Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!

Or Samhain, depending on how you celebrate. In honor of this day of days (and my favorite holiday), I bring you the following video, which pretty much sums up the current unfortunate trend in women's costuming:

I like the "sexy 19th century steel conglomerate tycoon" the best.

Oh bondage, up yours (big telecoms)!

Nothing like a good X-Ray Spex reference to start the day right.

Anyway, there's much hullabaloo over a bill making its way through the Senate at the moment--specifically SB 107, the so-called "Video Competition Bill" currently being championed by newly crowned Majority Leader Russ Decker. The positive spin on this piece of legislation is that it will break Charter Communication's monopoly on providing cable services in the area, and generally increase competition. Increased competition is usually good for the consumer, as it results in lower rates and better service.

The negative spin on SB 107 is that it's the work of AT&T and will provide all sorts of fun loopholes in the law, allowing for the industry to regulate itself (instead of the state), to deny service to people in rural areas, the elderly and lower income people. It would also cause a loss in fees usually paid by the industry to the state that then go to fund local public access channels, shifting the costs to taxpayers and causing significant damage to those public stations.

John Nichols has an excellent op-ed over at TCT about the issue, and does a good job of summing up what's going on:

Backed by AT&T as part of a move to consolidate control over communications in Wisconsin, the legislation -- Senate Bill 107 -- was written in consultation with industry interests with the purpose of undermining consumer protections, threatening public access channels, eliminating the ability of communities to establish basic standards for cable service, and decreasing the likelihood that new communications technologies will be offered to communities throughout the state.

The supposed regulations in this bill are riddled with loopholes that are designed to allow communications conglomerates to deny quality service to low-income and rural areas of Wisconsin. For instance, instead of requiring that cable TV and other broadband providers guarantee everyone in Wisconsin has access to communications networks, the so-called "build-out requirements" are so weak that big firms would be able to avoid them by claiming that providing equal service to the poor, to the elderly and to people living in the countryside is not "commercially reasonable."

The comments section under this piece is already riddled with people arguing back and forth either about why this legislation is a god-send or why it's of the devil. Personally, my take is that it smacks of being a bad take on a valid problem. Current state law probably does need some revision to better meet modern communications issues more effectively, to make sure everyone has equal access, that no one company can have a monopoly on a region, and that public access stations continue to be well maintained and accessible.

This bill doesn't do any of that, but instead appears to create a veritable free-for-all for companies like AT&T, the biggest backers of the legislation.

I'm as disinterested in providing Charter with regional dominance as the next person, but this is not at all the way to go about it. No amount of bellyaching about the Big Ten or NFL Networks is going to change my mind, either. There are other ways of going about getting access to stations like that, ways that don't involve deregulating the entire industry in Wisconsin, and that don't favor any one company in particular.

For more information about the legislation and actions being taken to oppose it, visit and their great "Myths and Facts" section in specific.

P.S. Just found this very interesting article about the whole thing, including a breakdown of how an influential poll on the matter was conducted and worded. This part in particular is telling:

For example, the poll states: "Opponents of this law say that the state legislature should not pass the bill ... because community access stations would be required to spend up to $1 million dollars [sic] to upgrade their equipment." Cardona told PR Watch that this is not what AB 207 / SB 107 would require. Instead, she said, "this bill passes on AT&T costs to PEG stations. In the past, the cable operator has always provided all of the interconnections from our stations to their end. AT&T wants to pass off the price of conversion equipment, which they need to have our normal broadcast signal stream on their systems. ... They want us to do that, which is going to be very cost prohibitive, especially for our smaller stations." Cardona couldn't say how Mellman might have come up with the $1 million figure used in the poll.
It should be noted, too, that one of the organizations that conducted this poll, the Wisconsin Merchants Federation (WMF), has been highly active in promoting the bill for some time. Seems a bit fishy to me.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Wisconsin bikes take two pedals forward, one back

I've been trying to suss out what, exactly, happened with funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects in the recently passed state budget (nebulously referred to as the "Surface Transportation Grant Program"). It's not all that easy to figure out the details, but the basics are that Governor Doyle included, for the first time ever, a specific line item for their funding. That's the good news. The bad news is that of the $19.1 million set aside for biking and pedestrian projects by the Legislature, only $2.7 million of that made it past the governor's veto pen.

This leaves Wisconsin languishing near the bottom when it comes to how much in the way of federal transportation dollars states use for bike and ped projects. It seems like an especially petty slap in the face for a state that prides itself on being not only bike friendly, but downright bike obsessed. In addition to the thousands (if not more) of riders in the state, we're also home to numerous bike or bike related companies, including Trek, Planet Bike, Saris and Pacific Cycle.

For all the lip-service our public officials seem to pay to our bike and pedestrian friendly culture, more often it would appear that regular citizens are the ones who do the most to promote and sustain the culture.

What I'm confused about, and would love if someone could help sort out for me, is what's being done with the money that was supposed to go to surface transportation. Before Doyle got to it, the budget originally allocated $14.6 million from "federal transportation sources historically spent on bicycle and pedestrian projects, plus an additional $1.8 million." But Doyle vetoed the extra $1.8 million and put the other $14.6 million back into the regular transportation budget. What gives? What confuses me further is the total amount of money allocated to Wisconsin by the federal government for surface transportation: $130,226,463 according to this document.

That last bit is from the budget for 2007, so it's likely to have changed for the coming fiscal year. Still, what am I missing here? Where is that money going? Are we getting it in the first place? Am I misreading everything?

There is one thing I'm sure of, however, and it's that we owe it to ourselves to far better fund bicycle and pedestrian projects in this state. Improved and increased trails, bike lanes, secure parking spots, education and incentives are all things we should be focused on providing. There are so many benefits to bicycling and walking and so few down sides that it's hard to imagine why anyone would want to ignore them. But then, I suppose we have to remember where the big money is and who it speaks for, and we've only to look at the funding for highway and freeway maintenance to find it.

The Nameless Gift

It sure pays to be an MBA, but I suppose that's nothing new. While I have a deep desire to see this level of giving applied to, say, the arts (yes, I'm a little biased), I can't help but be happy for the UW-Madison School of Business, which just received an astounding donation of $85 million from alumni who got rather into the Homecoming spirit this past weekend. What's even better, though, is the fact that the money comes with the stipulation that the school retain its name, instead of taking on the name of any individual or organization, for at least 20 years. In the era of Mountain Dew's Freakfest and the Ted Stevens International Airport, it's extremely refreshing to have at least some of our organizations left to just be what they are.

Just as good, perhaps, is the claim that the majority of the money will go to funding "people and programs, not facilities." Let's face it, the Business School isn't hard up for nice digs. But there were rumblings of losing the competitive edge over other schools in terms of faculty, especially as the state legislature routinely cuts funding for the UW system in general (and that whole no-benefits-for-domestic-partners thing, but that's a rant for another post).

Anyway, my congrats to the school and to the donors who so generously and, relatively humbly, gave quite a bit of dough. While I'm not 100% pro-business school, ours is well regarded in the US and the world as one of the best, with a strong emphasis on teaching the social, environmental and economic perspectives required in our global age. So, hooray for them.

Now if only our society would learn to value its writers, artists, musicians, social workers, etc., with the same kind of monetary and societal security. A girl can dream.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Feel good story of the week

Speaking of Second Harvest, I stumbled across this article in the State Journal today and it brought one big smile to my face:

State Journal readers helped give Edgewood High School kitchen worker Richard Hare his best birthday ever.

