainly people out there who are more interested in generating hits, ad revenue, and bigger paychecks / fame than they are in fostering real, constructive debate. But I have to think that there are just as many, if not more, people out there looking to change some hearts and minds, and to learn a few things themselves.

I thought we were all supposed to have learned that name-calling is useless and mean back in, say, kindergarten. Apparently some of us have since forgotten that valuable lesson.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The world is filled with boobs

I'm glad to see that cooler heads (eventually) prevailed in this whole debacle...
In a decision that clears CBS of any wrongdoing for airing the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show that featured Janet Jackson's infamous “wardrobe malfunction,” a federal appeals court overturned the $550,000 fine that the Federal Communications Commission levied against the station, calling the fine arbitrary and capricious.
...because 1) it really did strike me as a case of the FCC being a tad overzealous under pressure from a few particularly loud objectors, and 2) it was a friggen boob! Seriously, what is our obsession with so-called "indecency"? The media can show and/or glorify violence, ED drugs, and ridiculous gossip, but allow a split second shot of a woman's half-exposed nipple? End of the world as we know it.

I suppose I could go and blame the Puritan heritage of our country, or Queen Victoria, or the likes of good ol' Anthony Comstock - and I'm sure all of that and more has played into our country's overall aversion to the naked human body. But it's 2008, and we've had plenty of time to get reacquainted with the idea that nudity (and sexuality) isn't inherently sinful. And yet, we still have ridiculous incidents like this one, where one moment of exposed breast becomes more outrageous, more offensive to us than, say, the blood and gore of most modern crime dramas, or the thousands of dead and wounded coming home from war, or our civil liberties and basic freedoms being systematically stripped and given away.

None of that seems to matter so much to the Julaine Appling's of the world, who would ban women from even breastfeeding in public--so uncomfortable (and tingly) does the sight of a bared bosom seem to make them.

Really, though, our collective hysteria over the human form has gone to such extremes that I'm almost inclined to believe that it's partially a knee-jerk reaction to distance ourselves as much as possible from those dirty Europeans, who don't take nearly so much issue with what Americans would deem "obscenity."

Here's an idea: maybe if we stopped making such a big deal out of it, it would become less of a big deal. Maybe we should spend more time saving the children from violence, hunger, oppression and environmental destruction, and less time attempting to shield them from boobs. Well, the kind attached to adult females, anyway.

Can I get a rim shot, please?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Sunday Brunch: One (wo)man band

I can play the drums and sing at the same time, which I happen to think is a pretty cool skill (I enjoy it, anyway). Still, I have limits. This lady? She does not seem to know what limits are, and the result is totally rad:

Plus, it's a good song. It's win-win.

Friday, July 18, 2008

We have pride in Madison

The rumors about the death of Pride in Madison have been greatly exaggerated.

While most cities celebrate Gay Pride in June, Madison (perhaps unsurprisingly) likes to march to the beat of its own, unique drummer and get their festivities on in July. Specifically, this weekend. There has been much said of the major tumble taken by the Madison Pride organization, wherein their now former bookkeeper did a not-so-legit job of keeping said books. Because of that debacle, this year's events hosted by the group have been scaled back considerably.

Still, I have to give kudos to them for sticking with it and making something happen despite the trouble. Madison Pride has done a good job of providing the more family and politically oriented GLBTQ celebrations of years past, and I'm hopeful that they'll see their way through the mess and grow bigger and better in the future.

It's definitely worth noting, however, that this door closing has lead to an impressively opened window. Liz Tymus of indie Queer fame, plus a gaggle of other dedicated folks, have put together an awesome weekend of Pride festivities that may very well foreshadow the future of this high holiday of queerness in Madison. While it's important to maintain the more traditional celebrations, it's great to see that a new generation of queer and queer-friendly people are continuing to carry the banner, creating newer and more diverse celebrations that help to elevate every corner of the community. After what seemed like a long dry spell for gay friendly events and organizations around Madison, the last couple of years have seen a welcome upswing--from Patrick Farabaugh and the founding of Our Lives Magazine, to the rise of indie Queer, to the opening of Woof's, and the Majestic being so accomodating to queer events, things are looking up.

