Monday, March 31, 2008

Every vote counts

Less hyped but equally important (maybe more so for how local the issues and people involved are), tomorrow is the Spring 2008 Election, where the good citizens of Wisconsin get to vote for the following positions:
  • Justice of the Supreme Court
  • Court of Appeals Judge
  • Circuit Court Judge
  • County Board Supervisor
  • MMSD School Board Seats 6 & 7 (obviously Madison only)
  • The Veto Referendum
An election like this tends to have a much lower voter turn-out, which is a shame, because we're deciding issues that have a much more direct effect on our lives. The people we elect to these positions will be making decisions that impact us all. So I hope all of you will take the time to do at least cursory research into the candidates and then go to the polls tomorrow to cast your vote.

In order to help you with those decisions, I've compiled a few decent resources related to the election:
I'm still working to find resources for the other races, but this is what I've got so far. Please feel free to recommend other sources in the comments section.

And most importantly, happy voting! Be sure to keep your April Fools pranks out of the booth.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday Brunch: "Don't Be A Sucker"

propaganda: the spreading of ideas, information, or rumor for the purpose of helping or injuring an institution, a cause, or a person.

Which is to say, not all propaganda is inherently bad, but it is trying to place importance on one idea over another. It's a fascinating thing to study. It's especially fascinating when one comes across a piece of propaganda that seems to get it right, and that did so well before the ideas it espoused were the commonly accepted ideals of its place of origin. "Don't Be A Sucker" (excellent title, by the by) appears to be just such an instance.

Created by the US Military in the wake of World War II, this informational short talks about the perils of allowing ourselves to be divided by things like race, religion or ethnicity. Referencing what happened in Nazi Germany, it lays out the case that "Here in America it's not a question of whether we tolerate minorities--America is minorities."

The caveat at the end of the film is probably standard to all films created by the War Department, but it's a disappointment. This, certainly, was a message the whole country could have benefited greatly from hearing and taking to heart, in that era especially, but sadly, even now.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Fitchburg joins the fun

Provided it's not all an elaborate April Fools prank, the city of Fitchburg (Madison's southernly neighbor) will go smoke-free on April 1st of this year. While the rest of the state waits to see what our fine Legislature does come the next session (zzzzz), it's interesting to see individual towns and cities taking the initiative to deal with the problem themselves.

Of course, Fitchburg's ordinance includes an exemption until April 2011 for 4 businesses that apparently meet the requirements to be considered "existing small taverns," "existing bowling centers" and "tobacco bars." I'm a little torn on this. While the exemption for "tobacco bars" has always made sense to me--I mean, if the main purpose of a business is the selling and enjoyment of tobacco, they would have a valid argument to make about a ban negatively affecting their livelihood, and why would a non-smoker want to go/work there anyway?--but the other exemptions seem a bit strange. Does it really take 3 years for a business to ready itself for a smoking ban? I highly doubt that, and in the meantime it doesn't do what blanket bans are supposed to do: level the playing field for everyone by applying the rule equally.

Still, I suppose it's progress, and on the off chance that the state Legislature actually gets around to passing a ban next session, there's a chance that the 2011 extension will be trumped anyway. To make a terrible pun, though, I won't be holding my breath.

UPDATE: Just noticed a Badger Herald article stating that Eau Claire has also joined the ranks of cities banning indoor smoking. Congrats to them, too. Although it is disheartening to see that people are still parroting the Tavern League's completely unsubstantiated talking point about how many bars have closed in Madison allegedly due to the smoking ban.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Butler v. Gableman 2008

I haven't touched much (if at all?) on the subject of the current race for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, mostly because 1) it has been far more fascinating to watch all the other blogs go at it and 2) I'm pretty ill-informed in comparison to certain of those bloggers. Still, after reading so much about the whole clambake, I decided it might be fun (or completely masochistic) to write an overview of the candidates and the race for

That article is now posted, and I'd love for you to go take a look at it. Let me know if I fudged anything too badly. Most importantly, vote on April 1st!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fill the pills or find a new job

Good news today from the Wisconsin 3rd District Court of Appeals:

An appeals court today upheld a decision by the state Pharmacy Examining Board reprimanding and placing conditions on the license of a pharmacist who refused to fill or transfer a patient's prescription for an oral contraceptive.
This case was a bit more cut-and-dry than those instances where a pharmacist simply refuses to fill the prescription themselves, but will transfer it to someone that will. That's a different, if equally important, can of worms.

In this case, however, the pharmacist was very clearly in violation of the law by not only refusing to fill the prescription, but also refusing to transfer it to someone or somewhere that would. Thankfully, the affected patient complained and appropriate disciplinary action was taken (and now upheld). Personally, I think his license should be revoked for this, but am mostly content with the court's ruling.

It seems like common sense, at least to me, that a person might think twice before taking a job that would likely entail doing things that go against their personal beliefs. For instance, I don't imagine someone who was staunchly against abortions would go to work at a clinic that offered the service. Why on earth would someone who was morally opposed to contraceptives go to work as a pharmacist who would, on many occasions, have to fill prescriptions for them?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Should superdelegates vote based on how their constituents vote?

Interesting potential change in the winds concerning how superdelegate Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) will vote come the convention. According to a blog post over at Daily Kos, Woolsey had originally been planning to vote for Clinton. After her district went for Obama, though, and no doubt due to various other factors, it appears as though Woolsey will now be voting Obama.

