Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Lost Albatross 2009 Year in Review

Can you smell that? It's the sweet n' sour aroma of change. The turning of the year is technically an arbitrary milestone, a mere turning of the Gregorian calendar and an excuse for manufacturers of cheap eye wear to peddle, in this case especially, some painfully tacky gear.

But in my case, the end of '09 and start of '10 really does mark a major shift, something worth noting, and (hopefully!) something worth celebrating.

Thing is, I can't tell you why just yet. But trust me when I tell you that it's going to mean a serious shift in focus for myself and for The Lost Albatross - and I'm crossing my fingers and working my butt off to see that it'll all be for the better. The "official announcement" should come mid-January, so please do check back. In the meantime, let's get to that time honored tradition of mixing navel-gazing with list-making and enjoy THE LOST ALBATROSS YEAR IN REVIEW ('09):

Quick Stats
  • Total site visits for the year: 22,843
  • Most clicked post: "Big losses for progressive talk radio in Madison" (494)
  • Top keywords: "emily mills" and "lost albatross" (people got here because they were actually looking for me - crazy!)
  • Weirdest keywords: "clever name calling," "norm fjelstad" (who?), "emo techno bands," "huffy albatross"
Personal favorites

2009 wasn't the kindest year on record in general, but for me personally I really can't complain too much. I joined/helped start a new band that's been nothing but awesome thus far, self-published by first novel, increased my freelance writing work, went on a fantastic mountain biking trip to Moab, threw two successful burlesque events, and hit the vaunted five year milestone with my fella. Not bad, I'd say.

The uptick in activities meant a falling off in blog content, though, which certainly isn't the end of the world (and you can actually expect a significant uptick in content next year, oddly enough). Still, there were some fascinating and infuriating topics covered this year.

The year started off with major shake-ups at Madison's progressive talk radio station, The Mic, including the loss of Lee Rayburn and serious public discontent. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, self-professed hater of government, officially decided to run for governor - a saga that will continue to play out until the elections next year. In April, the hilariously named Teabaggers descended upon Madison to wave grammatically and historically incorrect signs around for a little while. Wisconsin then (finally) passed a state-wide smoking ban, which goes into effect in July 2010. Major changes gripped the Common Council, and everyone marveled at Thuy Pham-Remmel's thoughtful, well-worded, and surprisingly concise speeches.

In August the bikes took over the streets for the first annual Ride the Drive event, which was, quite frankly, pretty cool. Throughout the latter half of the year, we watched as the Edgewater Hotel redevelopment process began to dominate public discourse--strange lobbying practices, immovable neighborhood associations, a mayor's single-minded quest. In the end, that particular proposal was cock blocked by both the Landmarks Commission and the Common Council, but it remains to be seen if its deathly specter might rise again.

At the beginning of November I began my tenure as the Isthmus Daily Page's newest regular blogger, something I'm hoping to continue in the new year. I also went to my first opera, where they forced me (OK, asked nicely) to sit in the lobby and blog for all the gawking masses to see and be baffled by.

So like I said, I've been pretty damn fortunate in that the Great Recession and general decline of the Roman...err...American society (due to all those people gay marrying terrorist abortions) haven't taken quite so terrible a toll on me. Which is to say, I've never had money to begin with, so there wasn't much for me to lose. But I'm also blessed with amazing friends and family, a great town, and relatively decent health (ulcerative colitis be damned).

I'd be a fool to complain.

Here's wishing you all a happy, safe, healthy and productive new year! Thanks to everyone who's been on this crazy blogging journey with me--really and truly, thanks--and I hope you'll stick with me as I enter what promises to be one wacky, eventful period of my life.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A taste of current projects

Just in time for Christmas, it's the newest teaser trailer for "The Girls," a film by Rob Matsushita and featuring a cameo by yours truly! Fair warning, this may not be something you should go about watching while at work. Unless you work someplace awesome.

This is part two of the "Wasted Youth" project that includes the film "High School Sweethearts," in which I had a very bloody starring role. That movie also served as part of Will Gartside's (the director) graduate thesis, which I was very proud to see him defend and have approved just last month. Ah, beautiful synergy between horror films and academia! The whole thing should be released for public viewing in the early part of 2010, and you can be sure I'll pimp its release here.

In the meantime, here's wishing you all a very merry Christmakwanzikkah and a happy new year!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Snowpocalypse '09

Technically it's still autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere, so yesterday's blizzard that dumped something like 18 inches of snow on my fair city could be considered a late fall storm. Which is weird, but hey, this is Wisconsin.

I woke up yesterday morning to a back door that wouldn't open more than a few inches due to a drift but also the happy news that my place of employment had decided to shutter its doors for the day. Others were not so lucky. The neighborhood was filled with the sounds of neighbors shoveling and snowblowing their way out of the massive piles of snow. I was grateful to spend the morning indoors doing various chores and taking it easy. I even ventured out once to take pictures of the muted world.

But alack, it was not meant to last. My dear sister needed to be at work that afternoon and, being that she normally bikes in, I volunteered to drive her there lest she be buried by a passing plow. She has terrible luck with the things. When she lived in Chicago, a city plow once rammed the car in front of hers and literally pushed it onto her roof (thankfully while she was not in it). So we can't take any chances now.

To accomplish that goal, however, I needed to dig out a car. Back-breaking and obnoxious as the work was, I had help from two kindly friends and the silver lining of it not being crazy cold out (yet--today is another matter entirely). And the whole of the 'hood seemed to be alive with people. It was the rare winter occasion for residents to meet each other in the streets for a chat. Dogs played in snow piles, children built forts, and some folks could be seeing skiing down the middle of the street. It was strangely idyllic.

I got sis to work safe and sound and decided to head down to campus for a planned snowball fight on Bascom Hill, thinking I would document it for posterity. You can read my write-up of the event over at Dane101 and check out the video I took of the shenanigans. Or watch it below:

It was a trip. I'm just glad I managed to get out without taking a snowball to the eyeball.

Now there just remains the actual winter to get through. I'm determined to be as active as the weather allows--get back to snowboarding and sledding, and break out the snowshoes again. But I think we're good on the snow count for awhile, don't you?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Diane Savino tells it like it is

The outcome of the same-sex marriage vote in New York state was majorly disappointing, but we got one good thing out of it: Sen. Diane Savino's off-the-cuff speech in support of the bill. Let's hope we hear more from her, and people like her, in the future. The tide is still on the side of equality, and history will look all the more kindly on folks like Savino who spoke out loud and clear well before the law caught up with what's right.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Mountain bikes in Middleton

Outside its borders, our fair state of Wisconsin isn't exactly thought of as a place to find great mountain biking. We don't, after all, really even have mountains. But those of us who live and ride here know full well that there are some seriously awesome trails around. You just have to know where to look.

Or you have to take the initiative to get them built.

That's what Capital Off Road Pathfinders have been doing for several years now right here in my own backyard. The local chapter of WORBA (the state chapter of IMBA), CORPS has built and maintained a series of really good single and double track trails all over Dane County. Which I had managed to completely overlook until just recently. I discovered the Quarry Ridge network over the weekend, and unable to contain my excitement I took a quick, cold, muddy ride to get acquainted with an area that's a mere 15 minute drive from my apartment.

It's a prime example of how Wisconsin trail builders are able to make the most out of our sometimes limited terrain. We may not have mountains, but we do have lots of ridges and moraines and with the right design and imagination you can really milk a lot out of the land.

