Monday, June 30, 2008

The fight for James Madison Park

Thanks to Fearful Symmetries for pointing out this interesting little fight:
What happened to Jay Rath's rant that he posted this weekend up at POST? In it he was critical of this editorial by the WSJ regarding the use of land around James Madison Park. By "critical" I mean he basically told the WSJ editorial folks to go fuck themselves and to let downtown residents determine their own fate.
I went ahead and dug up the cached version of Rath's post to Post, which you can read in its entirety here. Basically, he strongly chastises the editorial for misrepresenting facts (for instance, that "the public can't access" certain parts of the park, which they can, in fact, do) and for basically arguing on behalf of the one lone voice that wants this sale to go ahead:

So far as I can tell, there's only one voice arguing for the sale of the property and nearby homes: the developer, Urban Land Interests. This is the same company that demands that the last portion of historic buildings on the Capitol Square be demolished (The Old Fashioned, L'Etoile and such), so it can put in a nearly block-sized development. This is the same developer that wants to demolish the oldest commercial building on the Square, the American Exchange Bank. This is the same developer that agreed to sell the Bartell Theatre property to the Bartell trust and Overture, and then reneged (because it wanted to demolish and put in a massive development), until forced by courts to comply with its own earlier written agreements; I reported all that, for Isthmus.

Yeah, I trust Urban Land. About as far as I can throw them.

Ald. Brenda Konkel has also weighed in on this bit of controversy.

It's strange that Rath's post on the subject appears to have since been removed from the website. I'm not sure if we should read some greater conspiracy into it, or if Rath himself decided to take it down for one reason or another.

Beyond that, however, those arguing against the WSJ article are all making good points. I, too, can't help but wonder why on Earth anyone would think the construction of yet more new condo developments would be good for Madison? Several current projects are already stalled due to the ever-tanking housing market, and that coupled with the general economic downturn doesn't exactly scream "Build more condos!" to me.

Why are we so intent on moving and/or demolishing the few historic structures we have in this town and this (relatively young) country anyway? And furthermore, why must every last scrap of undeveloped land go under the knife of "progress"? There's a major societal benefit in having more green spaces, parks, and just plain empty land. So how about instead of tearing stuff down and putting in yet more condos, we revitalize the existing downtown houses? There has been a plan floated in the city to create a fund to encourage families, etc., to buy older homes in the downtown area, so that if the current trend of students moving into newer housing and out of the old apartments continue, we won't be left with a slum. That's the kind of thing we should be encouraging. Leave the park alone.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Good bad news

Although legally still attached to the "alleged" preface, it looks like Madison police have Joel Marino's murderer in custody. And thank goodness for that. I extend my heartfelt compliments to the MPD for sticking with the case and tracking down the responsible party. Hopefully now the Marino family can begin the healing process more in earnest. Of course, who knows if there will ever be a clear motive. As it's shaping up, this sounds like it might just be a tragic case of someone going wrong in the head and taking it out on a random stranger. Still, all the "whys" in the world won't make Joel Marino's death any easier for anyone to take. It's terrible, plain and simple.

While I want to congratulate the MPD on a case (apparently) well solved, I also want to make a point of stating that it's important to keep up pressure on the department over how they've handled the recent spate of murders. I don't advocate witch hunts, but there's a difference between that and simply demanding accountability. We still have almost zero information regarding Kelly Nolan's death, and the bumbled handling of Brittany Zimmermann's case was and is inexcusable. A full accounting must be made so that everyone involved can improve and deal with this sort of thing more effectively and sensitively in the future.

Still, it's a relief to finally have some...I won't say "good" news, but progress for sure.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Madison handgun laws

Inspired by today's ruling by the Supreme Court overturning the handgun ban in Washington D.C., and by all the talk about how much litigation will come of it, I decided to find out what Madison's current gun laws are, especially in regards to handguns.

I know, riveting research.

As seems to be the case with gun laws nationwide, what I've found so far is a complicated and confusing patchwork of laws and ordinances, and no clear answer. Of course, I'm no legal scholar, so if anyone with some knowledge of this wants to chime in and clarify things for me, it would be much appreciated.

According to today's decision, an outright ban on the sale and ownership of handguns was deemed unconstitutional. However, Justice Scalia, in his majority opinion, did note that,
“It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” Justice Scalia wrote.

The ruling does not mean, for instance, that laws against carrying concealed weapons are to be swept aside. Furthermore, Justice Scalia wrote, “The court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

So this issue is far from being resolved. One could reasonably assume, however, that any other city or state with an outright ban on handguns will have to do away with such laws.

But what is the law in Madison? A friend of mine keyed me in to the fact that Madison has an outright ban on the sale of handguns within city limits, and that the City Council also passed an ordinance banning their possession.
Section 25.01(11a): It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, association, or corporation to sell, give away, trade, or transfer any handgun to any other person, firm, association, or corporation within the corporate boundaries of the City of Madison.
Wisconsin state law, however, has something different to say:
Except as provided in subs. (3) and (4), no political subdivision may enact an ordinance or adopt a resolution that regulates the sale, purchase, purchase delay, transfer, ownership, use, keeping, possession, bearing, transportation, licensing, permitting, registration or taxation of any firearm or part of a firearm, including ammunition and reloader components, unless the ordinance or resolution is the same as or similar to, and no more stringent than, a state statute.
So is Madison's current ordinance already trumped by state law, and we're just kind of ignoring it? Or is Madison's law somehow "similar to state statute"?

While I'm puzzling all of this, I can't help but ponder the greater fact that a large chunk of the problem with gun laws in the United States is that they are so fragmented and confusing. I'm a strong proponent of good regulation: background checks, wait periods, bans on assault and other insane-o weapons, proper training, and that sort of thing. In theory, a lot of that already exists--the trouble seems to be mostly in how we do or do not enforce them. That's where the most work remains to be done.

In the meantime, I don't necessarily think that SCOTUS' decision was wrong (bad, maybe, but not wrong). The same friend I mentioned earlier made the argument that the decision reflected judicial activism on the majority's part, but noted that that didn't necessarily equate wrong or bad. It was an intriguing idea--in the end, isn't the point of having learned scholars sitting in judgment to interpret the law as it applies to ever-changing, modern circumstances? And isn't that exactly what alleged "strict constructionist" Scalia and co. just did?

After all, if we went with the original meaning of the amendment, it's like that 1) individual's would have the right to own guns, but 2) the government would then have the right to inspect those weapons at-will, to make sure they were being properly maintained and "well-regulated," should they ever need to call up the owner for active duty in a militia. Something tells me neither side of the debate would much enjoy that.

On Wisconsin!

Wisconsin's favorite Feingold is joining forces with fellow Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) in promising to 1) add an amendment stripping telecom immunity from the FISA bill if the Senate proceeds to the legislation and 2) filibuster if necessary.