Hare traditionally uses his birthday week in mid October to raise money for the Second Harvest Foodbank.

In the past, his Richard 's Birthday Raffle has raised $300 to $400. This year, to mark his 40th birthday, he set the ambitious goal of raising $1,000 to help feed the poor.

Did he succeed?

Did he ever.

"The outpouring of support has been absolutely astounding, " said Edgewood President Judd Schemmel.

Hare went to Second Harvest on Tuesday with a wrapped box containing checks for $14,352. And money is still arriving at the school.

You too can help donate to Second Harvest, a national network of food banks with an office here in Madison that helps to provide meals to people and families in need, by attending dane101's Hallow-rockin'-ween this Wednesday. The $7 cover charge goes to benefit the program.

There are any number of food drives and fundraisers around this time of year, as we're reminded by dint of national holiday to give thanks and give back. It's a good habit to be in as a nation, but we should also be obligated to do this sort of thing all year round, and to help find ways to bring and keep people out of poverty in the first place. The following is a short list of some of the organizations working to do these types of things in Madison and the surrounding areas. Take a look and consider volunteering time, money and/or resources to one of 'em.

We can use this time of year to help remind ourselves of what's good about our own lives and that there's much each of us can do, as individuals or as groups, to help improve the lives of others. In the richest nation on Earth, it seems the least we can do.

Turn, turn, turn

The changing leaves, increase in the doorstep pumpkin population and the cooling air should all be plenty to remind me that the season is changing and that winter will soon be nipping at our noses. And yet, for me, it is only the arrival of the last outdoor farmers' market of the year that really brings home the end of the milder months.

Be sure to gather your canvas bags, wagons and walking shoes for one last go-round the capitol this Saturday at the final outdoor Dane County Farmers' Market until next spring.

Thankfully, we have a very nice indoor market to get us through the winter, but we all know that it's just not quite the same. This year, however, I'm vowing to do more with the snowy months (provided we get a decent amount of the stuff, anyway). My goal for this winter is to get back onto a snowboard for a little downhill adventuring at places like Tyrol Basin and Cascade Mountain. Maybe do some snowshoeing, too. Definitely sledding. I have fond memories of sledding down a huge hill behind St. Mary's College in Winona, MN, when I was a kid. It's where we "invented" the practice of "butt-bombing," which basically involved a narrow, slick-as-hell ice hill and sledding without a sled. Ah, the many uses of snow pants. Speaking of, anyone know where I could get a nice pair of adult sized snow pants? It's been way too long....

In the meantime, though, it's still light jacket weather and the lakes are not yet frozen over. I think there's still time for some regular ol' hiking, biking and general outdoor lallygagging. Plus, despite all the hoopla from this past weekend, there's still a proper Halloween to be had! Be sure to swing by the High Noon Saloon for dane101's Hallow-Rockin-Ween, a fundraiser for Second Harvest Foodbank with a whole bunch of great bands, costume contests, prizes and good times. I'll be there, dressed to the nines and taking pictures as usual.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Beautiful music

Jesca Hoop. If you haven't heard her music yet, consider this my plea to change that. I saw her open for The Ditty Bops a few months ago and absolutely loved her extremely unique, melodic, quirky sound. She sings songs in a style that seems to come from a world that never existed, I think. But she also sings songs about our world, and you can hear one of them, a beautiful ode on Hurrican Katrina and its effects, by clicking this (legal) link:

Jesca Hoop - "Love Is All We Have"

She accomplishes the very difficult task of tackling a somber, recent event without resorting to schmultz. And it's sweet without being syrupy. If you like this, be sure to check out her newly released debut record, "Kizmet."

Things to do when you're (un)dead in Madison

Perhaps in an effort to keep thoughts of impending snow and ice from our heads, Madison hosts a flurry of activity during the shortened autumn days. A lot of that is due to our annual celebration of the Greatest of Holidays: Halloween. But there are all number of events happening, and I'd like to recommend three specifically, two of which are going down tonight and the last will happen Saturday:

First off, you'll find me at the closing night party for "Emerge" at the Forza Gallery tonight. From the press release:

As humans, we are constantly pushing forward, examining ourselves, others, and the world around us. Constantly striving for that next step, the next ring on the ladder. Five local emerging artists examine the concept of "EMERGE". Is it emerging light orbs? Conversations emerging through wooded boxes? Or a face emerging from a reflection or the paint? Danielle Hartman-Semtry, Paul Hendrickson, Melanie Kehoss, Aaron Wilbers, and Auriel Willette explore these ideas and more through the month of October at Forza Gallery located at 825 E. Johnson St. There will be a closing reception on Friday, October 26th from 6pm-9pm.
One of the artists is a friend of mine, so I have a somewhat biased reason for going, but really, a chance to see good art and talk with good people should never be passed up.

If fundraising for good causes is more your thing, though, might I recommend the shindig to benefit the Tenant Resource Center tonight at the Brink Lounge? Brenda Konkel has a good explanation of why raising money for the center is so important, especially now that much of their funding has been cut. TRC has done a great deal of fabulous and very vital work for our community, so it's important to give a little something back. A lot of great businesses have donated items for a silent auction, including Budget Bicycle, A Room of One's Own and the Willy St. Co-op, just to name a few.

Saturday night offers up a whole slew of possible activities, but one in particular stands out to me as being your best bet for an excellent evening, and that's HallowQueen at the Majestic. Instead of freezing your butt off out on State Street, why not get warm with Indie Queer's night of be-costumed decadence and top-notch DJs? Starts at 9pm and would be a good opportunity to check out the newly re-opened theatre if you haven't already.

But whatever you choose to do this weekend and beyond, have fun, stay safe, and for God's sake, don't smash any pumpkins!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

It's a trick, get an ax.

This has nothing to do with Madison or Wisconsin...or even the Midwest, for that matter. But damn if it isn't the coolest thing I've seen all day.

Clerk uses ax to fight off robber. Watch the video, it's worth it.

Was it crazy for her to do that? Absolutely. Was it also completely awesome? You betcha! Though I'm not sure if this whole thing would be an argument for or against the right to bear arms. Does it apply to axes?

In other news, apparently Paul Soglin has some similar thoughts on Dave Blaska. Crazy, man, crazy.

Dave Blaska: pot, meet kettle.

Lately I've been reading, and cringing at, a lot of Dave Blaska's "blogs" over at the Isthmus Daily Page. It's fine and dandy that the left-leaning publication, for whom I sometimes write on a freelance basis, has a few more right-leaning contributors (I'm making this assumption based upon Blaska's pro-gun, anti-tax, throw-em-all-in-jail stances espoused in previous columns). In fact, I wholeheartedly encourage the practice. But it does both sides and the moderates a disservice when the most visible opinions are so filled with empty rhetoric and name calling.

Today's Blaska Blog takes aim at the counter protesters, most notably state employees, who showed up to "shout down" the anti-tax activists who came to the capitol a little while ago to show support for the Republicans in the legislature who were stalling the budget process.

Let me be clear: I don't think drowning out the voices of people with whom you disagree is a constructive way to solve problems or get your point across. But I also don't think that opposing any and all taxation is a good way to run a society. I've rambled on about this before, so I don't think I need to entirely restate my opinion that some degree of reasonable taxation is necessary for the maintenance of a just and equitable society. The trick isn't in raising or lowering taxes to absurd levels, but in making sure that the taxes are collected and distributed fairly, instead of falling into already well-lined pockets through pork barrel spending and mismanagement.

