Friday, December 28, 2007

Green City, USA

In the evening hours of May 4, 2007, the small town of Greensburg, Kansas saw tornadoes that destroyed 95% of its homes and businesses. The EF-5 tornado, nearly 2-miles in width, killed 9 people and changed the sleepy burg into what looked like a war zone in less than 20 minutes.

I've seen tornadoes, but so far have been fortunate enough never to have been directly effected by their destructive powers. I can't imagine what it must have been like for the people of Greensburg to live through such a thing. An outsider looking in might expect that, after the majority of the town's structures were wiped out, it would be easiest to just walk away, give up, move on. But the citizens have decided to stay. And not only that, but they've decided to rebuild a better town, a place that their children will want to return to after college. They're doing this by going green.

To some, the idea of an uber environmentally friendly town snug in the middle of Red USA might seem incongruous. But it seems as though the people of Greensburg have come to appreciate the (completely non-partisan) common sense and revitalizing aspects of green building despite the fact that some folks would label it as part of a "bleeding heart, tree-hugging" movement.

The City Council has just approved a resolution stating that all future city building projects will be built to LEED platinum level standards. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification was designed and implemented by the U.S. Green Building Council as a way to "encourage and accelerate global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices through the creation and implementation of universally understood and accepted tools and performance criteria."

Basically, it's the organic certification of the architectural and building world. It's also an incredibly ambitious and laudable goal, one that likely won't be easy, mostly because of money, to see through. I sure wish them the best, though.

So far, they've rebuilt the city's electrical system, put up street lights, replaced road signs and are in the process of building a "
large development of senior living housing and multi-family units on Main Street is on track to be a LEED certified Gold level project."

If they meet their goals, Greensburg will be able to boast the highest concentration of LEED certified structures in the country. No small feat for a small town.

The rest of the nation (and world) could stand to learn a valuable lesson from the example being set by Greensburg. Green building and living practices are the only way if we expect to sustain ourselves into the next century. And it shouldn't just be on the minds of communities that have suffered great damage (New Orleans, for example). These techniques should appeal to everyone everywhere who wants to prop up their homes and their neighbors.

Too, it's great to see Greensburg's Big Plan getting good press. The Discovery Channel is in the process of filming a 13-episode reality series called "Eco-Town" that will track the progress in Greensburg. I was turned on to the whole thing by a profile on NPR. (more press here)

Stories like these not only serve to give me warm fuzzy feelings in the cockles of my heart, they also serve to illustrate to the world just how practical and possible things like this are. Unfortunately, we need a few good kicks in the pants to convince us. So Greensburg? Give us a good wallop, yeah?

There will be no escape from your shame!

I've just heard that Escape Java Joint, one of my favorite local coffee shops/art galleries/venues, was robbed Wednesday morning of this week. Pretty lame way to celebrate the season. What really pisses me off is that this guy chose to rip off a local, independent shop that probably doesn't make a whole pile of profit anyway. Not that I'd condone robbing a chain store, either, but seriously, have a little heart.

There's a picture of the suspect posted at the counter at Escape, so be sure to stop by, get yourself something to drink (and eat - they serve the very yummy Gotham Bagels now), check out the picture and check your brain for any signs of recognition. Hopefully the police will nab the jerk soon.

I've spent many hours at Escape both playing music, ogling art, having meetings and frantically typing novels, and I'm all about supporting their business. If you haven't been yet, you should definitely consider checking it out now, if for no other reason that to help them recover some of the lost money.

P.S. Please excuse the terrible pun in the title of this post. :)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The internets heart Ron Paul

Ron Paul (R-TX) has a snowball's chance in Christian hell of winning the Republican nomination for president. He has a snowball's chance on the surface of the sun of actually becoming president. So it is not with any worry about him becoming anything more than a crazy political mouthpiece that I write the following.

The man's a nutter. But supporting Ron Paul, I believe, says more about the supporter than it does about Paul. It tells me that there are a surprisingly large number of ill-informed, scared, ignorant people in our country who (wrongly) believe that they could survive without the help of their fellow human beings. (edit to add: this applies to those people who've actually researched the man's positions a little bit. I have met a few folks who like him after the casual glance, and I'm sure they'd be just as horrified as me if they looked a little further)

Because here are some of the choice gems that form the planks of Dr. Paul's platform and ideology:

  • The First Amendment doesn't apply to Congress: "Matters of religious freedom and expression should be decided by the states," and "the federal government cannot forbid expressions of religion, including the Ten Commandments, in either public or private life." (emphasis mine) This sounds suspiciously similar to the ol' States Rights arguments that got our country into trouble in the time leading up to and during the American Civil War. When you leave issues of crucial freedoms up to the individual states, you end up with things like slavery, Jim Crow laws and general purpose discrimination.
  • That "our country is being destroyed by a group of actual and potential terrorists -- and they can be identified by the color of their skin." The Daily Kos does a great job of tearing this one to shreds, so I'll leave you in those capable hands for the argument about why this whole thing is absurd--y'know, in addition to the whole "because it's super racist" thing.
  • Return to the Gold Standard! Give our economy over to the ever-changing winds of whim and luck. The costs of producing enough gold to maintain our economy would be astronomical. What comes off sounding like a simplifying solution really ends up costing a whole lot more money and resources in the long run, which seems to be a theme with Paul's ideas.
  • Change the 14th Amendment to disallow automatic birthright citizenship. The amendment was passed shortly following the end of the Civil War, and was partly in response to free black individuals who were being denied citizenship because their parents had been slaves (and therefor not considered citizens). There were people who opposed the amendment then, and apparently, sadly, still people today who would deny basic rights and services to anyone with the audacity to have parents with unofficial status in this country.
  • Get rid of the 16th Amendment all-together, thus abolishing the government's ability to tax pretty much anything or anyone. Where he expects to get the money to support necessary civil and social programs (interstates, civil defense, health care and education spring to mind) is beyond me.
I could go on and on, but it would get repetitive. Most of Paul's positions come down to the battle cry of "States Rights!" and a sort of one-man-is-an-island mentality that basement-dwelling internet nerds seem to love.

But it's an extremely arrogant, self-centered and downright delusional position to take. The only way to exist as an island, tax-free, with government out of your business is to disappear into the wilds, build your own shack, live off-grid and hunt/gather your own food. Somehow I doubt Paul's internet legions would be terribly willing or able to do such a thing.

Not all of the man's ideas are daft--I believe we need substantial economic reform in this country, and a few of Paul's suggestions have kernels of possibility hidden deep within their crazy depths. But like I said, what concerns me most is that his more isolationist, xenophobic, irrational ideas seem to appeal to a great many people. It's hard to realize that there are that many lost souls out there, content to believe that they owe nothing to anyone, and that basic human rights (freedom of speech, religion, assembly, etc.) should be left to the given popular sentiment of the day. Because frankly, that's usually how we get ourselves into trouble. And that so many people haven't bothered to learn from our collective past mistakes is troubling, to say the least.

Admitting defeat

I am woefully ignorant when it comes to Pakistani politics. What little I know points to rampant corruption within most of the major parties and their leadership, including Benazir Bhutto. Despite their many shortcomings, however, I would never wish death upon any of them. And so it was with some shock and a great deal of sadness that I heard the news this morning that Bhutto had been assassinated.