And now it looks like we're on track to get some singletrack, as well as a skills park and pump track, right next door in Middleton. Just this evening the Park, Recreation & Forestry Commission approved bids by Mike Riter of Trail Design Specialists and Ben Blitch of B4 Construction so they can begin work on the project out on the west side of the city.

I have no idea when it will be done, but there's a good chance some of it will be ready next season. Which is insanely cool.

You see, I've been riding on and off for about two years now and am more than ready to step things up. I have officially fallen in love with the sport, and the more opportunities to ride new terrain with new people the better. I'm lookin' to learn, be challenged, and have fun. But I'm also looking to help out, which is one of the great aspects of the mountain biking scene: stewardship. These groups do a lot to help with sustainability efforts in a given area, building trails that are low impact, help prevent erosion, and provide a pretty green means of bringing people and dollars to the nearby towns. It's kind of win-win, if you know what you're doing.

I'll be looking forward to seeing what I can do to chip in with future trail building and maintenance, and also to riding as often and learning as much as possible (hopefully without breaking myself too badly in the process). And I'll be looking forward to seeing what these folks bring to little ol' Middleton, Wisconsin.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Dobbs teaches us all a lesson in how not to run for office

Lou Dobbs! What a wiener. But a useful one! The former CNN anchor/pundit has now offered up an extraordinarily clear example of crass political maneuvering for all of us to marvel at and learn from:
Former CNN anchor Lou Dobbs, pondering a future in politics, is trying to wipe away his image as an enemy of Latino immigrants by positioning himself as a champion of that fast-growing ethnic bloc.
Oh ho ho! That's an about-face quick enough to make even the most securely screwed on head give a little spin. Dobbs, you see, made a career and a name out of lambasting immigrants--particularly those of Mexican origin--and associating himself and his opinions with some of the most virulently xenophobic organizations in the country.

Now that he's out of a job, though, a run at public office must look mighty appealing (a cherry position to be sure, what with the government-run health care program and decent salary--something the majority of Americans would just about kill for these days). But oh man, those Latinos, it turns out, make up a significant block of voters, especially in the Senate district in which he's looking to run. Against incumbent Robert Menendez (D-NJ), who just so happens to be the Senate's only Hispanic member.

Cue Dobbs pulling nervously at his collar and tie.

All that nasty stuff he said about Hispanics and immigrants? Yeah, if you could just, y'know, forget about it:
"Whatever you have thought of me in the past, I can tell you right now that I am one of your greatest friends and I mean for us to work together," he said in a live interview with Telemundo's Maria Celeste. "I hope that will begin with Maria and me and Telemundo and other media organizations and others in this national debate that we should turn into a solution rather than a continuing debate and factional contest."
Yep, just ignore all those times he blamed (inflated/exaggerated) US cases of leprosy on immigrants. Or when he raised the alarm against an alleged Mexican movement to re-annex parts of the Southwest, using information and graphics sourced to a extremist, right-wing group with white power ties. All of this while refusing to admit to or even explore the possibility that racism has anything to do with the various anti-immigration groups he otherwise so readily profiled.

Well, if his sudden professed love for undocumented immigrants doesn't piss off his old support base, I can't imagine his long history of attacking Latinos in general and immigrants in particular will play well with the other group he's hoping to woo. It's an almost impressively ridiculous strategy, and one that, hopefully, most people will see right through.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Emily's Post: One Month Update

Oh ho ho, what's this? A blog post about my blog posts at another website? Scandalous! But behold it's true, I've been writing a weekly column for the Isthmus Daily Page for lo this past month now, so I wanted to post some links for your reading pleasure. After all, if no one reads these things, my benevolent masters may get to thinking that hiring on yours truly for the job was a mistake. Now we don't want that, do we? The Queen demands her tea!

Ahem, where was I? Oh yes! Links!

I would be much obliged if you took a moment to click and read, and hey, maybe even leave a comment? It's up to you. I'll be grateful even if you remain silent.

Expect a post or two right here at TLA this week, despite the holiday. Or perhaps because of? You'll have to check back to find out!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A very Wisconsin ideal meal

Just over 10 years ago, I made up my mind to officially cut meat out of my diet. I had been toying with the idea for awhile before that, removing beef (easy, because I'd never been a fan) and then chicken (tricky, because so much has stock in it), and finally turkey (the most difficult--I love turkey).

The choice was based on a combination of factors: One, I have always been far more into my fruits and veggies, even from an early age, than any animal flesh. I distinctly remember taking a few token chews of steak at dinner and then hiding the mangled bits in my napkin so my parents would think I'd finished my meal. Second, I'd learned more and more about the inhumane and unhealthy process by which our country went about raising and processing much of its meat. I just couldn't ignore that any longer.

There was some small amount of empathy and the "oh but they're so cute" factor, but I've always understood how the food chain works. Human beings are, by nature, omnivores and I believe there's nothing inherently wrong with that. What is wrong is how we've come to mass produce and industrialize the process. Huge factory farms are bad for the environment, terrible for the animals, and often dangerous to the people who consume the meat that comes from them.

So I've been a pretty good vegetarian for over a decade now, even doing my best to get my dairy products from reputable, organic sources that treat the animals well and don't include artificial hormones or antibiotics in their products.

Then, over the last year, disaster struck. I developed a rather severe and debilitating case of lactose intolerance. It was the thing I'd always singled out as my worst dietary fear, something I swore could never happen to me, the girl who'd drank a glass of milk a day for pretty much her whole life. And yet, there was no denying it: I either needed to cut all sources of lactose out of my diet, or spend the rest of my life suffering (seriously suffering, I'm not joking when I say it's pretty severe).

I sucked it up and cut all of it out. No more milk, no more un-aged cheese, no more cream, no more butter. This has not been an easy task living in Wisconsin as I do, but slowly and surely I've been finding ways to deal.

In the midst of this tribulation, I also decided that my diet had been too thoroughly restricted by this change. Though I have deep love for the major advances in vegan cooking that have taken place in recent decades and rely on them every day, I could not bring myself to go fully without animal products. I decided to take back some control over what I could eat: I would start consuming flesh again.

The one caveat? I would only eat it sparingly, and only when it had been locally sourced from a place that raised and processed the beast as humanely as possible. Thankfully, this locavore trend has taken firm root in my area, and finding meat that falls under these guidelines is not as difficult as it once was.

So when I heard that the Underground Food Collective, now somewhat famous for their pre-industrial pig dinners, was helping to prepare a venison-centered meal in association with a lecture being given on the history of deer hunting in Wisconsin, I decided that it would be a great way for me to get back into the game.

Last night, me and The Boy headed out into the cold, drizzly November evening and over to the Wisconsin Historical Museum for the event. We were greeted by a room full of long tables and fellow diners who looked just as full of anticipation as we were. And after chatting up the people with whom we shared a table (who just so happened to be friends with the guys cooking the meal), it wasn't long before the first course was brought out.

We had a lovely salad of winter hoop-house grown spinach (from Snug Haven Farms) with pieces of low-key venison loin, dried squash seeds, red onions, and an unidentified but delicious dressing.

That was followed by a dish of three different kinds of squash all mixed together with good spices, something that pretty much screamed late autumn to my taste buds.

Finally, the main course: Extremely tender and expertly cooked strips of venison haunch with a light but very tastey almost barbeque-y sauce, with roasted parsnips and loads of yummy potatoes (the latter two coming from Driftless Organics). I'd never had venison before, and I'm told that it's the kind of meat that tends to reflect how it's cooked more than having a consistent flavor. In this case, it was delicious - not too gamey, nice and tender, with a good flavor infused, presumably, by the excellent sauce and cooking technique.