I've brought up the subject of how and why superdelegates vote, voicing my displeasure with Tammy Baldwin's intention to support Clinton even though her/my district went overwhelmingly for Obama. That is and remains my personal opinion and not official policy (nor do I particularly think it should be). It is, however, refreshing to hear about a representative who is apparently open to changing her mind, either because of what the constituency wants or due to other new developments.

Other than a few people calling her office(s) and getting "she will be voting with her district" responses, there is no official word from Woolsey (yet) on this. Something to keep an eye on, though.

(h/t to Jesse)

In support of John Adams

Late to the party again, but it has recently come to my attention that a blogger writing under the pseudonym of John Adams (at a blog called Free Whitewater) has been the target of rather sketchy (I'd say illegal) investigations by Whitewater police. Why? Is this blogger making threats of violence? Spreading libel? Nope, just exercising his right to free speech by criticizing the local government and police.

In what looks a lot like a case of someone not being able to maturely handle criticism, Whitewater police chief James Coan has been using city time and personnel to attempt to unmask this anonymous critic. The Wisconsin State Journal recently had a good article about this whole brouhaha:

According to Whitewater Police Department e-mails obtained by Adams under the state's open records law, Coan involved at least two detectives, the city's director of public works, its information technology officer and the city clerk — all working on city time and using taxpayer-funded resources — to find the identity of a man described as a "suspect" but who had not committed a crime.

Coan defended the "minimal" use of city resources, which he said was aimed at gauging "potential threats" from "someone who seems so extremely angry at me and with our department."

What gets me is that Coan even admits to using city resources to help with his petty vendetta, something that is pretty well against the rules.

In Whitewater, the effort to discover Adams' identity included examining his e-mails and Web site registration, running a license plate check on a man suspected of being Adams (he wasn't), and suggesting city officials conduct surveillance at the dedication of a restored historic landmark on the chance he might be there.

"I think it is someone we want to keep an eye on...," Whitewater Police Detective Tina Winger wrote in an e-mail to Coan. "Seems like an anti-government radical to me."

The investigation culminated in a Jan. 4 visit from Coan and Whitewater Police Lt. Tim Gray to the home of Scott, whom Coan said afterward he was "99.9 percent convinced" was the blogger.

In fact, said Adams, who revealed his identity to the Wisconsin State Journal on condition of anonymity, the chief was "100 percent wrong."

...not to mention "100% ridiculous." This kind of action by people in positions of authority should never be tolerated. Thankfully, legal precedent is very much on the side of this new John Adams. As the article points out, there have been similar such cases of local government attempting to unmask an anonymous critic, either through tactics such as these or through subpoena. They've all been bitch-slapped in a court of law, and rightfully so. Hopefully Adams or someone representing him will file suit against Coan and the city so that we can reiterate one of the fundamental rights afforded to us as Americans--the right to call out corruption and dysfunction in our government when we see it, without fear of warrantless repercussions and meddling, middling police chiefs.

Go John Adams go!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday Brunch: "Thou Shalt Always Kill"

Words to live by:

dan le sac and Scroobius Pip, "Thou Shalt Always Kill."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Num mihi dolebit hoc?

Today, you get a parable:

An uneasy peace ruled in Jerusalem. Saladin's victory against the Crusaders had cost the Muslims dearly, both in the loss of troops and in the depletion of the royal treasury. Saladin was resolved to rule with civilized humanity as far as possible. But it was an uneasy peace, with Jews, Christians, and the newly victorious Muslims all suspicious of one another.

Thus when Saladin requested an audience with Nathan, a leading Jewish merchant, the latter was very apprehensive about the Sultan's motivation. Nathan was known far and wide not only for his successes in commerce, but also for his skills in diplomacy and negotiation. Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike called him Nathan the Wise.

Nathan's suspicions were well founded, for Saladin was indeed looking to replenish his exhausted coffers with a loan or a gift from his wealthy Jewish subject. Too civil to openly demand such a tribute from the peace-loving Nathan, the Sultan instead masked his request in the form of a theological question.

"Your reputation for wisdom is great," said the Sultan. "You must have studied the great religions. Tell me, which is the best, Judaism, Islam, or Christianity?"

"Sultan, I am a Jew," replied Nathan.

"And I a Muslim," interrupted Saladin, "and between us stands the Christian. But the three faiths contradict one another. They cannot all be true. Tell me the results of your own wise deliberations. Which religion is best?"

Nathan recognized the trap at once. Any answer except "Islam" would offend Saladin the Muslim, whereas any answer except "Judaism" would place his own integrity under question. Thus, instead of giving a direct answer, Nathan responded by relating a parable to Saladin:

In the Orient in ancient times there lived a man who possessed a ring of inestimable worth. Its stone was an opal that emitted a hundred colors, but its real value lay in its ability to make its wearer beloved of God and man. The ring passed from father to most favored son for many generations, until finally its owner was a father with three sons, all equally deserving. Unable to decide which of the three sons was most worthy, the father commissioned a master artisan to make two exact copies of the ring, then gave each son a ring, and each son believed that he alone had inherited the original and true ring.
But instead of harmony, the father's plan brought only discord to his heirs. Shortly after the father died, each of the sons claimed to be the sole ruler of the father's house, each basing his claim to authority on the ring given to him by the father. The discord grew even stronger and more hateful when a close examination of the rings failed to disclose any differences.

