Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Brunch: Shameless self-promotion

I very happily stumbled onto an old video project the other day, and after much wrangling with my poor DSL connection, got it uploaded. This is one of my only directorial projects (I'm usually more inclined just to act or make music), made for Wis-Kino back in March of '07, so while not the most fabulous piece of cinema ever devised, I'm somewhat proud of it. That dashing lady in the film is my sister, who was kind enough to do what I told her to do for one afternoon while she was in town. The music is entirely of my own devising, with guitar work by my good friend and bandmate, Justin. Enjoy!

Friday, August 29, 2008

A bump for the future

And quite a bump, too.

You can write this off as naivete if you so wish, but I have to say that, as I sat watching Obama's speech last night, I caught the distinct feeling of major history in the making. And one heck of a good speech, as speeches go. What I also found really endearing were the "real Americans" who got up to talk briefly beforehand. That was a good, important touch, and it was especially humorous to listen to the pundits then giggle and babble things like "Where did they find these folks? Real people!" Because there are so few real people in this world, I guess.

Anyway, there's already a lot being said about Obama's speech. Everyone has an opinion and most of it is split somewhat predictably down partisan lines. Not all of it, though. I think a lot of people, regardless of politics, at least recognized the historical significance of the moment.

I did get misty-eyed a few times. One or two instances were the result of me trying to eat a delicious meal while attempting to carefully navigate around the empty sockets at the back of my mouth, but most of them were the result of witnessing something that was pretty stunning.

Today, the McCain camp tried to take some of the spotlight off the media gushing about the speech by announcing his pick for VP running mate, Alaska governor Sarah Palin. And, as I said before, she sure does make for an interesting choice. I should be annoyed that she's not quite the easy, sitting duck target that someone like Romney or Pawlenty would have been (after all, it's in my best interests as an Obama supporter to hope for major blunders on McCain's part), but I'm not. I prefer an interesting race, with real issues and compelling candidates. McCain wasn't really doing that for me, so maybe Palin will.

She does have her weaknesses. Though certainly more moderate than many of today's most outspoken Republicans, Palin also brings with her even less "experience" than Obama, so that would seem to put a nail in the coffin of that particular GOP talking point (though don't expect them to actually recognize the hypocrisy and drop it). There are a few, potentially unpleasant scandals hovering around her, but I'm not sure they'll be enough to really put a dent in the campaign. Mostly, I think the people that were already going to vote McCain will still vote McCain, and the people who were going to vote Obama are still going to vote Obama, and the fence-sitters will be as weirdly unpredictable as they always are. Choosing a woman as your veep running mate won't change that, especially since most of those Clinton supporters he's hoping to woo are pretty damn pro-choice, something that Palin most certainly is not.

I want Obama to win more than I've wanted most things in my life. But, in the meantime, I'm extremely excited to be witness to (and participant!) one of the most historic presidential campaigns in our nation's history. That's freakin' cool.

Enjoy your holiday weekend! Tomorrow, I'm off to Old World Wisconsin to nerd out at their Civil War Experience, because apparently the elections of 2008 aren't enough for me--I need 1864, too!


Even as I'm still wrapping my head around the momentous, awesome, historic speech and nomination acceptance by Barack Obama last night, news is rapidly leaking that Alaska governor Sarah Palin may end up being McCain's pick for vice presidential running mate. If so, I will have to give the man (or, more likely, his handlers) credit. That's one hell of a clever move, especially considering all of the talk about former Clinton supporters thinking of voting McCain instead of Obama (though I tend to believe these reports are extremely exaggerated).

Still, it'll be another couple of hours before we know for sure. And frankly, though I will be proud that a woman is on a national ticket, I don't vote according to gender or race, etc., and I certainly hope that former Clinton supporters don't, either. I vote according to who I believe will be best to lead our country, and my vote is still firmly in the Obama/Biden camp.

10:52AM UPDATED TO ADD: And it's official. Palin's the pick, and kudos to her for getting the nod. From what (admittedly little) I've been reading about her, she at least strikes me as a more moderate Republican, good about actually cutting extravagant and wasteful government spending and doing some needed whistle blowing. Plus, though she's come out against same-sex marriage, she actually vetoed a law that would have barred the state from giving same-sex partners any benefits. So that's something. But as an anonymous commenter noted, this pick may have far more to do with the McCain camp wanting to pander to the "Drill ANWR now!" camp than anything regarding so-called PUMAs and the like. In any case, this certainly does make things a bit more interesting.

11:08AM - I have to say, one of the more interesting things about the Palin pick is the fact that I can't remember a single journalist or publication that was speculating about her being a possibility until that plane from Alaska landed in Ohio this morning. Nobody got this one way ahead of time, and that's kind of fun. Also, you should read good ol' Griper Blade's take on the Palin pick. I wish I could share in his glee, because I think he's right, but it's hard to completely forget the last time Democrats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. My hope, however, remains.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

45 years in the making

I won't lie - I will be glued to the ol' teevee set tonight (at a friend's house, since there isn't one at home), watching as Obama accepts the Democratic Party's nomination for president of the United States. And I will probably get a bit misty-eyed.

I mean, let's just look at that statement again: Tonight, Barack Obama will become the first ever African American to run on a major party ticket for freakin' President of the United States. I don't care how you feel about Obama as a candidate, or whether or not you intend to vote for the man, you have to admit the amazing and historic nature of the thing.

It's no coincidence that today is also the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, and frankly, I think it's fantastic symbolism. This goes beyond party affiliation - if this was the Republican party, I'd be just as misty-eyed.

It's almost hard to believe that it has been 45 years since that speech. I wasn't even around for it, but I recognize the amazing progress that's been made in this country since, and also the great deal of work that remains to be done. It's a strange thing: we've clearly come a very long way, but we've also clearly still got a long way to go. Racism, bigotry, and inequality in general are still major issues in this country. Simply nominating the first African American to the highest office in the land won't solve that - but damn if it doesn't help, and damn if it isn't awesome.

I am proud and excited that I get to be around and conscious for this momentous occasion. Someday, I'll hopefully be able to tell my own children, and their children, about this day - and I hope beyond hope that they'll find it almost mundane, because such a thing will be utterly commonplace for them. A girl can dream, anyway.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Has Buffy slayed the church?

I stumbled onto an interesting, troubling, and somewhat hilariously weird article yesterday, citing a recently published study that allegedly claims Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been inspiring young women to leave the Church and take up Wicca.

That couldn't be right. What PhD'd sociologist worth their salt would make such a ridiculous claim? A lone TV show that's been off the air for almost a half-decade can't have that much influence on women's church attendance numbers. So I dug deeper, and leave it to the British press to actually publish the whole story, instead of just the catchy headline:
The report claims more than 50,000 women a year have deserted their congregations over the past two decades because they feel the church is not relevant to their lives.

It says that instead young women are becoming attracted to the pagan religion Wicca, where females play a central role, which has grown in popularity after being featured positively in films, TV shows and books.
The study, which mentions Buffy as just one source of information young women have had regarding more female-centric religions like Wicca, actually looks like it'd be worth a read (if I could find a copy anywhere online). The author, Dr. Kristin Aune, seems to be making the entirely plausible claim that the church's generally poor attitude toward women has driven them off in large numbers. She goes on to offer several suggestions as to how churches might work to bring women back into the fold, things like actually ordaining them, not vilifying their sexuality, accommodating women who work and/or raise children, and generally being more inclusive. Seems pretty damn reasonable to me, especially considering that, in my experience, churches that have already adopted these methods and attitudes do pretty well for themselves.