The cherry on top of this already amazing meal was the dessert, a perectly humble serving of apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. After everyone had finished and could speak coherently again, the cooks came out to tell us about the meal and take questions. Someone asked where the deer had come from, and after joking that they'd "hit it with their truck," we discovered that it had come from a farm raised operation in the area.

Another patron capped things off my declaring, "It was a helluva meal!" And I had to agree. It was good, too, to see all different sorts of people at the event--young and old, city and country. Following the meal, the group shuffled into a nearby lecture room for a talk by Robert Willging, author of On the Hunt: The History of Deer Hunting in Wisconsin. He gave us a run-down of what's in the book, which includes well-researched details about the tradition in the state dating back to the Paleo-Indians who lived here thousands of years ago.

And luck was with me, as I happened to sit in the chair with the raffle prize ticket taped to its bottom, so I got to take home a free copy of the book to cap off my night.

Great food, good company, some learnin', and a free book - couldn't ask for much more. Happily, my stomach accepted the new addition to its diet with grace, too. Like I said, I won't be eating meat very often, and certainly never from fast-food joints and the like, but I feel incredibly lucky to have access to the really good stuff right here in south-central Wisconsin for whenever I get the hankering.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The delusional haze of oil addiction

When I first read this Badger Herald piece detailing a lecture by a visiting member of the Ayn Rand Center, I had to chuckle. "Oh boy," I wondered dismissively, "What are those silly Randians up to now?"

Alex Epstein, said lecturer, wanted students to know that oil has gotten a bad rap in recent years, that crude is really our friend, and that so-called "green dogma" has infiltrated our schools such that children are now raised to be environmentalists who actually give a crap about caribou herds in Alaska. The horror!

Granted, the Ayn Rand Center isn't exactly the most influential institution in the country, but many of the uber-libertarian ideals espoused by folks like Epstein do permeate our politics to a disturbing degree.

What folks like Epstein seem to be championing is the sort of responsibility-free liberty that allows human beings to do pretty much whatever they want, regardless of consequence. The important thing, as far as I can tell, is that no one is telling them what to do.

The problem, of course, is immense: This petulant refusal to think long-term, examine the hard facts of a situation, or take into account the needs of others, can only lead to ruin. We're already reaping some of the rotten fruits of that sort of thinking now, in our rapidly shrinking glaciers and ice sheets, massive plastic debris fields in the middle of the ocean, groundwater and soil poisoning, more extreme weather patterns, and even the oppression of entire peoples as the result of selfish policies.

Epstein is right enough when he points out that oil (petroleum) has helped shape the modern age, and that it's present in many of the products we rely on today. What he entirely fails to grasp is that our over-dependence on oil has led us down a very dangerous path, one that has resulted in destruction of ecosystems, bloody human conflict, and health hazards. We're long overdue to do what Epstein and is ilk so often laud in regards to the wrong thing: innovate.

There are viable and safer alternatives to using petroleum in our goods and gas tanks. If even half of the money and time dedicated to the oil industry were put into researching and developing alternate sources of fuel, I have no doubt we'd already be well on our way to a much more balanced world.

That will only happen when more people are willing to take a long, hard, critical look at the current situation and then be willing to dedicate real elbow grease and heart to making the necessary changes. That also means striving for a real balance between individual liberty and community responsibility. Let Ayn Rand spin in her grave. We could tap it as a source of clean energy.

EDIT TO ADD: Hahaha, well at least the oil industry used to be honest about what they did.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Legal health procedure? No funding for you!

The current, heated debate over the Stupak Amendment is more than a little mind boggling. The amendment, voted into the health reform bill last week by the House and now sitting in the Senate awaiting its fate, would place extremely tight restrictions on abortions that could be offered through any government-run health care plans. It would also "restrict any private plan in the insurance exchange from offering abortion coverage."

In short: It's crap.

I know that abortion rights are a contentious issue in this country. But the fact remains, thankfully and despite the best efforts of hardliners, that the procedure remains perfectly legal. Private insurance plans offer coverage for it, too, which helps keep women from bankrupting or hurting themselves when abortion becomes a necessity.

But now a handful of anti-abortion Democrats and pretty much all of the Republicans in the Senate are up in arms over the idea that the much-needed and loooong overdue health reforms headed for a final vote might include funding for the procedures. They argue that we shouldn't be asking tax payers who disagree with abortion to help pay for it.

That might seem somewhat reasonable until you consider the fact that we're already asking, say, Quakers to pay taxes that go toward funding our various war adventures. In fact, we ask all sorts of people to contribute taxes toward things they don't necessarily agree with and/or use. That's how this works. So why do the anti-abortion folks think they're so damn special?

Not to mention the fact that the RNC's insurance plan for employees covered abortions up until the fact was pointed out by Politico and suddenly they needed to save face so they got rid of it. Now that's compassionate conservatism!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Live Blog: My first night at the opera, with "Carmen"

I've been hiding a terrible secret. Though I've spent nearly my whole life immersed in the world of live theatre and film, a true thespian geek having acting in and seen countless plays, musicals, shorts, experimental pieces, and more--I have never, in my truly ancient now nearly 28 years on God's green Earth, seen an opera.

I know! A terrible oversight on my part, to be sure. And it's not that I don't like opera, or at least, what I've heard of it. But that's just it; I've only ever just heard opera and frankly it never really caught and held my attention. However, I have a sneaking suspicion that much of the appeal lies in the viewing of opera's famously colorful and larger-than-life stagings. So when Madison Opera’s manager of communications and community outreach Brian Hinrichs contacted me about taking part in their first-ever "Bloggers Night Out" at their upcoming production of George Bizet's "Carmen," I jumped at the chance to right this particular wrong.

It's a great idea, and it's also encouraging to see more entrenched institutions seeking new ways to reach wider audiences. Frankly, the more people we get interested and involved in the arts, the merrier. And I'm pleased as punch to be part of the effort!

So tonight I'm pulling out my opera glasses, changing out of the Blogger Pajamas and into my gussiest outfit, and getting ready for some no-holds-bar operatic action! And I hope you'll stick around to follow me as I marvel and ramble about all things "Carmen" and Madison Opera for an evening. If nothing else, my near complete lack of opera knowledge should provide for an entertaining train wreck of an entry.

You can also follow along with my fellow bloggers this evening:
And for more information about Madison Opera (and there's one more production of "Carmen" coming up this Sunday!), check out their website, blog, and Twitter feed.

Now! On with the live blog! Check back often for updates as the show progresses. Starting around 7:15 p.m. (CST) I'll be writing before, at intermission, and at the conclusion of the event.

(All photos courtesy James Gill / Madison Opera)

7:22 p.m.

I've just breezed into the Overture Center from an impromptu trip to Milwaukee to see a friend defend his graduate thesis (passed!). Catching my breath after battling traffic to get here on time, but everything seems to have worked out.

I would feel more out of place in my somewhat rumpled outfit and fabulous white Chucks if this wasn't Madison, but really, nothing in this town is that fancy. So I'm hopeful they won't kick me out.

Us dirty bloggers have been given a couple of tables in the main lobby where we're all sitting in a row, pecking away at our laptops, presumably all talking opera. I should probably be doing that, too, come to think of it.

Lots of well-dressed folks milling about. I'm sitting next to Dane101's Maddie Greene, who wrote an excellent behind-the-scenes piece about this production of "Carmen" that I recommend checking out here.