To lash out in violence at someone you disagree with is to admit defeat. Your own ideas and actions have proven inadequate or ineffective, and so the last resort is to destroy the figurehead of your failure. Someone who really wanted positive change in their world would recognize this and depose threats through direct, non-violent action, the kind that wins over hearts and minds through real results and deference to the varied needs of the people. Simply killing someone whom you view as a threat is a cowardly move, one that will wreak far more havoc than it benefits your cause.

I hope for justice and peace for the people of Pakistan. Only time will tell, I guess.

More reading on the subject:

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Now that the more important holiday is over...

Green Bay removed its controversial nativity scene from the roof of City Hall today, but the Freedom From Religion Foundation is going ahead with their lawsuit against the city. I've written about this quite a bit already (here and here), but I'll add that I'm glad the FFRF is keeping up the good fight. The mayor's lame excuse for prohibiting all other symbols but the nativity was that they didn't have any rules in place for dealing with that kind of thing, so now would be their chance, with the help of the FFRF, to get it right.

Of course, taking the creche down today was no big concession on their part. Their party's over.

In other news, this interesting tidbit just came out of La Crosse county:

LA CROSSE -- Sometime next year, La Crosse County might let all its female prisoners out of jail.

Instead of sitting behind bars, the women will be in a new community-based program the La Crosse County Board unanimously approved last week.

The board awarded a $250,000 contract to the YWCA to run the program, starting in February.

About 20 to 25 women are in the jail at any one time, supervised around the clock by two jailers at a cost of $420,000 a year, plus other operating expenses.

About 15 of those women would go on electronic home monitoring and into job counseling, literacy training and other programs through the YWCA, said Supervisor Jill Billings. "It 's a better way than locking them up. "

Later next year, the county will lease or buy a halfway house in La Crosse where up to 10 women will live. Those women also would be on electronic home monitoring and in YWCA programming, though they will not be supervised around the clock.

With the women 's jail empty, some male prisoners could temporarily be moved there while cell blocks in the men 's jail are remodeled for the few women who need to be jailed, said County Administrator Steve O 'Malley.

Some supervisors questioned how the county could possibly go without a jail for women.

Supervisor Keith Belzer, a criminal defense attorney, said in 15 years he 's never represented a woman who was put in jail because she 's dangerous.

"I 'm not saying there won 't ever be a woman in La Crosse County who 's dangerous and needs to be locked up for the safety of the community, " said Belzer. "I will say that would be the rare exception rather than the rule. "

Belzer said women are almost always in the system "because of some kind of relationship with a man. "

Getting those women treatment and help will cut recidivism, he said.

This sounds like a great program, and more of the kind of rehabilitation-instead-of-plain-incarceration that we need in our correctional system. There's an irritating vein of sexism inherent in the article itself (Belzer's statements, specifically), but beyond that I wish them all the best and hope that this sort of program becomes more widespread.

A Very Beery Christmas

My family is not what you'd call "traditional."

When I was growing up, the observation and celebration of Christmas was about as traditional as we got. For my father, a Presbyterian minister, this time of year was always especially busy, filled with church related events and services. My mother, ever the crafty hostess, threw awesome Christmas Eve parties at our house every year, complete with piles of food, eggnog, tipsy adults and kids giving the skies their undivided attention, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sleigh NORAD assured us was passing overhead.

So it is that now, years after moving out of my parents home and perhaps even longer since deciding not to call myself a Christian, I still get a pang of nostalgia when it comes to Christmas. With my father now living in the far-off, dusty plains of Oklahoma, I have no inclination to attend Christmas services. It feels disingenuous. I have to find new ways to celebrate the season that don't make me a hypocrite. This year, I went to the solstice bonfire at Olbrich Park. My roommates threw a holiday party and erected an evergreen tree in the house (a far more pagan symbol than most Christians might like to admit).

But when it came to Christmas Eve, well, I'll say that I went about as non-traditional as possible. And gosh darn it, I enjoyed the heck out of it.

We gathered in that most cosmopolitan of Wisconsin cities--La Crosse--and after visiting with my brother's wife's family, my siblings and I descended upon that most time honored Midwestern gathering place: the bar. And we got drunk.

I've never been drunk on Christmas Eve before. But as we sat in the darkened, smoke-filled (damn do I miss Madison at times like that) bar, watching "Pump Up the Volume" on mute and listening to Richard Cheese, Portishead and Ministry on the jukebox, I felt oddly cheery. There amongst the lost souls, we had comeraderie and good spirits and I had (most of) my family. We toasted being together, the year passed and the year ahead, and had a merry ol' time together. And that, I think, is what it should be all about: giving thanks, enjoying your moments on Earth, and maybe getting a little tipsy while Christian Slater mouths "Talk hard!" on a flickering television set overhead.

(photos: top right - my sister and me, with her chihuahua; center left - me shoveling snow in my PJs)

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Solstice!

Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year (and also one of the most celebrating days in the world). Starting tomorrow, however, the days begin to lengthen once again. Even though us northerners must still slog through another few months of cold and gloom, we take some comfort in the passing of the solstice.

Last night, I stopped by Olbrich Park for the annual solstice bonfire (put on by the Friends of Starkweather Creek). A photo essay about the event by yours truly is up on Isthmus Daily Page at, but I wanted to post the above picture here, too, because 1) it was my first time out with a proper tripod for my camera, so I was excited to see the better results and 2) I like to share.

Updates will likely be sporadic for the next few days, as I venture even further north to the snowy and remote land of La Crosse to spend some quality time with my siblings. I'm hoping for lots of food, sledding and general shenanigans. I wish all of you a very happy, stress-free and safe holiday season, regardless of what you do or do not celebrate. What I choose to focus on at this time of year is the spirit of the various holidays that fall here: compassion, sharing, hope and peace. I think those are things we can all get behind, despite our other differences.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Do you bite your hypocritical thumb at me sir?

Bouncing around ye olde blogosphere today, as I'm wont to do, I stumbled across a post by Milwaukee's own folkbum, who noted an article written by MJS editorialist Patrick McIlheran about the recently passed access to emergency contraception bill. Folkbum rightfully points out both the hypocrisy and plain old disgusting nature of the article, homing in on one passage in particular.

Jones-Nosacek points out that Plan B amounts to an extra-large dose of contraceptive drugs. If people worry about trace amounts of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in water, Plan B ought to be at least a little worrying, given that endocrine disruption is what it's all about, she says. Yet the law doesn't let doctors apply any medical judgment to the patient before giving the drug: It must be given on request to any woman of any age.
A man who has consistently railed against environmentalists who speak out against pollutants trying to use their own arguments against something he opposes? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.

Beyond that, the article argues that religious hospitals shouldn't have to make emergency contraception available to rape victims because it violates their right to refuse to do something that goes against their beliefs. It's a common argument, and one with some merit: after all, I'm a huge proponent of the separation of church and state, so just as I believe that no one should dictate what religion I should or should not follow, I also believe that no one should force someone to do something that goes against their beliefs (unless, of course, we're talking about life-and-death situations and cases involving abuse).