I was raised in the Presbyterian church, not the Church of England that's mostly referenced in the study, so my experience is certainly different (as is everyone's, really). Though I'm no longer an active participant or member in said church, I am thankful that I was raised by parents who both took their faith seriously and raised me and my siblings to be independent-minded, compassionate people. I was never told or shown that women couldn't or shouldn't be full participants in church (or world) activities, either as lay people, deacons, elders, or ministers. It was, in fact, a baffling surprise when I first learned about other denominations and religions that forbade women from playing any role they so wished.

My reasons for leaving the church are personal and not terribly acrimonious. But I can completely understand why other women have left out of disgust or downright disenchantment with how they're viewed and treated. If Buffy the Vampire Slayer has anything at all to do with this phenomenon of women leaving the church in droves, it is as a symptom, not a cause. More enlightened views of womanhood have existed in some form or another for hundreds (thousands, if you want to get technical) of years, and the progression we've been experiencing is just part of an ongoing process. Like all things, churches must evolve with the rest of society if they want to remain relevant, vital forces in their communities. Pulling their heads out of the generally sexist past would certainly be a good start.

Fool me twice

I had hoped Debra Bartoshevich would see reason and stop endorsing McCain, but apparently that's not the case. Back in June, I voiced my displeasure with her, a pledged delegate for Clinton who was ousted from the convention for her open support of McCain, saying that I couldn't understand how anyone who really liked Clinton could turn around and support a guy whose views on almost everything are the polar opposite. Seriously, how could any supposedly pro-choice, feminist person vote for this guy?

I guess Bartoshevich never got that memo, because she's now shilling for McCain in one of his campaign ads. A lot of folks are, rightfully I'd say, tearing into her for it, so I'm not going to add much more to the din except to say that I agree with them. I suspect, too, that Bartoshevich is in a bit over her head with this, and is being used rather gleefully by the McCain campaign. But that doesn't entirely excuse her from culpibility.

I think it's also fair to point out the fact that this type of Clinton Supporter for McCain thing isn't nearly as widespread as the mainstream media would have us believe. I suspect that most Clinton backers realize that, while Obama may not have been their #1 choice, he's a sight better than John "Pander Shamelessly to the Far Right" McCain. Maverick my ass. So all you "PUMAs" out there? I have one thing to ask you: what the hell are you thinking?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Madison Street Art

Apparently I don't have enough to do with my time, so I've gone and started a new blog. Madison Street Art will be a collection of photos and musings about the various types of street art to be found in and around Madison. I'm open to submissions from anyone, if you're interested. I'm hoping to include everything from public murals to stencil art to tags and everything in between. I love public art, but the blog is meant to provide a place to both appreciate and constructively criticize the various types that show up in our city. Please take a look and stop back when you can, as my goal is to publish several photos a week. Hooray!

I call shenanigans!

Isthmus released their Annual Manual last Thursday, and with it the results of their "Madison Favorites" poll. I was pleasantly surprised to see dane101 take third place in the Best Website category, beating out long-standing and joining the ranks of and The Daily Page (all this for a volunteer, collaboratively run website!).

I was shocked, shocked! however, to see the finalists in the Local Blogger category. While the number 1 and 3 slots were all well and good (1 went to Paul Soglin, who, frankly, I could totally take in a slap fight, and 3 went to the good folks over at Eating in Madison A to Z), the second place finish about had me spitting out my applesauce--Dave Blaska? Really?

I can only imagine two scenarios that could have led to such a strange result: either Blaska rallied his mom and all her friends to his cause, or it's a pity vote. I guess "favorite local blogger" could be construed to mean "most entertaining by dint of ridiculousness" - but then what of the other two, generally quality bloggers on the list? It's not even Blaska's politics alone that lead me to object, it's simply that he's not a very good writer. There are other, far more well-written and interesting blogs from locals, including ones with whose politics I disagree.

Ultimately, however, I'm deeply disturbed by the lack of on that list. Ryan's blog is even nationally recognized for its quality and often hilarious commentary on life and pop culture. Quite the oversight of the voting population, if you ask me (which I recognize is obviously heavily skewed toward Isthmus readers, where Blaska's blog is housed, but let me have my moment of outrage, k?).

Now, back to my painkiller induced stupor, and to making plans for dominating the shit out of that poll next year. Hah!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A little less wise

I likely won't be posting for the next couple of days, due to an appointment tomorrow to have the ol' wisdom teeth yanked. Unless I end up posting in a drug-induced stupor (which could certainly yield some interesting results) beforehand, I'll likely be back on either Sunday or Monday. Wish me luck, effective pain killers, and restraint: I have the urge to track down my insurance people and ream them out for the apparent total lack of effective coverage.

In the meantime, feel free/encouraged to comment on previous posts or, even better, to get out to one of the various cool things happening around town this weekend instead of reading my stupid blog. :)

Here's hoping your Fridays are better than mine!

P.S. Thanks to everyone who said they'd sit with me at lunch. That was awfully sweet. I promise not to steal your sandwiches!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

No notes on a scandal

If the media likes a good scandal, then it loves a good sex scandal. More so, it would seem, when that scandal involves prominent politicians. Think back to the veritable media frenzy over President Bill Clinton’s dalliances with an intern, or Sen. Larry Craig’s wide stance in a Minnesota bathroom, Sen. David Vitter’s diaper fetish, or, more recently, Sen. John Edward’s extramarital affair. Why then would Wisconsin media completely drop the ball on a rather well-documented sex scandal involving the chairman of the Brown County Republican party and a minor?

Good question.

Donald Fleischman, said chairman, was charged back in 2007 with two counts of child enticement, two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a child and a single charge of exposing himself to a child. His court date is set for the third day of the upcoming Republican National Convention, September 3. The incidents upon which the charges are based allegedly took place in November of 2006. That leaves a full year between when the police initially intervened and when charges were filed.

Records of the various police visits and the reasons for them were public, but no media outlet picked up on them or the subsequent charges, in open court, until local bloggers began pushing the issue with the help of morning radio host Lee Rayburn.

Let’s take a look at the time-line of events, as provided by the court (view full criminal complaint here):
  • Nov 3, 2006 – ACO (minor 1) moves to Ethan House, a home for troubled boys.
  • Nov 5, 2006 – ACO and second teen, visit Fleischman’s home at 1121 Goodell St.
  • Nov 17, 2006 – Second teen re-visits Fleishman, who offers haven if the boys run away.
  • Nov 18, 2006 – ACO goes AWOL from youth home.
  • Nov 19, 2006 – Green Bay Police find sixteen-year-old ACO, wearing only a tee shirt and underwear briefs, hiding in the walk-in closet in the upstairs of Fleischman’s home at 1121 Goodell St.
  • Nov 22 and 29, 2006 – ACO tests positive for THC, both times. After the second test, ACO visits Fleischman.
  • Nov 30, 2006 – ACO runs away to Fleischman’s 1121 Goodell address, which is literally across the street. Fleischman takes ACO to an Appleton motel, where some of the alleged misconduct occurs.
  • Nov 31, 2006 –Fleischman takes ACO to a family cabin in Goodman for the weekend.
  • Dec 8, 2006 – Green Bay Police officers Reetz & Allen remove the teens from Fleischman’s home.
  • Dec 11, 2006 – ACO gives deposition, stating his recollection of the events and allegations against Fleischman
  • Sept 7, 2007 – Nine months later, one misdemeanor and four felony charges are filed against Fleischman. These include child enticement, giving drugs to children, and sexual activities with children.
  • Sept 28, 2007 – Defense attorney Jeffrey Jazgar enters as counsel. Defense agrees to motions with stipulation that Fleischman move from proximity to the youth home within 90 days.
Despite the court case being open, and details of the various police visits to Fleischman’s home being accessible online, no media outlets reported on the situation during the course of events described above. That began to change in October of ’07, when local blogger goofticket stumbled across court records of the case. According to Daily Page forum poster BobArctor, the following timeline of events then played itself out:

Oct 10, 2007 – 9:59pm, Case is posted on local forum by goofticket. At 9:59 pm, I verified that the information all checks out according to online court and election records. Yes, another Republican officer is being charged with man on boy action. It’s taken as amazing there is no coverage.
Oct 11, 2007 – At 7:20 am, I call in the open line to Lee Rayburn’s show on 92.1 The Mic, our local Air America affiliate. Deliver an on-air rapid-fire bit about the local Republican man-on boy scandal that nobody knows about. At 7:50, Rayburn is referring to it as “alleged scandal” because he can’t find anything online that fast to verify it. Rayburn is doing a promo at the local music palce [sic] that evening. I delivered the hardcopy of court and election watchdog documents. While I’m doing that, forum poster Hawkeye, is emailing the Green Bay Press Gazette, asking why they haven’t covered the story. Forum poster goofticket, has called the Brown Co. Republican Party, who says yes, that Fleischman is the chair of the local party.
Oct 12, 2007 – 7:50 am, Lee Rayburn does several minutes on the story, citing the evidence and hammering the lack of coverage. The Green Bay Press Gazette, gets busy calling the Republican County office during the day, which now says Donald Fleischman has resigned and the know nothinnggg, notthhiinnnggg…
Oct 13, 2007 – The Green bay Press gazette prints the story. Their online post is listed as 9:23 am. The site posts a detailed report at 9:36 am. Scribeboy posts it on DailyKos at 10:05 am. The Mic92.1, teases it over the air as a hook for Lee Rayburn’s show, at about 10:20 am.
The report can be viewed here.

The Green Bay Press Gazette appears to be one of the only print outlets to have finally picked up the story (archives require paid membership to read articles), though it was a couple weeks after the charges were initially filed.

The initial trial resulted in all charges being dropped, after Fleischman and his attorney requested that the victim appear in court, which he did not (he’d apparently moved to another part of the state and was attending school at the time). The young man, who had been a minor at the time the alleged offenses took place, was then 18 and so Fleischman’s move made his name public.

The charges were re-filed by the Deputy DA, however, in February of this year. Fleischman has since entered a plea of not guilty, a warrant for the appearance in court of the victim has been issued, and a jury trial date of Sept. 3 has been set.

In the midst of all this, the Brown County Republican Party claimed ignorance of the proceedings. “We just learned about this this morning, and to our knowledge he has resigned his position. We don't know any other details," RPW spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski is reported to have said on Friday, October 12, 2007.

It appears as though the party was as in the dark about events as was the media.

Then, on November 29, the Associated Press reported that the state Republican Party had de-certified the county chapter “following its collapse over the resignations of 2 of its leaders and a lack of volunteers. The county's chairman Donald Fleischman resigned in September after he was accused of child enticement.”

Small notes have since appeared in the Green Bay Press Gazette about the case’s proceedings, but it’s noteworthy that nothing was reported prior to the blogger-raised alarm. Also worth noting is that it took a year from when the alleged activities took place before charges were filed. Why was this? For the media, police and court records were public from the get-go. Why did no one pick up on this, a major scandal involving a prominent, local public official? And why did it take so long for charges to be filed at all?

No one is currently making any answers forthcoming, but the whole episode speaks to the larger issues of both legal and journalistic responsibility. Bloggers and radio DJs shouldn’t have to do the jobs of our professional news sources, but I’m sure glad they keep at it anyway. Certainly the economic situation of many media outlets, especially more local ones, is partly to blame as staffing levels are cut and experienced reporters let go. But there seems to have been a steady decline in the overall breadth and depth of news reporting on the more national level as well, with outlets that enjoy far greater revenue and market penetration dropping the ball just as much. With the rise of 24-hour news channels, you’d think we’d be getting coverage of a wider range of topics. Instead, we see the same three stories recycled again and again, and too often they’re on trivial subjects.

Sex scandals shouldn’t be our national news priority, as they tend to be more personal matters than public. But once they involve legitimately illegal factors such as minors, lies, and non-consensual situations, they absolutely deserve public scrutiny and appropriate punishment. Usually, the media’s all over this sort of thing, but in this instance we have to ask: what gives?

(cross-posted from

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Obama, babies, and misperceptions

I'm going to stray away from more local matters (there goes half my audience!) and talk about Barack Obama. And babies. I know, riveting stuff, but stick with me for a second, eh?

I recently dove into a rather heated debate over at Badger Blogger regarding Obama's stance on both the federal and Illinois "born alive" laws--that is, rules that make sure any child born viable as the result of an abortion is afforded full medical care. Obama has come under a great deal of fire for voting against the Illinois version of this bill back in his state senate days. He has said that we would have voted for the federal bill had he been in the Senate at the time (it was passed with bipartisan support), and that the reason he voted no on the Illinois incarnation was because it lacked the neutrality clause included in the federal one. That neutrality clause spelled out, in no uncertain terms, that the bill did not in any way circumvent Roe v. Wade:
(c) Nothing in this section shall be construed to affirm, deny, expand, or contract any legal status or legal right applicable to any member of the species homo sapiens at any point prior to being "born alive" as defined in this section.
Obama's stated problem with the Illinois version of the law was two-fold: first, that Illinois already had a law on the books (it had been there for 20 years) that was nearly identical to the one being proposed:
For more than 20 years, Illinois law has required that when 'there is a reasonable likelihood of sustained survival of the fetus outside the womb, with or without artificial support,' an abortion may only be performed if a physician believes 'it is necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother.' And in such cases, the law requires that the doctor use the technique 'most likely to preserve the life and health of the fetus' and perform the abortion in the presence of 'a physician other than the physician performing or inducing the abortion who shall take control of and provide immediate medical care for any child born alive as a result of the abortion.' [Chicago Tribune, 8/17/04]
Secondly, because the new Illinois law being introduced lack the neutrality clause, Obama worried that it could be used as a tool for undoing many of the rights and protections afforded women by Roe v. Wade. The new bill was nothing more than a political ploy to make anyone who voted against it look bad--and it worked. In the comments thread at Badger Blogger, Obama was accused of being "pro-infanticide," an incredibly offensive and loaded accusation if ever there was one. But apparently those making the claim felt comfortable handing out this label to anyone who tried to point out a different side to the story. That included me.

I was called upon to "try to explain how infanticide is okay" and labeled with gems like "You, and people like you, are the problem that serves as a vehicle for the horrors committed in this nation" and "You support live children being left to die on a shelf." There's more, of course, but I don't feel like posting them all. If you can stomach it, give the comments thread a read to see the rest.

I don't know how anyone really believes that accusing people of being pro-infanticide will help further their argument, or win over any previously disagreeing hearts and minds. It's right up there with Godwin's Law in my books.

I foolishly tried to have a reasonable debate with those folks, but they weren't having it, so eventually I just left well enough alone. Still, the fact that there was anyone out there who might really believe, even incorrectly, that I or Obama or anyone outside of homocidal, sociopathic maniacs were actually pro-infanticide, remained deeply troubling to me. As in so many of these sorts of charged, emotional debates, no amount of what I thought was reasonable refutation of misperceptions or presentation of fact could move them.

Today, I read a fascinating, well-worded piece over at the Huffington Post by Drew Westen, who talked about Obama's recent talk at Rev. Rick Warren's "Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency" - specifically, how he addressed the issue of abortion in comparison with John McCain. Go give it a read, I'll wait....

...So, he makes some great points. And it got me to thinking: the people over at BB who were so adamant that Obama and myself are pro-infanticide seem to have thoroughly linked that issue with abortion (a good example being the citation of this post, that claims to list the "Top 10 Reasons Obama Voted Aginst the Illinois Born Alive Act" but, in fact, only lists quotes of Obama talking about abortion, and not the bill). It may be impossible for them to see how the two differ, because they feel so strongly about the latter. And I, being not the greatest debator of all time, couldn't find the words to make them see the common ground between us, and the misperceptions that both sides were bringing to the table. It being an internet debate certainly didn't help things, either.