So I've been reading up on the show, and I'm told that there will be captions for those of us who don't speak...wait, what's this in? French, I think? Oh man, clearly I'm just terribly unprepared and unqualified for this gig, but don't tell. I've created quite the reputation for myself based on the ability to pretend I have any clue what's going on. I'd like to thank the Academy...

7:36 p.m.

Flamenco dancers! Not gonna lie: I already love dance, but add some percussion to the mix and you can be sure I'm going to love it. This particular group is Tania Tandias Flamenco & Spanish Dance, and they're quite good.

Excuse the crappy camera phone picture, but it's the limit of my technology this evening. Anyway, there's really no way to fully appreciate the dance unless you see it live. I dig how you can trace the influence of flamenco (a relative/forefather--depending on who you ask--of Celtic step dancing) and it's ilk in modern step dance and groups like Stomp. They're all related, of course, and it would take a far more knowledgeable scholar to break it all down. The important thing is that it's all fabulous, of course.

7:45 p.m.

I suspect the doors will be opening soon, and it looks like Brian and the Opera have hooked us up with pretty nice seats. But I'm still enjoying the dancers, so not going in just yet.

By the way, if you'd like a good overview of what "Carmen" is all about, take a look at this handy .pdf and read up. Basically, it's your standard story of a naughty lady tempting away several men and the drama that arises from the love triangle. Women. So life disrupting.

7:52 p.m.

Chimes! Sounds like it's time to head into the theatre. I am prepared for spectacle!

9:00 p.m.

First intermission (of two!). We've just left Carmen and poor Don Jose after an encounter wherein his attentions were turned from a painfully chaste relationship with Micaela, the young orphan girl adopted by his mother, and to the seductress gypsy woman Carmen. All because of a "charmed" flower. Men are so easy.

So far so good. It's easy to forget (or just not know in the first place) that a lot of the music from "Carmen" has permeated our popular culture. You hear pieces of it in all sorts of things--cartoons, movies, etc. And there's a reason: It's quite good. Catchy, even, if opera can be called such.

The set, on loan from another opera company (I'm blanking on the name), is gorgeous--towering walls with lovely scene painting. It's impressive without being cluttered or overdone. Much credit goes to the costumers, who've taken an enormous loaner wardrobe and tailored, trimmed, and taken in all manner of get-up for a fairly numerous cast.

The whole production, so far, seems to have come together very well. A great orchestra (the Madison Symphony Orchestra, lead by the venerable John DeMain), excellent scene and costume work, and a solid cast. The Madison Youth Choirs even got in on the action, providing the always somewhat gratituitous but adorable counterpoint to the melodrama of the adults on stage.

And I had to laugh - Carmen is one of the girls who works at a cigarette factory and, naturally, almost all of them smoke. Very un-PC, all that puffing and tobacco enjoyment. Had this been written and produced in modern times, I suspect the cigarette factory might have been replaced by, say, a solar cell manufacturing plant. Hah! The bells are chiming, back to it...

10:04 p.m.

Aaaaand second intermission. This blogging between acts is quite the high pressure gig. Don't feel there's enough time to sum up everything we've seen or thought about the performance, but in general I should say that this is quite entertaining.

The main lesson I'm taking from this story is that women are tricksy, and men are easily duped fools. Basically, a tale as old as time. But told with such flare! And plenty of soaring lyrics, dance, and color. Can't complain, really. I do appreciate the high drama and production value, and frankly, there just isn't enough of this in mainstream culture these days. Unless you count "Glee," which I do, but it's only one show after all.

Anyway, impressed overall with the main vocalists. Have to say their Carmen, Katharine Goeldner, is extremely talented. She not only has the pipes to pull off the various pieces, but a great, jaunty, assured presence befitting of her character. And Adam Diegel as silly ol' Don Jose has a beautiful voice overall (though I'm pretty sure I've heard him falter on some of the quieter notes--I don't feel quite qualified to criticize this style of singing). I even heard a few shouted "Bravos!" at the end of his solo in the last act.

But the bells chime again and we must obey. Back to the show!

11:20 p.m.

Fin! After a healthy standing ovation and my hands near falling off from the clapping, we come to the end of the show. My first opera! And it was, indeed, worth seeing. Many kudos to Madison Opera for putting together an excellent production--to the cast, crew, and everyone else behind the scenes. And I'm told they're putting this on again this Sunday, so I would certainly recommend looking into getting yourself some tickets and injecting some culture into your weekend.

My sincere thanks to Brian Hinrichs for the opportunity to see this show, and to sit in the lobby and have people look askance at me as I sit here and type away. All worth it! And it's not as though I'm not somewhat used to drawing confused glances.

Honestly, at this point I need to put some sleep between myself and the experience, and I may have more coherent thoughts on the whole thing tomorrow. Overall, however, I'll sum it up this way: Not a knock-your-socks-off type of show, but still very entertaining and professional.

And with that, I'm spent. A simple girl like me can only handle so much high drama and sung dialogue before she needs some downtime to process everything she's just witnessed. In the meantime, I intend to dream of flamenco dancers and a world where we solve our problems through song. Ah, if only.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Of blogs, bands, and opera

A couple of quick, but really very important links for you today. Regular blogging will commence soon! And I'm excited to announce that I've been invited by Madison Opera to take part in their "Bloggers Night Out" this Friday, which means I get to see their production of "Carmen" and write all about it for your (hopefully) enjoyment. It will be my first opera ever, so I'm kind of excited and nervous, because it's something I know so little about. But hey, that could make what I have to say quite entertaining, in a train wreck sort of way.

In the meantime, my first blog for The Daily Page is now live! I'd be much obliged if you sent some traffic their way and checked it out. And feel free to leave a comment, of course. You have to register, but it's free and relatively painless, I promise.

Also over at Isthmus, my band Little Red Wolf has happily moved on to the second round of voting in their Band to Band Combat. We'd love for you to go on over and cast a ballot in our favor to help us advance yet further in this fun little contest. Also free and easy!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Bidding farewell to Bader

If ever you're in need of an excellent (if painful) example of what not to do as a talk radio host--or journalist, or blogger, etc.--then look no further than the recent and still to fully play out saga of WTAQ radio host Jerry Bader. In a broadcast shortly after Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton announced that she was dropping out of the gubernatorial race, Bader made the bold-faced accusation that her reason for doing so was related to a lesbian extramarital affair. Bader stated over and over again that he was "reporting factually."

But of course he was doing no such thing. It was, in fact, a complete fabrication and quite the slanderous piece of reporting to boot. Lawton was, rightfully, pretty angry about the whole thing, and Bader has since retracted the piece and been suspended from his job for two weeks.

Not before several conservative bloggers and talkers gleefully spread the false information as far and wide as possible. Since it came out that the whole thing was a giant fraud, most have either removed their posts entirely or posted retractions and apologies.

The whole thing is a sad but solid example of how stories can spread like wildfire on the internet, regardless of their validity. The fiasco could also be examined for how not to go about sourcing and reporting information. Call it Bader 101.

I have to agree with Lawton that I don't think a mere two week suspension is enough punishment for the guy, and hope that the station takes further action. They should, really, if they hope to avoid being part of the inevitable slander lawsuit filed against Bader by Lawton.

And those who repeated the nonsense should perhaps take a moment or two to examine their own motivations for doing so. Maybe the desperate champing at the bit for any "negative" news about people with political affiliations they don't like isn't such a hot idea after all. Maybe we could all stand to adopt a little more patience, critical thinking, and due diligence.