But here's the thing: those Catholic (and other religious) hospitals? They're getting something like half of their operating expenses from public programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Very little of their funding comes from churches or other religious sources. Here's the breakdown:

• Combined Medicare and Medicaid payments accounted for half the revenues of religiously-sponsored hospitals in 1998.
• In 1998, religious hospitals nationwide received more than $45.2 billion in public funds: $35.7 billion in Medicare payments, an estimated $8.8 billion in Medicaid payments and nearly $700 million in other types of government appropriations. In 1999, Medicare alone provided $41.3 billion of sectarian hospitals’ patient revenues.
• The other half of religious hospitals’ operating revenues came almost entirely from insurance companies and other third party payers, not from churches or other religious sources.
• By 1999, of all community hospitals, religiously-sponsored facilities were the most reliant on Medicare payments, with Medicare alone accounting for 36 percent of gross patient revenue (compared to 34 percent for all hospitals). Religious hospitals, like nonsectarian facilities, used federal funds from the 1946 Hospital Survey and Construction Act (better known as Hill-Burton) to rapidly expand in the 1950s and 60s. Many of those same hospitals now utilize tax-exempt government bond issues to obtain low-cost financing of reconstruction and further expansion, the study found In two large states, New York and California, religious hospitals received at least $650 million from such government bond issues in 1998. Like other non-profit entities, religious hospitals enjoy the benefits of tax-exempt status, including exemption from property taxes and eligibility for charitable donations.
If an organization is getting most of its funding from public, governmental sources, then it ought to be beholden to the rules and mores codified in state and federal law. Otherwise all the arguments for "separation of church and state" being thrown around by opponents to the Plan B laws are rendered the hideously hypocritical bleats we've long suspected they were.

A hospital wishing to turn their noses up at the law should cease accepting public funding, period. Otherwise, there is simply no excuse for forcing a rape victim to jump through a series of hoops to get EC. It's about as uncharitable and uncaring as you can get.

(image credit:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mayors gone wild!

The ever illuminating Illusory Tenant has some choice observations about the Green Bay City Council nativity scene debacle. They note that the Mayor, heeding advice from The Liberty Council, has decided to follow the so-called "plastic reindeer" rule and attempt to make the creche more kosher* by placing "secular" holiday symbols next to it: a Christmas tree and reindeer.

The Liberty Council, it should be noted, is a non-profit "litigation, education and policy organization dedicated to advancing religious freedom, the sanctity of human life and the traditional family," so it doesn't take much brain power to figure out what their angle and bias might be.

According to a comment in yesterday's post about this whole thing, Mayor Schmitt gave an interview with WPR last night: "When asked if Hindus or Buddhists asked to put up a display there, he said that he wouldn't let them. And he gave the lamest excuse - it's what the community wanted. So, if the community wants the government to give preference to one religion above all others, he has no problem violating the establishment clause."

Seems like a pretty spineless move on the part of the mayor. Not to mention stupid.

*poor choice of words fully intended.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Making the baby Jesus cry

Green Bay is working on making Madison's Christmas VS Holiday tree kerfuffle look positively civil. Last week, Council President Chad Fradette decided that a nativity scene would spruce up the roof of the City Hall nicely and pushed approval of it through a committee that he chairs.

Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, among many others, took issue with the move, rightfully suggesting that it might kinda sorta break that whole "separation of church and state" thing that's, y'know, codified in the Constitution.

Mayor Jim Schmitt tried to diffuse criticisms of the display by allowing "any religious symbols" to be put on the roof alongside the nativity scene, but it would appear that he's now backpedaling and generally wishing that the whole issue would just go away.

From the Green Bay Press Gazette:

The City Council voted Tuesday night to leave [the nativity] in place until Dec. 26, and to impose a moratorium on any other religious display until the City Council and Schmitt could develop a set of guidelines.

The council voted 6-6, with Andy Nicholson, Chad Fradette, Guy Zima, Tom Denys, John Vander Leest and Tom Weber voting to keep it. Mayor Jim Schmitt cast the tie-breaker with a "yes" vote.

A Wiccan display was installed Friday. It is a white five-pointed star encircled by a wreath. Early Monday morning, someone flagged down a police officer to report seeing someone on a ladder at City Hall, taking down the display. The suspect fled, leaving the ladder. Police later found the damaged display in the shrubs.

So basically, because some dimwitted vandal decided to deface the Wiccan display, now no one but the Christians get to have their symbols up least, of course, until after the Christmas holiday has passed. Their excuse about needing to formulate a clear policy would hold more water if they took down the nativity, too, but that's not the case and their little boat is fast heading for a swamping.

I think the argument of a one Sean Ryan sums up the issue nicely:

Ryan, the man who had asked last weekend to display a Festivus pole, patterned after an episode of the TV show "Seinfeld," told the council he did it as a joke, meant to point out that religious displays don't belong at City Hall.

Ryan took exception to statements made by others saying the nativity scene was historical, not merely religious.

"I'm a Christian — don't tell me it's not my religion," Ryan said. "Saying it is not is to question (Jesus's) very greatness … But keep the nativity scene in is place — in churches, in our hearts and our homes."

Regardless of how "great" you personally feel Jesus was, it's a very sound argument and one that I don't understand why the proponents of the move don't seem to understand it. Religion and spirituality should be a private matter, left up to the individual and their chosen congregation(s). Why so many people feel the need to impose their personal choices on others is beyond me. Is their faith so flimsy that they need the external validation? The feeling of power and control over others? Surely that's no kind of faith at all, but rather a deep sense of insecurity and fear.

Best of the only albums I bought this year

I'm in the midst of working on compiling a list for dane101 of my "top 5 Madison-related events of 2007" - and frankly, it's kicking my ass, so I've decided to pop out a much easier list while I otherwise let my brain decompress for a moment.

I've been bad about seeking out new music this year, so the following list is pretty much just the only albums I actually bought this year. All of them are great, though, so that helps. You can skip this list for my Winter Solstice celebration suggestion, if you're so inclined.

Emily's Albums of 2007 (in no particular order):

1. Tegan and Sara, "The Con"
A group that has shown consistent improvement and a willingness to try new things with each album, Tegan and Sara are also just plain fun (and adorable, what can I say). "The Con" manages to be both an indie pop, foot-tapping good time and a rhythmically unique, experimental opus. The title track is definitely the stand-out number, with an infectiously catchy melody, a smokin' hot bass line and soaring vocals. But the whole thing is definitely worth a listen. In fact, this is one of those records that you should play all the way through a few times before you're likely to really appreciate just how good it is.

2. Jesca Hoop, "Kismet"
I was first introduced to Jesca Hoop when she opened for the Ditty Bops. It was just her, a guitar and her incredibly unique vocal style. I once read a review from the New York Times that described her well: "Hoop is a striking, dark haired songwriter from Northern California who writes and sings twisty, sprawling, lyrically abstract songs featuring strange sonorities and offbeat rhythms. Her music sounds as is it comes from an imaginary country, and she sings in the accented English of someone from that country." I was smitten with her music from the first, and when she finally released her debut, fell-length album, "Kismet," I was extremely pleased to find that she'd maintained her quirky style even in a studio environment.