Westen lays it out like this:
No one truly knows what's in the mind of God, and I just don't like the idea of government telling a woman or couple when they should or shouldn't start their family based on somebody else's interpretation of Scripture. We need to find the common ground on abortion, reflecting our shared moral beliefs, not the beliefs that divide us. We are all united in the belief that we should do everything we can to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, teen pregnancies, and abortions, starting with instilling in our children both the values and the knowledge to make good choices. And we all agree that abortion shouldn't be used as a form of birth control and shouldn't be an option late in pregnancy except when the mother's life or health is in danger. I could go on and talk about how misguided I think our currently policies are that deny access to birth control to women and teenagers in our inner cities, which does nothing but perpetuate the cycle of poverty, stop young people from getting an education and fulfilling their God-given potential, and make it more likely that they'll have children before they're ready to be good parents. But the main point I want to make is that in this country, we don't force one person to live by another person's faith. This should be a personal and moral issue, not a political one.
I don't pretend to know the mind of Barack Obama, but I do know that I agree with the statements and sentiments laid out above, and I at least suspect that he would, too. I just wish he, and other Democrats, independents, and any other pro-choice persons, would learn to express these feelings in such an eloquent and even-handed way. Leave the accusations behind--no more cries of "baby killer!" or "fascist!" from either side. Then maybe we can all come close to something approximating an equitable solution for an issue that is and always shall be incredibly complicated and difficult.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Get serious about your throne

I'm going to resist making a terrible, toilet related pun and just mention that today's State Journal has an article detailing a proposal that Madison's water utility is making that would, in theory, help to cut water consumption:

The city's Water Utility is recommending a rebate plan to encourage residents to buy high-efficiency toilets, which could save about 2.3 million gallons of water daily, the output of one well.

The rebate plan, which would offer $100 per dwelling unit — a third of the cost of installing a high-efficiency toilet — is the centerpiece of the utility's goal of cutting residential water use by 20 percent by 2020.

The utility would provide $250,000 for rebates annually, enough for 2,500 toilet replacements each year.

If all homes switched toilets, the water savings would represent two-thirds of the utility's conservation goal.

In general, this sounds like a good plan. The only caveat is that this pitch (which is part of a more detailed, multi-pronged proposal) comes with an 18% rate hike. Certainly, that's going to make some residents balk, and understandably so. But here's the thing: if we were to each cut our water consumption from our current average of 73 gallons a day (good Lord!) down to 58 gallons a day, it might well completely negate any rate increase. It's paying more for less, but when it comes to what is arguably our most precious natural resource, I think it'd be worth it.

We in the United States have been incredibly lucky to have such easy, cheap access to abundant clean water. That's not true of many places in the world, and clean water is becoming more and more difficult to come by all over the planet. We would do well to cut our consumption which, at 73 gallons a day, is way over what we all really need.

Still, I'd be curious to know if the $100 rebates will be coming out of the Water Utility's own pockets, or what. Also, I'd be very curious to know if these rebates will be made available to the landlords of the various apartment buildings around town. I rent, but I'd love to have a low-flow toilet in my apartment. I can't really do that right now unless I own the place. I imagine that renters use a lot of water, too, so offering these rebates to landlords would be a good move and good incentive.

I also admit that the last I'd heard of low-flow toilets, they weren't always terribly reliable in the fully-flushing, not-clogging department. Happily, however, the newer generation of low-flows seems to have fully addressed all of the old problems, and there are several models available now that work even better than the old, water hogging kinds. Plumber Terry Love provides comprehensive, field tested reviews of many low-flow models for your perusal here.

Conservation is one of the key elements to creating and maintaining a more sustainable, healthy environment in which we can all live--right on down to our grandchildren and their children and so forth. It's important to take some personal responsibility for this effort, but equally so that we all work to make it as affordable as possible to do so.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Support your scene!

I'd like to take a moment to harass...err...encourage you all to come on out to the Frequency club tomorrow (Saturday) evening, starting at 5:00pm, to 1) see a bunch of great bands, 2) have a chance at winning some cool schwag, and 3) support a great local resource:

I've been writing for and helping out with dane101 for, oh, a couple of years now I think. It's a collaborative, pretty much entirely volunteer run effort at providing a comprehensive local resource for music, art, sports, recreation, politics, and everything else you might find in Dane County. In light of dane101's growing hit-count and subsequent massive targeting by malicious Russian spammers, we've been having to scramble and fork out not insignificant amounts of cash to secure and beef up the back end. Plus, we'd really love to do a general overhaul of the site to make it prettier and easier to use. So (dane101 contributor and my band mate in the Shabelles) Adam Schabow, in his infinite wisdom, decided to throw a fundraiser for dane101, gathering support from a long list of local artists and Gotham Bagels:
The First Ever Dane 101 Fundraiser
Sponsored by Gotham Bagels

On Saturday, August 16th, Gotham Bagels is sponsoring the first ever fundraiser for Dane101, a local collaborative blog site that is run primarily by volunteers. Dane101 has existed for three years with very little advertising and plans to use any money raised during this event to reinforce its technical capabilities and launch a long overdue redesign.

The show begins at 5 pm and will include bands, artists, raffle prizes (including Gotham Bagel gift certificates, a Crate Guitar amp, and various items found dumpster diving during the "Hippie Christmas" weekend). DJs Bob Koch and DJ Shogan will spin records between acts and will also be hosting a "45 Freakout" at the end of the night, where dancing is encouraged.

The Aaron Scholz Band 6:00-6:45pm
Clarity J (from the Buffali) 7:00-7:30pm
JJ Man (from the Midwest Beat) 7:45-8:15pm
The Takebacks 8:40-9:30pm
The Schinker Family Soul Revival 9:40-10:00pm
The Shabelles 10:15pm-11:00pm
Pale Young Gentlemen 11:15-12am
El Valiente 12:15am-1am
"45 Freakout" with Bob Koch and DJ Shogan 1am-bartime

Cover is just $7.
I'll be playing drums for the Shabelles, of course, so you should at least come check us out. But I'd encourage you to stick around for everyone else, too, as that bill is chalk-full of goodness.

Come out and have a fabulous evening, all while supporting collaborative, community, DIY media!
(The Frequency is located just off the capitol square on Main St., where the Slipper Club and then Adair's Lounge used to be)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A one-two punch for local couple

A few of years ago, through the Wis-Kino filmmaking group, I met Lucie and Pam. Lucie had a show on WYOU, and both contributed regular short films to the group for our monthly screenings. I only got to know them a little bit--enough to know that they were a couple, that Lucie taught French out in Sun Prairie, and that both were active in various parts of the community.

Late last year, at a Wis-Kino organizer's meeting, Pam brought up the fact that they were currently fighting for Lucie's ability to stay in the country. Lucie, you see, is a French citizen, whereas Pam is an American citizen. Lucie's work permits were about to run out, and all of their efforts to extend her stay had failed. Legally married in Canada earlier this year, their partership is not recognized by the United States, and so Pam was unable to officially sponsor Lucie for citizenship, as heterosexual couples are able to do.

Lucie had to quit her job and head out of the country, leaving Pam behind. Melanie Conklin at the Wisconsin State Journal wrote an excellent piece on the couple and the problems they face in light of both US immigration and marriage laws. The article points out the absurdity of rules forcing a perfectly productive and loving couple to split up, and the bill currently stuck in committee that could change that:

Hathaway also calls it absurd that she is being forced to choose between her spouse and her country. But she is currently packing their belongings and quitting her job as a neighborhood organizer so she can move to Canada to be with Ferrari.