So while getting your Pride on is much less confined to just one weekend these days, it's good to know that the big celebration will never die. In fact, it seems to be growing up and branching out, which is most welcome.

Happy Pride!

P.S. Yours truly is also doing her best to contribute by throwing what promises to be one of the coolest events of the summer. Find out more by clicking on that fancy banner to the right of this text, and then come out to the Majestic next Saturday! Seriously, it'll be worth it if for nothing else than to see me freaking right the fuck out over organizing and producing something of this magnitude, pretty much all on my own.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

In defense of dane101

Full (and very obvious) disclosure: I've been a regular contributor to dane101.com for a couple of years now, and I'm rather fond of the little collaborative-blog-that-could. So it's likely to be with an extra amount of bias that I come to its defense when attacked. Also, I'm exhausted and a little cranky. So, you've been warned.

Over at Fearful Symmetries, Palmer takes aim and fires a series of salvos over dane101's bow. Among some of the many issues he seems to have lately taken with the site are its perceived lack of hard political coverage, the inclusion of personal essays, and a lack of diversity.

I have to give credit where credit is due: we don't always do a good job of covering everything that deserves covering. The Madison area is itself more than a bit diversity hungry when it comes to media, so it's not a huge surprise that dane101 sometimes suffers the same fate. I have to say, though, that compared to some of the more mainstream news and culture outlets, and especially when you consider that dane101 is entirely volunteer run, we do a pretty damn fine job.

If articles are skewed a bit toward the twenty-something crowd, that's because most of the writers we're able to attract are in their twenties. But dane101 is always open to new contributors--young, old, middle-aged, black, white, and everything else. Perhaps the author roster is simply reflective of the demographics of internet-surfing Madison, or maybe it's a chicken-and-egg scenario: if we covered a wider variety of subjects, would a wider variety of authors come out to help? Or vice versa?

My main beef with Palmer's post is that, in all of his complaining, he fails to mention that he, too, once wrote for dane101. And then stopped without warning. That's fine--contributors move on all the time, we have lives, and some have even landed more lucrative (see: paid anything at all) writing gigs. But he doesn't seem to recognize that that's exactly what happens all the time, and that it makes it difficult to maintain consistent coverage of anything when there's such constant turn-over.

In fact, I suspect that much of the griping that I've heard leveled against dane101 is the product of a similar misperception. Are some of the criticisms valid? Absolutely, and any publication/organization worth its salt should be open to them so that they can learn and improve. But I can't help but get a little miffed when said criticism is misplaced, or when it doesn't include possible solutions or offers for help. The people who run dane101 are attempting to provide a community service, to give something back, and to provide information and activities that might be valuable to their friends, neighbors, and strangers. Why tear an effort like that down? What good does that do anyone? Instead, why not attempt to help improve it, or even start your own version that may (or may not) be an improvement?

We need to and are constantly striving to include a wider variety of subject matter and opinions on the site. We could certainly use more contributions from people who are in Dane County but not necessarily in Madison. We could use more of everything, really. So the question becomes, if a site like dane101 is valuable enough for you to read and critique, is it not then valuable enough for you to contribute to in some way?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bicycle thieves go to the special hell

Perhaps in connection with the sluggish economy, perhaps with skyrocketing gas prices, perhaps any combination thereof, bicycle thefts seem to be increasing exponentially here in Madison (and probably elsewhere, too).

The stolen-and-recovered $8,000 bike story is more humorous cautionary tale than anything, but it's worth mentioning. And all one needs to do is troll the Madison craigslist bicycle listings to see other tales of woe. Plus, there's a whole thread on the Daily Page forums dedicated to the phenomenon.

Theft of almost any kind is wrong (I'll make exceptions for the Jean Valjean variety of bread stealing), but I hold a special malice toward those who take bicycles.

Thing is, there are so many programs that provide cheap, decent bikes to people in need, and plenty of second hand shops that sell them for next to nothing, that there's little excuse for the practice. I suspect that, rather than some real need, most bicycle thieves are in it for one of two reasons: stupidity, and/or greed.