3. Chromeo, "Fancy Footwork"
Just plain fun. Harking back to the hey-day of synth-pop, with songs about winning over ladies and cutting a mean rug, this is simply music to get funky by. The title track is far and away the best one on the album, and there are a few misses, but mostly the record is a super-fun, only slightly tongue-in-cheek good time.

4. Tori Amos, "American Doll Posse"
Being that I've been listening to her music for years, I was tasked with writing a review of this album for dane101 back in May. Honestly, I was a little apprehensive--I'd been feeling like she'd lost some of her edge in the last few albums she put out, like she was coasting a bit. So it was with great appreciation and some relief that I first listened to and absolutely loved this album. You can read all about what I thought here.

5. The Ditty Bops, "Pack Rat" (EP)
I love this band. Their style of ragtime/vaudeville/swing/pop is incredibly catchy, fun and interesting, as are their always theatrical stage shows. For their summer 2006 tour, they rode their bicycles from one coast to the other, playing shows in between. For their tour this year, they raised awareness about sustainable and locally grown food and reducing our plastic usage, and they did this all without coming off as overly preachy. To support this most recent tour (and I love this because it's the opposite of what most bands do), they released this five song EP, printed it and made it available only at their live shows.

So that's it; I'm pretty sure those are the only new albums I bought this year. All of the recent best-of lists that have been cropping up have certainly reminded me how much of a slacker I've been, though, and I'm keen to get out and find some of this much-touted music for myself now. And to be a better audiophile in the coming year.

Winter Solstice Stuff!

I passed a sign along the road on my way to work this morning that announced a "Winter Solstice Bonfire" to be held this Friday evening at sunset in Olbrich Park. I think I'm definitely going to have to stop by and check this out. I loves me a good fire! Plus I've always enjoyed celebrating the solstice--and not even in a particularly wanna-be Wiccan sort of way. I just like the idea of marking the passage of the year, and of finding ways to bring light and fun to the middle of our often gloomy winters. Plus that whole dancing naked and sacrificing goats things is pretty appealing, too....

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The New Adult

Sometimes, when life gets too heavy, I shuffle on over to the CDP for some humorous reading. Today, that fine blogger failed me, though, by posting an all-too pertinent and thought-provoking list of "truths" that included this bit:

25. I sometimes become intensely aware of my adulthood responsibilities; my home, my wife, my job, my expenses and profits, and convince myself that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. I start thinking that it's only a matter of time before I'm discovered as a fraud, and they throw me back into school. Then I stand in front of an open refrigerator for 10 minutes, eat cookies before dinner and remind myself that I'm entirely in control of my destiny.
While his experience is different than mine and many others in my generalized age group (I think we may technically be "generation Y," but I don't really give a shit), there is a central theme that rings true for most of us. As recently as our parent's generation, the majority of kids went to college, got married, bought a house, had kids, worked and then retired. Standard formula. Certainly that didn't apply to everyone, but it was the norm.

These days, out of everyone I know, the college-marriage-family track types are in the extreme minority. Most of us went to college or worked, then floundered around looking for a steady job but never really had our hearts set on anything long-term. We don't save for retirement, we don't get married or have kids until much, much later in life, and many of us are far from what you might call "career minded." We're working blind, creating a new life path, one for which there is very little cultural or historical reference.

So I suppose it makes sense that many of us have this nagging doubt about our adulthood. Lacking many of the traditional hallmarks of "adulthood," we're left to suspect that we're all just irresponsible and immature. And while that may be true of some, I don't think it's the greater truth of the situation.

In the end, weren't our hippie parents fighting for our right to live our lives however we so chose, regardless of whether or not they fell in line with the traditional college-marriage-family idea? Aren't we eating the fruits of the past 100 years of progressive values and ideals? So of course it's weird, different, hard to figure out. For better or for worse, it hasn't been done before. We're left to blaze an oftentimes awkward, fumbling trail. Honestly, though, I'd rather be awkward and fumbling on a trail of my own choosing than on a path that someone else laid out for me. Even if that means never being sure if I've become a real "adult" - whatever that means.

The real trouble for us, I suspect, lies in the fact that we're part of the first wave and as such it becomes inevitable that we'll clash with the old system. It's going to take many years before our path becomes the status quo, because it will (and what an odd thought that is--can you imagine what our generation will look like when we're elderly? Faded tattoos, saggy piercings and fond memories full of Simpsons references?). In the meantime, we struggle to figure ourselves and our world out. And I don't suspect we ever will.

Then again, maybe this happens with every generation and my perspective is woefully limited (which it is, regardless). The last century saw some of the most rapid and dramatic change in human history, though, so I don't think I'm totally off-base here.

So while I sit here trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, I'd love to hear other thoughts on the subject. Comment away, my three fearless readers!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Who needs teeth, anyway?

I'm afraid I'm not of a mind to write anything particularly substantive today. You see, in a few hours time, I'll be getting holes drilled into my teeth, then filled with some white-ish substance that apparently my insurance doesn't feel the need to cover the price of. That means that, even though I'm lucky enough to have what should be otherwise perfectly good insurance, I'll still be paying over $600 out-of-pocket just to have a few cavities filled. Can you tell how excited I am?

Merry frakking Christmas.

Ba humbug.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Top Things I've Forgotten This Year

Seriously, with all of the end of the year best-of lists floating around these days, you'd think my own memory for the aught-seven that was would be a little more refreshed.

I've committed myself to writing a "Top 5 Strangest/Most Interesting Madison Related Events" list for dane101, and I'm worried that my poor, swiss cheese-like memory may not be up to the task. It's like everything prior to the ACT ride in August has been clouded over by all of the bike training I was doing.

Anyway, I realize that I don't have the highest readership ever, but I thought I'd go out on a limb and ask--what Madison related events/people/whatever stand out the most to you from this year? And no, I'm not asking you to make my list for me. I'll figure that out, one way or another, even if it ends up just being a list of what parts of my body all this biking has been effecting most, for better or for worse. I'm just curious about what I've forgotten, and what was notable to other people. It's a good way to get out of my own head now and again.

The comments section is yours for the memory lane-ing!

In the meantime, it's time to start hitting the whatever that herb that's supposed to help improve memory is called.

Badger Fems on Assembly shenanigans

I just stumbled onto the Badger Fems blog, and an insightful and well-written post about the proceedings in the Assembly surrounding passage of the Compassionate Care for Rape Victims bill. It's great to see this kind of observation and thoughtfulness. Give it a read, it's well worth it.

Badger Fems appears to be a new blog, with a focus on covering issues of women's rights and gender politics (near as I can figure--feel free to correct me). So far, they seem to be doing this with a well-reasoned, firm and interesting voice, and I wish them all the best in their continued coverage. It's a noisy, often irrational internet out there, so it's refreshing to come across something like this from time to time.