"But wait," interrupted Saladin, "surely you do not mean to tell me that there are no differences between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity!"

"You are right, Sultan," replied Nathan. "Their teachings and practices differ in ways that can be seen by all. However, in each case, the teachings and practices are based on beliefs and faith, beliefs and faith that at their roots are the same. Which of us can prove that our beliefs and our faith are more reliable than those of others?"

"I understand," said Saladin. "Now continue with your tale."

"The story is nearly at its end," replied Nathan.

The dispute among the brothers grew until their case was finally brought before a judge. After hearing the history of the original ring and its miraculous powers, the judge pronounced his conclusion: "The authentic ring," he said, "had the power to make its owner beloved of God and man, but each of your rings has brought only hatred and strife. None of you is loved by others; each loves only himself. Therefore I must conclude that none of you has the original ring. Your father must have lost it, then attempted to hide his loss by having three counterfeit rings made, and these are the rings that cause you so much grief."
The judge continued: "Or it may be that your father, weary of the tyranny of a single ring, made duplicates, which he gave to you. Let each of you demonstrate his belief in the power of his ring by conducting his life in such a manner that he fully merits -- as anciently promised -- the love of God and man.

"Marvelous! Marvelous!" exclaimed Saladin. "Your tale has set my mind at rest. You may go."

"Sultan, was there nothing else you wished from me?" asked Nathan.

"No. Nothing."

"Then may I take the liberty to make a request of you. My trade of late has brought me unexpected wealth, and in these uncertain times I need a secure repository. Would you be willing to accept my recent earnings as loan or deposit?"

The Sultan gladly acceded to Nathan's wish.

And thus Saladin gained from his wise Jewish subject both material and spiritual benefit, and Nathan the Wise found a safe haven for his wealth and earned the respect of the Islamic Sultan.

--"Nathan the Wise", by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, written in 1779.

P.S. Worth reading, too, is this post from Fearful Symmetries, which recounts an interesting incident wherein the DoD covers up its own figures on wounded soldiers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Censorship or Tactical Maneuvering?

In advance of spring break, Pro-Life Wisconsin recently submitted an ad to several college newspapers in the state, and is now crying foul because 3 of them have not yet printed said ad. It's an interesting case where one has to wonder whether Pro-Life Wisconsin cared as much about getting out its message about making healthy choices as it did about being able to scream about being censored.

The Badger Herald lays out the claims in the ad itself:

“Be good to yourself over spring break,” the ad reads. “Make smart choices the night before … that way you won’t have any emergencies to deal with the morning after!”

It also says emergency contraception is a powerful, high dose of steroids that “tricks a woman’s body into thinking it is pregnant” and can cause “chemical abortions and deadly blood clots.”
Newspapers at the Marquette University Tribune, the UW-Stout Stoutonia and the UW-La Crosse Racquet were the only three of many to not print the ads in their most recent editions. Contrary to PLW's claims that the ads were outright rejected, however, it seems that at least Marquette and La Crosse Racuet are still considering the ads, concerned over the claims made about whether EC really causes "chemical abortions and deadly blood clots."

I suspect that most people would agree, leaving out any talk of a specific controversial subject, that taking proper time to investigate potentially inflammatory and misleading claims in an advertisement before running it is doing journalistic due diligence. I wish more TV stations would do the same thing before running blatantly false political ads, for instance.

However, wedge abortion into the mix and people tend to fly off the handle without considering all of the facts.

Instead of this being a case of due diligence, it's censorship! Take a look at the comments section under the Badger Herald article for a few good examples of this kind of thinking. One bold anonymous poster says "There is no excuse for the UW System newspapers to reject the Pro-Life Wisconsin ads. The public universities shouldn't be able to discriminate against more conservative views." But this isn't a case of discriminating against conservative views. It's a case of discriminating, in the positive sense of the word, against potentially false and/or harmful views.

According to the National Institutes of Health, "Emergency contraception medicine is not the same as the "abortion pill." A woman who knows she is pregnant takes the abortion pill with the intent to end an early pregnancy (usually 4 to 7 weeks after conception). Emergency contraception pills are taken after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy from occurring." (emphasis mine)

The risk of "deadly blood clots" is extremely low, and the same as what's associated with taking regular birth control pills.

I don't pretend that the issue of abortion isn't an extreme gray area. All the arguing in the world will never convince some people that it's right or wrong, and that's fine. I take issue when other people start telling me what I should or should not be allowed to do with my own body, and I apply that to both sides of the debate.

The problem here, though, is that we are not talking about abortion. EC, otherwise known as Plan-B, doesn't cause an abortion, it prevents fertilization of the egg in the first place. If you believe that an unfertilized egg constitutes a life the deserves protection, then you might as well forbid women to menstruate. That's as good as telling us that we should be pregnant at all times from puberty through menopause, and you'll forgive me if I take extreme offense to that (not to mention think that you're very silly).