Putting aside the real issues for a moment, though, my beef with Blaska and others of his ilk are their incessant stereotyping of the fictional notion of a unified "Left."

Let's take a look at a few examples:

The [sic] afternoon Progressive Dane newspaper tried to spin the anti-tax protest as a bunch of Hollywood extras bused in for the event.

Americans for Prosperity, the group that organized the rally opposing the enactment of the compromise state budget proposed by Gov. Jim Doyle, is not from Wisconsin. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Typical Progressive Dane disinformation: impugn motives, dispute the provenance rather than debate the issues.

I'm not a member of PD, and while I agree with many of their positions, I don't always agree with their methods. But this isn't to say that I believe all PD members are the same, nor do I believe that "Progressive Dane" is a dirty turn of phrase. Blaska, however, along with a whole slew of more right-leaning folks around these parts sure do seem to think of it as a slur. I'm sure they don't appreciate it when similar people on the left make blanket statements about Republicans or the "Right."

Then we have this:

But the bottom line is that the state employees union could not have hurt themselves more if Karl Rove was in charge of mixing the Kool Aid. Arrogant, thuggish and thickheaded. They could not counter the anti-tax citizens with facts, so they substitute brute noise in an attempt to intimidate. That is totalitarian in nature, the polar opposite of sifting and winnowing.

It's the Soviet Union jamming Radio Free America. It's Boss Jim Taylor shoving the Boy Rangers' newspaper wagons off the sidewalks in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

It's one of my favorite underhanded tactics of debate: conjure up the specter of Communism and the Big Boss' of yore (or similar bogeymen) so that any argument made by the other side comes off sounding like a defense of those things. Plus, it should be noted, Blaska has not, as far as I'm aware, made any sound arguments, supported by facts and statistics, to support his anti-tax position. What was that he was just saying about substituting "brute noise in an attempt to intimidate"?

Blaska says he's a state employee himself, so there's some ground to stand on when he attempts to make his points. Of course, the invocation of Vicki McKenna as some kind of voice of reason hurts him more than anything, but still he, and others like him, have a great platform to put forth real ideas and try to improve the public discourse. Instead, he seems content to call names, make broad generalizations and skirt around the real issues (like, y'know, that whole "no man is an island" and "we need a friggen state budget" and "health care should be a right not a privilege" stuff).

So here's an idea, My Fellow Bloggers: try to inject some real content into your online musings. Better yet, try to then transfer that real content, those original ideas, into actual, real-life action. I'm fully applying this to myself--I need to do more than write and I know it. The first step that many of us are missing, though, is in learning how to have civil discourse with people who don't agree with us and not to lump them all into one identical group.

With role models like the empty talking heads we currently have on most cable news networks and syndicated talk shows, it's easy to see why the more local voices might be tempted to fall into fiery, no-substance rhetoric. But we owe it to ourselves and our fellow citizens to rise above that type of easy pandering. And we need to start holding public voices to higher standards: if all you can do with your payed platform is snipe, then you don't deserve the space. It should be back to the proving grounds with you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Strange Brew

Our dear leaders up at the capitol finally saw fit to pass a state budget yesterday, which is good, but only after the Democrats ceded some of the best parts of it (universal health care) and kept some of the worst parts (taking $200 million from the fund used to help pay medical malpractice awards), which is bad.

Apparently the long, drawn-out and very tedious work of doing their jobs also made the legislators very thirsty, as they slipped last-minute provisions into the budget that 1) make it legal for liquor and grocery stores to hand out free samples of hard liquor and 2) allows, as far as I can tell, that a brewer, "in providing beer to its own retail premises, is not subject to restrictions on the sale, transportation, and delivery of beer generally applicable to wholesalers and retailers."

I'm not entirely sure I understand the ramifications of the latter point, but the Madison Beer Review does a good job of laying it out for us. From what I can tell, it hurts smaller microbreweries with slightly unusual/clever distribution methods and pretty much just benefits The Great Dane.

It's always fascinating to see what little tidbits get added onto otherwise unrelated bills and/or budgets, and this is, I'm sure, just the tip of the iceberg. I'm happy we've finally even passed a damn budget, but this kind of thing has always seemed especially shady to me. No time or will for a proper debate of the subject, so something just gets passed under the radar. That seems just a little dangerous.

In the end, I'm more upset about losing what would have been the most progressive and beneficial health care program in the country than I am about beer and liquor laws, but it's all certainly worth noting. In the end, the main problem is that the majority of our lawmakers seem more concerned with lining their pocketbooks and pleasing their donors and lobbyists than they do with taking care of the people they're supposed to represent. And that's an issue we all need to take up come election time. Don't let them forget that gross incompetence on the job will result in consequences--most notably, by not getting re-elected.

P.S. Silent Sports has a great call to arms against some of the line items in the budget to do with funding yet more ATV trails in Wisconsin. Check it out and make the calls!

The International Drag King Extravaganza!

Blow N Go [18]
Originally uploaded by Lost Albatross.

This past weekend, I had the great pleasure and honor of going to and performing for the 9th annual International Drag King Extravaganza (IDKE) in Vancouver, BC. We took a bunch of pictures while we were there, and that's what this post is all about. Later today I'll upload an actual written account of the unique experience.

There are two galleries to choose from:

Photos from the Showcase night of performances.

Photos from my group gallavanting around the city.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

It's a little easier to be green

I've just arrived back in town from my whirlwind tour of Vancouver, BC for the 9th annunal International Drag King Extravaganza. While I work on a write-up of my experiences at the event (which was awesome), I wanted to post something else important to tide you over:

Though the name is a little cheesy, the goal and the cause are unbeatable - Take the Mpower Pledge to help reduce carbon emissions in the city of Madison by 100,000 tons by the year 2011.

When you take the Mpower pledge, you join a community commitment to reduce 100,000 tons in citywide emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 2011.

You’re Mpowered to buy more renewable wind and solar power and help eliminate 40,000 tons of CO2; together, we can increase the efficiency of our current energy use in simple ways that can save enough energy to power more than 20,000 homes; we can install solar systems – a system in your home or business can eliminate 7,000 tons of CO2; we can reduce car emissions and plant trees – 1 tree absorbs 1 ton of CO2 over its lifetime. You can begin to conserve and protect our most precious resource: water.

You’re Mpowered at home, at work, at school and on the go to make our community a remarkably healthy place to live, work and play today, and for generations to come. You can. You count.
You can sign the pledge either as an individual or as a business (if you have one) and there are a number of options for actions to take to help meet the goal. Heck, I just learned that MG&E has a website that will give you an estimate of how much money it would cost you to sign up for their green energy plan, something that could offset your carbon emissions by 50-100% for a minimal extra charge. Tonight I'm going to go home and talk to the roommates about the plan and get our house onto it.

Every little thing helps, but signing onto a larger plan/pledge like this is an even better and more effective way to make a difference. It's not as difficult as it used to be to go all or even just mostly green, and the short and long term benefits can't be beat.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Loving our lakes a lot more

Madison is known for its lakes. We're the only state capitol situated on an isthmus. We host the Wisconsin Ironman competition, 1/3 of which relies on one of our lakes. There's a long tradition of recreation and use of the lakes here.