And now, if I might make a small plug: Wis-Kino, your local independent film-making collaborative (full disclosure: you could say I'm pretty involved in the group), will be throwing their end of the year retrospective screening tomorrow night, Dec. 15th, at 8:00pm at the Mercury Lounge. We'll be showing all the best short films from the 2007 Wis-Kino season, followed by a faaabulous after party, featuring beats from DJ Angelfire and DJ Xenophile (that'd be yours truly). It's absolutely free, so come out for some fun film, good music, and superb company. For more, check out the event listing on TDP, or go to

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Change does not equal death for local music

I read with some interest the recent article in the Badger Herald that pondered whether the Madison music scene was dying or not. I've been in one Madison band or another since 2001. I'm currently in three, but that's a whole other story. What I'm saying, though, is that I feel like I have a decent perspective on this whole thing, and I'm not entirely sure I agree with the article's overall slant toward suggesting that things are getting worse for the local scene.

The author does come around in the end to give voice to those who suggest that the scene goes through cyclical changes, that things are just shifting and not dying, which is the theory I personally subscribe to. Things change. Madison, because of its many schools, is a town of coming and going, so the fan base and the musicians are transitory. Changes in scene are natural, and I doubt very much that we'll ever see a complete (or even near complete) "death." To even suggest such a thing in the title is a bit dubious, if you ask me.

The author cites the recent closings of a number of smaller venues: the Slipper Club, Bru's Anchor Inn, and the Corral Room to name a few. But the location where the Slipper Club was seems to change hands every other year, the Anchor Inn had been having troubles for a long while (and frankly, wasn't that great of a venue--the site lines and nearly non-existent dance floor sucked), and the Corral Room...well, don't get me started on that place.

We do suffer from a dearth of smaller venues, especially all-ages venues. But for every place that closes down, we do seem to get new ones springing up in their wake. We have another very decent mid-sized venue (all-ages, no less) in the Majestic. Places like the Mercury Lounge, Cafe Montmartre, Mr. Roberts, the Annex, Harmony Bar, Crystal Corner, the King Club, The Journey, The Klinic, Brink Lounge, Escape Java Joint, the Dry Bean Saloon, and various coffee shops around town all cater to smaller acts. The problem isn't so much a lack of places to play so much as a band's lack of willingness to put themselves out there and get the gigs.

Of course, the article gets one issue right: lack of attendance at shows. It takes a lot of variables to draw in a large crowd: quality and popularity of a band, competition on any given night, and the high turnover rate of show goers (as in, when students are your primary fan base, good luck filling a show during the summer months). I suspect that a large part of the problem comes from just how many good bands there are in Madison, and how many are playing on any given night. Happily, we've got a lot of options here, but that does make it difficult for any one act to pull in a full house.

I'm glad the article at least gave a small tip of the hat to the ever-growing hip-hop scene in Madison. It's taken some serious hits in the last few years, with artists leaving town and moving on, but there always seem to be some fresh voices coming along to fill in. Add in the First Wave program at the UW, the National Poetry Slam competition coming here next year, and a whole slew of hip-hop centered events to the mix, and you've got a surprisingly vibrant scene for what is, at its core, a small city/big town in the Midwest.

There's still plenty of work to be done to keep the local arts scene alive and well. It seems like there's always something to fight against, to overcome, but the great thing about Madison is that no matter how many clubs close, how many arts publications shut down, there will always be people here interested in making, promoting and listening to music, regardless of how many people turn up for their shows. Just don't say they're dying. It's just change, and if we put forth just a little bit of effort to see it through, it's usually for the better.

(photo credit: yours truly, of God-des & She)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Assembly gets something (mostly) right

Even though the Republicans pulled a petty maneuver to keep it in the Assembly until the next calendar (probably January), I'm very glad to see that this passed:

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The state Assembly has given preliminary approval to a bill that would require hospitals to supply emergency contraception to rape victims if they ask for it.

The bill would require emergency rooms give sexual assault victims information on the so-called morning-after pill and dispense it upon a victim's request.

Supporters contend the measure will help prevent pregnancies in rape victims. Critics have likened the drug to abortion.

The Assembly passed the measure 56-41 Tuesday night just before midnight, but majority Republicans used a parliamentary tactic to prevent it from leaving the Assembly.

I've written about my feelings on the subject before, but allow me to reiterate that 1) this is an important and necessary piece of legislation that will offer much-needed help to people in need and 2) THE MORNING-AFTER PILL IS NOT ABORTION. It prevents contraception from ever happening in the first place, thus avoiding the possibility of needing an abortion altogether. You'd think those crazy anti-abortion people would be happy as clams about this.


It has come to my attention (h/t that a series of violently homophobic, racist and antisemitic blogs and websites have taken a list of openly gay politicians and begun publishing it alongside wishes that it were legal to lynch them.

Shit like this simultaneously makes my blood boil and my heart ache. How do people like this get to be so full of hatred and ignorance in the first place? What went so terribly wrong in their lives that the only way they seem to be able to feel good about themselves is by reducing their fellow human beings to targets of violence and disdain?

I'm only going to link to the blog of one of the targeted politicians, Mark Kleinschmidt of North Carolina, because he's got the links to the offending sites plus the comments section is filled with ridiculous diatribes from a lot of these crazy jerks. I have no desire to send extra traffic directly from my site to the hate blogs.

Seriously, when are we going to be through with these kinds of attitudes? What really kills me is that so many of these unabashed bigots claim to be Christians. I can't think of anything less Christlike than such virulent hatred and intolerance, not to mention the veiled calls to violence. What is this, Merry Christmas and Goodwill Toward Men...but only if you're exactly how they think you should be?

I have the utmost respect for people who choose to serve their fellow citizens in the public domain who are also open and honest about who they are. There is nothing shameful, nothing wrong in being a human being who loves, regardless of what your sexual orientation might be.

The bigots claim that homosexuals are sick. But who're the ones spouting hated, ignorant claims and violence? Hold up a damn mirror, people, and you'll see who's really sick here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What rights for illegal immigrants?

Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...just make sure they don't come from south of the border.

Or at least, that seems to be the pervasive feeling amongst Americans these days. A new poll by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute shows that an overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites don't think illegal immigrants should be allowed to apply for driver's licenses or pay in-state tuition at colleges, and they're split on whether their children should be allowed to attend our public schools.

Wisconsin residents overwhelmingly oppose allowing illegal immigrants to apply for Wisconsin driver’s licenses by a margin of 76% to 19%. On the question of allowing illegal immigrants to receive discounted tuition at the University of Wisconsin, 86% oppose the idea while only 10% support it. It is only in the area of allowing illegal immigrant children to attend local public schools that there is some serious movement. On this issue 46% of Wisconsin residents favor it, while 46% oppose it.
I understand that it's an intensely complicated issue, made all the more difficult to figure out by the level of emotion often involved in the debate. From the far-right, you have accusations of job stealing, rampant criminality, and a straight-up feeling of xenophobia. From the far-left, you have calls for complete amnesty. But certainly there must be a middle ground, a place where America finds a way to improve its severely tarnished reputation as a place where anyone can come to improve their lot in life.

Will granting illegal immigrants the right to apply for driver's licenses wreak some sort of havoc on our state? I doubt it. As it stands, illegal immigrants are going to keep driving cars to get to jobs and schools, regardless of whether they have licenses or not. The vast majority of them are here because they want to work hard to make a better life for themselves and their children. And, frankly, it's hard to get a job that's within walking or biking distance from your place of residence (hey, we've just wandered into the infill vs. sprawl debate, too!). So they drive, without a license, without insurance, as a risk to themselves and everyone else on the road.