He may not be perfect (who is?), but gosh darn do I like Russ Feingold, and I'm proud to have him representing my state.

Sadly, for many of the other senators, it will take a great groundswell of support from their constituents (that's us) for this action to get them on board. Too many Democrats and Republicans are either strangely for telecom immunity or just too cowed to openly oppose it.

Urge your senators to get on board with the Feingold-Dodd decision. Get on the horn now!

This has and will continue to be an uphill battle. There's a lot of money on the line, both for the telecoms and the politicians to whom they've been contributing quite a bit of cash. Unsurprisingly:
In March, the House passed an amendment that rejected retroactive immunity. But last week, 94 Democrats who supported the March amendment voted to support the compromise FISA legislation, which includes a provision that could let telecom companies that cooperated with the government’s warrantless electronic surveillance off the hook.

The 94 Democrats who changed their positions received on average $8,359 in contributions from Verizon, AT&T and Sprint from January, 2005, to March, 2008, according to the analysis by MAPLight, a nonpartisan organization that tracks the connection between campaign contributions and legislative outcomes.
Who knows what the numbers on senators are.

Even Sen. Obama is supporting the"compromise" bill, seemingly forgetting that he once pledged to oppose immunity. That's disappointing, to say the least. There's probably an argument to be made that Feingold isn't running for president, Obama is, and one's decisions invariably changes in that situation. But you know what? Screw that. One of the main reasons I suspect people are so drawn to Obama's campaign is that he's been so right-on about changing the way politics-as-usual goes down in Washington. Caving in to this so-called "compromise" - with nothing more than a "I don't like it, but I promise to deal with it later" statement to stave off criticism, is a slap in the face to his supporters.

Thank goodness for Feingold, at least, who can almost always be counted up to stand up for what's right even when it's not popular.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

We'll all pay for their idiocy

Read this...
The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency's conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week.
...and then tell me with a straight face that the Bush administration and its apologists are all roses and fucking sunshine.

We are a nation run by ill-tempered 5-year-olds.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Illegal hiring practices at the DoJ

The first part of a report that seems to confirm what we've suspected all along about hiring practices at the DoJ during the Bush administration:
Justice Department officials over the last six years illegally used “political or ideological” factors to hire new lawyers into an elite recruitment program, tapping law school graduates with conservative credentials over those with liberal-sounding resumes, a new report found Tuesday.
I'm overjoyed to see that someone is following up on this, but sadly, won't be surprised if no one of consequence is held accountable for it. These days, the most the public can seem to hope for is that the wrongdoings are brought to light. Hoping for the responsible parties to meet with appropriate punishment, however, is far too often all for naught.

Maybe I'll be surprised this time.

As cynical as this administration (and our mostly spineless Democrats) has made me over the last eight years, I can't help but still be royally pissed off at the rough shod that's been run over this country's most essential organizations (DoJ, FEMA, CIA, etc.) and most dearly held rights and ideals. No one is being held accountable. At most, they get a slap on the wrist and a well-paid job with some lobbying firm--which, really, seems to be the new American way. And that's a crying fucking shame, and we need to actually do something about it.

We can never deter everyone from doing anything wrong--that's a pipe dream if ever there was one. Thing is, we've done very little to deter anyone from doing anything wrong. What kind of example is that to set?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Hey hey! Ho ho! Bishop Morlino has got to go!

I seriously don't know how this guy got to hold the title of bishop in the first place:

The lawsuit was filed earlier this month by Phoenix Fundraising Counsel of Madison, which was hired by the diocese to evaluate support for rebuilding the cathedral. The lawsuit says Morlino insisted the company turn over confidential information gathered from surveys and interviews, in particular the names of priests who criticized Morlino.

The company says it refused to disclose the confidential information and now can't get the diocese to pay at least $350,000 for the work it did, including a feasibility study and a planned capital campaign.

Ever since Bishop Morlino came to my attention back in college--when I found out that he sits on the Board of Visitors (as chairman) to the School of the Americas/WHISC--I suspected that maybe he wasn't such a great guy. A Catholic affiliating himself with an organization notorious for churning out many of the leaders responsible for some of the greatest human rights abuses in South America, including the brutal murder of several Jesuit priests, seems pretty absurd to me.

Let's just call this latest debacle, if it's proved to be at all true, yet more proof that Morlino doesn't quite deserve his vaunted post. He comes off as petty and a bit in love with power. I would argue that Morlino is hurting the diocese's reputation and prospects,and that they deserve far better--but that will ultimately be up to them to decide.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The smoking gun buried inside telecom immunity

I'm reading about the compromise FISA bill being debated (and soon voted on) in the Congress over at the New York Times and something in the article stands out. The fight over this bill has been over whether or not to grant immunity to the telecoms that allegedly cooperated with administration requests to place wiretaps on domestic calls without a warrant. Democrats, sadly, seem to have mostly caved in to the White House's wishes with this compromise, allowing intelligence agencies to place "emergency wiretaps" on international and domestic calls for up to a week without a warrant, if they thought it was important.

That's troubling in and of itself, but what caught my attention was this next bit:
The agreement would settle one of the thorniest issues in dispute by providing immunity to the phone companies in the Sept. 11 program as long as a federal district court determined that they received legitimate requests from the government directing their participation in the program of wiretapping without warrants.
So let me get this straight: in order to be granted immunity from prosecution, telecoms would be required to produce documentation proving that the government directly ordered them to help them with illegal wiretaps.

Not only does this imply that such orders were given, and that records of them exist, but it also appears to be a not-so indirect statement that yes, our government has been eavesdropping on its citizens in a manner that breaks the law.

We all pretty much knew this already, but this would appear to be definitive proof. Or at least, once the telcoms cough up the documentation, then there will be definitive proof.

So I can't figure out if this is just a really clever way of nailing the White House for it's flagrant law-breaking, or if it's a really clever way of getting everybody off the hook. My inner cynic is telling me that it's probably the latter--that the compromise bill being debated would both grant telecoms immunity and, by saying it's OK for intelligence agencies to wiretap without warrants for up to a week, also grant retroactive immunity to the government.
The proposal allows a district judge to examine what are believed to be dozens of written directives given by the Bush administration to the phone companies after the Sept. 11 attacks authorizing them to engage in wiretapping without warrants. If the court finds that such directives were in fact provided to the companies that are being sued, any lawsuits “shall be promptly dismissed,” the proposal says.
I hope I'm wrong. I hope that, as reprehensible as it is for the telecoms that complied with illegal orders be let off the hook, this process of proving official orders leads to prosecution of the administration officials responsible for giving them. If there's any rule of law left in this country, it absolutely should.