And yet, algae blooms and beach closures become more frequent, surface visibility is decreasing dramatically, and the overall health of the lakes is growing worse and worse. The main culprit is run-off from area farms, coupled with a whole slew of smaller issues. The city (with the help of the Dane County Office of Lakes and Watersheds) took a step in the right direction when it banned the use of phosphorous lawn fertilizer and coal tar sealants, and I certainly applaud their efforts.

But there's a lot still to be done if we want our lakes to be usable not only by future generations, but by our generation, too.

Rob Zaleski wrote a great article in the Capital Times about this issue (and a hat tip to Paul Soglin's blog for bringing it to my attention) and how we can look to Minneapolis' recent efforts to clean up their lakes as an example of how to get it right. Many of the techniques and suggestions offered by the Minneapolis story sound great to me, and I'm hoping that Madison gets on the ball and begins to more exactly pinpoint our own unique problem areas and then to act accordingly to fix them. Public involvement is key. Hiring the best scholars and scientists in related fields is key.

But there's one thing, and it seems like it was a major part of the Minneapolis clean-up effort, that doesn't quite sit right with me: the use of aluminum sulfate in the lakes.

In theory, it sounds good: bind up all that phosphorous and other solids and get 'em out of the way. But what are the long-term environmental effects of pouring all that aluminum into the water?

So far, I've found this:

"However, the use of aluminum sulfate as an additive has inherent problems when employed in lake water having low alkalinity and low pH, as aluminum sulfate tends to further depress the pH of the entire lake. For example, one mg/liter of aluminum sulfate consumes about 0.5 mg/liter of alkalinity from lake water, thereby depressing the pH of the lake. Lake pH is of particular importance because at a pH of 6.0 or less, free aluminum becomes soluble and enters the lake water. Toxicity tests have indicated that aluminum concentrations in water which are greater than about 50 µg/liter are detrimental to aquatic life." (

And then: "However, in eutrophic lakes algal blooms often raise the pH to 9 or above, and a significant fraction of the ammonia is thus present as volatile NH3. The pH of the Lake Mendota surface water is generally 8.9 to 9.0 during the summer. However, ammonia is depleted to trace concentrations (0.01 to 0.05 mg. of N per liter) by algal assimilation in early spring and remains low in concentration until late fall. During periods when the surface water ammonia content is high (0.3 to 0.4 mg. of N per liter) the pH is near 8.0, and during much of the period of high ammonia values, the lake is ice covered." (

Which would indicate that at this time, with the lake pH level being as high as it is, likely due to all that algae, adding the aluminum sulphate would be relatively safe. But what about if/when we reach the goal of cleaner lakes, resulting in fewer algae blooms and, presumably, lower pH levels? Would the aluminum then be released into the water?

I would hope that any task force created to study and make recommendations for the cleaning up of the lakes would seriously address this issue before using the technique. Who knows, maybe I'm completely off-base with this (I kind of hope so, because frankly I suspect that it'd be easier to use this process than not). I wonder what the Minnesota planner's knew about the process?

I realize this makes me geeky and picky, but it seems important to know.

One thing's for sure, though: we need to take drastic and sustained action to clean up our watershed. In addition to its recreational uses, the viability of the watershed is crucial in maintaining a healthy ecosystem--something that benefits each and every one of us, from the water we drink to the air we breathe. So what's next? What petitions do we have to start, which politicians need to be hassled, committees formed, etc? We can't leave everything to the officials. We have to let them know that we care, and that we care right now.

Support art and nudity this weekend!

A good photographer friend of mine, Colm McCarthy, is having an opening night reception this Friday for his photography collection entitled "Drama." You should check it out, because not only will there be spectacular pictures of actors, dancers, burlesque performers and more, there will also be a performance by The Apologists. Not a bad deal, considering that it's all for free.

Check the specs:

Theatre & Dance Photography 2003-2007
by Colm McCarthy
Escape Gallery, 916 Williamson Street, Madison, WI 53703
Friday Oct 19 through Thurs Oct 25

Opening reception Friday Oct 19, 7pm-10pm
with music by The Apologists
(after drinks at the Weary Traveler).


FRIDAY ONLY: Along with the 25 or so large images included in the exhibit,
there will also be several binders containing approximately 100 signed
color inkjet prints, covering five years of shows. These prints will be
available for a measly $10 each. The binders will only be there on Friday
night though, as it would just be inviting thievery to leave them lying

The larger images on the walls will be for sale for between $25 and $50
(unframed), but only on Friday, so you can ignore the stickered prices.
If you want a matted and framed image, just haggle.

Friday is also the only time you'll be able to catch The Apologists. I
asked them to play 24 hours a day for the duration of the show, but they
weren't into it. So come along and hear some American music. If you're
really lucky they might even do a Handsome Family tune (eh, Marty?).

And, alas, Escape is alcohol free but they do some excellent coffee and
baked thingies. There will also be snacks at hand, and afters drinks
(with or without alcohol) at the Weary Traveler.

Show is in the main gallery in the back. Escape is open 6am (ish) to
midnight, seven days a week.

I should point out that the show might contain images depicting partial
nudity, so those of you with younger children or who have a problem with
such images can consider yourselves warned.

Hope you can make it.


I'm rather bummed that I'm going to have to miss this (I'll be in Vancouver, so not all is lost), but that doesn't mean you have to, too. Go ogle some art for me!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Pushing hemp in Ripon

I'm going to come right out and say it: I think the United States should decriminalize marijuana. Yep, it's true, and I don't even smoke the stuff (anymore). Research and smarter folks than I have all shown that its medicinal and therapeutic effects all greatly outweigh its dangers (which are either less than or on par with the perfectly legal cigarette). And frankly, most of the "facts" that the current laws are based on are of the "Reefer Madness" era of weedaphobia and not on modern science.

Anyway, it turns out Madison isn't the only bastion of pro-hemp activists in the state. Apparently we're not totally alone, and are surrounded by a few scattered patches of reality.

The Wisconsin Hemp Order, a group originally founded in 1917 to promote the hemp growing industry in the state at the time, will be re-convening this Thursday in Ripon, Wisconsin, on the group's 90th anniversary.

The Wisconsin Hemp Order

Thursday, October 18, 2007
Time: 7:00pm - 10:00pm
Location: Old White Schoolhouse
Street: Blackburn St. (US 23)
City/Town: Ripon, WI

Contact Info
Phone: 608.442.8830


The Wisconsin Hemp Order was originally formed Oct. 18, 1917 in Ripon, WI to promote the industry in the State. We'll be gathering on the 90th Anniversary, in Ripon's Old White Schoolhouse, birthplace of the Republican Party, to mark the Anniversary and re-form the Organization.

Keynoting will be Dr. David West, plant geneticist, and the most recent holder of a Hemp license from the DEA.

Dr. Dave's Hemp Archive click here

(The focus of this event is on fiber, oilseed, etc. uses, not medical or recreational uses of cannabis.)

In addition to this being an interesting and fun event, I've also learned something new today. I had no idea that the Old White Schoolhouse in Ripon could lay claim to the earliest formation of the Republican Party. It's especially fascinating to note that the party was originally formed as a radical reaction against the Nebraska Act, which formed new territories wherein the practice of slavery would be allowed if the residents so chose (and led to the episode known as Bleeding Kansas, a sort of pre-Civil War conflict of rather stunning proportions). The people who created the Republican Party thought that the expansion of slavery into any new lands was completely unacceptable and made this belief one of their central platforms in the first series of elections they ran in.