A year ago Ferrari left her post as a popular French teacher at Sun Prairie High School, where she is so missed the school has held her job in case she can return. Hathaway is seeking renters for their South Side home, hoping they will be able to legally return to Madison one day.

They pin much of that hope on a congressional bill called the Uniting American Families Act, which would amend immigration law to add the three words "or permanent partners" after each mention of spouse.

"It's a complicated situation and a very simple solution," Hathaway said. "If the laws change, our hope is to come back because we've built a life here. We don't want to move."

Both Tammy Baldwin and Russ Feingold support the bill's passage, and Baldwin has specifically said that she intends to tackle "immigration discrimination" and has formed an LGBT Equality Caucaus (currently with 70 members) to help on such issues. Obama has apparently even addressed and expressed support for the act.

First off, it strikes me as more than just a little ridiculous that our country would exclude people with a demonstrated desire and ability to hold a good (and important) job, who are active and positive members of their communities and abide by our laws, from gaining citizenship.

Secondly, this wouldn't have been a problem if this country would just get over itself and recognize same-sex marriages. Pam could have sponsored Lucie, and they would have had to prove the relationship just like any heterosexual couple has to do when one partner is sponsoring the other for citizenship. It's not easy, and nor should it be: but it's possible. And it should be possible for both different and same sex pairings.

We are a nation nurtured by immigrants from all walks of life, religion, country, experience, language, etc. and I believe that to be one of the major reasons that we are the diverse, colorful, intelligent, open, and relatively free society that we've become. Shutting down that source is xenophobic, harmful, ignorant, and mean-spirited.

I can only hope that Pam and Lucie find a way to come back to Madison, together, in the near future. I'd prefer that it be because we wised up and allowed them to enjoy the same rights and privledges as everyone else in this country.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Who needs an environment, anyway?

Man, apparently it's crazytown week in environmental news. The good James Rowen over at the Political Environment, and also Wayne Bigelow (chair of the Dane County Democratic Party) who mentioned it again this morning on Lee Rayburn's show, pointed out the absurd new rules that the Bush Administration is trying to push through that would essentially gut the Endangered Species Act:
The Bush administration wants federal agencies to decide for themselves whether highways, dams, mines and other construction projects might harm endangered animals and plants.

New regulations, which don't require the approval of Congress, would reduce the mandatory, independent reviews government scientists have been performing for 35 years, according to a draft obtained by The Associated Press.

The draft rules also would bar federal agencies from assessing the emissions from projects that contribute to global warming and its effect on species and habitats.

I'm trying to find another way of saying that this is like "the fox garding the henhouse" because everyone and their mother seems to be using that phrase, but damn if it isn't 100% accurate. Maybe we could call it "the crack addict gaurding the crack house" to make it even more obvious what we're dealing with here.

The officials that are pushing for this change claim that individual federal agencies now have enough expertise to make appropriate determinations about the impact of new construction on wildlife and their habitat, that the new rules make sense and would help cut down on delays and higher costs.

You'll excuse me, however, if I have a hard time believing that no one would abuse this, intentionally or not. Independent oversight and regulation of federal agencies and corporations is an incredibly important part of a functioning democracy, wherein corporate and/or other monied interests are not supposed to run things (not that that's what actually happens most of the time, but we've got to have goals!). And all of this whining about alleged delays and higher costs? I won't lie, it pisses me off a little bit.

We're talking about trying to rationally manage our natural resources--you know, the stuff that allows us to go on living a relatively healthy and balanced life on this here sphere. I get the distinct impression that, left entirely up to lobbyists, corporations and certain politicians who take their money, we'd quickly have ourselves a thoroughly paved over, run down, dirty, dying world. And they'd be dancing a little jig on its corpse with money-stuffed pockets, until, of course, they die of mercury poisoning.

Oh but the world and its environs were already saved 2,000 years ago (give or take a few) by Jesus, and we don't need to do anything more! Or at least, that's according to Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann:
"[Pelosi] is committed to her global warming fanaticism to the point where she has said that she's just trying to save the planet," Bachmann told the right-wing news site OneNewsNow. "We all know that someone did that over 2,000 years ago, they saved the planet -- we didn't need Nancy Pelosi to do that.
Oh Minnesota, why you gotta go and elect someone like that? Too many politicians in my former (and current) home states have been offering up wacky stuff like this as of lates, and I'm starting to worry that there's something in the water...which means I've drunk it too. That might go some ways in explaining the incessent blogging....

Look, even for committed Christians, the whole Jesus dying on the cross thing was meant to absolve us from having to make more burnt offerings, and to forgive us, eternally, for our sins. Unless you decide to apply the latter as a blank check for fucking the world's shit up, then I don't know how it makes sense to say that Jesus already saved the environment, and Pelosi should just back off. It just doesn't make sense! But then, not a lot of what the rabidly pro-development-and-environment-be-damned types say ever makes sense, just cents. Lots of 'em.

UPDATE: And the road through Crazytown continues, with one right-wing think tank declaring that immigrants, both legal and illegal, are to blame for rising CO2 levels.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The kids are all right

Addressing the issues of crime and community well-being on the southwest side of Madison, an article in today's Capital Times highlights the progress made and problems still faced since Ald. Thuy Pham-Remmele held a listening session in which some 800 residents showed up to express their concerns. The article does a good job of speaking to the good that's come of Pham-Remmele's recent push to get the city to take notice, but without skirting some of the serious issues that still persist.

Madison is an interesting study when it comes to neighborhoods: certainly there's crime everywhere, but we do, as a city, tend to overlook our more outlying areas. When we talk about Madison to out-of-towners, much of what we discuss involves downtown, and the near west and east sides. Aside from roller derby bouts out at Fast Forward, rarely do we hear or talk about events and activities on the south side of the Beltline.

These places deserve attention, and not just of the negative sort. Because while it would be foolish to entirely overlook the very real problems faced by these communities, it's equally important to recognize the people within them who are working to improve their neighborhoods and to lift up those around them.

One of the recurring themes of the article and of the people interviewed are unsupervised teenagers. The piece opens as a police officer walking his beat on the southwest side talks to local kids and encourages a group of girls to show off their latest dance moves. It goes on to quote that officer, Mike Hanson, as noting that "the core of the problem that has people up in arms is a large number of young people 'engaged in unsupervised, deviant behavior.'"

The sentiment is echoed later by a fellow officer: "Amos also said the biggest underlying issue in the area are those 10- to 17-year-old kids unsupervised by their parents who commit crimes. The Meadowood Shopping Center at Raymond Road and Whitney Way is a particular source of tension."

City officials have offered to lease the space in the Meadowood Shopping Center that used to house Jacobson Bros. Meats & Deli for a community center with a pilot dropoff center for teens and youth.

But Ald. Pham-Remmele has refused to support that use, instead envisioning an intergenerational center where people can meet for a quilting group or bridge club, and where she can hold neighborhood meetings.

Neighborhood kids have already started to benefit from programs like those offered by the Wisconsin Youth Company, which provides a safe place for adolescents to do things like play baseball, basketball, and learn hip-hop dance. And this is precisely the sort of thing these neighborhoods (and most neighborhoods, for that matter) really need. Roving bands of unsupervised children usually mean two things: overburdened or uncaring parents, and a lack of youth activities available.

Teenagers are never going to just sit indoors and stare at walls all day long. Not all of them want to go to the library to read or sit in church all summer, either. Communities need to realize that by offering a variety of activities to their younger citizens, they benefit both the area and the kids themselves. Areas of town with fewer things for kids to do seem to be more prone to higher levels of crime, loitering, and general disturbances. Why? The kids are bored! So they invent things to do, some of which might not be all that wholesome.