They're going to keep driving, so we really ought to have a system in place that makes it possible for them to be licensed and insured to do so. It makes everyone on the road with them safer, and shouldn't that be our ultimate goal?

It's the old "you can build a fence around the pool, but you should still teach your kids how to swim and to wear a life jacket, because no matter what, they're going to find a way to go swimming" lesson.

But then, apparently it's my generation alone that actually supports this idea. According to that same poll, "The only real support in the state for allowing illegal immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses came from young people between the ages of 18 and 24, where 64% favored the idea while only 36% opposed it. In every other major age group there was uniform opposition to the idea of allowing illegal immigrants to apply for Wisconsin driver’s licenses." (oops, looks like I'm two years over the cut-off there, but I think I still count)

Why is it that the youngest generation of voters thinks giving immigrants a chance at getting a license is just peachy? I know some of the more curmudgeonly commentators will blame "youthful ignorance and/or idealism" and write us off as inexperienced know-nothings. Frankly, I think it has more to do with the possibility that the younger generation has more experience living/working/leaning in an environment with a greater diversity of people and ideas.

Foreign language speakers don't freak us out.

The idea of what America was and is supposed to be all about is a place of improvement, of freedom, of making something better. Very few of us are real "natives" here. My ancestors came over from various European countries. Some of them probably stole land, kept slaves and forced the native peoples out. How is that not far worse than those people who come here now simply looking for work and a good education? How is it not supremely hypocritical of us now to deny basic services and rights, to build Cold War era-like fences, to send unofficial trigger-happy "minutemen" out to patrol the borders, all in an ultimately futile effort to keep those tired, poor and huddled masses out?

Maybe we're just mad that they're coming in through deserts and the Rio Grande, instead of the traditional front door, as overseen by the more postcard friendly Lady Liberty.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Further reading:

Monday, December 10, 2007

Organ donors = awesome

If a story like this doesn't move you to become an organ donor, I don't know what will.

From the MJS:

Thankful for organs, couple honors slain teen

It's an amazing thing, these organ transplants.

The heart beating in the chest of Bud Brauer, a German-Irish 68-year-old church worker from Glendale, came from Gabriel O. Ramirez-Lyons, a Native American-Mexican 21-year-old man murdered on Milwaukee's near south side.

"He was a perfect match," said Bud, who also received a kidney from Gabriel.

In Gabriel's honor, the Brauer family donated the 40-foot spruce that is Milwaukee County's Christmas tree this year. It had outgrown their yard.

And when the lights are switched on during a ceremony at 5:30 p.m. today in the courthouse rotunda, the Brauer family and the Ramirez-Lyons family will meet for the very first time. It's an emotional moment that many donor and recipient families never experience.

"I'm going to lose it big time, I tell you that," said Bud's wife, Mary.

In 2005, Bud began noticing he was short of breath. Eventually he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a hardening of the walls of the heart that limited its pumping ability. He would die without a transplant, doctors told him.

His kidneys failed, and he went on dialysis three times a week.

Bud's name was put on the waiting list for an organ donor, and on Oct. 15 of last year, the call came that a donor had been found. Bud immediately went to Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center.

What he wouldn't learn until months later was that the donor had been killed in a violent crime.

Gabriel was born in 1984, but because of instability in the life of his mother and father, he was raised by his grandmother, Refugia Ramirez, who was 58 when she took in Gabriel as a baby, said Cyndi Ramirez, Refugia's daughter.

She said Gabriel spoke excellent English and some Spanish, and his grandmother does just the opposite, so they helped each other out. In recent years, Gabriel assisted with his grandmother's health care needs.

With dozens of cousins to love, "he was just the center of attention at every party we had," Cyndi said. Gabriel struggled in school and went to work with his father, Alfredo, at a paint factory in Oak Creek.

Cyndi, who works at Froedtert Hospital and is studying to be a nurse, had spoken with Gabriel about becoming an organ donor. Not knowing he would die so young, he told her: "I certainly wouldn't need them. They can take whatever they need if it's going to help someone else."

In the early hours of Oct. 15, 2006, Gabriel and his cousin and a friend got into a fight with three other young males near 15th and Arthur Ave. Gabriel became separated from his companions and was severely beaten and kicked. He made it home but was unresponsive in the morning. He was pronounced dead at the hospital that day.

One of those arrested was later freed, and two took plea deals. A 15-year-old prosecuted in adult court got 15 years in prison. His 17-year-old accomplice has been free on bail and his sentencing keeps getting adjourned, but he can't get more than 15 years, either. Gabriel's family is unhappy that his killers will see freedom so soon.

Cyndi said she looks forward to meeting Bud.

"Having been disappointed by the justice system, it's good to know Gabriel didn't die in vain, that something good came out of this," she said. A woman received his lungs, and a man got the other kidney.

Shortly after the transplant surgery, Mary Brauer wrote a letter of thanks to the family of the donor, then unknown to her. It was forwarded by the transplant clinic to Gabriel's mother, Nelda Lyons. A few months went by and the Brauers received a note from Nelda.

"Of course, nothing can replace the physical presence of my dear son, Gabriel, in my life. But the knowledge that our donation has brought so much relief to you and your family has given us a great sense of spiritual uplifting at a time when I and our family needed it the most," she wrote.

Mary corresponded further with the family and eventually asked them to please join in at the tree lighting. The Brauers' six grown children and most of their 21 grandchildren also plan to attend.

Both families eagerly await the meeting, but they don't know what to expect. Mary said she fully understands that "our joy is their sorrow." Standing before the Ramirez-Lyons family will be Bud, but he'll be running on Gabriel power.

To take their gratitude a step further, the Brauers have started a scholarship in Gabriel's honor at Dominican High School, where some of their kids and grandkids attended. Change of Heart is the fitting name for the fund.

Bud knows this much for sure: No day of living should ever be taken for granted.

"I'll be standing there shaving and I'll say to myself, 'This is absolutely amazing.' "

Can't say much more about that. Just wanted to share.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Wasted opportunity

Well, the speech by Walid Shoebat at the UW-Milwaukee went off without anyone's head exploding. Unfortunately, during the Q&A session that followed, an opportunity to engage Shoebat in a meaningful discussion about his controversial views was squandered in favor of shouting and insult-hurling. Which is a shame, because many of this man's ideas about Islam and fundamentalism and how we deal with it really, really need to be questioned.

I understand the passion and anger that these sorts of issues can stir up in a person, I really do. But throwing insults and ranting incoherently aren't going to do anything to further your point or your cause. They're just going to make you look foolish, and they're going to strengthen the views of those people who oppose you. This applies to people on all sides: right, left, middle, whatever. We should all take a deep breath and be willing to actually listen and engage in meaningful debate on a more regular basis. This kind of crap gets us nowhere.

On the other hand, Shoebat wasn't contributing to that cause when he repeatedly made the none-to-subtle reference to the angry questioners "hijacking" the event. Yes, many of them were being disruptive. But to use a loaded term like "hijacking" when referring to the Muslim students in attendance? That's just fucking rude.