You might think that view is far-fetched, but judging by another comment left under the Badger Herald article, I'm led to believe that there are those out there whose views aren't too far removed:
It's not at all surprising. This is why so many people want to come to America to party--our women are wordly known as promiscuous and preferencing "successful" occupations over motherly duties. Our women have the sexual undiscipline to say "yes" to consensual sex, especially since most of them are chemically induced agreements, then the ungodly nerve to say "no" to the outcome. Abortion is not just murder, it's idolatry--the females are preferring a career without a child, befroe a career with a child.
Apparently there are still folks out there who think of women as nothing much more than baby machines, and that's really fucking sad.

In the end, I applaud the editorial boards of those three papers for taking the time to consider the claims made in those ads. I would urge them to do the same for any ad making potentially unsubstantiated and harmful claims, no matter what end of the political spectrum they fell on. Ad copy is a different beast from news (which may contain unsubstantiated claims in the form of direct quotes, which is fair game), and should be treated accordingly.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Wisconsin and Sudan

BadgerFems has posted a call to awareness and action (that I couldn't agree with more) concerning Wisconsin and divestment from companies that support the Sudanese government.
The Wisconsin State Senate passed SR28 this past Thursday 3/13, the same day that Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir signed a border peace agreement with President Idriss D├ęby of Chad aimed at stabilizing and containing the conflict in Darfur. SR28 is Wisconsin’s first major attempt at divestiture from companies funding the Sudanese government, which is complicit in sponsoring the genocide and mass atrocities carried out by the Janjaweed against the people of Darfur, repressing evidence of the crimes by obstructing and arresting journalists and killing witnesses, and even presiding over the public rape of Sudanese women and young girls by the Janjaweed without enforcing Sudanese law against it.
For me, there is a great deal of shame in knowing that our country has spent so much time, money and effort on an unprovoked, lied-about war in Iraq, while doing so little to stop the atrocities being committed in places like Sudan. These are the types of situations that a powerful, democratic country, in conjunction with international bodies like the UN, should be stepping in to help stop. But our priorities are extremely out of whack, focused almost exclusively on our perceived economic and political interests as opposed to defense of basic human rights and a little thing I like to call the greater good. Sickening.

So it is extremely important that there be a groundswell of support for divestiture programs like these, both at the state and national level. It's the least we can do.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Sunday Brunch: "Gutter Love"

Time again for another installment of Sunday Brunch, otherwise known as "Emily posts some random video or image that she likes". Today's offering is called "Gutter Love," and is a short film that was made for Wis-Kino, the local chapter of the international Kino movement, wherein anyone can make and screen very short, very independent films. This one is a particular favorite of mine, and was made by fellow Kinoites and friends Shelby Falk and Shelby Floyd.

There's a lesson to be learned in there. Mostly that mutants are adorable.

Come check out a Wis-Kino screening for yourself, this Thursday, March 20th at 7:00pm, down at Escape Java Joint on Williamson St. It's cheap, it's fun, and this month's optional theme is "music video," which usually garners some great entries.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The good, the bad, the delightful

The Good:
A "sustainable village," complete with natural sewage treatment, a school of organic agriculture and businesses powered by the sun, wind and renewable organic fuel could find a home in Fitchburg.
I have been known to bag on Fitchburg (where their downtown is a "state of mind") on more than a few occasions. Word on the street back in the day was that this next door neighbor of Madison's was essentially formed by business interests that wanted a place nearby to the city where they could operate with fewer regulations and taxes. Call me wacky, but that seems like an odd reason to establish a city. Aaaanyway, I was pleased as punch to read this article in the WSJ today.

The Bad:

Ever wonder who really owns some of those tasty organic and "natural" food brands that we all know and love? Yeah, disappointing. I was heartened not to find Amy's on the list, because Amy's is the shit. Seriously.

The Delightful:

Can you smell that? That's the scent of snow melting, ice breaking, sand clogging sewer drains and mud forming all around--in other words, SPRING! And not a moment too soon. Even us hearty Wisconsinites had had quite enough of this winter by about, oh, the beginning of February. I was starting to think wistfully of places like LA, places that normally instill a healthy sense of dread, and their warmer weather. No more! There's nothing like an especially harsh winter to make spring a truly glorious experience.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Reasons Why

There are many, many reasons why certain state politicians can go frak themselves, but today I'm going to focus on the two that are currently driving me up the wall:

With the current legislative session ending this week, the Senate and Assembly had quite a few pressing issues to deal with; state budget shortfalls, the proposed statewide smoking ban, and ratification of the Great Lakes Compact. While the Assembly found time to vote through a budget measure that cuts $250 million from various services, and a bill (that will thankfully never see the light of day) to make English the official state language, they couldn't be arsed to pass the long suffering Great Lakes Compact. The GLC has already been ratified by three states, and passed through one or both houses in the other four.

Even though they've had years to look over the bill, some Assembly Republicans are crying about how it's moving "too fast" and they haven't had enough time to look over it. They're also kicking and screaming about a provision in the bill that would allow a single governor from one of the states in the compact to veto water diversion requests from communities inside the Great Lakes basin. What these folks don't seem to be able to wrap their heads around, though, is the fact that this provision provides tougher standards for said vetoes, and actually improves the chances of cities like Waukesha for having their requests granted.

Supporters of the bill as it is currently written point to Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch, R-New Salem, and Rep. Scott Gunderson, R-Waterford, as the main forces holding up the compact.

The lawmakers' two main concerns are the provision that one Great Lakes governor would have the ability to veto any water withdrawals requested by communities in any other Great Lakes state; and that the compact would in some way endanger the state's Public Trust Doctrine with regard to the use of wells.