Abraham Lincoln was, of course, the first Republican president. What's ironic is that this party that stood as a progressive and rather radical force has since degenerated into the status-quo loving, regressive and exclusionary group that it mostly is today.

Still, I'd be curious to see this little schoolhouse with its slice of the political history pie. And I'm glad to hear that it's being used for the type of progressive cause that the original Republicans might have gotten behind.

Fair Trade in Milwaukee

Listening to Wisconsin Public Radio this morning, I was extremely pleased to hear that the Milwaukee Common Council has just passed a "fair trade city" resolution, making Milwaukee the first major city in the US to do so.

There are already a number of businesses that offer fair trade goods in and around Milwaukee, so having the support of the whole city is a huge boon. Hopefully this resolution will be a spring board for greater education about what fair trade is and means to a community, and also to more widespread adoption of the practice.

Being "Fair Trade Certified" ensures that:

...strict economic, social and environmental criteria were met in the production and trade of an agricultural product. Fair Trade Certification is currently available in the U.S. for coffee, tea and herbs, cocoa and chocolate, fresh fruit, flowers, sugar, rice, and vanilla. TransFair USA licenses companies to display the Fair Trade Certified label on products that meet strict international Fair Trade standards.

Fair Trade Certification empowers farmers and farm workers to lift themselves out of poverty by investing in their farms and communities, protecting the environment, and developing the business skills necessary to compete in the global marketplace."

Globally, Fair Trade certification is obtained through the Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) and FLO CERT, an umbrella organization that sets social, economic and environmental standards and inspects applicants to make sure they're following them in order to become certified under the Fair Trade label.

By supporting businesses that follow the Fair Trade model, we help to decrease the demand for cheap sweat shop labor and unfair and often harmful practices. We pay the extra dime or two to help bring people across the globe out of poverty and into healthier, more sustainable lifestyles.

I hope that other US cities (cough Madison cough) follow Milwaukee's lead by passing similar resolutions, and then making sure to follow them up with solid, long-term action.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Massacre: The Trailer

I can't express how proud I am to have been part of this production. Please to be enjoying the first, full-length trailer for "Massacre: The Musical" (coming soon!):

Hope you like gore and musical numbers.

What are you drowning in your bathtub today?

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a huge GWB fanboy, hopes it's your government: "My goal is to cut government in half in twenty-five years, to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

Are Wisconsin legislators, most notably the 30 who signed onto the "No Tax Increase Pledge," taking their cues from Norquist?

Look, just like most law-abiding taxpayers, I don't want taxes to skyrocket and make it nigh unto impossible for me to make ends meet. But let's be honest with ourselves, that's not what we're talking about when we discuss our state's woefully and inexcusably late budget.

The attitude that Mr. Norquist and his ilk seem to have is the "I am an island and need no outside help" point of view more often associated with extreme Libertarians and those people who barricade themselves inside their homes/compounds with guns and made-up country flags.

Government needs restraints so that it doesn't become the type of all-seeing behemoth depicted in books like "1984," but it also needs to be used appropriately to provide for the kinds of services that one person or one community can't provide for alone.

You want to abolish a whole bunch of government associations, drastically cut taxes and basically fend for yourself? Fine. Can you put out your own fires, pave your own roads, school your children from kindergarten through college, protect your ecosystem, insure that you're treated and paid fairly at your job, police your streets, clean up and properly dispose of your garbage, make sure your means of getting electricity are safe and relatively clean, provide disaster relief for yourself and your neighbors in times of trouble, and find food in times of financial famine all on your own?

Really? Because I consider myself to be a fairly capable individual with certain basic survival skills, and I'm still fairly damn certain that I couldn't do all of that.

Look, if you want safer streets, clean water, air and food, and something resembling a decent standard of living, then you need to contribute to your society and not hoard everything to yourself, expecting to survive as an island. Public schools educate the children who then grow up to work in the jobs that provide many of the necessities and pleasantries we all rely on to get by. It also helps keep many of those children from turning to more illegal activities to make ends meet. And that's just one of the essential provisions of a good state budget.

There is no excuse for the kind of foot dragging, petulant tantrum the legislators are throwing. At this point, it has become dereliction of duty, and in any other state or private sector job, such a performance would be met with quick and appropriate punishment--probably with getting fired. Why aren't we holding our elected officials to the same standards? And why are our elected officials completely disregarding the will of the majority of their constituents in deference to the wild-eyed, disconnected-from-reality minority? As always, we should probably be following the money.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Recycle that Amiga, punk!

Good news! The City of Madison and Cascade Asset Management (CAM) are having a recycle-your-old-electronics jamboree on November 17. That means you can actually get rid of your unused computers, VCRs and other assorted electronic goodies without dumping them on the curb or in a bin. Which might make the hippies sad, but is about a million times better for the ol' environment.

Plus it's cheap! Just $5 for computer monitors and $25 for most television sets (probably because their innards are a bit hazardous). All your other odds n' ends, like keyboards, scanners, printers, stereo equipment, etc., are free. Just show up with your stuff between 9am and 1pm that Saturday at the City of Madison's Transfer Station at 121 E. Olin Ave. The Transfer Station is located between the Alliant Energy Center and Goodman Field (the pool).

Madison does a very decent job of recycling year-round, but responsibly getting rid of your electronic equipment is a bit trickier. Thankfully, there are companies like CAM that do our dirty work for us.

I recently discovered another, similarly useful recycling service for old VHS and cassette tapes (among other things). I've got a veritable mountain of old tapes lying around, so I was excited to see that I didn't have to resort to curbing them. For some odd reason, when I tried to freecycle all those episodes of Xena, no one wanted them.

Peace through awareness and action

Congratulations to Al Gore, the winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize. Ever since throwing off the shackles that come with being a politician, Gore has worked fairly tirelessly to bring much-needed attention to one of the biggest issues of our day: global climate change. It's a problem that transcends political, national and religious affiliation, and one that deserves everyone's undivided attention. We're all part of the problem and we're all part of the solution.

And yet, despite the overwhelming evidence that shows the impact humans are having on our home, there are still those people who would bury their heads in the sand and claim that climate change doesn't exist or that it's "not so bad." Whether they do so out of fear and ignorance or out of greed, I don't know. But it baffles me that anyone could be so vehemently wrong about something so fundamental that it effects the viability of the only home human beings have.

Just take a look at the comments on this post over at Folkbum's Rambles and Rants. I like to think better of people, but how anyone could still be clinging to the wishful notion that there's nothing wrong with our climate, our ecosystems, the very air we breathe...well, it's just mind-blowing.

Before we can even hope to solve or address problems like poverty, war and disease, we'll need to get at the root of the thing. Our fast-growing population, industrialization, over-crowding--all of these are effected by the environment and, in turn, have an effect on the environment. There's no getting around that, no matter how far into the dust bowl you bury your head.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Happy Coming Out Day!

Today is National Coming Out Day, an internationally celebrated holiday of sorts set aside for LGBT folks and their allies to foster discussions about issues surrounding the LGBT community and the difficulty some people face in coming out to their friends and families. It's also a day that some people use to actually come out.

Fair Wisconsin is taking the day to call for pressuring law makers into including transgendered people in the likely soon-to-be-passed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The original draft of the law included "gender identity" in its list of things that would be illegal for employers to discriminate against. For various reasons, none of them good, that language has since been removed from the bill, and the Fair Wisconsin campaign is seeking to rectify that. Click over to their site for more information on how you can help support their efforts.

