Friday, February 29, 2008

Go green to save green

When the talk turns to environmental sustainability and so-called "green" standards in business, one of the major counter arguments tends to be that it'll be too cost prohibitive, cut into a company's bottom line, and therefore be bad for business and the economy. I'm always tempted to fire back with "But you're putting profits before the long-term health and survival of the planet!" which, really, just tends to put people off. No one will ever convince anyone to change their ways by insulting their humanity.

Here's the thing, though: the more I research green technologies, the more I'm seeing that many of them actually save companies money in addition to saving resources. Ingenuity and a greater focus on sustainable practices have produced a whole slew of products and processes that are good for both the planet and the bottom line, but we seem to be falling short on actually promoting them. We have to get the word out, so that when it comes time to discuss new, greener ideas, the "it costs too much" argument will be mostly moot.

Right here at our very own UW-Madison, a man by the name of Marjid Sarmadi has developed a more sustainable way to make carpeting. I'll be honest; it's not something I'd ever thought of before. Apparently, however, making one square yard of carpet requires 50 gallons of water, significant amounts of energy and harmful chemicals like formaldehyde. Plus, it's the number one textile found in landfills.

However, Sarmadi has hit on a way to make carpeting that is 100% recyclable, doesn't use some of the more harmful chemicals, and actually costs less:

...the most surprising part of the project has been that the final project not only saves water and energy, but lasts longer and costs much less. Sarmadi’s carpeting standards have a 30–year warranty, as opposed to the typical 10— to 15–year warranty, and have saved the LACCD the equivalent of $40 million.
And there are stories like this one cropping up all over the place. Plus, green technologies create green jobs (y'know, that thing the presidential candidates have been gabbing on and on about). The renewable energy industry, for instance, has been seeing substantial growth, even in the midst of the current economic downturn.

Again, the main ingredient for seeing more successes like this one is will power: willingness to research and try new things, willingness to properly fund the efforts, willingness to place more emphasis on long-term benefits than short.

We've got opposable thumbs and big, squishy brains, and we've proved that we can make just about anything happen if we put our minds to it. In this case, it's both good stewardship and good business.

(h/t Isthmus Daily Page and TreeHugger)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thanks, Sarah

And now for something completely different.

I don't normally make a habit of posting personal essays, but in the end, I write about what's on my mind. So, take it or leave it, I guess, and have a lovely day.

Anyone who knows me is likely to tell you that I am a little...obsessed...with Sarah McLachlan. Honestly, being that I’ve never actually met the woman, I’d say it’s more accurate to say that I’m obsessed with her music. That’s the truth of the matter, really, plus it sounds a little less, well, creepy.

My love affair with her music dates back to some unremembered time in 1995 when my older sister bought Solace, McLachlan’s second album. This was followed in short order by her purchasing Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, McLachlan’s more recently released third album. Every morning before school, I’d awake to the sound of my sister singing along to one or another track while she showered. And every morning, my groggy, prepubescent brain would say to itself, Emily, you should find out who this is, because it’s really fucking good.

Finally, I asked, and sis made me a tape copy of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy that would soon be getting frequent play on my Walkman. I listened to it on the bus to school. I listened to it when I rode my bike around town. Terrified of singing in public, I nonetheless took to memorizing every lyric to every song and belting them out when I was sure no one was around. I was in love with this album. It was perfect from beginning to end, like a well-orchestrated symphony, and its themes seemed both timeless and extremely relevant to me.

I’m sure this was only magnified at the time by my boisterously chaotic hormones, but even now, I hold fast to my assertion that it’s one of the greatest records ever.

I was an awkward looking teenager; a tomboy who played the drums, loved softball, climbed trees and had boys for best friends, one of whom I also secretly harbored a perfectly serious crush on. This, my soundtrack for all of the angst that this entailed, stayed in my Walkman for days on end.

Somewhere in the midst of all that, my mother got sick. The illness turned into something I could barely wrap my head around, something that dragged out into years of surgery, rehabilitation, more surgery, brain damage, and yet more surgery. My older brother and sister were away at college, so my father and I were left to take care of her. There’s no resentment there, just fact. Still, it was a lot. Music turned into the one thing I could always escape into when things got too complicated. Sometimes that was my raucous punk band. Sometimes that was donning my headphones, disappearing into my tree fort and staring up at the sky and just listening.

Sarah McLachlan’s next major record, Surfacing, came out in July of 1997. Just a few months prior, I’d discovered an online mailing list of Sarah fans who called themselves Fumblers. The magical and sometimes bizarre world of the internet was still somewhat new to me then and the idea of an international, easy-to-access fan club and information hub was extremely exciting. I promptly joined and learned about the formation of Lilith Fair, about various Sarah b-sides I’d never heard before, about concerts from long before I’d discovered her, about other artists, about how to refer to her by her first name only.

I went to Lilith Fair that summer when it stopped in Chicago. It was me and my sister and a few of her friends. They’d all gotten tickets for the lawn, but my sister and I had scored pavilion seats up front. We stayed back on the grass with our friends for most of the acts, but when it came time for Sarah to take the stage, there was no stopping us. We took our places up front and were promptly lost in reverie as the music began.

When she played “Hold On,” we couldn’t help but get a little misty-eyed. It seemed all-together too timely, considering the situation with mom. During the chorus to “Witness,” several red glow sticks appeared throughout the crowd: the Fumbler’s bat signal to recognize one another at shows. They were out there. And then, when it came time for the traditional sing-along to “Ice Cream,” I had a moment. It was sort of transcendental, I guess, this feeling of awe and of being part of something huge and wonderful. Or maybe someone nearby was smoking something special, but whatever. This whole stadium of people was singing these lovely lyrics back to the woman who’d penned them. It was almost overwhelming, that sound. And it made me want, more than anything, to have the chance to do something similar, to stand on stage and make people feel something, anything good, with music.

It would take years to get at all close to achieving that goal, but that was the starting line.

That fall, just over a month into my sophomore year of high school, my mother finally succumbed to her lengthy illness and passed away. I can’t explain what that was like, except to say that it sucked. It really, really sucked.

In the mental haze that followed, I sent a brief email to the Fumblers, explaining what had happened and why I would likely be incommunicado for awhile. There was an immediate outpouring of support from the list, something I hadn’t really expected from strangers, but there was still more to come.

On the morning of my mom’s memorial service, I awoke to my dad standing in the doorway of my bedroom. He had the most impressively gigantic basket of flowers clutched in his hands and he was chuckling (which was good, because none of us had done that in days).

“Who is this from?” he asked, incredulous. I sat up in bed and examined the little card buried beneath layers of foliage.

It said: “From the Fumblers.”

I nearly cried, of course. These people hardly knew me. And wait a minute, how had they gotten my address, anyway?

As luck would have it, the answer was far less unnerving than it might have been. One of the secretaries at my father’s church, which was just a parking lot away from our house, was good friends with a woman on the Fumblers mailing list. This woman had simply asked for the address at the church and then had the flowers forwarded on. This was also how I got my second Fumbler gift; a book, called Motherless Daughters, that ended up helping a great deal with getting me through it all (which is saying something, because, as a general rule, I don't like self-help books). This woman, too, had lost her mother, and the book had come to her at just the right time as well.

I wish I could remember who she was, because I’d love to send her another thank-you now, even so many years later.

And maybe it’s weird, but someday I hope I get the chance to thank Sarah herself, both for making the music that’s seen me through so many good times and bad, and for providing the impetus for people like the Fumblers to come together and generally be awesome. I’d be lying if I said I also didn’t secretly hope to someday get the chance to jam with her and her band. A girl can dream, right?

In the meantime, I have the music. I also have the good example set by a musician who has given so much to promote and fund charitable organizations, good causes, and fledgling musicians alike.