Rep. Gary Sherman, D-Port Wing, pointed out that Wisconsin is different from the four Great Lakes states to ratify the compact so far, because Wisconsin has also included language on how it would be implemented.

The single-governor veto was included in the language of the original compact, signed by the eight Great Lakes governors in December 2005, and attempting to change any of the original language would mean all of the states — including the three that have already ratified the compact — to start all over again, Sherman said.

"Attempting to change the language of the actual compact itself through our ratification document ... it's not a non-starter because we're being politically stubborn; it's a non-starter because it's not an option," he said.


Jauch said those attempting to change the single-governor veto provision — whom he has dubbed the "flat earth society" — don't realize that the compact actually improves the chances of cities like Waukesha, New Berlin and Kenosha to be granted withdrawal requests.

Diversion requests are currently handled through the federal Water Resources Development Act. Through that law, Great Lakes governors can veto any diversion request for any reason, whether it's based on sound science or not.

Where the compact differs, Jauch said, is that it establishes science-based standards for withdrawals and conservation principles by which communities can defend their requests — putting the burden of proof on other states that may claim a request would be harmful.

Even the mayor of Waukesha supports the compact, as do a whole slew of business and community organizations around the state. For some bizarre reason, it seems that only the Assembly Republicans have a problem with the bill. There's absolutely no sense to their opposition, but there it is, causing problems for us all. "So what's new?" we ask.

As for the Senate, the always delightful Russ Decker (D-Weston) has succeeded in blocking the Breath Free Wisconsin Act from even receiving a vote during the current session. Even Decker's hometown chamber of commerce voted not to back his compromised version of the bill, so maybe he was feeling too stung by the rejection to allow for anything like an actual vote to happen.

Short-sighted douchebaggery apparently knows no bounds in terms of party affiliation.

Now we'll have to wait several months before helpful, necessary and healthy legislation like the compact and the smoking ban will even see a vote, and then yet more time before they go into effect. I think the message these obstructionist legislators are sending us all is loud and clear: it's time to issue some pink slips.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

God's country

Another excellent post from Griper Blade, this one about a group of Southern Baptist leaders, including the president of the SBC, signing a declaration stating that their denomination has not been doing enough to support environmental issues.

Read the post here. I'll give you a minute.

Done? Good. I love news like this. I'm not about to go join up with a Southern Baptist church over it, but it's a refreshingly positive sign. It's also a movement that's gaining steam throughout a lot of Christian denominations. Frankly, it seems a bit overdue. There are several passages in the Bible where humanity is told to be stewards of the Earth, to take care of the place, etc. The cries about global warming being a liberal ruse always seemed strange to me. Being good to our home always seemed like a nonpartisan no-brainer to me, and, as someone who grew up in the church, something that went hand-in-hand with Christianity (or any religion, for that matter).

A good example of the steps some Christian groups are taking toward positive environmental impact can be found via the Daily Mitzvah, and her following of the Tear Fund's Carbon Fast for Lent. I was giddy when their efforts were pointed out to me. This is the kind of good work I'd always looked for in the church: alleviating poverty, caring for the sick, and looking after our environment.

I never understood why things like homosexuality, which harms no one, and evolution were so divisive and heavily focused on by (some) Christians and other religious folk. Wouldn't it make more sense to follow the positive teachings found in their holy texts? To try to leave this world in better shape than what we found it in? Maybe that's the ex-Girl Scout in me talking, but it seems like the right thing to do. Matthew 5:44-45 would be a good place to start.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Things that make me sad

This. This makes me sad.

I used to live in Oklahoma. As a born-and-raised yankee, I suffered a bit of the ol' culture shock when first I moved there, but in the end, it was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. I had plenty of stereotypes in my head at first, stereotypes that a lot of my friends from back home would jokingly reinforce with comments like "Do they even have phones in Oklahoma?"

At the end of my short two year stay in the state, though, I'd come to see it as a place just as varied and flawed as the rest of the nation. I met diehard liberals, moderate Republicans, Baptists-a-plenty, a small but dedicated community of Jews (literally 8 in my town), plenty of intolerant jerks but also a wonderfully large population of good-hearted souls.

Still, for all of the decent people I've been fortunate to meet in my life, I know there still lurk ignorant, hateful individuals who are doing their damndest to keep us all in the Dark Ages.

That doesn't make it any easier to take when something like this comes to light, though. What's especially hurtful is the realization that this is the sort of rhetoric that's spewed behind closed doors all the way up to the White House, and is not reserved solely for obscure Oklahoman politicians.

That fact should infuriate all of us. People like Sally Kern need compassionate help and education to find a more tolerant and non-judgmental path through life. They don't need to be elected to positions of power and influence.

Please believe me when I say that this woman does not speak for all of Oklahoma. I don't believe she even speaks for a majority of people in this country. Sadly, though, this kind of speech tends to echo most loudly, as opposed to the larger number of people who quietly go through life without imposing their misguided views on others.

Shame on you, Sally Kern, and shame on everyone who agrees with this kind fallacious, hateful speech. Oklahoma, and our country, can do a lot better.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Sunday Brunch: "Food Fight"

I've decided to start a small, semi-pointless tradition on this here blog, wherein every Saturday or Sunday (one or the other, but certainly not both, heavens no) I post something that's just fun and/or interesting. It will likely have nothing to do with Madison, or even Wisconsin, or sometimes even Earth. But I enjoy sharing fun/interesting things with people, and I'm hoping you all will enjoy it, too. So, here we go.