Some of this is the result of kids with parents who are either overworked and can't make much time to spend with them (think 3rd shift workers and people with multiple jobs, for example). Some of this is the result of kids with parents who are simply ill-prepared to be parents, expressed either through abuse or neglect. Sometimes it's a combination. The trick is to balance the need for people to take responsibility for themselves and their children, with the need for communities to help provide services and activities to make life a little easier for these folks.

Pham-Remmele's idea of creating an "intergenerational" community center is a good one, but it only seems to address half of the problem. Mix in a place for youth to go for various activities, and that plan might just be a winner.

Kids need attention. Those girls who showed off their moves to the police officer are living proof. And there's nothing wrong with that need, obnoxious as it may express itself at times. Whether through showing off or committing crimes, the kids are trying to tell us something: they're not getting the attention and direction they need at home, so they're looking for it wherever and however they can get it. This isn't a new theory, and I don't pretend to be its originator. But I've seen this play out with my own two eyes, and I can attest to its validity.

Through a combination of social programs (all the way from maternity leave to job skills training to better availability and affordability of daycare programs), respite centers, after school programs, community centers, effective public transportation, and a general desire by those in the neighborhood to work and communicate with each other, we can better address the problems faced in places like Madison's southwest side. It won't be easy, and it will never be a quick fix. But long-term plans and solutions are critical if we hope to affect long-term change. Personally, I think it's worth it for everyone.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Powered by sun, day and night

This is incredibly exciting, and perhaps one of the most promising clean energy developments in years (if not, y'know, ever):
In a revolutionary leap that could transform solar power from a marginal, boutique alternative into a mainstream energy source, MIT researchers have overcome a major barrier to large-scale solar power: storing energy for use when the sun doesn't shine.
Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera's lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun's energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.
Fingers seriously crossed.

You're so vain

You probably think this post is about you.

John Mendels(s)ohn has left the isthmus. He made sure we all knew about it, too, in his article posted at dane101 today. Full disclosure: I did some copy editing on that sucker before it went live. That is, however, the extent of my interaction with the man. I've never met him, so I can't speak to his actual, in-real-life personality. The only thing I can speak to is how he comes across in his writing: self-important and humorously biting.

Mendels(s)ohn made his debut on the Madison scene with a highly critical but interesting piece about its music, to which many of the named bands and their fans took great umbrage. It's never easy to take criticism (I know this first hand from literally countless ocassions, so I feel I speak with some authority on the subject), and always easier to give. But it becomes especially difficult to even consider said criticism when it's delivered in tandem with the hulking pile of ego for which John has become somewhat notorious. Heck, that first article starts right off with "When I, a formerly famous music critic who has lived in Los Angeles, San Francisco and London, relocated to Madison this past autumn...."

In his final piece at dane101, the ego flag is flown proudly above his prose: "If I’m a sensational writer, I’m an even better graphic and Web designer" and "Judging from their existing site, whose designer I adjudged myself to be approximately 10,000 times better than..." etc.

John's enormous sense of self import would be of little consequence to anyone save someone considering dating the man if it weren't for the fact that he's thrust his opinions onto the public stage. And he's got some good, challenging things to say. Madison's art and music scene is somewhat insular and protective of its own. In our desire to flip the bird to more well-known scenes, we are sometimes prone to intense navel-gazing that makes it difficult to really improve ourselves and grow. Really good criticism is frowned upon (just read most of the theatre reviews printed in this town). And certainly it becomes a much finer art to give constructive but negative crticism in a city as small as ours, where practically everyone in the scene knows each other.

But it's crucial that we be able to really examine ourselves and be open to growing and changing. That's why it's so frustrating, for me at least, when a critic like Mendels(s)ohn shows up and shows such potential, only to squander it so gleefully with mad egoism. Seriously, dude, we don't give a shit about where you've lived and who you've written for or why you insist on including parenthesis in your name--just tell us what you think. Leave the crotchety self-love out of it.

We need a better breed of critic in this town--not just for the arts, but for politics and everything else that makes this city what it is. I love Madison, and I firmly believe that it is a great place to live--but I try to make sure my love includes a desire to work for improvements where it's needed, too. We're not perfect, and there's room for a lot of tough conversations and changes.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Sunday Brunch: Poetry and bikes

Two of my favorite things! I had the great pleasure of covering the 2008 National Poetry Slam competition/festival held here in Madison over the last week, and I can honestly say that poetry has totally kicked my butt. In a good way! I saw and heard so many amazing poets with so many different styles, I don't even know where to begin. So instead I'll just direct you over to, where me and a few other folks have been covering the festivities. Check it out! I'll have my thoughts and photos from finals (one of which is above) posted there tomorrow, if you're curious.

Today also marked the end of the ACT 6 Wisconsin AIDS Ride, which I took part in last year as a rider but, sadly, couldn't this go round. Too frakking busy! But I did volunteer to help with closing ceremonies, and took a few photos of that shindig, too, if you'd like to have a looksee. They raised tons of money for a great cause and, if last year was any indication, made lots of friends and accomplished something pretty amazing along the way.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Who gave this guy a column?

I mean, he's a blogger after all. It's generally good policy to just keep us relegated to our own personal web space. Especially if we birth such abortions of grammar, common sense, and logic such as can be found in James Widgerson's latest column at

Widgerson is bemoaning the recent report, Wisconsin's Strategy for Reducing Global Warming, and its apparently audacious assumption that global climate change is a real threat and that we ought to take steps to combat it.

Among the litany of already disproved allegations and assertions that Widgerson makes, we have the old "global cooling" bit, the "you can't tell me what to do!" line, the "they'll force us all to live in teepees and ride the bloody trains" hysteria, plus much, much more!
They’re not even acknowledging that global temperatures have leveled off, and that we may actually be entering a period of global cooling.
Eh, not so much. Global surface temperatures are increasing, and the global cooling idea has long since been debunked, even by one of the scientists who originally proposed it. Clearly someone forgot to read much of any of the current research on the subject, including the exhaustive IPCC study from 2007.
They want us out of our cars and riding trains. If we don’t abandon our cars, we are going to have to buy more expensive cars with higher emission standards. We are going to have to buy ethanol to fuel our cars. We are going to have to drive slower because they are going to lower the speed limits. Meanwhile, drivers will have the privilege of paying for new trains (like the ones keeping Waukesha residents up at night with their horns).
When did trains suddenly become the great bogeyman of Wisconsin? While certainly not the end-all-be-all of our transportation woes, trains and mass transit in general do serve the public quite well, both here and abroad. They help cut congestion on our costly highways, and reduce the amount of pollutants being spewed by taking cars off the roads. And ridership is up across the country, showing a growing demand for the service now that gas prices are so high (and don't look to be comin' down any time soon). The real question here should be, why not trains?

While I'm not an ardent supporter of ethanol (at least not the corn-based kind), I do believe higher emissions standards are important. They don't have to mean more expensive cars, either. That's the beauty of demand and innovation. The more people--with more cash--that put their minds to the problem, the more efficient and less expensive for the end-user things tend to become. And who doesn't want to get more mileage for their buck?
They even want to reduce the amount of miles we drive through "improved land use." You want to build that house in the country? Your dream will soon clash with the priority of reducing greenhouse gas omissions.
Heaven forbid we work to create more walkable communities, so you don't have to drive miles just to buy groceries or see a movie or go to the park. And take away those sprawling luxury homes on hundreds of acres of otherwise perfectly good land from the few people remaining wealthy enough to build them? Apparently that, too, leaves an awful taste in his mouth.

What's especially strange about this column is Widgerson's assertion that the people who want to implement these allegedly Draconian changes are just a bunch of "elitist" snobs. I guess those dream-house-in-the-country building, SUV driving, public transit abhoring people are just salt of the earth folk with barely two private yachts to rub together. And those elitist snobs? They want to build a more sustainable, healthier, more affordable and pleasant place to live for everyone. If that's elitism, then by gum, hand me a snifter of brandy and take me out to the Skull and Bones meetings because I want in!