While we've still a long, long way to go in ensuring equal treatment of homosexuals, awareness and treatment of transgendered people is even worse off. They suffer prejudices and discrimination from even within the LGBT community, but especially from the world at large, which remains woefully uneducated about their lives and even their very existence. It is a complicated issue, but regardless of what your opinions are on the minutia of transgenderism, the right of all people in this country (not to mention world) to be treated fairly is not up for debate.

For more festive events, check out the the listings at the UW-Madison's LGBT Campus Center. Tonight they've got "Queer Games," which I won't even begin to speculate what that includes, but sounds fun.

Most importantly, be sure that you're supportive of your LGBT friends, especially the ones who may still be struggling with being open and honest about their sexuality. And if you're already out and proud, treat yourself to something fun today. You deserve it.

Life is a Kabaret, old chum

Tonight is the kick-off for the Wis-Kino Fall Kabaret, a 48-hour short film making challenge that's open to anyone and everyone who has any interest whatsoever. It's also Wis-Kino's 5th year anniversary, which is a fairly mighty achievement for a loosely run collective of artists.

If you've never participated in a Kabaret, I highly recommend checking it out. Doesn't matter if you just want to watch the films that get made or if you want to help out but don't think you have any qualifications. Just by showing up at tonight's screening and letting it be known that you're interested in helping, there's a good chance that one of the various teams of film makers will pick you up. You can do anything from acting, editing, location scouting, making music, holding a boom mike or just doing grip work.

Tonight's screening is one of the group's regular monthly meetings at Escape Java Joint where anyone can bring in a short film (5 minutes or under) to show, with an optional theme of "Scary/Halloween." I happen to have the inside scoop on at least one of the films to be screened tonight: a full-length trailer for the upcoming independent horror-musical-comedy, "Massacre: The Musical." Sure, I was involved with the actual project, but I'm being totally objective when I say that it's completely awesome.

At the end of tonight's screening, a "secret ingredient" will be revealed which all film makers have to incorporate into their Kabaret submissions in some way. They then have until 7PM Saturday night to make those films, which will be shown on the big screen over at Westgate Art Cinemas.

I wrote a full preview article about the event over at TDP, and will be keeping a running account of the experience which will also be published there at week's end.

In another piece of very cool local arts news, a group of dancers called Crushin' All Forces, made up of students from all of the area's high schools (and one middle school) just took first place on BET's "106 & Park Wild-Out Wednesdays." It's a competition in hip-hop dancing that airs nationally, and now the Madison group gets to go on to compete in the finals early next year. Many congrats to the group and all their supporters both for creating something amazing and for showing the country a little of what Wisconsin has to offer.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Autumnal Bliss

Pumpkins [1]
Originally uploaded by Lost Albatross.

I took this photo last Saturday at the Dane County Farmers Market. It was bizarrely hot that day, but we still had a great time hunting for seasonal goodies. The outdoor market runs until November 3rd, so be sure to get out for it while the schedule and the (now much cooler) weather allows.

I was accompanied on this most recent trek by my sister and two of her friends, all of whom had come into town from Chicago for the weekend. They make a point of coming to the farmers market whenever they're here, a sort of pilgrimage for cheese curds, jam and honey. They also usually buy a few packs of New Glarus beer to take home with them, too. And who could blame them? Every time I travel out of state and go to get a beer, I'm faced with the harsh reality of Spotted Cow only being available in Wisconsin. Perhaps that's what adds to its appeal and mystique?

With the hot snap out of the way (hopefully), we can now get on with a proper autumn. According to the Wisconsin Tourism Board, the trees should be reaching the peak of their colors some time in the next two weeks. Pumpkins, squash and gourds are all in season at the various u-pick locations in the area. That one house on Spaight St. is well and thoroughly decked out with Halloween decorations, and a whole slew of parties, concerts and other events are planned for the week around the holiday (for a good rundown, check out's "31 Days of Halloween").

Tomorrow, I'll be diving head-first into Wis-Kino's annual rite of film making passage, the 48-hour Kabaret, which lasts until the screening on Saturday night. If you've never been to one, it's definitely worth attending. Whether you're an aspiring film maker, a complete novice or just like watching movies, it's one hell of a good time.

Happy to be a cheese head

Last night I had the great pleasure of "covering" a cheese class at the newly opened artisanal cheese shop, Fromagination (edit: this post is a preview of the article which is now up on

The basics? I was very impressed. I certainly don't consider myself any kind of expert on the cheese industry or how to run a business in general, but from what I think I know, the people running this place are on the right track.

The women who ran the class, Jeanne Carpenter and Laurie Greenberg, were extremely enthusiastic and knowledgeable about both the cheeses and the people who made them. We got to sample 9 different Wisconsin made cheeses, all of which were delicious and well-chosen. My favorite of the bunch was the Mobay by Carr Valley Cheese, which is semi-firm and layers sheep and goat's milk separated by grapevine ash. It had a nice subtle kick and steady flavor.

The store itself is lovely, filled with locally made cheeses and their "companions" like Potter's Crackers, various microbrews and wines, cookies, and books about everything you could ever want to know about cheese.

I'll definitely be heading back to avail myself of their offerings, both for personal gain and as gifts for family and friends for the coming holidays.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Reporting live from day 101 without a state budget here in Wisconsin, and the natives are getting more than restless. Jesse Russell over at dane101 has issued a call to arms to stand vigil at the capitol this Friday with signs letting legislators know what we think of them. Governor Doyle has said he will call a special session next week if a budget is not agreed upon by this Friday (wait, this sounds familiar). And Republicans, having nothing better to do I guess, are crying foul over emails sent to low-income UW students by state Democrats via UW officials asking them to participate in a press conference this morning calling on legislators to complete the budget. These students are currently in limbo, waiting to hear whether or not they'll receive their Wisconsin Higher Education Grants.

There's some merit to the charge in that I don't know that it's entirely proper for university officials to send out partisan solicitations to students who fit a certain criteria made known through what I presume are confidential lists. The better option would have been for Doyle's people to have made a blanket press release to students, asking any interested parties to help out. Whether or not the emailing thing is an actual breach of ethics, I don't know. It is a little shady, but sharper minds than mine will figure it out in the end.

Still, I'm hoping all involved parties deal with the more pressing issues first, and leave this for once we have an actual budget passed. Maybe having the lure of another Democratic witch-hunt in the offing will be enough to light a fire under state Republicans and get them to help move this process along. Then the only question is, what will it take to get Democrats moving, as well?

Hooray for new parks!

This news is most welcome:

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk today announced the purchase of approximately 172 acres, the largest park purchase ever, in the North Mendota Natural Resource Area, calling it one of the most picturesque and most accessible of all the new county parks.

Rolling terrain of woodlands, pasture and wetlands, with some steeper slopes offering postcard panoramic views of surrounding landscape -- including the State Capitol – mark the property. Large, ancient open-grown oaks still are prominent on the slopes adjacent to Six-Mile Creek that runs through the property. The open-grown nature of the oaks presents a clear vision of the once-common savannas in this part of the state.

The property also provides a link for the proposed North Mendota Bicycle Trail, a regional trail similar to the Capital City Trail on the southern half of the county that will link Schumacher Farm County Park, Governor Nelson State Park and Pheasant Branch Conservancy.
This is great, and I applaud Falk and whoever else was involved for making the move. As far as I can tell, they're talking about the large stretch of land just north of Governor Nelson State Park and highways K and M.