Today's Sunday Brunch is "Food Fight" (a history of modern warfare since WWII as reenacted by an iconic food of the associated countries) - courtesy of the ol' Youtubes.

History, food, and a lesson well learned, all in one. Bone appetite!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Canvassing for the human experience

A number of years ago, after ending my career as a nighttime driver for the now defunct Women's Transit Authority, I was in need of a good-paying job that would get me through the summer until classes started again. Since moving to Madison for school, I'd been seeing fliers all around town that said things like "SUMMER JOBS!" and "JOBS FOR STUDENTS!" - fliers claiming that said employment opportunities would pay "UP TO $1000/WEEK!"

Word on the street, though, was that these were all canvassing jobs, the kinds of things where poor students were put to work pressing bricks all across the city in search of donated money for one political cause or another. Honestly, going door-to-door gives me the heebie jeebies, always has. I couldn't do it when I was selling delicious cookies for the Girl Scouts, so what on earth would possess me to do it now? Still, the promise of such amazing pay was mighty tempting. I'd been making around $400 a month prior to that, surviving off of Easy Mac and whatever snacks the theatre department's costumer would think to bring in for me (God bless her).

Because the prospect of canvassing scared me so much, though, it pushed me to go ahead and apply for the job anyway. My motto has always been to face my fears. The success rate has been mixed, at best, but I still cling to it.

I called and arranged to come in on a Saturday morning, ready for a trial day of work to see if I could hack it as a canvasser on behalf of the Democratic National Committee, or DNC.

They had me fill out the usual application forms, detailing what kind of work experience I had and if I had any "leadership" experience. Apparently, my position as co-editor of the college newspaper counted as "leadership," and a very enthusiastic and bubbly girl told me that I would be a prime candidate for a "field coordinator" position if I stuck it out. Oh yes, love the ego stroking.

New recruits sat in a circle and listened intently as the current student employees raved about the great benefits of the job. "I made $5000 last month! And so can you!"

That kind of money was mighty appealing. I could practically taste the long-neglected grocery shopping trips that were in my future.

And then they dropped the "c" word: commission. Our pay would depend upon how much donation money we were able to solicit from complete strangers. OK, I told myself, you can still totally do this. How hard can it possibly be?

Oh naive, naive girl that I was.

We were separated into groups of about six and sent out in cars to different parts of town. My group ended up in a middle class neighborhood on the near south-east side of the city. I was given a buddy for the day--we'll call him John (not for anonymity's sake, but simply because I can't remember his name)--and he would be showing me the ropes, getting my back, making sure I didn't run screaming for the hills.

We were assigned a section of streets, or "turf" as it's called in the biz, to canvass. John shook his head and mumbled something dour sounding.

"What?" I asked.

"It's not great turf, but we'll be OK," he answered. Somewhat mollified, I nodded in understanding. We weren't on the near east side of Madison anymore, that was for sure. Still, we weren't that far out from downtown, so it couldn't be too bad.

We set off on foot, going from door to door, knocking and giving our preplanned spiel about giving money to support the DNC and campaigns for Democrats across the country. As soon as someone said "I'm a Republican" or even just "No thanks," we smiled politely, said thanks, and moved on. As much as I wanted that commission, I was still unwilling to be the pushy solicitor. If someone was going to give, they would give. There would be no extended sales pitches from me.

Of course, there was also the fact that knocking on the doors of strangers and asking them for money absolutely terrified me. Each time I walked up to an unfamiliar edifice, fist poised, I had to actively swallow down a lump in my throat that threatened to turn into a full-on gag. Still, with the help of my friendly buddy John, I persevered. I smiled, was courteous, informative and calm. This even though I wanted to commit seppuku every time someone turned us down.

And turn us down they did, one after another, house after house, street after street. Weren't nobody in a giving mood. The further along we went, too, the bigger those homes got. Lawns became expansive kingdoms of carefully manicured grass. Driveways were filled with hulking, shiny SUVs. The people at the door looked more and more annoyed with our very presence.

And then it hit me: oh shit, we're in Fitchburg! Not only that, but we'd wandered into one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the county. Absurdly huge homes, not a single junker car in sight, and plenty of withering glances from bronzed wives.

I was vacillating between being horrified and fascinated by this trek through foreign territory. The houses were often huge and glorious on the outside, but our brief glimpses through their front doors revealed bare walls and cavernous rooms, as though the occupants had spent their last dime on the place itself and left nothing for decorations or even furnishings.

There was one home that we skipped outright, sure that it wasn't worth the trip up the long, winding driveway, through the wrought iron gates and up to the butler-manned doors to what honestly looked like a small castle.

We visited over fifty homes that day and, by the end, had only received two donations. They were the refreshingly bright spots in our otherwise soul-crushingly bad day. John called it the worse turf he'd ever seen.

One of the kind souls who took pity on us actually invited us inside for cold drinks (it was an immensely hot day, on top of it all). She said that both she and her husband were teachers, probably the only two Democrats in the entire neighborhood, and boy she sure didn't envy us our jobs. We smiled and gratefully drank the offered sodas before taking her donation and heading out again.