And with the way the economy is going these days, petty crime in general is, perhaps unsurprisingly, on the rise. Bike theft is probably just one facet of a larger problem, but I admit that it provokes an especially strong reaction in me. I suspect, too, that I'm not alone in feeling this way. People ride bicycles for all kinds of reasons--recreation, transportation, fitness--and people ride all sorts of bikes. No matter if its a $20 Huffy or a $3,000 Trek Madone, stealing someone's bike is just as bad as stealing their car. To me, it's almost worse.

There are lots of folks who rely on their bikes to get them to and from work, to the grocery store, and to all sorts of other crucial places. On top of that, anyone who rides is, in at least a small way, helping to alleviate problems like air pollution and traffic congestion. Stealing bikes flies in the face of efforts that benefit everyone.

To compound this problem, it appears as though the Madison Police Department doesn't take bicycle theft in a manner that could be called "serious." I understand that there are more pressing matters on their plates than when someone forgets to lock up their beater bike and it gets nabbed. But many stolen bikes are taken by force, through someone cutting a lock and making off, bandit-like, with something that is, oftentimes, a person's main mode of getting around. This should be taken a little more seriously--at least as much as when someone's car is stolen.

Sadly, that doesn't currently seem to be the case. Bicycles are still seen by too many people as toys, as something silly that certain people ride, but certainly nothing worth serious attention. Hopefully, with fuel prices going crazier by the day and concerns over climate change increasing, more and more people will begin to look at the bicycle in a different, more positive light. And maybe they'll start taking bike theft a little more seriously, too.

In the meantime, there are steps you can take to protect your ass:
  • Register your bike with the city. It's just $10 for a 4-year registration, and it will increase the likelihood that, should your bike be stolen and recovered, you'll get it back. It's not a foolproof plan, but it helps.
  • Keep your bike in a secure, indoor location if at all possible.
  • If you don't have an indoor place to stash your ride, invest in a heavy-duty lock. Check out consumersearch.com's reviews and recommendations for the best ones.
  • If your bike is nabbed, keep an eye on the aforementioned Madison craigslist page, as it's not entirely unlikely that it may pop up there, and you'll be able to track down the thief.
  • Push for better, properly installed bike racks at local businesses and on city property. And remember: not all bike racks are created equal. Also, look for places that provide bike lockers. There are several places around the city that do (certain city parking garages, and I think the Terrace--if anyone knows of other locations, please say so in the comments section).
There are also several good resources for bicycling in Wisconsin on the net that you should consider checking out:
It's also important to remember to be a conscientious cyclist, obeying appropriate laws, wearing proper safety gear (I don't care if you hate what it does to your precious hair, WEAR A HELMET), and generally not being a jerk. Too many motorists already harbor an irrational hatred of cyclists, so there's no reason to give them rational reasons, too.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Not required to rescue

This is interesting:
A federal civil rights lawsuit filed against Dane County and a former 911 dispatcher by the parents of homicide victim Brittany Zimmermann should be dismissed because the county has no constitutional obligation to protect individuals from the acts of others, a response to the lawsuit states.


According to the brief for the dismissal motion, the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has said the U.S. Constitution "does not require municipalities to rescue persons in distress." Further, the court said negligence or gross negligence "cannot be the basis for a constitutional violation."
I'm about as far as you can get from being a Constitutional scholar, but my gut is telling me two things here: 1) that the county may be right in that the Constitution does not require governments to provide competent rescue services to its citizens, but that 2) regardless of what has been established by the court, this is a shitty, shitty thing for the county (or any government) to say.

Perhaps the federal lawsuit wasn't the correct course of action for the parents to take in this case, but I think it's pretty clear that serious mistakes were made by both the 911 center and the county officials who dealt with the press and the aftermath. And though nothing can change what happened or make Brittany Zimmermann's parents feel much better, it does seem like some sort of lawsuit is in order here.