I’ll likely never be half the musician that Sarah McLachlan is, and no matter what my id might pretend otherwise, that’s not really what I’ve ever wanted. I’ll find my own path through music and through life.

Regardless of the outcome, though, I’ll have an excellent soundtrack to see me through it, and I’m grateful for that.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Pizza Brutta is...uh...very good-ah!

What? It rhymes!

Anyway, last night me and my fella headed over to this new restaurant over on Monroe Street to find out whether their "Neapolitan Style Pizza" was up to snuff. See, we're like, experts on the subject now and highly qualified to judge. Ahem.

A friend of mine had recently recommended Pizza Brutta to me, mentioning that they had a wood-fired oven and used lots of organic ingredients. Sounded good to me. I love thin crust pizza, especially when it's cooked in a wood-fired oven. The deep dish, Chicago-style stuff has never appealed to me, but unfortunately, here in Madison, it's much easier to find thick than thin. So it was with great relief that I left Pizza Brutta last night with one more place in town to get great thin crust pizza.

We walked into a warm, inviting space where, just behind the main counter, the oven and its low, hot embers could be seen. A friendly guy, presumably the owner and/or main chef, greeted us with a smile. Being snobby traditionalists, we both ordered a margherita pizza (I complimented mine with a Spotted Cow, which, along with the Capital Maibock and something else I can't remember, they had on tap) and then went to find our seats and wait for the food to be brought out.

I'm told that cooking pizza in a wood-fired oven, when done properly, only takes a few minutes. The speedy delivery of our pies suggested that Pizza Brutta knew this, too.

The pies looked great: thin, lightly charred crust topped with a tasty tomato sauce, melted fresh mozzarella cheese, basil and a sprinkling of oil. The crust was a bit crispier than the stuff we'd had in Naples, but still delicious. In fact, the whole thing was really, really good and I finished it off without much trouble. Pro tip: the slices are so thin that I found it easier to eat them folded, but that's half the fun!

During our meal, we overheard the main guy talking to a table of people nearby, asking them what they thought of the gelato. Our ears perked up immediately. In addition to a love of thin crust pizza, we'd also picked up an addiction to gelato during our travels abroad. Ever since, we've been hunting out places in the area where one can get the tasty cold treat, so far sampling the goods at both Java Cat (our favorite) and Paciugo. We were excited to hear that there was yet another location in town where we could sate our addiction.

There were only three flavors available that night: chocolate, pistachio and lemon-basil. Intrigued and slightly confused, we inquired about the lemon-basil. He told us that they were actually out of lemon that day and so the gelato was only basil flavored, which only served to confuse us more. Basil flavored gelato? How could that be good? But he insisted we try some. Hesitantly, we both took a bite of the stuff. I braced for an overly herbal flavor wave, but actually found it to be quite pleasant. Not at all ordinary. Still, it struck me that it would be best with the lemon compliment, and so we both decided to go with the more traditional chocolate.

The chocolate gelato was wonderfully flavorful without being too rich. Owner/chef guy asked us what we thought of it, and we both agreed that it was very good, if just a tad bit grainy. He admitted that their machines for making it were a bit small, making it harder to get it to freeze fast enough to beat the formation of ice crystals. It sounded like something he would be working on improving, but even still, it was good stuff.

Overall, I was much impressed. The ingredients were fresh, the wood-fired oven seemed well used, the prices were very reasonable, and the other food options looked interesting, too. I can say, without a doubt, that we'll be back to try out some of the other dishes and different types of pies. I would whole-heartedly recommend Pizza Brutta to anyone who asked and I'm extremely happy to have even a close approximation of Neapolitan style pizza nearby.

The Great CDP Mix Tape Review

Not so long ago, I participated in the CDP's "Nationwide Mixtape Exchange" - an awesome idea that brought together various people across the country (and some outside) through the art of the mix tape. This was the second time he'd held the event, but only the first time I'd joined in. The gist of the thing was to create your ultimate mix based on the theme of "love" (interpreting that however you so wished) in honor of Valentine's Day. Participant's names were thrown into a hat and then drawn at random, pairing each person with someone they'd likely never met. Anyone who was so inclined could also send a copy of their mix to Mr. CDP (aka Ryan) himself, leading to a brief review on his blog.

Being that my roots are firmly grounded in a history of making totally awesome mix tapes for friends (though I never went so far as to make one for a desired hook-up), I couldn't resist the challenge. You can read all about my masterpiece here, if you'd like (3rd review down).

Me? It must have been my lucky drawings-from-hats day, because I ended up with Ryan himself making my mix tape. And since it would be downright uncouth for him to review his own mix, I've decided that the right thing to do is to review it here, for all the world to see.

So, without further adieu: "One Week of Love" - A mix tape by Ryan "the CDP doesn't stand for anything" Zeinert.

Track List:
1) "Album of the Year," The Good Life
2) "Romantic Rights," Death From Above 1979
3) "Natalie Portman," Ozma
4) "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)," Bright Eyes
5) "Ears Ring," Rainer Maria
6) "The Zookeeper's Boy," Mew
7) "Burn Your Way Home," Algebra One
8) "We Both Go Down Together," The Decemberists
9) "Always Have, Always Will," The Impossibles
10) "Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt," We Are Scientists
11) "Delicious," Sleeper
12) Falling For You," Weezer
13) "Maybe Tonight," Nicole Atkins
14) "Tidal Wave," Longwave
15) "Thursday," Asobi Seksu
16) "Pillar of Salt," The Thermals
17) "Once Around the Block," Badly Drawn Boy
18) "Angel Interceptor," Ash
19) "My Name Is Trouble," Nightmare of You
20) "Perfect Weapon," Communique
21) "Gyzmkid," The Velvet Teen

First off, I was happy to find that there was only one track ("We All Go Down Together") on this mix that I'd even heard before, let alone owned. Otherwise, this was all new to me, and I liked every minute of this meaty, twenty-one track indie pop/punk love fest.

From the perfect opening track to the hilariously titled final cut, the most noticeable feature of the mix is that the whole thing fits together so well. Never do the songs begin to blend into an indistinguishable mash, but the overall sonic theme fits each one together into a foot-tapping, head bopping symphony of awesome.

My favorite tracks, though it was somewhat hard to pick, were definitely "Maybe Tonight" by Nicole Atkins and "Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt" by We Are Scientists.

Ryan also included extensive liner notes to accompany each of his choices. In lieu of transcribing all of them, which would likely result in early onset carpal tunnel syndrome, I just want to share my favorite(s) of the bunch:

"Romantic Rights," Death From Above 1979 - Here's a fun fact for you: Did you know that listening to DFA1979 increases a woman's fertility by a billion percent? Shocking, I know, but I have sources and do not wish to be disputed. Delightfully sleazy and sexy.

"Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt," We Are Scientists - Love, affection and kindness are all fine and good, but sometimes you just need to throw the hammer down and get yourself violated. This is the soundtrack to a sweaty, drunken, after-party debauchery session.
A few other interesting notes:

I'm not a huge Weezer fan, but I like their stuff well-enough. Pinkerton, the album where track 12 comes from, was always the record that die hard Weezer fans told me was either 1) woefully overlooked or 2) a hideous aberration. After hearing this cut, though, I'm inclined to believe the first claim to be the truer of the two.

Very happy to see Rainer Maria show up on the mix, too, as they've been one of my favorite Madison-grown bands since I stumbled across Knives Drawn all those years ago when I was working as a late night DJ at the student radio station here in town. Ah, those were good times. My only callers/listeners were cab drivers, stoners, and a handful of my friends, and being that my show came on at midnight, I could play songs with naughty words in them.