View Larger Map

Not only does this add to the open space around the city, provide environmentally sound recreational, educational and research opportunities, but the fact that it could be used to help provide a link for the proposed North Mendota Bicycle Trail is excellent.

The more we do to preserve our natural resources and help keep sprawl to a minimum, the better. I'm now of a mind to go and check out the land to see for myself what the county has just bought for itself.

Making overtures to better management

Who's running the show over at the Overture Center, anyhow? The way they've been handling their trust fund for keeping the place afloat, you'd think it was a bunch of English majors. Actually, strike that--I was an English major and I think I would have had better sense than these folks. That is, I would have hired people who knew what they were doing, knew not to trust everything to our country's extremely volatile stock market, and knew not to blow whatever cash they blew on architect Cesar Pelli's soulless design (don't even get me started on that damn Jello mold of a dome).

After a poor performance in 2005, the arts district and a seperate trust fund board opted to undertake a refinancing plan, one which many people, including Mayor Dave, were opposed to. Apparently the opposition was for good reason, as the fund continues to do badly.

According to the WSJ:

The trust, which must be at least $104 million to meet all commitments, sank from $105.83 million on July 13 to $100.86 million on Aug. 15, doubling any prior decline and nearly forcing the district to tap other sources to meet debt payments.

The fund recovered to $103.31 million -- still below the $104 million mark -- by Sept. 28, according to the latest report by Madison comptroller Dean Brasser. The trust has since added another $400,000, the Overture Foundation said.

Overture Center was built with a $205 million gift from philanthropist W. Jerome Frautschi. About half the gift was put in a trust fund for operations and maintenance, while the rest was coupled with a $115 million loan to build the Cesar Pelli-designed facility on State Street.

But the original financing plan, which didn 't involve the city, failed in a weak investment market. In late 2005, the council approved a controversial refinancing deal, with the city providing a financial backstop on some debt for six years.

Under the deal, the trust covers about $7.45 million in annual debt payments and pays another $1.4 million every year to Overture 's operations and maintenance reserve. To do so, the trust must earn a 8.25 percent rate of return over the long term.

The trust, which stood at $109.3 million in late 2005, has fluctuated with the market and as it makes required payments.

After months of effort, the trust fund board earlier this year began a new investment strategy designed to get a strong return but better protect against market volatility.

But in the third quarter, due mainly to poor investment performance, the trust declined to a point where it couldn 't meet all commitments, said Chabot, who also sits on the trust fund board.

The trust 's performance came close to partial default, Chabot confirmed. If the trust drops between $100 million and $97 million -- as it nearly did -- Frautschi would cover the first $5 million in debt payments, then the arts district, and finally the city. No payment would be made to the reserve.

If the trust falls below $97 million, creditors would enter discussions with the trust fund board to evaluate the need for change.

I'm not sure what's going on, but I can't help but feel like better planning and more knowledgeable people running the show would have helped. And they may want to seriously consider making changes now, instead of waiting until the whole thing drops into default and everyone else has to help bail them out.

Between this mess and other little signs like Overture boosting their facility fees from 2 to 3 dollars last year, something just doesn't smell right. They're charging us extra to see shows, extra money that the performer's don't see, by the by--and they're charging those performers just to have merchandise tables out in the lobby in front of their shows, too.

The Overture Center was supposed to be a community arts space--welcoming to both national touring acts and local troupes. They put forth a token olive branch to the local arts community when they first opened, but, outside of the galleries, I haven't seen much local content since (and I mean really local--not just the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the occasional jazz band in the Rotunda). That might have something to do with the high rental fees charged for the various spaces (and they charge extra for tables and chairs).

Perhaps if they were able to get their act together with the financing/trust fund, they wouldn't feel the need to charge unreasonable fees for their rentals and their patrons. And that might increase use and attendance, which would in turn increase their revenues. Now there's an idea.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Columbus, you jerk.

Today is Columbus Day in the US, and though his actual first landing happened on October 12, our country chooses to celebrate that event a little early. Really, I'm still not sure why we have a national holiday for it in the first place. Aside from the fact that Columbus was an egotistical, mass-murdering fiend, he and his crew weren't even the first people to stumble onto the continent. Heck, they weren't even the first Westerners.

You've got the Vikings, of course, and apparently even some Welshmen by the name of Prince Madog who may have settled in Alabama back in the 12th century. The off-and-on contact between the Old and New Worlds had been going relatively smoothly until Columbus landed on what he thought was the Asian continent (man couldn't even make his geographical calculations half-accurately). Cue smallpox, slaughter and forced Christianization.

Columbus directly brought about the demise of many Taino (Arawak) Indians on the island of Hispaniola, and the arrival of the Europeans indirectly slew many indigenous peoples by bringing diseases previously unknown in the New World. An estimated 85% of the Native American population was wiped out within 150 years of Columbus's arrival in America, due largely to diseases such as smallpox, which were accidentally spread among Native American populations. Additionally, war and the seizing of land and material wealth by European colonists also contributed to the decline of the indigenous populations in American.

Columbus Day is not celebrated in the state of Minnesota. In the state of South Dakota, the day is officially a state holiday known as "Native American Day", not Columbus Day. Columbus Day is not a legal holiday in Nevada, but it is a day of observance.

In the summer of 1990, 350 Native Americans, representatives from all over the hemisphere, met in Quito, Ecuador, at the first intercontinental gathering of indigenous people in the Americas, to mobilize against the quincentennial celebration of Columbus Day. The following summer, in Davis, California, over a hundred Native Americans gathered for a follow-up meeting to the Quito conference. They declared October 12th, 1992, International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People.

The largest ecumenical body in the United States, the National Council of Churches, called on Christians to refrain from celebrating the Columbus quincentennial, saying, "What represented newness of freedom, hope, and opportunity for some was the occasion for oppression, degradation and genocide for others."

For whatever reason, I hadn't realized that Columbus Day wasn't celebrated in Minnesota, which is odd because I was born in and grew up for some time there. We did learn about Columbus in elementary school, usually around this time of year, so they don't exactly ignore the holiday. But I'm heartened to see that not all 50 states still observe it.

Doing away with the celebration of this man and his ilk would be a nice step, but the more important work lies in education about the real history of our country and its indigenous peoples, and most of all, in working now to make sure native people are not oppressed, ignored or let down. Whether we like to think about it or not, some of the most impoverished and under-privileged populations in this, the wealthiest nation in the world, live in places like the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The rate of death due to injury and violence amongst young Native Americans is horrifyingly high at 75% and the suicide rate is at least 50% higher than the national average.

There's a lot of work to be done, and we can never make up for the atrocities inflicted on the native populations by our ancestors. That's no longer our job. Our job is to make sure that everyone in this country (and beyond) gets a fair shake at life. By continuing to celebrate a holiday that venerates a man who was part of the problem we're trying to overcome, we set ourselves back and make it nearly impossible for anyone to trust that we're trying to make things better.

I think South Dakota has it right, so today I wish you a happy Native American Day!

See also:

Friday, October 5, 2007

You're gonna be in pictures

I popped over to The Daily Cardinal's website on a whim and read this article about police videotaping large events around town.

UW-Madison history professor James Donnelly raised some concerns regarding the constitutionality of this issue at the faculty senate meeting Oct. 1.