It should be a bit of a wake-up call for all of us, though, to read that Dane County doesn't believe it has any real obligation to provide emergency services to its citizens. And if it does deign to provide them, it needn't do so "competently." There is something very wrong with that mentality. If citizens weren't contributing anything to the government--no taxes, no votes, etc.--then this might make more sense. As it stands, though, it's far from comforting to know that the county has so little regard for our safety.

h/t: mal contends at Uppity Wisconsin

UPDATE: On a related note, this potentially intriguing bit of news just popped up on TCT regarding a possible connection between a man recently arrested on kidnapping and sexual assault charges, and the murder of Brittany Zimmermann.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Third party candidates and you

I have a confession to make. I voted for Nader in 2000. Having recently turned 18, it was the first presidential election for which I could vote, and to say it was a memorable way to enter the voting arena would be quite the understatement.

Thing was, I rather liked Al Gore, but at the time he wasn't presenting himself as a terribly inspiring candidate, and I was chomping at the bit for a viable third party. Plus, I didn't believe that anyone in their right mind would vote for George W. Bush. The man could barely string together a coherent sentence, had ducked out of his armed services duties, and represented what looked very much like the continuation of a dynasty--something that struck me as decidedly un-American.

Needless to say, I was terribly, terribly wrong about how the election would turn out. For some unfathomable reason, people actually did vote for George W. Bush. There were also some vote counting shenanigans, and everything combined to form the perfect storm of gross disappointment. We've been paying for that messed up election ever since.

And I've taken a lot of shit for voting Nader. That's fine, I can take it. Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of the man anymore, as he appears to be going increasingly off the deep end. Still, I will defend my decision. If there's any blame to be handed out for "splitting the vote" in 2000, it should be placed firmly on the shoulders of the "Jews for Buchanan" phenomenon in Florida, and more importantly, on a Supreme Court that decided to favor expediency over accuracy.

But back to third parties and their candidates. I was just reading about the Green Party's nomination of former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney to be their presidential candidate. McKinney strikes me as a fairly solid individual, with views and goals that line up fairly well with my own. Between that and me being a strong proponent of the importance of third parties in any political system, you'd think I'd be ready to vote Green come this November. You'd be wrong.

It's no secret that I'm an Obama supporter. I also don't make it a secret that I've disagreed with some of the positions he's taken. Still, I like him and the team he brings along infinitely more than McCain. And if the 2000 elections taught me anything, it's that you should never underestimate your opponents. Thanks to the disastrous policies of the Bush administration (and, to be fair, the policies of past presidencies as well), I believe our country has little wiggle room when it comes to these next few years. Several crucial decisions and actions need to be made regarding incredibly important issues like climate change, health care, the economy and global security.

We can't take any chances this time.

That doesn't mean I plan to go out of my way to ridicule people who may choose to vote for a third party candidate. This is my choice to make, as it is theirs.

Honestly, though, I wish the third parties would focus more on local and regional elections first, working to build their bases from the ground up before attempting to tackle national office. Still, there is merit in running a presidential candidate, in that they help bring up crucial issues that the major candidates might not otherwise address. This only works, of course, if the media decide to give them coverage, and allow them into debates. Ultimately, that seems to be the biggest sticking point, and it makes the viability of third party candidates into a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure. It's hard to convince people to vote for you when they don't know who you are or what you stand for, and it's hard to convince the media to give you face time when people don't typically vote for you. That's got to change.

For now, though, I'm choosing to support Obama not simply because I want to hedge my bets and avoid helping to "split the vote" - but because, after all the research I've done, he still strikes me as the best current candidate for the job. And really, instead of basing our decisions on perceived party viability, isn't that what we should all be doing?

Friday, July 11, 2008

In our own backyards

If this is essentially a case of "not in my backyard," it fails pretty hard:
The Madison Community Development Authority in a 4 to 1 decision on Thursday voted against using the former ROTC building as a mixed use development that would provide longterm housing for homeless with disabilities & mental health issues.
No matter how hard we might try to sweep the problem under the proverbial rug, homelessness and mental illness exist. Simply denying those afflicted with these problems a safe place to stay and seek treatment, maybe because you feel like it's too close to your home for comfort, doesn't make the problem go away. Heck, now instead of being in a nearby building, under supervision and getting help, they're probably more likely to actually end up in your backyard. Or under a bridge. Or in a park shelter.