I won't be holding my breath, though.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Casting demons out of the state Legislature

I'm a little amazed I didn't know about this sooner, but I suppose I should have just assumed it was happening. Clearly I need to work on my cynicism levels.
Addressing his colleagues in the Assembly chamber, Rep. Terry Moulton pleaded to Jesus.

“In your name, and by the power of your spirit, I come against the Evil One. And I ask that he be cast from this place, this day,” he said as the Assembly opened a floor session last July.

Citing such statements, a watchdog group today asked Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch to stop the long-standing practice of opening sessions with a prayer.
Apparently, opening legislative sessions with prayer is something that's been done since the founding of the state. The Senate, too, opens this way, but their laws also say that such prayers must be "nondenominational, nonsectarian and nonproselytizing and cannot mention Christ or other gods." As much as it rankles my staunchly separation-of-church-and-state self, having an opening prayer was ruled constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1983. However, the ruling had the caveat that such prayers "must not be intended to coerce listeners into adopting the speaker’s belief or favor one religion over another." So while the Senate is attempting to abide by that rule, the Legislature appears to be flagrantly ignoring it.

Therefor, I would fully support the Freedom From Religion Foundation's efforts to make sure the Legislature was following those guidelines, but I would certainly stop short of trying to force them to stop opening prayers all-together. That's another question for another day. Unfortunately, both questions may be decided by a Supreme Court that's now woefully skewed to the right, including dear ol' Michael Gableman. Apparently he thinks government promoted prayer is just peachy. This is more than a little troubling.

What really gets me is the complete lack of understanding on the part of certain representatives who see no harm whatsoever in their extremely Christian prayers. Rep. Terry Moulton (R-Chippewa Falls) stated that he didn't "think that we have discriminated against anyone in the prayers."

Apparently calling on God and Jesus Christ to cast out demons doesn't count as discrimination against people of other (or no) faiths. Which is a belief so ignorant that it blows my mind.

Other prayers that have been offered?

Rep. Eugene Hahn (R-Cambria): “Those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts. And, if he doesn’t turn their hearts, may he turn their ankles, so we’ll know them by their limping." And "Oh God, Our Judge, save us from holding a faith that cripples the future, and makes a better tomorrow an impossibility."

Rep. Sheryl Albers (R-Reedsburg): "So, man made laws, which are contrary to reason, become unjust. On that basis, laws we might make, if contrary to natural law, are a corruption of the law."

I know from first-hand experience that it's possible to recite a prayer that's all-encompassing, even to the point of excluding any reference to a god, and that still conveys a sense of wanting to make sure people are taken care of, and guided toward doing the right thing. If any prayer is going to be said in a place of government, it should be of that sort, and not one that trumpets the alleged virtues of one faith over another.

One of the core beliefs that this country was founded on was that of religious freedom. This includes both freedom to practice the religion of your choice, and freedom from being bullied by people of other religions. Religion has no place in matters of state, just as the state has no place interfering with religion (so long as it's not harming anyone).

So I think Moulton and the others were more than a little off-target. We can express our desire to cast "demons" out of the Legislature in a different, more secular way: by voting people like Moulton out come next election.

Once again, on a completely unrelated note, you can now download and listen to Lee Rayburn's radio show from this morning, which features yours truly. Feel free to critique my radio voice in the comments section. Click here, and select the first part of the June 19th show. Thanks again to Lee for having me on!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Not exactly the "Midwest's Katrina"

As massive flooding continues to ravage the Heartland, some commentators have taken to referring to the disaster as "the Midwest's Katrina." It's not a comparison I think is at all apt. In fact, I'd argue that the events only share two common traits: they're disasters, and they involve water. Other than that, though, it's apples and oranges.

However, it seems like the real reason the comparison is being made by some is so they can then go on to extol the virtues of the good, hard-working Midwestern folk over the looting, "whining" citizens down in New Orleans.

I take no issue with characterizing most of the people currently dealing with the flooding as "hard working." For the most part, people have been coming together to do what they can to see this thing through, keep everyone safe, and come out stronger on the other end. Official response has been, as far as I can tell, pretty dang good. Not perfect, but good. Dustin Christopher has a good take on this over at his blog.

But to compare this with Katrina? Hell no. A hurricane, especially one of that magnitude, is not much like a flood. And the people of New Orleans? I would argue that they had every right to "whine" and complain about the official preparation for and response to it: blatant negligence on the part of levee builders and inspectors, poor evacuation planning and execution, delayed disaster response by the federal government, inept FEMA leaders, and the list goes on and on. If that's not reason enough for complaint, than I'm not sure what is.

Why use this current disaster as a reason to rail against other people effected by disaster? It just seems crude. Praise the people dealing with this for their efforts, but leave Katrina out of it.

In other news, I had the distinct pleasure of talking with Lee Rayburn over at the Mic (92.1 FM) this morning. If you're morbidly curious to hear the fruits of our conversational efforts, tune in tomorrow morning from 6AM - 8AM and check out my mad radio skills. Or, if you're not keen on waking up so early, download the podcast of the show later in the day.

Finally, I'd like to point out something that relates to my recent post about elected Democratic delegate Debra Bartoshevich, who publicly stated that she would be voting for McCain in November. I said that, while she absolutely has the right to vote for whomsoever she chooses come fall, as an elected delegate to the DNC, she is beholden to support the party. Turns out, it's in the DNC's rules, too: "...delegates will not publicly support or campaign for any candidate for President or Vice President other than the nominees of the Democratic National Convention."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The death of the landline

I'm really not sure how I feel about this:
The dormitories on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus will soon be following the trend of other college campuses around the state in ditching their landline phones.

After an extensive two years of surveying students on their phone usage habits, university officials said that the $400,000 a year to operate the phones isn't necessary. They said that about 98 percent of students rely on their cell phone instead of their free dorm phone.

Paul Evans, director of UW Student Housing, said that the decision was a common-sense choice given students' behavior."It really wasn't a way that we were able to get a hold of students," he said. "We would have to look up their number and half the time, the phone wasn't plugged in. So it became very obvious that it wasn't the phone that students were using."

The school will provide one landline phone per floor for free. Students wishing to have their own private landline may request one to be installed, but they'll have to pay for it themselves.
With all of the recent conflicting information that's been coming out about the reliability of cell phones when it comes to 911 calls, I'm not so sure this is the best idea ever. I do understand the need to cut costs (especially with a legislature that's so unfriendly to funding the universities), but this particular move makes me really uncomfortable.