It's a lesson Jerry Bader is (hopefully) learning the hard way.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


There comes a time in every bloggers life (well, maybe just the really dorky ones) when the siren call of gainful blogging employment must lure them away from the pajama-clad solitude of their personal sites.

This is only half true of me.

I will officially begin blogging on behalf of Isthmus' Daily Page website as of Nov. 1, but I will not be abandoning The Lost Albatross in the process. I mean, this place has just been too good to me. I can't quit it. And anyway, I can't seem to get out of this chair....

So this is how things are going to go down: The vast majority of my pontifications about local politics will find a new home at TDP, and I humbly ask that you come check them out. You can read Dave Blaska's bizarre rants while you're over there, too, if you're so masochistically inclined--but TDP has lots of other good, less fugue state inducing things on offer, too. Everything else I want to ramble on about in a public forum--things like arts, culture, sports, self-promotion, and thoughts on national/international current events, will go on living right here.

My sincere thanks to everyone who has read and supported TLA over the years, and I do hope you'll stick around and even check out my new venture. I will do my best to keep it interesting.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Filth and rocking for monkeys

But not at the same time! Lord knows monkeys can be a little messy sometimes, though - but we still love them! So much so that my band, Little Red Wolf, is playing a benefit show this weekend on behalf of an organization that's looking to help working monkeys retire in peace.

First, however, there's something a little more bizarre on tap. Tonight at the Inferno (1718 Commercial Ave.) it's FILTH, an evening of R-rated art, live music, body painting, and burlesque. Me? I'll be part of the live music, which is really as it should be, but please do come to check out the whole shebang. Here's the lowdown:
"...a bizarro-underworld reply to bloodless, libido-less art and music events everywhere." - THE ONION

We are pleased to announce a one-night only special art and music event, headlined by the very great Liz Mares from Chicago, and Madison's own industrial hardcore noisemeister Caustic, at the Inferno Nightclub on Friday, October 23 at 9 pm.

The artists:

LIZ MARES is one of the rising stars of erotic photography. Working mostly in black and white polaroids and 120mm film, her playfully frank depictions of female sexuality cause a stir wherever they're shown, and are avidly sought by collectors both in the US and internationally. Fresh from showing at this year's prestigious "Dirty Show" in Detroit, Mares is here to promote her new book "Masque" and treat the good people of Madison to a dozen or so never before seen prints. You won't see work like this anywhere else in town.

Chicago's CHRIS NEGRETE makes colorful polaroids and small format color film pictures that don't make a heck of a lot of sense, but are wickedly playful and funny. Photo booths, flippers, fire extinguishers, Christmas trees, and a seemingly unending obsession with ultra-tacky 1970's underwear. It's kind of hard to explain, really...but it's an awful lot of fun.

COLM MCCARTHY is best known to Madison audiences as a theatre and performance photographer, and creator of dark paintings and prints with local collectives Art Surge and Firecracker Studios. But he got his start in nudes, and tonight he'll be displaying some older work on metal, along with brand new work created especially for this show. Including the images used for the cover of the Caustic album, "This is Jizzcore" , which brings us nicely to....

The music:

Matt Fanale's industrial hardcore incarnation, CAUSTIC, requires no introduction to Madisonians. After touring the US extensively this year to promote his latest release, "This is Jizzcore", while still finding time to organize the Reverence Festival, one of the country's largest - if not THE largest - electronic music festivals, Fanale is finishing out the year by playing just for us - and you. He's even put together a band! And will be joined onstage by Little Red Wolf's Emily Mills and Null Device's Eric Oehler. Expect MUCH mayhem....and a theremin.

Out of the vast pool of great musical talents in Madison, WI comes something different. UNDERCULTURE. Three men, with completely different backgrounds in music, joining together to produce music with a fresh new feel. Utilizing their influential differences, they have put together a sound unheard of in any other band known. Impossible to put into any one genre, Underculture may be best described as Tom Waits meets The Sex Pistols, or Donavon meets the Cramps, or Tom Jones meets the Circle Jerks, ABBA meets the Dead Kennedys, or Jon Tesh meets the Butt Hole Surfers. Brazilian artist Paulo Andrade may have said it best: "I do not understand it, but it is ALIVE!"

And kicking it all off are Madison's own alt-country superstars, THE APOLOGISTS, who are likely to veer from obscure American folk ballads to the Gun Club, the Who, Johnny Cash, Television and back again without warning.

And between acts, the lovely ladies and one gentleman of Foxy Veronica's Peach Pies will be on hand to "kick your ass with sass" with some carefully chosen caburlesque routines, including a special body painting performance by local body artist extraordinaire Dawn Marie Svanoe.

And of course all of your favorite beers and cocktails will be served by the wonderful staff at the smoke-free Inferno Nightclub. All of this for a recession-friendly $5 cover. Doors open at 9pm, and the festivities kick off with the Apologists at 9.30. Strictly over 21. Come get filthy with us.
And because I don't keep nearly busy enough, tomorrow night--Saturday--at the Frequency (121 W. Main) my band, Little Red Wolf, is playing the aforementioned benefit for Primates Inc., which seeks to raise money to "increase the retirement of monkeys from research facilities and private ownerships by constructing a secure, indoor/outdoor primate sanctuary in southern Wisconsin."

It's a fine cause, and we're pulling out all the stops for this one by playing two whole sets of music. This will be the longest show we've played yet, so please come on down and help us power through the night by sending us energy from the audience. We promise to show you a good time! Show's at 9:30 p.m. and the suggested donation is just $7. Plus! Power-punk group The Daves will take the stage after us, and I'm told they're pretty awesome.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Berceau's beer tax bill better left on bar room floor

I don't suspect that Rep. Terese Berceau's proposal to raise the beer tax in Wisconsin will ever make it to the floor of the Legislature, let alone be signed into law by Gov. Doyle (who has stated his opposition to it already).

Still, her proposal to increase the tax on a barrel from $2 to $10 - but only for beers made in Wisconsin - raises some interesting questions and has prompted an overdue debate.

At first blush, it would be easy to think, "Oh the beer industry makes tons of cash, and their taxes haven't been raised in decades, so this shouldn't be a problem." Plus, part of Berceau's proposal is that the increased revenue that would presumably result from such a change would go toward funding enforcement of drunk driving laws. So what's not to like?

I'm 100% behind efforts to curb the number of people who get behind the wheel wasted or even tipsy. I just don't think this particular bill is the way to do it - nor do I think it's entirely honest to say that this is what it's really all about.

As I already mentioned, the tax would only apply to in-state breweries: ie, micro and craft brewers. Big conglomerates like Anheuser Busch and MillerCoors would get off scot-free, even though they're the companies most able to absorb an additional cost such as this. Meanwhile, smaller, local breweries would pay the price.

Chris Staples, one of the owners of Madison-area brewery Furthermore Beer, recently wrote a thoughtful piece about his opposition to the proposed tax bill. It was the first thing I'd read that made me really sit up and take notice of the issue, and to rethink my initial position on it. Staples makes it clear that he's not against paying their fair share, just that Berceau's particular bill is the wrong way to go about things. You can read the whole thing here.

Wisconsin definitely suffers from a schizophrenic relationship with alcohol. We have a long and storied history of producing some of the best beer, but we have an equally lengthy record of abusing the fruits of our labors. Better enforcement of drinking related laws is important. Greater focus on treatment and prevention is even more crucial. But we also need to make sure our politicians, for all their apparently noble gestures toward the aforementioned goals, are really working toward what's best for Wisconsinites...and not the big corporations with the least investment in our communities.