And the band played on

I'm going to point you over to Griper Blade's commentary on the FISA debacle, because he says pretty much everything I would say, only much more eloquently.

Yes, I'm still seething about this. And I have a hard time understanding why this isn't bigger news, and why more people aren't absolutely up in arms about it. Have so many of us really become that complacent?

The ACLU, at least, has not, and have already filed a big fat lawsuit against the government for passing the bill. I urge you to at least sign on to support the action, if nothing else. This is an issue that goes well beyond partisan politics, especially since it was both Democrats and Republicans who voted to pass the amendment.

Frankly, it'd be more than a little refreshing to see people defending the 4th amendment as vehemently as they do the 2nd.

Oh and while you're at it, be sure to send a great big thank-you to the Senators who did try to do the right thing, and voted against this nonsense: Akaka, Biden, Bingaman, Boxer, Brown, Byrd, Cantwell, Cardin, Clinton, Dodd, Dorgan, Durbin, Feingold, Harkin, Kerry, Klobuchar, Lautenburg, Leahy, Levin, Menendez, Murray, Reed, Reid, Sanders, Schumer, Stabenow, Tester, Wyden.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Community gardens and garden communities

In an effort to momentarily suppress my frustration and dismay over yesterday's FISA amendment vote, I'm distracting myself with a far, far more positive story.

Madison has long been known as a green-leaning city, having several community garden projects and farmer's markets and other such neighborhood improvement efforts. We're not perfect, and there's always room for improvement, but perhaps because we've never been a particularly industrial city, these sorts of ideas have been around for a good long while.

That isn't really the case with Detroit. The Motor City, once a shining metropolis of industry, has, in more recent decades, been abandoned by corporate interests and left to rot away on the shores of Lake St. Clair. Personally, I've heard little else about Detroit than that huge swaths of it are rapidly decaying, that crime is rampant, and that no one seems interested in investing in its future. In short, the story seems pretty grim.

And yet, some enterprising residents have decided that they're not ready to give up on their city. They've recognized something somewhat unique and full of promise in the midst of the urban decay: green space, nature slowly taking back the factories and empty homes, even pheasants wandering through inner city fields.

What they've decided to do with all that abandoned space is, plainly put, inspiring.

I watched this short doc about Detroit's citizen's efforts to help neighbors start their own gardens, all in an effort to alleviate what has become a "food dessert" in their neighborhoods--that is, there are no major grocery chains in the entire city, only fast food joints and expanded liquor stores, and it's extremely difficult for people to get fresh produce and other good-for-you food.

It led me to the Garden Resource Program Collaborative (a group that includes the Detroit Agriculture Network, Earthworks Garden/Capuchin Soup Kitchen, The Greening of Detroit and Michigan State University), which provides very affordable seeds, starter plants, information and tutorials to any interested person or group within the city. Slowly but surely, organizations like these are helping to reclaim the empty spaces for productive, green, sustainable purposes, breathing life back into a city all but declared dead by the rest of the country.

No doubt it will be a long, uphill battle - all good causes are - but the important thing is that they're doing it, and making it work. They're helping to empower residents long neglected by the big corporations and corrupt or inept governments. And just as importantly, they're helping to provide a healthy, sustainable food source. That's something we should all be working toward.

Any city, large or small, could stand to take a cue from these groups in Detroit. Urban infill as an idea has been around for some time now, and frankly, I think its proponents are on to something. In order to cut down on sprawl, the depletion of natural resources, waste run-off and the paving over of wetlands, etc., we need to focus on making our cities better, leaving the countryside for agriculture that can support surrounding areas, and open space simply to support nature. This also cuts down on transportation costs and the associated pollution, as our food sources become increasingly more localized. Gas ain't getting any cheaper, after all.

I'm both encouraged and impressed by the efforts in Detroit. I have family that live in the area, and I've seen first-hand just how devastated and neglected the city has become. It's good to know that there are still people out there who care, and who are working hard to make real, long-term improvements. Outside help would, of course, be useful, but this strikes me as a good example of locals taking the initiative to improve their lives and their communities. Ultimately, that's what it's all about.