Sadly, that seems to be the predominant tone of discussion about Islam (and religion in general) in America. It's all us-against-them, with no room of thoughtful, reasoned debate. But then, windbaggery and fiery rhetoric get better ratings and higher hit-counts, so why would anyone want to, y'know, actually engage in a real conversation about such an important issue?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Freedom requires religion?

In a speech to the nation yesterday (in theory to address concerns over his Mormon faith), Mitt Romney made a very interesting, and rather troubling, statement. He said, "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom."

It's a clever turn of phrase, but more than a little disingenuous. The ability to choose one's religious beliefs and practices without pressure from any outside source is heavily reliant upon the freedoms we're granted as US citizens. That much is true. But to suggest that "freedom requires religion" is to suggest that to be free, one must have religion. I think a legion of atheists might care to disagree with Mr. Romney.

The notion isn't entirely surprising, considering its source. Unfortunately, a great number of right-leaning, evangelical Christians, Mormons, Jews, etc., have fallen prey to the misguided notion that religion is essential to leading a good, meaningful life, and that this makes it an essential component of American government. But one thing does not equal the other, and the Framers included separation of church and state for this very reason. You are, and should be, free to choose your own faith or lack thereof. Belief in God alone does not make you a good or bad person.

The funny thing is, many of our most restrictive laws in this country are the result of religious fundamentalists who believe that it's their way or the high way for everyone else. Take, for instance, Wisconsin's extremely dubious ban on gay marriages and civil unions. The effort to get that passed was spearheaded by the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin (now the Wisconsin Family Council), an unabashedly religious/Christian group with far-right leanings. I don't think they're particularly interested in freedom for their fellow citizens.

Thankfully, the effort to overturn said amendment was recently given a boost by the courts. William McConkey, a "married, straight, Christian" political science teacher, filed a legal challenge against the amendment, claiming that it violated the constitutional right of Wisconsin voters not to vote on two or more issues at once. The Dane County circuit judge ruled in his favor, throwing out an objection from the state in the process.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Balistreri, who represents the state, filed a motion to dismiss the suit on the grounds that McConkey lacked legal standing to bring the action because he suffered no harm as a result of the amendment. Balistreri said even if McConkey could show his rights as a voter were violated because two questions were wrapped into one, "that's not enough for standing. You have to have harm as a result of the violation," he said.

McConkey, who described himself as a "Christian, straight, married" father of nine and grandfather of seven when he filed the lawsuit, is not directly affected by the ban on gay marriages or the ban on civil unions. But Pines argued that the proposed amendment violated the Wisconsin Constitution because voters had to endorse either both concepts in the question or neither, and therefore were deprived of their rights to oppose one or the other.

McConkey has standing to proceed in the lawsuit, Pines said, because his voting rights were violated.

Thank God for people like McConkey, who break stereotypes about what their religion means in terms of their political and social beliefs, and who step up to challenge injustices. He had the freedom to choose his religion, and understands that his religion does not get to choose anyone else's freedom.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Hell hath no fury like a biker scorned

Generally, I agree with a lot of what Paul Soglin has to say. But not everything. It would appear that I'm not the only one who took umbrage with his recent rant against winter bicyclists. Check out the comments section on this sucker. That's what the kids call a "hornet's nest" after it has been thoroughly poked.

And frankly, he deserved the virtual tongue lashing. Like I said in my own comment to the post, riding in any kind of weather, but especially inclement weather like we've been having, without proper safety gear and adherence to the laws of the road is stupid. But riding your bike in the snow in general is not stupid. In fact, I wish I could do it (well, technically I could, but it's a 16 mile ride one-way to work for me and I just can't face that in the snow). I think it's pretty dedicated and hardcore.

Recently, I met this awesome lady, probably in her 50's, who surprised me when she started telling me all about the ice biking she does up on Lake Superior. Holy crap, ice biking? And here I thought riding in the rain was hard. People like that put me to shame, but they also motivate me to get off my duff and try new things, even if they're difficult. Maybe there's a pair of studded tires in my future after all....

Point is, a bicycle on the road during the snowy season has more to fear from cars than cars do from them (and same goes for all-year-round, frankly). But with some common sense and efforts at safety by both sides, risks can be greatly reduced. And hey, there's that whole bikes-don't-tear-up-the-earth-and-the-air thing, too. Don't forget about that. And get off your cell phone!

(image credit:

Freedom to be an idiot

I'm a little behind the times (so what's new) because I only just read about this today (h/t CP):

James Buss, 46, was arrested last week for the Nov. 16 post he made on, a popular conservative blog that covers Wisconsin politics.

Buss wrote their salaries made him sick because teachers are lazy and work only five hours a day. He praised Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide in the April 1999 attack at Columbine High School.
It's an idiotic, trolling comment to make--I don't think anyone with half a brain would argue with that. But arresting the guy and then continuing to hold him even after finding nothing incriminating in his house or his past? That's just as ridiculous. The boys at B&S put it pretty well, actually:

I realize that in a post-Columbine world that everyone is hypersensitive about any mention of Columbine or school shootings. But this comment was clearly just talk. When I gave the detective the IP address, I assumed that they would find him, chew him out a bit for being an idiot, and leave it alone. The fact that the West Bend Police decided to actually arrest him in the absence of any additional evidence of this guy being a threat is out of line.

I encourage the District Attorney’s office to promptly no bill this matter. Yes, we need to be concerned with statements like this and it was appropriate for the police to look into it. But once they found out that he was no threat and once the comment had been removed, thus eliminating the likelihood that the comment would encourage anyone else to commit violence, they should have dropped it.

Indeed. Otherwise, where do we draw the line? Or will there even be a line at all?

You be the judge

The UW-Madison is taking the "unprecedented" step of suing the pants off a small, liberal arts college in Kansas that, they say, is infringing on trademark law by using a W logo that's too similar to the UW's own "Motion W" logo.

It seems like much ado about very little, but I'll let you all be the judge:

The UW's "Motion W" logo

Washburn's W logo

OK, sure, I can see where they're fairly similar. But hey, one's blue and the other is red. There's also no curve at the bottom of the Washburn logo. I don't know, my personal take on it is that this is a fairly frivolous lawsuit, and that the UW should probably just drop it. But then, I don't know a whole lot about trademark law. How similar does something have to be to be considered infringement?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Yes, please

Gov. Jim Doyle asked lawmakers Monday to pass a statewide smoking ban before they adjourn for the year at the end of next week.
Yes, please.

I frequent bars and clubs (on account of playing in a band) and have only increased my patronage since the Madison ban went into effect. It has been a huge boon to me personally and to a number of people I know. An example: I sometimes sing for this group, and before the ban, it wasn't uncommon for my throat to close up and cause me to have a coughing fit in the middle of a song. That's not at all what an audience wants to hear (regardless of what they think of our music in general), nor is it something I enjoy doing.

Another bonus courtesy of the ban comes in the form of the weekly Bennett's ad in the Onion. I always look forward to discovering what crazy new illogical rant will accompany the plug for smut n' eggs.

But these are just small anecdotes. There are quite a few very good reasons to ban smoking in "public buildings, workplaces, restaurants and taverns."