(photo by Chris_J on Flickr)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why are bike lanes controversial?

I'm honestly befuddled, so if you've either been privy to the arguments against the lanes or are yourself against them, consider me all ears here:

The Madison Plan Commission Monday night approved the Northport-Warner Park-Sherman Neighborhood Plan but did not confront the most controversial piece of it.

Bicycle advocates have long envisioned turning four-lane Sherman Avenue into a two-lane road with dedicated bike lanes. One option discussed is a two-lane road with turn lanes, know in planning parlance as a "TWTL."

Several commission members proposed including that language in the plan to help slow traffic on the busy thoroughfare and make it safer for non-motorists.

But Northside Ald. Satya Rhodes-Conway urged the commission not to mention "TWTL" in the final document. She said it was the most divisive issue in the entire area and would jeopardize what otherwise was a good plan.

And apparently she was right. But I honestly don't understand why, of everything else that could possibly be contentious when discussing a major redevelopment plan for a neighborhood, bike lanes were what drew the most ire.

Sherman Avenue could certainly use some bike and pedestrian friendly revamping. As it stands, there isn't nearly as much bicycle infrastructure on the North side as their ought to be, and I know several residents who would benefit from a change to that fact. Heck, I travel to that part of town pretty frequently, and being able to ride safely would be a major boon.

My guess is this has to do with car commuters not wanting to share the roads at all with people on bikes. Which, if that is the case, is all kinds of ridiculous...but not surprising. In the move to make cities more alternative transportation friendly, the bikes vs. car battle rages on - with both sides harboring their fair share of irrational jerks. There is middle ground to be had here, though, if only both bikers and drivers were willing to make some concessions.

But then, backing down from an extreme position isn't something we Americans have proven to be very good at lately. It's long past time we learned how, though.

UPDATE: There's an interesting little discussion about this issue over at The Daily Page forums (minus the random outburst from the first commenter). Check it out.

(photo by on Flickr)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Hammes' ham fisted attempts to curry favor with frats

So does this strike anyone else as just a tad suspicious?
In the latest community lobbying attempt from both sides of the Edgewater debate to garner University of Wisconsin Greek house support, the hotel developer Hammes Co. bused members of fraternities to a luxury box at Lambeau Field Sunday for the Packer game.

While at Lambeau, Bob Dunn, president of Hammes Co., gave a presentation on the Edgewater plans, detailing some of the neighborhood concerns with the original proposed plans and offering some insight into potential redesigns.

Dunn also said he did not expect the free trip to jeopardize any objectivity from the fraternity members in their view of the Edgewater project. All he could do, Dunn said, was present the facts of the project and listen to the creative ideas generated.
Oh no, a free trip to Lambeau Field with luxury boxes and free spirits won't do anything to jeopardize objectivity.

If it weren't for the fact that I question just how much influence those fraternities will ultimately have on any final decisions regarding the Edgewater redevelopment project, this would be sending up quite a few more red flags than it already is.

The "we're just showing them another of our projects as an example" line of reasoning seems flimsy at best, especially when that other project of theirs just so happens to be the home stadium of Wisconsin's beloved Packers. How that sort of trip wouldn't be expected to impress college students (or anyone, really), I'm not sure.

Of course, there's probably nothing illegal about this. It just seems awfully...untoward.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Too late for a wake-up call, past time to get moving

This post is part of Blog Action Day 2009: Climate Change. Read a good, more light-hearted take on the subject over at Dane101.

The world is changing. That much is a given. But whether or not you believe that some of that change is due to human interference and is detrimental to our overall survival is an issue that has only grown more contentious as the evidence mounts in its favor.

For too many people on both sides of the debate, too, the argument has mutated into an ego contest: "I'm right, you're wrong, ie: a moron." But that isn't helpful to anyone, and certainly not our planet. This isn't about political parties or nationality. It's about the very long-term security and viability of our home: Earth.

I admit to allowing my temper to flare all too often when it comes to the topic of climate change. I've been studying the effects for as long as I can remember, and when the overwhelming majority of research and evidence points to massive disruption of the Earth's environment as the result of man-made pollutants, it's difficult to understand where those who so vigorously deny it are coming from.

It's easy to say that they just don't care, are selfish, deluded. And certainly, those people exist. But I think most folks are just confused, misled, and probably scared. Hell, I'm scared. It would be much less unsettling to just turn my head and say that everything we're seeing is merely the result of natural cycles, and that we've nothing to worry about. I would much prefer that be the truth.

But it comes down to simply not being willing or able to ignore the evidence. I've been fortunate to have had a very decent level of education in the sciences and scientific method. I've had good teachers who've explained the more complicated ins and outs of environmental science to me. Not everyone has had the luck I've had, though. And in the absence of good teachers, many people are left with politicians and the media as their source for information about climate change.

But soundbytes and talking points can't even come close to explaining what's really going on. They generally either come off sounding too preposterous and alarmist, or overly simplistic and ignorant. That's a major problem that needs to be addressed. We need far better general science education in this country, and we need people to point out the bull when they see it. We need accountability.

Americans especially also need to get over our deeply ingrained belief that the needs and desires of the individual should always trump those of the community. There's a balance to be struck. Individual rights and liberties are incredibly important, but they end when they begin to impede upon the rights and liberties of others. That's where the recognition of the importance of the greater community comes in. If enough individuals refuse to see that some of their actions cause harm to others, then we need to step up as a collective and stop them.

So you may not like littering laws, but the community needs to enforce them for the benefit of all. Interconnectedness. It's not just a hippie ideal. It's the reality on the ground of life on Earth. Our ecosystem is a delicate, finely tuned thing. And it's not as though we've only thrown a small wrench into its inner mechanics with our pollutants. We've been lobbing the equivalent of nuclear bombs at it for centuries now, and it's time to pass some serious nonproliferation laws.

Carbon dioxide is all well and good until it reaches extreme, high levels, at which point it becomes toxic. NASA scientists have already determined the the ideal maximum of CO2 in the atmosphere should be just 350ppm - but we've already outrun that, which means that it's time to make serious efforts at cutting back. Like a human body with sugar and fat intake, there's only so much CO2 the Earth can handle before things start going wrong.

And they've already started going wrong. The trick with climate change is that it isn't just about the average temperature of the planet rising bit by bit, it's also about wilder and more frequent extremes. More hurricanes. More draughts. Stronger storms. Hotter heat waves and colder cold snaps. The seasons shifting, little by little, from their usual patterns.

Right now it's all too easy for people living in better circumstances to ignore the very real problems caused by climate change. Because it's the folks who reside in poorer countries, and/or in places where there's less of a buffer between them and the environment, who feel the adverse effects first. There are even entire countries at risk of being wiped off the map because of rising ocean levels. Whole ways of life are threatened.

Short of the sky actually falling with a note attached that reads, "Due to human-caused climate change," I'm not sure what will convince some of the die-hard deniers. For some people, it's just too much to process. They argue that fighting climate change will result in unnecessary abrogation of rights and economic disaster. And they'll be right if we don't go about things with a clear head. But what they fail to see is that if we do nothing, in the long term, we'll end up with economic disaster and the dissolution of society anyway - only, on a much larger, more catastrophic scale.

We've missed our wake-up call. It's high time we got working.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Criminalizing drunk driving

Apparently there's a new proposal by a handful of state legislators, one that claims "bipartisan support," that would make a first drunk driving conviction a crime instead of just a traffic violation, as it now (ridiculously) is.