You can read more about the Detroit community garden and sustainability programs here and here.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Mr. Feingold goes to Washington, and owns it

There is one facet of being a progressive in Wisconsin that is pretty much always good: having Russ Feingold as our representative in the Senate. Today, regardless of the outcome of the FISA vote, I couldn't be more proud of him. Here is a citizen, an elected official with many and varied constituents to whom he must answer, standing up against powerful interests to fight for what is right.

I'll let his statement speak for itself:

Mr. FEINGOLD: Mr. President, I strongly support Senator Dodd’s amendment to strike the immunity provision from this bill, and I want to thank the Senator from Connecticut for his leadership on this issue. Both earlier this year when the Senate first considered FISA legislation and again this time around, he has demonstrated tremendous resolve on this issue, and I have been proud to work with him.

Now, Mr. President, some have tried to suggest that the bill before us will leave it up to the courts to decide whether or not to give retroactive immunity to the companies that allegedly participated in the President’s illegal wiretapping program. Make no mistake – this bill will result in immunity being granted, because it sets up a rigged process with only one possible outcome.

Under the terms of this bill, a federal district court would evaluate whether there is substantial evidence that a company received “a written request or directive … from the Attorney General or the head of an element of the intelligence community … indicating that the activity was authorized by the President and determined to be lawful.”

But, Mr. President, we already know from the report of the Senate Intelligence Committee that was issued last fall that the companies received exactly such a request or directive. That is already public information. So under the terms of this proposal, the court’s decision would be predetermined.

As a practical matter, that means that regardless of how much information the court is permitted to review, what standard of review is employed, how open the proceedings are, and what role the plaintiffs are permitted to play, the court will essentially be required to grant immunity under this bill.

Now, proponents will argue that the plaintiffs in the lawsuits against the companies can participate in briefing to the court. This is true, but they are not allowed access to any classified information. Talk about fighting with both hands tied behind your back. Mr. President, the administration has restricted information about this illegal wiretapping program so much that roughly 70 members of this chamber don’t even have access to the basic facts about what happened. So let’s not pretend that the plaintiffs will be able to participate in any meaningful way in these proceedings — in which Congress has made sure that their claims will be dismissed.

This result is extremely disappointing. It is entirely unnecessary and unjustified, and it will profoundly undermine the rule of law in this country. I cannot comprehend why Congress would take this action in the waning months of an administration that has consistently shown contempt for the rule of law – perhaps most notably in the illegal warrantless wiretapping program it set up in secret.

Mr. President, we hear people argue that telecom companies should not be penalized for allegedly taking part in this illegal program. What you don’t hear is that current law already provides immunity from lawsuits for companies that cooperate with the government’s request for assistance, as long as they receive either a court order or a certification from the Attorney General that no court order is needed and the request meets all statutory requirements. But if requests are not properly documented, FISA instructs the telephone companies to refuse the government’s request, and subjects them to liability if they instead decide to cooperate.

When Congress passed FISA three decades ago, in the wake of the extensive, well-documented wiretapping abuses of the 1960s and 1970s, it decided that, in the future, telephone companies should not simply assume that any government request for assistance to conduct electronic surveillance was appropriate. It was clear that some checks needed to be in place to prevent future abuses of this incredibly intrusive power – the power to listen in on people’s personal conversations.

At the same time, however, Congress did not want to saddle telephone companies with the responsibility of determining whether the government’s request for assistance was legitimate or not.

So Congress devised a system that would take the guesswork out of it completely. Under that system, which is still in place today, the companies’ legal obligations and liability depend entirely on whether the government has presented the company with a court order or a certification stating that certain basic requirements have been met. If the proper documentation is submitted, the company must cooperate with the request and is immune from liability. If the proper documentation has not been submitted, the company must refuse the government’s request, or be subject to possible liability in the courts.

This framework, which has been in place for 30 years, protects companies that comply with legitimate government requests while also protecting the privacy of Americans’ communications from illegitimate snooping.

Granting companies that allegedly cooperated with an illegal program the new form of retroactive immunity that is in this bill undermines the law that has been on the books for decades – a law that was designed to prevent exactly the type of abuses that allegedly occurred here.