On an almost completely unrelated note, tomorrow morning I will have the distinct pleasure (and near debilitating nervousness) of chatting with Lee Rayburn over at the Mic, 92.1 FM in Madison for a bit that, I assume, will be aired Thursday morning on his show. I'll know for sure tomorrow and post the definite airtime for anyone who's morbidly curious as to what, exactly, I have to contribute to an otherwise perfectly good radio program.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Kino in Kentucky, plus stupid Democrats

I'm just in from a weekend trip to Louisville, Kentucky for their local Kino chapter's 48-hour film festival. It's a lovely city, and I wish I'd had more time to explore, but me and my fellow Wis-Kino buddies managed to make and screen a whopping four films (I'm dressed as a character from one of them in the photo at right), and had a great time. Many thanks to Kino Louisville, especially Whitney, for their hospitality.

While I recover from the drive and get my head back on straight enough to make a proper post, I'd like to point out this little gem for you to ponder and be somewhat baffled/enraged by: Debra Bartoshevich, an elected delegate to the Democratic National Convention this year, is apparently such a sore loser after her candidate of choice--Hillary Clinton--failed to come out ahead, that she's openly endorsing John McCain.

I understand the disappointment felt when the cause or person you've supported so fully for so long doesn't succeed as you'd hoped. I am a liberal after all. What I don't understand, however, is being so bitter about it that, instead of supporting the candidate with similar views and goals, you switch over to backing the candidate that is about as polar opposite as you can get.

This goes for all Clinton supporters who've been threatening to back McCain. It doesn't make sense. It is, in my opinion, wrong-headed. But when applied to an actual elected Democratic delegate, we're now talking just plain stupid.

I'm glad that Wisconsin Democratic Party has now voted to strip Bartoshevich of her delegate status for this. It's absolutely deserved.

Seriously, I can't think of a single good reason to back McCain instead of Obama because you preferred Hillary. His politics and ideas are not remotely similar to those of Clinton, and I would argue that it would be insulting to all that Hillary has worked for to vote McCain.

h/t Steve N.

EDIT TO ADD: Arianna Huffington has an excellent article explaining why it would be ridiculous for liberal-leaning voters to support John McCain, including his terrible record on reproductive rights.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Quick, somebody build an ark

Does anyone even know what a cubit translates to in modern measurements?

It's raining as I type this, another line of storms running across the state and producing more heavy rain. I figure, if we could find a way to give even 50% of the precipitation that's fallen over Wisconsin in the last week to drought-ridden places like Georgia or California, everyone would be better off.

The news looks ever more glum: the historic Mid-Continent Railroad Museum in North Freedom is entirely flooded after the Baraboo River spilled over its banks (7 feet higher than the previous record). I'd like to reprint a call by Caffeinated Politics to urge everyone to do what they can to help the museum clean up the mess and get back on their feet after this disaster. He's included the mailing address where donations can be sent.

There are, unfortunately, many places and people who are and will be in need of financial and material assistance because of the flooding. We'll be hard-pressed to make sure everyone who needs help gets it, and for some people, even then it won't be enough to make up for what they've lost.

Early estimates put losses from damaged crops in the tens of millions. Farmers across the state are dealing with the second major flood in just 9 months. Tens of thousands of acres of crops lost to the flood waters, having to re-plant late in the season, and the already high cost of foodstuffs will only worsen the situation.

There's a noteworthy quote in the above linked WSJ article, from Richard de Wild of Harmony Valley Farm (a major supplier of organic goods for local restaurants and groceries): "To have another huge (rain) event nine months later makes me say, 'What is wrong with our weather?'"

Most experts point to the current three-year La Niña cycle - a cooling event in the Pacific Ocean that counters the warm water cycle of La Niño. An article printed in Time Magazine back in July 1998 lays out the predictions scientists were making about the switch from boy to girl that seem to have come true:
Trouble is, La Niña is likely to bring her own set of weather problems. Last week scientists meeting in Boulder, Colo., at a La Niña summit sponsored by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) sketched out a lengthy list: more Atlantic Ocean hurricanes. Colder winters across Canada. Wetter winters in the Pacific Northwest. Warmer, dryer winters in the Southern U.S. More wildfires in Florida. Lower wheat yields in Argentina. Torrential rains in Southeast Asia.
Happily, predictions have the La Niña period tapering off by the end of this year. Still, it's hard to shake off the sneaking suspicion that our weather patterns have been growing ever more erratic and severe overall. Several studies have recently been released tracking a correlation between increased global temperatures due to higher levels of greenhouse gases. This may be exacerbated by regular events like El Niño/a, so it may not be reasonable to pin the blame squarely on the shoulders of any one factor. Even so, I think a good argument could be made for working to lessen the severity of weather patterns by decreasing the levels of greenhouse gases released, and other disruptive habits.

In the meantime, we're left to clean up the mess. What's important is that we balance a concerted effort to change our overall habits and pass meaningful environmental legislation with an immediate and comprehensive disaster response. Making sure adequate state and federal funds are allocated, and that they actually get to the people and places most in need in a timely fashion. Keep an eye out, too, for donation and volunteer campaigns set up in the coming weeks, and please do what you can to help.

EDIT TO ADD: The Political Environment makes an excellent point about reassessing how we use land and how it relates to flooding.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A big, watery egg on their faces

Well this doesn't sound good:
Property owners who had their homes swept away or destroyed as Lake Delton flooded its banks won't be covered by national flood insurance because the Village of Lake Delton had suspended its participation in the National Flood Insurance Program.


The director of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' Bureau of Water Management said that the village had been a participating member in the NFIP since 1975, but failed to formally adopt a new floodplain the Federal Emergency Management Agency mapped in 2001. So the village had its eligibility canceled.


The program is voluntary and any community can participate and sign up at any time. If a new map comes out, local officials have to formally adopt that new map within six months. However, Lake Delton officials didn't, WISC-TV reported.

When WISC-TV asked the village president why the village wasn't signed up for the FEMA flood insurance program, he flatly said he "won't answer that question."

Village Board president Frank Kaminski refused to answer any questions, and said WISC-TV should talk to the police chief.

Police Chief Thomas Dorner and the city engineer said the village had a problem with the FEMA's expansion of Lake Delton's flood zone, which can make building much more costly.

So far, village officials have pointed to a lack of flooding problems in the past as reasons for why the village wasn't signed up for the FEMA flood insurance program.
I mentioned before my suspicions about poor planning and how we need to be more cautious about where and how we build our homes and businesses. This makes it obvious, too, that village officials (at least) knew about the floodplain and decided, possibly because they thought it would scare developers away because of costs, to forgo the flood insurance plan.

Now those property owners effected by the flooding are left without insurance, kicking themselves for listening to officials who told them "'[Flooding] would never happen. It's never happened and we have control on both ends of the lake with dams and you're fine."

Again, I recognize that it's impossible to know if and when disasters like this one are going to happen. But when your community lies in a documented floodplain, and despite the dams, it would be wise to plan for the worst and hope for the best, rather than just hoping and planning for the best.