About friggen time.

I would, of course like to hear more specifics about the proposal before throwing my full support behind it. What would the actual penalties be? And more importantly, there's a second part of the proposal that would allow for "roadside checkpoints" to screen for drunk drivers. I'm all for more policing to actually catch people in the act, but the idea of checkpoints is always fraught with danger, especially if it involves so-called random stops. Because it's really difficult to enforce the whole "random" part of the deal.

Other than that, though, I'm hopeful that this will be a step in the right direction toward seriously dealing with Wisconsin's abysmal drunk driving enforcement policies. I certainly believe that prevention and treatment programs should be a major part of any effort to curb the practice, but we also need to make sure that offenders are getting more than just a slap on the wrist. I'm sick and tired of reading about people being pulled over for their fifth, sixth, seventh (and so on) DUIs. It's just plain ridiculous. Maybe turning the first strike into an actual crime will lead to people either wising up or being taken off the road all together before it ends in tragedy.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Universal health care...or death

I have watched with varying levels of hope, fury, and plain old dismay as the Health Care Debate of '09 has raged on. I'm sure it comes as no surprise to readers of this blog that I am a major advocate for universal health care, so I tend to get pretty antsy any time there's even a glimmer of hope for making it happen.

And what can I say? Obama got my hopes up. Now that both Democrats and Republicans--along with all-too many thoroughly duped regular folk--have been doing their utmost to damn the current effort to get comprehensive health care reform passed, I must admit that I'm feeling pretty pissed off.

The absurd expenses associated with decent care in this country, as well as the absolutely criminal practices of certain insurance companies, have impacted my life many times. Honestly, I would be truly surprised to meet anyone in the US who hadn't had at least one negative health care related event--whether for themselves or a friend or loved one.

And while the pols in DC squabble over "death panels" and bend over for their Insurance Company Overlords, real people are getting sick, going bankrupt, and dying in the good ol' US of A.

Well done! Letting the health care status quo go on is certainly one way to solve the problem of an aging population. Perhaps not a very good one--I'd argue, in fact, that it's pretty horrifying--but a lot of people seem to be pretty gung-ho about the tactic. Which is odd, seeing as how those same individuals seem to be the ones getting all riled up about "death panels" (which don't even exist).

But I'm not the only one who's figured out the preferred Republican health care strategy. Rep. Alan Grayson recently did a marvelous job of summing up the GOP's position when he unveiled a simple chart on the House floor that said, "Die Quickly."

That's about it. Opponents of real reform can argue until they're blue in the face that that's not what they want, and they're likely telling the truth, but the fact remains that, regardless of their intentions, the result of their policies (or lack thereof) is just that: Don't get sick. If you do, die quickly.

I believe that every human being, as an inherent right, should have equal access to quality, affordable health care. No matter what. There's pretty much no argument that could convince me otherwise.

On a personal level, I'm especially invested as someone who intends to someday become self-employed as a writer and musician (because, let's be frank, no one's looking to hire me for that full-time these days). That means I'll need to either A) get married to someone with insurance benefits, B) scrounge together whatever public state coverage I can manage, or C) go without. Don't get sick, and if I do, die quickly.

Frankly, I'm not all that enthused about the latter option. For the second, I can take some small comfort in the fact that Wisconsin does boast a few very decent public options. The Family Planning Waiver provides free reproductive coverage to women between the ages of 15 and 44, so my lady bits would be well taken care of. And there's Badger Care Plus (Core), which is the general health care plan I, as an adult with no dependent children, could get.

Only, Gov. Doyle made the announcement today that they're freezing new applications to the program after overwhelming numbers of Wisconsinites jumped on it since the plan went into effect three months ago. Doyle said they'd been getting between 500 and 600 applications each day. If that's not an argument for the pressing need for universal health care....

As for option A, let's just say I resent feeling even remotely pressured to get hitched simply to maintain health benefits. Que romantico! Hell, there are people in this country who can't even do that if they wanted to, just because a few curmudgeons get tingly in their underoos whenever same-sex relationships are brought up.

No one should lose coverage simply because they leave a job or get laid off. Further, no one should have to worry about breaking the bank over medical bills. But that's exactly what happened to my family.

Fourteen years ago, my mother took ill. It wasn't a "pre-existing condition." It was a rare, recurring cyst that decided to wreak some havoc in and around her brain. And though she fought like the dickens for two years, countless surgeries and treatments for the resulting infections, etc., couldn't prevent her death. In addition to the incredible grief, my family was also left with nearly $100,000 in bills. This even though we were "fully" insured, mind you. My father did his best to keep up with payments, but his minister's salary simply wasn't enough. Eventually, he had to file for bankruptcy. Thankfully, this happened before the new, oppressively restrictive Bush-era bankruptcy laws were passed, so the process went about as well as it could--all things considered.

Still, why did my mom getting sick and dying mean that we also had to suffer the added indignity of financial collapse?

If we as a nation continue down the same, tired road of fear mongering and kowtowing to moneyed insurance interests, that's exactly what will happen to our country as well.

(photo by Steve Rhodes on Flickr)

Friday, October 2, 2009

The good news for Oct. 2, 2009

Friday news dump time! All of it worthwhile. And hey, if you're in the Madison area tonight and are in the mood for some fine tunes and even finer ladies, my band, Little Red Wolf, will be playing a show at the High Noon Saloon at 9:00 p.m. - opening for Brighton, MA and Company of Thieves. We'd love to see you there! More here.

  • [Channel3000] Chicago loses out on its bid to host the 2016 Olympics in the first round of voting. A great wailing and gnashing of teeth can be seen and heard to the south. While I think it would have been fun to have had the cycling events up here in Wisconsin, I'm not all that bummed about the decision. Honestly, getting the games is always a mixed bag at best for the host cities, and we should really be focusing our time and money on things like education, the environment, and transportation (our lack of current light rail may have been a factor in the no vote, and I suspect the less-than welcoming environment for foreign visitors seeking visas was as well).
  • [Badger Herald] Erstwhile Dist. 5 Dane County Supervisor Wyndham Manning has decided not to run for re-election. The Herald handled the announcement with relative kid gloves, considering the pretty harsh criticisms their editorial board has lobbed at Manning in the past. Personally, the times I've met the guy he's always been friendly and approachable, but I've also gotten the distinct impression that he was perhaps unprepared for the full duties of this particular job. It is perhaps best, then, that he's recognized that a run for second term would be unwise.
  • [Wisconsin State Journal] A new club that opened on the outskirts of Middleton, Outer Limits, really wants to let their ladies show some skin to patrons waving dollar bills. And Middleton's efforts to stop them are, like, totally unconstitutional. Never mind that the club originally applied for and got their liquor license under the guise of just being a "sports bar." And never mind that they're skipping right past applying for a permit and going straight for the lawsuit. I actually think the "no nudity" laws we've got in Dane County are bull, but it doesn't help the cause when you act like douchebags about it.
  • [Yale E360] So those big bad beasties we're so prone to vilify and kill off? Things like wolves, bears, big cats and the like? Yeah, turns out depleting their numbers so drastically ain't such a great idea, as it leaves the so-called "mesopredators" to run rampant, and they can wreak some serious havoc on local ecosystems. Baboons, for instance, have apparently flourished so much in parts of Africa that they've been destroying crops and "menacing villagers" (which, though it sounds hilarious, is a bad thing).