Thanks again to Ryan for sending me a fabulous mix. One of my favorite things in the world is being introduced to good new music, so as long as he's doing the exchanges, I plan to be an ardent participant.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Start spreading the news

It's time to ante up and make it known that we want a smoke-free Wisconsin! I just had the following information sent to me and thought it was worth spreading the word:

+ A public hearing will be held on the Assembly version of our bill [AB834] this Wednesday Feb 27th at 12pm in Rm 417 North of the State Capitol. Free lunch will be provided. RSVP here ( The Senate hearing earlier this year went late into evening, so even if you work during the day, consider coming later.

+ Lance Armstrong will visit our rally at the State Capitol on March 4th. Registration and free lunch from 10:30-12, rally at 12-1, and meetings with your legislators from 1-3. Free buses will depart from the following locations: Eau Claire, La Crosse, Wausau, Green Bay, and Milwaukee. RSVP here (
If this is an issue you feel at all strongly about, I urge you to come out and make your voices heard. Don't let Breske and the Tavern League's misinformation and maneuvering win.


Friday, February 22, 2008

The Fantastic Plastic Throwdown

Since the subject of a proposed ban on plastic water bottles and plastic bans came up, there's been quite a lot of chatter between proponents, opponents and fence-sitters on the matter. I posted my initial feelings on the subject, and that led to quite a few responses from various people, both pro and con.

I had a rather productive conversation with the fella who writes over at Fearful Symmetries about it not so long ago.

Recently, however, I received the following diatribe in the comments section of my original post. At first, I was inclined not to even dignify it with a response, being that it's filled with rash generalizations and accusations. But then I calmed down and figured, you know what? I'm willing to bet there are a lot of people who feel this way. It's worth trying to set the record straight, at least for myself.

And that's the thing, I only speak for myself. The commenter lumped me in with all environmentalists everywhere, and honestly, if you want to have a real conversation with someone, never assume that they think identically to some imagined or real category of people. I'm going to give the commenter a bit more respect than he gave me, first by re-posting his note and secondly by trying to address, as civilly and rationally as possible, some of the points he brings up. Even if my first inclination was to growl and stomp my feet.
Why is it that you cannot make anyone happy? Environmentalists as a whole fight for the things on their agendas' and when those things are proposed then they don't want it. For example alternative energy. No EV (environmentalist) wants a Nuke plant they think it is unsafe. Which it is not! It's safer and more effecient then any other form of energy on a large scale. Can't have coal plants because they pollute. In spite of the FACT that they are far more effecient and cleaner than ever before in recorded history. So everyone screems for wind turbines. Then when energy companies try to put them in the EV's complain about the birds being hurt, or they might cause earth quakes. Ex, Fond Du Lac Co. wind farm. I mean what the hell? You either want it or you don't. Not to mention you would need to literally litter the landscape with wind turbines to even match the power produced by conventional means.

Years abo the EV's screamed for everyone to "save the trees" and use plastic grocery bags. Now i guess it's "Screw the trees and don't use plastic." I guess the EV's finally figured out that trees are a renewable resource and there are special trees specifically grown for paper production and nobody is slaughtering the poor rain forests for paper.

Now "Down with the plastic bottles!" is the current war cry. What, you guys finally figure out that the recycling band wagon isn't working out like you had hoped? Riddle me this How are you going to keep people from buying bottled water in Sun Prarie, or middleton and bringing ot home for consumption? I guess screw the consitution! Let's have the government control what we do in our own homes! If EV's want to be Socialists/Communists, please for the love of GOD move to china I think you will be happier there. Then you can leave the rest of us alone. I know that EV's and the people in Madison think that the rest of the population doesn't know what we are doing and it's their job to save us from ourselves. Guess what we can make our own decisions and protect ourselves, and do things that won't hurt others. Jamming more stupid laws down our thoats isn't making anyone better, safer, or healthier. You are just helping the government to trample our civil liberties and make us less free by the day.

While I am on my rant about EV's let's look at the ELF. Those people are just insane lunatics. How could they possible think they are helping the environment by burning Hummers and SUV's to the ground? Burning a Hummer to the ground produces more pollutants and toxins than it would produce in it's lifetime of driving on the street. On top of that they think it's ok to destroy someone elses property.

The average person is happy to conserve energy. Hell who wouldn't want a truck that gets 75 miles to the gallon? Forcing things down peoples throats is not the answer. It certainly isn't progressive. I guess it is progressive to the 2% of the people that are fighting for all of this.

I would hope you would have the integrity to post this on your blog. However it has been my experience when EV's, and liberals have someone who opposes their line of thinking they convienently sweep it under the rug as if it never happened. Maybe you can be the bigger person. Unfortunately I am not counting on it.


Let's set aside all of the names and -isms first, shall we? Throwing around terms like "socialism" and "communism" aren't going to serve anyone's side of the argument. They're too complicated and far too loaded.

Secondly, we all need to get something straight here. There is no one hive mind when it comes to who does and who does not call themselves an "environmentalist." We all have different ideas about what should be done. I certainly hope that we'd all agree that the earth is worth saving, though, and that humanity needs to step up its efforts to waste less and care more (and if you don't agree with that, then there's a whole different conversation we need to have).

We run into trouble, though, when we start talking strategy.

Nuclear Energy - Todd's probably correct when he says that nuclear energy is safer and more efficient than any other large-scale production method currently available to us. Until you get to the waste it produces. The problem is that when nuclear power plants were first introduced, the scientists and planners involved didn't have any clue as to how we'd dispose of the highly radioactive waste it would produce down the line. But heck, that problem was years away and surely we'd come up with some solution in the meantime. Problem is, we haven't. Our "best" methods of disposing of the waste at the moment rely on dumping it in shoddily built storage facilities in the middle of a mountain. Understandably, no one along the rail line where the waste would be transported and no one near the mountain want the stuff to go there.

So what to do with all this waste that will go on being highly radioactive for tens of thousands of years, if not more? That's the real issue I have with nuclear energy. Plant safety and production methods have, indeed, improved dramatically in recent years, but we still have no good way of disposing of the waste created. That, frankly, strikes me as rather irresponsible.

Coal-fired Plants - Todd again correctly points out that coal-fired power plants are cleaner and more efficient than they've ever been. That doesn't make them clean. Still, the technology exists to make coal plants almost entirely emissions free, and most half-sane environmentalists are very much for that. The problem lies in our current administration's reluctance to fully fund such projects, seemingly only willing to pay enough lip service to make themselves look like they take the problem seriously. Take the FutureGen power plant, for instance. It was on the verge of being an entirely emissions-free coal power plant when the government pulled the plug on funding for it.

It is possible to convert all of our coal-fired plants over to that type of totally or nearly emissions free standard, but it takes money. We need to get our priorities in the right place so that the funding we do have goes to more beneficial projects like this than, say, pre-emptive wars without end. And, even then, coal is a non-renewable resource that requires grossly harmful methods to extract it from the earth. At the current production rate, we've got about 164 years left before we run out of the stuff. So yes, I'm very much in favor of cleaning up the coal-fired plants we have now, but we should also be throwing a great deal of effort into finding alternative sources of fuel.

Wind Farms - Ah, the tranquil wind farm. Todd claims that us environmentalists don't want them because they'll kill birds or cause earthquakes. I've heard the "they kill birds!" argument before, but it usually comes from a few select people who haven't done much research on the subject. As for earthquakes? That's new to me, and I can't find any references to it (online).

There's a great summary of the wind turbine bird death myth over at TreeHugger, and I'm going to point you to that because it does a far better job of laying out the facts than I could do on my own. This sums it up pretty well:
In the United States, cars and trucks wipe out millions of birds each year, while 100 million to 1 billion birds collide with windows. According to the 2001 National Wind Coordinating Committee study, “Avian Collisions with Wind Turbines: A Summary of Existing Studies and Comparisons to Other Sources of Avian Collision Mortality in the United States," these non-wind mortalities compare with 2.19 bird deaths per turbine per year. That's a long way from the sum mortality caused by the other sources.
So yes, there are some environmentalists out there who believe wind turbines cause too many bird deaths to be acceptable, but again, it seems to be a case of poor research and a risk communication problem. A lot of people who'd call themselves environmentalists are very much pro wind farms. Another great thing about them? Farmers and ranchers who lease out their land for turbines make extra cash, and the turbines have a pretty small footprint.