Please consider helping flood victims out in any way you can. See the American Red Cross in Wisconsin's website for contact info.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Great Flood

The news from Wisconsin is more than a little grim. After record, torrential rainfall over the weekend, a state of emergency has been declared for a whopping 30 counties. Gov. Doyle is expected to ask for a federal declaration of disaster sometime soon, as FEMA begins its survey of the effected areas.

While several communities have been flooded, the most dramatic tale comes from Lake Delton, which until yesterday was a resort spot in the Wisconsin Dells where the Tommy Bartlet water and ski shows made their home. Amazingly, shockingly, the lake is almost entirely gone now, having burst over its banks and drained, quite spectacularly, into the Wisconsin River.

Caffeinated Politics has some good pictures of the devastation in Lake Delton, plus a bit of interesting commentary.

Mother Nature does, indeed, bat last. In the rebuilding process already promised by Doyle and the communities hard-hit by this disaster, we need to make sure to strike a balance between revitalization and forethought. That is, money shouldn't be our guiding principal when it comes to development. Clearly, many of the homes and businesses lost or damaged by the high water were built on flood plains or near possibly poorly constructed dams and levies. Many of the people who lived there, however, were told by their insurance companies that they wouldn't need flood insurance because of the presence of the dams. They've been proven tragically wrong.

Sometimes, you can't know that something like this will happen. Sometimes it is nothing more than a freak occurrance. Too often, however, the surveys have already been done to illustrate the danger that people would face by building in certain areas. They're ignored, though, either by zealous developers or careless citizens.

The obvious, extreme example would be what happened in New Orleans when Katrina hit. Shoddily constructed levies, the result of corner-cutting in the name of higher profits, lead to death and destruction on a sickening scale.

We're not holding back the ocean up here in Wisconsin, but the same principal applies. First, that we need to make sure we hold construction projects to the highest standards of safety and planning. Second, that Mother Nature comes first, because she doesn't care how good your plans are--when it comes down to it, she always wins. A little humility, a little deference, goes a long way.

So we'll rebuild, as we always do and always should do, but I hope we do so with a lot more reason and responsibility. Just because a place is beautiful, doesn't mean we're entitled to building luxury homes or resorts there. Sometimes, a beautiful place should be left alone to be beautiful.


The Red Cross is coordinating efforts to donate supplies to those left in need by the flooding. It'll also be worth keeping an eye out for donation drives to support farmers who will invariably be effected by all of this, too.

(photo from the AP)

Monday, June 9, 2008

Beings of pure energy

I distinctly remember having a conversation with a friend of mine, this a good few years ago, wherein he predicted that "People won't really start complaining or clamoring for alternate options until gas hits $10 a gallon. I almost wish it would, so we'd be forced to make serious changes."

Well, with the national average for fuel at $4 a gallon, that clamor has certainly already begun in earnest. Still, my friend's prophecy may have been more accurate in that the main chorus of complaints so far isn't "Higher efficiency standards! Better funding for public transit and alternate fuels!" but rather "More drilling! More of the same!"

Maybe it will take $10/gallon to change that.

I had hoped not. I had hoped that people would recognize the scale and complexity of the problem before we were so deeply mired in high costs, environmental destruction, and political uncertainty. I had hoped that the myth of drilling in ANWR being at all beneficial would have long been debunked with our policymakers. But no, misguided voices are still calling for short-term fixes that would bring more harm than good (when they're any kind of fix at all).

I read a fascinating article in Mother Jones magazine by Paul Roberts that not only does a great job of explaining why the notion of "energy independence" is a political myth, but also suggests better, more effective solutions to our current and future energy problems. I highly recommend giving it a read. An excerpt:
Put another way, the "debate" over energy independence is not only disingenuous, it's also a major distraction from the much more crucial question—namely, how we're going to build a secure and sustainable energy system. Because what America should be striving for isn't energy independence, but energy security—that is, access to energy sources that are reliable and reasonably affordable, that can be deployed quickly and easily, yet are also safe and politically and environmentally sustainable. And let's not sugarcoat it. Achieving real, lasting energy security is going to be extraordinarily hard, not only because of the scale of the endeavor, but because many of our assumptions about energy—about the speed with which new technologies can be rolled out, for example, or the role of markets—are woefully exaggerated. High oil prices alone won't cure this ill: We're burning more oil now than we were when crude sold for $25 a barrel. Nor will Silicon Valley utopian­ism: Thus far, most of the venture capital and innovation is flowing into status quo technologies such as biofuels. And while Americans have a proud history of inventing ourselves out of trouble, today's energy challenge is fundamentally different. Nearly every major energy innovation of the last century—from our cars to transmission lines—was itself built with cheap energy. By contrast, the next energy system will have to contend with larger populations and be constructed using far fewer resources and more expensive energy.
The article goes on to debunk the following "myths": that Ethanol will set us free, conservation is only a "personal virtue," that the United States can go it alone, that a Silicon Valley innovation will fix the problem, simply cutting demand will lead to an ultimate solution, and that once Bush is gone from office, things will automatically get better (well, certain things will, but I get what he's arguing here).

I'm convinced by this argument for diversification, efficiency and long-term planning. But I also strongly believe that anything we can do right now to help, even in small ways, is worth doing. Major increases in funding and good planning for public transportation like light rail, buses and bike paths should be another top priority. The people whose wallets are being hit the hardest by higher gas prices already know this--they're flocking to public transit in droves these days. What's mind boggling is that, in some cities, officials react by seeing fit to cut those services. This simply doesn't make any kind of sense.

Good, efficient public transit doesn't have to be a too-expensive pipe dream. There's clearly already money available for such projects--all that appears to be lacking is the political will to see that said money goes to projects that will benefit citizens and not just contractors.

I'm not the only one who's noticed the strangely higher funding of highway projects and the like while public transit gets mostly shafted.

Provided with affordable, comprehensive options for public transportation, I would be willing to bet that the public would use it. Better buses, trains, and bike paths are good for the whole community, too, not just for the people who use them. More workers can get to more jobs more reliably. Less air pollution. Less traffic congestion. Less green space torn out for new road construction. More money for food, housing, heating bills, etc.

It seems like a no-brainer, but the sad fact is that we need to continue to pitch the good ideas, and then follow-through by 1) holding our elected officials accountable for enacting the appropriate changes and 2) kicking 'em out when they don't.

h/t Dar.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sunday Brunch: "Deadly Sinners"

Well, rain and storms have been blowing through our little town, putting the kibosh on the Waterfront Fest. I was excited about the festival because it's basically in my front yard and I could just sit on the front porch and listen to good music all day. Sadly, nature had other plans, some of which involved breaking a few trees (seen right).