It was at that point that John told me it was time to fly solo for awhile. I was to prove my mettle, make my own way. Needless to say, I was not overly enthused by the prospect. Still, off he went, leaving me to canvass what looked to me like the richest section of this very rich neighborhood.

About thirty seconds passed between John disappearing down the road and me deciding that I didn't give a flying fuck anymore. I'd had more than enough of the relentless rejection. Instead, I wrote down a long series of addresses on my little clipboard, marking each with a "no donation" or "nobody home," and then decided to simply explore a nearby park.

This decision made me feel immeasurably better.

I traipsed through an overgrown field, chased butterflies, and inspected tiny insects before becoming distracted by the prospect of exploring a nearby unfinished home. It was an old habit. Part of my adolescence was spent living near a rapidly developing subdivision, which meant ample opportunity for running around in the frames of houses at night with friends. There was something thrilling about messing around in structures that would someday house families who would be totally unaware of our past exploits. We never vandalized the places, we just looked around. Sometimes we'd find a corner that was hidden from the road and just sit, shooting the shit and fooling around. That's what you did for fun in the 'burbs, yo.

So it was that I found myself climbing over a trench that surrounded a large, unfinished house, and pulling myself up through what would eventually become the front door. I walked around and inspected the plumbing work, checked out the upper levels and generally snooped around. My fun was ruined, however, when I noticed someone in the house next door watching me through their window. I hurriedly climbed back out of the house and ran across the street into the protection of the overgrown field. The neighbor didn't disappoint, either. A few moments later a squad car rolled by, slowing as it approached the unfinished house and lingering for a bit before moving on.

Finally, the day came to a close and it was time to report back to the car. I felt a little bad for lying about what I'd actually done that afternoon, but to hell with it, I was done. My canvassing career was over before it had really begun. We went back to headquarters, turned in our sheets and our donations (what little we'd all made, anyway), and got the final speech of the day. I informed them that it wasn't for me, but thanks for the opportunity anyway.

I came away from the day with absolutely zero dollars in pay.

Happily, about a week later I landed a decent job as a barista at a local coffee shop. Still, I don't look back at my day as a canvasser as a total loss. I had faced my fear and given it a try, at least, even though it ended with me having a renewed and strengthened resolve never to do that again. Too, it had given me a fascinating if brief glimpse into a hidden world.

It also made me wonder how many well-intentioned, young, potential political activists walk into a canvassing job only to be totally burnt out by the whole experience. The work sucks. The pay is sketchy at best. How long can you do that before getting totally turned off? It seems like a mild abuse of the very people who should be getting the most encouragement to become active and engaged in politics and social movements.

Whatever the case, I'm not sorry for giving up so quickly. It was for the best. It's entirely likely I would have ended up punching someone in the face eventually, and no one wants that.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

More smoke and mirrors

Apparently, state Republicans and Democrats have plenty of time to engage in public dick waving matches, but no time to schedule a vote on the proposed smoking ban legislation.

The Republicans involved also apparently don't see any irony in the fact that, when it comes to voter ID laws, they cry for immediate voting. Bring up the smoking ban, though, and it's voting be damned.

I've written about the ban controversy several times already, including Roger Breske's baffling insistence that secondhand smoke doesn't have any harmful effects. Now Senate leader Russ Decker (D-Weston) and Assembly leader Mike Huebsh (R-West Salem) are dragging their collective heals about even scheduling a vote on the bills (SB-150 and AB-834) in the Senate and the Assembly.

The current legislative session ends on March 13. After that, who knows how long it will be before they get back around to this.

Presumably, they're miffed that their heavily edited and bastardized version of the bill met with (deserved) rejection by anti-smoking groups just last month.

Still, this kind of behavior is pretty shameful. Regardless of how they end up voting on the matter, it's only right to allow for the vote to take place. All of this ducking and weaving is making me feel nauseated.

As a side note, I was in Chicago this week for a show, and it was amazingly refreshing to be able to enjoy the music and the scene without my eyes watering, my throat burning, and my clothes smelling like ass. I'd love to be able to do that all over the state of Wisconsin, too, and not just in Madison.

Let history be our teacher

Last post about national politics for awhile, I promise.

All this talk of superdelegates and the ever-increasing likelihood that neither Democratic candidate will win enough delegates to secure the nomination has got me to thinking about the past. More specifically, it's got me to thinking about what happens when a close contest is decided not by the will of the people, but by a select few.

I can think of two prominent examples of this. One of them happened in our lifetime, back in the mist-shrouded past of 2000 C.E., when Al Gore won the popular vote but George W. Bush was given the office by decree of the Supreme Court. The past eight years have been us (and the world) paying for that choice, dearly. I'm not saying Al Gore would have been a perfect and magnificent president, but there's no way a Gore administration could have been as bad as the Bush II administration has been. At very least, it's extremely likely there would have been no Second Iraq War.

The other example happened well before any of us were alive. Back in 1877, the final presidential contest was between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel Tilden. It's still referred to as one of the most bitterly contested elections in the history of the United States, mostly due to lingering animosity between the recently defeated southern states and the north. I'll let Wikipedia break it down for you:

The United States presidential election of 1876 was one of the most disputed and intense presidential elections in American history. Samuel J. Tilden of New York defeated Ohio's Rutherford Hayes in the popular vote, and had 184 electoral votes to Hayes' 165, with 20 votes yet uncounted. These 20 electoral votes were in dispute: in three states (Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina) each party reported its candidate had won the state, while in Oregon one elector was declared illegal (on account of being an "elected or appointed official") and replaced. The votes were ultimately awarded to Hayes after a bitter electoral dispute.