Paper VS. Plastic - The next wild claim? Environmentalists apparently don't care about the trees anymore because we want everyone to switch from plastic to paper bags. I've said this a number of times already, but I guess is needs to be repeated yet again: REUSABLE BAGS. Canvas is a great option. And there are companies making plastic bags out of things like corn starch, where they don't use petroleum for production and are fully biodegradable. Combine use of these with a campaign to get more people to use reusable bags and that's the solution I'd favor.

And then there's this claim: "...nobody is slaughtering the poor rain forests for paper." This is patently false. Rain forests in places like South America and Indonesia are being looted for wood to be used as timber and paper. Here's a list that includes some of the companies that do this. Here's a report on one of them specifically. Here's a searchable database of wood and paper imports/exports from various countries, many that get the resources from rain forests and other sensitive ecosystems, all around the world.

There exist effective methods of responsible forestry, and thankfully, more and more companies are striving to reach certification for them. We need wood, but we don't need to destroy ecosystems to get it. Again, it all comes down to sensible, well-managed and well-thought out systems of procurement and production. If we'd just stop and think something through before diving in, we'd be a lot better off.

ELF (Earth Liberation Front) - No, Todd, I don't support their methods, and neither do many responsible environmentalists. Do I sympathize with their anger? Absolutely. But as with any frustrating situation, violence and destruction in response tends to do more harm than good. Again, please don't assume that just because people and groups have similar end-goals, we all agree with or condone each others tactics. That's simply not the case.

In Conclusion - Shoving rules and regulations down people's throats generally doesn't go particularly well, but in some cases it has been necessary for the safety and, yes, liberty of your fellow man. Think civil rights movement, think Title IX, think all of the various laws in this country that provide some form of guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all people. I'll be the first to admit that there's a fine balance between laws that protect and laws that overstep, but we need to teach ourselves to see the difference. Your liberty ends where mine begins, and vice versa. I would extend that to apply to the well-being of the environment, too, which has a direct effect on everyone's ability to lead a healthy and happy life.

As for China? They've a long, long ways to go before I'd even consider visiting, let alone moving there. And besides, I was born in this country and I happen to care very deeply about its general well-being--past, present and future.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope this was enlightening.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Where's my tinfoil hat?

Isthmus letter to the editor (wait for the last bit, it's the punchline):
As a Ph.D. scientist well schooled in all aspects of thermodynamics, I take exception to Teresa Nyholt's letter on CO2 global warming (1/4/08). This hypothesis, extravagantly pitched by Al Gore for political reasons, is unsupported by peer-reviewed scientific publications.

In his infamous An Inconvenient Truth movie, Gore reported a global temperature increase, which when graphed was shaped like a hockey stick. The data used for this temperature graph were totally in error.

There was no exaggerated global temperature increase. His temperature levels were based on tree-ring growth data, which was invalid because of statistical errors and failure to correct for atmospheric changes.

Despite criticism from the scientific community, he continued to use fallacious data. His disdain for scientific truth qualified him more favorably as a politician than an aspiring scientist.

A simple graph of the gradual global temperature increase along with the vivid exponential increase of carbon dioxide since 1950 validates, beyond a shadow of doubt, that carbon dioxide has had no measurable effect on global warming.

The myth of human-caused global warming is the biggest public fraud since Franklin Roosevelt orchestrated the Pearl Harbor tragedy.
Remember folks, he's a Ph.D. SCIENTIST! Do you suppose that means he's got a doctorate in some branch of the sciences, or that he actually studies people with Ph.D.s? I can't tell.

Tammy can you hear me?

Everyone's talking about superdelegates these days, so I really hate to add to the cacophony, but this particular story hits rather close to home.

Wisconsin Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, a politician for whom I have given my full support since I moved here in 2000, has the interesting and tricky honor of being one of those much talked about superdelegates. That means that, come the Democratic National Convention in August, she gets to vote for whoever she so chooses. It's a strange little bylaw, to be sure. Here's how it all works for Wisconsin:

Forty-eight [of 74] of the Wisconsin delegates are awarded based on vote totals in the state's eight congressional districts. In the second congressional district, which includes Dane County, Obama will take five delegates to Clinton's three, the most lopsided total of any district in the state.

Besides the 74 pledged delegates, there are 18 unpledged so-called "superdelegates" in the state who are not required to vote for any candidate and who can support anyone they want. One of those, U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, has endorsed Clinton. Her campaign released a statement Wednesday saying that she remained committed to Clinton.

"Congresswoman Baldwin announced her endorsement of Senator Clinton many months ago," the statement read. "She supports Senator Clinton because she is the only candidate fully committed to health care for all Americans."
Tammy has every right, during the primaries, to support and campaign for any candidate she wants. That's not up for debate here. What I and a number of other folks find irksome, however, is the fact that Baldwin is still promising to vote for Clinton come convention time, regardless of the fact that the vast majority of Baldwin's constituents supported Obama in the primary.

Ben Brothers over at Badger Blues lays it out nicely:

Unfortunately, unless things change, [Obama's] actual advantage at the convention will be only a single delegate, since Tammy Baldwin is a superdelegate who plans to vote for Senator Clinton.

Thanks to arcane bylaws written decades ago, Tammy Baldwin has the ability to trump the expressed wishes of her constituents (251,627 people voted for Baldwin in 2004...If we take that to be a fair estimate of the district’s Democratic voting population, we find out that Tammy Baldwin’s vote in the Democratic primary is roughly 31,000 times more important than anyone else’s), and singlehandedly cut Obama’s delegate advantage in half. Today she stated that she plans to do just that. This hardly seems fair to the thousands of Democrats in Madison and the surrounding communities who went to the polls yesterday and voted for Barack Obama.

Never before have superdelegates played such a crucial role in the nomination of a candidate for the presidency. In years past, the contest for the nomination hasn't dragged on for so long and been so close. I love that the race this year is so hotly contested because it means that more people in more states get to vote when it still matters, instead of having the first three or four states to hold primaries/caucuses decide their candidate for them.

Since things are so close, however, everyone is paying close attention to these superdelegates, chasing even the lowliest of the them down for interviews and a clue as to where their loyalties might lie.

Shouldn't these elected officials be beholden to their constituents, though? If the majority of people in your district vote for one person, shouldn't you be obligated to support their decision at the national convention? Isn't that how our republi-mocracy is supposed to work?

Clinton failed to win a single district in Wisconsin. Her defeat was most resounding in the second district--Baldwin's--with student voters (who make up a large chunk of Baldwin's support base) going 10 to 1 in favor of Obama. If, in the end, she ignores that loud and clear message, Baldwin risks losing a great deal of face with the very people who put her in office.

I like Tammy, I like what she stands for and what she's done while in office. It's not as though I would vote for her opponent come the next election (sorry, Dave "Vote for Me Because My Wife Died" Magnum doesn't really do it for me), but my disappointment would be deep. I imagine it would be the same with a lot of her constituents.

Again, Ben Brothers sums up my feelings on the subject well when he notes that "In exactly the same way that Sandra Day O’Connor’s vote for George Bush was worth more than the votes of 51 million Americans, this sucks."

We've suffered through one too many rigged and flawed elections in the past eight years. I'm pleading with Tammy and all the other superdelegates when I say, please don't put us through another one.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Coal fire plant public hearings

I've written about our city and state's problems with coal fired power plants a number of times before, and now us plebes get to have our say.