So, as Wisconsinites once again ride out flooding and severe storms, forced to forgo outdoor activities yet again, I offer up this little tidbit of joy, a fan-made video for "Deadly Sinners" by 3 Inches of Blood. Rock!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Recollecting my punk, jam band, emo, techno, rock-n-roll past

It's Friday, and as part of my continuing efforts to de-stress and get a grip after a couple of nonsense-filled weeks, I'm going to tell a story about my career as a musician.


No, wait, don't run away! See, I just had a fascinating blog pointed out to me--For Those Who Tried to Rock--and it got me to thinking about the various bands I've been in over the years. Bands with ambitions that varied from "just wanting to rock for the sake of rocking" to "we're totally gonna make it!" And how I reserve a special place in my rock-n-roll heart for each of those projects, regardless of their overall quality or longevity.

Here now, a comprehensive list of the bands and musical projects I've been involved in over the past nearly 27 years:

1) Grace Presbyterian Church Talent Show Band (year unknown)
Christmas, the late eighties: I got what ranks as one of the best gifts I've even gotten: a Fraggle Rock kids drum set. Shortly thereafter, I made sure to show off this new prize to the only captive audience I could find: the congregation of my dad's church. They were holding a talent show, so naturally I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to make my debut as the awesomest drummer of all time. I recruited a misfit band of fellow church kids with varying levels of musical ability--it didn't matter, because ultimately we'd be lip-syncing along to our chosen song.

There was the boy who had an actual guitar, the girl who was supposed to play a keyboard but ended up faking it with a plastic trumpet thing, the budding ham of a lead singer, and me with my rad drum kit. Our chosen opus? "Jump" by Van Halen. Oh man, we tore that shit up (well, pretended to, anyway), and my crowning achievement came when, every time David Lee Roth yelled "Jump!", I actually hit the bass drum pedal! Whoa man, those church deacons didn't know what to make of me! I was so in their face! It was an absolute triumph.

Major influences: Van Halen, Jesus Christ

2) The Shrooms (1994, for one month)
Finally, after a good year of saving every one of my weekly chore allowances, I had saved up enough money to pay for an actual drum kit. My parents took me to a local pawn shop, where we'd found a reasonably priced, ruby red, 5-piece CB 700 International set. Not wanting to waste any time on my rocket trip to stardom, and despite the fact that I could barely yet properly play an actual drum kit, I immediately set out to form my first band. In this endevour, I recruited three of my good girl friends: one on tamborine, one on guitar, one on bass. Only the girl who played guitar could actually, y'know, play--but that didn't stop us! Being in the midst of the mid-nineties faux-hippie revival, we decided on the very clever band name "The Shrooms", thinking that it sounded cool. It's worth noting that we had no idea what it actually meant.

We wrote, I think, lyrics for three songs, but never actually played any music together. Sometimes, half the fun of having a band is planning all of the great things you're going to do together.

Major influences: Phish, They Might Be Giants

3) Milk (1995-97)
This was my first actual, honest-to-goodness, writing-songs-and-playing-gigs band. Me and my two best friends at the time--Dave and Alicia--decided to start the project one bored suburban summer. Dave was actually a really good guitar player, and I had finally started to get the hang of the whole playing multiple percussive instruments at the same time thing. All that remained was convincing Alicia to take up the bass, which, even after our several years playing together, she only ever did half-heartedly. Still, skills aside, she was incredibly good-natured about the project.

We were, in essence, the "silliest punk band in the land," as we liked to say. We wrote a metric shitton of original songs, and spent countless hours in my basement writing and playing and recording it all on our little 4-track cassette recorder. We played a bunch of shows, too, either on our own (most notably at the neighborhood block party--PUNK ROCK!) or in concert with the several other local bands. One such gig ended with me learning a valuable lesson that I carry with me to this day: never let other drummers use your snare drum, especially "punk" drummers, as it will be returned to you looking like a topographical map of the Andes.

Milk was great fun, and even after the members began to drift apart at the beginning of high school (and when I moved away), I looked back on it fondly as a major contributor to the more formative years of my life. And even now, listening to those old songs, I think we were pretty decent for what we were--a totally un-serious, upbeat, very young punk band that realized right away we had nothing deep to say so instead wrote songs about ridiculous things.

Feel free to judge some of our work by checking out songs from our second album, "Non-Alcoholic White Liquid," right here.

Major influences: Operation Ivy, Ween, Mister Bungle, Minor Threat, Lamb Chop

4) Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) (1997-98)
My first foray into electronic music, this project was very lo-tech: just me, two friends, a 486 computer, an early version of Fast Tracker, a microphone and a boombox. We ended up composing an album's worth of material that was actually really popular at our high school for about three months. Ah, the sweet smell of success! It is one of my great regrets that I have since lost my only copy of that album ("Tripping on Ice"), and have not yet been able to track down another person who still has it. I'm going to keep looking, though, because I'm a sap like that.

Major influences: Moby, Tori Amos, the Dead Alewives, KMFDM

5) The Beat-Me-Ups (1999)
I looked around one day and realized, much to my dismay, that I was in an emo punk band. I blame Oklahoma, and a severe lack of options. Still, I had fun with these guys, and rocking out in my tiny, backyard woodshed/clubhouse with them was one of the things that kept me sane during the two years I spent living in Oklahoma. We played one show, in a friend's dad's warehouse, to a crowd of live-music starved adolescents who were remarkably appreciative of our stuff.

Major influences: NOFX, emotions

6) Forte Diem (2001-02)
Otherwise known as the "band with the worst name ever", Forte Diem was my first college-era band. We were all actually pretty good musicians, but weren't together long enough to become a cohesive unit. The guitarist wanted us to become a jam band, the bassist was thoroughly repelled by that idea, the singer belonged in a much better blues/jazz act, I just wanted to play music, and the guy we had playing auxilary percussion was just happy about everything.

Amazingly, the first proper gig we ever played was a Battle of the Bands, held at my school, in which we somehow managed to win first place against several much more well-established acts. There was even someone in the audience who claimed to worked with the Big Wu, and talked about having us open for them sometime. Like all still-green acts that are met with sudden success, we folded our cards soon thereafter, unable to resolve several key disagreements on direction between members. We did get in one last, really fun (and well attended!) show at the Electric Earth Cafe, though, before finally throwing in the towel.

Major influences: Phish, Victor Wooten, Widespread Panic, Sarah McLachlan

7) Aporia (2003-present)

One day, in a break between classes, I wandered into the commons area at my college with the intention, I think, of taking a nap in one of the big, over-stuffed chairs that were there. Instead, I came across a guy playing an acoustic guitar and singing "Little Plastic Castles" by Ani DiFranco. Intrigued by this rare creature, I promptly sat down, introduced myself, and expressed an interest in jamming with him sometime. Happily, that guy turned out to be current band mate and good friend, Justin.