It's moneybomb day!

Become a StrangeBedfellow!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sally Kern needs professional help, not public office

Sally Kern's been at it again. The Oklahoma state representative (if you can call her that) has been spouting off about her twisted idea of morals again, claiming that she's a "culture warrior of Judeo-Christian values."

First, she claims that " the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam." Which is pretty interesting, especially since I don't remember the last time someone flew planes into populated buildings in the name of homo sex, nor is Islam itself, y'know, an actual threat.

Those comments were delivered to what she thought was a closed-door meeting of like-minded reactionaries, but they were then taped and posted to Youtube. Unlike most bigots who get caught with their prejudices waving in the wind, however, Kern chose to own up to her words. And she's still going.

Her newest pearls of wisdom:
I am not saying everyone has to be Christian; this is not a homogeneous nation...What you have to be is someone who believes in a Judeo-Christian ethic, in other words, in knowing there's a right and wrong...Not all lifestyles are equal; not all religions are equal. Was I saying all people are not equal? Heavens no; we were all created equal.”
I like how she claims that not everyone needs to be Christian, but that everyone should believe in a "Judeo-Christian ethic" - failing to catch the conflict therein. If she'd suggested that a basic belief in right and wrong was most important, I could certainly get behind that. The problem here is that she clearly believes that the only tradition with a true sense of morality is the Judeo-Christian one (though I suspect Kern may lean more heavily on the latter than the former), and her particular interpretation thereof. It's double speak, and not particularly clever double speak at that.

Now, why would I focus so much on this one random Oklahoman politician when there are clearly so many other, more national and more influential politicians who espouse rhetoric that's just as hateful? Well, for one, it's because I hold a special place in my bleeding liberal heart for the state of Oklahoma. I want better representation for my friends and family who live there, and I know that they do, too. Secondly, it's because I believe Sally Kern and her views are a good, public example of the kind of prejudice and ignorance that those of us fighting for true equality and understanding are up against on a larger scale. A case study, if you will.

To the first point, there is an alternate choice for state representative: Ron Marlett is running against Sally Kern for state house district 84 on a platform of "Freedom, Equality and Prosperity," and says the thing that finally tipped him into running in the first place was Kern's outrageous comment. Marlett has a solid background in social work and seems like a moderate, solid guy with the right idea. You can donate to his campaign, and I especially urge anyone who lives in or has ties to the state to support him in any way you can.

To the second point, it should come as no surprise to anyone who's been paying attention to the most homophobic people in our midst that Sally Kern may also hold the Keyesian distinction of having a gay son (who she has treated rather poorly for it). It seems all-too-predictable that many of the most virulently anti-gay folks out there are either harboring deeply closeted feelings themselves, or directly related to a gay person. Regardless of whether or not this ends up being true, though, Kern clearly has some serious issues to work out. My hope is that she's voted into doing that privately, and not while holding public office where the harm she can do is greater in scope.

Homosexuality is not a threat to our nation or any individual. How it can seem so to anyone, more than the floundering economy or the war in Iraq or climate change or health care or poverty, is quite frankly beyond me.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

OK Tammy, we're square again

"Wise men say 'forgiveness is divine,' but never pay full price for late pizza."

I wanted to take a moment to give props to Tammy Baldwin, who recently gave one heck of a good speech in support of Barack Obama (and roundly smacking down McCain). I'd earlier criticized her for her support of Hillary Clinton during the primaries, despite Baldwin's district going overwhelmingly for Obama. I'm still a little miffed that she did, but her promise to vote for Clinton come convention time appears to have been the usual rhetoric you get when the race is still being contested. Now that Clinton has (finally, finally) bowed out and thrown her weight behind Obama, it makes sense that her pledged delegates would, too.

So while Baldwin's move is by no means particularly bold, I'm still going to commend it. She does insist, for instance, that she's supporting Obama not simply because of party loyalty, but because she genuinely believes him to be the right choice come November. I'm hopeful that further support like this will also do much to convince some of the Clinton hold-outs who've been threatening to vote for McCain out of spite for their preferred candidate's loss.

Thanks, Tammy.

Taking bike theft a bit more seriously

I recently wrote about how bike thieves go to the special hell, bemoaning the fact that anyone would up and steal someone's (non-polluting) mode of transportation and source of general good times. Another discussion that sprung up from that concerned how local police tend to deal (or don't) with bike thefts. In the comments section, Nataraj Hauser related one particularly troubling story:
It's not just bicycles, it's theft in general that MPD doesn't take seriously. When my motorcycle was stolen in September, the officer responding to my call flat out told me I'd probably never see my cycle again (a functional but absolutely unstunning Honda CB200, scarcely larger than a moped). The next spring I went to the police auction and lo and behold, there was my cycle, WITH MY CASE NUMBER WRITTEN ON THE SEAT. MPD had recovered the bike 24 hours after I reported it stolen, yet couldn't be bothered to TELL ME they had recovered it. Instead they were going to sell it at auction. If I were only slightly more cynical, I'd assume collusion. Lose a bike? Check the auction next spring.
The Capital Times today features an article detailing a new UW Police initiative that places "bait bikes" around campus, equipped with GPS devices, as a way of catching more thieves and, hopefully, deterring the crime all-together. Apparently, similar programs in other cities have produced positive results, so I will be interested to see how this one plays out.

Again, though, in the comments section someone asks if registering your bike with the city will improve your chances of getting it back. Another person responded, "I hear that if your bike is stolen and auctioned at a police auction, even though it was 'registered' and you recognize it as your bike, the police will still not give it back to you."

I certainly hope that's not true, but Hauser's story above seems to cast a serious shadow of doubt on that hope. The overall difficulty of recovering stolen bikes in the first place is understandable--there are a lot of bikes out there, and a lot of more pressing crimes to be sure--but if the police actually do find yours, especially if it's registered, shouldn't it follow that they make an at least passing attempt to get it back to you? Registration is actually legally required in Madison, including a fine for noncompliance. Are we actually getting anything for our dollars, though?

Another idea posited in the comments section of that article is that the fine associated with a bike theft conviction ought to be raised. It currently stands at $200, which, when compared to the price of most stolen bicycles, is hardly a drop in the bucket. If you stand to make $500 or more on the sale of a stolen bike, the threat of a $200 fine (if you get caught at all, which doesn't seem to happen much) must seem pretty paltry.

Clearly these are issues that require more follow-up, and I intend to track down some answers in the near future. But if you have any stories or information relating to this, please post them in the comments section. I'm deeply curious!

In the meantime, the article's advice on locking up your bikes is sound. I'm constantly amazed at how many bikes I see just left leaning against buildings around town, the owners presumably inside running a quick errand and apparently sure that the quick trip won't result in a stolen ride. Wrong. Bike thefts can happen in the blink of an eye, especially when you don't lock them up. So while we all work on better deterrents and punishments for the crime, be sure to at least do your part for prevention.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More drilling won't help you now

Gas prices skyrocket, and suddenly everyone's crying for more domestic oil drilling. It is human nature, or so it would seem, to deal with disasters as they happen instead of preparing in advance. This most recent example would appear to be no exception.

The big GOP talking point of the day is "More offshore drilling! Open ANWR!" In response to this, the Democratic talking points have been "Implement a windfall tax on oil companies!" and even the confusing "Open more coal power plants!" Everyone's reacting, and very few are actually acting. Don't even get me started on forethought.

Over at folkbum's, a debate erupted over this very subject when it was brought up that the latest feigned outrage was over Obama making some remark about people needing to keep the tires on their cars filled so as to save gas. The comment is pretty much a non-issue in my opinion, but the conversation (if you can call it that) it sparked, and the greater subject to which it relates, is certainly worth examining.