I encourage any and all interested parties to attend the public meeting this Thursday and voice their opinions on the matter:

The meeting will be held in room G-09 of the State Office Building at 101 S. Webster St. and will run from 5 to 8 p.m. The public is encouraged to attend and share its input about energy options they believe should be pursued for heating plants in the city.
The court ruling and subsequent chatter about the use of coal fired plants has given us a great opportunity to implement serious and positive change when it comes to how we get our power. We need to see this sucker through, and demand more emphasis and funding be given to cleaner sources of energy, and to significantly cleaning up our current sources.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

My primary reason for voting

*ba-dum, ching!*

Today is primary election day in Wisconsin, and despite the wickedly cold temperatures (-7 F with wind chill, at the moment), people all across that state will be heading to their local polling places to cast their ballots for one presidential candidate or another. What makes Wisconsin's primary even better is that it's open; that is, anyone can vote for any candidate. You don't need to be a registered anything to vote one way or another, and even registered Democrats could vote for a Republican candidate (and vice versa) if they so chose.

We also have same day voter registration laws here, which is another great boon that I'd love to see exported to other states. When I was a student and moving to a new apartment every year, this was an invaluable law for me. Younger and lower income voters overwhelmingly rely on same-day registration, but it benefits everyone. Estimates point to some 20% of voters registering on the day of, and while some legislators cry about how this can lead to widespread fraud at the polls, there is no evidence to support such claims. In fact, it only seems to lead to higher participation, which is absolutely what we should be working for.

I've had a number of debates over the merits of voting. In states where the primaries are closed, I understand the frustration of independents and other more non-partisan voters who are turned off from even showing up at the polls (or outright barred). But here's the thing: I do believe voting is a civic duty. It's one of the fundamental rights that come with being an American citizen, one that people have literally died to protect. We owe ourselves and our neighbors the minimal effort required in casting a ballot to have even just a small say in determining the direction of our cities, states and country.

There are those people who choose not to vote as a form of protest against either lack of a likable candidate or a perceived rigging of the vote count (see Florida, 2000). I understand this, too, but in those cases I think the least you can do is find some other way to work for change. Maybe run for office yourself, campaign for someone you believe in, do work for or donate money to a non-profit doing good work, or plant a fucking tree for crying out loud. Just do something proactive instead of giving in to apathy. We're not required to vote here, as is the case in countries like Australia, and I think that's a good thing. If there's one thing almost universally true of Americans, it's that we hate being told what to do (sometimes to our detriment). Still, deep down in the squishy parts of my being, I believe that voting/minimal participation in the governing of our country is extremely important for every single one of us, and not something to be taken lightly or ignored.

This goes doubly come November. There's no excuse.

Wisconsin invented the primary election, so take some pride, bundle up good, and get out to your polling places today.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Theatre. Rain. Snow. Hacking. Shoveling. And somewhere in the middle of all that, I managed to catch my left ring finger in the garage door, nearly breaking the dang thing off.

Quite the weekend.

I'm going to try not to bitch about the weather anymore. I'll say this and leave it at that: I'm so over this winter. Snow is lovely, snow sports are fun, but this much of the stuff, now combined with the inches of freezing rain we got yesterday, is just too much. I don't think my body can handle any more shoveling/ice picking. I'm exhausted. We all are. Screw the groundhog--bring on spring now!

Prior to this most recent weatherpocalypse, I spent my entire Saturday in the Bartell Theatre, rehearsing for Mercury Players Theatre's "Blitz Smackdown II." You can, if so inclined, read my minute-by-minute account of the thing here. As always, it was great fun to be part of this whirlwind day of theatre shenanigans. The bonus was being in yet another of Rob Matsushita's plays, which meant I got to carry a gun, get into a fight, and watch a guy get disemboweled. That Rob, he's just a ray of sunshine!

I wasn't exactly thrilled about the outcome of the night;s competition, but I'll keep my petty actor's thoughts to myself and just say that everyone did a wonderful job and I'm looking forward to the next round when I can finally help see Rob to his rightful place in the winner's circle. Ahem.

Tomorrow, the fine state of Wisconsin will hold its open primary to determine our choice for the Democratic and Republican nominees for president. The airwaves have been chock full of voices pleading with us to cast our ballots for one candidate or another, many rallies have been held, and anyone paying the least bit of attention is certainly feeling the energy.

Regardless of who you're thinking of supporting, just be sure to get out and vote tomorrow. Polls open at 7:00a.m. and close at 8:00p.m. and you can find your polling location via the City Clerk's website. Now get out there and do your civic duty!

...huhuhuh, I said "duty."

Friday, February 15, 2008

A farewell to paper and ink

Last Thursday, Madison-based newspaper the Capital Times announced that, after 90 years as an afternoon daily, it would be switching to a predominantly online presence, with a twice weekly tabloid sized paper going out with its sister publication, the Wisconsin State Journal.

Everyone and their uncle has since commented on the change, and I've been reluctant to add my voice to the cacophony both because I was never a subscriber to the paper and because the issue of news moving away from print and toward the internet is anything but black and white.

I have a few reasons, some superficial, for preferring to get my news online. I enjoy the wide variety of sources and perspectives that are so easily available via the internet. Also, though, in the past few years I've developed a mild allergy to newsprint that makes reading the paper a less-than pleasant process. I blame all the time I spent working as co-editor of my college paper and the huge quantities of ink I likely inhaled during that time, but whatever the real cause, it's hard to read when you're so busy sneezing.

Still, there's something fundamentally necessary about the local newspaper. In some cases, they're a community's only source for local news. And yes, even in this day and age, there are still many people who don't have or can't afford regular internet access. In their case, the local newspaper may be their only source of written news.

In their heyday, there were around 1,500 afternoon/evening papers in print. That number has since fallen dramatically, to just around 700. The average number of households that subscribe to one or more papers has also fallen, with readership numbers failing to keep pace with the growth in population (source).

Internet news is great for its sheer scope and variety, but when a publication switches from predominantly print to predominantly electronic, the move is typically coupled with a dramatic cut in staffing. That's the main worry I have when it comes to the Capital Times' changes.

First off, the support staff loses their jobs: the people who work and maintain the printing presses and those who deliver the papers. Lower level copy editors, often individuals trying to break into regular reporting, are likely to be cut as well. Even some seasoned vets will lose their jobs. All told, the cuts in staff lead to fewer eyes and ears on the ground, less thorough coverage of the various newsworthy events around town, and thus, less variety.

I can't be alone in the fact that I read local and regional news sources for local and regional news, and not so much for national or international items. It's the same reason why I try to keep my pontificating on this here blog away from too much national or international issues and stick with more local stories. There are plenty of better qualified people covering the world (and with the internet, we have far greater access to those sources, many of which are more local to the events). People turn to local news sources, and yes even bloggers, for local content, stuff that likely won't be covered anywhere else.

All this isn't to say that I suspect The Capital Times will stray away from covering local and regional content. But their ability to cover as much of it will certainly be hampered by the cuts in staffing that become necessary when your sole source of revenue are online ads. And that, I think, is what concerns me the most.

In the end, I will reserve judgment until their new incarnation has had time to prove itself one way or another. I sincerely hope that they're able to maintain high quality and diverse coverage. And I thank everyone at The Capital Times for 90 years of progressive news delivery.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

How to Become An Overnight Rock Star

Not to be confused with "How to Become A Rock Star Overnight," my handy guide will simply teach you valuable techniques for overnight forays into rockstardom. That is, when your whirlwind musical life leads you to an out-of-town gig for one evening only, and not a full-length tour. I'll cover things like:
  • Packing all of your gear into one vehicle
  • Making friends with your fellow musicians
  • Navigating icy roads
  • Great East African eateries of the Midwest
Follow along now, and you too will be well on your way to mastering the art of the overnight.