Even worse, granting retroactive immunity under these circumstances will undermine any new laws that we pass regarding government surveillance. If we want companies to follow the law in the future, it sends a terrible message, and sets a terrible precedent, to give them a “get out of jail free” card for allegedly ignoring the law in the past.

Mr. President, just last week a key court decision on FISA undercut one of the most popular arguments in support of immunity — that we need to let the companies off the hook because the state secrets privilege prevents them from defending themselves in court. A federal court has now held that the state secrets privilege does not apply to claims brought under FISA. Rather, more specific evidentiary rules in FISA govern. Shouldn’t we at least let these cases proceed to see how this plays out, rather than trying to solve a problem that may not even exist?

And that’s not all. Mr. President, this immunity provision doesn’t just allow telephone companies off the hook. It also will make it that much harder to get to the core issue that I’ve been raising since December 2005, which is that the President broke the law and should be held accountable. When these lawsuits are dismissed, we will be that much further away from an independent judicial review of this illegal program.

On top of all this, we are considering granting immunity when roughly 70 members of the Senate still have not been briefed on the President’s wiretapping program. The vast majority of this body still does not even know what we are being asked to grant immunity for. Frankly, I have a hard time understanding how any Senator can vote against this amendment without this information.

I urge my colleagues to support the amendment to strike the immunity provision from the bill.
We need to hold our elected officials, and anyone who goes along with their illegal programs, accountable. Else how can we claim any moral authority in our own country, let alone the rest of the world? This is not some fringe pet project. This is a test of whether or not we, as United States citizens, really hold our constitution in any sort of regard.

You can still call to urge your own senators to support the immunity-stripping amendment. This handy tool, provided by Blue America, can help.

h/t: Listics

UPDATE: The votes have been counted on the Dodd-Feingold amendment to strip telecom immunity from the new FISA bill - 32 yay, 66 nay. That's 66 senators in serious need of a basic class in civics. And a sound voting out of office.

I don't like that I'm used to being disappointed by politics these days.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Good Point

Once again, I'm not surprised, but still I wanted to share the good point made by the UK's Daily Mail:

"[G8] Summit that's hard to swallow - world leaders enjoy 18-course banquet as they discuss how to solve global food crisis."

Same old hypocrisy, same old shit pile. It's like history never happens, and no one ever learns anything. Now, where's my fiddle....

Monday, July 7, 2008

Bizarre old laws and the homophobes who love them

Oh Julaine Appling, you are Wisconsin's biggest homophobe. You are so crazy about the gays, in fact, that I have seriously begun to suspect that some cute girl once broke your heart, and/or that your family life was terribly repressive, and you've never quite been able to recover. I think we could all sympathize with that more if, as a result, you hadn't become such a massive tool.

Last week, newspapers began reporting on an old, seldom-enforced Wisconsin law that says residents of this state cannot obtain marriages in other states that are illegal here. The penalty for breaking this law is a fine of $10,000 and up to 9 months in jail.

Yeah, it's pretty crazy.

I can only assume that the law was originally intended to be used in cases of incest and/or polygamy, but rabid anti-gay activists like Appling have a hard-on for seeing it applied to any Wisconsin couple that goes to California to get hitched and then returns.

While it's (thankfully) unlikely that any attorney would take up the issue to prosecute some unsuspecting gay couple, Appling and her ilk still seem intent on pressing it: ""If [the law] were challenged and the courts decided to basically wink at it, and refused to enforce the law, we have a problem."

Because 1) gay people getting married at all will destroy the world! and 2) Wisconsinsites getting married in California will destroy the world! Yeah, OK, whatever.

Hopefully, this particular chapter of the gay marriage debate in this state will turn out to be a relative non-issue. Unfortunately, however, there still remains a great deal of work to do to educate about and advance the cause of true equality for all. One of the biggest, craziest enemies of this cause is Appling and groups like the Wisconsin "Family" Council. Fingers pressed firmly into their ears and over their eyes, they seem hell-bent on conducting a self-righteous crusade against something that harms no one. All this while all manner of real problems are currently being faced by their friends and neighbors. A world of shame on them.