Over the course of the last five years (wow, time flies!), we've gone from being a coffeeshop folk duo to being a four-person rock band, and during the course of that time, I went from being a I-will-literally-vomit-if-you-make-me-sing-in-front-of-people person to a lead singer who loves what she does. It's kind of mind boggling when I think about how much this band, and its members, have helped to change me.

Major influences: Sarah McLachlan, Ani DiFranco, Jeff Buckley, Tool, Fugazi, Peter Mulvey

8) Lick My Love Pump (2005)
With a Spinal Tap reference right in the band name, you know it has to be good. It's like Smuckers. Sadly, this was a short-lived side project, but it sure was fun. Only ever practicing in my basement and never playing out, we were three girls in search of the ultimate cock-rock cover song. We did "Rock You Like a Hurricane" (which was when I discovered just how hilariously awful and filthy its lyrics are) and had, like, three originals, one of which had a name that I can't print here for fear of earning eternal damnation in a fiery pit of lost souls.

Major influences: Spinal Tap, Sleater Kinney, Scorpions

9) The Buffali (2007-present)
The first band I've ever been in that I joined in-progress. I had nothing to do with their awesome songs and decent level of popularity, just came in and started playing the drums for them when they asked me to. Aporia had played several shows with them back when we were all just starting out, and I was impressed with them from the get-go. So I was flattered when they asked me to join up and help out.

10) The Shabelles (2008-present)
The second band I've ever been in that I joined in-progress. When their last drummer left, the lead singer asked me if I'd like to join up and play with them, which I happily did. At this point, I've only played two gigs with them, but already I'm having a blast. Diabolical future plans involve them playing with Aporia for our next CD release party, and possibly learning how to surf while playing the drums at the same time. It would feel somehow appropriate.

And that's about it! There are a number of smaller projects that I've been involved with over the years, but these are the more notable, substantial ones.

Will I ever make it big as a musician? I don't know. Do I want to? Really, my biggest dream is to be a working musician--that is, someone who can make enough to get by (and get health insurance) through music and writing alone. Even that, though, I recognize to be a pretty hard-to-reach goal. Still, regardless of what level of success I ever reach with it, music has always been, and always will be, an essential part of my life. I've learned so much from it and the people who share it with me, and I wouldn't trade anything for that. Not even winning American Idol.

Come to think of it, that's about the last thing I'd ever want to do.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Winona cuts ties with Wisconsin

Well, not intentionally.

On Tuesday, the discovery of corrosion and holes in its gusset plates led MDOT officials to shut down the main bridge leading into and out of Winona, Minnesota. This heightened level of caution over the state's bridges is quite understandable in the wake of the tragic collapse that happened last year, and I'm certainly glad that officials are taking this seriously.

Even so, I can't even begin to imagine what a pain this closure will be for the thousands of people who rely on the Hwy. 43 bridge to commute to and from work and other places. You see, the next closest bridges that cross the mighty Mississippi are at least 50 miles away (Wabasha and La Crosse are the two nearest spots). That's one heck of a detour.

I was born in Winona and lived there for part of my childhood. I have pretty clear memories of crossing that bridge many, many times, and of the relatively long drive along the bluffs to get to the bridge that went into La Crosse (it had the nearest mall of any decent size, so we made the trip pretty frequently). I do not envy the people there now and their dilemma of how to cross the river.

Fortunately, it sounds like local officials are already gearing up to provide riverboat ferry service to commuters until the bridge can be re-opened. That's something, at least. Still, this certainly serves as a reminder of how important it is to maintain and update the most vital parts of our infrastructure. All it took was for one bridge to close, and the city of Winona has been nearly cut off from everything east of the river. Between this and the bridge collapse, it should lead to some pretty sobering thoughts--and, hopefully, serious action.

GPS, 9-1-1, and you

Kids, don't prank call 9-1-1. Seriously. We have enough trouble making sure the people who really need emergency services get them, and the dispatchers are already working hard enough that extra calls really are harmful to the community.

That said, this recent Dane County press release certainly grabbed my attention:
At approximately 2:30 am, Dane County Sheriff's Deputies were dispatched to an area east of 2349 Williams Point Drive, in the Town of Pleasant Springs, for a 9-1-1 hang up call from an unsubscribed cellular telephone. Unsubscribed cellular telephones can still dial 9-1-1, but can not be called back. Because the location of the 9-1-1 hang up could not be pinpointed, an extensive search of the area was conducted by deputies, with the assistance of the Stoughton Police Department.

With the help of the 9-1-1 Center providing latitude and longitude coordinates, the on-scene Sheriff's Office Sergeant was able to input the coordinates into the GPS program on his squad computer and narrow the search to 300 feet. Deputies were then able to locate two prank callers who were staying in the group campground at Lake Kegonsa State Park. A chaperone with the group discovered the students misusing the cellular telephone and placed a call to the 9-1-1 Center as the deputies were arriving in the campground.

The two pranksters, ages 12 and 13, were part of a group of Madison School District students participating in a camping trip at the park. Charges of False Reports to the 911 System were referred on the two juveniles, who were then released to the chaperone. The two also admitted to making an earlier prank call at 7:25 pm, on Tuesday, June 3, 2008. Deputies, who do not have the GPS capabilities in their individual squads, were dispatched to this earlier call, but were unable to locate the caller, or anyone in need of assistance.
So, the 9-1-1 Center was able to provide latitude and longitude, and the Sergeant was able to punch them into his on -oard computer's GPS system to pinpoint the location of the call to within 300 feet?


It's also worth noting that, apparently, deputies don't have GPS capabilities in their squad cars, only, if I'm reading this right, the Sergeant. Might this be something that could be easily corrected? As far as I'm aware, all squad cars are equipped with a police-specific laptop. I'm sure getting GPS installed wouldn't be a huge hassle, and even if it was, wouldn't it be worth it?

I'm also curious as to exactly how long this ability to track coordinates between the 9-1-1 Center and police has existed. Might that not have been useful in the case of the Brittany Zimmermann call? While we're at it, I'm still waiting to find out how police were able to use a cell phone to locate the body of Kelly Nolan.

Unfortunately, even after everything that's happened, nobody's talking.

Meanwhile, the Dane County Board's Executive Committee just approved the second audit in five years of the 9-1-1 Center. This despite the fact that recommendations from the last audit have not been fully implemented, and a $450,000 data collection system installed two years ago to monitor how well the center is functioning is only just now being used.

How any of this makes sense is beyond me.

(photo from PNLH)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The decline and fall of the SUV empire

With the recent decision by GM to close several of its auto manufacturing plants, including the one in Janesville, there has been much talk about what brought this on and how it might have been avoided.