Many historians believe that an informal deal was struck to resolve the dispute. In return for Southern acquiescence in Hayes' election, the Republicans agreed to withdraw federal troops from the South, effectively ending Reconstruction. This deal became known as the Compromise of 1877. The Compromise effectively pushed African-Americans out of power in the government; soon after the compromise, African-Americans were barred from voting by poll taxes and grandfather clauses.

The lesson I take from all of this? Bad things come when elections are rigged.

I'm not trying to say that the level of bad that happened with the premature end of Reconstruction will be what befalls us if a few superdelegates or back room dealings end up deciding the Democratic nominee. What I am trying to point out is that, historically, things don't go so well when the will of the people is subverted like that.

Is the majority always right? Certainly not, and that's why we have (or should have) protections in place to ensure the safety and liberty of the minority. When it comes to voting, though, the basic rule is to let citizens have their say through a vote. Anyone who works to disenfranchise, mis-lead or intimidate said voters; anyone who would secretly maneuver and offer deals to see their preferred candidate win; anyone who would do anything to alter the natural course of an election is, in my opinion, nothing better than a traitor to the ideals on which our country was founded.

So offer Michigan and Florida a chance to properly re-do their primaries, and ignore what the pundits are telling us to do and think, but if there are any back room deals made to see one candidate or another take the nomination despite what the majority of voters end up saying, there should be no tolerance for it. We ignore history at our own risk.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

What's going on?

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton won the primaries in Ohio, Texas and Rhode Island. Shortly following the news, a great hue and cry went up from the pundits and bloggers.

On the one hand, there are those (mostly Obama supporters, it seems) who claim that Clinton's dogged insistence on staying in the race and use of negative tactics against Obama will have dire consequences for whichever Democrat ends up running in the general election (although, the maths suggest it won't be Clinton).

On the other hand, there are those (mostly Clinton supporters, it seems) who claim that Clinton's comeback in yesterday's primaries was a case of the voters having their say despite what the pundits were trying to tell us to do. Much like what happened with McCain's campaign after it had been pronounced dead at the end of last year.

Or maybe it's all part of the right-wing talk radio pundit conspiracy.

So which is it? Is Clinton sabotaging the Democrat's chance of re-taking the White House come November, or is she simply fighting the good fight?

Me, I suspect the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I am not a fan of the underhanded tactics that the Clinton campaign has employed, nor am I a fan of the media trying to tell us who's had it and who we're likely to vote for. I enjoy the fact that this primary contest has been so fierce and not decided by the first few states to vote, but I do worry that, if it goes on much longer, it will eat into the Dem's time to formulate a strong campaign against the Republicans, whose nominee is now decided (even if a lot of them don't like him).

And of course, there's also the specter of a Clinton-Obama or Obama-Clinton ticket, to which Hillary herself has now given some credence. If that is to be the case, is all of the heavy-handed bashing such a good idea after all?

I'm curious to hear opinions on this, so please feel free to have your say in the comments.

Monday, March 3, 2008

The air up there

The governor of our fine state, Jim Doyle, is pulling some interesting tricks in regards to air quality standards. He sent a letter to the EPA asking them to declare all Wisconsin counties to be in compliance with federal clean air standards, despite the fact that several counties were found to be in violation of those laws.

We wouldn't have known about this bit of chicanery, however, were it not for the open records request put in by the Sierra Club. It was this same sort of request that forced the issue on the Charter Street coal power plant here in Madison. The lesson I'm taking away from all of this? Contrary to the claims of some laissez-faire adherents, it often takes government regulation to force industries and businesses into cleaning up their act, and that it takes a great deal of oversight by the public-at-large to keep the government in line.

I can see why folks might be put off by the process. It's a lot of work, but it's important for all of us to put in the time and the effort.

Doyle's latest maneuvers are especially irksome considering, among other things, the many air quality alerts issued so far this winter.
Dane County has been hit with numerous air quality alerts for particle pollution by the state Department of Natural Resources this winter. And the American Lung Association last year gave the county a "D " on its annual air quality report because of the increasing levels of particle pollution. Numbers from the association show the county is home to 33,264 adults with asthma, 8,731 youths with pediatric asthma, and 14,323 people with chronic bronchitis.
I don't know about you, but I'm not super psyched about all of that. Doyle's excuse is that federal guidelines create too much red tape and would take longer than laws either currently or soon-to-be on the books in the state. On the one hand, I absolutely applaud the efforts by the administration to implement stricter pollution controls (like reducing mercury emissions, etc.), but the level of secrecy involved in Doyle's letter and a conflicting recommendation from DNR staff certainly raises suspicions over whether or not they're working on behalf of the public good or for industry interests.

It's important to help foster development and growth for businesses in the state, but bypassing important and necessary environmental regulations to do so is downright shameful. All of the foot dragging and back room deal-making in the world won't amount to a hill of beans if no one can breathe the air outside without risking major health problems.

(h/t The Political Environment)
The Lost Albatross