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

O Overture, my Overture

I have been known to make less than complimentary statements about the Overture Center. I have been taken to task over that fact several times. But I will admit that my opinion of the place has softened quite a bit over the years, moving from the frustration and annoyance I felt when several great local businesses were ousted to make room for the Jello-mould-and-white-walls structure, to a somewhat grudging appreciation for the efforts being made to better reach out to the community and bring in a wider variety of events.

I still don't like the aesthetic design of the exterior, but that's neither here nor there when it comes to the long-term financial stability of what has the potential to either be a strong centerpiece of the downtown, or a sucking black hole of city dollars.

According to an article posted today on Channel3000, in a bid to restructure and give the OC a brighter future, a consultant has been hired to explore various public/private models of operation. That's a good move, and it's bolstered by the fact that "Overture publicist Rob Chappell said that the private 201 State Foundation, the Overture's fundraising arm, paid for the study -- not taxpayer dollars." Right now, the OC needs to do its damnedest to project fiscal responsibility to a public weary of taxpayer funded bailouts.

AMS Planning and Research, the consultant doing the study, said private-public or totally private arts centers have the greatest fundraising opportunities. The consultant also said Overture was about average when compared to six other similar arts facilities in the U.S. However, the consultant said the facility fell below average in a number of areas including marketing, fundraising and ticket prices and higher than average in cleaning/maintenance costs.
So there are areas that they're doing all right in, and several others that need work. Having the latter called out publicly is a good first step toward making sure that real, meaningful changes are made to create a more stable environment at the center.

There have been several major missteps made in the past with regards to how things are run over there, but I've been encouraged by the changes I've seen recently. There appears to be a greater effort at community outreach and publicity. Several local theatre and music groups enjoy the OC as their base of operations. The presentation of the headlining act of this year's Forward Music Fest at Overture Hall was an encouraging sign, too. I know there are people working for the center that really care about the community and about making the center an important part of it, so I'm willing to concede that I have perhaps been a little too prone to harsh generalizations in the past. That's not to say that certain criticisms weren't extremely warranted, but I will also do my best to give credit where credit is due.

But they will still need to work hard at finding ways to attract more people in these tough times, which means offering more events with lower ticket prices. And they'll need to do some serious cost cutting, all without negatively impacting the quality and quantity of events offered. It'll be a tricky balance, to be sure, but one that won't be struck without first coming to terms with some hard truths. I'm hopeful that the consultant's reports will help them go down that path.

(photo by MandaRose on Flickr)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Brunch: Oren Lavie

I haven't remembered to do a Sunday Brunch post in awhile, but as I'm sitting here getting ready to head north for the Warrens Cranberry Festival (!), I thought I'd take a moment to share a really lovely music video I stumbled across the other day. It's a good song, but the video takes thing to a whole other level of awesome. Please to enjoy, and have a great Sunday!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The good news for Sept. 24, 2009

I haven't done one of these in awhile, but there's a lot going on and I have little time to dedicate to a proper post today. Plus, I can't let Craver have all the fun, can I? Also, I've got some interesting news to break to you all in the near future regarding this blog. Stay tuned!

  • [Channel3000] - It looks like the Wisconsin legislature might finally be getting around to imposing actual regulations on dog breeders. Unfortunately, our state has become something of a haven for puppy mills and other nefarious breeding outfits. I have no idea why it took this long for concrete laws to be enacted. Who were the puppy haters causing the delay?
  • [Liebmann] Cory had the unenviable task of actually sitting through Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker's big 2010 budget proposal speech today, and makes some fine points about the rampant hypocrisy inherent within. I would be laughing at Walker more if I didn't know that some people actually respect the guy. It's a mad, mad world.
  • [77 Square] Katjusa Cisar does a nice post-game piece on last weekend's second annual Forward Music Fest. I was involved via two bands that played, and since I'd expressed some crankiness over how things were handled by organizers, I'm even quoted. All that's lacking is a visual representation of me angrily shaking my fist at a passing cloud.
  • [Dane101] Shameless plug! As a co-editor for this site, I feel it's my duty to let you know that we've just undergone a massive--and, I think, pretty awesome--redesign. To celebrate, we're giving away some pretty awesome prizes every day this week. Hey, this is how it's done! No broken links or anything!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Out with the old, in with the new

Madison has lately been taken of a need to tear down and build up, slowly altering its picturesque skyline so that it's gone a little less sleek and low and a little more big and tall. I'm not of a mind that all change and development is bad. Sometimes, to really revitalize a neighborhood and/or a city, fresh ideas and modern amenities are needed. But I believe in balance, including when it comes to development. Progress, after all, shouldn't be measured only by our ability to tear down old things and replace them with something entirely new and different.

Yet our city's historic neighborhoods face this exact mentality. The most recent example can be found in the area surrounding James Madison Park, where Apex Enterprises is working to construct new apartment/condo buildings. At a meeting with the neighborhood last weekend, their architect unveiled several different proposals for what might be done. One has a giant glass behemoth seemingly enveloping the historic Lamp House. Another splits the building in two, on either side of the house. A third proposes that the home be moved all together to make room for a narrower tower.

As Brenda Konkel laid out in her blog, these proposals also call for the demolition of several (eight at last count) other historic homes in the neighborhood.

I recognize that not every old home in the city can be saved once it reaches a certain level of disrepair. It's a shame, but it happens. But I also recognize that, here in the US, we are often far too quick to decide that, simply because a structure is over 50 years old, it should be razed to make way for something new. New isn't always better, though, especially when it fails to take into account the very attributes that make a particular neighborhood unique.

The James Madison Park area is what it is because of the large grouping of older houses it contains, access to and views of the lake, and its residential feel. Plunking a giant apartment or condo building into the middle of that would be like wedging an oversize foot into a tiny glass slipper.

Plus, do we really need more condo towers right now when so many of the recently built ones are still somewhat, if not mostly, vacant? And can Apex truly afford another private development when they're already working on several other large projects? These are honest questions that deserve serious consideration, I think.

I have to believe there are developers and architects out there with a better idea of how to integrate new ideas/buildings into older neighborhoods and landscapes. The notion of infill is important if we want to keep outlying land available for farming and plain old greenspace and avoid sprawl. But infill at the cost of the destruction of our city's history, aesthetic, and soul? Count me out.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A weekend of music

Boy oh boy is there a lot of great music to catch in Madison this weekend. It's almost as though the audio gods are conspiring to get us to rent ourselves in twain - I know I'm tempted to find some way to split myself into about five different people in order to catch all the goodness.

Until modern science allows for such a thing to happen without, y'know, death, I'll just have to stick to my schedule. I'm in two--count 'em, two--bands that are playing at the Forward Music Fest.

TONIGHT, come on down to the cozy lil' Project Lodge (817 E. Johnson in Madison) at 9:00p.m. for a show featuring The Shabelles, for whom I hit things with sticks and sometimes sing. We're a fun, surf-garage-pop outfit and to further entice you, we'll be bringing a whole bevvy of beers to share with the faithful who show up. Get in with a FMF day or weekend pass, or just buy a single ticket at the door.

TOMORROW, la pièce de résistance will be my band, Little Red Wolf, whoopin' it up proper like at the Frequency (121 W. Main in Madison). We kick things off at the early hour of 4:00p.m., and will be followed by Crane Your Swan Neck, Filligar, Pomegranates, and Pronto (featuring a member of Wilco). Same deal for tickets as above.

I can garauntee good times (if not great oldies)!

And don't forget, there's also the always lovely Willy St. Fair this weekend, as well as the (totally free) Madison World Music Fest down at the UW Terrace!
The Lost Albatross