Last Friday, I took the day off from work and headed north to Minneapolis for a show with the Buffali (otherwise known as Clare and Andrew, who I've been playing drums for lately). Sound check was to start at 5:00pm, so we Tetris'd all of our gear into my trusty minivan and headed out from Madison just before noon. You may scoff at me and think "Emily, what kind of self-respecting rock star drives an effing minivan?" But my response, as always, will be that, as a drummer and frequent traveler, there is little better than a minivan. For instance, on this trip it fit my drum set, two guitars, a keyboard, luggage and three people comfortably. Try that in your shitty little sedan.

The drive there went much more smoothly and quickly than we'd anticipated, and we arrived on the U of M campus shortly after 4:00pm. Luckily, there were a few union staff already at the venue who let us in and helped us unload all of our gear. That's Midwestern hospitality for you. Our venue for the evening, the Whole Music Club, was actually pretty impressive. Especially when compared to the live music spaces at the UW's two student unions, the Whole distinguished itself by having a spacious stage, good sound system, very decent lighting and a lot of dancing and sitting room for spectators. All of the walls in the place were also covered in chalkboard paint, allowing for all sorts of works of chalk art and obscure phrases to be scrawled. My favorite art, however, were the various graffiti style portraits of various musicians, including Sleater Kinney, Liz Phair, Atmosphere and Henry Rollins. I snapped a photo of the Henry Rollins picture, because it was too amazing not to document.The likeness is uncanny.


Anyway, as we'd obviously arrived quite early and as sound checks never start on time anyway, we opted to head back outside in search of dinner. A friend of Clare's had recommended we try an Ethiopian place in the city, and as luck would have it, we'd passed by the very restaurant on our way in. I wish I could remember its name, but I do remember that it started with a "u" and was on Cedar Ave. It was, in a word, authentic. The place was no more than a room with tables, chairs, and a big screen television broadcasting Al Jazeera. When we walked in, everyone stopped what they were doing for a moment and stared at us. Yep, definitely the only pale skinned folks in the house.

Despite that initial awkwardness, we were treated very well, and the food was absolutely delicious. I ordered what ended up being a huge crepe with spiced and cooked veggies on it, and in the tradition of the place's home country, ate with my hands. We were each also given a banana for desert (no extra charge) and a bottle of water, and all told, for the three of us and our huge, tasty meals, it only cost $14. Well worth it.

Afterwards, we headed back to the club and met the other two bands we'd be sharing the bill with that night: Le Concorde, a synth-pop band from Chicago, and This World Fair, a rock band from Minneapolis. They were both very friendly and helpful, which was downright refreshing. You never know what you're going to get when working with unfamiliar bands, and musicians can be notoriously off-putting. That wasn't the case at all, though, as everyone was sure to introduce themselves and offer help to one another. We then went through the sound checks, got ready in the band green room (seen above), and waited.

We were on first, and there was a good sized and responsive crowd during our 45 minute set. The Buffali's very lyrical, storytelling style seemed to go over well, and afterwards I was happy as a clam when the other bands had really complimentary things to say about us. Afterwards, we went out into the audience to enjoy the next acts, both of which were quite good. Le Concorde had excellent song craft, with heavy influences from 80's new wave/synth-pop but without being what you'd call "retro." This Word Fair was the most polished of all three groups, probably bound for more mainstream popularity, and their lead singer's voice was stellar.

The next morning, we hit the road back to Madison, only to end up in the middle of yet another foul weather day. The interstate was deceptively icy, and as I did 30 mph, we saw car after car in the ditch, some flipped over, some just stuck in the snow. It was a little nerve wracking, to say the least, and I've resolved not to take another long car trip until spring rolls around. I'm done with that crap for the year and can't imagine it'd be a good idea to push my luck and further.

Still, we arrived safe and sound around 5:30pm, and aside from the trip home, had a great time. I hadn't been to Minneapolis since I was a little girl, and I think now, having seen it even so briefly, I should go back and explore the place a little more thoroughly. In the summer.

The Great Interview Experiment - Yours Truly

As you may already know, I recently took part in the Great Interview Experiment by harassing...err...politely questioning a fellow blogger/complete stranger, Miss Britt. That end of things went swimmingly well, and I am now pleased as punch to tell you that yet another strange blogger has taken the time to interview yours truly.

Please head on over to Nat's place to read all about my deepest, darkest secrets.

Many thanks to Nat for the great questions! Sometimes the internet brings out the weird, but sometimes, as in these cases, it just introduces me to interesting new people. And hey, I really dig that.

Obama-rama (part the second)

One of the perks of doing freelance work for a couple of area publications is that I get to moonlight as "press" now and again. Last night, on the eve of his victories in the "Potomac Primaries," Barack Obama swooped into Madison for a big rally and speech at the Kohl Center. Normally, the center plays hosts to sporting events and the like, and its official capacity is listed as 18,000 people. By the time they stopped letting people in, the count was a couple thousand over that, and so an overflow room was created for the extras. The place was absolutely packed (click here to watch a short video that captures the size of the event pretty well).

I came straight from work and arrived around 5:45pm, at which point I signed in, got the wand and the pat down, then received my press pass and was ushered into the "pit" out in the arena where my fellow reporter types were being housed. Our fenced off section took up one half of the arena floor, while the other half held the podium and an open space for the teeming masses. I wandered in, feeling a little lost, but soon found my bearings upon spotting a familiar face. A friend who works for one of the publications I freelance for was set up with a laptop on a folding table, readying himself for some live blogging action. Between him and a photographer friend, they gave me a basic idea of what to expect and a place to stash my jacket and bags.

I then proceeded to pull out my companions for the evening: two Nikon D70's, one with a wide-angle lens and one with a 70-200mm zoom (it should go without saying that only one of the cameras actually belonged to me, and that the other one and the zoom were most certainly borrowed). The zoom, thank God, had a stabilizer built in, so my negligence in not bringing a tripod was not an issue.

Shortly after 6pm, the first clumps of spectators began to filter onto the floor and then into the risers. I would later learn that those people who ended up on the floor had arrived first, been held inside, then passed through metal detectors before being let into the arena. Everyone in the risers had arrived slightly later and were allowed to enter without as much scrutiny. Unfortunately for these people, though, there was apparently no line control outside, so the minute the doors opened, mob mentality took over and there was a mass crush. Friends of mine who'd been waiting since 5pm ended up waiting outside longer than a bunch of people who arrived late and just decided to push their way through to the front. Hey Obama/Kohl Center organizers? Next time, be sure to invest in some bloody cattle gates, yeah?

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when the Kissers, local Irish rock superstars, played a set while we waited. I thought it was a nice touch, and their tunes fit the mood nicely. I found a place along the front fence between the press pit and the crowd space and set up shop for the evening. The fence had handy little steps built into it so that I could stand slightly above head level for better shots.

My friend Kat, who I know from college and who does quite a lot of freelance writing work around town, showed up then and we struck up a conversation about the elections, the race, and trying to make ends meet through freelancing (not easy). It was good to have a familiar face nearby. I also made the friendly acquaintance of a political blogger with (I assume it was Angelo Carusone, since he was the one who wrote their live blog of the event?) who helped pass the time by making snarky comments with me.

There were speeches by one student and one local organizer, then a long break full of inspirational Obama videos up on the Jumbotron (including the now ubiquitous piece), and then finally, around 8:30, Gov. Jim Doyle got up to introduce Obama. The crowd went nuts when he announced that Obama had won the primary in Maryland (they would go even more nuts when Obama announced having won all three of the Potomac primaries). Doyle is not exactly my favorite public speaker, but he did a fine job of it.