I do understand the concerns of bar/club owners, and those expressed by the always vocal Tavern League. If the state were trying to ban something like, say, playing darts, then I'd be right behind them in their calls to block it. But we're talking about a proven poison, something that doesn't just harm the smoker, but wafts out and harms everyone around them, too. Hell, if you need your tobacco fix, take up the always charming "smokeless tobacco" (see: chew) habit. Just don't spit it onto my shoes.

The Tavern League's website has a list of bars that closed in 2007, supposedly as a result of the ban. Thing is, how does this compare to years' past? Where's the hard data linking their closures to loss of revenue due to the ban? How many of those places were headed for closure regardless of/before the ban went into effect? The Green Room, for instance, was a cavernous place filled with pool tables. Maybe they just couldn't afford the large space? And Bru's Anchor Inn, as far as I was aware, was having trouble staying open before the ban went into effect.

Like all things, businesses must learn to adapt or perish. It's harsh, but isn't that how we, the capitalists pigs, encourage innovation and improvement? Plus there's that whole cigarettes fucking kill thing, but I hate to sound so negative. Wait, no I don't....

(image credit:

There's always something to complain about

And those on the far-right always seem to find a way to blame their favorite bogeyman, "liberal lefty environmentalists" in this case, for a problem that, in reality, can only be attributed to Mother Nature.

Check out this gem from the conservative Daily Takes blog:

Six inches of snow 48 hours ago should not leave the roads of Madison in such terrible shape.

Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz (former co-founder of the lefty environmental group 1,000 Friends of Wisconsin) is hell-bent on making it tough to drive cars in his city.

How else can you explain the dismal condition of East Washington Avenue this morning? It’s bad enough the reconstruction work has taken longer than the entire Marquette Interchange project. But now that the construction is nearly complete, more than 1/3 of the road is unusable due to the lack of adequate plowing and salting.

Madison streets superintendent Al Schumacher is quoted in today’s Wisconsin State Journal as saying most of the main roads should be “really good” today.

He’s right. They should be.

But they aren’t.

For some reason the plow drivers in Wisconsin’s second largest city are not capable of clearing out the left traffic and left turn lanes. As if that weren’t dangerous enough, there are places on East Wash where an entire lane is coated with three inches of ice.

Salt may not be environmentally friendly. But how friendly is a street strewn with disabled cars and injured citizens, Mayor Dave?

Since when does the City of Madison not use any salt on the roads? As far as I was aware, they do indeed salt major thoroughfares, only leaving the side streets sans salt in an effort to minimize the amount of bad run-off into the lakes (those big, watery things we're surrounded by here in Madison).

Turns out I was right. This press release comes courtesy of the City:

Cleanup efforts related to the weekend snow and ice storm continue in the City of Madison. Top city staff from a number of agencies met today with the mayor's office to review current issues and coordinate cleanup work. The City of Madison includes some 750 miles of streets and 1700 total lane miles.

The Streets Division's cleanup efforts are focused on a number of priorities. Additional salting and plowing is being performed on the salt routes (these are the city's heavily-trafficked streets) that have ice buildup. The City of Madison does not generally salt residential side streets in an effort to minimize harmful salt runoff into Madison-area lakes.

Streets is also continuing to plow the areas where cars have moved, and sanding hills and intersections on the residential streets. Heavy equipment such as end loaders and graders are being used to scrape the residential streets where ice has bonded, creating rutting. Work is also continuing on crosswalk snow removal.

The Streets Division delayed plowing most residential streets until early Sunday morning due to the freezing rain that occurred overnight Saturday night into Sunday morning. Plowing those streets prior to the freezing rain would have resulted in extremely dangerous and icy conditions on paved streets.
Look, I'm as annoyed at the big chunks of ice stuck to the streets as anyone, but I also understand what happened this weekend. Plowing streets that have lots of cars parked on them, streets that are older and more narrow than those in, say, Fitchburg (where the downtown is really just a "state of mind"), is difficult enough in normal snow conditions. Add to that a thick layer of ice and things get nasty.

It's understandable to be miffed at the driving conditions. Linking that to "liberal lefty environmentalists" is one hell of a big stretch, though, and just makes you look ridiculous.

Maybe our local right-wing blogosphere is just cranky about that recently released NIE report. Y'know, that one that says Iran gave up its nuclear weapons program 4 years ago.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Donuts and Greens

Two tasty tidbits courtesy Isthmus' Daily Page:

You are invited to create an original and educational project to be presented to the public. Your interactive project may cover the areas of food, wellness, recreation, fashion, care and protection of natural resources, natural energy, water purification and management, pollution control, and other areas.
I've never been much of an inventor, but I admit that this challenge piques my interest. Usually, any time I come up with something I think is new and innovative, it's already been done, but that certainly shouldn't keep any of us from trying, right? So put on your thinkin' caps and get cracking on a cool, enviro-loving project. What else are you going to do now that we're all trapped by icy snow?

Also, TDP informs us that there is, of course, a Youtube video of the now infamous Krispy Kreme donut truck chase. Again, high-speed chases = bad. But you gotta admit, shower of donuts pelting a police car = more than a little amusing.


I don't usually like to talk about national/world politics on this here wee lil' blog, but this is just far too interesting/important to let pass without comment.

According to the most recently released National Intelligence Estimate concerning Iran's nuclear ambitions, that country froze its nuclear arms program in 2003. That means that the previous year or so of saber rattling coming from the US government (the Bush administration specifically) has proven to be, much like their talk leading up to the Iraq War, pretty ill-founded. And knowingly, too, as the data from this report was likely available, in some part at least, to the president and other high-level officials prior to its release to the public.

The administration called new attention to the threat posed by Iran earlier this year when President Bush had suggested in October that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to “World War III” and Vice President Dick Cheney promised “serious consequences” if the government in Tehran did not abandon its nuclear program.

Yet at the same time officials were airing these dire warnings about the Iranian threat, analysts at the Central Intelligence Agency were secretly concluding that Iran’s nuclear weapons work halted years ago and that international pressure on the Islamic regime in Tehran was working.

Unless, of course, extremely important information like this was being withheld from the people (unfortunately) running the country. But I somehow doubt that.

Of course, the far-right is already spinning this info to their benefit, claiming that the Bush administration can now take credit for pressuring Iran to stop their nuclear weapons program by invading Iraq. Even though that wasn't one of the reasons given for starting that particular war--none of which, it turns out, were correct.

The new report comes out just over five years after a deeply flawed N.I.E. concluded that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons programs and was determined to restart its nuclear program — an estimate that led to congressional authorization for a military invasion of Iraq, although most of the report’s conclusions turned out to be wrong.

Intelligence officials said that the specter of the botched 2002 N.I.E. hung over their deliberations over the Iran assessment, leading them to treat the document with particular caution.

“We felt that we needed to scrub all the assessments and sources to make sure we weren’t misleading ourselves,” said one senior intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

At least some people can actually learn from their past mistakes. More and more, though, I doubt that Bush and company have any ability to do so, instead proving themselves to have more in common with, say, a particularly smart blueberry scone than with thoughtful, intelligent human beings.
The Lost Albatross