It should be obvious that both Obama and McCain are playing to their percieved constituents on this issue: one calling for more oil drilling and nuclear power, the other for conservation and alternate sources of fuel (and when I say "alternate" I don't necessarily mean all-green, as is the case with his call for new coal-fired plants). Their positions are fairly predictable given their political parties, and neither one is really getting to the root of the problem, or proposing viable, long-term solutions.

It's understandable that people want relief from the crazy high fuel prices, and that they want it now. The transportation industry--the people who bring us our food and other material goods--is especially suffering now, with diesel hitting an average of $4.68/gallon and gas at just over $4.

Here's the thing, though: even if we opened currently off-limits off-shore sites to drilling right now, the data suggests that we 1) wouldn't see any of this new oil for another decade or so, and 2) it would likely only decrease the cost of gas by a few cents.

The Energy Information Administration put out a substantive and informative report on the subject, wherein even after taking an optimistic look at future trends, they conclude that opening the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) to new drilling "would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030." They add that, "For the lower 48 OCS, annual crude oil production in 2030 is projected to be 7 percent higher—2.4 million barrels per day in the OCS access case compared with 2.2 million barrels per day in the reference case. Because oil prices are determined on the international market, however, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant."

What's especially significant about that last part is, as pointed out by the folks over at Climate Progress, that:
Offshore drilling is projected by EIA to deliver less extra annual oil production in 2030 than Saudi Arabia announced it would add this year, an announcement that had no significant impact whatsoever on oil prices. [In fact, oil prices actually went up — see yesterday’s AP story, “Oil prices rise despite Saudi vow to pump more.”]
The Bush Administration's own energy analysts' research flies in the face of what both the White House and the McCain campaign are trying to sell the American people on. Read another great, in-depth look at the shenanigans here.

So, the numbers just don't add up. And neither do the very real environmental risks we'd run by opening more of the OCS to drilling, but for some reason that argument seems to ring less important with certain of the more oil advocates.

Then what about the coal powered plants and the coal-to-liquid fuel of which Obama speaks? Those ideas, too, are sketchy at best--and primarily because people, politicians mostly, are trying to (or mistakenly) conflate the two. They are not the same. While IGCC coal plants (coal gasification, or producing electricity from coal) can be relatively environmentally sustainable if the process includes effective carbon sequestration, the much-touted coal-to-liquids process (producing diesel fuel from coal) is pretty much across the board a bad idea: "because even if the CO2 created in manufacturing is sequestered, the fuel itself releases twice as much CO2 as gasoline when combusted."

What to do, then? Both candidate's are right when they talk about better energy conservation, and that's something we can all implement, in both big and small ways, right now. But it will take more than that to secure a future where we're not destroying the earth in the name of a quick-fix solution.

I've pointed out this article before, but I'm going to do it again because I think it's that good and that relevent: "The Seven Myths of Energy Independence" by Paul Roberts makes an excellent case for why we should be focused more not on "energy independence," but rather on "energy security." That is, the United States cannot hope to move into a more sustainable future without the help of the rest of the world, so working to make this place more secure for everyone is more important than looking only inward in an attempt to solve all of our problems.

Drilling for more oil isn't going to help enough to make a positive difference. Neither will coal-to-fuel plants, or even corn-based ethanol (that's a topic for another post, though). This has nothing to do with political affiliation and everything to do with sound research, planning, and the hope for a better future.

Gas prices are going to suck for awhile, and that's pretty much the only garauntee we have right now. And what we do right now to address the problem will determine whether we continue our slide down into complete energy insecurity and environmental destruction, or whether we pull ourselves up into a greener, more sustainable future in tandem with the rest of our world.

UPDATED TO ADD: This solid essay on the matter from HuffPo.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Rise of the emerald ash borer

This is bad news. Somewhat inevitable, but still bad.
The emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that has destroyed millions of ash trees in Michigan, has been discovered in Wisconsin in Ozaukee County, near the village of Newburg.
Invasive species and the havoc they wreak on native ecosystems feel a lot like fighting a never-ending battle, one in which we often seem to be losing ground. Between these little pests, zebra mussels, and buckthorn (among other things), our reckless policies are coming back to haunt us all.

I commend those trying to fight back against invasive species, and those working to implement saner, more well-thought out policies pertaining to how we go about moving cargo over water, where we import goods from, and what new species are introduced into certain areas. But still, damage done.

Local matters now more than ever

I just read this piece in the Mail Tribune (a paper out of southern Oregon) about how farmer's markets are suffering because of higher fuel prices. It's an interesting read, and makes mention of our own Dane County market, but what struck me the most was the final quote in the article, attributed to one NYC vendor: "Local soon will not be that important."

My knee-jerk reaction to such a notion is "YOU'RE WRONG! TAKE IT BACK RIGHT NOW!" But then, I'm trying to put my petulance aside and really look at the issue. The conclusion I've come to, though, is the same--local does matter, now more than ever, and it is precisely because of the skyrocketing cost of fuel (and environmental concerns, and the so-called obesity epidemic, etc. etc.).

The contention of the article is that higher oil costs, and the associated greater cost of supplies for smaller farmers, is forcing them to raise their prices. Large chain grocery stores, however, can better absorb the cost increases without passing it on to customers quite as much. Evidence points to this being the case, so I'm not arguing against this point.

It shouldn't be like that, though. Food grown and prepared locally tends to be fresher, tastier, and more sustainably grown. Plus, you're truly supporting family farmers instead of giant corporate operations. As a nation, we pay a lot of lip service to these family farmers and how important they are to our way of life, but we don't seem to do much to actually support them.

And since locally produced food has to travel a lot less to reach our tables, it should logically follow that it be somewhat cheaper. So then, why isn't it?

Farm subsidies might have something to do with it. Most of the money and benefits of these subsidies goes toward the big operations, most of whom don't really need the help. Originally enacted to help struggling family farmers during the Depression, the subsidies now primarily game the system in favor of large agribusinesses and Fortune 500 companies. That's certainly no good. The trick, of course, is that many of the arguments against the subsidy system stem from a belief that the free market will right all wrongs. What's left out, however, is the effect it has on local farmers in various, less developed countries around the world.

It's a fine balance. On the one hand, we want to make sure that people all over the world have reliable and affordable access to healthy food. Looking at the current state of world food prices (crazy high), it's easy to see how one might jump to the conclusion that the best remedy for the problem is to make it easier to import produce from abroad at cheaper prices. I won't argue that that's completely wrong, especially considering the poor environmental conditions of certain parts of the world (both man-made and as a result of natural disasters). It's important to have a global system of food production and distribution to aid people and places that are, for one reason or another, unable to support themselves at any given time.

But shouldn't our main focus be on making sure that most places can, in fact, support their local populations? It's the old adage: don't give away fish, teach them how to do the fishing. Easing farm subsidies shouldn't mean glutting foreign markets with goods and essentially forcing local, smaller producers out of the game. This seems especially important now with the cost of fuel growing ever-higher. Food security should take just as much precedence as energy security, in that perhaps we ought to be focusing on making sure populations have access to more domestically, locally produced goods. This reduces the cost of transporting the food, the risk of accidentally importing a piggybacking pest, and increases the likelihood that people will be able to sustain themselves in the event of catastrophes elsewhere in the world.

If we subsidize anyone, shouldn't it be the local, smaller farmers and producers? After all, they tend to be the ones at the forefront of innovative and more earth-friendly growing techniques. And shouldn't they be allowed to grow crops based on both the demands of their local markets and the capabilities of their local environments? This would have the positive effect of providing affordable, nutritional, and more sustainably grown food--and of helping to empower local communities who would be able to take a larger stake in their own well-being.
The Lost Albatross