When Obama himself finally made his grand entrance, the handful of young college girls standing in front of me (on the other side of the fence) started screaming and jumping up and down like there was a dreamy movie star in the vicinity. That sort of reaction is fascinating to me, and, I think, somewhat unique to the Obama candidacy. I don't suppose McCain or Clinton elicit similar reactions from their supporters. My blogger friend leaned over to me at one point and asked, "Since when did politics become cool?" I laughed and said I didn't know, but that everything gets co-opted eventually (and hey, better the enthusiasm for this rather than, say, Ugg boots).

Obama's speech mostly echoed the same stuff he's been saying for weeks now, elaborating a bit on wanting to make college accessible and affordable for everyone interested, but that students have to earn it by giving back to their community through public service of some kind (couldn't agree more). The most amusing anecdote of the night was when he mentioned gathering support from "Democrats, Independents and yes, even some Republicans." A few people in the crowd waved their hands. "We call them 'Obamicans," he went on. "I meet them out on the road all the time. They come up to me and say (whispering), I'm a Republican, but I support you. (regular volume) And I say, (whispering again) thanks!"

Apparently, these "Obamicans" even have their own little movement with a website. They were positively chuffed over his direct reference to them last night, posting on their blog that "...we are an actual demographic and we need to be so proud of ourselves and our candidate, Senator Barack Obama, because we epitomize change. Changing party's [sic], changing our mind set, and changing our world."

That's pretty cool, if you ask me.

All told, the speech lasted just over 20 minutes, and then he spent a significant amount of time glad-handing the crowd on his way out. I couldn't help but notice the serious amount of security he's got around him. Apparently, there have been number of serious threats made against his life. That absolutely disgusts me, but I (very sadly) can't say that I'm surprised. I really wish I was, though. It sucks that, in 2008, there are still people out there so bigoted and so afraid that they would consider hurting someone based on the color of their skin (or any other superficial reason--not that violence ever has a good reason).

In the end, I was impressed by his eloquence and ability to inspire a crowd. The sheer volume of cheering and applause inside the arena was breathtaking at times. Madison knows how to turn out for an event like this. The next week leading up to the Wisconsin primary is going to be interesting, and I honestly have no clue how the state will vote. But I admit--I'm a little caught up just in the energy and history making nature of this race. Either way, the Democratic Party is on the verge of nominating a positively historical candidate for president, and it's great to be around for that fact.

Be sure to head over to for in-depth coverage of last night's rally, including (eventually) a series of the photos I took inside.

Obama-rama (part the first)

Quite the event. More forthcoming, but for now:
  1. Good speech. Hard to go wrong, though, after eight years of GWB's kindergarten level utterances.
  2. A whole lotta people (about 20,000 apparently).
  3. News anchors are still hilariously orange in person. HD will not be their friend.
  4. I wish I actually owned the zoom lens I used to photograph this. As the kids say, it is "teh sex."

(photo credit: me, thanksmuch)

Friday, February 8, 2008

1 year and 200 posts

On a self-congratulatory note: hooray for me! One year ago today, I entered the first, totally content-free post into this blog. For the first few months, I made maybe four posts a month. And then the ACT Ride came, and writing my memories of that event must have kick started something in my brain, because come September, I became a blogging fiend. I'll admit, it has been fun. I've met a whole bunch of good people through the blogosphere and gotten to know a few people from "the real world" even better. I've learned a lot. I've felt stupid more than a few times. I've also felt supported and understood more than a few times, which is pretty great. So, to the handful of people who come here and read my ramblings--thanks. I mean that.

Today I'm packing my bags and my drums into the ol' minivan for a journey west and north to the snowy metropolis of Minneapolis for a Buffali show. God willing, the weather will be relatively cooperative and my fellow drivers will be relatively coherent so that the drive to and from is uneventful. The show, I'm sure, will be great fun. We're sharing a bill with This World Fair and Le Concorde--I haven't heard either of them, so it'll be good getting to know new bands.

I feel like this, being my 200th post, should include something memorable to mark the occasion. about a mildly embarrassing picture of me from college, during rehearsals for "A Midsummer Nights Dream"? Yeah, that about sums it up.

Have a great weekend, and stay warm!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008


3:50PM - If you're in southern Wisconsin, you know full-well what's going on. At the moment, I am incredibly grateful to be curled up in a blanket at home, simply watching the buckets of snow coming down outside. We're in the midst of a good old-fashioned prairie blizzard, with a good foot of snow having fallen since this morning alone. And despite the enormous amount of shoveling we've had to do already (and more to come) and all the other inconveniences, I won't complain too much. People further south were nailed by severe storms and tornadoes: homes destroyed and over 50 people killed. That shouldn't be happening in the middle of winter. My heart goes out to all of them.

I'm watching the weather report, and they're predicting that we'll have 12-18" of snow by the time this is all said and done later this evening. Driving is about the worst idea ever. My roommate is currently somewhere on the road, trying to get home from work. They're saying "whiteout conditions." Yikes.

The windows at the front of my house look out onto a small park at the edge of Lake Monona. Usually, we can see straight across the lake. Right now, I can see about 20 yards out and that's it. I am happy to see a handful of intrepid souls out snowshoeing and skiing down the streets.

Earlier today, I spent a good hour helping my other roommate dig her car out of a snowbank in our driveway. That was quite the adventure. First we dug her car out, then we went through salt, kitty litter and then actually putting the car up on a jack and sticking a board under the front tire to get it out. When we were finally able to get the car into the driveway, we took a walk to the Jenifer St. Market for some milk and bread. Ran into a friend who was out on her skis, running and errand before heading to Mother Fool's to do some work. I wonder if they're even still open. But yeah, Wisconsinites = hardy folks.

I'm gonna venture out and snap some pictures. Updates soon.

4:13 - Roommate finally made it home! She works out at Epic, and it took her a good hour and a half to get to our house on the near east side.

6:00 - Yet another trip outdoors to shovel the walks and driveway, and to help the second roommate get her car unstuck and into the garage. Needless to say, I'm pooped. We took a little walk around the neighborhood when we were done and saw plenty of other people digging out. Our neighbor was pulling his two little girls around in a sled, which strikes me as the right idea.

I took a few pictures. I'm convinced that we got at least a foot here, although the official count for the Madison area is about 11" (to be fair, being right on the lake probably means we get a lot of drifting). I'm amazed that we're still 3" shy of the winter snowfall record, but hey, there's still time.

And I'm spent. Quite a day. I hope everyone stayed safe and warm throughout. Friday is the one year anniversary of this here lil' blog, so expect some vaguely interesting post to commemorate the occasion before I head off to Minneapolis that afternoon for a Buffali show that night. That may also constitute my 200th post. Hooray!

(the rest of my snow shots can be seen here)

THURSDAY UPDATE - The city has just released these official type stats on yesterday's storm:

13.3" of snow. 2nd highest single storm event total ever in Madison. (Highest was 17.1" on Dec. 3, 1990)

In 1990, it took us 3 days to completely get the City plowed and 11 days before the cleanup was complete.

We are at 75.1' for the year which is only 1" below the all time record of 76.1" set in the winter of 1978-79.

More snow is predicted for this weekend, which makes us all suspect that we're about to break some records. Woohoo!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Breske's bluster can't change facts about secondhand smoke

(cross post from

Sen. Roger Breske (D-Eland), has been on a roll lately. In the fight over whether or not Wisconsin should impose a smoking ban for all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, Breske has come out as the champion of the Wisconsin Tavern League. His arguments against a ban have been laughable at best, dangerous at worst.
"I think they're sticking their noses into everything," [Breske] said. "It's seat belts, it's helmets, you name it. Why does the government have to tell people what to do all the time? I just can't believe this is what we're here for. We should be doing something decent, like helping people to try to find jobs."

Breske dismissed the potential health threat posed by second-hand smoking as "hogwash," adding, "I was born and raised in a bar since I was that high, and I was tending bar since I was that high (holding hand four feet above the ground.) And there was only one light bulb in the bar. There was no fans, and everyone smoked. It was blue in there. Come on, I'm still alive, and I'm 69 years old. It's sickening."
Screw public health then, eh Roger? Seat belts are government interference in our God-given right to be thrown through car windshields and smashed into trees! Helmets are government interference in our right to have our brains splattered all over the pavement!