Please, would someone do us all a favor and tell Ms. Appling that those tingly feelings she has about other women are not wrong? This has gone on long enough.

(Case and point)

h/t: Illusory Tenant

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The green fairy

Happy holiday weekend everyone! I hope yours was fun, safe, and not too stressful. And hey, it's always good to remember why we're celebrating.

Me? I had a lovely weekend, full of bike rides and seeing good friends and, as fate would have it, learning how to drink absinthe.

Since absinthe (minus the thujone) has legally come back to the United States, all the "cool kids" have been scrambling to get their hands on some. This, apparently, included some friends of mine, who busted out their evil green bottle at a gathering this weekend. I was implored to document the occasion with my camera, and you can see the results here.

Basically, absinthe tastes a bit like ouzo, but it depends on what part of the glass you get: the first few sips filled my throat with burning, but the bits at the bottom were nice and sweet. Overall, it tastes like black liquorice. More importantly, though, it prompted several of my friends to make hilarious faces, which I made sure to capture.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Ode to the Madison police blotter

Most of the time, the incident reports put out by the Madison Police Department are dry and straight-forward affairs. Sometimes, however, whether it be due to a different author filling in or just the usual writer feeling a little extra saucy, the good citizen's of Madison are gifted with gems like this:
Also present in the PDQ at the time of the gun drop were three Town of Madison Police Officers. They were not near the cash register, but over near the area where one would glean a cup of coffee, and as such did not see the gun drop.
That's pure, blotter poetry right there.

On extra special days, though the report itself is pretty dry, we also get ridiculousness like screaming, naked men.

Mostly, however, I have to admit that I'm glad the blotter exists and is relatively easy to access. Beyond being a source of some entertainment, it's a valuable tool for keeping up with what's happening in our community. I can only hope that its various authors continue to take stabs into the literary dark from time to time, so that we might all glean a bit more from the story.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Private Parts

Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy when you're consensually gettin' down with your partner, in that they should then still have to ask for your permission to film or photograph you? That's the question being put to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, after a (now former) Waunakee High School chemistry teacher was convicted last year of filming his girlfriend, both alone and with him, in her own home but without her knowledge or consent.

His original trial brought a felony conviction, which in this case I suspect may be a bit too harsh, but certainly he deserved some form of punishment. To me, this seems like a pretty open-and-shut case: how on Earth are you going to argue, as this guy and his lawyers are, that a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy against recording simply because they agreed to have sex with you? It seems ridiculous, and yet here we are:
...in the only previously published case testing the law, the Court of Appeals defined "reasonable expectation of privacy" as meaning a circumstance in which the person depicted nude had a reasonable assumption that he or she was "secluded from the presence of others."

Because his girlfriend was knowingly nude in his presence, she did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy as the court itself has defined it, Jahnke argued.

The law to which the article refers is the "Video Voyuer" law, passed in 2001 as a response to the state supreme court declaring an earlier version unconstitutional. Again, while I'm not entirely sure this guy's case should be classified as a felony, I do strongly believe that what he did was wrong, and that there should be strict penalties associated with it. Furthermore, I'm having a hard time believing that anyone would defend his appeal here (or that a lawyer would take the case in the first place--but I guess getting paid is getting paid). Leave it to the comments section after the CT article to prove me wrong:
"What did she expect? IF it had been published, that would be another story."

"Say he has a photographic memory and has perfect recall of what she looks like without clothing. Alternatively say he has taped her surreptitiously in the raw, and watches it, but does not publish it or share with anyone else. One is illegal one is not?"

Oh humanity, sometimes you fail so spectacularly. Thankfully, however, most of the comments seem to fall along the same lines as my own: this is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Certainly, though, this whole thing brings up the larger issue of when and where we all have a "reasonable expectation of privacy." In this day and age of ultra small and portable recording devices, the all-seeing internet, surveillance cameras, and the good ol' paparazzi, how far is legally too far? It's a question I think we'll be wrestling with, sometimes quite dramatically, for a long time to come. In the meantime, if you're not a fan of being filmed without consent, stay out of London.
The Lost Albatross