My thoughts on the matter are that GM should have begun switching over to a heavier focus on more fuel-efficient vehicles a long time ago, but I don't know enough about how the auto industry works to back that up with any solid numbers. However, I think it's fair to point out the success of companies like Toyota and Honda, who've been building hybrids and other efficient cars for awhile now, as evidence that it wasn't impossible to gaze into the future and see what was coming.

Record-high gas prices, increasing concern about climate change, instability in the oil markets, etc.

What's especially interesting about GM's recent announcement, then, is that they seem to finally be pondering the idea of cutting back on the production of SUVs and heavy trucks. They're even thinking that maybe they'll discontinue the Hummer line entirely. But just maybe. Can't quite kick the habit even when it's killing them, I guess.

Of course, some folks don't seem entirely convinced that this shift away from SUVs does or should have anything to do with skyrocketing fuel costs and changing consumer demands. Oh no, it's because we don't have as many children to pack into them. That's Dad29 for you, always good for a chuckle.

The facts speak of a slightly different reality, though:

According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (America's Children in Brief: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2004, Washington, DC, 2004, [accessed August 24, 2004]), in 2002 72.9 million children younger than the age of eighteen lived in the United States. This number is expected to increase to 80.3 million in 2020. However, because the country's entire population will increase, the percentage of children in the population will actually remain fairly steady, decreasing slightly from 25% in 2002 to 24% by 2020.
So that theory doesn't really pan out. I'll give credit where credit is due, however, and say that Dad29 is right when he notes that "there are many folks who purchased SUVs who simply did not need them, but liked the size, or weight, or the ability to see over the traffic which SUVs provided. But that need was a lot more fragile than the need to buy food rather than fuel."

It's possible, too, to drive a vehicle that fits several passengers and/or goods, that gets decent mileage, and isn't an absolute tank. The options may be slightly more limited, but you can blame manufacturers and regulators for failing to keep up with and enforce CAFE standards, as well as the relative lack of will to research and develop cleaner technologies like hybrid engines. Consumers aren't blame-free either. Our sense of entitlement to anything and everything we think we want or need has and will continue to bite us in the ass on a fairly regular basis.

In the end, it's always the workers paying the heaviest price for a corporation's failure to evolve and adapt. Now the community is left to find ways to employ those put out of work by plant closures, and to continue to push for technologies and policies that actually benefit them, instead of costing $4 a gallon. Relying solely on companies to change their ways of their own accord doesn't seem to do the trick.

A quick de-stressing

Things have been a bit hectic around my personal neck of the woods lately, so I apologize for the lack of content lately. I'm hoping to have an actual post up later today, but for now, as a good way to pass the time and in an effort to provide everyone (including myself) with a smile, I'm just going to post this amazing clip from Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. Because seriously, Mr. Rogers was the coolest.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Book Review: "65 Poor Life Decisions" by Ryan Zeinert

Ryan Zeinert writes stories--personal essays often laced with humor that is somehow both self-deprecating and megalomaniacal. Through these tales, Zeinert reveals all sorts of personal, sometimes embarrassing details about himself and his life. It's possible to gain a great deal of insight into this man's head, but in the end, still know almost nothing about him.

That's a rare feat for any personal essayist, let alone one that started out as a blogger.

Yep, I said it: Ryan Zeinert started his writing career as a lowly blogger, founding the rather popular, a humor site dedicated to two things: Ryan Zeinert and the TV show Lost. That he's managed to take all of that and turn it into a book is nothing short of impressive. That the book is actually good brings things to a whole other level.

I've only met Ryan in person once, and I can't say that we engaged in any great, meaningful discussions about life, the universe and everything. Instead, we made introductions and chatted for a bit before me and my cohorts creamed Ryan and his cohorts at a Lost pub quiz. It was good times, and despite the thrashing we gave him, Ryan seemed like a nice, agreeable person. Still, I feel fairly secure in saying that my opinions about his book are almost entirely bias-free.

So, about that book: 65 Poor Life Decisions, a "collection of essays from from 2004-2007" self-published by the author and apparently pretty well-sold, is a solid freshman effort. It has its flaws, but the entertainment value far outweighs them. There's a great deal in the book that just about anyone can relate to on some level--call it essays for the everyday schmo (and in the end, aren't we all everyday schmoes?).

Zeinert's writing shows an intriguing lack of self-consciousness on a par with essayists like David Sedaris, covering everything from childhood delusions to disastrous dates to what can only be described as a special type of twenty-something senility.

At its best, 65 Poor Life Decisions is a fascinating and somehow familiar romp through growing up, making mistakes, and heartfelt revelations. The only places where the book falls short are where its blog origins manage to show through what is an otherwise well-edited and written collection. There's a fine balance between informal essays and journaling, and it seems at times like Zeinert is wobbling back and forth from one to another. Happily, the trend is toward the former, and even the spots where things seem a bit amateurish are, for the most part, enjoyable.

I'll even forgive the occasional lapses into regional colloquialisms, as is the case late in the book when Zeinert makes reference to a time when he "borrowed a bunch of albums to a friend." He is from Wisconsin, after all.

For the most part, though, the collection provides a very entertaining glimpse into a unique life, offering the chance to take it a tidbit at a time or to plow through and read the whole thing like one, big, slightly disjointed novel. And it shows promise: a great deal of promise that Zeinert, who plans to have more books published in the future, will continue to grow into a really great humorist and author. All this, too, from such humble and much-maligned roots. Perhaps he'll end up being the exception that proves the rule about bloggers, or perhaps he's just part of the first wave of a new generation of successful DIY writers.

But who cares, right? Just so long as he keeps up with the loudly boning neighbors and bull goring jokes, everyone's happy.

65 Poor Life Decisions is available for sale through

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sunday Brunch: "Heart's Desire" and building bike trails

Yesterday morning, I had the distinct pleasure of learning about and helping to create new mountain bike trails. I'm still a relative newbie when it comes to mtb, but you could say that I'm already hooked and the more I can learn about what goes into the sport, the better. It was a perfect morning for it, too, with warm temperatures and a good breeze to help keep the insects away as we worked in the middle of a fairly dense forest.

Amazingly, with the help of a few pros, the group of about ten of us managed to carve out around 100 yards of completely new trail in the span of an hour and a half. We worked with three main tools: pulaskis, McLeods and cutters. It helped that there had been rain a couple days before, as the ground was nice and soft without being too soggy.

It was good to get out and work like that, and to learn something new and relatively useful. I'm hoping to get out more in the future, both to ride and to build/maintain.

But, on with brunch! Today's offering comes courtesy of my good friends over at Blame Society Productions (the folks who brought you "Chad Vader" and other such gems). A parody of hair-rock ballads that is both horrifying and strangely compelling, this is the music video for a song by the character Rocker Jimmy Samson, from their "Morning Radio Mysteries" series of shorts. Enjoy!

The Lost Albatross