Who elected this guy, and was he this crazy during his campaign?

I'm no fan of a Big Brother government, but there are certain basic human rights that cannot be left to the whims of individuals, companies or towns: things like a person's right not to have cancer-causing smoke blown in their face while they work to make a living, possibly in the only job in the area they could get.

So what I'm left wondering now is whether Breske is just a little loopy or if he's both loopy and in the pockets of the anti-smoking ban interest groups? It might also be worth noting that the Tavern League lists both R.J. Reynolds and Altria as "Affiliated Associations." R.J. Reynolds owns several cigarette brands, and Altria is the parent company of Philip Morris, just in case that wasn't clear. I don't suppose there's any vested interest there in scewing the facts in order to thwart a statewide smoking ban? And maybe it's paranoid to think that the Tavern League and its "affiliates" are pretty cozy with one another's best interests.

The fact remains, no matter how many anti-ban activists might have you believe otherwise, that secondhand smoke has been definitively linked to causing lung cancer and other ailments in those people who're exposed to it, regardless of whether or not they've ever personally smoked a cigarette in their lives. This applies to both restaurant and bar patrons (not all of whom go there just to smoke, by the way) and to those people working in those places.

The common argument is that by banning smoking in all work places, you'll be forcing many of those businesses to shut down, thus harming those waiters and bartenders you profess to want to protect. But riddle me this: just how many establishments have been forced to close based solely on economic downturn as a result of the Madison smoking ban? The Tavern League would like us to believe that the number is at least 12, even providing us with this handy list of names.

However, what they fail to do is account for other factors that may have led to some of these closings. Madhatters, for instance, was located in the University Square building that was demolished to make room for a whole new development. Bennett's "Smut n' Eggs" on the Park was pretty much a hole-in-the-wall. Kimia Lounge had been having financial troubles for awhile. In the end, it's mighty presumptuous to claim that the smoking ban was the main cause of these closings, while ignoring the fact that businesses come and go all the time. In a capitalistic society, that's the natural way of things.

What anti-ban types also fail to think about are the medical expenses incurred by employees of smoking establishments if and when the various secondhand-linked ailments begin to take hold. "They could just quit if they don't like it!" goes the argument. Sure, they're free to quit, but a lot of people holding down jobs as waiters or bartenders are doing so because they have to. Maybe there aren't any smoke-free workplaces in the area that'll hire them, or where the hours and pay will support their needs. Maybe it's what they're most qualified to do. Maybe they love the work. Ultimately, there are regulations in place to ensure that employees are treated fairly and safely in the workplace. Constant exposure to secondhand smoke is dangerous and should be regulated the same way that exposure to any other carcinogen is. So either start buying your workers gas masks, or just get rid of the source all-together.

I'd advocate the same course of action for Mr. Breske, who'll be up for reelection this year.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Winter Wonderland

First, I encourage you to read this post from Griper Blade, who is fast becoming one of my favorite area political bloggers. This particular piece deals with the delusion that is supply-side economics, and how Bush has been wrong about pretty much everything. It goes into detail and backs up those claims, though, so it's not just another "Blarrrr I hate Bu$h!" rant, I promise.

Now that that's out of the way, though, did anyone else head downtown this weekend to enjoy the Winter Festival/Capitol Sprints? I love that we do this. For those of you reading who might be unfamiliar with this new-ish tradition, what happens is a bunch of snow is trucked in and used to line the streets of the square around the capitol. A series of cross country skiing races and events are then held there. Several events are held nearby, too, including snowshoeing, ice and snow sculpting, and snowboard "rail jam" contests held on a giant ramp built in the middle of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. It's good times all around, and a nice way to add some color to the winter months. We finally had great weather for it this year, too, with temperatures in the high 20's, some snow flurries, and plenty of preexisting snow on the ground. I was also happy to see that a few dedicated kite fliers threw their own, mini "Kites On Ice" event out on Lake Monona.
A few friends of mine were in from out of town, so I took them down to check out some of the action. Along the way, we saw some high schoolers from around the state participating in a cross country relay race (only in Wisconsin do high schools have cross country skiing teams, I swear), and I also stumbled across a puffed up hawk perched in a low branch on the capitol grounds. Seemed like an odd place for it, but the bird looked rather content watching the goings-on.
We then wandered over to the snowboarding ramp, where a group of under-15's were trying their hands at the course. Our favorite contender was a young blond girl in a bright pink, furry coat, who was pretty damn good and confident amidst the sea of boys who dominated her age group.

I saw a lot of people out enjoying the festivities, including quite a few of my fellow Madison Flickr types. My only regret is that I didn't get out onto the lake to check out the kites, and that I don't ski (yet). It would have been fun to have taken a spin around the capitol.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Five years of crushing optimism

Five years ago today, some 9,000 people converged on downtown Madison to express their opposition to the Bush Administration's calls for preemptive war with Iraq. The rally and march were the first of many, the most well-known being on Feb. 15 as part of a worldwide day of protest that saw participation by well over 8 million people in 60 countries.

Our city is no stranger to demonstrations. We're famous, and somewhat infamous, for them. Regardless, or perhaps because of their frequency, we're serious about the reasons behind the gatherings.

In February of 2003, I was a junior in college and therefor hyper-aware of what was going on in the news. I became so obsessed with checking the internet, television and radio for updates that it actually came to the point where I was hearing and seeing loud, unpleasant static in my head every time I tried to read something.

When the day of protest was announced, I was psyched. It would be a chance to take action, and a chance to stretch my budding journalistic legs. So on that cold winter day, I slung my old Canon Rebel across my shoulders, bundled up, and headed to Library Mall. And there, from my perch atop the speakers' tower, I was greeted by a pretty awesome sight.

Estimates put the crowd at between nine and ten thousand people. For a city of our size, that's a mighty respectable turn-out. People were energized and committed to making their voices heard: surely after weeks wherein millions of people took to the streets in protest it would force the saber-rattlers to take notice and stop their march toward unnecessary war. How could you ignore it? Right?

There were the usual speakers, political satire singers, and even radical cheerleaders to get the rally started. From there, we marched the length of State Street up to the capitol building, where more fiery speeches and calls for peace were shouted through the PA system.

The crowd was a fascinating mix: every age group from elderly sign wavers to crunchy Vietnam-era peaceniks to college students to grade schoolers were represented. There were people who'd never been to a protest before, seasoned hippies, pro-Palestinian activists and anarchists. If there's one thing left-leaning rallies suffer from sometimes, it's an inability to focus on just one issue, but in this singular case, everyone was there for the same reason: a deeply held belief that war with Iraq was wrong, that we were being misled by our leaders, and that it would end very, very badly.

We all left that day feeling energized, made impervious to the cold by our idealism. I would have never dreamed that five years later, when I dug these photographs out of an old album, we'd still be in Iraq. Nearly 4,000 soldiers killed. 60,000 wounded. Over 80,000 Iraqi civilians dead, countless wounded and displaced. Hundreds of billions of dollars spent and counting.

It's hard to believe that this has been going on for so long now, and still with no end in sight. Our fears that the war would turn into a bloody quagmire of epic proportions seem to have come true, something none of us ever wanted.

So I can't help but look back wistfully at the photos I took of that day in February, 2003. They help to remind me never to give up hope, no matter how bleak things might get. But it's hard. Really hard. They also remind me that an administration that can ignore millions of people protesting doesn't deserve their position of leadership. They've failed on so many levels, and are long overdue for a clean sweep from office. So let's get to it.

(for the whole set of photos from the rally, click here)
The Lost Albatross