“If the police are videotaping any old student demonstration where the students are exercising their constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of assembly and free speech, this could be in some way intimidating,” Donnelly said.

Donnelly said he was alarmed by the lack of published policy clarifying the procedure for videotaping public events, and became concerned that the executive arm of the faculty senate was unable to review or determine whether the policy is “properly balanced.”

I've been to enough protest rallies, marches, political and sporting events to know full-well that police departments all over the country make a habit of filming such things. The first few times I noticed it, I admit to being somewhat shaken up. More than one of the plainclothes or uniformed cameramen made a point of looking all-too smug about what they were doing, assuming that it would make the protesters run and hide. It never did. And the protesters never turned violent (but sometimes the police did).

I've thought about it since and, heck, let them film. I've taped a lot of the events I've been to, have maybe even caught a few less-than-legal activities without knowing it. The thing is, when you start codifying who can and cannot film or photograph public events, you're scooting down a fairly slippery slope toward censorship.

Private events? Different story. But a bunch of people walking up and down a public street or gathered in a public forum? Fair game for pretty much anyone, and that's how it should be. Perhaps a more clear and concise policy is in order to make sure everyone knows that's the case, but that's the only reason I could get behind for such a move.

Now if there wasn't the issue of the recent proliferation of CCTV cameras, this would be a relatively cut-and-dry topic for me. But when does filming people in public places turn a bit sinister? When you're using the technology to stalk those people--and frankly, private citizens and law-enforcement officers on power trips are equally culpable. So maybe the difference is between permanently mounted surveillance cameras (creepy) and hand held, temporary recorders of a single event (generally less creepy).

I'm no scholar of privacy rights and such, so these are just off-the-cuff thoughts about the subject. But it's something worth thinking about, especially as the technology for watching people becomes more and more affordable, and more and more concealable.

Geeks United!

I'm a little sad I won't be able to check out much of the first ever Geek.kon, to be held this weekend at the Humanities building on the UW-Madison campus. I'd been hoping to at least take pictures of the costume masquerade, if nothing else. You see, I've got guests coming in from out of town to work on our routine for IDKE Vancouver (holy crap that's this month!), and being a good hostess precludes me from wandering off to get my geek on at the con.

I don't know that they'll miss me, though, with over 600 people already pre-registered and God knows how many who'll just show up. We've been covering the crap out of the run-up to the event over at dane101, which is a good place to go to get the low-down if you're interested. That and the website for the event itself, of course.

It's been interesting to read the "mainstream" press' coverage of the thing, too. Especially amusing was the article in today's WSJ, wherein the author took the usual liberties with the interviewee's words. See a compare-and-contrast over at The View From Now.

Strange how even the current spat of "Geek Chic" still seems a bit...condescending...toward those of us with interests that range beyond football and shoes (and hey, there's nothing wrong with either one of those things). For all of the media's recent seeming embrace of all things nerdy and geeky, the angle they come at it from is still very much in the vein of "oh hey these people are bizarre and novel and we're going to exploit them for the entertainment of the slack-jawed masses." Which is insulting to the masses, as well.

We're still getting picked on and beat up in school, in the workplace, and at home. You can make a (valid) argument that it's part of the rite of passage that all truly interesting people go through to make them stronger and more capable...but it still sucks.

Anyway, social politics aside, you should go check out the convention. It is free, after all, and if nothing else you can just go to watch a sci-fi flick or episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Hooray!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

For a Free Burma

Mine may not be a particularly large corner of the blogosphere, but even so, I want to do what I can to spread the word.

Free Burma!

Today, October 4th 2007, over 5000 bloggers from around the world stand together in solidarity with the brave people of Burma. This blog stands with them.

It will, of course, take so much more than just blogging and petition signing to get this done. But it has to start somewhere, and spreading the word, educating people about the issue, is the way to get the ball rolling.

Sitting here in the middle of America, it's hard to properly imagine what it must be like for the citizens of Burma/Myanmar, what they deal with on a daily basis in terms of poverty and government oppression. I can't begin to fathom the amount of courage and dedication it takes for the monks and the regular citizens to stand up against such a brutal junta. It's hard to believe that places and situations like this (and North Korea, Iraq, etc. etc.) still exist in the world. Some of us are moving forward so quickly that we're leaving some of our brothers and sisters behind.

We can't afford to do that.

Do whatever you can, no matter how small an action you think it might be, because the collective will and movement of millions (even billions!) of people is what changes the world.

"Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man's self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man." - Aung San Suu Kyi

In the Belly of the Dragon

It was too beautiful out yesterday afternoon not to pull myself up from sleeping off a cold and head downtown to do some walking. When I got to the square, I remembered that the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum was still holding their special exhibit, “In the Belly of the Dragon: Life and Death in I Corps,” a display of the personal stories and artifacts from Wisconsin soldiers who served in the most deadly section of Vietnam during the war.

I won’t lie, I’m a big history geek and spending some quality time in the museum is something I occasionally enjoy doing. Besides which, admission is free, and there’s really no beating that. I walked in through the Civil War displays, back beyond the Grand Army of the Republic veteran’s paraphernalia, and into the modestly sized but well-designed display.

Things I learned:

  • Half of all combat deaths in Vietnam occurred in I Corps (the five northernmost provinces of the country).
  • History is in the eye of the propagandist: there’s a photo of three or four men crouched down to say prayers with a gaunt chaplain before a major battle. All of these men survived the fight. In a war museum in Vietnam, the same photograph can be found, but the caption states that all of the men shown were killed.
  • When the war first started, the NVA weren’t quite sure what to make of all the helicopters the US was using. Eventually, however, they learned to exploit their greatest weakness—need for a landing zone—and the US ended up losing a huge number of them during the course of the war.
  • US troops thought that the ace symbol in a pack of cards meant death and bad luck to the Vietnamese and would leave these cards on NVA soldiers they’d killed. The belief was incorrect.

There’s a replica of a firebase bunker in the exhibit, too, and I was both pleased and amused to see a vintage copy of Playboy sitting out, the same issue that three GIs are looking at in a photo posted nearby. This was especially funny because I’d just watched a group of young, rambunctious schoolchildren go through the display. Ah, education!

The most striking aspect of the exhibit, at least for me, was the book the museum had left out for visiting Vietnam veterans to leave their comments in. There was a combat medic, some infantry men, a marine and a cook, to name a few, and their comments ranged from things like “Brought back a lot of sad memories” to “Welcome home!” It’s those things that tend to really bring an event into focus for me. More than the artifacts, the records of campaigns and generals, it’s the people and their stories that make a thing real and important. And it reminds you why we should avoid putting them into a situation like that at all costs, a lesson we seem unable to take to heart for any real length of time.

I finished up at the exhibit and wandered on through the rest of the museum—past the World Wars, Korea and the first Iraq war. There’s still a part of me, the little girl who used to dress up and play war with her friends and even went so far as to join up with a Civil War reenacting group for some years, that wants to duck under bushes and hide behind earthworks, using sticks for guns and swords and to do battle with people I like who can always get back up again and again no matter how many times they’re “killed.” It’s the only kind of war that I ever want to be part of. But I can’t help but be both horrified and fascinated by the real thing, the human drama at its most extreme—the absolute best and the absolute worst of people. I’d be content if it was all to end, though, and the only way to study war would be to visit museums.

(photo credit: WDVA)
The Lost Albatross